|CALLERS' WORKSHOP page 1|
|Figures unique to, or traditionally associated with, squares.|
Can you learn to call by reading this page? Ha! Fuhgeddabowdit! You may have no choice, however, so, let's work on it. If you are already calling contras or the like, you're 1/3 the way there.
Northern contra dances, Irish folk dances, English country and ceili dances, and Scottish country dances feature dance figures that match in duration the musical phrases of the tunes. The musical phrase can be heard by even a tin ear. It ain't subtle. For example: "Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a pony" is an 8 beat musical phrase - sing it and clap along! "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" is the next 8 beat phrase. A standard contra dance tune is made up of eight of these 8-beat phrases. Here is an audio illustration of musical phrase.
Contra dance figures are almost always 4, 8, or 16 beats long, with the total number of beats adding up to 64. Contra tunes are usually 64 beats long to mate with 64 beats of the complete dance. The caller PROMPTS the dancers by yelling out the call for the next figure during the last 2-4 beats/steps of the current figure. Here is an audio illustration. Larry Edelman explains and diagrams this in his "Square Dance Caller's Workshop". Square dances can also be called and danced in this way, especially the New England quadrilles that are often described as contras in square formation. Irish polka sets are prompted and danced tightly to the musical phrase.
But, traditional old-fashioned squares, while they may be danced in step with the musical phrases of the tune, are often called using the CADENCE technique. Here the caller barks the call on the first couple of beats of the figure/phrase, the idea being that the dancers already know what the next figure is. The call is made while the dancers begin the figure. The figures still follow the musical phrase, and usually the phrase and figure have even numbers of beats. Here is an illustration. It is common for the band to cut the music short by tacking on an ending when the dance finishes. Or the dancers clap along with the band while they finish out the tune.
When calling Southern squares the caller uses prompting and cadence calling, too. There is a real difference, though: Commonly, the figures vary in length, ignoring the musical phrase. Often the music is "crooked", meaning there are missing or extra beats and parts. So, the caller watches the dancers and prompts them just before they finish the current figure, no matter where that happens in the tune. Of course, it is fun to periodically resolve the dance with the end of a musical phrase, but, it is not critical to end the dance right at the end of the tune. The caller can shorten the number of beats for some figures to speed things up, or add a few beats if necessary to adjust to the skill of the crowd. The point is that the tune does not dictate the duration of the figures, the number of beats does. For instance, a do-si-do is 8 beats long in a contra dance but can be 4,6 or any number of beats in a Southern square. The caller adjusts on the fly, according to how skilled the dancers are or what the caller wants to accomplish. An illustration, of course.
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