“Pop! Goes The Weasel!” Evolution of a Nursery Rhyme in Square Dance

“Pop! Goes The Weasel!” A Traditional Square Dance Song

I remember dancing to a fantastic traditional square dance standard in 1973 when I was in square dance classes that worked around the nursery rhyme, “Pop! Goes The Weasel!” I never gave the meaning of the lyrics of the song much thought when we were dancing, but it sure was a lot of fun because the tempo of the song would intermittently speed up and slow down adding to the physical drama of dancing the tune. Obviously, the square dance caller enjoyed presenting this piece just for the sheer unadulterated fun that it produced for the dancers in struggling to keep up with the more frantic tempos as they would rise and swell like a rogue wave rolling in on a beach. And it was dramatic fun! Great memories.

As it turns out, there is quite a bit of long and detailed history behind this catchy classic musical piece that started out as an English ditty. It also has some mystery as to its origin. The imagery that is presented by the title itself first creates a striking visual portrayal of a weasel “popping” his head up out of a hole in the ground and then once again disappearing, as these kinds of animals behave in this manner naturally. Thinking upon the meaning of “Pop! Goes the Weasel!”, the overall gist is that the short and apparent opportunity is “here today and gone tomorrow” such as a weasel disappearing from view and all of the lines in the rhyme verses end with this similar repeating thematic idea.

Due to the bouncy and fast rhythmic beat and meter that the rhyme carries, this simple English tune most likely made its start as an orally repeated word of mouth chant/tune that was passed down from several generations and not just as a rhyme that was put to music later. “Pop! Goes The Weasel!” has an uncertain origin without an author and without a starting date of creation.

But the song has a historical background and an intimate reference of the unknown original author’s (or multiple author’s) most likely personal observations or accounts of poverty, drinking, pawning, and tailoring in the 17th century in London. The one verse that shows the rhyme has both relevance of a historical place and a common social behavior is pointed out here:

Up and down the London road
In and out of the Eagle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! Goes the weasel!

 

This verse describes a night out at a music hall and one of the earliest night pubs called the Eagle tavern, located on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk in Hackney, North London. The Eagle was an old pub which was rebuilt as a music hall in 1825 and existed many years before then. For many in London this was a popular stop and diversion. But drinking at the popular tavern cost money – so one needs money to have a night on the town. “Popping” in those times meant to pawn something – pop is the British slang for this. A “weasel” was also Cockney rhyming slang which originated in London, the original derivation being “weasel and stoat,” meaning a winter coat. During those times it was quite normal for even the poor to own a suit, which they wore as their “Sunday Best.” Hocking items for a short term until money became available was a necessary manner in the times of Victorian England.

This simple nonsensical rhyme that at first appears to have no specific intention or purpose starts to come to light once it is revealed that the reason for pawnbroking is to go out on a night on the town despite poverty wages and hardship in London:

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! Goes the weasel!

 

This particular rhyme verse and most of the following verses have a lot of reference to tailoring, cobbling, and hat making and the expenses that were necessary to survive in the workforce during the beginning of the apparel revolution.  Further, some of the lines in the verses indicate addictive behavior of these drunken cobblers and London hatters, part of the working class in London at the time of the seventeen hundreds. Our modern society of today would name them as drug addicts and “compulsive drunks.” And here’s the explanation.

Hatmakers worked with a highly toxic substance called mercuric nitrate, which was used in the manufacture of hats. Hatters commonly suffered from “hatter’s shakes,” a form of nerve damage which manifested its symptoms similar to Parkinson’s Disease. This came to be known as “Mad Hatter’s Syndrome.”  We see this similar disorder in painters who handle toxic solvents and thinners for too many years. Hatters could have been mad in either or both of the “angry” or “insane” mannerisms with aggressive tendencies and they possibly were delusional, and further, many had many behavioral problems that they had developed as a result of the occupation of hat making.

Mad hatters most certainly were crafters that dealt with attempting to maintain rationality with their condition and, as a result, were plain grumpy, in some kind of pain, and were involuntary victims through toxic chemical exposure – drug addicts as a result of their trade. They occasionally were short of funds and they pawned or “popped” their weasel – a weasel being a sewing tool used in the textile trade – so that they would be able to purchase liquor and pursue other cavorting.

Garments were created by first using a tailor’s flat iron, a “dead weasel” which was a hatter’s tool, a spinner’s wheel used for measuring in spinning yarn. A part of the sewing, or weaving, trade, this tool counted the amount of yarn that had been spun, essential in the process of the manufacture of many linens and other clothing, such as a coat for which the weasel was used to spin. Using a weasel allowed the spinning craftsman to not have to count the revolutions of the wheel. Forty revolutions and the machine would make a loud popping sound. This was some early automated industrial technology, indeed.

Round and round the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought ’twas all in fun
Pop! Goes the weasel!

 

The overall explanation of the meaning of “Pop! Goes the Weasel!” is a logical and well supported account. But there seems to be more to this song than that. The above verse has the lyricist describing the fight between temptations  of drinking and chasing after playhouse girls soliciting sex – of lamenting over too little time at the work bench and too much time and money out and about carousing. This set of verse continues about the matter in the verse below:

Every night when I go out
The monkey’s on the table
Take a stick and knock it off
Pop! Goes the weasel!

 

This verse is a bit more obscure than the first two – a “monkey” is slang for a playhouse girl or a prostitute. All of the verses that involve the word monkey are verses referring to prostitution. The monkey is on the table, possibly meaning the street where street walkers solicited their business. “Knocking off a stick” was also old London slang for having sex or seducing someone. All of the verses that deal with the monkey are referring to cavorting in Victorian London. This person wants to go out and have a “grand old time.” And that will take some money, so  it will require that the hatter/tailor/weaver put his trade at risk when he pawns his occupational tools for habitual alcohol and sex! Pawn that spinning wheel!  “Pop! Goes the Weasel!”

