The tradition: “At wedding receptions, the guests form 2 lines facing each other, men on one side and women on the other. The 2 at the front of the line dance down the aisle together and go to their sides when they reach the end. Then the next 2 dance all the way down and so on. It’s comes from the 70s and 80s dance show, Soul Train. It’s called the Soul Train Line.”
The informant (my mom) is a black American woman who grew up in Tennessee. Soul Train aired in 1971, and was the first all-black show on national television when it moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. So my mom (and dad) basically grew up watching Soul Train almost everyday after school, learning the dances and watching the various R&B performers through the 70s and 80s, when they were children and teens. The Soul Train line became famous from the TV show, and now it’s a popular practice at African-American weddings; it’s almost a staple. My mom says it happens at basically every black wedding she goes to, in addition to “lots of line dancing: wobble, Cupid Shuffle, 2 stomps…” in her words. Improvisation and line dancing are huge parts of black folk dance in America. The Soul Train line combines both, and emulates the practices done on the show itself. People go down the line in pairs, improvising and feeding off of one another. Every move is choreographed in the moment, feeding off the energy of the crowd. I think the emergence of Soul Train in the 70s was very important for young black children in America, to see their community represented onscreen. It made them excited, and want to imitate the dance practices they saw on TV. That generation (my mom’s generation) is the generation that mostly practices, or starts, these Soul Train lines. I was at my cousin’s wedding last summer, who is in her thirties, and it was the older adults who began chanting to start a Soul Train line. They’re fun and energetic, and a good way to interact with people you may not even know well through dance.