Teaching Square Dance Classes With Music Appreciation

Teaching Music Appreciation in Square Dance Classes

If you are a modern western square dance caller, I promise you take for granted the full power of teaching square dance classes. This is why you do. So much is accomplished in the set of classes that a person attends, classes not only teach the student new calls, the classes allow all to practice previously learned calls from earlier sessions. Other dancers can show students the choreography and simple dance steps that are questioned during rest breaks at class sessions in addition to calling instruction.  

The foundation of learning square dance: some basic steps based upon mechanical movements such as forearm turns, stars, and hand-shake pull-bys and formations such as Lines, Ocean Waves, and Circles of dancers – these are the basics to approach to teaching square dance for every caller. In order for the square dance caller to be optimal in his teaching some preparation needs to be put into what should be taught, when those figures will be taught, and what order is best in effectively accomplishing the instruction of the lists of calls required for a dancer to graduate.

But there are other things that need to be discussed in square dance classes other than choreography…

Teaching square dancing should also entail some music appreciation. If you think about it, square dance is about music and dancing first, everything else is second place to that. So building upon music appreciation is a superb approach to teaching square dance. And by adding the teaching of music appreciation along with learning some basic steps and formations works very well together. Set aside time in classes to teach about the history of square dance and provide a beginning foundation about square dance music and that is danced to.

The modern square dance “tip” is mostly composed of a two part combination of hoedown patter calls and singing calls to popular music. This gives you as a caller two opportunities to provide the history of a particular traditional song, or perhaps you select a song that is classically influenced. Yes, indeed, there are songs that harmonically and historically draw from musical periods in our past, or have a background in different genres of music, such as the jazz age, classic rock and roll, or even today’s techno-pop dance music.

As a caller and teacher, you need to enlighten your students and give them some brief history of square dancing and it’s evolution and growth.  It is your responsibility to expose your dancers to some old fashioned “pickers.” Fiddle, guitar, banjo and mandolin are all grass roots of the square dance sound and you can point out details in the music when you teach. Before you call a song, give a little information about the instrumentation that is featured on the record. Most people will not know the difference between a guitar and a mandolin, but if you point out what they are going to hear, then they can grow in their understanding of music.

By doing two things, first provide music that the dancers can appreciate, and second, teach them to develop their ear to better identify instruments, styles of music, and even song pieces by their musical period, then they are learning more than just square dance choreography.

Students will grow in their understanding of music as they listen to what you program. As students become dancers, they will develop their ear to identify instruments, musical pieces, and musical periods by their sound. If you use music terminology then everyone will also learn music terminology and they might even start to use a musical language  to accurately discuss square dance music.

Best Wishes,

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 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.

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Square Dance Singing Calls: Practicing Basics

Square Dance Callers: Singing Call Performance Pointers

Calling a square dance is a really fun and exciting experience, and preparing for a dance on a thorough level of readiness only makes it better. If you have ever had problems preparing for a dance, rest assured there are plenty of methods that can help you get organized and feel more prepared for your dance when it arrives. Getting the most out of your evening’s dance can be easier if you just know how to get ready for it. Singing Calls are half of the dance, so you need to know the lyrics and the choreography that works with the song thoroughly.

Lyrics in Songs for Square Dance

Remembering the  lyrics in a singing call is not hard work, and each caller responds to learning differently, so it really depends on what works for you. Start by reading the lyrics out loud to yourself and then consider them both by themselves and with the music. I always find a few of the original popular versions of the songs that I plan on performing and I listen to these at least a few times in order to make the words stick. Then I recommend that you make your own detailed analysis of what the words mean. And how they time out in the context of the song. Work on the words a little at a time. Avoid trying to memorize too much in one session. Concentrate on learning the words one block of verse at a time. Fortunately, you do not have to learn every word of the songs that you use as singing calls, only the words that work around the choreography.

When you know the lyrics a bit better, a good idea is to walk around singing them without any music.  Do this in a quick fashion and press yourself with little time to think, so they become an automatic action. The music clips along at a pretty fast pace in square dance, and that aspect won’t allow you much time to stop and think about what you are singing. Or the choreography you are calling. And there will be a whole lot of other things happening on the dance floor that can distract you and make you forget what you’re doing. So repeat the lyrics while doing something else, such as driving to the store, walking round the local park, cooking or doing yard work.

If you find that you’re forgetting certain parts of a song, work out which lines you tend to forget and write them down several times. Write them down on a card or type them in a Word document or in Notepad. Find a key word and perhaps a pattern of ideas, such as the lyrics telling a story or similar wording that create rhythmic drive in the song that is memorable for you.

