BackSession 8: American Squares   Session Index  Previous session

Figures and Steps

Breaks and Dances

Click to play videoI believe calling American Squares is harder than calling Contras, Playford dances or English Traditional dances.  Your timing needs to be better, and you need to think more about fitting your voice to the rhythm (and even the melody) of the music.  That said, the only way to get good at it is to do it, so I'm pleased to share some information about how I call squares in the hope that it will encourage more callers to have a go.  I love dancing squares!  Click the photo on the right to hear Lisa Greenleaf enthusing about squares!

I call two kinds of squares.  The New England Squares, sometimes called Quadrilles, tend to be fitted to the music, with a 32-bar figure and a 32-bar break, though there are a number with a 48-bar or even 64-bar figure.  Southern Squares tend to be unphrased, and Southern music tends to be rather tuneless and uninteresting to my prejudiced ear.  I suggest you start with phrased squares, because most of the other dances that you're calling will be phrased to the music.  And please bear in mind that I'm saying “tend to be” because I don't want to sound dogmatic — there are exceptions to all the rules I'm giving here!  If you're looking for role models, Kathy Anderson almost always calls unphrased squares and Tony Parkes usually calls phrased squares.

A square is either a keeper — you keep your partner — or a mixer — you have a new partner each time through the figure.  With a keeper you usually keep your position as well, though there are some where you and your partner move round one place each time through the figure.  With a mixer it's usually the ladies who move round one place each time, either clockwise or anti-clockwise.  There are a few squares where the ladies stay put and the men move round, and this causes great confusion because the men aren't used to changing positions and the ladies are so used to being passed from man to man that they don't always remember where their home position was so they're no help either!  And there are a very few squares where the ladies move one way, then back, then the other way, then back, so you never get your original opposite for a partner.  And yes, as a caller you do need to know that.

With a mixer it's usually the head couples leading the figure twice (the same head men but different head ladies) and then the side couples leading the figure twice.  This means that if you walk through the figure for the heads and then want to walk it through for the sides you must get the ladies to move on another place, otherwise the same two ladies lead the figure both times and the other two don't get a look-in.  After I've moved them on I usually say “So you're with your opposite now”, and if they still seem unsure, “Look straight across the set — is that your original partner?”.  With a keeper, it may be that each couple in turn leads the figure.  If a keeper involves the heads leading or the sides leading, I would call it as Heads, Sides, Heads, Sides.


Traditionally (in Playford, Contra, Squares and probably other styles) the instructions were given to the men, and the women had to translate them.  I try to avoid this.  Some callers say “Allemande left your corner lady” or “Men swing your left-hand lady” and that's pointlessly one-sided — I say “Allemande left your corner” or “Swing your corner”.  But the term “right-hand lady” has been around a long time, and I don't want to say, “Pass your partner by, swing your right-hand lady or your left-hand man depending on what sex you are”.  So I'd probably say, “Pass your partner by, swing the next”.

Also I don't go in for the patronising stuff like “Now promenade with the pretty little maid”, even though it's traditional and it rhymes.

I use “Men” and “Ladies”.  I'm aware that's inconsistent — grammatically it should be either “Men” and “Women” or “Gentlemen” and “Ladies”, but I'm not the only person to do it this way.  You'll see in some books “Men” and “Girls” — that's how it was for many years but I find that patronising and I won't use it.  Modern Western Square Dance uses “boys” and “girls”, which is consistent but clearly untrue!  The gender-free approach currently favours “Larks” and “Robins” for Men (on the Left) and Women (on the Right) and I can do this if I really have to, though I find it much harder work.  I've been thinking hard about how to use positional calling, where there's no reference to gender.  I've run one successful workshop on this and when I've run a second at Chippenham Folk Festival in May 2025 I'll put the notes on the page Positional calling for American Squares.


The thing that seems to worry callers most about squares is the breaks.  A break is something which goes at the start of the dance, after twice through the figure, and to finish off the dance after four times through the figure.  Of course there are exceptions, but that's the standard.  If the figure is 48 bars I might not add any breaks, and if it's 64 bars I definitely wouldn't.  A break is a set of moves involving all four couples, whereas the figure is usually led by one or two couples while the others have a subsidiary role.  A break should be easier than the figure and it finishes where it started — you don't expect a progression in a break.

Some callers walk the break through, and use the same break all three times.  In my opinion this is wrong!  Admittedly there are complicated breaks such as Teacup Chain which you certainly have to walk through very carefully, though even then I don't do it exactly the same all three times, as you can see by following the link.  But that's the exception.  To me, part of the fun of dancing a square is the break where the caller throws out figures and the dancers have to react quickly.  Some callers walk through a simple break in full, and I don't see the point.  Who are they doing it for — the dancers or themselves?  And if you do that you're putting yourself in a straightjacket.  I know a caller who writes rather complicated breaks with absolutely no spare time for any mistakes, and then he sounds frantic the whole time because he's desperately trying to fit it to the music.  You don't need to do that!  For inexperienced dancers I will teach an Allemande Left and a Grand Chain, and then say “That will probably appear in the breaks — but make no assumptions”.  Then I add in simple moves — do-si-do partner and/or corner, stars, circles, in to the middle and back, and usually a promenade home and a swing at the end.  If I've messed up the figure, or the dancers can't move fast enough, I just shorten the break so that it ends at the end of that turn of the tune.  Of course this means you have to be able to follow the music and know where you are in it, but you can practise that at home to a recording.  And if you're calling to live music you can stop the band when you wish.  I usually say to the band, “It should be 7 by 32 bars, but when I put my thumb up it means stop at the end of this line of music, whether it's a B2 or not”.

