Modern Square Dance Calling: How to Practice Efficiently

How to Practice Modern Western Square Dance Calling

Just a few posts ago, I put together an article entitled, Methods to Advance Your Square Dance Calling Ability to give the most effective list of items that a new caller would need to follow in order to learn how to become a square dance caller. Expanding upon those ideas a bit, practice time is an important component in the calling “machine.” Below is a set of tips to aid in becoming more efficient in your practicing of your craft. Applying this best set of directions will help you to  improve faster and with less stress.

Start Your Practice Session With a Set Goal

Practicing is much more effective if you have a set plan of what you want to accomplish. Write your set goals, at least one long term and one short term and decide what you need to do to improve and approach those goals. Do not just practice the songs the same way every time without direction for improvement, have this focused approach to help you optimize your practice time.

Think of Your Practice Time As a Workout

You should warm up your voice with some sigh-hums and then work on counting to a metronome or drum machine. You are stretching and warming your vocal chords and tightening up your timing and you should think of this as warming up as if you were about to exercise. Work on some simple phrases that you might use when you call and put these to some patter music. Next, work on some memorized material that you know well. After you work through some of these pieces, both hoedowns and singing calls, you are ready to move on to  improvising and working on new ideas. Finish with your newest ideas and this will round things out.

Keep All Your Square Dance Calling Tools Handy

Type out your Choreography and keep it in a practice notebook. Always keep a nice sharp pencil with an eraser with this so that you can edit or make notes next to your ideas. Use a highlighter to underline a specific idea that you want to remember within a particular sequence of figures and you will improve your memory retention of of the idea. Keep a set of choreography checkers nearby in case you have a new idea while you are practicing. This sounds simple, and it is. But if these tools are not nearby, you will waste more time trying to locate them.

Record Your Practice Session and Review It

You will need to make sure that you are in a quiet and private area to record yourself. Personally, I do not like to have anyone else hear me when I practice. Some singing calls I might be learning the words to, the timing, the phrasing of the music, they are things that I do not want anyone else to hear because this is an unpolished performance. So make sure that you have a work space that does not disrupt others and allows you to be most effective in your practice time. Never record a practice take of a song more than twice in a practice session. You will start losing energy and if you are just learning the piece, let it go until your next practice session. Training and developing your skills takes time. Have patience and gradually you will learn the singing call. Review your recording and see what you need to improve upon.

Remind Yourself About What You Need To Work On Next Time

After you review your recording, make a list of things that you will want to work on the next time. If you have a song that you are having trouble with, try to figure out exactly which part is giving you problems and work on that part only, first with music, then without music, then with music and you will work through improving that trouble spot for yourself. The next time you practice, the song should be much easier to call the next time around.

Overall, just focus on beginning your square dance calling practice with an end in mind and log what you want to work on next. Spend a few minutes a day mentally practicing calling modern western square dance choreography and actually visualize the dancers dancing it in your mind. Bring your choreography notebook with you and when you have some down time in your day to review silently. This is practice! Having the figures you want to call in your head so you can use them when you need to is a huge part of calling well!

 

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

Please do not hesitate to call me if you have a square dance caller training question or any other question regarding square dance that you might have!

Have a great day!

 
Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller education, training, and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.

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Modern Western Square Dance Singing Call Figure DBD

While the standard formation for a square dance singing call figure is a “normal” set-up, this sequence starts with a Box the Gnat. This leads to a half-sashayed Square Thru and a Touch a Quarter with the same sex. The Walk and Dodge has a man and a lady “walking” and a man and a lady “dodging”. This kind of position dancing is calling Dancing By Definition, or DBD for short. For those who are not familiar with the concept, the idea is to dance strictly by the defined description of the square dance call and apply the “rules” of the figure accordingly. All DBD dancing is more challenging than standard square dancing.

Both of the following singing call figures created here are a little tricky to dance to, so be careful in calling this and give plenty  of cuing directions as to where the dancers go with each specific dance movement. Try using these figures as zero modules once the dancers are in the zero box (box 1-4) and you should be able to easily incorporate the choreography into your patter call beforehand. The first one is harder, definitely a DBD sequence and the second one is not as difficult but it uses different combinations that will keep the dancers on their toes :

CALLING TIP! To learn a singing call properly, first play the record 4 or 5 times and become familiar with the melody, tempo and musical phrasing!

