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Al Brundage (History of Square Dancing)

Good evening everyone, this is Al Brundage and I’m a square dance caller. You know, today, square dancing is getting to be very very popular, as it was in the old days. You know that square dancing emerged into the light of history on March 19, 1651. For on that day was published the very first English dance book, John Playford’s epical English Dancing Master. This was a Puritan publication issued while the young commonwealth was involved in its first wars. But revolutionists must dance, and when they defy the rest of the world, as the Puritans did in killing their king, they danced their own national dances. Playford’s book met that demand. It published the gay, simple native dances, with their traditional tunes, to fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of the imported, complicated dances favored by the court. In the ballroom as on the battlefield, the people routed the crown. At this point, once you take time out to explain that the Puritans approved of dancing, and enjoyed it thoroughly. This indubitable fact goes against the venerable vulgar era which insists that they were blue nosed killjoys who hated all fun and passed laws against music, untraceable laws of course. The attitude of the Puritans was that of their favorite authors Spencer, Milton and a stricter Bunyan in whose works all good people dance from angels down.
 
Now the type of dance which was rapidly becoming most popular in those days was that in which everybody dances with everybody else regardless of rank. This was the “Longways” soon to be known as the “Country Dance”, formed in two lines facing each other as in our Virginia Reel. Any couple can join in at the foot, that’s away from the caller and even if they don’t know the dance they will by the time they reached the top when it’s their turn to go down the line. This Longways like all subsequent square dancing was a community game. And let’s play that game right now, get your partner, form on, for a contra dance Longways.  
 
By the way, the dances in the 1600s were learned and danced without a caller, or perhaps sometimes just a prompt command, which is what I’m going to do so that you can get some idea of how these dances were danced and how they are done today and they are retained in their traditional manner. 
 
(Music starts)
 
Face lady on the left and balance all
Swing your partner
Circle 4
Other way back
Form a line all promenade
And you come back home
Two ladies chain
Chain back again
And bow to your partners all
 
The French adapted the name Country Dance as contredanse for these longways sets a concept that was later translated back into English as Contra Dance or Contra for short. They also developed a type of their own but their sense of form was not satisfied with the long double line of an indefinite number of couples so they concentrated on the square limited to four couples. As these squares were still rural in concept they acquired the name cotillion, which was anglicized as cotillion, meaning a peasant girl’s petticoat. The group on stage has formed for one of these traditional dances now and will do the Grand Square.
 
(Music starts - no prompts)
 
The French squares were increasing in popularity in spite of the fact that they were both complicated and short. The first difficulty was overcome by giving the dancers printed directions and playing cards with these directions may still be found here and there in the curio shops. The second problem was not so easily solved. Why bother to learn something which was finished as soon as four couples had done their bit while the simpler contras lasted until 20 or so couples had danced.   After 1800, the dancing masters worked out a sequence of  “changes”, all hands around, balance partners, grand right and left, and so forth, which sequence the dancers memorized once and for all. Then these “changes” were danced as though they were the verses of a song with the figure taking the place of the chorus, thus the Cotillion was made to last about as long as the Country Dance. The device was very ingenious, but died out when calling was invented. The “changes” survived as the introductory part of almost every square dance today. Actually these “changes” now represent the primary basics of square dancing and there are eight of them.
 
It was the War of 1812 which insured the popularity and development of the square dance in this country. The pro English New Englanders kept on with the English contras but the rest of the nation refused to dance the English dances and would do nothing but the French squares. At this point some smart American invented calling which made it unnecessary to memorize the dances beforehand. Like all great inventions it was simple. The fiddler or leader of the orchestra merely kept telling the dancers what to do next. And so we begin to approach the modern calling of today.
 
Let me call these eight changes for you and put them into a routine which was undoubtedly danced in the early 1800s.
 
These changes in the order in which I will call them are:
Balance
Swing
Allemande left
Grand right and left
Promenade
Right and left thru
Ladies chain
Do Sa Do
 
I will have to throw a little bit of miscellaneous material in there to make a smooth dance out of it but you will recognize them when you hear them I’m sure.
 
(Music starts)
 
Balance partner
Swing and whirl and everybody swing your girl
Allemande your left with the corner
Right hand to your partner, grand right and left
And meet your partner promenade
 
Head couples forward up to the middle and back
And a right and left thru
Now right and left back in the same old track
Same ladies chain across
Chain them on back and don’t get lost
 
And two and four forward up and a back with you
Forward again and a right and left thru
Right and left back like you always do
Two ladies chain just you two
And turn and chain them back in the same old track
 
Go round your corner, do sa do that corner girl
Swing your partner round with a swing and whirl
And everybody swing
Allemande left with your corner
Right hand to your partner
Grand right and left
And meet your partner, promenade
Promenade around the hall everybody home and home you all.
 