A break is also sometimes called a chorus, but I don't use that word because it implies that it's the same all three times, like the chorus of a song, and I don't believe it should be.  It's the figure which is the same each time.

Do you have to improvise breaks?  No you don't.  Bernie Chalk was one of the top American callers when I started dancing and calling, and he didn't improvise breaks at all.  They sounded improvised, but after I'd danced to him for some time I knew what breaks he would do and exactly what words he would use.

So you need some breaks.  There are plenty in my “Squares with a Difference” books Volume 1 and Volume 2, and a few more on my Square Dances page.  Here are yet more.  Let's start with an easy one.

Break: Simple 0        Print this danceTop of page

Colin Hume, c. 1985

A1:- — — -.  Honour your partner, and your corner.
A2:Circle left.  Circle right.
B1:Allemande left your corner.  Grand chain (half-way).
B2:Promenade.  Swing.
Middle Break
A1:Circle left.  Circle right.
A2:Do-si-do partner.  Do-si-do corner.
B1:Allemande left corner.  Grand chain.
B2:Promenade.  Swing.
A1:Circle right.  Circle left.
A2:Allemande left corner, allemande right partner, allemande left corner.
B1:Grand chain all the way around…
B2:Finish the grand chain.  Swing partner.

I'm going to analyse this in detail, because if you're new to calling squares there's a lot to take in.

  There are no complicated figures like “Men left-hand star ¾” or “All four ladies chain ¾” — only things they will already know, plus allemande left and grand chain which I've just taught them.

  Each break ends with a swing, which soaks up the music, and if they're really late you can leave it out.

  It starts with 4 bars doing nothing (though you may have to hold back people who immediately leap into the figure), so you and the dancers can judge the speed of the music and be ready for action.  I almost always start with honours, and the break proper often starts with A2.

  All three breaks have the same elements, but they're different enough that no-one can go onto auto-pilot.  In the Middle Break people are usually with their opposite, so you might need to remind them to know who their partner is, otherwise insecure people will grab their original partner after two changes of the grand chain and refuse to budge!

  The final break, after they're reunited with their partner, is designed to fool them.  I've been starting the final break with “Circle right” for over 30 years, and it still fools them!  On the last four beats of the previous musical phrase I say, “All join hands and circle right”.  I'm playing fair — I've said the final word before they have to move, and I've emphasised it — but people always move ahead of the music.  Again, doing an allemande right with their partner and then going back to their corner for an allemande left will fool some people who assume that an allemande left is always followed by a grand chain.  But the point is, none of these is a disaster if people do it wrong; they will laugh and recover.  You don't want the dance to fall apart in the final break — you just want to keep people on their toes.

If you're looking for another way to fool them, try: “And everybody swing… your corner”.  If they all cope with that you can say “Now put her on your right and circle left” and improvise from there, whereas if there's general chaos the safe option is, “Now run back home and swing your own”.

I've written out the break as it appears on my cards, but now let me tell you the words I use, and the rhythm.  Let me emphasise yet again that I'm not saying this is the right or the only way to do it, but it works for me.  I'm putting in vertical lines every two bars — a bar is two beats or two walking steps, so each section of the following text is four beats and each line is eight bars of music.  I'm even underlining the stressed syllables for you.


| - - - - | - - - - | Honour your partner, honour your corner.| All join hands and circle left.|
| - - - - Now | Circle right, go the other way back.| - - - - | Allemande left your corner.  - Give|
| right to your partner: Grand chain| - Four hands around you go.| - - - - Now | promenade with the one you know.|
| - - Get back home, and| everybody swing your own.| - - - - | (Prompt the figure here.) |

I really struggled to write that out, and I certainly couldn't call from it, but that's how I would phrase the call.  Notice that there's a little gap after “Grand chain” — the “Four” isn't on the beat.  That might sound a very minor detail to you, but some people will hear “Grand Chain Four” as a new and terrifying figure!  They don't need to know whether they're going four hands or eight hands around until long after they've started the move.  I assume MWSD callers are taught that they must keep talking the whole time, but I don't feel the need to do that.  Traditional callers will throw in nonsense phrases like “Chicken in a bread pan picking out dough” but that's not my style, though I have been known to use the rhyming couplet: “Allemande left around your corner; right to your honey and don't step on her”.  By the way, the allemande left doesn't take a full 8 steps so you need to give the grand chain call in good time: don't make the dancers wait till the start of the next phrase.

Say it out loud to a recording.  Make sure you're talking in time with the music, on the beat.  Now work out what words you would use for the second and third breaks, and practise them out loud too.

If it's an unphrased figure the break can be unphrased too, though I find I do automatically fit it into 8-bar phrases.  And I really like to finish the final break at the end of the tune, so if necessary I'll add things like “in to the middle and back”, and again if necessary.  And if you find you have four bars left you can always add the classic: “Now honour your partners, corners too, 'cause there you stand, that's it, you're through”.