Heads (Sides) Box the Gnat and Square Thru 4
Same Sex – Touch 1/4
Walk & Dodge
Ladies Fold
Star Thru
Wheel & Deal
Pass Thru and Left Allemande come back
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

 

Heads (Sides) Square Thru 4
Swing Thru
Girls Circulate Boys Trade
Spin the Top
Recycle
Pass the Ocean
Girls Circulate
Boys Run & Promenade Home

Square dance clubs offer classes that are available for you, and they would love to have you join them. In the Denver Colorado areas there are many friendly groups that would love to welcome you into the world of square dancing!
Ask at your local community center or check the your local square dance websites online for information on square dancing lessons and events in your neighborhood. Or call me if you have any questions regarding square dancing and learning to dance or call!

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

 

Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The information provided here serves as a source for square dance calling education, training and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.

Master Your Master of Ceremonies at a Square Dance Event!

Square dance callers have to wear many hats at different times. The master of ceremonies at a square dance event is a very important role and quite an undertaking for anyone to tackle. Handling this responsibility effectively takes both practice and preparation. Great introductions with fun energy and impressive positive reactions from the dance floor are at the heart of achieving great engagement with the crowd. The following should help anyone looking to be an “MC” at any dance event they might be called upon to provide the role of master of ceremonies.

For starters, look the part of a modern western square dance caller. Looking as professional as you can is foremost in representing the position of master of ceremonies at your event.

Remember that timing is essential.  This is keeping everything running on schedule and that is the first and most important task you have. Keeping everything flowing smoothly goes along with this. The ways that you can accomplish this is by following a few simple guidelines, or think of it as a roadmap to success, in your appointment as a master of ceremonies at a square dance event, particularly if you are calling at the National Square Dance Convention in the near future.

First, get a quick interview from the callers once they check in to call before they perform and ask them what their background and experience is, as well as the correct pronunciation  of their name and hometown if you need to. Ask the caller if they have a spouse that they would like to be recognized to the dancers in addition to themselves? What songs are they going to perform? Ask them what they would like to have said about them and work that into an introduction. Practice on making your introductions sound unrehearsed, relaxed and natural and deliver them with lots of zing and energy. Develop a structure of giving the name and what the caller is about, and what they are going to do.

Compliment on the called performance once the caller finishes their tip and thank the callers for their great effort.

Here is a sample of combining both thanking the previous caller, and giving a compelling introduction for the next caller, as you would at the National Square Dance Convention:

Everyone please give Tom Portix from San Diego another hand for calling here today. (Applause)

Alright, everyone, how many of you have been to Des Moines, Iowa, before? (Applause) Well, that’s quite a few. If you have been to Iowa before, you have seen the state flag. The state flag has three vertical red, white and blue stripes and a on the center white stripe is a flying bald eagle and it is carrying a blue streamer in its beak. The state motto ” Our Liberties We Prize, and Our Rights We Will Maintain” is written on the streamer. How powerful and patriotic is that? (Applause) Our next caller on the program is Ken Tussant from Omaha, Nebraska, and he is going to bring to you a highly expressive rendition of “GOD BLESS THE USA.” Ken has a wife, Marge, and they have been together for 23 years. Bring him to the stage with a warm round of applause!

Try to pay close attention to what all of the callers have called on the dance program in the past hour.  If you have a repeat performance on the schedule, let the second caller know, they may wish to change their musical selection on a singing call spot. Typically, calling at a national square dance convention there is a Master of Ceremonies, a Program Aide and a Hall Host present to coordinate everything smoothly. At many state square dance festivals there is only you, so you will have a lot more responsibilities than at a national convention.

Keep things short when you are transitioning between callers. You need to be practical in using the scheduled time and dancers will become annoyed if you are too long winded. The above example is the longest you would want to be. Always remember your primary role is to keep everything running on time and in a smooth manner. Short humor is great, but make sure it is appropriate and that you are not saying something that is embarrassing to either the square dance caller on board or the dancers out on the floor. Memorizing a few short jokes or one liners is a good way to have humor that can be adapted into your situation. Keep your enthusiasm on a bright and high level.

Be prepared to call an extra tip because if you have a caller that does not show for their programmed time. You will need to cover that spot in the square dance program. “No shows” can happen and you will have to handle that as well.

Make the dancers feel welcome. Help the callers feel appreciated. Engage your dancing audience. Talk fast and smart and be humorous and charismatic.

Keep the energy high.

Call if you have any questions.

I’m in Denver most of the time and I would be glad to help in any way that I can!

Good luck.

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

 

 

 

Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller education, training, and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.