Square dance is a folk dance for four couples that was first described in 17th century England, but which has become associated with the United States of America due to its historic development in that country. The various movements used in square dancing are based on traditional folk dances of the various people who migrated to the USA. Some of these dances include Morris dance, English Country Dance, and the quadrille. Square dancing is enjoyed by people around the world, and people around the world are involved in the continuing development of this dance.
The movements are prompted by calls. The calls are put together by a caller to form a dance. The caller leads but does not participate in the dance.
There are two different types of square dance:
- Traditional square dance, which is frequently presented in alternation with contra dances, and is most prevalent in New England, with Appalachia and the South being close seconds.
- Western square dance, which is also called "modern Western square dance", "contemporary Western square dance", or "modern American square dance". Western square dance is practiced worldwide.
- For example, the "Allemande Left" is traditionally performed by grasping left hands with the other dancer, leaning backwards slightly, and walking around a central axis. In Western dance the grip is modified so that each dancer grips the arm of the other, and there is less leaning. These modifications makes it easier to enter and exit the step, and thus easier to incorporate into a long sequence of calls.
In Western square dance one dances a defined program where the participants have learned and become proficient in performing the steps necessary to dance the program. At the basic level this consists of 68 calls. When one dances Western square dance one is constantly challenged and surprised by the choreography of the caller. No two dances are ever alike!
A "call" means the name of a dance step, the phrase used by a caller to tell the dancers to dance it, and the dance step itself. It mirrors the ambiguity of the word "dance", which may mean a dance event, the dancing of an individual to the playing of one piece of music, or dancing in general.
A square dance call may take a very short time or a very long time to execute. In modern Western square dancing a call requires a specific number of counts to be executed, usually 4-32 counts. In traditional square dancing the timing of a call is fit to the music.
The music of the two forms also differs. In traditional square dance the music is traditional "country dance" music: Irish jigs and reels for the most part, as well as folk music from Quebec (Canada), England, Scotland, and other countries. The music is almost always performed live by a traditional dance music band. In Western square dance the music is a mixture of many types, everything from pop to traditional country to broadway musical to contemporary country music. The beat is also somewhat faster. The music is frequently played from recordings.
Another name for a traditional square dance is a quadrille. Quadrilles originated in upper-class England.
The Promenade Act (H. R. 645) is a bill before the United States Congress that proposes that Square Dance be designated as the national folk dance, and that arbitrarily defines certain related European-American dances as square dance.