[Callers] Grid Squares Contra

Bob Isaacs isaacsbob at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 12 20:17:32 PDT 2011

Hi All:
I'd like to follow up on this video and share what I've learned just recently about grid squares.  My thanks to Bill for posting this and also for his program for tracking the couples as they move around the set.
For some time it's been apparent that when it comes to grid squares, dancers are well ahead of callers.  No disrespect meant to those on this list, but this reflects that dancers enjoy dancing them more than callers want to call them.  Dancers like both the novelty of the formation and the community aspect of all dancers dancing together in one set.  On the other hand, when many callers hear the term "grid squares" they feel they have to become skilled square dance callers to call them.  That helps, but as some of you have discovered, it's not necessary.
Grid squares for contra audiences evolved from what are called progressive squares in MWSD, which have been around for decades.  Because the expectations of their audience are different, progressive Western squares not only use different calls but also are expected to reunite partners back at their starting position.  Two excellent recent examples, also from New Zealand, can be found at:

When pioneers such as Kathy Anderson and Rick Mohr starting writing grids, they realized that contra dancers have no such expectations and just wanted to travel around the set as much as possible.  They also used larger formats, typically A1-D2 and even A1-E2.  So I did the same when I started, and really enjoyed having all that time to fit figures and progressions in.  But this came at a price; the dances were long and complicated, and had to be called all the way through.  When added to teaching an unusual formation, this placed a lot of demands on the caller.  It's not surprising few chose to go this way.
Last year I tried another approach and aimed for as simple a grid as possible:
Can of Worms
A1.  Forward and back, corner 1 allemande L 1 1/2
A2.  Corner 2 balance and swing
B1.  Corner 3 allemande L, grand R and L
B2.  Ladies star R 1/2, partner swing
C1.  Forward and back, circle L 1/2
C2.  Balance, California twirl, neighbor 1 dosido and pass through
D1.  Forward and back, circle L 1/2
D2.  Balance, California twirl, neighbor 2 dosido and pass through
This has already found a place in the repertoire of a fair number of callers, partly for its forgiveness and partly for its progression, where squares seemingly appear out of nowhere as couples arrive from all four directions.  There are two different versions; the single progression (A1-C2) is used for sets of 9 or fewer squares, and the double progression (A1-D2) is for 10 squares and up.  I now regularly use this at mixed-level local contra dances without breakdowns.  Thanks to the efforts of David Millstone, you can see the A1-D2 dance here; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru8cz2IzrcQ&NR=1 and the walkthrough here; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_dDgT7UT8s&NR=1
More recently I took this simplicity one step further:
Simple Pleasures   (as shown in Bill's video)
A1.  Forward and back, four ladies chain
A2.  Ladies star R 3/4, neighbor swing (original L hand gent)
B1.  Gents star L 3/4, partner swing
B2.  Circle L 1/2, California twirl, pass through to new squares
Twirl Through
A1.  Corner allemande L, grand R and L
A2.  Partner swing
B1.  Balance, Petronella, balance, Petronella
B2.  Balance, California twirl, pass through to new squares and forward and back
I've learned that the A1-B2 format has a wonderful benefit; after a while, the caller can fade out and dancers can dance the grid without calls, just like a contra dance.  Dancers are used to remembering A1-B2 no matter what the formation; beyond that, they will need prompts from a caller.  It's early, but I would not be surprised to see A1-B2 become the main grid format.  What this means is if you can call a 4 facing 4, you can offer your dancers a grid square just as well.
Perhaps this inspires many of you to try them.  If so, you'll need to be aware of two features:
Set Formation - for sets of around 6 or fewer squares, have them form squares and move the squares into a grid.  But for bigger sets, I've found the best method is - 
1. Let them line up in contra lines.  Even-length is best.
2. Get them in Becket formation.
3. From the top, take hands eight, and hold it!
4. Then have all circle L just 2 steps, "square your sets," and squares will be lined up both up/down and across.  Becket is better for this than improper, as partners are all next to each other.
If there are uneven columns of squares, urge extra squares in the back to move so the grid has the fewest corners.  If there are extra couples, tell them to wait out on the edge and when it is time to progress they will enter the grid, just like a contra.  Theoretically they can wait out at any edge point, but practically the best place is usually at the back of the hall.  Two or three couples waiting out there help keep the grid from spreading out too much and getting squares out of alignment.
Repeating squares - after four times through, squares in the interior will repeat.  While this isn't necessarily bad, it doesn't allow couples to travel more of the set, which is what contra types want to do.  So every fourth time I'll change a call to rotate the result of the dance 180 degrees - this is called "flipping the grid."  For Can of Worms, the flip is a second forward and back in C1.  (But not in D1 - this will send couples back to the square they just left.)  In Simple Pleasures the flip is a forward and back to start B2.  Two good flips for Twirl Through in A1 are circle L, circle R and corner dosido, partner dosido.  The flips also get those traveling along the edge into the more interesting interior.
Thanks for reading this, and let me know if you have any questions/comments.  I hope this gives you and your dancers a new way to have fun - 
> Date: Tue, 5 Apr 2011 09:36:42 +1200
> From: staf186 at ext.canterbury.ac.nz
> To: callers at sharedweight.net
> Subject: [Callers] Grid Squares Contra
> Hi Everybody,
> I tried a simple grid contra that Bob Isaacs gave me at our dance last
> Saturday. It was a great success. It was easy to teach, and the dancers loved it.
> It's really more like calling a contra than a square.
> We didn't have a big grid as we only have 24 dancers,
> but the movement around the floor was still interesting for the dancers.
> I'd been in communication with Bob Isaacs after I saw the
> grid squares videos taken by David Millstone of the grids session at
> Dance Flurry. For a long time, I've been interested in the way such dances
> move people around the floor, so Bob's dances intrigued me.
> Here is a video of the dance we did
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnXvIiDLYCQ
> My post of a few days ago was my attempt to get a thread going,
> but maybe I came across a bit snide. I'm sorry if I did, I was attempting
> a bit of humour by alluding to the previous post and my own 'geekiness'.
> Cheers, Bill
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