Square Dancing in Barns

Square dancing is an activity that is most often related to mountain music and barn dances, although it can take place in many other different venues, as long as they have the proper size to accommodate at least eight dancers paired up in four couples, the musicians and the caller. There are two main types of square dancing, traditional dance and modern Western square dance. The former may encompass several regional styles, such as Northeastern, Southeastern and Western Dance, that were in existence prior to 1950, while the latter developed from a mix of those regional styles after that year.

Traditional square dancing differs from the modern type in that it has a limited set of movements that are easily assimilated by average dancers without need for lessons, dance figures that are called and repeated in a pre-determined order as opposed to being improvised, and the use of live music. The traditional dance is set to traditional folk music, including Irish jigs and reels, as well as folk tunes from Canada, England and Scotland. This music is usually played live with acoustic instruments such as the fiddle, banjo, guitar and double bass.

Modern Western square dancing has evolved from the more traditional form by incorporating several elements, for instance flourishes, sound effects and games. Flourishes are movements that are added to or that replace a standard movement. An example of this is substituting the dosado, a basic step in square dance, contra dance and polka, with a fling move or a twirl. Flourishes are a point of contention between traditionalists and modernists. Sound effects are responses to the caller that range from verbal sounds to hand claps and foot stomps. Unlike flourishes, sound effects are more accepted as they do not interfere with the timing or the execution of a step. Games are meant to provide challenges for the dancers, such as dancing with less than eight people in the square, swapping partners in the middle of a tip, and switching squares in the middle of a tip. As playful as this may sound, if done without the permission of the other dancers and the caller, games may be considered impolite and confusing. Modern square dancing makes more prominent use of contemporary country music, even though pop, rock and even techno have also been used.

Both traditional and modern square dance share a very important thing though, and that is the dance caller. As the name implies, the caller calls or announces the different movements and steps. Both styles may also have a few calls in common, although they may differ in execution. In addition to calling the moves, modern callers may also provide patter of their own invention to keep the crowd entertained and to cover up any mistakes or oversights in the calling.