Apologies for my long silence. I’ve got a month’s worth of dance programs piling up that I do intend to post…but…well, life. I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from callers about this blog, and I really appreciate it! Helps keep me motivated to stick with it…
Meanwhile, I though you might be interested in one of the many things that’s been occupying my time and attention of late. I’m deep in the process of finishing work on a Square Dance Resources page for the CDSS website. One early aspect of the project was to create a set of broad definitions about the various styles of square dancing. With a fair amount of trial and error, and a little help from my friends (thanks to Tony Parkes, Bob Dalsemer, and David Millstone), I came up with the following:
BROAD DEFINITIONS AND OBSERVATIONS
People have different opinions about how square dancing evolved to end up where it is today. I encourage you to develop your own understanding of this fascinating journey! To get you started, I offer the following overview of the six categories of American squares that are represented in this selection of web resources.
A style of dancing rooted in the French courts and English high-society. Most traditional New England squares are in this style. The quadrille (upon which today’s American quadrille style squares are based) was an 18th century French invention, but by the early 19th century these dances had swept both Europe and the Americas. The early quadrilles were five or six-part, carefully choreographed sequences danced in four couple square sets.
Some characteristics of American quadrille style squares:
OLD-TIME MOUNTAIN STYLE
Sometimes referred to as “Southern,” this style appears to have developed in rural communities in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Englishman Cecil Sharp came across old-time mountain style in Kentucky during the last of several trips to America between 1915-1918. In The Country Dance Book, part 5 (1918), Sharp published a description of old-time mountain style, and named it “Kentucky Running Set.” There is no evidence that the locals referred to the dance this way; more likely, Sharp misunderstood someone talking about “running a set.” Sharp asserted that the dances were English in origin, and pre-dated the quadrille. There are compelling arguments developed more recently (notably a 1969 article called “Appalachian Square Dancing” by Hugh Thurston in Northern Junket vol. 9 nos. 11 and 12, and by Lee Ellen Friedland in her article, “Square Dance,” in The International Encyclopedia of Dance) that indicate Scotch-Irish origins, and also leave the door open for other possible ethnicities.
Some characteristics of old-time mountain style squares:
TRADITIONAL WESTERN STYLE
A style of dancing that developed in the Midwest and Southwest from the 19th century up through the mid-20th century. Figures in this style of square dancing bear a resemblance to old-time mountain style, because many of the early settlers of the American West came from Appalachia and brought their dance and music traditions with them. As more settlers moved West, a “new” Western square dance tradition slowly developed, combining elements of quadrille style and old-time mountain style square dance.
Some characteristics of traditional Western style:
MODERN WESTERN SQUARE DANCE (MWSD)
Modern Western Square Dancing began in the 1940s, and overlapped in a twenty- year period of transition with traditional Western squares. During this transitional time, the hybrid style of traditional Western dance began to develop, characterized by all four couples in a square moving simultaneously. This resulted in the potential for more complex patterns; since the 1960s, the Modern Western Square Dance movement has realized the full potential of that complexity by creating many new choreographic building blocks, and training callers and dancers, by way of a hierarchy of classes, to gain the knowledge necessary to navigate the ever-changing MWSD landscape.
Some characteristics of Modern Western Square Dance:
A relatively modern form of square dance, found all over the United States and Canada (except where old-time mountain style predominates) from the1930s to the present. Singing squares use figures from quadrille, old-time mountain, and traditional Western styles; a figure is paired with a popular song, and the original lyrics are rewritten as directions for the dancers. This style has roots in 18th century European and American quadrilles, some of which were danced to the popular music of the day.
Some characteristics of singing squares:
CLOSING: “TRADITIONAL STYLE” MODERN SQUARES
Ever since Modern Western Square Dance established itself as a unique entity in square dance culture in the mid-20th century, there has been a separate category of squares developing across the United States; “traditional style” modern squares use choreographic elements and calling skills from quadrille, old-time mountain, traditional Western, Modern Western, and singing square styles. In today’s community dance culture, this style is often found at dances with a mixed program of contras and squares, and can range in complexity from very simple to very challenging. Thanks to groundbreaking callers and dance writers such as Ralph Page, Ted Sannella, and Gene Hubert, and the many others who are still living and actively writing new square dances influenced by traditional styles, there will be a supply of excellent material to add to the vast and rich repertoire provided by square dancing’s long history in this country.
Enjoy, and keep dancing squares!
So, there you have it. The whole set of resources should be up by the end of this month. Meanwhile, square ‘em up!
‘Til next time, friends…