MODERN WESTERN SQUARE DANCING
If you’re new to square dancing, reading this will give you a brief introduction to an activity that has become a great source of fun and exercise for many.
Square dancing is done by groups of four couples who begin by facing one another as if standing on the sides of a square. What makes square dancing different from other dance forms is that instead of learning a dance, dancers learn individual dance moves called out to the dancers by the caller. It’s spontaneous, as dancers don’t know what the next call is going to be. At higher levels there can be hundreds of calls for the caller to choose from, and the dancing is more like geometric, real-time puzzle-solving.
A wide variety of music is used in square dancing these days, from traditional country western songs to Broadway show tunes and World music. Anything with a steady beat is fair game.
Originally, square dance calls varied by region in the US, making it difficult to dance away from home. Since the 1970s, calls have been standardized by Callerlab, the International Association of Square Dance Callers. As a result, after learning to dance at a particular level, you may visit other clubs and feel comfortable dancing that level throughout the world. American square dancing is popular in many European countries, especially Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK, as well as Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia.
THE HISTORY OF SQUARE DANCING
Did you know this folksy form of entertainment has a holiday all its own (November 29th)? Square dancing blossomed in the United States but has roots that stretch back to 15th-century Europe.
Folk dancers in England around 1600 began presenting choreographed sequences known as the Morris dance. This fad is thought to have inspired English country dance, in which couples lined up on village greens to practice weaving, circling and swinging moves reminiscent of modern-day contra dancing. Over on the continent, 18th-century French couples were arranging themselves in squares for social dances such as the quadrille and the cotillion. Folk dances in Scotland, Scandinavia and Spain are also thought to have influenced American square dancing.
When Europeans first began settling the 13 North American colonies, they brought these popular folk dance traditions with them. As the United States grew and diversified, new generations stopped practicing the old dances their grandparents had enjoyed across the Atlantic for something new.