Learn to Square Dance
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Square Up!

by Dave Brown,

Member of the Boots N Slippers Square Dance Club

The time is 6:59 pm. The music starts and the caller booms out over the microphone, “Square Up”. Everyone rushes out to the main dancing area of the floor and forms several, four couple squares. As the squares come together, people are introducing themselves to others in their newly formed, four sided square. Intro’s are good, but also wise, as each person orients themselves in the square. “Am I one of the Side Couples? Yep… we’re couple number four.” “That means we are facing couple number two” Each dancer needs to know what their relationship is, in the square. The caller sounds out “Bow to the partner, corners all… Allemande Left to a Right and Left Grand.” and we are officially on our way to an evening of great fun with our Square Dance friends.

Hi, I’m Dave Brown.

I too call Square Dances when I’m not actually dancing.

As I write this, I think back on the 47 years of Square Dancing and the “Calling” of Square Dances that I have participated in. I enjoy either discipline equally. I have taught thousands of people, to some degree, the art of “Square Dancing”. I have called for various Square Dance clubs over the years as well as calling One Night Barn Dances for churches, college fraternities, clubs, schools, as well as private and business organizations. For a Barn Dance, my goal is to keep it simple, and teach just enough calls for the group to have fun for the evening as a social mixer.

I thought I might lend a little different perspective on our activity in hopes that you might decide to join us.

Let me explain some types of dancing and the differences between them.


Bar Room Dancing

Bar room dancing: This venue of dancing often includes western style dancing and most often includes alcohol. I liken this to free form dancing with a few structured moves. It’s just that. Body movement to the beat of the music. I lump these two types of dancing together mainly because of the use of Alcohol.

Break Dancing:

I would like to make note of a more recent form of solo dancing that seems to originate in America. This is a type of dance that I leave to the young (it seems mostly male). This is known as “Break Dancing”. Many of us are familiar with this because of the current media focus. I’m sure that most of us, of a more mature age will refrain from this type of dancing for obvious physical reasons. I do respect the talent and physical strength that it takes to achieve this form of dance. At this stage of my life, my body is just not cut out for it.

Line Dancing:

Many people are familiar with line dancing. A dance whereby a single (solo) individual, dances in a line that often forms a grid on the floor with other people to pre-choreographed movements. The dance may or may not be cued or prompted by a person reading from a choreograph sheet. Many people memorize the steps, or simply watch or mimic someone who has already memorized the choreography. A partner is not generally needed for line dancing. Sometimes bars host these events and alcohol is involved, but more often, it is a non alcohol environment.

Ballroom Dancing

Next, the well known form of dance know as “Ballroom Dancing”. This is probably the most intimate form of dancing involving a couple, where body movements are synchronized to the beat of the music. The different beats are in the form of Waltzes, Rumbas, Tangos, Two Step and Salsa, along with a few other beat types. Many people avoid learning this form of dance in fear of having two left feet. I figure the brain is just to far from the feet for some people. If you think about the intimate side of this, it is not normally taught in grammar school, because young people are just not ready to be involved in this kind of body contact.

Round Dancing

Another form of Ballroom Dancing, is know as “Round Dancing”. Most Ballroom dancing (as described above) is “free form” involving the various dance moves in the different beats. Round Dancing is pre-choreographed Ballroom dancing. This is where couples orient themselves counterclockwise in a large circle on the main floor of the hall. A “Cuer” is employed to prompt you with the pre-choreographed Ballroom dance moves to popular music that you hear in the various medias. I find this to be a lot of fun with my dance partner. I enjoy the intimate side that Round Dancing gives us.

The coordination of our feet, legs, arms and body movement in close proximity to each other is a joy. Best of all, I don’t have to make up the free form dance part of it. As a result of using a cuer, I learn many more dance moves and get to use them as to the difficulty level announced with each song. Phase II, Phase III, IV, V etc. Each phase offering more moves to execute. For a look-see, try YouTube.com and search for “Round Dance Square”. Be sure to use the word “square” in the search, as cued Round Dancing is most often associated with Square Dancing.

Now, let’s explore Square Dancing.