Half a pound of tuppenny rice
Half a pound of treacle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! goes the weasel!

 

This commonly is one of the first verses recited in the rhyme. It describes some of the ingredients to make inexpensive meals from food available during this time.  Rice and treacle – a syrup used in all sorts of foods including rice pudding – would have been a popular and much less costly dish to prepare for the poor that lived outside the walls of London and many of these working class Londoners would have worked in the textile industry. The point is, if you were a tailor, a hatter, or cobbler and you have no money, you most likely needed to stretch your dollar on your food budget and you might even be pawning something to make it through the week. So “pop” goes the weasel!

I’ve no time to plead and pine
I’ve no time to wheedle
Kiss me quick and then I’m gone
Pop! Goes the weasel!

 

All of these lyrics in this rhyming ditty circulated quickly throughout Victorian London. I believe this song was so popular for several reasons.

First, the melody and the fast and driving up-beat tempo were very catchy. This is one of those melodies that can repeat in one’s head over and over like a stuck phonograph record.

Second, the subject content dealt with drinking and cavorting. Amazingly, people enjoy talking about these kinds of subjects because they border on the “taboo” of society. Talking about, singing about, and of course doing these activities were a grand escape for many in this harsh industrial environment at this time. These activities removed many workers from the reality of slaving away at the textile mills in nearby London in the late sixteen and seventeen hundreds and all could associate with that, and, indeed, many would hang out at the local pub.

Third, the act of pawning was something that was commonplace in London with the existence of “pop” shops that were also based there. Many could fully relate to pawning, cavorting, drinking. These activities were part of life in the seventeen hundreds and eighteen hundreds in London.

Ultimately, the deep message within this infectious ditty is that a fun night on the town is well worth a week of low wages, schlocky cuisine and miserable living conditions. In short, it was how many dealt with their working class reality.

Other lyrics were devised over time that gained currency in the sweat shop textile industry conditions in old working class London:

My mother taught me how to sew
And how to thread the needle
Every time my finger slips
Pop! goes the weasel!

You may try to sew and sew
And never make something regal
So roll it up and let it go
Pop! goes the weasel!

 

The first recognized written announcement of this gingerly paced dance tune was in 1850, once it had migrated to the United States, and the article was entitled “Pop Goes the Weasel for Fun and Frolic.” The publication referred to this as an “Old English dance lately revived” and there were quite a few articles both in the United States nationally, as well in Great Britain and its provinces, that indicate this song was hugely popular in the 1850’s on a very large social scale.

This new “country dance” was even formally endorsed by Queen Victoria herself according to an English advertisement in 1854. The thing about this song is the only lyrics that were published in the music was the “Pop! Goes the Weasel!” line. There were no words initially printed because the song was obviously a bit risque, and since the lyrics were at least a hundred years old and people simply did not understand the Cockney rhyming slang that was in the lyrics, they were left off.

And without published lyrics, then this led to more creation of new verses in the “New World.” This English song and its melody became widely accepted in America as a party style song as well as a popular fiddle tune, and was even performed in the minstrel shows.

“Pop! Goes the Weasel!” as a song was a means by which many virtuoso and country fiddlers used to display their skill on the instrument. American fiddlers in the South in during the mid-nineteenth century and on through a great amount of the early 1900’s played the piece as a trick music piece to showcase their playing at contests. It was well established to start the song with the violin held in a normal playing position and then upon reaching the word ‘Pop’ in the tune to pluck the E string and shift the violin to a radically different position quickly (such as behind the back or above the head) and without difficulty in perfect timing with the meter of the music. The objective was to put on a visual performance that would bring out the loudest applause from the spectators. Early music stars!

The tune was very popular during the American Civil War in both the blue and grey camps and in the years after the war toward the late eighteen hundreds it had evolved into a children’s rhyming game similar to musical chairs by the beginning of the twentieth century.

In America, the words were changed and altered (some of the American people out there misunderstood the original lyrics and the original meaning became diluted). Here are some of the most popular verses that emerged once the song’s meaning of the weasel became more widely known nationally as the small animal that burrowed in the ground. The song became a dancing and musical sensation and it continued to grow:

All around the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock
Pop! goes the weasel!

All around the chicken coop
The possum chased the weasel
And after him in double haste
Pop! goes the weasel!

Jimmy’s got the whooping cough
And Timmy’s got the measles
That’s the way the story goes
Pop! goes the weasel!

My son and I went to the fair
We saw a lot of people
We spent a lot of money there
Pop! goes the weasel!

 

Indeed, “Pop! Goes the Weasel”! became a popular dance at parties as well as a nursery rhyme and children’s game as years passed. The changed meaning and added lyrics of the 6/8 jig became a very popular traditional square dance as well. Many people did not know of the deep origin of the meaning of the song. But it did not matter any longer.

Related:  Essential List Of Traditional Square Dance Music

Traditional square dance embraced the song because of the quick tempo and its catchy melody. The following is one of the most frequently used traditional set of calls and this square dance version has lasted throughout the years of traditional dance:

Pop! Goes the Weasel! (Square Dance Calls)

Opening/Introduction:

Allemande Left with the Corners all
Grand Right and Left go round the hall
Meet Your Partner and Promenade
Give her a glass of lemonade
Promenade Eight ’til you get straight
Pop! Goes the Weasel!

