Singing calls are an obvious and straightforward way for a beginning square dance caller to start calling. The approach is to learn some of the lyrics of the popular song you choose to use – and it is easy—the idea is to practice the supplied figure which comes with the singing call record and then simply learn the melody using the words of the choreography rather than the words of the song. Sounds simple… not so much!
I can remember back when I first started learning to call (I was young and my voice had not even changed yet), mimicking the caller on the instrumental side of the 45 rpm record. It took me a year or so before I started to actually understand the basic mechanics of square dance choreography and the relationship of how the figure supplied with the record actually worked with the amount of beats and the melody of the popular song.
There are elements that make for a great singing call. The most crucial – does the combined choreography figure fit the timing of the 64 beat phrasing that has been the mainstay of singing calls, tracing it’s beginning to the traditional heyday of square dance? Timed out figures are quite important to ensure that the dance is smooth and enjoyable.
And another method that has evolved over time is the interchangeability of choreography in a singing call. Using figures that square dance callers change throughout the song is an extremely effective way to provide both variety and appropriateness, that being square dance calls that match the level of the group for which you are calling.
Changing dance choreography within a singing call is not a required agenda, but this allows freedom to be both creative and more diverse and it will allow a caller to use figures of their own choice rather than to be restricted by any original sequence of calls that were provided with the singing call initially. Sometimes changing choreography for a singing call is necessary if a square dance caller wants to use the music, but the original supplied figure on the vocal version is for the mainstream level and the dancers at the group dance the PLUS level. This definitely would warrant the need for changing up the choreography for the group’s ability.
For the beginner, a new caller needs to have been practicing and spending some time with several singing call figures for every learned singing call for a minimum of several months. The end goal is to reach a plateau of comfort in presenting new replacement figures that are timed well with the singing call and learn how to place the commands in relation to the allotted time space of a 64 beat musical set of musical phrases so then the caller is not reading the calls off a sheet and begins to progress. By learning the melody, understanding the musical phrasing of the song and the timing structure, then the student caller will know the singing call thoroughly and then they can experiment with altering the choreographic figures within the song. This can take time.
This progression of learning will feel quite uncomfortable and rather strange in the beginning. A square dance mentor can help a new caller with guidance and suggestions about where to place the calls in relation to the music and how to add directional words to fit. The guidance of a square dance coach can help with learning to practice many different figures within singing calls and to find which sequences are better suited for the program and the style of song that is used.
New callers can research choreography written for singing calls from books and use other figures from other singing call records. This is a good start on learning to use and change out figures for other more useful ones. All callers need to work on writing their own sequences for a couple of different reasons. One reason is to ensure that your choreography works in terms of timing and resolution. The figures must end with Swinging the Corner on the end of the figure for the corner progression to work out.
I also recommend that you check the figures available with any square dance music you have purchased. Anything that has been written may not have choreography that works out. One call left out of a sequence will make it not physically possible to execute for the dancers. Or another thing that can happen is the figure does not resolve to “Swing the Corner” at the end. Always check through the figures with square dance checkers before practicing those sequences with the singing call, and certainly before the choreography is used in a performance.
Recording your practice sessions is a requirement to ensure that singing call performance is smooth and to test different choreography patterns. Dance the practice parts that incorporate new calls to find out how well the timing is and how the different sequences feel to the dancer.
Square dance callers that teach square dance classes will find that new dancers do not have great reaction time in executing calls and succeed in dancing a correctly timed standard singing call figure. The solution to getting dancer success is to assemble figures that allow for more time in dancer execution, in other words, simply write figures that take less than 64 beats to dance and give the floor more time to move through the choreography. This is a better approach than pushing correct timing on calls that can create stress for newer dancers and encourage breaking down.
When calling a dance party a caller does not have to use singing call choreography that changes partners with a “Swing Corner” if the dancers are not ready to handle rotating partners around on a singing call. Easy is the key to calling square dance parties. Just use simple figures that work well for beginners and have the dancers swing their partner instead of their corner each time. This simplified method of calling less should only be used until the dancers are ready and comfortable for a standard correctly timed figure. Then apply 64 beat figures to all singing calls to pull new dancers forward and keep them interested and comfortably challenged.
Singing calls are easier than hoedown calling. They are more fun in some ways. But they can be tricky. And sticky. And it takes a lot of work and preparation to be able to perform a singing call well!
Have a great day!
Please do not hesitate to reach me if you are learning to square dance call and you have a question! I would be glad to help!
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.