[Callers] Square through vs Cross-trail

James Saxe jim.saxe at gmail.com
Sun Dec 29 22:58:54 PST 2013

On Dec 29, 2013, at 6:23 PM, Ron Blechner wrote:

> I thought "square through" did not specifically include the balances.

Ron is correct.  A "square through" (also spelled "square thru") does
*not* implicitly include balancing.  Uses of "square through" without
a balance in contemporary contras include the square through three
hands in the "Rocks and Dirt", by Erik Weberg, and the square through
five hands in "The Wizard's Walk" by Ruthie Ungar.

The sequence

      Balance <someone>, square through two hands

(taking 8 beats altogether, or 16 beats if repeated) does seem to
be the most common usage of the "square through" in contemporary
contra choreography, and just within the past few years I've begun
noticing some callers using language that could be taken to imply
that the balance in such sequences is part of the square through.
For example, a caller might prompt the sequence with words like

     "Face your neighbor [or partner], square through
      Balance, pull by right ..."

as if "square through" were the overall call and the words "Balance,
pull by ..." were extra words added as a reminder of what "square
through" means. I think it would be more correct to call it something
like this:

     "With your neighbor, balance now
      and square through, pull by right, partner left, ...:

with the (optional) words "pull by right, ..." being extra reminders
of what "square through" means, but with the balance being clearly
a separate action.

I haven't yet seen a caller take a square dance with "square thru"
in it and clutter it up with balances that the original author
never intended (and that might not fit the intended timing), but I
wouldn't be surprised.

Ron also wrote:

> As I understand, cross trails is without hands, and square through  
> is with
> hands. Am I mistaken?

What Ron has said is again correct as far as it goes, but it isn't
the whole story.  It's true that "square though" (or "thru") uses
hans and that "cross trial thr[o]u[gh]" does not, but I think there's
more to the difference than that.

Without going into all the details, I'll just say that "square thru"
has historically been done with dancers making (at least in theory)
sharp right-angle turns, while in "cross-trail thru" the turning is
historically a much more gently curving action.

Consider the following actions, starting with dancers squared up in
home places:

     Head couples pass thru [now facing out]
     and separate around one person to lines at the sides.

The side dancers would step apart from their partners to let the
head dancers in, and the resulting lines would be M4-M1-W3-W4
facing M2-M3-W1-W2.

Starting again with dancers squared up at home, the sequence

     Head couples cross trail thru
     and separate around one person to lines at the sides.

would have a very similar feel, except that after the heads had
passed their opposites, the head men would arc to the right and
head women would arc to the left, the women passing in front of
their partners, and the resulting lines would be M4-W1-M3-W4
facing M2-W3-M1-W2.

By contrast, again starting with everyone squared up in home
places, the call

     Head couples square thru two hands

would leave the heads close together in the middle of the set,
squarely facing the sides (M1 facing W2, W1 facing M4, etc.).

In contemporary contras that use "cross trail through", an
interpretation with sharp turns

     Pass facing dancer across the set by right shoulders.
     Turn 90 degrees to face adjacent dancer along the set.
     Pass by left shoulders.

gets you to the same person and pretty much the same place that
you'd get to by taking a more gently curving track.  A gentle
curve might leave you a little farther apart from the dancers
across the set, but that's a pretty minor matter and dancers can
always make little adjustments.  Contra callers have discovered
that it's easier to teach the figure with right angle turns (as
if it were like a square though two places but without hands) than
to teach it with the smoother curving motion (as would be needed
for uses like "Head couples cross trail thru and separate ..."),
and so some have begun teaching it that way.

[For those who've noticed that I've gone on for several paragraphs
after writing "Without going into all the details ...", let me
assure you that there are indeed details that I've omitted.]


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