If you're improvising breaks, it's a good idea to remember who the first man is, so that you can judge how far he has to promenade home and modify your call accordingly.  I still go wrong on occasions, and realise that they can't possibly promenade home in the few bars left — but do I panic?  Not visibly!  I give them time to get home and then start the figure 4 bars late — and I stay 4 bars behind, resisting the temptation to speed up the calls to get them back on the phrase.  If you call it confidently no-one will mind, in fact most of them won't even notice.  If the figure ends with a swing, that's the move I will cut short — I might say “Just a quick swing” — and then very positively call the start of the next turn of the figure.  If I can't do that, I'll stay 4 bars behind for the entire next turn of the figure, and then sort things out in the final break.  As I said before, this requires you knowing where you are in the music — but who told you calling was easy?!

Break: Simple 2        Print this danceTop of page

Colin Hume, c. 1985

A1:Honour your partner, and your corner.  Swing corner, put her on your right.
A2:Circle left.  All four ladies chain.
B1:All four ladies chain ¾.  Allemande left corner.
B2:Promenade partner.  Swing.
Middle break
A1:Circle left half-way.  Heads right and left through.
A2:Circle left half-way.  Sides right and left through.
B1:Allemande left corner, grand chain half-way (home).
B2:Do-si-do (or balance).  Swing.
A1:Head ladies chain.  Head ladies to the right and chain.
A2:Allemande left new corner, walk past one, swing the next.
B1:All four ladies chain.  Promenade partner.
B2:--- Swing partner.

This is quite a bit more complicated, and I've used it 10 times.  Again all three breaks finish with a swing.  In the middle break I'll call a do-si-do if they're there on time, a balance if they're a little late, or just a swing if they're even later.  In the final break the promenade will overflow into B2 so watch to see when the men are home and then call “Swing” — it's more satisfying for the dancers and it stops any temptation to swing before they're home.

Break: Harder        Print this danceTop of page

Colin Hume, c. 1985

I've used this one six times, so it certainly works!  You might need to explain what “like an allemande X” means, but dancers with some experience will pick it up from the context.  In fact there used to be a whole allemande alphabet (though probably most of them were hardly ever used), and on that page I see that “Allemande X” is defined differently from what it means today!  It's just a phrase to alert people to what's coming — it simply means “allemande left your corner, walk past your partner and swing the next”.  And of course you could say exactly that — there may be less confusion, but you lose the rhyming couplet.

A1:Honour your partner, and your corner.  Do-si-do your corner.
A2:Men right-hand star.  Allemande left your corner.
B1:Grand chain.  Do-si-do your partner.
B2:Promenade.  Swing.
Middle Break
A1:Allemande left your corner, give right to your partner: box the gnat.
A2:Wrong way grand chain.  Do-si-do your partner.
B1:Pass your partner by, allemande left your corner, promenade your partner.
B2:--- Balance once.  Swing.
A1:Allemande left like an allemande X.  Pass your partner, swing the next.
A2:All join hands and circle left.  All four ladies chain across.
B1:Allemande left like an allemande X.  Pass by one and swing the next (original partner).
B2:Promenade all the way around, and honour your partner.

Notice that in the middle break the promenade will overflow from the end of B1 to the start of B2.  If you've remembered who the first man is, you'll know when he's approaching his home place and you can say “Balance once” at the right moment, or if necessary leave it out and just call the swing.  And instead of just saying “Box the gnat” I say “Give right to your partner: box the gnat”.  Most people will know it's a right hand, but they won't object to being told, and the less experienced dancers will do the move with confidence.  And now the whole of A1 can be called to the rhythm of the music, rather than you barking out commands at random.  Similarly instead of just “Circle left” I say “All join hands and circle left”.  It gives them a clue what's coming without tempting them into getting ahead of the call, and again it fits the rhythm of the music.

Break: All Eight Chain        Print this danceTop of page

Here's one you will need to walk through, once the dancers are comfortable with “All four ladies chain”.

 All four ladies chain across and back twice, while the men move one place round the outside each time, head men to their right, side men to their left, pulling by Right with each other and giving a courtesy turn to each lady in turn.

They can do that in 16 bars, provided everybody moves positively — don't be afraid to challenge the dancers.  Tell the ladies that they're just going over and back twice, hoping there will be a man available to courtesy turn them.  Tell the men that as soon as they've handed the ladies into the chain they've got to move round, the original head men always anti-clockwise, the original side men always clockwise — four steps to pull by, four steps to courtesy turn the next lady.  Don't let the hot-shots do a twirl instead of a courtesy turn, or there's no chance of fitting it to the music.  I know there are men who think “This is a ladies chain — nothing to do with me”, and the ladies then have to chain across and drag a man round each time.  No, you're working together as a team — the men need to help the ladies round.  And because it only takes 16 bars you can use it in the three different breaks at three different points — so you've taught them the move, but you keep them guessing about when or if it will turn up.  For instance:

A1:- — — -.  Honour your partner, and your corner.
A2/B1:All eight chain.
B2:Allemande left your corner.  Swing your partner.
Middle Break
A1/2:All eight chain.
B1:Promenade all the way around.
B2:Join hands, go in to the middle and back.  Everybody swing.
A1:Allemande left your corner, grand chain.
A2:Do-si-do your partner.  Promenade home.
B1/2:All eight chain.

