American Square Dancing has its roots in the early Folk and Court Dancing of Europe, taken over to America by the early immigrants. Many similarities can be found with English Country Dancing, with the ‘Dosado’ and ‘Allemande Left’ being familiar, at least by name, to most people. One of the most noticeable differences between English Country and American Square Dancing is that in the American form, all the moves are ‘called’ by a Caller, and there is no need to memorise an entire dance. Once the basic moves are learned, the Caller can move the dancers through a wide variety of patterns on the dance floor, limited only by his (or her) own expertise in choreography.
Outside the U.K., Square Dance clubs can be found all over the world, particularly of course, in the USA, but also in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Russia, Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, Czeck Republic, Norway and Sweden, All the Callers use the English language, and the moves are the same everywhere; once learned, there is no problem dancing anywhere in the world. It’s a memorable experience to walk into a club five thousand or more miles away from home and join in the fun - visitors are always made most welcome; holidays (and business trips) abroad take on a whole new meaning !
Square Dancing suddenly became known in England as a result of the 1951 visit of the (then) Princess Elizabeth to Canada, where she was photographed participating in the activity. Clubs sprang up all over the South and East of England, usually close to, or actually on the American Air Bases, where Callers could be found. Many of those Clubs are still active and others have been formed in most English counties as far North as Yorkshire, and as far South as Cornwall, also in Wales and Scotland - over 160 at present.
We dance to many types of music, from the real old Country and Western favourites and nostalgic 50’s classics, to modern ‘pop’ tunes. Records, specially recorded for Square Dancing, are used most of the time, and this helps to keep down the cost of the activity. An evening’s dancing at most clubs costs around £3, generally including coffee !
Although Square Dancing is very much a ‘couples’ activity, and is one of the few pastimes where husbands and wives can enjoy themselves together in friendly company, many single people do join in, and can usually find partners. Children are welcome as soon as they are tall enough to be able to dance comfortably with adults, - usually at about 11 or 12 years of age; the main problem is that most clubs meet in the evening, making it too late for young children. There is no upper age limit; we have local Club Members well into their eighties, though you would never know it from watching them dancing!
Once the basic moves have been mastered, there are opportunities to travel to other Clubs' dances and their 'Specials' - usually Saturday dances with a Caller from another part of the country, (or another part of the world) are also popular - there is one somewhere nearly every week - with a top-notch Caller, dancers from all over the country, and accommodation in a hotel, holiday park, caravan park or college etc. The more adventurous can find whole weeks of square dancing - in this country, on the Continent, in the States or even further afield.
Square dancing is done in groups of eight people. During each dance, there is usually hand contact between each of the dancers. We tend to avoid bodily contact in our British culture, except for the formal handshake, but touching is good for us, and has been shown to have great therapeutic benefits. Square dancing is good, gentle rhythmic exercise. An evening's dancing has been shown to be the equivalent of a three mile brisk walk, and besides being physically beneficial, Square dancing provides a great deal of mental stimulation, as the dancer continually listens to, and follows the Caller's instruction for every move.