First Main Figure:

The First ol’ Lady Out to the Right
And don’t you dare to blunder
You Circle Three Hands round and round
And Pop the Lady under
The Lady Moves on, the Gent Goes Right
You Circle round like thunder
Double Three Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Then She Goes On, the Gent Goes On
Now is it any wonder?
That after Double Three Hands Round
You Pop them Both on under
The Lady Comes Back, the Gent Goes On
It’s more than easy, it’s easier
Circle Four Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Second Break Figure:

Allemande Left with the Corners all
Grand Right and Left go round the hall
Meet Your Partner and Promenade
Give her a glass of lemonade
Promenade Eight ’til you get straight
Pop! Goes the Weasel!

Second Main Figure:

The Second ol’ Lady Out to the Right
And don’t you dare to blunder
You Circle Three Hands round and round
And Pop the Lady under
The Lady Moves on, the Gent Goes Right
You Circle round like thunder
Double Three Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Then She Goes On, the Gent Goes On
Now is it any wonder?
That after Double Three Hands Round
You Pop them Both on under
The Lady Comes Back, the Gent Goes On
It’s more than easy, it’s easier
Circle Four Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Third Break Figure:

Allemande Left with the Corners all
Grand Right and Left go round the hall
Meet Your Partner and Promenade
Give her a glass of lemonade
Promenade Eight ’til you get straight
Pop! Goes the Weasel!

Third Main Figure:

The Third ol’ Lady Out to the Right
And don’t you dare to blunder
You Circle Three Hands round and round
And Pop the Lady under
The Lady Moves on, the Gent Goes Right
You Circle round like thunder
Double Three Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Then She Goes On, the Gent Goes On
Now is it any wonder?
That after Double Three Hands Round
You Pop them Both on under
The Lady Comes Back, the Gent Goes On
It’s more than easy, it’s easier
Circle Four Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Fourth Break Figure:

Allemande Left with the Corners all
Grand Right and Left go round the hall
Meet Your Partner and Promenade
Give her a glass of lemonade
Promenade Eight ’til you get straight
Pop! Goes the Weasel!

Fourth Main Figure:

The Fourth ol’ Lady Out to the Right
And don’t you dare to blunder
You Circle Three Hands round and round
And Pop the Lady under
The Lady Moves on, the Gent Goes Right
You Circle round like thunder
Double Three Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Then She Goes On, the Gent Goes On
Now is it any wonder?
That after Double Three Hands Round
You Pop them Both on under
The Lady Comes Back, the Gent Goes On
It’s more than easy, it’s easier
Circle Four Hands round and round
Pop Them Both on under

Breakdown of Calls

Here is a short description of the mechanics of the choreography in the singing call which is repeated four times. Each of the four sequences are color coded to see the beginning and end of each break. The Break Figures do not change the sequence of dancers and interrupt the rotational Main Figures.

Related:  Mechanics of Square Dancing Singing Calls

Break Figure:

Everyone does an Allemande Left with their Corner, then execute a Right and Left Grand. When they meet their Partner, all Promenade home. This is a prequel to each of the four repeated Main Figures each time.

Main Figure:

Couple One Lady Leads out to the Right, joins hands with Couple Number Two and “Circle up 3” clockwise once around and a half more. Lady One now is looking toward Couple Two.

Couple Two raises their inside hands and they make an arch and Lady One ducks through the arch, releases hands and walks to the Right and Faces Couple Three where the “Circle up 3” clockwise once around and a half is executed once more. Lady One now has her back to Couple Three.

At the same time, Gentleman number One will Lead out to the right and Circle Up 3 with Couple Two clockwise once and a half. Both Couples Two and Three make an arch and Lady One ducks through the arch, releases hands and walks to the Right and Faces Couple Four as Gentleman One dives through his arch and faces Couple Three.

Lady One facing Couple Four and Gentleman One facing Couple Three will each Circle 3 around once and a half, the couples each make an arch, and Lady One will step through 2 steps and Turn Around and wait for Gentleman One to duck through his arch with Couple Three and walk out to face couple Four. Then Lady one will step forward to the right and join her Partner facing Couple Four.

Couples One and Four, facing, will Circle up 4 Once and a Half  clockwise. Couple Four will make an arch and Couple One will duck through the arch and go back to their home position, Gentleman One backing up slightly as Lady One walks while turning to face the center of the set to end in a perfectly squared fashion at the Home position.

All dancers repeat the movements for the other three Main Figures, but changing the Active persons with Sequence 2, 3 and 4, respectively in order of the Couples 2,3, and 4.

It’s a Wrap!

Of all four above sequences comprised, which are almost the same each in choreography, although other dancers will take turns being the active couples, they all rely on very basic calls that can be taught easily and quickly. Using the Circle Up 3 and Circle Up 4 makes the dance a little more whirl in motion and nice fun, and the song makes for great interaction for dancers of all ages. Try this as a sing-along with everyone singing the “weasel tag.”

Related: Singalong Pointers For The Square Dance Caller

Everyone can relate to this old tune that is a nursery rhyme set to an up-tempo beat in a square dance setting. It was a great match then and it still is today.

Fun and enjoyment is the very essence of “Pop Goes The Weasel.” Consider giving it a try when you call a square dance party. Take everyone back in time through a classic square dance song.

 

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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Hot Square Dance Nights and Cool Barn Dances

A square dance party night is called a lot of things. A “square dance one-nighter party.” A “square dance fun night.” A “barn dance.” A “western party.” When I was a new caller, a “one night stand.” At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing. As a square dance caller for hire, these gigs are pretty much all the same type of thing and should be approached with the same attitude, and that is for the hired caller to provide a great time to everyone who walks in the door.