I like finishing the final break with the signature move — it rounds things off nicely, and you can see whether they all stop as the music does!

Break: Triple Allemande        Print this danceTop of page

Colin Hume, c. 1985

This is not the standard Triple Allemande, which has the ladies making the star first, because if you're not careful they've already gone past that point and are facing their partner expecting a grand chain, so I've swapped things around.  However, each of the three breaks does have three allemandes in it, so you can't prosecute me under the Trade Descriptions Act!

A1:Honour your partner, and corner.  Allemande left your corner.
A2:Men right-hand star.  Allemande left same corner, ladies right-hand star.
B1:Allemande left same corner, grand chain.
B2:Promenade.  Swing.
Middle Break
A1:Allemande left your corner, walk past your partner, allemande right the next.
A2:Men left-hand star.  Back with the right.
B1:Walk past your partner, allemande left your corner, grand chain.
B2:Swing.  Promenade.
A1:Allemande left your corner, allemande right your partner, allemande left your corner.
A2:Grand chain.  Do-si-do partner.
B1:All four ladies chain.  And back.
B2:Promenade partner.  Swing.

I tried the Opener at Cambridge Contra with the ladies going single file while the men did their star, but most of the ladies decided to go in the same direction as the men which meant they had little chance of meeting their corner again, so I've scrapped that!  You may find that some of the men start to move (in the correct direction) while the ladies do their star, but that's OK.

Break: Cross and Swing        Print this danceTop of page

Colin Hume, c. 1985

A1:Join hands, in to the middle and back.  Ladies stand still, gents cross over, swing your opposite lady.
A2:Circle left half-way.  Swing your corner.
B1:In to the middle and back.  Gents cross over, swing your opposite.
B2:Circle left half-way.  Swing your corner.
C1:In to the middle and back.  Gents cross over, swing your opposite.
C2:Promenade your partner.
You swing opposite, right-hand lady, corner, opposite, partner.

Here's a 48-bar break, just in case you need one.  Though of course you can always add an extra 16 bars onto an existing break.  For instance, particularly if the existing break ends with a promenade rather than a swing, you could add:

C1:All four ladies chain across.  Turn them around and chain them back.
C2:All join hands, go in to the middle and back.  Everybody swing,

Break: Unphrased        Print this danceTop of page

And finally here's an unphrased break I picked up from Lisa Greenleaf (though I now see it as Break Number 4 in the Tony Parkes section mentioned below), with suggested variations.

 Circle left.  Circle right, then go single file.
 Ladies cast out, men keep going.  Meet again on other side: ladies fall in behind your partner and continue single file.
 Men cast out, ladies keep going.  Meet again on the other side: men fall in behind your partner and continue single file.
 Your choice from here!
  • Allemande left, grand chain.
  • Men step forward and promenade partner.
  • Everybody cast out, and into a circle left.
Just make sure they've all got home before you launch into the figure.  If some sets are slower than others, you can add a filler such as “In to the middle and back, and swing your partner one more time” while the laggards are finishing their promenade.  On the other hand, if some sets know what's coming and get ahead of the call I may deliberately change it, just to slow them down — it's harder work for the caller if all the sets are doing things at different times, and anyway it serves them right for not listening to me!
If you're improvising breaks, you need to be aware of sequence.  Provided all four men are doing the same thing at the same time, ladies ditto (as in all but one of the breaks above) there's no danger of getting people out of sequence.  But as soon as you mention “Head” or “Side” you have to be careful.  If you call “Heads right and left through”, everyone is out of sequence — they couldn't promenade to the man's place because the heads would stop half-way round while the sides still needed to keep going.  Follow it by “Sides right and left through” and they're back in sequence.  Similarly “Head ladies chain across” or “Head ladies chain to the right” puts the ladies out of sequence — but combine these two and they're back in sequence.  Watch an experienced caller's breaks and see how seldom “Heads” or “Sides” are mentioned, except one straight after the other.
And the exception above?  In “All Eight Chain” when the head men move right and the side men move left, the men are out of sequence — but the next change puts them back in sequence again.
Tony Parkes ran a session on calling squares at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend in 2005 and starting on page 60 of special/forms/rpdlw/ syllabus2005.pdf you can see lots of his breaks, classified as Introductions, Breaks and Endings.

Enough about breaks — let's look at some of the figures that occur in a traditional-style square.

Allemande left, Grand chain   Top of page

In the States (and anywhere they do MWSD) it's called a Right and Left Grand or a Grand Right and Left, but in England we use the older term Grand Chain which comes from the 19th century quadrilles -see my Connections page if you want to know more of the background, and you can see the phrase here in The Fashionable Dancer's Casket published in 1856.

Here's my explanation:

Your partner is on one side of you and your corner is on the other side — the lady on your left, the man on your right — so called because you're standing on the same corner of the square.  Give your left hand to your corner — make sure that it's left — and turn your corner until you're facing your partner.  That's called an “Allemande Left”.  Now give right hand to your partner.  You're not going to turn; you're going to do a Grand Chain, so pull past your partner and keep going round the square in that direction, giving left to the next, right to the next, left to the next, and pull by to meet your partner half-way round the square.  Swing your partner, and promenade home.  That's an Allemande Left and a Grand Chain, and they often come together in the Break.  There may not be a swing and promenade after it — you just have to keep listening.

