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:
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.
- 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.
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:
||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
||A site with a wealth of information on square dancing and
other related forms of dancing.
||The Lynette Bellini web site. She is one of the finest
challenge level square dance callers in the country.
||The Vic and Debbie Ceder web site. Vic is one of the best
challenge level callers in the country.