The success of the party night starts as soon as you are called upon to entertain for that special group that is interested in having such a party. Good advice for any square dance caller (both traditional and modern style) approached to do a square dance party is to be certain that you and the event organizer have a clear agreement of what you are hired to do. Do not assume anything. Ask a lot of questions concerning the event and make sure that you both have a good understanding in detail about what it is you will do at the party:

  • Where is the party to be?
  • What time will the event start?
  • How many people will be present?
  • Will there be any breaks?
  • Will there be any drinking of alcohol at the party?
  • What will the average age of everyone present be?
  • Is this a special event – birthday or other engagement?
  • Will the party be inside or outside?
  • What types of music will you expect – modern – traditional square dance – mix of all styles?
  • Is the group expecting a demonstration or will they participate, or both?
  • Will there be any other entertainment?
  • Is the building or venue suitable for good sound?
  • Is the area within comfortable sizeable and safe for dancing?
  • Is there electrical power available?
  • How long will the event last?
  • What is expected of me?

Once you have a clear understanding of what the event is, ask more specific questions to avoid problems about setting up for the party:

  • Is the electrical power supply easily accessible?
  • Will you have a table available for me to use?
  • Ask for specific directions to avoid confusion.
  • Is there a stage to perform on?

Once you have an understanding of what will be required and what the event organizer expects, you can quote a fair price for calling at the party. Then follow this list of things to cement the agreement and prepare yourself for the event:

  • Ensure that the organizer has your contact information.
  • Confirm the meeting time for setting up and a contact for that
  • Make sure that you have the organizer’s phone number and at least one back up contact
  • Be prepared to send a contract to the organizer if they do not send you one in a timely manner
  • Sign and date the contract and send back a copy to the hiring party
  • Prepare for the event using information discussed and all of this should be briefly described in the contract
  • You must plan a program for the dance fulfilling the agreed to terms

Related:  Square Dance Contracts Information

Build your program and music for the evening by keeping in mind the time frame allowed, time of year (particularly if outdoors), type of event (family event such as a barbeque or a corporate work party) and age of the participants. Your program must be fitting for your group in style of dance – modern versus traditional or combined – in choreography and you must also bring an abundance of great musical selections so that you can offer sonic versatility in really appealing and great music they can relate to.

Choose the square dance calls you want to teach and outline your program. You can always change things around and modify your program if you need to. Think about teaching simply and keeping things fun.

Not having a program in place is not a good idea at all. The other thing is you will need to be highly entertaining and charismatic. Have some fun ideas that will liven up the crowd.

Related:  Modern Western Square Dance Calling: Sparkle Your Entertainment!

Consider all possibilities of programming such as having a line dance somewhere in the program. This will allow everyone to get up and dance, even if they do not have a partner. A square dance mixer is a great way to promote intermingling and fun. Most people have not tried this kind of dancing, so it is a novel way to break the ice socially.

Another great idea is to have all the dancers make the “big circle” in introducing some of the very basic calls to a large group at the beginning of the night. This always is the best way to get everyone learning and moving quickly and the engagement is quite energetic for everyone dancing. Later on you can break everyone off into squares and work on teaching the basics of dancing in an actual square of eight people.

All of these square dance party programming ideas are very different from normal dance programming for Mainstream club level callers. Spend some time with it. You will need to do this to make it pay off.

Related:  Preparing For a Square Dance

Square Dance Equipment Check

Have all of your equipment ready to go well in advance. Speakers. Stands. Laptop. All necessary cables and extra power cords. Be ready for any possible problems with equipment, or if you are outside, be prepared for weather changes. In Colorado, the weather can change quite quickly from mild and sunshiny to windy, cold and inclement within a few minutes. Doing parties requires being prepared for weather changes. A backup laptop and amplifier is always an added insurance policy for equipment failure or any sort of computer malfunction.

It is a good idea to bring some choreography that you can refer to if you need to. Stored on the laptop is great, but you should have a hard copy of any choreography you have targeted for use for the night. I personally like recipe cards or a binder notebook with call sequences or a reminder list to prompt you to remember key things you want to teach and perhaps the precise order to do so.

Bring along your contract in case there is a misunderstanding about the terms you had agreed upon. And some business cards just in case someone asks you about calling for their group. All of these items need to be ready and organized and ready to go before you leave for the party.

Make sure that everyone has a lot of fun and they enjoy the dancing. After all, this is the very reason you were hired for the event. Keep in mind that teaching and calling classes is very different from a square dance party.  Everyone in attendance is there to have fun, you were not hired to teach them condensed dance lessons or intentionally recruit anyone for square dancing. You can be one of the best callers out there, but if the crowd does not have a lot of fun and you do not connect with everyone there, you have failed miserably. The organizer will not be happy. And you will have not fulfilled your contract agreement and most likely will only be returning as the ice cream server.

For more inspiration on calling an outstanding and entertaining dance check out this article:

Related:  Ways to Be a Showman as a Square Dance Caller

 

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

Feel free to call me if you have a square dance caller in training question!

Have a successful and fun gig!

 

 

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.

Square Dance Calling: Understanding Timing & Musical Phrasing

The most important and effective part of any square dance caller’s improvement is to focus on their phrasing and timing. Timing is the very cornerstone of incredible calling and the start of mastering this begins with an understanding of how these two elements of music work together.

Musical Phrase

A melodic phrase is a group of notes that not only sound well together, a good musical phrase conveys a definite melodic combination of musical notes. In other words, a phrase is a series of notes that sound complete even when played apart from the main song. Think of it as a chapter in a book. Or a short path on a trail and all of the paths make for a long trail for the hiker to travel upon. Phrases combine to create a theme that we call a composed song’s melody.

Another noteworthy thing about musical phrasing is a phrase is one idea that when combined with other phrases can create complete melodies or even rhythmically based figures. It generally takes more than one phrase to make a complete melody.

