Use Singalong Songs For Musical Energy
In square dance calling, singing calls can accomplish many things – entertaining and engaging all of the dancers in a beautiful melody or a fast paced moving beat is a great way to enhance the pace of the evening and create enjoyment for all. One way to involve everyone on the floor is to call a singalong. Joining people to sing together instills a community of togetherness and it can be uplifting, fun, powerful, and exhilarating. But it can also be a huge failure! Making a singalong singing call succeed on a large scale does not just happen.
Here are some tips I find make a difference:
Be a Song Leader
Square dance callers need to have a powerful and confident style of singing on stage. They need to be able to project their voice over the dancers even when they are using a microphone. By projecting your voice in a strong and enthusiastic way then the dancers will all be able to hear the melody of the song, stay on pitch, stay on the beat. A confident singing voice is infectious. Just listen to any popular song and you can hear this in all lead singers on the recording.
Avoid Overpowering the Group
Be careful that you do not dominate the singing on the singalong and not enable the group to sing and hear themselves. A great approach is to stop singing at times once you have everyone singing well to help the dancers “hear themselves”. It’s fun to listen some yourself too! And gives you a slight rest on the vocal chords for a moment or two.
Hall Size and Acoustics
Acoustics in a room make a huge difference. A lively venue with good acoustics helps everyone hear their voices and that will aid in keeping the entire group together and this alone makes everyone feel good about how they all sound in unity. Good sound in a square dance hall is important overall. This is why.
It is generally better to call in a room that’s a bit too small than one that is too big. If you have a room that’s a little too small, it will be full of vibrant energy and the dancers will feel like they are at something that is popular, fun, and successful. If you are in a hall that is too large, it’s hard to hear each other due to bad echo from the emptiness in the room and all will seem more disconnected and the general sense will be that not enough people chose to come to the dance. Acoustics and sound tie into another part of calling the dance…amplification.
Amplifying a caller’s voice and music will sound best with quality amplification. You need to hear your own voice as well as you possibly can and the dancers you will be leading will be able to hear you clearly.
For people to sing well together they need to be led. Otherwise, it is very easy for most people to fall off the rhythm of the beat or off the melody with each other. The need for sufficient amplification systems and the importance of good hall acoustics is because the larger the dance, the poorer the acoustics can be due to ambient noise in the hall, and a well placed speaker system will definitely help overcome this problem.
The less experienced the singing ability of the dancers and the less familiar dancers are with the song that you select as a singing call that is to be sung, the more important this is.
Lyrics and Song Content
Everyone in any audience often know certain songs well enough to sing them without any help with the words. This is often true at campfires and sports events with families and other groups that have been used to singing together for a long time.
The best way to have the square dancers sing with you in unison is to first give the dancers the words. Simply say, “Hey, we are going to sing a song together. I am going to need your help with singing the words. Here are the words.” Then sing the lines you want them to sing. One key to success in the group singing with you, as the caller, is using a song that everyone will know and will want to sing. Old hymnal songs and classic songs that have been passed on word of mouth are well established in folk music and some are known worldwide.
Many people can pick up a simple melody quickly if it is not too involved.
Carry the Beat
For the dancers to sing together successfully, they need to stay joined together in their rhythm. Simply, the less experienced the singing audience is, the more critically important this is. As a caller you can can communicate the beat in the melody to everyone through your voice, but the instrumental music that you call to is even more important. Strong steady beats on the square dance version of songs are critical to carrying the dance beat and the singing rhythm, and great instrumentation of the melody needs to be carried to accomplish this. Guitar, fiddle and mandolin are all popular instruments in supporting melodies in square dance music.
Drop the Beat
Another great effect to singalong with a singing call is to incorporate a capella – to have the music drop out midway through a song for the tag verse. On the Promenade part of a sequence drop the music when the dancers start singing the lyrics. then increase the volume on the music to start the next choreography sequence. Try calling out just before you do this: “Let’s try singing a capella now!”
Learn From Other Callers
A great way to pick up these ideas is to watch others. This is an entertainment ability in square dance and takes some practice. Learn from another caller that can perform this technique effectively and work on implementing this into your dance program.
Unified singing can be powerful if used properly, and together, the dancers can create their own musical energy.
Keep in mind that many traditional songs in our culture are often the result of a song having “entered oral tradition” that is, having been passed along from one singer to another orally over time, the result being added and changed verses to the original song and in some cases, unknown authorship of the song itself! Modern square dance calling is charmed to be a great vehicle to instill traditional songs into our cultural interests of today.
So have fun! It’s enjoyable to listen to a group singalong. And to participate in one. This kind of singalong is possible to use in traditional square dance calling and modern western square dance, too!
Ultimately, square dance is about building community, uplifting hearts, and pleasant amusement. Over time, I hope you enjoy leading groups in song as much as I have!
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 coaching 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.