If you think you could explain that in half the number of words, you probably haven't called to as many inexperienced dancers as I have!  You'll find Modern Western dancers will do the Allemande with a forearm hold and you won't be able to combat years of conditioning, so go along with them — it will still work.

All four ladies chain   Top of page

The dancers should by now be familiar with a ladies' chain.  Here we have a ladies' chain done by two pairs of couples simultaneously, so instead of the two ladies doing a right-hand turn to reach the opposite man we have four ladies doing a right-hand star to reach the opposite man.  As with the ordinary ladies' chain, the man needs to move to his right to receive the lady and help her round with a courtesy turn hold.

You also get “All four ladies chain three-quarters” (which should logically be “one and a half”, given that they never talk about half a ladies' chain, but let's not worry about that).  The ladies do a right-hand star three-quarters, to their corner who wheels them round with a courtesy turn, so they end up one place to the left from where they started.  It all works fine until one lady decides she only wants to go half-way, so her corner ends up with no-one while her opposite man is trying to fight off two ladies!  You really need to emphasise the “three quarters” to avoid this.

Star through   Top of page

This comes from MWSD but you may meet it in Squares and Contras.  It's done by a man and woman facing each other.  The man's right hand and woman's left hand are put together and raised to make an arch.  They both move forwards, the woman under the arch, turning one quarter so that they finish side-by-side.  It's similar to a California Twirl but that starts with the two standing side by side.  You may find that some people want to finish the move facing each other, so emphasise that they finish side-by-side.

Pass the Ocean   Top of page

Again this comes from MWSD but you may meet it in Squares and Contras, though there's such a hatred of MWSD among many contra dancers and callers that they won't admit where they pinched the figure from so they call it “Pass through to an ocean wave”, which I think is very silly — if it's a good figure I'm happy to use it and not try to conceal its origins.

Let's say you're standing beside your partner facing another couple, both with man on left, lady on right.  You pass through, in other words pass your opposite right shoulder, but as you go the ladies take left hands which means they turn a quarter to their left, and the men go a bit further and turn a quarter to their right to take their partner's hand — right in right — forming a wave at 90º to the previous orientation.  In squares, and particularly in contras, it's often followed by a balance right and left, though you wouldn't get that in MWSD.

Grand Square   Top of page

This comes from the Playford dance “Hunsdon House” of 1657, but in American Squares it's usually followed by a reverse, which Playford didn't use.  The standard call (in time with the music, on the last four beats of the previous phrase) is: “Sides face — Grand Square”.  The usual difficulty is getting people to walk it through at a speed which fits your explanation — the people who know the figure are usually far ahead of the call, which doesn't help the people you're trying to teach.  The heads lead in with partner, fall back to side place with opposite, fall back from that person up and down, and come in to meet their partner in home place.  The sides follow the same track but start by falling back from their partner.  It may help to explain that you're walking round a little square in your quarter of the set, and your corner is walking round that same square, with the sides following their corner round the track.  Try to get them to keep the figure square — three steps to lead and one to turn a quarter.  You'll find that MWSDers will rush the move and do a quick swing at the end; I would tell them off for this but you might not want to!

You can play tricks such as “Heads face — Grand Square” or even (with confident dancers) “Men face — Grand Square”.  Just point out that wherever they go they're supposed to finish where they started.

Circle to a Line   Top of page

The usual call is: “Heads lead out to the right and circle left (with that side couple); head gents break to side lines”.  The circle is half-way, and then the head men let go with their left hand (so in a normal set-up they keep hold of their partner) and draw the line up or down to finish in two parallel facing lines.  You can just say “…break to a line” but it's clearer to specify “side lines” or the head men may want to circle three quarters and then pull out to head lines.  The end lady is in danger of being flung backward as the circle opens up, so to avoid this the man next to her (her partner in the normal set-up) raises his hand to make an arch and she goes forward through it rather than flying backwards.  Don't let people do this in a Playford-style dance though!

Dive through   Top of page

This occurs from the position you'd be in if the heads led to their right to face the sides.  The inside couples (in this case the heads) make an arch, everybody walks forward with the outsides going under the arch, and then the people making the arch do a California twirl to face back into the set with the man on the left.  Explain that you won't be calling the California twirl — it's part of the Dive through — you'll be busy telling the insides to do their next move, such as “Pass through” or “Circle left”.

Roll away   Top of page

Also known as “Roll away with a half sashay” (various spellings).  The man rolls his partner (by definition the lady currently on his right) across in front of him to finish on his left while he moves to his right — he doesn't turn round, so they're both facing the same way as before but they've changed places.  Try and persuade the men to take a step back as they bring the lady across, then step forward again and catch her — she's the one doing the work so the man should be helping her, not just throwing her.

Other figures   Top of page

There are literally thousands of MWSD figures, and I think it's OK to call a square which contains one (or at the most two) of these.  Just teach them carefully as they are needed; I wouldn't consider them standard repertoire figures and I have no intention of adding them to this list.

