Square Dance Introduction

Modern Western Square Dance

A beginners introduction

Many people view square dancing as a "barn dance", enjoyed only by uneducated people living out in the sticks of rural  America. This is simply not true. Square dancing long ago moved from the barn into the ballroom, from the farms into the cities. It is enjoyed by people from all walks of life in America and throughout the world. It is probably the most truly American form of folk dance there is.

All square dancing is based on one ore more "squares" made up of eight dancers (four couples),  who start in a "squared up set", with one couple facing each wall. The "caller" gives directions to the dancers, who must follow the directions (calls) as given. In the early days of square dancing there was little standardization of what calls were used. It varied from caller to caller, and from region to region. This created problems for people traveling around the country who may not know the calls being used when they danced to a new caller. This situation has been remedied by the adoption of  standard dance programs set by an association of square dance callers known as Callerlab (www.callerlab.org). Today's standardized dance programs make it possible for someone to dance at  any dance at their level throughout the country, or the world. Yes, square dancing is done in other countries, and most people don't know that the calling is always done in English.

What are these different "levels" of square dancing all about? Well, just as a skier may be just a weekend snow bunny, or a world class olympic downhill racer, so square dancers can master the art at various degrees of difficulty. The levels of square dancing are as follows:

  • Mainstream: The level taught in most beginners classes, and danced by many square dance clubs across the country. It is a fun level, easily mastered in less than a year. Most people who dance this level enjoy the activity as a fun way to meet and socialize with other people.
  • Plus: A slightly more difficult level for experienced dancers. Many people move up from mainstream to plus after dancing for a year or so. There are probably more square dance clubs dancing at the plus level (or offering both mainstream and plus dances) than there are at mainstream only.
  • Advanced: Consisting of two  levels, A1 and A2, advanced dancing is for those who are more serious about the activity, and want to improve their dancing skills beyond what is needed for just a social activity. Advanced dancing is lots of fun, but you have to be willing to study and work at it a little harder.
  • Challenge: Consisting of  five levels, C1, C2, C3A, C3B and C4, challenge level square dancing is for those who want to see haw far they can go. There is absolutely no end to how hard it can get, and only a very few dedicated souls ever make it all the way to C4. But however far one progresses, there is always something new and, well, challenging, to learn.
So what is the fascination of  this activity? It is the endless variety of moves and formations. The caller gives  the dancers a "call" to do. The dancers (all eight of them) have to figure out how to execute that call form the formation they are in, all while dancing to the beat of the music. There are countless formations (positions of the dancers)  with names like lines, columns, boxes, diamonds, 1/4 tags, hourglasses, galaxies, butterflies and blocks to name just a few. The formation changes continually and flows from one formation to another as one call after another is executed to the beat of the music. At least that is the theory. Sometimes squares "break down". This happens when one or more dancers fail to execute their part properly. Suddenly everyone is standing around wondering what happened. Oh well, just make lines, or square up and wait for the next sequence to start. It is expected (especially at the higher challenge levels) that no one can get it all. But it is so sweet  when a square works well together and everything just "clicks", nailing sequence after sequence.

A "sequence" is a set of calls with all the dancers starting at their "home positions", dancing  the calls, and ending back at their home positions again. When dancers "square up" they dance a number of sequences with the same people. They dance for about  10-12 minutes. That is called a "tip". At the end of the tip, is is traditional to kindly thank everyone in your square and shake hands. Then there is a short break before the next tip. And by tradition, every tip starts with a "bow to your partner" and "bow to your corner". This is, after all, a social activity. And the traditional "bow to your partner" is one of the few things about square dancing that has not changed from the very early days.

To learn more about square dancing,  visit these sites:

www.callerlab.org The official site of the most popular organizations of square dance callers. Here you will find more information on square dancing, including lists of calls used at the different levels.
www.dosado.com A site with a wealth of information on square dancing and other related forms of dancing.
www.challengedance.org The Lynette Bellini web site. She is one of the finest challenge level square dance callers in the country.
www.ceder.net The Vic and Debbie Ceder web site. Vic is one of the best challenge level callers in the country.