Square Dance Calling: How to Engage

Create a Festive and Positive Environment at the Square Dances that You Call

If you want to be well remembered and really get the square dancers at your event engaged, you need to make your square dance calling presentation fun and enjoyable. Without coming off as old-fashioned, corny and, even worse, not projecting a sense of trying too hard and appearing overly eager to please your group of dancers., being dynamic and engaging could take a little work on your behalf. And if you follow some simple guidelines, then you will do a lot better!

A good performance at a dance or event lacks getting stressed out. This leads to an end result of failing to perform all that well. Luckily, calling a great square dance is something that can be practiced and perfected. Focusing on being interesting is a great start, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun night to your square dance crowd.

Start Off Right

At the beginning of the night, you are new to the entire square dance club. There is little rapport, no trust in your ability as you have not called yet, and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the dancers that have come know you personally, the style of your calling will be a little foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the dance floor right at the beginning. The first tip is all about connecting and feeling the dancers out on their abilities and strengths in terms of choreography. You want to engage, it doesn’t matter what you particularly do, you just need to connect with everyone on a warm and personal level. Laughter, calling a fun little quip on a Flutterwheel, whatever you can do to get all of the dancers out of that initial feeling of indifference with you. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers to start a night’s dance, but generally speaking, the most successful callers utilize one of these tactics:

  • Surprise the entire dance floor
  • Provide a few simple yet unexpected square dance get outs
  • Drop a bombastic statement after squaring up the dancers
  • Say an interesting and fun anecdote
  • Tell a short joke
  • Open up with a short childhood story that has a humorous ending
  • Quote a famous person and elaborate on it from some personal experience
  • Use an interesting or inspirational bit of nostalgia
  • Mention something significant about a recent sports team or recent social event

Just remember if you use an engaging tactic that you need to keep whatever you do short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction. Strive to keep things light and consistent. Famous speakers throughout all of history have known the importance of keeping their words short and simple and in projecting well thought out sentences packed with focused meaning. To be effective, you must not meander or carry on for too long and lose the attention of the dancers. They came to dance! Allow them to do so, and on a grand scale!

Build a Choreographic Program

Ease the dancers into more involved square dance choreography by focusing on building upon modules that you can combine and then make those more involved. Important choreographic ideas need to be presented with a constant and smooth presentation throughout the night’s program. Once you’re done warming up the crowd with the initial first tip, you can ease them into important choreographic ideas that you will be presenting. This begins with tip number two. Keep the same consistent presentation style in your calling all night. You need to have a specific structure that you won’t deviate from too much at any given point. Everything will go easier if you just keep things interesting and engaging and efficiently creating an enjoyable atmosphere for everyone present is key.

Focus On Excitement

From an entertaining viewpoint, if you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there throughout the entire evening. A good game plan consists of several important singing calls that need to be performed well. This means working up a few singing calls that you are able to engage well with and perform well in terms of singing and entertaining.

Avoid Lengthy Announcements

With the club announcements there is a strong tendency to lose the audience fairly quickly, and after 3-4 minutes it certainly can become a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting or standing and listening to lengthy talk, some of the items will become watered down and the core details will leave the dancers in the audience with little information to take away from the whole announcement time. To avoid rambling, direct all dancers to the flyers displayed on the tables nearby for more complete details on upcoming dance events and let everyone get back to dancing. Truth is, if your flyer is good, then they will see it and want to attend your future dance.

Create a strong structure for your program. Start with the ice breaker, introduce basic and simple choreography concepts at the beginning, elaborate on lesser used various choreographic ideas (like some ideas from the Circulate and Tag the Line families of calls) add interesting and fresh combinations of those ideas, use those ideas in singing call choreographic figures, and leave your dancers at the end of the night with a positive and “good feeling” takeaway message. Ideally, everything you call needs to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are reading an exciting novel chapter by chapter.

Related:  Singing Call Choreography

Use Short and Effective Square Dance Modules

Sometimes you will lose the dancers somewhat in more involved choreography, calls that are used less, and more creative and different abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel everyone back in by calling some good, old-fashioned and simple, basic choreography. Incorporate a sing-along singing call that engages everyone and eases any tension that might have crept into the air from too much difficult choreography.

Make short choreographic sequences that are easier to resolve to the corner and most people are more than familiar with. By making choreography look simpler, not only will you help your dancers get a better understanding of the dance calls by enabling them to visualize the figures more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you and them.

Related:  Square Dance Choreography Methods with Dancers

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation of square dance calling, one that is both memorable and fun. It takes a lot of work and practice. And dedication.

Be sure to work on your square dance calling skills daily and feel free to call me at any time. I will be glad to help!

Shaun Werkele





Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The coaching information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller 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.