For square dance calling, a good and simple way to think of a vocally produced musical phrase is it is as short as a single word and it can be as long as the length that a singer chooses to sing a phrase in one breath of air. This is a typical unit of both musical meter and musical rhythm – both are tied to keeping in time with the beats of music in a composed melody or set of melodies, and this is what makes the enjoyment of music possible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrase_(music)

Musical phrases are pleasing to the ear because they resolve in the view of the listener, and since they resolve, there is closure and completion of the sounds, much like the completion of a sentence in a written body of work. They are a composition element, which is taught in music theory, to make the music more organic, natural, and attractive. Keep in mind that the goal of a musical phrase is to peak interest in the listener and their enjoyment of the music first, on an aural level, and then second, on an emotional level.

Square dancers are listeners first, so improving your phrasing is one of the best ways to polish up your calling abilities. The part of the music that callers utilize for the melodic parts of choreography – delivery (calls and patter) – is based both on the rhythm of the music and the musical notes within the song itself. All traditional hoedown music provides a basic chord progression that is repeated every 16 or 32 beats in a melody. This music contains many phrases that link together and they are repeated or retold in altered instrumental stylings of the parent melodic phrase with prominent melody instruments such as the fiddle or the guitar. Musicians perform the musical piece to create a unique song with evolving and changing sets of variation within the final structure. And that is how phrasing in a hoedown song works.

Because of this repetitive melodic phrasing in square dance hoedown music, the role of the caller is laid out by fitting his vocal phrasing to work with the beat and the musical phrases that exist in the song’s melody.

The Bass Carries The Weight…

The bass parts of songs carry the root note in a musical chord with third notes and fifth notes alternating on the 2 and 4 beats of all traditional square dance music. The bassline in a song follows the chord pattern and most patterns are usually very simple and repetitious.
A bass instrument in a hoedown is a square dance caller’s best friend. The bass being played is a fantastic guide for timing and showing what the possibilities are for great phrasing. The most basic way to call is to marry the movement of the bass with your delivery of the square dance calls that can then be in harmony with the hoedown song’s chord structure.

This can be a simple called melody that you turn into:

  1. Melodic phrasing (vocal delivery of calls) in use with the
  2. Rhythmic aspect of your patter delivery.

Start off by trying this simple exercise:

Take any hoedown song with a solid strong bass end to it and isolate the bass frequencies. Adjust the bass control by turning it up and you will more clearly hear the bassline for the hoedown song. Listen to the song enough times that you can hear the chord changes resolve, come to an end, and then the music will start to repeat. The phrasing of the musical sequence repeats itself.

Next, try to sing along in unison with the bassline note for note verbatim or as close as you can, then turn off the music halfway through the musical phrase and see if you can sing the remaining notes that finish the bass sequence of the hoedown’s melody. This is much more difficult, particularly if you are weak at this time in carrying a melody. Do this until you can at least somewhat duplicate the bass notes with “dum dum” or “Doo doo” vocal singing of the melody without the music playing at all. Practice the simple changes without hoedown musical accompaniment until you have a great feel for the music and the complete chord changes that are carried through the bass instrument.

The Element of Timing

Expanding upon this idea allows you to practice more variety in your vocal delivery by getting back to the most basic of all square dance timing, the one-beat. It is the single most important musical element that square dance callers use to achieve great timing in their delivery of square dance calls. Now practice only saying “one” with every first beat of music in the same 2/4 rhythm of hoedown music. By following the actual pitch of the musical chord with the one-beat, you can focus on being in time and also being in pitch with the music.

Use a traditional 2/4 rhythm hoedown piece, and pick a slower tempo and work on the one-beat with “dum,” “one,” and “doo.” I will use the vocal “ten bounce” on the ones a lot of the time when I do this exercise. You must strive to match the tempo with the hoedown’s beat on the one-beat and the third beat, the three-beat. But more than that. You also need to match the PITCH of the notes that the bass is carrying for the traditional hoedown song.

Related:  Improve Your Vocal Technique

Next, take this a step further and add the two and four beats by saying “one two, one two” in pitch with the bass of the song. Practice a bit.

Add another element of phrasing by expanding your delivery by switching up to “one-two-three-four” for the song and make sure that you follow the one-beat. To ensure that you do indeed follow the one-beat, start on the very first beat of the square dance music after the introduction of the song. This is usually 8 beats, although it can vary and only be 4 beats or it can be more than 8 beats, usually 16 beats, on rare occasions 12.

Delivering the Calls

This is the point where the musical phrasing really begins!

Use the beats of music and say in time as quarter notes (four notes at a time):

ONE>TWO>THREE>FOUR>ONE>TWO>THREE>FOUR>ONE>TWO> THREE>FOUR

This will even work with a 2/4 beat song even though you are saying, “one-two-three-four.” This is because a count of four rhythmically falls in place with the one-two count in a 2/4 meter of music just as well as 4/4 timing. Practice this until you can speak/sing with the music for 12 beats. Then mentally count for 4 beats while you take a normal breath. Then repeat the ONE>TWO>THREE>FOUR  for another 12 beats. This makes a timed out musical phrase of 16 beats.

(If you cannot feel the musical phrase or the one-beat, then check into getting some help from a musician in counting music.)

Next, count the music in eighth notes. Say in time and start on the “one”:

ONE>and>TWO>and>THREE>and>FOUR>and>ONE>and>TWO>and>

THREE>and>FOUR>and>ONE>and>TWO>and>THREE>and>FOUR>and>

After you feel that you have a good feel for the musical phrasing of the hoedown music, you can begin creating your own phrasing by calling in rhythm to the one-beat.

