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Square dance

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Square dance

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Square dance is a folk dance where four couples (eight dancers) begin and end each sequence in a square formation, with one couple on each side of a square. This is called being in your "sets-in-order". The dance was first described in 17th century England but was also quite common in France and throughout Europe. It has become associated with the United States of America due to its historic development in that country.

The various square dance steps are based on the steps used in traditional folk dances and social dances of the various people who migrated to the USA. Some of these traditional dances include Morris dance, English Country Dance, and the quadrille. Square dancing is enjoyed by people around the world, and people around the world are involved in the continuing development of this dance.

Square dancers are prompted or cued through a sequence of steps (square dance choreography) by a square dance caller to the beat of music. The caller leads, but usually does not participate in the dance.


Two types of square dancing

There are two different types of square dance:

  • Traditional square dance, which nowadays is frequently presented in alternation with contra dances, and is most prevalent in New England, with Appalachia and the South being close seconds. Another name for a traditional square dance is quadrille, a dance which originated in mid-18th century France, and spread in popularity throughout upper-class England and the rest of Europe.
  • Modern Western square dance, which is also called "Western square dance", "contemporary Western square dance", or "modern American square dance". The basis of modern Western square dance was established during the 1930s and 1940s by Lloyd Shaw, who solicited definitions from callers across the country in order to preserve traditional American folk dance. Since the 1970s modern Western square dance has been promoted and standardized by Callerlab, the international association of modern Western square dance callers. Modern Western square dance is sometimes presented in alternation with round dances.

Comparing square dance calls

In this context a "call" refers to the name of a specific dance step. It may alternatively refer to the phrase used by a caller to cue the dancers so they dance the specified step, or to the dance step itself. It mirrors the ambiguity of the word "dance", which may mean a dance event, the dancing of an individual to the playing of one piece of music, or dancing in general.

A square dance call may take a very short time or a very long time to execute. In traditional square dancing the timing of a call is fitted to the music, but in modern Western square dancing many calls have been given formally-specified durations, usually 4-32 "counts" (where a count is roughly one step).

Traditional and modern Western square dancing have a number of calls in common, but there are usually small differences in the way they are performed. For example, the "Allemande Left" is traditionally performed by grasping left hands with the other dancer, leaning backwards slightly, and walking halfway around a central axis then stepping through. In modern Western dance the grip is modified so that each dancer grips the forearm of the other, and there is less leaning. These modifications make it easier to enter and exit the step, and thus easier to incorporate into a long sequence of calls.

Traditional square dance uses about forty or fifty calls, and every dance is explained before you dance it. There is a list of some examples of traditional square dance steps at Contradance. Participants are made to feel welcome to make mistakes (within limits), and the mistakes can sometimes make the dance a lot more fun.

In modern Western square dance the participants are expected to have learned and become proficient in a particular program, a defined set of calls. Dancing modern Western square dance is constantly challenging and surprising due to the unknown or unexpected choreography of the caller (i.e. the way the caller ties together the "calls" and the formations which result)—unlike traditional square dance, very rarely are two modern Western dances ever alike! Like traditional square dancing, recovering from occasional mistakes is often part of the fun, but dancers are usually encouraged to dance only those programs at which they are fairly proficient.

Comparing square dance music

The two types of square dance are accompanied by different types of music.

Traditional square dance is danced to traditional "country dance" music: Irish jigs and reels for the most part, as well as folk music from Quebec (Canada), England, Scotland, and other countries. The music is almost always performed live by a traditional dance music band, and played on acoustic instruments, such as the fiddle. banjo, guitar and double bass. "Old time music" is one form of dance music played at traditional square dances.

Modern Western square dancing is danced to a variety of music types, everything from pop to traditional country to broadway musical to contemporary country music—even rock and techno. The music is usually played from recordings; the beat is also somewhat faster, as the "perfect" modern Western square dance tempo is 120-128 bpm. At this speed dancers take one step per beat of the music.

Other comparisons

Modern Western square dance is organized by square dance clubs. Clubs offer classes, social and dance evenings, as well as arrange for larger dances which are usually open to the general square dancing public (i.e. non-club members). Larger dances sometimes request a strict western-style dress code, which originated in the late '50s and early '60s and is known as "traditional square dance attire", although it was not traditional before that time. Clubs may choose to advertise their dances as requiring less strict dress codes known as "proper" or "casual" (no dress code). Traditional square dance groups are less structured and often have no particular dress code.


Square dance is the State Dance or the State Folk Dance of numerous states in the USA.

The Promenade Act

The Promenade Act (H. R. 645) is a bill before the United States Congress that proposes that Square Dance be designated as the national folk dance, and that defines certain other dances (i.e. round dance, the contra dance, the line dance, the heritage dance, and clogging) as square dance.

See also

External links

Home | Up | Ballroom dance | Latin dance | Novelty and fad dances | Partner dance | Square dance | Swing dance

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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