[Callers] Squares for contra-dancers

Woody Lane woody at woodylane.com
Sun Sep 8 17:14:57 PDT 2013

Hi Richard,

Some others have given some solid advice, all good, and I would like to 
add some suggestions:

First thing to keep in mind is the audience: Contra dancers are used to 
flow and repetition; contras always have clear structure. Contra dancers 
master each dance's choreography and delight in getting into a groove 
with the music, sometimes hypnotic.

To a died-in-the-wool contra dancer, squares generally violate most of 
these features. Poorly-called or poorly-organized squares violate these 
features more often, as well as being more frustrating and not as much 
fun. Under these conditions, contra dancers will  rarely experience the 
great potential strengths of squares or their excitement and fun. As 
callers wanting to call squares in a contra dance milieu, we should 
recognize this environment and adapt our squares to it.

Select squares with good structure. Either a New England Quadrille, as 
mentioned previously, which is really like a contra dance in square 
formation. Or if you want to call a western or southern square, select 
well-defined figures and breaks. One main figure and usually only one 
break. Then call in them in a clean structure, such as B-H-S-B-H-S-B or 
B-H-B-S-B-H-B-S-B.  (B= break, H=Heads, S=Sides). There are many, many 
variations on these patterns, but IMO a structure is definitely important.

Avoid hash calling, even on a minor scale. Don't throw in new moves that 
you haven't taught, unless you have excellent calling skills and/or a 
great rapport with the crowd. Even things like reversing the 
grand-right-and-left can cause lots of frustration. (extra promenades 
and swings, of course, don't count).

Unexpected  moves are not necessarily enjoyed by contra dancers. You can 
get around this by announcing in advance that this will be a "hash 
square" so the dancers are prepared for the challenge.

For western and southern squares, select figures and breaks that are 
clearly different from each other. For example, if the main figure 
contains a star, then try not to use a break that contains a star. Same 
with ladies chains, etc. Unless, of course, you *want* to ratchet up the 
difficulty of the dance.

Check the sound. Make sure you can be heard clearly to the back of the 
hall. You'll use a lot more words than in a contra. Also maybe change 
the sound balance between you and the band for that one dance -- your 
voice must come through more strongly relative to the music when you 
call a square. This will help avoid frustration in some squares.

And of course, lots of energy, good voice, good pulse, great enthusiasm, 
ask the band to fly.

And smile, always smile. Be playful, laugh. Squares give great latitude 
to the caller for fun words and joking and laughter. Good luck.

Woody Lane

On 9/8/2013 10:34 AM, Richard Hopkins wrote:
> Personally, I like to dance and call squares as much as contra dances, but in many locales there is a strong preference for contras. If you were going to program a square or two in an evening otherwise devoted to contra dances, which ones would you pick?  Or what would be the characteristics of squares that you think would make the contra devotees say "That wasn't so bad after all"?  (This is assuming you have asked and the organizers haven't told you they expect all contras).
> I am programming this Friday's Tallahassee dance right now, so this is not just an academic question.

Woody Lane
Caller, Percussive Dancer
Roseburg, Oregon
voice: 541-440-1926 cell: 541-556-0054

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