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History of Square Dance
History of Square Dance History of Square Dance
Square dance is a folk dance with four couples (eight dancers) arranged in a square, with one couple on each side, beginning with Couple 1 facing away from the music and going counter-clockwise until getting to Couple 4. Couples 1 and 3 are known as the head couples, while Couples 2 and 4 are the side couples. Each dance begins and ends each sequence with "sets-in-order" in the square formation. The dance was first described in 17th century England but was also quite common in France and throughout Europe and bears a marked similarity to Scottish Country Dancing. It has become associated with the United States of America due to its historic development in that country. Nineteen U.S. states have designated it as their official state dance.

The various square dance movements are based on the steps and figures 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, Caledonians 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 broad categories of square dance:

Traditional square dance, which is also called "old time square dance". Traditional square dance is not standardized and can be subdivided into regional styles. The New England and Appalachian styles have been particularly well documented; both have survived to the present time. There are several other styles; some have survived or been revived in recent years, some have not. Traditional square dance is frequently presented in alternation with contra dances or with some form of freestyle couple dancing. One ancestor of New England style square dances is the quadrille, and older New England callers occasionally refer to their squares as quadrilles.
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 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 movement. It may alternatively refer to the phrase used by a caller to cue the dancers so they dance the specified movement, or to the dance movement 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. Most calls require between 4 and 32 "counts" (where a count is roughly one step). In traditional square dancing the timing of a call is dictated by tradition; in some regional styles, particularly that of New England, the dance movements are closely fitted to the phrases of the music. In modern Western square dancing many calls have been given formally specified durations, based partly on direct observation of how long it takes an average dancer to execute them.

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, pulling away from each other 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 no pulling (that is, each dancer supports his or her own weight). These modifications make it easier to enter and exit the movement, and thus easier to incorporate into a long sequence of calls.

Traditional square dance uses a comparatively small number of callsbetween about ten and thirty, depending on the region and the individual caller. (Many traditional square dance calls are similar or identical to contra dance calls, which are described at Contra dance choreography). Every dance is explained before the participants dance it, unless everyone present is familiar with it. 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 (that is, 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 reasonably proficient.

Comparing Square Dance Music

Old-time fiddlers often accompany traditional square dances.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 musiceven 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 120128 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.

Designations
Square dance is the State Dance or the State Folk Dance of numerous states in the U.S

Square Dance History
Modern Square Dance grew mainly from two roots: the English Country Dances and the Appalachian Big Circle Dance.

Country Dance is mainly a figure dance, where two or more couples form figures as e.g. circles, stars, waves ... or dance on interwoven paths. The movements are synchronized to the structure of the music. We know practically nothing about the roots of this dance form. The following idea is pure speculation: If you look at the art works of the Vikings with their interwoven ornaments, you might think, that a people who could devise, understand and enjoy such patterns, could as well devise, understand and enjoy dance pattern which later became Country Dance. When in 1651 John Playford published the first known book about Country Dance, he described a dance form in full blossom, with fixed terminology and standardized, but widely varied sequences. In the first edition of Playford's book there are dances in many different formations. In most cases, men stand on one side, women on the other. but there are also some dances where four couples stand on the sides of a square. (And they were named, as a matter of fact: "Square Dance".)

In the Rococo era, the English dances became popular in France too. French dancing masters traveled to England to study this kind of dancing, and then spread it throughout Europe. They adapted the word "Country Dance" into "Contre Danse", i.e. dances of opposition.

In England they danced more and more "Longways", dances in long lanes where the men stood in one long line opposite their partners in a second line. Here, the couples change places regularly, so that each couple has a chance to be "on top" in the place of honor. In France, the high society preferred to dance in the Quadrille- (i.e. Square-) formation, where each couple retains its place, and the gentleman has his lady beside him.

In the American colonies, dancing was not much different from the motherland. But when the colonies fought for their independence, and were helped by France, it became "bon ton" to prefer the French style to the English.

Appalachian Big Circle Dance also comes from England. But it was a pure folk dance and was first described in a book in 1917 by Cecil J. Sharp. Here, within a big circle, always two couples dance together. The movements are not so much geometrical figures but little pantomimes: "Birdie in the cage and three hands around" (a girl steps into the center, the other three circle around her); "Around that couple and take a peek" (the active couple tries to look at each other behind the backs of of the inactives, who try to hinder them); "Chase a rabbit, chase a squirrel, chase a pretty girl around the world" (the man pursues his partner around the other couple); to name just a few. Each figure ends with a swing with the other girl, then a swing with the partner, and the active couple moves on one place to dance with the next couple. The figures are not bound to the structure of the music and can be danced with more or fewer steps according to the whim of the dance leader.

