The following is a personal impression of Round Dancing, as seen from the easy level. We tried to keep it simple, at the risk of losing some technical accuracy, for which we apologise. Our sincere thanks to those who gave valued comments; any errors are ours. The three parts are: Part I, definition and origins; Part II, levels, rhythms, and Roundalab; and Part III, choreography. In summary, Round Dancing is fun! Try it and enjoy!
Round Dancing is social dancing for couples, based largely on western and ballroom steps and rhythms, but including unique basics and variations of its own. Dances are set to popular music; choreographers design routines to fit the music; all dancers do the same steps at the same time. Dances are directed by a "cuer" using a microphone, which permits a very large repertoire of dances at all levels without a corresponding need to memorize a vast choreography.
While Round Dance is linked organizationally to Square Dance, there are no common steps. Square Dance is a group dance based on the relative and changing positions of eight dancers. Round Dance is a couple or partner dance based on a variety of rhythms, steps and sequences, many unique to a particular rhythm. Round Dance usually takes place in clubs where new instruction, workshop review and dancing can occur in the same evening. It is low cost, promotes fitness and coordination, and occurs in an alcohol and smoke free environment.
Origins of Round Dance and Modern Square Dance
Traditional dances were brought to North America by the early settlers, evolving under successive waves of immigration and western expansion. In 1926 Henry Ford, the auto czar and an avid dancer, published a book entitled "Good Morning". His purpose was to revive traditional dancing, which had declined in the eastern US with the arrival of jazz and other dances. Mr Ford noted "ballroom dances are divided into two general types - round and square. Round dances are those in which one couple forms the unit, as in the waltz, two-step, polka or gavotte. Square [and contra] dances are those of the group type ". Ford's book was to inspire a young school superintendent, Dr Lloyd Shaw, to research western dances in the 1930s and to publish two books , "Cowboy Dances" and "The Round Dance Book" in the 1940s. At Cheyenne Mountain School, Colorado Springs, Shaw taught his ideas of western dance first to his students and later, in summer classes, to existing square dance callers and leaders. His club "formats" included square dance (four couples), contra dance (up to eight couples), and round dance (one couple). A result was an explosion of square dance clubs across North America - and wherever US forces were stationed around the world. The association of Round and Square Dance was confirmed (Legacy, Callerlab, Roundalab, Contralab) in the present movement.
Popularity led to a demand for increasing challenge and complexity. Round Dance went to six phase levels from Easy, through Intermediate, to Advanced. Square Dance introduced even more levels, from Basic to Challenge.
Levels, the Phase Rating System, and Rhythms
Levels. Phases 1 and 2 are the beginner and easy level, mainly two-step and waltz but early elements of other rhythms begin to appear. Phase 3 is essentially a transition level, used to introduce the major rhythms, steps, and sequences of modern and latin ballroom dance; Phase 4, the intermediate level, builds on the transition. Phases 5 and 6, the advanced level, add even more rhythms, sophisticated steps, and step combinations.
Phase Rating System
This defines the "degree of difficulty" of a dance. Each phase has a specific syllabus of basics - steps, movements and actions. If a dance has only Phase 1 and 2 basics, it will be rated (classed) as a Phase 2 dance. If the same dance is re-choreographed to include one Phase 3 basic, it becomes a Phase 2+1; include two Phase 3 basics and it becomes Phase 2+2; include three Phase 3 basics and it is automatically reclassifies to a Phase 3. What can confuse us beginners are those dances that use simple basics, but when choreographed into unexpected directions, timing or sequences, they can challenge even the best of dancers!
Apart from the western two-step and western waltz, rhythms include the ballroom dance repertoire of modern (waltz, foxtrot, tango and quickstep) and latin (cha, rumba, jive, and paso doble). If the division seems odd, it is because modern dances are also "travelling dances" while latin dances are "spot dances". A review of Round Dance's Phase 4-6 syllabus and ballroom's bronze, silver and gold syllabus will show many common dance steps.
Roundalab and Standardization
To ensure that dancers in Canada, the US, or Europe can learn the same dance and then dance it elsewhere calls for a high degree of standardization. And Round Dance, just like other dance forms, is constantly evolving. Roundalab, the International Organization of Round Dance Teachers, oversees this necessary standardization.
Various Roundalab committees adjust the syllabus and levels; ensure there are clinics to teach new instructors or refresh old instructors; prepare manuals; negotiate music licensing agreements with BMI and ASCAP; provide seminars to both members and others within the Square Dance movement; and so on. The Video Committee some years back, for example, produced a series of nine videos that demonstrate each basic step in the syllabus, by level and rhythm (rather like a "dictionary"); they have just updated this project with four additional videos. Another committee monitors the popularity of dances actually danced or taught in the clubs, and publishes periodic lists such as "Rounds of the Quarter". There is an annual Roundalab convention, often held in conjunction with the US National Square and Round Dance Convention. This gives Roundalab an opportunity to keep in touch with its roots, give new and update seminars to both the Round and Square Dance community, and tackle new problems and opportunities facing Round Dancing such as promotion and recruitment.
Music is mostly popular tunes and vocals from the easy listening category, dating from the 1950s; there are also classic tunes from earlier decades such as the 1920s and 1930s.
Choreography and Cue Sheets
Hundreds of new dances are created every year, a few become really popular, but only a handful make the list of classics. Choreographers set dance steps to the music, trying to match the flow and mood with interesting and elegant sequences. Often they succeed beautifully - to the delight of dancers. Each dance is described in a cue sheet, both as "head cues" for the cuer (the cuer's verbal shorthand directions to dancers), as well as step-by-step instructions for dancers. A cue sheet accounts for every measure in the music; it is tailored to fit. Typically, most dances are divided into two or three parts (Parts A, B, C) with an introduction and ending. A very recent choreography development (1996) is the use of computer software to aid cue sheet writing.
Learning to read a cue sheet is a recommended activity for any aspiring Round Dancer. It isn't particularly hard, and well repays the invested effort, by learning the dance better and faster.
Most instructors teach complete dances. First, they teach the individual steps used in the dance, and tie them together in blocks until the teach is complete. The student can then feel the achievement of learning a complete dance from beginning to end. While the syllabus is being absorbed in a fun environment, there's a chance that a part of the syllabus may be overlooked.
A less common way is to teach the complete syllabus for each level, with supplementary drills to practice the steps in sequences of "hash dancing". Theoretically, this means that if students know the syllabus for a given rhythm and level, they should be able to dance any dance in that level, just to cues. Practically, it may not always work out that easily.
Each system has merit. We prefer the first, but find supplementary drills as being very helpful.
Are There Any Other Dance Formats Similar To Round Dance?
Yes, Britain has a variation of ballroom called Sequence Dancing. This is choreographed in sequences of 16 bars used over and over again, all couples doing the same steps at the same time; they use "scripts" (cue sheets), which can be used for any similar rhythm; there's no cuer, so dancers must memorize the scripts. Sequence Dancing includes Old Time Dancing (a traditional repertoire of veletas, saunters, two-steps, waltzes, etc) plus the addition of ballroom's modern and latin dances.
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