Square Dance Calling

2011, a response to a caller

> I haven’t even ventured into squares because I don’t know how to call them and don’t know where to learn.

For starters, Tony Parkes includes a helpful discussion of squares in his Contra Dance Calling text book.

Calling so-called “New England squares” is much the same as calling for a contra dance; figures fit the phrasing of a typical AABB tune. Ted Sannella’s two collections (Balance and Swing, Swing the Next) contain many examples of these style of dances, and the syllabi of the annual Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, available online, are a valuable resource for more such dances.

 Ted Sannella’s booklet on Calling Traditional New England Squares is available from CDSS. It deals especially with how to call breaks and gives scores of examples of appropriate breaks for a square. As a bonus, the $17 purchase price includes a CD of live recordings of Ted calling 14 squares, which provides you with an excellent model from which you can learn timing from a master.

CDSS also published recently On the Beat with Ralph Sweet, a most useful and comprehensive collection; the singing squares in that volume provide a ready-made script to follow. You just sing the correct words and folks do the dance... no need to figure out the timing, since that’s already built into the lyrics. Caution-- singing squares may take a little longer to teach, since the dancers need to be doing the figure at the same time as you’re singing out the command. This is different from the prompting style you’re used to with contras, where the action is called out several beats before the dancers do it.

 > just reading a book doesn’t give me the confidence I need to venture into different formations

That’s where a house party is a great idea. Invite some other callers and a bunch of friends who like to dance and who are willing to be guinea pigs, roll up the proverbial or literal rug in the living room or dance in the kitchen, and practice.

There are also opportunities to learn more by attending dance camps: CDSS frequently offers classes on calling squares at its camps at Pinewoods or Timber Ridge [now camps are in four locations]; Bob Dalsemer runs an intensive callers’ class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC; and there are sometimes classes at the Augusta Dance Week in Elkins, WV. Finally, one can always seek out an experienced caller to act as a mentor. Sometimes it’s possible to get funding for such apprenticeships through a state arts council, and CDSS offers support for such projects as well.


David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


Email David