Here is a great beginning exercise that practices the reinforcement of three things:

    1. It builds a practiced habit of feeling the one-beat
    2. It reinforces calling in pitch to the music
    3. It encourages growth of musical phrasing in your delivery:

ONE>and>TWO>and>THREE>and>FOUR>and>
Bow  to    the    Part     nerrr

ONE>and> TWO>and> THREE>and>FOUR>and

And   the    Cor – ner     of        the   hall

Both the phrasing and the timing is dependent upon starting on the one-beat. All dancers depend on your timed delivery so that they dance in time to the music. And remember, good phrasing and timing is ear pleasing, too!

Related:  Modern Western Square Dance Calling: Timing is EVERYTHING!

Next, you can work on some timed musical phrases as  they work in square dance calling. The bolded words in the following patter call line up with the numbers above them (the beats):

ONE>  and> TWO>and>THREE>and>FOUR>and>ONE>and>TWO>and>
Grand Right and a Left around ago,                     Hand over Hand a –                  THREE>and>FOUR> and>ONE>and>TWO>and>THREE>and>FOUR>and
rouuuund    and      a      Meet that  Lady and   You   Prome nade ’round

 

Continue practicing for as long as it takes to easily match the rhythm in time to the beat.

Related:  How to Master Square Dance Calling

An Overview

Every delivery of every call has its own unique meter and musical phrase due to the words used and how they are grouped in the delivery. The only real way to get good phrasing is to practice hoedown square dance calling an awful lot and learn to call originally; or take existing square dance material and make it yours.

Square dance calling as an art begins at understanding basic timing and phrasing and using those principles to fit the commands into a musical phrase as the dancers execute the calls. Over time, you will develop a stronger sense of the beat and delivering as many calls as you can on the one beat as possible. Most callers combine both of these approaches to grow their abilities as a caller.

Remember, working hard on timing and phrasing of the delivery of the calls will provide the dancers with some of the best calling that they could ever dance to and make you sound great!

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

 

 

 

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.

 

Basics: How to Teach Square Dancing

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.

Teaching Techniques

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:

  1. Teach the starting position (and formation)
  2. Describe the action – what specifically happens as the call is executed
  3. Explain the change in relationship of positioning
  4. Tell the dancers what their specific individual instructions will be throughout the call
  5. Give the dancers a visual understanding of their ending position of the call
  6. 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.

Command Calls

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.

Patter Calls

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:

Related: How to Formulate Square Dance Choreography

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.

Rhythm

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:

Related: Rules for Writing Choreography for Square Dance Classes

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!

Thanks,

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

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.

 

 

Classic Square Dance Singing Call Figures

Modern Western square dance has a deep rooted background that is based upon tradition. At a dance, the ultimate goal is to have a great time with friends. Dancing it up on the dance floor. There definitely is a time for dancing where the dancers do not need to think too much in terms of choreography, and this happens when faster paced song numbers that bring excitement – when all of a sudden everyone hears it – the song everyone can’t resist – is used in your program. The song the dancers just HAVE to dance to. Their feet really have no choice in the matter!

Classic songs that have a timeless quality are the perfect vehicle for using classic square dance singing call figures. Traditional songs in square dancing lend themselves well to dancing because of nostalgic reasons that take baby boomers back in time and many millennials might be familiar with some of these old square dance songs. Certainly, all persons will want to participate in an old tradition of dancing and participating in a sing-along in unison.

This is a perfect time to use some classic choreography that the dancers are already familiar with so they can really cut loose. And they might even know what is going to be called next. But that’s OK this time. A classic high energy singing call is a perfect time to instill the dancers with simpler choreography sequences to ensure overall success.

Below are four classic singing call figures that make for almost mindless dancing – just what is needed to jazz up a sing-along or a classic traditional song, or just a faster paced or highly energetic piece of square dance music. These are nothing ground-breaking or unique, they simply have withstood the years and have lasting worth and for that reason are classics.

So let the dancers Have. The. Time. Of. Their. Lives!

CALLING TIP! Check with the square dance club officers about their group’s ability level and whether or not they want star tips during the dance to help in making your program plan.

Heads (Sides) Promenade Halfway
Square Thru 4 Hands
Swing Thru
Boys Run Right
Ferris Wheel
Centers Square Thru Three Hands
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

Heads (Sides) Square Thru
Do Sa Do
Swing Thru
Boys Run Right
Bend the Line
Flutterwheel
Slide Thru
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

Heads (Sides) Promenade Halfway
Square Thru
Right & Left Thru
Do Sa Do
Pass Thru
Trade By
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

Heads (Sides) Square Thru
Do Sa Do
Swing Thru
Spin the Top
Right & Left Thru
Square Thru Three Hands
Swing Corner & Promenade Home

Simple and lively and enjoyable! Relax yourself and the dancers with these four classic sequences and happy square dance calling!

 

Shaun Werkele
303-250-4735

 

 

 

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.

The Sticky Tricky Singing Call In Modern Square Dance

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!

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

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.

 

Modern Western Square Dance: What Really is Traditional?

In the midst of the proliferation of modern western square dancing starting in the late 1940’s there became a point at which everything changed dramatically. Many call this change the Chicken Plucker revolution and the growth in the activity was phenomenally huge. At one point there were at least 6 million square dancers in the activity and many countless persons who were exposed to square dance at parties or viewing square dance on television or in the media back in the heyday.

Square dance callers realized nationally that choreographic sequences which were used at square dance parties (one-night stands) could and should be expanded to include variations and creative and different approaches. Over time, it became apparent that major changes in choreography, musical content, and calling styles were progressing with new groups that bred a more sophisticated way of enjoying this popular dance form.

