Square dance is a folk dance for four couples that was first described in 17th century England, but which 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 the 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 does not participate in the dance.
Two types of square dancing
There are two different types of square dance:
- Traditional square dance, which is nowadays 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 a quadrille. Quadrilles originated in upper-class England.
- Western square dance, which is also called "modern Western square dance", "contemporary Western square dance", or "modern American square dance". Western square dance is practiced worldwide. It is sometimes presented in alternation with round dances.
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 modern Western square dancing a call requires a specific number of counts to be executed, usually 4-32 counts. In traditional square dancing the timing of a call is fit to the music.
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 around a central axis. In 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 Western square dance one dances a defined program where the participants have learned and become proficient in performing the steps necessary to dance the program. At the basic level this consists of 68 calls. Dancing 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")— no two dances are ever alike!
The two types of square dance are accompanies 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. Western square dance is danced to a variety of music types, everything from pop to traditional country to broadway musical to contemporary country music. The beat is also somewhat faster, as the "perfect" western square dance tempo is 128 bpm. The music is usually played from recordings.
Western square dance is organized by 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.
The Promenade Act
The Promenade Act (H. R. 645 (http://www.theorator.com/bills108/hr645.html)) 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.
- Dosado, a western square dance site (http://www.dosado.com)
- History and Heritage of Modern American Square Dancing (http://www.eaasdc.de/history/sheindex.htm)
- History of Square and Contra Dance (http://www.heinerfischle.de/history/index-e.htm)
Square Dance is also a 1987 film starring Rob Lowe.