The tempo is much faster than in Contredanse or Quadrille. (C. J. Sharp described it as "breakneck speed".) The swing, the fast revolving as couples on the spot, came from the Appalachian Dancing to New England's Contra Dancing. When the quadrille and the contredanse were pushed out of the European ballrooms by the waltz and the polka, these dance forms could hold their place in America thanks to the swing.

In the United States, traveling or moving was more usual than in Europe. At every ball you could expect guests who had not learned from the local dancing master, and did not know his arrangement of the figures. Therefore the "Ballroom Prompter" who shouted the directions for the next movement to the dancers became an indispensable institution, as necessary as the orchestra. And as the Swing from the South influenced the style in the North, the Prompter or Caller was integrated into the Appalachian Dance and its offspring.

At the end of the 18th century hunters and settlers came over the mountains into the Ohio valley and founded Kentucky. They brought their dances with them, but could not dance them in a big circle on the Green for fear of hostile Indians. They were restricted to their log cabins. Therefore they danced with four couples in a square formation. And since not all could remember how the dance went, the couple next to the fiddler started out with the couple on the right, then danced the same sequence with the opposite couple, and finally with the couple on the left. Then the couple to the right of the fiddler danced in the same manner around the square, and the next two couples as well.

This scheme is known as "Single Visiting Couple Square". It is the reason why in square dancing couples are numbered counterclockwise, while in the quadrille the head couples are #1 and #2, the side couples are #3 and #4. It has the advantage that an inexperienced couple could simply dance in the fourth position. By the time it was their turn to lead out, they had learned the figure.

This dance form came with the cowboys and the farmers across the Mississippi into Texas and to the Rocky Mountains, while contras and quadrilles were danced in New England and around the Big Lakes.

Square dances were first documented in 17th century England but were also quite common in France and throughout Europe. They came to North America with the European settlers and have undergone considerable development there.

In some countries and regions, through preservation and repetition, square dances have attained the status of a folk dance.

The Western American square dance may be the most widely known form worldwide except dances from China and India, possibly due to its association in the 20th century with the romanticized image of the American cowboy.

Square dancing is, therefore, strongly associated with the United States of America. Nineteen US states have designated it as their official state dance.

The various square dance movements are based on the steps and figures used in traditional folk dances and social dances from many countries. Some of these traditional dances include Morris dance, English Country Dance, Caledonians 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 form of dance.

In most American forms of square dance, the dancers are prompted or cued through a sequence of steps (square dance choreography) by a caller to the beat (and, in some traditions, the phrasing) of music. The caller may be one of the dancers or musicians, but nowadays is more likely to be on stage, giving full attention to directing the dancers.

The American folk music revival in New York City in the 1950s was rooted in the resurgent interest in square dancing and folk dancing there in the 1940s, which gave musicians such as Pete Seeger popular exposure.

Main Types of Square Dances
Terminology:
In America, in general, people go to square dances and call it square dancing. In England, Ireland and Scotland people go to all sorts of dances at which some of the dances will be square dances, but they don't say that they are "square dancing".

Conversely, people not familiar with the various different forms of dance may ask for an evening of square dance meaning simply a barn dance where many different formations of dance are used. It is possible to go to one of these "square dances" and not do a single actual square dance all evening!
United States and Canada

Traditional square dance, which is also called "old time square dance". Traditional square dance is not standardized and can be subdivided into regional styles. The New England and Appalachian styles have been particularly well documented; both have survived to the present time. There are several other styles; some have survived or been revived in recent years, some have not.

Traditional square dance is frequently presented in alternation with contra dances (particularly in revival groups) or with some form of freestyle couple dancing (at surviving local events). One ancestor of New England style square dances is the quadrille, and older New England callers occasionally refer to their squares as "quadrilles." Where traditional square dance has been revived, it encompasses a wide range of new choreography.

Modern Western square dance (MWSD), is also called "Western square dance", "contemporary Western square dance", or "modern American square dance".

Modern Western square dance evolved from the Western style of traditional square dance from about 1940 to 1960.

Traditional Western square dancing was promoted beginning in the 1930s by Lloyd Shaw, who solicited definitions from callers across the country in order to preserve that dance form and make it available to other teachers.

