A simple definition of a 2nd Generation folk dance (2ndG) is any dance that isn’t 1stG. More specifically it’s the context in which the dance was created – formal (2nd existence) rather than informal (1st Existence); conscious creation for a specific purpose rather than gradual evolution in a native context – that separates 1stG & 2ndG dances. For more detail on 1st & 2nd Existence situations, see A “Real” folk dance – what is it?
1stG dances are generic – no fixed choreography, length, sequence, or music. It may have a formulaic pattern like, say, the Taproot Dance, but that pattern can vary from person to person according to age, gender, ability, even mood. Many different songs or instrumental arrangements may be associated with the dance. In a dance line, people may be doing different variations at the same time, as long as they don’t interrupt the flow of the dance.
2ndG dances, on the other hand, are specific – usually pegged to a specific song with a specific arrangement. The choreography often matches a particular recording and will only work with that recording. Everyone in the line does the same step at the same time. The dance may have been observed once in a single village, never to be seen again. It may be a combination of the best bits from several similar dances. It may be the creation of a choreographer who liked a recording and wanted to have “authentic” footwork attached to it.
2ndG dances may be very representative of a region’s style of dancing. They may be a pleasure to dance – more interesting and/or fun than a 1stG dances. Some of my personal favorite dances are 2ndG. Some are among the most widespread and popular dances of recreational folk dancers the world over – everywhere BUT the ethnic group they’re supposedly from. For whatever reason, dances born outside of 1st Existence situations are almost never adopted by the culture they’re supposed to represent.