Modern Western Square Dancing (MWSD) has evolved greatly over the years. In the early 1900's the term square dancing really meant quadrilles that were prompted. An Ed Durlacker textbook printed in 1949 details how to prompt as well as how to call. Up through the 1950's and early 1960's most of the dances had fixed routines and names for each dance. There were many dance routines where the dancer knew what was coming. The fascination was in being able dance the routine correctly and in coordination with the other dancers in the square. Most singing calls had the same figure four times and the same Intro/break/ending three times. People wanted to turn off their brains and just enjoy the music.
Even up into the 80's the patter tips were largely organized around themes. The caller would string together a number of basics in an interesting pattern perhaps built around featuring a movement such as Recycle. Then the caller would expand the pattern with what are now known as extended applications. By building gradually on the pattern instead of expecting the dancers to immediately solve the puzzle the timing became comfortable as the choreography became more difficult.
Only in the nineties do we have the strong emergence of puzzle solving as a strong element in MWSD. Only in the nineties have singing calls become puzzles to be solved as well. The result has been to split Modern Western Square Dancing in the U.S. into many fractions. We have the puzzle solvers. We still have many areas where mainstream dancing is strong. And we have areas that have evolved their own list of calls that are a mixture of the mainstream and plus calls from very limited positions.
I'm sure there are many reasons for the decline in the popularity of square dancing, but a strong part of the reasons for the decline are because of the change in the way we call and dance. In many ways we have less variety in dancing in many areas now than we had 10-15 years ago. We certainly have less unity worldwide than we had 10-15 years ago. Where will this lead? Who knows. About the only thing that is sure is there will be changes. Maybe it's time to look at the past and see if we might want to rediscover some of the fun we experienced.
This article may be reprinted with no further permission from the authors and/or publications. Permission has been granted in advance for the reprinting with the stipulation that credit be given to the contributing author/publisher.
Square Dance Article Co-Op Index