Two hundred and seventy-four

Square Dance Day

November 29th is Square Dance Day.  It is a day to celebrate the folk dance where the ladies wear twirly skirts, the moves are called out through a singer, and the more I find out about it, the more complicated it seems.  I didn’t realize there were so many different rules and moves!

Square dancing was first described in 17th century England, although it was also popular in France and Europe.  It became associated with the United States, through the combination of traditional folk and social dances of the variety of people who migrated to the country.  Nineteen states have declared it their official state dance. (more information on the history of square dancing in the U.S. at

Square dancing is a dance involving eight dancers/four couples who form a square with one couple on each side.  Each of the couples has a number, with Couple 1 having their back to the music, then numbers moving around the square counter-clockwise. The head couples are Couples 1 and 3.  The side couples are Couples 2 and 4.  The “boy” always stands to the left of the “girl” (it doesn’t matter what sex the dancers are, as long as they remember which is the “boy” and which is the “girl” for the dance).  The couples are considered “partners”, while the person beside them (ie. to the left of the man and the right of the woman) is their “corner”.

The couples move around depending on what the “caller” tells them to do.  The “caller” is the person who sings out what formations the couples will take (like Simon Says, sort of).  It is always called in English, so anyone from around the world can participate, no matter what country they are in.

When moving around the dance, at some points you will end up with a different partner and corner.  Your “partner” is always the person standing beside you (even if it isn’t your original partner) and your “corner” is the person on your other side, as described above.  However, your designation as head, side, or couples 1, 2, 3 or 4 will stay the same throughout the dance.

Some other rules: when standing beside each other either facing the same way (a “couple”), or opposite ways (a “mini-wave”), you must hold inside hands; if there is a line of multiple couples or mini-waves, they should all join hands.  When passing another dancer, they must pass right shoulders.

This is already making my head explode a bit.  But, wait, there’s much, much more to square dancing…

There are many different moves that you must learn in order to understand what the “caller” is telling you to do.  Here are a few and some short descriptions courtesy of Square Dancing 101 (many more on the website):

  • Allemande Left: “Dancers face their corners if they have not already done so. Corners form left-hand-to-left-hand handholds and turn around each other 360 degrees, dropping the handhold at the end as the dancers rejoin their respective partners.”
  • Do Sa Do: “Starting formation  Any number of pairs of facing dancers. Dancers advance and pass right shoulders. Without turning, each dancer moves to the right passing in back of the other dancer. Then moving backwards, each passes left shoulders returning to starting position. No touching is involved, and no positions change. “
  • Courtesy Turn: “The man and lady stand facing the same direction with the man to the left and the lady to the right. The man takes the lady’s left hand (palm down) in his left (palm up) and places his right hand in the small of the lady’s back. The lady’s right hand is on her skirt. Working as a unit, the couple turns around with the man backing up and lady walking forward.”
  • Four Ladies Chain: “Starting formation – square of 8 dancers. All four ladies step to the center and join their right palms together to form a star shape if seen from above. The ladies walk forward (to the left, in a clockwise direction) and turn the star halfway around to their opposite men. All meet up with their new partners, take courtesy turn handhold, courtesy turn to face the center of the set.”

There are two broad types of square dancing: traditional and modern western square dancing.  Different locations have slightly different styles of the dance.

More details at Square Dancing 101 and Wikipedia.  For information on where to square dance in Canada, visit

On a side note, did you know there is a National Square Dance Campers Association, with over 100 chapters in the United States and Canada?  In order to be a member, you must complete a prescribed course in Modern Western Square Dancing style and be a camper.

And one more fun video to end off today’s talk of square dancing.  Happy Square Dance Day!