Tips I found that helped me, presented in random order:
Pick one or two squares to watch, preferably with more experienced dancers,
and call to them. It will help with the timing.
When I started calling squares, a friend helpfully pointed out that I was
waiting for the tops of the musical phrases to roll around again before
starting the next figure, and that meant people were sometimes standing
around during a square and that was Not Fun, so I had to learn to let go of
the idea that figures had to begin with the musical phrase, like they do in
That turned out to be hard for me to do, fyi. Your mileage may vary.
Other advice I've gotten is to start with New England squares, which are
assembled in 8 and 16 count phrases like contras.
If you're unsure about how the timing works, it can be very educational to
call a square while you're dancing it. I've had to do that a few times,
where there are only seven dancers, and it really taught me a lot about
when to start calling various figures. Make a pot of chili and invite seven
Finally, I find that the First Night Quadrille, by Bob Dalsemer, is a great
square to have in your box if you don't already. Easy to teach to
beginners, call without a walkthrough for more advanced dancers and have
Oh! So a common break is allemande left your corner, face your partner,
grand right and left.
I have better luck teaching that to beginners if I teach the grand right
and left first and *then* add the allemande left, rather than teach it in
the sequence it's presented in the dance.
I have no more advice. Good luck! You'll have a great time!
On Sat, Feb 4, 2017 at 12:08 PM Jonathan Sivier via Callers <
Here is my experience in calling squares for the
first time, for
what it is worth.
I had been calling contras for several years and thought I would
like to expand my repertoire to include some squares. I chose what I
thought was a fairly straightforward square that had been done by the
local group, called by other callers, several times in the past. While
the dance itself (Texas Star with the Alamo Ring break) wasn't
especially hard, what I hadn't taken into account was that there would
be a lot of other things for me to be dealing with in calling a square
which don't generally occur in contras. So my first attempt at calling
a square didn't go very well.
Here are some of the things I found I needed to deal with in squares
that I hadn't encountered in contras.
If there are multiple squares they won't all keep in sync the way
contra sets typically do. So one square will have finished promenading
home, while another will still be working on getting there. So you may
need to tell the one group to do something like swing at home until the
others catch up. The more squares there are the more this will be the
The chances are good you will get off from the music. In contras
the dances and music go together very well, but some squares don't fit
the music as well and even when they do the fact that some squares may
lag behind means you will often end up being off from the music. At
first I worried about this a lot and trying to keep track of that and
keep things with the music was one more thing overloading my mental
resources when I was trying to call squares. So I decided to not worry
about it and free up those resources to think about other things. To do
that I intentionally get off the music right at the start by doing an
intro that takes less than 64 beats. Something like "Circle left,
circle right, into the center and back, do it again." Then I can start
the dance proper and not worry about being off the music. Of course
that leaves the problem of knowing where you are in the music for
purposes of ending the dance and music at the same time. This has taken
some practice and I'm still not great at it, but most bands are good
about ending on a given signal, if you let them know beforehand.
It was also a surprise, and challenge, to me that I had to keep
calling the whole time. I should have seen that coming. As you know
the longer you keep calling a dance the more likely you are to make a
mistake. So having to call squares all the way through meant I was
making more errors. I think that is where patter calling comes in. If
you have a nice little rhyming phrase for something you can recite it
without really having to think about it and will, hopefully, make fewer
So what I ended up doing was choosing an even easier dance,
Sheehan's Reel by Roger Whynot, and a very straightforward break. I
deliberately got off the music at the start of the dance and came up
with some little rhyming phrases that I could use for some of the calls.
I didn't do all of this right away, but my second attempt at calling a
square, with a simpler dance, went much better.
I hope this is helpful.
Caller of Contra, Square, English and Early American Dances
jsivier AT illinois DOT edu
Dance Page: http://www.sivier.me/dance_leader.html
Q: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
A: It depends on what dance you call!
On 2/4/2017 11:26 AM, Amy Cann via Callers wrote:
It's a friendly low-key local community
dance, and they know I'm mainly
a contra caller, so the potential for hurled tomatoes is low -- but I
still want to not stink too much.
Any suggestions for dance choices or thought-habit adjustments?
Back to scribbling on my 3x5 cards and re-reading Lloyd Shaw...
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