Even the need for square dance caller training became quite apparent by this time. Square dancing needed to become more stabilized and standardized, and so it did. Dancing levels were established and variations in formations and traffic patterns and methods of calling a square dance came to light.

Because of this period of extreme growth, callers began to exchange ideas and improvise new figures and spontaneity was intermingled with memorized sets of commands that ultimately led to more intermingling. Sophistication. Dancers moved more simultaneously. Square dance had made tremendous strides in less than 30 year’s time!

Musically, all of the songs evolved right along with all other forms of music as everything in our society progressed and grew. This was a much simpler time when the days seemed to be much more carefree and endless. Square dancing was a great fit for this period in the American culture, where people, honestly, just got together to enjoy one another in company in a friendly social setting without discussing political viewpoints.

At the end of the day, more than anything else, square dancing has always been about people dancing and socializing in an atmosphere of music and experiencing fun together. Within America developed a unique social dance from the root of centuries-old European folk and formal dance and evolved into an international activity that is enjoyed in many parts of the world. Square Dance has grown and developed over time in order to fit the needs of the dancers. The changes within this changing dance art form tell a fascinating story with a rich heritage which also directs the light to a bright future.

All based upon people enjoying the company of others.

To learn about the advantages that the square dance activity has to offer, check into attending a square dance class in your area. There are traditional square dance and modern western square dance groups in your neck of the woods and you can indulge into something that is socially gratifying and musically delightful!

Best Regards,

Shaun Werkele 

303-250-4735

 

 

 

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 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.

Seven All-Time Most Important Modern Square Dance Calls

The Most Important Mainstream Square Dance Calls…

…And Why They Are…

Square dancing has a deep history of bringing forth choreographic ideas that, through years of use by callers and dancers, has allowed for growth in the complexity and diversity of many basic and fundamental calls. With these roots established originally in traditional square dance, post-World War II saw an explosion in square dance that led to the development of hundreds of square dance calls that evolved and progressed over years of use.

During this period is when square dance reached it’s golden years and everything was in place to allow the development of choreography on a more intricate and complex plateau than had been seen before. Additionally, this is when new square dance formations were established and a transformation in choreography brought the activity to the place it is today.

Following is a list of the most important calls that have been the choreographic backbone of modern western square dancing for the past fifty plus years. This collection of calls is the pillar of this style of dance and, as such, they are the backbone to creating modern square dance choreography for all callers.  These are the most important, but in many ways, some are the most popular for the Mainstream level of square dance as well. A few are very simple, yet most expanded into concepts as years passed in the square dance activity.

Here are my reasons for these important calls and each is supported with examples of other different calls that were written and conceived from these original choreographic icons of square dance:

Run

Run provides a few great possibilities that take dancing further for a couple of reasons. Run does two things: it changes facing direction of the Runner (Centers, Ends, Boys, Girls) and requires the person being “Ran around” to side step into the Runner’s original position without changing facing direction. The Running dancers are more active in executing this move.  Run introduces a fast way to change formations such as from Ocean Waves to Two-Faced Lines. A simple call that transforms the square and positioning quite a lot, and it offers variations in fractional and Cross Runs that change positioning more and enabled the concept of “crossing” at higher dance levels. Run is a basic call with a very basic rule, and many fundamental possibilities can grow out of this call.

Scoot Back

Scoot Back is the one call that moves dancers around quickly and yet brings them back to the exact same set of dancers every time. The call involves using the same hands that are held at the beginning of the call, using the same exact hand for the dancers moving in, and joining the same hand with the same person in the same set-up as initially started. Whether left or right hand formations or Mini-Waves or Standard Ocean Waves, Scoot Back is an enjoyable call that is short and simple and the figure not only has has been the lead-off for many other more involved square dance calls at the Advanced and Challenge levels of choreography for square dance: Scoot and Plenty, Scoot Chain Thru, Scoot and Dodge, Scoot and Weave.

Swing Thru

Swing Thru is a call that is very specific in execution and because of this can pose a challenge to dancers at the Mainstream level. The call is one of the more graceful moves in square dance, however, the initiation of the call with the right hand (Right Hand Rule) can pose some difficulty for many dancers to become fully adept at getting through Swing Thru successfully. Since it can be executed in positions of Facing Couples and both Right and Left Hand Ocean Waves, following the basic rule is slightly more involved. Swing Thru is an antecedent to the “Swing” concept (Centers and Ends Turn Half) which leads to the innovation of many calls that are either compound or complex at the Advanced (A-1 & A-2) and Challenge (C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4) levels. Some examples of this concept include: Swing and Circle, Swing About, Swing and Mix, Swing the Fractions.

Tag The Line/Fractional Tags

Tag the Line is a splendid call that tests dancer’s ability to recognize the center of a Line and execute the passing of dancers and then to take the next direction (literally) whether that direction is an individual turning a quarter (Right, Left, In, Out) or all dancers taking another call after the passing completion. This call requires positional awareness to begin the move, and potentially it can provide a great deal of variety for all involved. Since the dancers pass through several positions on the way through then it becomes possible to establish Tag Positions – Quarter Tag, Half Tag, Three Quarter Tag -and the framework for establishing the call Extend the Tag. Once again, Tag the Line has become a lead-off call that has been combined with other more complex calls, creating quite a few hybrid calls used at higher levels of dance. Some of these include: Tag Back to an Ocean Wave, Vertical Tag, Extend the Tag, Variations of Tags (Half Tag, etc).

