Square dancing . . . do you know how to square dance? The name comes from what my son says is four couples arranged in a square.
I learned how to do this kind of dancing when in high school. It has become familiar to me again because my son, CPA, public accountant, Paul, for his beloved hobby, is a square dance caller. His son Stephen, now seventeen, began with his father when he was only eleven, and now
Stephen is a caller and earns a tidy sum when he calls. Stephen and I discussed all this recently. I got curious as to the origin of square dancing and to ballroom dancing as we know it today where partners hold each other in dance. What’s the history? Here’s what I discovered . . .
The waltz, with its modern hold, began in England circa 1812. The dance was met with opposition because . . . you guessed it . . . the impropriety associated with the closed hold. But guess what, all dancing has a closed hold of some sorts. Even in square dancing, when partners swing each other. The swing is a traditional square dance move (call).
Now, wait a minute, while reviewing the history of dance, I realized that I cannot stretch this into ballroom dancing history. It would take a couple of blogs. So, I will stick to square dancing and maybe follow up with the ballroom dance another time.
Paul said that the square dancing that he knows is modern square dancing, or western square dancing. Square dance began in New England with the first settlers, who brought their own folk dancing with them from their homeland. The variety led to men interested in boiling down the steps, who would develop dances and routines of their own, including dances for groups, specifically for four couples. So there we have it, square dancing and its director (or caller) developed.
This type of new dancing served as recreation and social contact with neighbors. The only requirements were a wooden floor, music and a caller, and anyone who could make the calls to keep it organized. It could take place in a barn, somebody’s living room, the town hall, and later, the grange hall. There was always someone on hand who could play a guitar, a fiddle or an accordion.
However, as the population became more urban it also became more cosmopolitan. Booming trade brought to our shores new fashions, new music, and new dances from other continents. The new dances became fashionable, and square dancing was displaced in our mushrooming cities. It survived only in isolated areas in the individual style peculiar to that region. In time, differences among these regional dances became so pronounced that a square dancer from one area often would not be able to dance in another. Square dancing seemed slated for oblivion.
But—it was revived by Henry Ford in the early 1930’s as part of his early New England Restoration project. Others got interested and modernized it with more modern music, rather than the hillbilly band with its whiny fiddle. As square dancing moved into urban centers, articulate and professional callers were the norm. Nametags, worn by all dancers, put everyone on a first-name basis creating instant informality and fellowship. Square dancing had regained its old appeal in a modern setting and it spread over the nation. Today, this wholesome recreation is enjoyed by millions of Americans and others around the world. Wherever Americans have gone, England, Germany, Australia, Japan, etc., they have introduced square dancing with enthusiastic participation and applause.
Modern western-style square dancing is vibrant and growing. New ideas and dynamic choreography is introduced each year, insuring that square dancing will continue to be exciting. The music is fabulous. Always upbeat, new, tap your foot music. It’s for everyone, all ages, even the handicapped. Imagine? It’s fun to learn, and move on to advanced groups. At the beginning you learn a number of basic moves (calls) in various combinations. Knowledge and practice of the basic movements are learned in a series of weekly sessions. There are ‘barn dances’ for the newbies, mainstream and higher levels when you are ready. The challenges are creative and fulfilling when it all goes smooth.
Paul and family attend square dances all over the country whenever possible. They enjoy the people, the dancing, and camaraderie. He keeps up with the square dance community, to stay in tune. Paul uses his own music when he teaches and calls. He uses a wide variety of music beyond the expected country style, including rock and roll, show tunes, easy listening, jazz, and even classical, and his dancers love it!
The average dancer remains in the “Mainstream” and “Plus” levels of square dancing for four to five years. In order to extend this period of activity, “Advanced” and “Challenge” levels of square dancing have been developed. These additional levels of square dancing have maintained the interest of many dancers and have extended their dancing years.
Information from http://www.dosado.com and the archives of the Mid-Atlantic Challenge Association (MACA).