Incorporating Style When Square Dancing
Dancing is about a lot of things if you think about it. It is about everyone’s fulfillment of the basic human need to have fun and this is accomplished in many ways. Moving to the music. Enjoying the cooperation of other dancers and succeeding in getting through the choreography. Exhibiting beauty, style and grace. Enjoying the social aspects of getting together. As a square dancer, you need to know the calls (choreography) but you also want to look good while you are doing the movements to the music. As a caller, you need to know what to teach that involves good styling and timing and how to present that to your group.
But what exactly are the basic elements that determine style in square dancing? The most prominent and the least thought of is the enjoyment that dancers derive from dancing and the extent to which this enjoyment is reflected not only in their facial expressions, but in their body movements that display the relaxed and emotional feelings that can be seen while they dance.
All dancing requires proper posture, a gliding smooth step, and a gentle grasp with other dancers, or occasionally a more firm grasp, when necessary. Square dance is a simple dance in terms of mechanical difficulty, and it is a joy to perform the movements on the dance floor when the calls are executed in a rhythmic, graceful manner and with body control.
Learning the steps of a square dance call or figure is only part of the dance. Learning the mechanics of the choreography is the bare minimum achievement to succeeding in being accomplished and dancing with confidence. Add to that some graceful styling moves and anyone’s self-confidence will become inspiring.
I have listed some highly important styling considerations that are used in both modern square dancing and traditional square dancing, and these are outlined below. Keep these in mind whenever you are teaching a square dance class so that you can foster strong and beautiful dancing for persons new to the activity:
- The square dance step should be an easy, smooth gliding shuffle step that is kept short. It is a soft sliding movement that advances the dancer forward in a walking manner and at the end of each forward slide, the heel drops gently to the floor.
- Standing erect and with good posture is at the essence of style and applies to all dance movements. When circling around in a square, avoid twisting the torso from one side to another. Some women who wear the classic dress (square dance costume) with lush petticoats underneath their colorful and ornate skirts will twist as they circle to display the beauty of the skirts, and this is quite acceptable, however, doing this is a more advanced move and it takes practice to do well.
- In honoring the partner, the man bows slightly from the waist as his partner, the woman curtsies by pointing the left foot, toe first, touching the floor right leg slightly bent in an elegant manner. The lady’s right arm is extended and often the right hand will hold her skirt.
- When a man swings a lady, the swing finishes with the lady unfolding to the right side of the man, so that both dancers stand side-by-side in couple position, facing in the same direction.
- When swinging a lady, the man supports her firmly with his right arm around her waist and when turning around each other, the move is smooth and relatively quick, but without pushing her around with undue roughness.
- When standing in couple position, the inside hands should be joined, with the man’s palm facing up and the lady’s palm down. In certain cases and when some more advanced calls and figures require it, where the couple consists of two people of the same sex, the left-hand dancer turns the palm up and the right-hand dancer turns the palm down. Arms should be bent, with the hands held slightly higher than the elbow.
- When a call such as Box the Gnat or California Twirl is used, the lady will be turning under the man’s extended arm held high. Hands are held loosely, with the fingers pointing up for the man and down for the lady. Only slight pressure is used as the hands revolve around each other. This firm yet gentle move takes practice and some dancers will twirl at the end of a swing.
- When using forearm turns, each dancer holds the inside of the other dancer’s forearm in a loose style that requires the two to be almost at the same angle that is in line with their shoulders lining up. The thumb is kept close to the entire hand that is used for this.
Nationally, it has become accepted to dance with the handshake and the arm turn with the forearm for almost all figures used in a square dance. Some local areas have their own customs that they have developed when using styling. In traditional square dancing these general rules are followed, but there are some exceptions in Contra style dancing and specialty figures that have to be taught at that particular moment. For older dancers in age some styling is altered to accommodate their limited ability to move as freely as they once did.
As a square dance caller, it is your responsibility to teach dancers to be as good of a dancer as they can be. Take time to demonstrate with an experienced “angel dancer” the correct ways to incorporate style into every student’s dancing as they progress through the set of lessons. Style is not hard. It should be taught as the best way for dancers to demonstrate their pleasure in celebrating together as they fulfill a basic need to have social fun and fellowship with others and to exhibit the beauty of dance.
Even something as simple as square dancing.
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.