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.
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.