How to Square Dance

Illustration by John Rice

The event

The square-dance social may seem like an antiquated notion, but dozens of clubs in Texas still preserve this pastime. “Square dancing persists because people enjoy the fellowship, the wholesome entertainment, and the exercise,” says Wayne Morvent, who’s been a caller for more than fifty years and currently works with the Bluebonnet Squares club, in Houston. “Also, we provide free cookies and coffee.” But before you start to scoot across the floor, learn the most common movements, or dance steps, so you don’t do-si- d’oh.

The dress

Square dancers take pride in a polished look, so wear your best Western-style clothing. Gents should opt for long-sleeved shirts (warm, yes, but they prevent other dancers from clasping a sweaty forearm), pressed jeans, and a bolo tie. Ladies customarily wear patterned dresses with petticoats or prairie skirts and simple jewelry (to avoid bruising their partner with a bulky bangle). For a little extra flair, some couples coordinate their outfits.

The caller

Standing on a stage or off to the side, the caller is the director of the festivities. He counts off the band (or drops the record needle) and drives the dance by using two types of calls: a singing call (a structured, 64-beat choreographed routine) and a patter call, which is extemporaneous. Seasoned dancers sometimes prefer the patter because it’s challenging and fast-paced. It may sound difficult, but experienced callers know how to keep it fun. “We want the dancers to dance,” Morvent says, “not do geometric puzzles.”

The square

A square comprises four couples who move as a team, with multiple squares on the floor during a “tip,” or dance session. When the music begins, the dancers follow the caller’s movements. Some well-known ones are the promenade and circle-to-the-left, but there are a total of 68 mainstream movements. “It’s like a game of Simon Says,” Morvent says. Be prepared to raise your heart rate, as dancers complete as many as 128 steps per minute, but mind your manners by never exiting a square early (no matter how exhausted you are) and by applauding the caller at the end of a tip.

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