by Karl Arnold Belser
(Abstracted from the August 2003 issue of 50+ Magazine)
square dance caller sang, "Allemande left with your
hand. Right to your partner, right and left grand."
The people in the 8-person squares sprang to action, guys and gals
rotating in opposite directions hand over hand, each man and woman
passing with eye contact and a smile, then pulling apart with right
hands held and kicking a leg, making dresses flair and colorful
petticoats whirl. Square dancing is America’s traditional folk dance
and is danced at clubs all over the world.
A square consists of four couples, one couple on each side, and there may be many squares at a square dance. The dancers are told what to do by a caller who uses a special language that is always spoken in English, even in other countries. Doe-see-doe, grand-square, spin-chain through, and weave the ring are among the 100 plus-level calls. The caller sings a song and interjects the commands as he goes. Each call is relatively simple by itself, but when given in sequence at a high speed, performing the desired movements without breaking down the square is challenging, and fun.
A square dance is made up of a number of tips, and each tip consists of two-parts. The first is the patter in which the caller challenges the dancers to follow his unexpected sequence of commands. The second is the singing call in which the command sequence is always the same for that song. Each tip is composed of different couples, so that every couple gets the opportunity to dance with every other. The callers are excellent singers and could even have nationwide reputations.
In addition to weekly club square dances, there are Saturday hoedowns. These are announced by the Prompter Magazine or through the Santa Clara Valley Square Dance Association web site. Hoedowns are noted for excellent refreshments that are so substantial that most dancers eat the food provided as their evening meal. No alcoholic beverages are ever served by tradition because the dancers have to be alert if they want to follow the challenging calls without breaking down their square.
Square dance clubs are social clubs, and as such typically have other sponsored activities in addition to club nights and hoedowns. These could include picnics, theater nights with dinner, day at the races, baseball games, and hikes.
Lessons are required to learn square dancing. It takes about 35 weeks to learn the plus-level calls.
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updated October 12, 2005
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