Since the 1970s modern Western square dance has been promoted and standardized by Callerlab, the "International Association of Square Dance Callers". Because of this standardization, it is possible for anyone with the proper training to enjoy modern Western square dancing in many countries around the world; although instruction is typically given in the local language, the calls are always in English. Modern Western square dance is sometimes presented in alternation with round dances.

England
Playford:
John Playford published The English Dancing Master in 1651. Eight of the 105 dances are square dances, many exhibiting concepts that we still use today such as the Heads performing an action and then the Sides repeating the same action. Three of the dances, such as "Dull Sir John", actually state "A Square Dance for Eight thus" (see the diagram on the right). Square dances such as "Newcastle", one of those original eight, are still very popular today, and countless new dances have been written in the Playford style, or English Country Dance (ECD) style as it is known in America.

Folk Dance /Barn dance:
At English folk or country dances a very wide range of dances is performed, many of which are square dances: Playford style dances; dances derived from the quadrille, for example "La Russe" published by H.D. Willock in the "Manual of Dancing" (c.1847); regional traditional folk dances such as the "Goathland Square Eight" and the "Cumberland Square Eight"; American traditional square dances; plus countless new square dances written in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ceilidh:
Ceilidhs often include square dances. At English Ceilidhs the same squares may be done as at folk dances or barn dances, but with more stepping. Stepping includes skip steps, hop steps, polka steps and rants.

Ireland
Ceilí:
Ceili dances cover a wide range of formations, including many square dances.
Set dancing: Square dances with strong regional associations. Tops (rather than Heads) and Sides are used extensively. Stepping, often with a flat-foot polka step is normal.

Scotland
Scottish country dance:
Scottish dances cover a wide range of formations, including many square dances.

Numbering of Couples
Couple numbering in a square dance set usually begins with the couple nearest the head of the hall (the side of the room containing the musicians and caller, or in the pre-caller era, the royal presence or other hosts or important guests). This couple is the "first" or "number one" couple.

If most of the figures are danced between facing couples across the set, as in the 19th century quadrille and dances derived from it, the couple opposite the first is the "second couple". The first and second couples constitute the "head" or "top" couples (or the "head and foot" couples); the third and fourth couples are the "side" couples. In the 19th century quadrille, the third couple is to the first couple's right. In Irish set dances, the third couple (sometimes termed the "first side couple") is to the left of the "first top couple" (the couples facing the first top and first side are the "second top couple" and the "second side couple" respectively).

If most figures are danced around the set, with one or more couples visiting the others in turn, the couples are likewise numbered around the set. In 17th century England they were numbered clockwise, with the second couple to the first couple's left. In most present-day American square dance traditions, the couples are numbered counterclockwise: the second couple is to the first couple's right, the third couple is across from the first, and the fourth couple is to the left of the first. The first and third are "head couples" or "heads" (or, in older parlance, the "first four"); the second and fourth are "side couples" or "sides" (formerly "side four" or "second four").

Comparing Square Dance Calls
In this context a "call" refers to the name of a specific dance movement. It may alternatively refer to the phrase used by a caller to cue the dancers so they dance the specified movement, or to the dance movement 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.

In many communities, especially in Scotland and Ireland, the dancers are expected to know the dance and there is no caller.

A square dance call may take a very short time or a very long time to execute. Most calls require between 4 and 32 "counts" (where a count is roughly one step). In traditional square dancing the timing of a call is dictated by tradition; in some regional styles, particularly that of New England, the dance movements are closely fitted to the phrases of the music. In modern Western square dancing many calls have been given formally specified durations, based partly on direct observation of how long it takes an average dancer to execute them.

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, pulling away from each other 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 no pulling (that is, each dancer supports his or her own weight). These modifications make it easier to enter and exit the movement, and thus easier to incorporate into a long sequence of calls.

Traditional square dance uses a comparatively small number of calls--between about ten and thirty, depending on the region and the individual caller.

(Many traditional square dance calls are similar or identical to contra dance calls, which are described at Contra dance choreography). New dance moves are explained by the caller.

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 (that is, 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. Dancers are usually encouraged to dance only those programs at which they are reasonably proficient.

Comparing Square Dance Music
Scottish and Irish dances are normally done to traditional tunes. English dances may be done to traditional tunes, though, especially at ceilidhs, there is experimentation with many different musical styles.