Recovering   Top of page

When some dancers get lost they just stand there helpless, thinking “Oh no, I've gone wrong” or telling somebody else what they did wrong.  I think it's worth pointing out that it's more fun to keep dancing than standing there in a huddle.  Surely in a square that's not too difficult.  If the set has broken down, the men need to get back to their home place, with a lady each.  If the ladies know that they should move round one place right or left each time through the figure, they can go to the next man.  If they can't manage that, surely they can choose a man each!  Now just wait until the next turn of the dance starts, and pick it up from there — don't suddenly join in the last part of the figure which means you'll be out of place when the next turn starts.

Recognition!        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Author: Colin Hume, 2004
Music: 7 x 32 bar reels

A1:Heads right and left through.  Head ladies chain.
A2:Heads circle left ¾, pass through.  Right and left through with the outside two.
B1:Dive through, pass through, swing the next (original corner).
B2:Promenade all the way.
 Ladies have moved Right.

One of mine to start you off, written for the Basic American module of the EFDSS Recognition System around 2004.  I'd say this is a fairly typical square in that it's led by the heads while the sides do nothing for the first 12 bars, after which everyone is moving all the time.  Notice “Heads” and “Head” in bold type — that's on the card to remind me that the third and fourth times through I need to change to “Sides”.  If you're calling from my Dance Organiser program, you can press the space-bar and it changes automatically, giving you one less thing to worry about if you're calling a complicated square or just tired!  I always note at the bottom of the card which way the ladies (or occasionally the gents) have progressed.  You can then say after the first walkthrough, “Now the men are home and the ladies have moved one place to the right.”  Wait to see whether there's any swapping of places — that tells you they didn't follow your instructions, or (if the whole room moves) you called it wrong!  “Ladies, move another place to your right, so you're opposite your original partner.  This is where you'll be after you've done the figure the second time.  Now let's walk it through for the sides.”

Make sure the dancers realise that the pass through in A2 is in the same phrase of music as the circle left ¾.  Some people expect to take the whole 8 steps for the circle and are then late with the pass through, and the next move, and so on.  Tell them to give some weight in the circle and keep it tight.  Make sure you call the “pass through” on time — perhaps even slightly early — so that it gets through to them.

Northern Quadrille        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Author: Keith Hunt: Northern Junket Vol.14, No. 1, December 1981.
Music: 7 x 32 bar reels

A1:Heads forward and back.  Do-si-do opposite.
A2:Swing opposite, finish facing the sides.  Circle four to the left.
B1:Left-hand star.  Men turn out (to your right), swing the lady behind you in your star (original corner).
B2:Promenade to the man's place.
 Ladies have moved Right.

Arkansas Traveller        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Source: Traditional American
Music: 7 x 32 bar reels

A1:Heads forward and back.  Right-hand turn opposite.
A2:Left-hand turn partner; all turn corner right, partner left, corner right, into:
B1:Promenade corner.

You can hear a recording of Marvin Shilling calling this in 1953 at items/show/1110 — the call starts at 2:41.  He's using recorded music, it's totally unphrased and he's showing that there are plenty of ways to do a traditional square.  At the start he says, “This is another old-timer — it's the Arkansas Traveller — we may put a little extra stuff with it, but basically it will be Arkansas Traveller”.  He doesn't do the final right-hand turn into the promenade with corner.  Instead he does a partner left-hand turn 1½, right-hand turn the right-hand lady, and back to your partner for all sorts of extra stuff.  What I'm giving is the basic figure as I learnt it, but feel free to play around with it as he does — it just takes confidence and practice!

I've also seen it done where the sides cross trail through as the heads fall back in A1, go back home round the outside, pass your partner by, just in time to right-hand turn your corner.

There are lots of very simple squares at: though I would write them on my cards using A1, A2 etc.  If he says “Beat count (by ESD): 64” (or thereabouts) that means it should fit into 32 bars, but don't be afraid to change anything you don't like.

Happy Hoedown        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Music: 9 x 32 bar reels

A1:Heads right and left through.  Head ladies chain across.
A2:Sides right and left through.  Side ladies chain across.
B1:Heads pass through, separate, go round one, behind the sides who move in.  Sides pass through, split two, separate, go round one and join hands in a circle.
B2:All in to the middle and back.  Circle left half-way.
C1:Allemande left your corner, walk past your partner and swing the next.
C2:Promenade to the man's place (just over once around).
 Ladies have moved left.

I don't remember where I picked this up from, but it was non-progressive (a keeper) and unphrased, so I modified it.  This dance shares the action equally between the heads and sides.  And it's a 48-bar figure — how do you deal with that?  I usually just ask the band for 32-bar reels, I use a 32-bar break, and I accept that the second and fourth times through the figure it will start on the B-music.  You could ask the band for a tune where the B-music isn't dramatically different from the A-music, but I wouldn't worry about it — just keep calling!  If you're using recorded music you need 9 x 32-bar reels, which I'm sure you can find; if you can only find 8 x 32 just leave out the middle break.  A few bands will offer to play 32 bars for the breaks and 48 bars for the figures, but then what happens if you get out of synch with them?!  Or you could use a 48-bar break and go for 7 x 48-bar reels.  Just keep calling!

