Goose step

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This article is about the marching step. For other uses, see Goose step (disambiguation).
Russian Kremlin Guards goose-stepping at slow march near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Moscow.

The goose step is a special marching step performed on formal military parades and other ceremonies. While marching in parade formation, troops swing their legs in unison off the ground while keeping each leg straight and unbent.

The step originated in Prussian military drill in the mid-18th century and was called the Stechschritt (literally, "piercing step") or Stechmarsch. German and Soviet military advisors spread the tradition throughout the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. The goose step is now used by the militaries of over seventy countries, comprising three-fifths of the world's population.

The term "goose step" originally referred to a British military drill in which one leg at a time was swung back and forth without bending the knee. Apparently, standing on only one leg reminded soldiers of how geese often stand. The term was later applied to the German march step during World War II and to the Soviet march step during the Cold War.[1][2] As a result, the term has acquired a pejorative meaning in some English-speaking countries.

Ceremonial usage[edit]

The goose step is a difficult marching style that takes much practice and coordination. It is therefore reserved for ceremonial occasions.

Goose stepping is often seen in military parades. Because it is difficult to maintain for long periods of time, troops only begin to goose-step when they approach the reviewing stand and return to a normal march step once they have marched past. Large military parades require several days of practice to ensure that troops can perform the goose step without injuring themselves. Preparatory training includes having soldiers march in small groups, with arms linked to maintain balance.

Athletes goose-stepping with the Olympic flag at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

Honour guards also use the goose step during solemn ceremonies such as at war memorials or military cemeteries. The goose step has been featured in several Olympic opening ceremonies, as the host nation pays the same respect to the Olympic flag as to its own flag.

In the most rigorous form of the goose step, often found in guard mounting ceremonies, the pace is done at a slow march, and the leg is nearly horizontal, and sometimes well beyond.[3] In a standard goose step, found in large military parades, the pace is done at a quick march and the leg is raised only to knee-height, or even to calf height. The lower goose step improves balance and unit cohesion at the tempo of a quick march. Flagbearers and honor guards will frequently march with a higher goose step than the mass of troops following.


German soldiers of the Weimar Republic's Reichswehr goosestepping in 1931.

The "Stechschritt" originated in the 18th century, like other march steps, as a method of keeping troops lined up properly as they advanced towards enemy lines. It was introduced into German military tradition by Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, a Field Marshal whose close attention to training transformed the Prussian infantry into one of the most formidable armed forces in Europe. Other armies adopted different march steps that served the same purpose; in the British Army, soldiers were trained to swing their arms in a wide arc to allow officers to keep the advancing line in order.

By the mid-19th century, the replacement of muskets with rifles greatly increased the accuracy of defensive fire. It was too hazardous to march forward into battle in precise formation, and the practice became obsolete. However, armed forces continued to drill recruits in marching techniques that now focus on team building, military uniformity, and ceremonial functions. This was true in Prussia and the later German Empire, where the goose step became emblematic of military discipline and efficiency.[4][5]

Adoption outside Europe[edit]

The goose step became widespread in militaries around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. Military modernization and political influence carried the practice to Asia, Africa, and Latin America from its origins in Prussia and Russia.

The first wave of adoption took place in the late 19th century, as the Prussian army became greatly admired for its decisive victory in the Franco-Prussian War. This led many countries to modernize their military forces along the Prussian model. The Chilean Army was the first non-European country to adopt the goose step, importing many Prussian military traditions after the War of the Pacific. The practice of goose stepping then spread widely throughout Latin America thanks to Chilean and Prussian influence.

Goose stepping continued to gain ground even after Germany's defeat in World War I, as many nations still looked to the German model for military organization and training. Notably, the army of Nationalist China was trained by German advisors in the 1920s, accounting for the largest single goose-stepping military today.

The Russian Empire adopted the goose step during the 1796–1801 reign of Paul I.[6] During the Cold War, the Soviet Union trained the military forces of many of its client states with Soviet military drill and ceremonial practices. This led to the second great wave of adoption, as the goose step was introduced into many Third World countries in Asia and Africa.

Countries that use the goose step[edit]

Cuban Honor Guards goose-stepping at the Mausoleum of José Marti, Santiago de Cuba

The goose step is a feature of military ceremonies in dozens of countries, to varying extents. Some countries use the goose step as a general parade step performed by all troops, while others reserve it for honour guards and ceremonial units.


The goose step is very popular in Latin America, where it has been adopted by most Spanish-speaking countries. It is not found in countries where Dutch, English, or Portuguese is the official language.