When people forget lyrics, the problem is nearly always that they haven’t been clear in their mind about the story the lyrics tell. By making sure you know exactly what story you want to get across, you can reduce the difficulty of this problem. I like to use singing call songs that I already know most of the lyrics in the normal popular song version. Half of the fight is behind you when you are already super comfortable with the lyrics.

Choreography in Singing Calls

Choreography cards for singing calls work very well in learning sequences and finding figures that work best with certain songs. Some square dance callers are sometimes worried of overpreparing because they think the material will NOT come across as fresh and exciting. But that shouldn’t be an issue – to keep the performance grand – every time you perform, dynamics change: the atmosphere in the hall is different, the dancers usually are not the same. By preparing as much as you possibly can, you’ll have the ability to soar through the night’s program and you will have more stage performing confidence and you certainly will enjoy the dance more. Square dance calling can be an exhilarating experience but it’s also a huge task to undertake. Display confidence and instill reliance that you can sing well and call even better.

On the other hand, avoid overpracticing just before you are to call. This is not the same as overpreparing. This is about vocal practice. Do not sing the one note you might be worried about 20 times before you go on stage. You will only tire yourself out. Instead, you should just slide through your range once, with that note included, to reassure yourself that you can do it. Follow this set of warmup-practice exercises for square dance callers to ready yourself for your dance.

Mental & Physical Preparation

You, as a square dance caller, can practice mentally, both with music and without music. Review your square dance choreography and presentation in your head and you can improve and strengthen your overall program for all of your dances. Do this both for the hoedown patter portions and singing calls to make everything flow better. Mental practice can be very effective in getting you ready for a dance.

What To Do Just Before The Dance

Set aside time to warm-up your body and your voice an hour before the dance starts. This is a little difficult to do because you will have to load in and set up your equipment just before the dance starts. But just plan to have a few minutes before you have to do that.

Drink a lot of fluids while you are calling and always keep it fun! Being a square dance caller is hard work, but if you are prepared and well practiced then you can relax and have fun!

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 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.

Left Handed Choreography For Square Dance Singing Calls

Modern Western square dance callers can fall into a repetitive routine quite easily and this can be on several levels. The same choreography. Same songs. Same ideas. Over and over… so… break that slumpy rut! Remember, if you make an effort to try something different then you are way ahead of the caller napping on the couch.

Using choreography and moves that present more challenging figures on the dance tip portion for the singing call can be a way to break that predictable rut that the dancers have been put in. After all, the caller decides what to call and then the dancers follow that. So please put some thought into your square dance programming for the night’s dance and provide a few moments with some harder and more intricate choreography. Accompany that different choreography with slower and smoother types of music can encourage a more enjoyable evening.

This always works best for me, and it will for anyone who reaches out and embraces some different and interesting square dance moves. Which brings us to a few more involved choreographic sequences that work in singing calls.

The following square dance singing call figures implement an uncommon Left hand set-up configuration and they use Left handed square dance calls. The best way to call this type of set-up is to call it a “Scootback and work with your Left Hand.” By telling the dancers and aid them in understanding this left handed variation better it helps with their success when using this type of choreography.

Keep in mind that this style of square dance choreography (dancing by definition, or DBD) needs to be incorporated into your choreography as you call in the hoedown style patter calling beforehand. Dancer success depends on this. I use these exact sequences when I call these “Left Hand Scootback” sequences in the patter portion and make “Left Hand Scootback” the focus of the entire tip with use of the figure sequence in the singing call:

CALLING TIP! Keep a clear perspective of what each dancer’s ABILITY is and ultimately what they came for – FUN!

Heads (Sides) Star Thru
And Square Thru Three Hands
Left Touch a Quarter
Scootback  (Left)
Single Hinge
Boys Trade
Boys Run
Wheel & Deal
Pass Thru
U Turn Back
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

Or try this variation….

Heads (Sides) Slide Thru
Square Thru Three Hands
Left Touch a Quarter
Scootback  (Left)
Scootback (Left)
Single Hinge
Girls Trade
Girls Run
Wheel & Deal
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

In order to use these sequences at the Mainstream level you will have to workshop the figures with directional cues to lessen confusion. Check out this post for how to use directional instructions in your square dance calling: https://shaunwerkelesquaredancecalleraugustrecords.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/call-square-dancers-through-involved-mainstreamplus-choreography-formations/

Left hand figures are great for improving dancing strength, they can be relatively simple, and they add variety to your dance program for the night!

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 coaching 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.