Push and Shove        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Music: 4 x 64 bar reels

A1:Ones balance and swing.
A2:Ones go down the middle, split the ring, separate, go around one, stand behind the next (of the same sex).  Push them together in the middle, they swing back to the vacant place (where the ones started).
B1:Same man the same with a new partner.
B2:Same man the same again with yet another new partner.
A3:Allemande left your corner, grand chain.
A4:Give right hand to your partner: balance forward and back; box the gnat, chain back again.
B3:Do-si-do your partner.  Swing.
B4:Allemande left your corner, promenade your partner to your original place.

A keeper, led by each couple in turn, and it's a 64-bar figure so I wouldn't add any breaks.

This is the Folk Process in action!  The dance was passed from Carl McCurdy of Ashley, Ohio, to Judy Waldron of Somerville, Ohio, to Bob Dalsemer of Brasstown, North Carolina, to Madeleine Smith in England, and then to me.  I added A1, A4 and B3.  Barrie Bullimore also got it from Madeleine, renamed it “Backup and Push” (for the tune of the same name) and undoubtedly does it differently from me.  I've also heard it called “Push Pa, Shove Ma”, and I've danced it where the lady leads the figure rather than the man.  According to items/show/966 the title is “Push Your Pa and Shove Your Ma” and you can see various videos of it on the web.  Bill Litchman calls it “Push Ol' Pa and Push Ol' Ma”.  The way I'm phrasing the signature move is much quicker than people think (and much quicker than Bill does it — he's calling it unphrased), so you have to call it very positively: “Same man, lead your new partner across.  Same man!  It's you again!” or some similar encouragement.  After doing this move three times they are all one place to the right from where they started, and the rest of the figure is my way to get them home.  By this time they'll have forgotten where their home place is, so in the walkthrough when you say “Promenade to your original place” they'll look at you without moving and say “Done”.

The second lady gets all three swings!

Rolling Away        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Music: 7 x 32 bar reels

A1:Heads promenade all the way.  Sides forward and back, side ladies chain across, sides roll away.
A2:Heads lead right and circle left, men break to form lines up and down (men on the ends).  Lines forward and back.
B1:Pass through, ladies arch, men dive through, ladies turn on the spot.  Men pass through, swing the one you meet.  [It's quick!]
B2:Promenade to the man's place.  (Almost all the way)
 Ladies have moved Left.

I don't remember where I got this one from either.  It's a little different, because the roll away means that to make the lines the men need to let go of each other (which some of them find very hard to do).  I've also suggested breaks involving a roll away, which I think is a nice touch.  I wouldn't teach the breaks (as if!) but I would teach the one move they may not know — “Ladies in, men sashay”.  I haven't put this in the list of figures above because it's not used very often — just teach it on the fly.  It starts from a circle left: on the call the ladies move into the middle while the men continue circling, then fall back one place to the right.  Point out that it's not fair on the men if the ladies continue their circular track while the men are trying to get round them; this will get a laugh and therefore people will remember it.

Opener and Closer

A1:Honours (Opener) or circle left all the way (Closer).
A2:All four ladies chain, roll away, circle left.
B1:Ladies in, men sashay.  Allemande left your corner.
B2:Grand chain.  Promenade to the man's place.

Middle Break

A1:Heads forward and back.  Right and left through, then roll away.
A2:Sides the same.
B1:Circle left half-way.  Allemande left your (current) corner.
B2:Do-si-do your partner.  Swing your corner and square the set — man on the left, lady on the right.

A Little Bit More        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Music: 9 x 32 bar reels

A1:Men right-hand star ¾.  Left-hand turn your right-hand lady, all the way and a little bit more  (plenty of time).
A2:Four ladies chain across the floor.  Promenade new partner  (original corner).
B1:Original head men with current partners wheel around, lines forward and back, pass through, bend the line.
B2:Circle four, all the way and a little bit more.  Head gents break to one big ring, keep circling left.
C1:Allemande left new corner, swing new partner.
C2:Promenade to the man's place.
 Ladies have moved right.
Suggested break:
A1:Allemande left your corner.  Allemande right your partner, all the way and a little bit more.
A2:Swing your right-hand lady.  Allemande left new corner.
B1:Do-si-do new partner.  Swing your corner  (who was your partner at the start of the break).
B2:Promenade to the man's place.

Yet again I don't know where I got this from, but I modified the figure, added the break and gave it a title, so it's mine now!  This is more challenging, because it's a 48-bar figure and there's some unusual stuff in it.  B1 is busy, so you won't have time to say “Original head men with current partners wheel around”.  I say “Heads wheel around” and explain in the walkthrough that this means the head men and whoever they're with.  Even so you will find some men hesitate, or all four couples wheel around — you'd be amazed at what some people make of a perfectly clear call!  Point out that if the heads wheel around the sides have to stop, otherwise they'll walk into the heads!  “Bend the line” just means that as a couple you turn a quarter to face in.  That's fine for two of the men, but the other two men have to move forwards and some of them have been trained for years to believe that the man always has to go backwards.  Be firm with them!

The Five-Star Square        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Music: 9 x 32 bar reels

Observe your corner!

