6 Keys to Becoming a Master of Square Dance Calling

Six Ways to Achieve Square Dance Calling Proficiency

I believe there would be little argument that there is a right way to learn something and there is a wrong way. If you strive to be more accomplished and successful then what do you focus on?  Actually, that is not audaciously ambitious enough — want to be the very best? Who doesn’t?

So here is the best advice I can give any modern western square dance caller. Many have said that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything, but truthfully, if you align your practice and learning with the way your brain is naturally wired to learn, combine that with some good sense, then you can be more proficient in your learning and improvement approach. The time you spend is crucial, yet you can get to square dance mastery faster — much faster — by practicing the correct and effective way. You can accomplish this by following these seven steps:

1) Push Yourself Outside of Your Comfort Zone

It has been proven that everyone learns best when they are pushing their limits. Stretching your abilities and boundaries of difficulty is a key component to maximizing your learning threshold. Step outside of your comfort zone. Make it hard. When a person struggles with something is when advancement will happen. When you struggle, this is when you will see more improvement. The more time you spend outside of your comfort zone, the faster you can improve and learn anything.

Strive to spend a very high quality ten minutes practicing a new choreography figure than practicing a mediocre overused figure. By doing this, you learn something new that is more on the edge of your ability, and now you have added to your arsenal a new and more interesting choreographic sequence for your dance group. You want to practice your calling where you are on the edge of your capability and you make mistakes, failing in your timing and presentation, and then realizing those mistakes and correcting them.

More on the best way for you to practice here.


2) Maximize Your Uncomfortable Success Rate

You want to be successful only 60 to 80 percent of the time when training to be a better caller. That’s a maximized sweet spot for improvement in almost anything.
This is why and what typically happens:

When learning is too hard, many will quit. When something is too easy….then we often quit then, too.

Because of this paradigm, always strive to stay in that 60 to 80 percent zone. Make it a challenge. If you learn too little and everything you learn is too easy, then you definitely are not pushing your capabilities. If you are not succeeding much then change things by easing up a little bit because flailing is not good, either.  Are you succeeding 90 percent of the time? That’s too easy. You want to constantly be pushing, all the while adjusting the environment for improvement so that you’re succeeding 60 to 80 percent of the time.

One quick thing about practice. Do not ever overpractice. You will harm your vocal chords and then you will have to rest them for a while, perhaps as long as a month to 2 months, if you strain your voice. Just make sure that you are consistently pushing other elements of the square dance calling craft that you can improve on without overdriving your vocal chords, like studying choreography. Which brings us to the next guideline for mastery.

3) Set Time For Study Then Followed By Effective Execution

Think about improving as a pie cut into thirds. Cut a third of a piece for studying and learning choreography. The other two-thirds of your pie is the time you want to be actually calling. Practicing. Pushing yourself.

So get your focus on two-thirds practice time. Study only what you need to. Whatever it is you want to learn for the week,reach for being the best at it, be doing it. The closer your practice is to the real thing, calling at an actual dance , the faster you learn to master square dance calling. Your improvement will evolve by doing things like focused and hard practice, not by hearing, reading or talking about how to call.

It’s much better to spend about two thirds of your time analyzing and testing yourself in a practice session rather than spending lots of time absorbing and studying . Many situations will force the average caller to adapt to the situation anyway. Dancing levels are different not only at every dance, but sometimes even by every tip danced. You will need to be ready to adapt your program and your choreography and by using the rule of two thirds. If you want to, say, memorize a bunch of choreography, you would be better off focusing the other two-thirds of your time working on practicing calling the choreography and the mechanics and the creative possibilities that you might have to change at a moment’s notice at a dance. I recommend that you spend more time testing yourself on choreographic knowledge than memorization.

4) Find a Role Model Square Dance Caller

Really watching the best do what they excel at is one of the most powerful things you can do to reach mastery at just about anything. Learning by watching is motivational, inspirational and it is how we have learned since the dawn of modern man. Man is built to learn. By studying the best in the art of square dance calling, then we will strive more and concentrate and focus to be the best in performance, programming, and overall better in every way.

When we watch someone we want to become and be like and we have a really intensely centered idea of where we want to be, it unleashes a tremendous amount of energy that is creative and inspirational. It sounds very basic, but spending time studying every word that a great square dance caller presents in a night’s dance can be one of the most powerful things you do.

5) Create Yourself a Caller’s Notebook

Many famous persons throughout history have kept a diary or journal to propel their studies and improvement. Today, top performers in many walks of life will track their progress, set goals for improvement, and learn from and improve by using a simple tracking tool like a notebook.

Keep two notebooks. One for your practice and performance and another with choreography that you are learning or need reference to. The road to improvement requires a map or two, and keeping a couple of notebooks that you can write down what you accomplished this week and/or what you tried to do, where you made mistakes and what things you displayed notable improvement in is important to advancing your skills. Use a notebook to capture and record information. Use it to track your progress. The power of the notebook is underrated and underused and I could not imagine not using this extremely helpful tool.

6) Attend a Square Dance Calling School

There are many benefits in studying at a caller school. Learning and improvement will boost your confidence and lead to eventual mastery. Education is the process of facilitating learning. Knowledge, skills, good practice techniques, and positive habits of a group of callers are transmitted to other people looking to learn how to square dance call.

Discussion, teaching, training, getting positive feedback and coaching leads to a better method of improvement and it helps you boost your own overall personal development. Overall, attendance at a top square dance caller school and acquiring a certified education will have a positive and powerful impact upon your ability and carry you to a  higher level on your way to mastery. Learn proficiency, professionalism, and learn how to be more musical. Learn how to be an entertainer! Learn how to be a choreographer. Learn how to package yourself as a competent and confident and experienced and knowledgeable caller!

Commit to Achieving Square Dance Caller Mastery

Everything in life requires a commitment. To what extent you go to is the difference. Skill and commitment have a tied relationship. The more committed anyone is to something then this leads to so much higher levels in success and proficiency, and this is the difference.

Merely committing to the long haul will have huge effects. Committing to practice and study can push abilities off the charts, and that is the difference maker. It takes time to master square dance calling, and that commitment combined with the right temperament will always advance you to a higher place supported by all of the above concentrated activities. This correct combination will make all of the hard work and focus worthwhile. You can push your capabilities off the charts. Commit to the long haul.

Don’t give up.

Reach. Get out on the edge of your ability. Get into your 60-80 percent discomfort zone and reach past that.

Sadly, none of us were born as an expert at anything. But you can become one with practice and time. Expect to spend a few years of hard work to reach a level of mastery in square dance calling. Start now. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Have a Great Day! Contact me if you have a question about square dance calling!

Shaun Werkele





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 training, education, 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.


6 thoughts on “6 Keys to Becoming a Master of Square Dance Calling

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