The Victory Dance of the University of Texas Rowers

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Columbus, OH
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main piece: When Texas [University of Texas] wins NCAA or they do well or something I think, they dance. They have this little, like, line dance kind of thing. They do this dance in their “unis”, so their rowing unisuits, they’re like leotards but for rowers, and then they have those on, plus these you know, standard cowboy boots. And they get these as part of the gear, so they get their rowing suits, their leggings, their shirts, and a pair of cowboy boots. So they’ll dance in those if they do well, onstage. And it’s kind of exciting, kind of entertaining, but sad if you’ve lost, which I guess is part of the fun. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. The Ohio State University rowers are currently ranked third in their region for rowing by the NCAA (though those rankings change frequently), but are Division 1. Texas, while not Ohio’s rival (which is Michigan), they are seen as “good” (according to KP), and a serious competitor. 

Context: A couple of months ago, I received a text from KP after a competition, who was upset that her team lost to Michigan. When I asked why, she explained that the loss is particularly “sad” when Michigan, Yale, or Texas wins; Texas because “they dance with their cowboy boots when they win. Which is kinda awesome but sad when they’re line dancing on a stage and you just have to look up at them in sadness.” When interviewing KP for the Archive about folklore in rowing (via Zoom, as she is still on campus in Ohio), I immediately asked her about this tradition. She had watched Texas do their victory dance at previous competitions. 

Analysis: Texas’s victory dance is a way to celebrate their (Texan) identity, distinguish themselves from other teams, bond with each other, and also glory in their victory in a semi-taunting way. The addition of cowboy boots to their uniform apparel, a stereotypical “cowboy” attire, is a way of representing the University of Texas and distinguishing them from the other teams, who are dressed in an otherwise similar way (it is important to note that while KP has only seen the Texas team perform this dance wearing cowboy boots, there have been videos posted online where they do the celebratory victory dance barefoot or wearing flip flops). While line dancing is not exclusive to Texas (and in fact its origins are believed to be from European folk dances), there is a connotation that line dancing today is accompanied by country/western music and performed by cowboys or ranch hands (i.e., working-class people). This is interesting because rowing itself has often been viewed as an elitist/classist niche sport, as it is an incredibly expensive endeavor in which to participate (in a later part of our discussion, KP refers to rowing as “classist” and “pretentious”). However, after further research, I discovered that the Texas team’s dance is often accompanied by the song “God Bless Texas”, so in this instance, the rowers choose to align their identity with state nationalism, and as an extension, their school (University of Texas is part of the State System, which is a governmental entity). Furthermore, the older rowers teach the incoming freshmen the dance. In a video I found online entitled “Texas Rowing Dance Tutorial”, the sophomore rowers were teaching the incoming athletes the dance. This practice would normally occur in person, but due to COVID, this rehearsal was done over Zoom, recorded, and posted to YouTube. The dance then also serves as a ritualistic bonding between members of the group and is perhaps even an incentive for them to practice harder in order to win so that they can then perform the dance in front of an audience. Finally, KP found the dance to be “sad if you’ve lost, but I guess that’s part of the fun”. Historically, victory dances have been used to both celebrate a victory and antagonize the losing participants. KP finding the dance sad, so much so that she believes that losing to Texas to be a particularly upsetting loss, shows that the victory dance is also used to make their fellow competitors feel lower, therefore elevating themselves. The dance is performed on a stage during the handing out of awards; all of the teams are required to stay there and watch. The practice of line dancing by the University of Texas rowing team therefore serves to show both state and team superiority over their competitors.