Goose-stepping is found primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, areas that were in close proximity to Germany and Russia.

  • Albania
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic: A mild form of the goose step is performed by honour guards, with the foot raised only a few centimetres off the ground. It is not found at military parades, however.
  • Estonia: Only color guards goose step in quick time during military ceremonies and parades.
  • Hungary: Only color guards goose step in slow time during military ceremonies.
  • Moldova
  • Poland: Only honour guards, color guards and cadets perform the goose step in military parades and other ceremonies.
  • Russia
  • Slovakia uses the goose step as a general parade step.
  • Spain uses the goose step as a slow march for the most important ceremonies, such as royal funerals and the presentation of the colours.[9][10] The goose step is not used for military parades or guard mounting ceremonies.
  • Ukraine


Most African militaries trace their adoption of the goose step to the Cold War, when the Communist countries supplied them with military aid and training. The German colonies used the goose step until World War I, when they were absorbed by the victorious Allies, but all of them restored the goose step after independence.

Middle East and Central Asia[edit]

East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia[edit]

Afghan Army soldiers goosestepping during the 2010 Mujahideen Victory Day parade in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Soldiers of the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China goosestepping, 1943
A Chinese People's Liberation Army honor guard company goosesteps.
The Vietnam People's Navy honor guard company goosestepping at ASEAN defense ministers meeting, 2010
  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Cambodia
  • China adopted the goose step from its German military advisors in the 1920s.[23] The Chinese term 正步 (zhèng bù) literally translates as "straight march" or "upright march". After the Chinese Civil War, the practice continued on both sides of the Taiwan Strait until 2003, when it was abandoned by the Republic of China (Taiwan). The People's Republic of China continues to use the goose step as its ceremonial march step.
  • India: The goose step is performed by colour guards,[24] as well as border guards at the Wagah border ceremony. Some units, such as the Gurkha and Assam regiments, use the goose step as a general parade step.[25]
  • Indonesia: The goose step is performed by the military, the police, schools, scouts groups, and flag-raising squads (Paskibraka).
  • Laos
  • Mongolia
  • Myanmar: The Myanmar Armed Forces do not use the goose step. However, the ethnic Kachin, Kokang, Shan, and Wa insurgents in northern Myanmar use the goose step, as they allied with the Communist Party of Burma in the 1960s and received training from Chinese advisors.
  • Nepal uses the goose step as a general parade step. The practice has also been adopted by Gurkha regiments in the Indian Army, but not by Gurkha regiments in the British Army.
  • North Korea practices a form of bouncing goose step, which leaves a visual impression of a clear bounce in each step. This is unique among all militaries that practice the goose step.[26] North Korea switched from a standard Soviet goose step to the bouncing goose step between 1993 and 1997.
  • Pakistan does not use the goose step as a military march step. However, border guards perform the goose step at the Wagah border ceremony.
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam received Chinese and Soviet military aid during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam had already begun adopting the goose step by 1954, when the victory at Dien Bien Phu was celebrated with a military parade in Hanoi. This practice continues on in Vietnam today.

High-stepping as an alternative[edit]

Example of high-stepping in a military parade, Belgrade

Many militaries choose to use a high step in which the legs are lifted high off the ground, but the knee is bent at the top of the arc. The high step is commonly found in countries that abandoned the goose step, were under German military influence, or border countries that use the goose step.

Countries that abandoned the goose step:

Countries that were under German military influence:

  • During the Meiji era, the Japanese military was modernized along the German model, but the Imperial Japanese Army chose to adopt the high step instead of the goose step.[5][27] The Japanese military dropped the high step after its defeat in World War II.
  • Portugal adopted the high step in the 1910s, when it became a republic.
  • Turkey's use of the high step dates back to the late Ottoman Empire, when the Ottoman military was modernized under German influence. Like Japan, it chose to adopt a bent-leg high step instead of the German goose step. Turkey continues to use the high step today.

Countries that border goose-stepping countries:

  • Brazil uses the high step as its general parade step. Brazil borders several Spanish-speaking countries that use the goose step.
  • Somalia shares a border with Djibouti and sea borders with Yemen. The Somali Armed Forces and the Somaliland Armed Forces both perform the high step.
  • Uruguay is one of the few Spanish-speaking countries that does not use the goose step. Instead, it uses the high step as its general parade step in all ceremonies.


The goose-step is a ceremonial march that requires substantial training. It is often abandoned in times of war, as more pressing needs occupy the available training time. Opinion on the goose-step was divided even in the German Wehrmacht in the 1930s.[28] In the later part of World War II, the goose step nearly disappeared because of manpower shortages, accelerated courses in basic training, and a paucity of appropriate occasions.

