The way a lot of square dance callers get into the art is to start out with a singing call at an open microphone night at a club dance. Some call this an amateur night, and rightly so. This is an opportunity for a newer caller to perform a singing call or two, and perhaps even a hoedown call, and get exposure and experience all at the same time.
At the end of the performance, the new caller feels good and excited and hopefully all of the dancers are polite and courteous and they enjoy the calling presented and compliment and thank the new caller. One thing the new caller will surely realize is that they are only starting to learn about the complexity of modern western square dance calling and they will need some guidance and mentoring to move forward in learning how to become accomplished in this specialized art form.
Learning to square dance call is very different from simply learning a singing call for an open microphone dance event. The difference is you have to know what you are doing if you are going to be proficient. You have to love calling – singing, teaching, writing choreography and tying all of that together. And you have to believe in yourself and what you are doing and then take that feeling and make a deep commitment in what you learn and how you use that to further your abilities as you strive to be a modern western square dance caller.
A good amount of people who call at an open mike dance are student callers who are working on building a foundation of knowledge and skills. Often they have been given some music to work on learning and after calling once, they are encouraged to learn calling. Inadvertently, some new callers will feel that they are better than they are once they get a little confidence after an amateur night. But it will take lots and lots of hard work for development and understanding many of the complexities of choreography, delivery, teaching, and entertaining.
A more experienced square dance caller often will work with a new caller. If a dancer wants to learn to call, the experienced caller can just give them some music and help them learn a simple singing call. From there, it is important to seek out a square dance caller coach to advance in every way. Over time, consulting with an experienced coach is only needed occasionally. From there, and with strong guidance, expansion into choreography writing and other areas of knowledge and skills will help refine the basis upon which everything started from.
There is an awful lot that needs to be learned after that first night calling. But by working with a set of achievable goals anyone can progress in a logical manner and build upon various areas. For example, homework will be a necessary part of learning, just like learning anything else. Knowledge of choreography is high on the list of things that need to be in place to learn how to combine modules, learn to sight call, and to use choreography in an interesting and effective manner.
And practice is the other necessary part of learning to square dance call. Delivering commands in time to the music so that the dancers are able to dance and move smoothly without “stop and go” movements is one of the most important elements of the art of calling. Music is another part that is important to practice. Relating to the music and its structure and using great phrasing and delivery is so important.
Understanding square dance choreography is essential to presenting smooth flowing calls and delivering those calls well. A common mistake that a new caller makes is rushing into attempting to sight call. I teach all callers to build a strong foundation in choreographic knowledge and understanding the mechanics and formations and definitive possibilities for square dance calls first, much more in advance of learning effective sight calling and square resolution.
Singing and entertaining is yet another facet of the calling gem. For some great practice tips, go to:
How long does it take to become a square dance caller, anyway?
On the average, just to become proficient in basic calling, and that does not necessarily include proficiency in calling a complete square dance, it can take up to two years. To be proficient and knowledgeable about choreography, singing performance, writing great square dance choreography, and having a complete package to offer as a caller always takes longer. There are so many things that have to be learned and some of those things only come with experience.
Overall, becoming a caller takes some time, patience, the guidance of a great experienced caller coach, and lots of work and practice.
And this all starts from that one night. The first performance at that open microphone night!
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.