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

Traditional square dance
is almost always danced to live music. Since the 19th century, much of the square dance repertoire has been derived from jigs and reels from Scotland and Ireland, sometimes in relatively unaltered form, sometimes as played in the old time music tradition or as adapted by other cultures such as that of Quebec. This sort of music is played on acoustic instruments, such as the fiddle, banjo, guitar and double bass; certain instruments, including the piano, accordion, concertina and hammered dulcimer, are popular in specific regions. In some communities where square dancing has survived, the prevailing form of music has become popular songs from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, played on instruments such as saxophones, drums, and electric guitars. Tempos can vary from around 108 to more than 150 bpm, depending on the regional style.

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 tempo is also more uniform than in traditional dancing, 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. Traditional-revival groups typically adopt very casual dress; where traditional square dancing has survived as a community social dance, people often dress up a bit, though their clothing is not square-dance-specific.

The lines between the two forms of American square dancing have become blurred in recent years. Traditional-revival choreographers have begun to use basic movements that were invented for modern Western dancing, and a few modern Western callers incorporate older dances from various traditions, such as New England or Appalachian, into their programs.

Variations
While the standard formation for a square dance is four couples in a square, there are many variations on the theme.

These dances show some examples:

Ninepins: a square with one extra person in the middle

Winter Solstice: a square with one extra couple in the middle

Hexitation: a square with two couples in each of the Head positions.

Twelve Reel: a square with three people on each side, normally a man with a lady on either side of him.

Modern choreography also includes dances which morph from one form to another. There are contra dances and four couple longways sets which turn into a square dance part of the way through the dance and then back to the original formation.

Grid Squares are dances where the squares are arranged in a grid, sets carefully aligned across the room and up and down the room. The calls move dancers from one square to another in intricate patterns.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in Europe and in America the style of life changed in a way, that group dancing became obsolete and was only done in remote rural areas, until some men made an effort to collect and revitalize these dances.

In America, the first attempt to revive "Old-Fashioned Dancing" was undertaken by the Automobile King Henry Ford. In 1923, he brought the dancing master Benjamin B. Lovett from rural New Hampshire to Dearborn, Michigan. He provided a ballroom at the Ford Factory, organized an orchestra, published the book "Good Morning" with dance descriptions (1926) and promoted recordings and radio shows. These dances were mainly the quadrilles and contra dances from the previous century.

Lloyd Shaw, a young school principal in Colorado Springs, danced in the 1930es with his pupils European folk dances and the quadrilles published by Henry Ford. By and by he became aware that there were other kinds of square dancing, a tradition which had survived right in his home country. He started to collect them. In 1939 he published the book "Cowboy Dances" and began to hold summer schools for callers. The time was ripe, those dances were taken up by the public with enthusiasm. World War II slowed this down for a while, but in the '50es, square dancing became "the thing to do".

Western Style Square Dancing was the name Lloyd Shaw gave this kind of dancing, and soon it developed into a form of its own right. In accordance with its development from two different musical traditions, it became customary to bind two pieces of different musical and calling style into one "tip". In the "Patter Call" which derived from the Appalachian Dancing, the caller chants his commands to a more rhythmic than melodious music. The dance sequences are no longer repeated twelve times but varied spontaneously. The caller does not need to pay attention to the structure of the music. The "Singing Call" which usually follows immediately, is more related to the quadrille. Here the dance figure follows the structure of the music, and is repeated four times. A new feature is that you changed partners with every sequence.

This new style of dancing was made possible by three technical inventions: The loudspeaker, phonograph records, and the microphone. With loudspeakers, it became possible to let any number of people dance together. With records, it became possible to dance as often as you want, even in small groups. With the microphone, the caller could now give even unusual and surprising commands and nevertheless expect to be understood.

Moreover, since 1946 there were square dance magazines available which published new calls every month. At first, the old sequences were split up into their elements (basics), and these basics combined to new variations. Soon some callers began to invent new basics, to stand out from other callers. In the '60th, some square dancer complained that they really must dance with the club regularly. If they missed even three weeks, there were that many new basics, they could hardly hope to cope with them all.

In 1972, a group of eminent callers founded the CALLERLAB association with the goal of leading the flood of basics into orderly channels. In 1975, a list of about 120 basics * was agreed upon and considered as "Mainstream". If someone had learned these basics (which took a learning period of about one year), then this person should be able to dance at any square dance event, if there was not an additional list given.

At the moment there are two opposing trends: Some callers try to make square dancing a thrilling puzzle-solving sport with musical accompaniment, with even more new basics, which mainly require the exact perception of the required starting and end position. Others try to promote socializing, and keep the dancing restricted to well known sequences.

Which trend will win above the other, will be seen in the future. It depends on the callers. And the callers depend on applause. The most important applause is, dancers returning to the next evening.










Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps. -David Lloyd George


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