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 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 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 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 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 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!
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.