How to Teach Some of the Most Basic Square Dancing Calls
Traditional and modern western square dancing have a universal appeal which encompasses all ages and levels of ability and social commitment. Teaching square dance to young children, teenagers, adults, senior citizens, and even some handicapped groups continually draws unique interest and social interplay to this great activity. One thing that is attractive about all dancing is it gives insecure persons an opportunity to shed their inhibitions and the opportunity to derive enormous satisfaction from interacting with others in a friendly setting.
Every local square dance caller has their own way of calling a dance and just about every caller will add short rhythmic lines to add excitement to a square dance. The dancers’ challenge is to listen for the dancing directions within the patter and then the entire square will act as a team and execute the square dance calls.
Following is a short outline for teaching the most basic set-up of the “squared set.” This is taught the first few minutes of any square dance party or any beginner class. It is imperative that all directions be simple in description and extremely clear so as not to confuse anyone learning for the first time.
Both modern style and traditional square dance follow these fundamental teaching instructions:
- The basic setup for square dance is the “squared set” which is comprised of four couples, making a total of eight dancers, who stand within the formation of a ten foot by ten foot square, each couple taking a side, or position facing inward, toward the center, to create a square shaped figure on the floor. Each couple has their backs parallel to one of the four walls in the room.
- Within the “Set” each Lady stands on her dancing partner’s right side.
- The First Couple is facing toward the back of the hall and have their backs to the caller platform.
- The Second Couple is on their right, the Third position is opposite to the couple in the first position, and the Fourth on the First Couple’s left hand side.
- First and Third Couples are identified as the “Head Couples” (1 and 3) and the Second and Fourth are “Side Couples” (2 and 4).
- For every man’s position the Man’s “Corner” or “Corner Lady” is the woman on his left. The Lady’s “Corner” or “Corner Man” is the man on her right.
- The “Home” position is the traditionally established location on the squared set of eight persons that everyone ideally returns to at the end of any directed sequence that the dancers move through. Tell the dancers they are standing at the “Home” position, which is the starting and finishing position of all square dance figures at all levels of dance.
Basic Square Dance Terms:
Set – Four couples comprise a set. Each couple stands on the side of an imaginary square.
Couple – Two dancers side by side, each comprising half of a traditional pairing that historically has matched a man standing on the left side with a woman directly to the right. There are four couples in a Set.
Partner – In a square set, Partners stand side by side, the Ladies (Women or Girls) to the right of the Men (also called Gentlemen, Gents, or Boys)
Corner – The Gentlemen’s Left- hand Lady is the lady standing on his left, or his Corner Lady. The Corner Man is the Gentleman standing directly to the right of the lady. Both terms Corner and Left Hand Lady mean the same thing and these two gender based position identities are directed in the perspective of the Gentlemen in the square.
Opposite Lady (or Gent) – The lady or man standing directly opposite a dancer’s position, as in the case of Gentleman number one and Lady number three.
Home – The station at which all couples occupy at the beginning of a square dance set of calls.
Left Hand Couple – The couple in a set standing one station to the left of a designated couple in a squared set. For example, Couple 4 is the Left Hand couple in relation to Couple 1.
Right Hand Couple – This is a couple standing one position to the right of a designated couple in a set. For instance, Couple 2 is the Right Hand Couple to Couple 1.
Right Hand Lady (or Gent) – The lady or man that is occupying the position to the right in a squared set. For example, Lady 2 is the Right Hand Lady of Gentleman 1 in a Set.
Worldwide, throughout the years of this activity’s progress, all modern western square dance callers have developed their own method of calling a complete dance. At the heart of this approach is the selection of choreographic ideas for both hoedown patter calls and singing call figures.
When teaching, all of the focus should be on the featured call that is being taught at that particular moment in the session, and not just repetition of the call should be instilled, but also the new dancers need exposure and clear explanations and familiarization of different basic dancing positions and variations of that call along with formation awareness.
The primary mindset as a square dance caller is to direct every student dancer through various positions and combinations of choreographic calls smoothly, rhythmically, and in an energetic and entertaining manner. To accomplish this all callers, whether they call modern square dance or traditional square dance, need to provide to the dance floor succinct and concise explanations of how the mechanics of a new call should be delivered without complicated and confusing words.
The process is simply:
- Teach the starting position (and formation)
- Describe the action – what specifically happens as the call is executed
- Explain the change in relationship of positioning
- Tell the dancers what their specific individual instructions will be throughout the call
- Give the dancers a visual understanding of their ending position of the call
- Devise different variations that show the dancers other possibilities that the call offers
The ultimate goal for the caller to convey to the learning dancers is that they understand the basic movement of the call and to know that there are other choreographic possibilities for almost every call ever written. By learning the rule, rather than the most common traffic patterns that are called, all dancers will be much stronger and confident in their dancing and they will be able to apply this to many different positions.
At the end of the teaching session for the new call, announce that if dancers have questions regarding the call to come seek you, their teacher, for more help. This allows any new and/or confused and struggling dancers another opportunity to get questions answered and for you to teach a different and more “hands-on” direct approach for the new dance move and how to dance it successfully.
The most basic square dance calling approach is to use the “command call.” This is when the caller simply gives the call, then waits for the proper number of beats of music until the next command is given to the dance floor. It is calling at it’s very simplest, stripped down and lacking any extra wording whatsoever. Command calls can accompany either hoedown music or the singing call portion of a square dance tip. Tracking the number of beats is absolutely essential to the timing of this style of square dance calling where the rhythm is so prominent and drives the dancing.
Command calling is most prevalent in the Advanced and Challenge levels of modern western square dancing where it is used to keep the calls simple and direct.
Once dancers have a fundamental understanding of the new call, and they have been walked through the call enough times to feel physically and mentally relaxed with the new square dance call, square dance callers can make simple command calls more interesting by adding “patter.” The best way to describe patter calling is, along with the command the caller delivers, there will be added clever words to either provide more description of the mechanics of the call, or simply to dress up and help fill the silences that come between commands. This usually is rhythmic and directive at the same time. You can read more about how to approach directing dancers through creative sequences in this informative article:
The best way to teach new dancers how to get through a combination of calls when they are confused as to where to move to on the dance floor is to advise them to watch other dancers within the square. Advise them to combine this approach by staying in place, not panicking, and then wait for the next call. By teaching dancers this method of recovery, they will better be able to dance in harmony together and they will succeed in completing more involved square dance choreography.
Of course, directing the dancers with well timed patter that works in rhythm with the music is a cornerstone of great square dance calling, and to not provide musical phrasing that is in synchronization with the beats (working in 4/4 time or 2-beat) will only alienate the dancers and you will not be guiding the dancers by the musical beat of the song. Work on using rhythmic and effective patter words in your practice sessions and everyone at all classes and regular dances will benefit from you doing so.
Spend some time and productive thought into preparing for teaching at classes, parties, or even local club dances. You can read more about the choreography process here:
Have a great teaching session!
If you need a square dance caller to teach for your gathering, please keep me in mind. If you need help in improvement in your square dance calling, please contact me. I will make your group’s event plans fun with an entertaining square dance party!
I will be offering a short and condensed beginning caller class on May 21, 2017 for a special three hour session focusing on customizing your calling style, singing call performance tips, and a one hour choreography session. See the ad flyer below. Please call for more details.
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.