After the Second World War, West Germany abandoned the goose step in favor of a Western march step. East Germany preserved the goose step and renamed it the "drilling step" (exerzierschritt) to avoid references to old Prussian and Wehrmacht military traditions. The 200-year German tradition of goose stepping finally ended with German reunification in 1990, as East German forces were absorbed into the Bundeswehr and conformed to West German military customs. Although goose-stepping has no official sanction, the practice is not illegal in Germany. Some civilian marching bands and riflemen's associations continue to goose-step while others dropped it altogether.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia abandoned the Russian-style goose step (by 2015, Estonia revived the practice but only color guards do so on parades). The other 11 former Soviet Republics have kept the goose step.

Ethiopia adopted the goose step during the Derg military junta, which espoused socialist ideals and sought Soviet military aid.[29] The practice was dropped after the Derg were overthrown.

Hungary used the high step during the regency of Miklós Horthy, and switched to the goose step early in the Cold War. Neither march step was retained after the end of the Cold War, as the parade of 1961 formally ended its use in favor of the normal quick march. (It was only retained as a slow march for the entrance of historical colors.)

Italy introduced the goose step in 1938 under Benito Mussolini as the Passo Romano ("Roman Step"). The custom was never popular in Italy's armed forces except amongst the Blackshirts.[30] The goose step was dropped after World War II.

Romania used the goose step until from the 1910s up to 1967, when the Romanian Armed Forces ended using it for formal parades. It was briefly revived in the 1990s, and today only a single historical unit performs it while wearing First World War uniforms.

Switzerland is a majority German-speaking country that absorbed many German military traditions alongside those of France and Italy. The Swiss Armed Forces abandoned the goose step in 1946, after the German defeat in World War II.[31]

The Republic of China (Taiwan) Armed Forces continued to use the goose step after the end of the Chinese Civil War. The 80-year tradition of goose-stepping was finally ended in 2003, during an independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party administration. In 2016, veterans organizations criticized the sloppy marching of military cadets and began holding their own goose-stepping parades, reviewed by Kuomintang politicians in two occasions.[32]

Zimbabwean guerillas used the goose step during the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1970s. ZIPRA was trained and supplied by the Warsaw Pact, adopting East German uniforms and the goose step.[33][34] Meanwhile, ZANLA was supplied and trained by China in Maoist guerilla tactics. However, Zimbabwe ultimately attained black majority rule thanks to British influence. As a result, the unified Zimbabwean Army maintained a British march step.

Association with dictatorship[edit]

Wehrmacht troops parading in Warsaw on 5 October 1939.

The goose step was ridiculed by Allied propaganda in the World Wars as a symbol of blind obedience and senseless attachment to military form. Prior to U.S. entry into World War I, American military observers had remarked favorably on the goose step as a means of building unit cohesion.[4][5] However, its association with Nazi Germany in World War II proved fatal to the goose step's reputation in English-speaking countries. It was condemned in George Orwell's essay The Lion and the Unicorn, and proved an easy target for parody in many editorial cartoons and Hollywood films.

During the Cold War, the Anglo-American hatred of the goose step transferred itself to the Soviet Union. George Orwell commented in "England Your England" (1946) that the goose step was used only in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at their military.

Cultural references[edit]

  • In the episode of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers called The Germans, the main character Basil Fawlty infamously imitates the goose step in front of some German guests.
  • In a 1999 television adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm, the goose step is appropriately performed by a flock of geese, singing the praises of their porcine leader Napoleon in a propaganda film.

In colloquial English, the phrase goose-stepping has connotations of blind obedience and submission. The term does not carry this negative connotation in countries that actually use the goose step. This can result in mistaken interpretations due to cultural bias:

