Modern Square Dancing

After WWII Western square dancing became very popular. Everyone wanted to square dance because it was a sign of American pride. TV and movies incorporated the dance into their venues too. Even some TVS shows had square dancing in them. Bugs Bunny even participated in a square dance in a cartoon strip.

Western square dancing had taken off and began to change from the traditional visiting couple type of dancing into the current all-four-couple type of dancing in the 1950’s. Callers discovered they could move everyone at the same time and create more interest. They could vary the calls from dance to dance and create even more interest.

The development of public address systems, turntables, and phonographic records started to change things in the 1950’s. Bands were no long mandatory, so dances could be held whenever and where ever a group wanted to dance. Clubs formed and regular dances and lessons were held to teach dancers the basic calls in 10-12 weeks. Microphones and speakers made it much easier for callers to create easy on-the spot dance patterns and develop styles and techniques of calling and to be easily understood at the same time. No more trying to be heard over a band by shouting from atop a kitchen chair.

Callers began to create new patter calls in the 1960’s, but it became difficult to keep up with all of them. Even though many of them were published in square dance magazines, it was hard to constantly learn new steps every month or worse weekly. If dancers missed several weeks of dancing, then they might not be able to dance with their regular group until they’d learned the new “basics.” Unfortunately the list of Basics kept changing and varied by locale, so when one traveled to visit and dance elsewhere, sometimes a call was made that the vising dancers didn’t know, even if they’d been dancing for several years.

Gradually in the 1970’s an organization called Callerlab was formed and helped to standardize square dance terms, timing and styling. A Basic and Mainstream list was developed and a Plus list came out in the late 70’s. Eventually higher levels were developed and ocassionally a move is shuffled from one list to another or removed altoghter.

A similar group was established to work for the same goals for round dancing and to standardize round dance cues. These organizations also aimed to promote the principles of fun and friendship established by early leaders like “Pappy” Shaw.

Square Dance Terms/Calls.  How many calls are there in modern square dancing? First you have to realize that there are several levels and each has a set of standardized calls.

Modern square dancing has seven levels although most clubs only dance the first one or two. Although Mainstream has between 68-70 families of calls, when you count all variations or members of those families you actually have about 120 calls.

  • Mainstream has 68 calls
  • Plus has 31 additional calls
  • A-1 (Advanced) has 48 addtional calls
  • A-2 (Advanced) has 37 additional calls
  • C-1 (Challenge)
  • C-2 (Challenge)
  • C-3 (Challenge)