Do your childhood memories include dancing and singing to the song “Skip to My Lou”? If so, you might want to learn more about this song and its meaning.
The musician Dan Coates composed the song “Skip to My Lou,” which essentially became part of a partner-stealing dance. This song was especially popular as a type of game during parties in southern Indiana during President Abraham Lincoln’s adolescent years.
It also became a common song during square dancing when swapping partners was customary. Read our guide below to learn more about the history and meaning of “Skip to My Lou” lyrics.
When and Where Did This Song Come From?
Dan Coates wrote “Skip to My Lou” in the 1840s, and this song was first used when singing and playing instruments at parties instead of dancing. At the time, local churches considered dancing with music a sinful act, which is why this song was originally not for dancing.
Young people instead played and sang the song using musical instruments at events called play parties. Here, the youth removed all of the objectionable parts of dancing and incorporated singing and clapping instead. This became a form of entertainment for teenagers and young married couples.
Over time, this did change, and the song became common in partner-switching dances. Below, we detail the general meaning of the “Skip to My Lou” lyrics.
What Is the Meaning of “Skip to My Lou”?
In the lyrics “Skip to My Lou,” the word Lou stands for the Scottish word, “Loo.” In Scottish, Loo means love. Therefore, the song tells you to skip, dance, or move toward your loved one.
Once families and young people moved west and brought this song along with them, dancing, more specifically square dancing, became a popular form of entertainment. “Skip to My Lou” became part of a partner-stealing dance during a square dancing party.
A young man or boy would stand in the middle of a circle, and couples would dance around him, singing the lyrics “I’ll get another prettier than you” and “losing a partner what’ll I do.” Eventually, the young man in the middle picks a partner, and her prior dancing partner stands in the middle.
The dance continues with partner swapping until the song is over. This type of dance may actually help single people get to know others in their community and potentially find a significant other.
What Is the History of These Lyrics?
- Frederick Starr believed that the “Skip to My Lou” song came from the Creole folksong “Lolotte Pov’piti Lolotte.” The two songs do have significant similarities, which means one may have come from the other.
The book The Prairie Years by Carl Sandberg discusses Abraham Lincoln’s life and mentions how “Skip to My Lou” was a typical lyrical game in Kentucky and southern Indiana.
The song became very popular in the midwestern United States. Initially, teenagers and young adults sang the song’s lyrics while playing instruments.
Once the song moved to the midwest, it became part of a partner-swapping dance while someone played the fiddle. It was a common song used in square dancing.
Essentially, these lyrics and their associated dance worked as an ice breaker to boost everyone’s mood and help the youth get to know each other better.
Why Churches Disproved of the “Skip to My Lou” Song
It wasn’t so much that churches and ministers disproved of the song itself, as much as its happy beat and rhythm that make many people want to dance. Local churches at the time were attempting to ban and discourage dancing.
Ministers and clergymen believed that dancing would lead to immoral acts. At times, ministers did not even approve of playing the fiddle to this song.
This story was redone in the movie Footloose with Kevin Bacon, where the adults and religious individuals pushed for outlawing dancing in a small town. In the film, a new teenager moved to the town (Kevin Bacon) and convinced the adults in the region to allow the youth to hold a dance party.
Similarly, the religious positions changed, and the witch hunts against dancing went away once some families and young people moved to the midwest, bringing the “Skip to My Lou” song and dance with them.
This song also led dancing to evolve over time.
How Did Dancing Evolve Due to This Song?
Initially, young people used “Skip to My Lou” for a type of entertainment called a play party where they removed the majority of dancing and its features to appease the religious objections from the church. The objectionable parts of dancing were taken out or concealed while the young people would sing the song, and the audience would clap to the rhythm of the music.
Once the song moved to the midwest, the religious obstacles slowly disappeared, and the song became a major part of square dancing or barn dancing. “Skip to My Lou” became part of a partner-swapping dance game.
It starts with various couples skipping hand-in-hand in a circle with a single boy or young man in the center of the ring. The couples dance around him, singing, “Lost my partner, what’ll I do?” The young man sings back, “I’ll get another one just like you,” while looking for a dance partner.
When the man in the center grabs a young woman’s hand, her current partner moves to the center of the circle, and the dance starts over again.
Today, this song is most common among children’s singing and dancing games.
How This Song Impacted Pop Culture
This song was used in the film Meet Me in St. Louis, which debuted in 1944. Parts of this song were sung to the tunes of “Yankee Doodle” and “Kingdom Coming.” The actor Clark Gable also sang this song in the movie Across the Wide Missouri in 1951.
The western film The Searchers from 1956 had Ken Curtis sing “Skip to My Lou” to serenade actress Vera Miles. Furthermore, several famous singers and bands recorded this song, including Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, The Blue Sky Boys, and Pete Seeger.
Multiple classic choirs have also performed this particular song. Furthermore, Jamaican singers and artists have adapted the song to dancehalls, such as Jamaican dancehall artist Serani who released a new version in 2010. RDX also completed an adapted dancehall reggae song titled “Skip.”
Clearly, the “Skip to My Lou” song has significantly impacted popular culture over the decades.
Now that you’ve read through our explanation, you should better understand the history and meaning of the “Skip to My Lou” song. Essentially, the song means dancing toward your love, as the word “Lou” means love in Scottish.
Once the religious objections to dancing when this song played fell by the wayside, young couples adopted the lyrics to a partner-stealing square dance. The song has also been adapted in multiple old films and among various musicians.
If you love barn dancing, then add this song with a happy fiddle to your next dance party. You’ll have the time of your life, and you might just find a long-term dance partner!
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Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.