Spin Chain Thru

The Spin Chain Thru call is the longest Ocean  Wave Formation call on the Mainstream list and it is comprised of a compound set of Cast Three Quarters and Ends and Centers turn half  that creates a formation change – a connected temporary Ocean Wave in a Facing Diamond formation before it ends with Parallel Ocean Waves. It cleverly combines two concepts – “Spin” and “Chain,” two concepts that had expanded modern square dance in it’s heyday and have been the heart of conceptual definition for many other “Spin” and “Chain” calls. Numerous other compound calls on higher level dance lists owe a tip of the hat to the time withstanding parent figure Spin Chain Thru such as: Spin Chain the Gears, Relay the Deucey, Spin Chain & Circulate the Gears, Relay the Top, Spin Chain the Line.

Square Thru

Square Thru brings a lot to square dancing for several reasons. This fundamental call breaks down to the variations of Normal, Left, Fractions (how many hands are used) and it offers a lot of versatility in choreography. Perhaps used by square dance callers more than any other call ever (singing call figures exploit this call to excess) this move, too, is a parent figure for many other variations of the “Square” concept that have been danced for years at higher levels of square dance – Square Chain Thru, Square the Bases, Square Chain the Top – all were devised from the parent call Square Thru as their foundation.

Circulate

Circulate is one of the primary calls that takes dancers quickly from one area of the square to another without changing the formation. This is huge, the simple “follow the leader” application of the rule for circulate which works from many formations and all dancers advancing is an independent move that does not involve other dancers. Or does it?  Although each dancer moves independently to the next position on the floor, without total harmony of the whole square in execution, a breakdown can come about quite quickly. Further, there is the most widespread possibilities with Circulate from a simple Column to Parallel Ocean Waves and moving beyond Mainstream to higher levels the creative possibilities are vast. This call is simple, yet many dancers never master all the possible combinations that can be called. Even the basic Circulates at the Mainstream level such as All Eight, Single File, Box , Split and Couples, or specifically, Boys, Girls, Centers, Ends, and when combined with Half fractions ( Once and a Half, etc.) can instill tons of new ideas that make Circulate the most versatile of all square dance calls ever!

All of these fundamental square dance calls have withstood the test of time, they are fun choreography to implement and execute, and they provide unlimited variety. The understanding of the mechanical basics of these calls creates an important step for both callers and dancers to advance from Mainstream up to and through the Advanced to Challenge levels. Improvement and advancement for some dancers requires learning in a more robust manner, and similarly, callers need to be quite proficient at choreography to master teaching on a progressive level.

Feel free to call me at anytime if you have a square dance calling question! I will be teaching a one-shot calling class on September 10, 1-4 pm at the Ranch Office Building at 11859 Pecos Street in Westminster, CO. Hope to see you there!

Have a Great Day!

Shaun Werkele
303-250-4735

 

 

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.

Modern Western Square Dance: Building Variety In Singing Call Figures

Square dancing has a long heritage and legacy that is still evolving to this day, much like all music and dance. Since both of these elemental traditions are combined to call a dance, using square dance choreography that is in the “classic square dance” meme will always be a home run when incorporated within  your program.

Further,  two different ideas can recombine to produce a new and innovative idea involving elements of each choreographic parent idea. As a modern western square dance caller, you can present simple square dance singing call music and along with that build the choreography up in difficulty as the dance progresses and push the dancer’s ability up as the night unfolds. You can present both new and old music and new and old choreography and build a great progression in choreographic material with the hoedown patter portions of each tip. This  is the best manner for making singing calls the most interesting and your overall program the most entertaining.

Below are a few singing call figures that will help in making modern western square dance calling a Mainstream level dancing interesting and engaging. Changing the choreography as you do a singing call by slightly altering the same choreography figure is a great way to offer great variety throughout your program without getting super complicated. Another great aside is the dancers will have to listen more carefully and they will not be able to anticipate each calling sequence.

Make sure you practice these with a couple of different singing call songs so you can help yourself build an appealing and potent presentation of the calls. Three of the four figures start out the same but they all end differently. These make for some nice dancing and gives special practice time to the dance floor by offering Half Sashay and Circle Four Halfway as choreography options. Both calls Half Sashay and Circle Four (to a Line) are Basic calls that have strong and deep roots in the traditional square dance arena:

 

CALLING TIP! Change the choreography in your singing calls to strengthen dancing ability and provide high interest in the overall program that you present!

Heads (Sides) Right and Left Thru
Half Sashay
Star Thru
Circle Four Halfway
Swing Thru
Spin the Top
Square Thru Three Hands
Swing Corner & Promenade

 

Heads (Sides) Touch a Quarter
Those Boys Run
Circle Four Halfway
Touch a Quarter
Walk & Dodge
Wheel & Deal
Zoom
Centers Pass Thru
Star Thru
Pass Thru
Swing Corner & Promenade

 

Heads (Sides) Right and Left Thru
Half Sashay
Star Thru
Circle Four Halfway
Veer Left
Bend the Line
Reverse Flutterwheel
Sweep a Quarter
Veer Right & Promenade

 

Heads (Sides) Right and Left Thru
Half Sashay
Star Thru
Circle Four Halfway
Star Thru
Half Sashay
Pass Thru
Girls Fold
Swing Corner & Promenade

 

I personally like to use Circle Four Halfway and Circle Four Three Quarters as a nice change from the traditionally based Circle Four to a Line and verily, it adds a little spice to the night choreographically.

If you do call a workshop tip within your night’s program, working in a couple of singing call figures that apply the choreographic ideas that were taught and then the reinforcement of that is a superb approach to rounding off the workshop!

Best Regards,
Shaun Werkele
303-250-4735

 

 

 

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.

Teaching Square Dance Classes With Music Appreciation

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.

Best Wishes,

Shaun Werkele

303-250-4735

 

 

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.