We jump from individual and couple dance types, to eight people. Four couples, in a square formation, with each couple facing through the center of the square aligning their shoulders with a wall. (assuming that the hall has 4 walls.) Square Dancing uses a lesser form of intimacy than Round Dancing. You form up a small social group that works in a close proximity known as a ‘Square’. You’re close enough to do hand touches or pull by’s with seven other people in your square, with an occasional “swing your partner” thrown in. I don’t know of any other social environment that everyone works this close to seven other people, in such a fun way.

Add the beat of modern hoedown music, along with touch, as described above, mix in a structured social environment with no alcohol, and it just can’t get any better. We enjoy laughing it up with new found friends, and have the time of our life. You will find that Square Dancing is usually easier to learn than Ballroom dancing. Just remember, feet don’t count. That’s right, feet don’t count. The test? Stand and face a mirror. Look down at your feet. Yep, facing the same way you are looking. Now, turn around with your back to the mirror. Look down. Did your feet follow? What counts is where your shoulders are facing. Head and Feet follow. You qualify to learn to Square Dance. (I figure it’s easier to learn because your shoulders are closer to the brain than your feet.)

Square Dancing has evolved to what we now call “Modern Square Dancing”. This comes about from the advent of electronic amplification. Early on, before electronics, routines were originally memorized by the dancers and prompted by someone yelling the calls out.

The calls were up to 64 beats in timing, as there was a band playing music and the prompter had to yell louder than the music to be heard by everyone. Most common were 8 to 32 beat calls. The Do-Sa-Do was traditionally a  beat call. With microphones and amplifiers now, today’s prompter has been re-classified as a “Caller”, and the “Calls” are accomplished in fewer beats, such as the Do-Sa-Do at four beats.

As a result of the dancers now being able to hear instantly and clearly what the caller says, there are now more calls and the caller can mix them up. For the caller, it’s sort of like playing chess on the fly, because, unlike chess, the caller has to be able to keep the dancers moving in a constant, smooth flow to the beat of the music, one call after another.

The social environment is like no other group that I have been in. I think, because of being in close proximity to everyone while square dancing, everyone becomes good friends. When I travel, I look up a local square dance and try to attend. I am always welcomed and I have fun making new friends in different parts of the country.

For some people, staying in town and dancing is enough for them. For those of you who like to travel, by any method, be it RV, car or flight, there is pretty much a square dance wherever you go. With the internet, it’s easy to find a dance where you might be going.

Square Dance calls are universal world wide and always called in English. Square Dancing has become popular in Japan in the past few years. Thanks to the Callers organization, Callerlab, we have a standardized set of calls in several difficulties, ranging from Basic calls to Advanced and Challenge levels. You will find most clubs are set at “Mainstream” or with a few more calls to learn “Plus”. Maintaining proficiency in any of these levels is simply determined as to how many hours a week you wish to be out as well as to the availability of what is offered in your area.

Pam, a member of the Boots N Slippers offered up this testimonial:

“When I went to Nationals in Arkansas, I’d only been dancing for 9 months. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

If you’d had told me five years ago that I would be getting on an airplane, flying to Arkansas and having fun dancing with total strangers, I would have told you that you were crazy. That’s exactly what I did two years ago.

What a great learning experience. Experiences like these have raised my self confidence to the point where I don’t sit in the corner any more.

My first Party dance, away from the lessons I was taking, was our “Veterans Day Dance” hosted by the “Boots n Slippers.” I was terrified and nervous, but after the first tip, my confidence soared as I found out, that I wasn’t the only one thinking like this. When I found out that the long time experienced dancers would help us newbies without hesitation, I relaxed and had fun beyond my wildest dreams.”

On the subject of food… Yep!

Different clubs have different agendas when it comes to food. Rest at ease, the Boots n Slippers have great snacks. I would recommend that you have dinner before you come, but save room for dessert.

It’s time to sign off here, but before I do, I would like to invite you to come learn to Square Dance. We have all learned at one time or another and as a Caller I can tell you, very few people can “not learn”. You’d be surprised how well you can do.

Where, What, When

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