In the 19th century the hoedown was mainly associated with black people, and was a dance in quick movement most likely related to the jig, reel or clog dance; however by the early 20th century the term was mainly associated with white Americans, particularly in rural or western parts of the country. According to the website "Streetswing", a hoe down was a virtuoso display of footwork, where a succession of dancers each tried to outdo the previous dancers. This meant that if the last dancer was the best one the audience would cheer wildly. The 1941 film "Babes on Broadway" included a musical number called "Hoe down" (two words) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland performing. The implied meaning of "improvised jam" has found its way into other contexts. For example a rollerblading hoedown is a similar competitive display.
Possibly the earliest use of the word "hoe-down" in print was the book "The War in Kansas" (1856) by George Douglas Bewerton (1820 - 1901). Page 67 is browsable on-line. Referring to the negroes in Lexington, he writes "they were at it from morning till night; the fiddle and the banjo made constant music in the quarters, dancing was the rage, and a 'hoe-down' just the thing." The word breakdown is used in a similar way.
In contest fiddling, a hoedown is a tune in fast 2/4 time. In many contests, fiddlers are required to play a waltz, a hoedown, and a "tune of choice," which must not be a waltz or a hoedown (typically it is a jig or a schottische).
In modern Western square dance, a hoedown is a piece of music used for a patter call (a call that is spoken or chanted, rather than sung to the tune of a popular song), or the recording that contains this piece of music. In the early days of the Western square dance revival (the 1940s and early 1950s), most hoedowns were traditional fiddle tunes; since the late 1950s, recordings of simple chord progressions, with no discernible melody, have also been sold to callers under the name "hoedown." In the 1940s and early 1950s, the term "hoedown" was sometimes used to mean a call made up of parts of other calls (this usage was replaced by the term "hash"). "Hoedown" was, and occasionally still is, also used to mean a dance event jointly sponsored by several square dance clubs or by a federation of clubs.
The most famous hoedown in classical music is the section entitled Hoedown from the Rodeo ballet by Aaron Copland (1942). The most frequently heard version is from the Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, which Copland extracted from the ballet shortly after its premiere; the dance episodes were first performed in 1943 by the Boston Pops conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Copland's Hoedown became even more famous through television advertisements by America's Beef Producers with the slogan "Beef, It's What's for Dinner". Hoedown has been covered by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on their album Trilogy and by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones on their albums Outbound and Live at the Quick. Additionally, the jazz musician, Oliver Nelson, performed a jazz-infused variation written by himself entitled, "Hoe-Down," on his album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth.
The television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? frequently has a game called Hoedown, in which the contestants would perform a spontaneous song on the spot in this style. The four performers take turns singing a verse each, whose rhyme scheme is AABB. This game is popular among fans, but not among the cast, who especially despise the game. For instance, while performing a hoedown about vending machines, Ryan Stiles (jokingly) threatened to "slit [his] fucking wrists" if subjected to another one.
Recent advertisements for the animated series Xiaolin Showdown have capitalized on the "hoedown/showdown" similarity pun.
Ashlee Simpson's infamous October 2004 Saturday Night Live performance, in which she was caught using a backing track to enhance her singing, ended with her briefly dancing in place and then walking off stage. She referred to this in the SNL closing credits as a "hoedown."
Brewerton's "War in Kansas", page 67
Babes on Broadway
Rollerbladers/ roller skaters