A1:Heads do-si-do your partner and swing.
A2:Head ladies chain across.  Heads promenade half-way.
B1:Heads lead to the right (into a column, facing your corner).  Right-hand star with the sidesHeads to middle with a left-hand star.
B2:Pick up your corner, star promenade.  Middles back out and the outsides in, wheel 1½.
C1:The others, right hands in: star promenade.  Open up and circle left.
C2:Men swing the nearest lady (the one you were doing the star promenade with).  Promenade to the man's place.
 Ladies have moved Right.

Adapted by Bob Dalsemer from a singing call. Madeleine Smith added an A1 of Bow and swing. I modified this to do-si-do and swing, and provided a title. The Folk Process in action!

Another 48-bar figure.  Trevor Monson disputes the title because he says there are only four stars; he considers the left-hand star for four people to be the same as the star promenade for eight people. What can I say?!

It's a good idea to tell people to observe their corner at the start of each turn of the dance: that's who you need to face for the right-hand star, that's who you pick up for the star promenade and that's who you swing to become your new partner.  When you walk it through, in B2 get the actives to lead out to their right and stop, so that they really are in a column and can see how the next moves work, although you then explain that of course in the dance they don't stop at that point, they flow straight into the star.  When you call “Middles back out and the outsides in” you'll find that some men on the outside are determined to move backwards “because that's what men do”.  You may also find that when they open out into a circle some men will immediately switch around because they think it's “wrong” to have two men together in the circle.

The Bridge        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Collected by Ed Butenhof — Sets In Order May 1981
Music: 7 x 32-bar reels

A1:Heads half promenade.  Right and left through.
A2:Head ladies chain across.  Chain back, keep left hand joined to partner, ladies give right in a wave up & down and raise your hands to form three arches.
B1:Twos lead through the centre arch, fours separate through an outside arch.  Those two couples swing.
B2:Fours through the centre, twos through the sides. Everybody swing.
 Repeat for sides, heads, sides.

You can see the original at on page 26, and you'll notice that he adds “All promenade full around” at the end, which I don't like for two reasons.  One is that on the first and third times through the figure it will immediately be followed by the sides doing a half promenade, which I think is too repetitive — who wants to promenade 1½ times round a square?  And the other is that it makes the figure 40 bars long, and bands aren't going to like that!  So if you want to keep the promenade you just have to accept the fact that the figure isn't going to start on A1 every time.  As I've said before, this really isn't a problem — just keep calling.  After you've done the figure once for the heads and once for the sides you'll be 16 bars out.  You could call a 16-bar break, such as allemande left corner, grand chain half-way, promenade home, swing.  And something similar as a closer.  Or you could be more ambitions and call a 48-bar break such as Cross and Swing above.  Or you could use a standard 32-bar break, start the third time through the figure on B1, the fourth time on B2 and you'll be back in synch.  If you're using a 7 x 32 bar recording, just miss out the middle break.  Be creative!  You're in charge, and so long as you call with confidence (and preferably correctly) nobody will notice a thing!

Bouquet Waltz        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Music: Unphrased reels

I decided I really should give you one which doesn't fit neatly into 8-bar phrases.  Just call it with confidence and ignore the music until you want the band to stop.  Of course with recorded music it's a different story.  MWSD callers just say “Honour your partners all” and quickly fade out the music.

 First couple swing.  First lady out to the right, circle left with the twos.
 Lady move on to the threes, man move on to the twos: “bouquet waltz”: circle left while going around the other circle anticlockwise (twos out, threes in).
 Lady move on to the fours, man move on to the threes, bouquet waltz (threes out, fours in).
 Man join lady with the fours, twos and threes join up: bouquet waltz, all finishing home ready for a break.

This is a traditional square — you'll find it on my Northern Junket page as Waltz Chassez and in Kentucky Running Set it's called “Polka Swing”, though it's neither a waltz nor a polka.

There are lots of squares on the Cambridge Contra website, including Christmas Eve Quadrille, Do Si Do and Face the Sides, Duck Through and Swing, Gents and Corners, Karin's Quadrille, The Nearest Lady and Pioneer Polka Quadrille.

If you want something different, have a look at Advanced Square Dance Figures Of The West And Southwest — I particularly like “Bachelor Mill” on page 22 which I've now added to my “Squares from Northern Junket” page.  In fact that page contains many squares which are very simple.

Singing squares can add greatly to the atmosphere — provided you've got a reasonable singing voice!  Here's an easy one to start you off: Hot time in the Old Town Tonight.

Finally, suppose you forget to stop the band!  I've just done that (November 2021), so I'm adding this while it's fresh in my memory.  I ended nicely at the end of a line of music: “… and honour your partners all”.  And the band played on!  I stopped the band and apologised to the dancers, making clear that it was my mistake and not the band's.  Here's what I should have done.  The four dashes are two bars (4 beats) for me to realise that the band hasn't stopped!

|- - - - And | Honour your corner too - Now|
|wave to the one across from you, 'cause | there you stand, that's it, you're through.|

If you want to add some more filler to take it up to the end of the tune, just go ahead and do it with confidence — no-one will realise you didn't mean to.  All four ladies chain across.  Chain back.  Allemande left your corner.  Swing your partner, or balance and swing if you've got a little more music left.  Of course you need to be aware of the music, but listen to recordings and I believe you'll get better at that.

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