Skip to main content

The dark history of "Skip To My Lou"

If you've been a reader for awhile, you'll know that one of my areas of interest is the weird back story to common things we don't think about anymore. Kids' songs and nursery rhymes are especially ripe for this sort of fascinating annotation. Today's example is the (I thought) nonsensical "Skip To My Lou."

It's actually a dance. A very weird, sexually charged dance. Think Kevin Bacon in Footloose.

You see, early American religious types didn't like...well, they didn't like much. No dancing. No fiddles--those are evil. So you can see how socializing could be difficult without music or something fun to do. But there was a way around it...the play party. (Fair warning if you're going to Google, you want the historical version from the 1800's, not the other kind.) These evolved as a kind of folk workaround in which the participants would clap and sing. As it moved West, it would become that classic activity we know as square dancing and barn dancing. And you thought square dancing was boring!

So "Skip To My Lou" is actually a partner stealing game. "Lou" is really loo--Scottish for love. Couples would skip around a central boy in the middle of the circle...hence the lines about "losing a partner what'll I do" and "I'll get another prettier than you." The whole thing is an endless swap of dancing partners as a disguise for young people to meet the Puritan equivalent of hot, sexy potential mates.

It's essentially an ice breaker to meet strangers and have a laugh when the local minister thinks the whole thing is sinful.

If you're into folk song classification, it's Roud 3593. Now you know!

Comments