  • In Spartacus, a ballet by Aram Khachaturian, the Roman soldiers goose-step in most of their scenes. English-speaking reviewers sometimes conclude erroneously that the choreography must be intending to link the Roman Empire with the tyranny of Nazi Germany. However, goose-stepping in Russia carries no such connotation, and reflects only military discipline. Goose-stepping can be found in a number of Russian ballets in which it is not associated with the villains.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Ewen MacAskill (16 January 2017). "Trump 'reckless' on Nato, says defence committee chairman". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2017.  Article has a photograph of soldiers goose-stepping with legs 45° above the horizontal.
  4. ^ a b Ruhl, Arthur (1916). Antwerp to Gallipoli: A Year of War on Many Fronts - and Behind Them. Scribner. pp. 115–116. You have heard, let us say, of the German parade step, sometimes laughed at as the "goose step" in England and at home. I was lunching the other day with an American military observer, and he spoke of the parade step and the effect it had on him. "Did you ever see it?" he demanded. "Have you any idea of the moral effect of that step? You see those men marching by, every muscle in their bodies taut and tingling as steel wire, every eye on the Emperor, and when they bring those feet down--bing! bang!-- the physical fitness it stands for, the unity, determination--why, it's the whole German idea--nothing can stop them!" 
  5. ^ a b c Walcott, Arthur S. (January 1916). "The Japanese Coronation Military Review". The Seventh Regiment Gazette. 30 (4): 66. The parade step in Japan is practically the German goose-step, and the arms are brought to horizontal position in front at each swing. This may, to the superficial observer, seem absurd, but it conveys a strong sense of momentum and force, and I fully believe it has a sort of hypnotic effect on the soldiers, making them feel stronger and more consequential. It is by no manner of means to be laughed at, that I am certain of. 
  6. ^ Haythornthwaite, Philip J. (1987). The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars: Infantry, 1799-1814. Osprey Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 978-0850457377. 
  7. ^ Les Militaires continuent de s'entraîner. Le Nouvelliste Haiti. 6 March 2012. 
  8. ^ Fuerzas Armadas de Ecuador capacitará a 40 aspirantes a soldados de Haití. Defense Ecuador. 6 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Honores Militares previos a la misa corpore insepulto por S.A.R. el Infante Don Carlos. Casa Real TV. 20 October 2015. 
  10. ^ SS.AA.RR. los Príncipes de Asturias presiden el desfile militar de la Fiesta Nacional. Casa Real TV. 13 October 2015. 
  11. ^ Marinha de Guerra comemora 39 anos de existência. Angola Press. 15 July 2015. 
  12. ^ La parade militaire des 53 ans des forces armées burkinabè. Burkina 24. 1 November 2013. 
  13. ^ RTB - Cérémonie du 11 décembre 2015 (partie 3 : parade militaire et civile). Radiodiffusion Télévision Burkina. 11 December 2015. 
  14. ^ 53ème anniversaire de l’indépendance du Burundi. Iwacu Web TV. 2 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Large military and popular parade for Independence Day". Official Web Page of the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. 
  16. ^ Desfile Militar. Asonga noticias a la carta. 24 October 2014. 
  17. ^ "Madagascar military parade marks national day". Xinhuanet. 27 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "Mozambique celebrates 35th anniversary of independence". Xinhuanet. 26 June 2010. 
  19. ^ Kwibohora 20: Celebrating 20 years of liberation - Amahoro Stadium. Government of Rwanda. 4 July 2014. 
  20. ^ Seychelles National Day Parade 2015. SBC Seychelles. 29 June 2015. 
  21. ^ LIVE: Astana hosts 70th anniversary Victory Day parade. Ruptly TV. 7 May 2015. 
  22. ^ Syria: 70th anniversary of the Syrian Army celebrated. Ruptly TV. 2 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Wollenberg, Erich. "The Red Army". 
  24. ^ India-China Joint Military Exercise. Ministry of Defence, Government of India. 13 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Live: Republic Day Parade - 26th January 2016 at Rajpath, New Delhi. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. 26 January 2016. 
  26. ^ How to march like the North Korean military, The Guardian, 2010/oct/11
  27. ^ Military Parade In Tokyo (1930-1939). British Pathé. 
  28. ^ "Doom Of 'Goose-Step' Sought By Nazi Military Officials", The Baltimore Sun, June 6, 1937. p. 19
  29. ^ Cuban president Fidel Castro and Ethiopian leader Mariam watch military parade. AP Archive. 
  30. ^ Time magazine, Feb. 7, 1938
  31. ^ "Swiss Army Drops Goosestep," Associated Press, February 28, 1946.
  32. ^ Huang, Sunrise; Liu, Claudia; Su, Justin; Hsu, Elizabeth (2016-06-12). "Veterans reintroduce goose step in Taipei parade". Focus Taiwan. 
  33. ^ Petter-Bowyer, Peter J.H. Winds of destruction: the autobiography of a Rhodesian combat pilot. Johannesburg: 30° South Publishers, 2005. p.382.
  34. ^ Siff, Peter. Cry Zimbabwe: Independence -- Twenty Years on. Galago, 2000. p. 97.
  35. ^ "Bolshoi in DC -- Nutcracker". Ballet Alert!. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 

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