First off, square dancing is probably NOT what you think it is. It's usually presented in movies, schools, etc., as a fairly "simple" activity (you know -- do-si-do, promenade, swing your partner, etc.). Nothing could be farther from the truth, as you'll see below.
Square dancing IS a lot of fun. Once you start, you'll probably find that you're hooked.
It's also a great way to get exercise. For some health info, click HERE.
A typical dance evening consists of several dance "tips," lasting about 10 minutes each, with breaks in between. At the beginning of a tip, the dancers line up to form "squares." A square has four couples, with one couple making each side of the square. There may be many squares on the floor, but each is separate. That is, each square of four couples works together as a team, independently of the others.
A "caller" stands at one end of the hall and begins giving a sequence of instructions for the dancers to follow. Each of these instructions, or "calls," requires that some or all of the dancers in the square perform a pre-determined manuever. The caller doesn't literally tell you where to move, he/she just gives the name of the call, such as "linear cycle" or "ends fold," and the dancers respond. Some of the manuevers are simple, others are more complex.
Although they begin in a square, after each manuever the formation of the dancers will change, maybe to waves, or columns, or diamonds, etc., or the dancers' positions within the formation will change. There are lots of variations.
After several calls, the dancers are usually thoroughly "shuffled." For example, your original partner may be somewhere at the other end of the formation from you. But, due to the caller's skill at selecting calls, eventually everyone "magically" ends up with their partner again, back at their home position where they started the tip.
The calls (instructions) that the caller gives are set to music, so the dancers' movements flow to the music. That's part of the fun of dancing. The music can be anything from bluegrass to ballads to rock'n'roll. There are actually two parts to a tip, lasting about 5 minutes each. The first part, although set to music, concentrates more on calls and formations, as the caller manuevers the dancers into myriad formations and positions. The second part concentrates more on the music, and the dancers movements are choreographed to a particular popular song. It's a nice combination.
Of course, the dancers must know how to perform the manuevers for each of the calls, and there are lots of calls to learn. This requires that you attend classes for a period of time before you can "officially" dance with the regulars. But the classes are fun, too (see below).
Part of the challenge and fun of square dancing is trying to remember and immediately perform the manuevers required for each call. This requires that you learn to listen and concentrate. A side benefit of this is that while you're dancing you RELAX, mentally and physically, and completely forget any troubles that may have been plaguing you (bad day at the office, etc.).
Another challenge is trying to adapt what you learned in classes to different formations and positions. For example, you may have learned how to do a manuever from one formation, say a wave, but now the caller wants you to do the manuever when you're in a column, where it might not be so obvious. It can really be fascinating.
In case you're wondering, yes, dancers are human and do make mistakes (i.e., move into the wrong position). That's actually another part of the fun, as your square then attempts to repair the formation before falling too far behind the caller. This almost always evokes a shared laughter among the dancers in your square, as they scurry about, trying to reorganize. If it's impossible to catch up, you simply reform your starting square and wait for the caller to reach another starting point, which is usually within a couple of minutes.
Square dancing is fairly cheap. Evening dances usually range from $2 to $4 per person. Weekend-long festivals are proportionally more. Dance attire has traditionally been western, but more and more that is no longer a requirement.
So, square dancing is fun, good exercise, and inexpensive. But another
reason for square dancing is the people you'll meet and the friends
you'll make. It's a wonderful opportunity to form friendships that may
last a lifetime. And that may be the best reason of all.
To learn the "calls" (manuevers) required for the normal level of dancing, you attend a weekly class for 6-9 months. That may sound like a long time, but it's fun right from the start, and you'll find yourself looking forward to the next class. Classes are offered by a square dance club, of which there are several in the Richmond area, usually meeting at a local school. Typical cost is $2.50 a week per person -- but the first couple of weeks are usually FREE. It's ideal if you bring a partner to dance with, but single dancers are also welcome.
For information about the clubs in Richmond and their classes, click HERE. Classes begin each September, and sometimes in January. And, there's a special "teaching" club in Richmond that starts classes twice a year - around May and October.
Click HERE if you want to see a list of the calls you'll learn. Don't feel too overwhelmed by the large number of calls. Some of them are fairly obvious, such as "partner trade," others are not. But you learn them gradually and gently, with lots of review each week. Note that the normal level of dancing actually encompasses three dance levels known as Basic, Mainstream, and Plus. When you graduate, you are considered a Plus dancer.
After you graduate, you'll be able to dance at your club's dances or at other dances and festivals in Richmond and throughout the state, country, and world. By the way, if you're out traveling you can almost always find a local square dance nearby if you want to get out and meet people or just have something to do.
Most dancers remain at the normal (Plus) level. But IF you're adventurous, after a couple of years you might want to move up and learn one of the higher levels of square dancing, known as Advanced and Challenge. Here you'll learn more calls, and you'll learn new concepts like phantom dancers, mirror images, etc., to make things even more interesting (and fun).
Some other square dance links:
and Round Dance Association (RSARDA)
RSARDA's links page
MIT's square dance club (their classes are only 14 weeks!)
Feel free to email me if you have questions: firstname.lastname@example.org>