Western square danceWestern square dance (also called "modern western square dance", "contemporary western square dance", or "modern American square dance") is one of two types of square dancing, along with "traditional square dance".
Western square dance is directed by a caller. The caller strings together a sequence of individual calls (choreography) that are danced by the individuals in the squares. There are eight people (four couples) in each square. At a dance there may be many squares. Each of these squares dance independently of each other. The square functions as a "dance team" for the duration of a "square dance tip", a group of dances usually separated from the next "tip" by a pause during which the dancers regroup into new squares.
Dances are categorized as belonging to a particular dance program, or level of difficulty. This allows the caller to form his/her choreography from an agreed-upon and widely known list of calls that the dancers are understood to be able to carry out. Dancers can be assured that others who dance the same program know identical calls. Dancers learn these dance programs at square dance clubs.
In addition to sponsoring classes, clubs sponsor also dances. When a dance is advertised as being a multi-program dance then there are either "tips" or special rooms available for the dancer at the various different programs.
There are nine different dance programs from which the dancer may choose. There is no requirement to progress to more advanced levels. One is encouraged to dance the program in which one is comfortable, and to only progress to another program if one has such a desire. One is also encouraged to dance a program at least one year after having learned it before progressing to a new one.
Seven of these programs are managed by Callerlab, the International Association of Square Dance Callers. In addition there are several high level unmanaged programs. This allows modern western square dance to be international. The seven managed lists are as follows. After the name of the program is an indication of the number of included steps at the moment (Aug. 2002). There is occasional adjustment of the programs. The tendency is to reduce the number of steps at the lowest level (Mainstream) so that there is less required learning time to achieve a controlled common level of dancing proficiency.
- Mainstream - 68 calls
- Plus - 32 calls - 100 calls total
- Advanced 1 (A1) - 48 calls (and concepts) - 148 calls (and concepts) total
- Advanced 2 (A2) - 37 calls (and concepts) - 185 calls (and concepts) total
- Challenge 1 (C1) - 73 calls (and concepts) - 258 calls (and concepts) total
- Challenge 2 (C2) - 72 calls (and concepts) - 330 calls (and concepts) total
- Challenge 3A (C3A) - 81 calls (and concepts) - 411 calls (and concepts) total
Callerlab recommends that the Mainstream program be taught in no less than 56 hours. Depending on the length of the individual class and how often you meet, it can take a half year or longer to learn the full program. In Europe, most notably in Denmark, there have been recognized a series of partial dance levels with corresponding dances available at those partway points (Mainstream 23, 45, 53, 68). This allows dancers to begin attending dances quicker in the learning cycle.
Besides the call of the step to be performed, a "concept" is an additional layer of complexity which can be put on top of the step to make it more challenging. Not surprisingly "concepts" are first introduced when learning the higher dance programs. To show how concepts work we could take a hypothetical call entitled "Walk" which is defined as walking forward, and apply a hypothetical concept entitled the "Backwards" concept or even the "Sideways" concept, and the results of the walk call is entirely different.
In modern western square dancing participants are encouraged to wear "traditional" western-style square dance outfits. Men can be seen wearing long-sleeved western and western-style shirts, dress slacks, string ties (bolos) or kerchiefs and sometimes cowboy hats and boots. Women can be seen wearing specially made square dance outfits with petticoats. Partners will oftentimes have color- and pattern-coordinated outfits. There has been long discussion about relaxing this "dress code". This has led to the adoption of "proper" attire as an alternative to the "traditional" attire described above.