BackInteresting Squares

Lichfield Festival 1999, Southam Festival 2009

Some people don't find any American squares interesting — but they probably aren't here.  Some people (particularly Americans) are confused by the fact that I call both American and English dances.  But I enjoy dancing and calling them both, and I find them interesting.  Why?  Well, I think with squares part of the interest comes from the combination of the known and the unknown — the structured and the unstructured.  A lot of American Squares have a figure which the caller will teach — and call the same way each time, twice with the heads leading and twice with the sides leading.  Switching from heads to sides means the men have to think the third time through, because they're doing different things.  The ladies have to think every time through if it's a change partner dance, because they switch between heads and sides each time.  But at the beginning, middle and end there's a break, which is normally not walked through — the caller just hits you with it.  It's sometimes referred to as a chorus, but that's a confusing name because it usually isn't the same each time through; listen to a real American like Tony Parkes and you'll see what I mean.  Having said that, there are some complicated breaks which are taught just like a figure and called the same way each time they occur — we'll meet one of those.

There's a great divide between traditional squares and Modern Western Square Dancing, which is a real pity.  In Modern Western the caller will teach a new figure in great detail, but once that's done he doesn't walk anything through — he switches on the music, he calls, and the dancers respond.  This is a great challenge for the dancers (and for the caller — I'm not pretending to be able to improvise the way they do) — but sometimes it seems to me that it's all unstructured, and then I lose interest.  If the caller does several dances involving the same figures there's a danger that they all feel exactly the same.  On the other hand, some callers in England walk the break through and call it exactly the same each time — to me that's too structured, and again I lose interest; it doesn't keep me on my toes.

If you think about it, you get a similar combination of the known and the unknown in the Playford set dances.  The known is the three introductions: “Up a double and back”, “Siding” and “Arming” — add “Set and turn Single” and you know half the dance.  And the unknown is the remainder of the figure, which gives the dance its distinctive character.

What the Modern Western callers do to regain some structure is a singing square, where in almost all cases there's a 32-bar figure and a 32-bar break, the same each time, just as in a traditional New England Square.  I'll do one of those for you, involving some figures from MWSD.  Some people think these should be segregated from traditional-style squares, but my view is “If it's a good figure, why not use it”.

I hope you find these to be Interesting Squares.  If you don't, please come up and have a word with me afterwards; I'd be really keen to hear your point of view.

At Lichfield I called:

The Australian Whirlwind
Wardwell Quadrille Number 3Jim Saxe
Country Corners CanonRon Buchanan
Wardwell Quadrille Number 1Jim Saxe
Break: Grand SweepMWSD
Log CabinColin Hume, SWAD2
The Vacuum Square