Dancing "Down Under"
Australian dance roots are the same,
but there are differences versus the U.S.

by John Brant

America and Australia have common roots in Square Dancing. We use the same call definitions as dictated by CALLERLAB. There are, however, some differences between the countries in terminology and the way the dancing is organized. Our "Associations" are called "Societies" in Australia. What we call "Tips" are called "Brackets". What we call "Patter Calls" are called "Hoedowns". In America we "Square Up" where ever we want. In Western Australia they start a "bracket" with all the dancers standing in two columns of 2 dancers or two couples. At large shows even 4 couples or more will line up in more than 1 column. They start Promenading as couples or foursomes to the right, left, or down the center as the caller dictates. This prevents "pat squares" as what happens in the U.S.. They also promenade as couples off the floor.

Most square dancing clubs in Australia dance at the mainstream level with some plus and fewer advance level. Most clubs are caller run clubs. The classes of new dancers run approximately 10 to 12 months. Dancers are encouraged to stay at the mainstream level for two years. Australian callers don't believe in the idea of rushing dancers to the Plus level as they do in America. In Australia their "brackets" consist of three records including 2 singing calls and a Hoedown. Some clubs have food to eat at the break (dancers bring a plate) and others clubs are happy just to offer tea/coffee and a biscuit. As in the U.S. no smoking and drinking is allowed in the dance halls.

The popularity of Round Dancing varies between areas. In Western Australian clubs have Round Dancing, but only 2 or 3 songs throughout the night. At larger society dances they will have a half hour of round dancing before the square dancing starts. In Victoria and Melbourne Round Dancing is much more popular. There are two rounds after every second bracket. As many as 80% of the Square Dancers are also Round Dancers.

What is similar between the two countries is the decline in square dancing. Square dancing has been in decline during the past few years in both countries. It is becoming more difficult to attract new dancers. The average age of dancers in Australia is about the same as here (about 60). There are very few dancers under the age of 40. At the typical club dances there are from 1 to 10 sets of dancers. At large Society dances there are about 18 to 24 sets.

Don Gauci is a caller from Western Australia (Perth) who has called in the U.S. on two occasions. When he was asked to compare the dancing between the two countries he said, "I feel that the dancing is faster in Australia than in the USA and we do a lot of Swinging. Although I have only been to the USA twice, once on the West Coast and the second time on the East Coast, when we danced it was a lot slower. When I was asked to call I found that your dancers had difficulty in dancing at the mainstream level and kept breaking down". He went on to say, "My wife Margaret and I found the American callers and dancers to be very friendly and hospitable towards us. They were always willing to help us out in every way possible. We thoroughly enjoyed both trips to America".

All countries have unique names for clubs and Australia is no different. Some of the unusual club names in Australia are: Burnie Square Dance Club, Bee Sting, Boomerangs, Greenfinches, Nexus, Jimboomba Square Dance Club, Salad Bowl Squares, Red Hot Plus, and Walley's Watering Hole.

There is very little opportunity for American and Australian dancers to learn about one another. Thanks goes to Callers Don Gauci and Howard Cockbun for their patience and interest in suppling the information for this article.

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.