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What is a Goose-Step?

By Ron Marr
Updated May 23, 2024
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If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, as the old saying goes, it is probably a duck. Luckily for them, ducks have never been required to march in the military cadence known as the goose-step. This exhausting and odd-looking step requires an unnatural leg movement, sometimes continued for hours on end. Historically, goose-stepping has been the preferred parade march required by totalitarian leaders.

The goose-step most likely originated in 19th century Prussia. To perform the goose-step, the soldier locks his knee and quickly brings his leg to a nearly 90 degree angle. He next brings the legs down with force, smacking his boot into the ground so as to make a loud, slapping sound. The movement is then repeated with the other leg, with the process continuing until the march is completed.

It has been suggested that the purpose of goose-stepping – which was almost always performed in unison by a battalion or platoon – was to demonstrate discipline via synchronization. Though the step was once popular, it generally fell out of favor in the years following World War II. One reason for its decline was that goose-stepping was the march preferred both by Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party, as well as by the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. It did not die out completely, however, and the goose-step was standard practice for the soldiers of the former Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.

The goose-step is rare, but can be seen during parades by the Cuban military, and continues to be popular in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Chile, and Iran. The Chinese government is so fond of the step that it was actually demonstrated at the opening of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.

Those countries whose armies do continue to goose-step may be trying to signify the strength, determination, and indomitable spirit of their soldiers. To goose-step for even a brief period of time is exhausting, since the movement is somewhat contradictory to a normal range of motion. Those who can perform the step for long distances are without doubt in prime physical condition, no matter how strange they might look.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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