And bow to your partner
And wave to the girl across from you
And let’s stop there and rest a few
 
The tremendous drive into the west preserved the old style dances in their original vigor. Immigrants took these dances with them. Balls became the chief means of getting the scattered settlers together and preserving their sanity. These balls could be revels that attracted people from many miles around. They lasted through the night if not the entire week. If there were no white women squaws did very well. The 49’ers in California did not even have squaws. The men with conspicuous patches on their seats were automatically the ladies. A fact which accounts for the popular last call “Promenade to the bar and treat your partners”. In such rowdy circumstances the Western Style of square dancing originated. Some of you may not realize that there is a difference between Eastern and Western style square dancing. The Eastern style still retains much of the flavor of the old English country dancing and in many places in New England square dancing is still called Country Dancing. Most of the dance figures in Eastern style dancing are contained within the early basics with the dancers breaking to a swing as an important part of the structure. On the other hand, the Western style dances contain a minimum of swinging, the dance patterns are more varied, and break to any number of different movements. The Texas Star is a good example of a figure which is popular with both Eastern and Western style square dancers. Let me call it for you both ways. First the Eastern style breaking to a swing, then the second half of the dance I will call in the style enjoyed by most square dance groups throughout the country. We could call this Western style, but it is actually rapidly becoming the standard universal style of square dancers everywhere, and it’s the style of square dancing which adult groups find smooth and relaxing. See if you can pick out the place where the dancers swing from one style to another.
 
(Music starts)
 
Bow to partner, Bow to corner
Four ladies forward and back
Four boys star by the right make a right hand star
Go back by the left, pass your partner
Pick out the next with an arm around
Star promenade
Break the star full turn and the ladies in
Star by the right
Now turn it again, full turn, boys in,
Star by the left
Now bring her on home,
Everybody swing your partner, swing your partner around and around
And promenade
 
Four ladies forward and back
Boys center star by the right
Go back by the left
Pass this girl, take the next,
Arm around, star promenade
Now break and turn, a full turn and the ladies star
Girls back out a full turn again, boys star by the left
Now bring her home
Everybody swing your partner
Promenade
 
Four ladies forward, back to the bar
Boys center make a right hand star
Star by the right
Howdy do go back by the left the other way round
Pass this pretty girl by, pick out the next girl arm around
Star promenade, don’t slow down
Break and turn a full turn all the way round
The girls star as you come in, four ladies roll away
And boys star in the same old way
You star by the right
Girls you roll back outside the land and you keep on going till you pass the man
Left hand to the next, left allemande
Here we go right and left grand,
Hand over hand and meet your maid
And Promenade, gonna promenade come a two by eight
Take a little walk and don’t be late
Hey there you settle down
 
Girls go forward up to the middle and back to the bar
And boys center star by the right, how dee do
Your gonna change hands and the same to you
Pass that pretty one by pick out the next well there’s you own
Star promenade around the ring leave mine alone
Now break and turn a full turn outside in and the ladies star
And gone again.
Four ladies whirl away half sashay and boys star in the same old way
Girls back track go round the outside land pass your man
Left to the next, left allemande
Here we go right and left grand
Hand over hand and you meet old Jack
Box the gnat
Girls star by the left hand in go once around to the same man
Box the gnat
Grand right and left ‘round you go
Hand over hand and you meet a little doe
With a do sa do on heel and toe
Allemande left on the corner
And come on home and weave the ring
Go weave it. in and out and on around
And you meet your doll take a little walk
Promenade All
Promenade two by two and take your honey and home with you
And bow to partner all
There you stand that’s it that’s all
 
During this period of the Western movement the people on the East Coast were of course still dancing. Any new song which scored a hit, particularly those of Stephen Foster, were immediately used by the better callers who invented dances for them. They adapted themselves to the structure of the song, introduction, four stanzas, chorus, and sometimes a coda. Thus the form of the modern singing call came into existence. Here is one that has enjoyed popularity throughout the years.   Tap you foot and hum along with us as we dance Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet. 
 
(Music starts)
 
Old Gray Bonnet
Allemande left your corner
Come home swing your partner
Everybody promenade I say
Through the fields of clover we will ride on to Dover
And dance our troubles away
 
Head two couples forward get your corner
then return and turn alone
Go forward up and back again with you
Pass on thru then lets turn alone
Right and left thru comin’ home
Join hands and circle eight and then
Your gonna allemande left with your corner
Do sa do your partner
Go back and allemande the corners all
Grand right and left around you go
Rockin on your heel and toe
You meet and do sa do around
Allmande left on that corner
Come home swing your partner
And you can take and promenade I say
Through the fields of clover we will ride on to Dover
To dance our troubles away
 
Head two couples forward, get that corner
Then return and turn alone
Go forward up and back again with you
Pass on thru then let’s turn alone
Right and left thru a coming home
And join hands and circle eight and then
You’re going to do sa do the corner
See saw around your partner
Go back and allemande the corner girl
Grand right and left around you go
Walking on the heel and toe
You meet and do sa do around
Allemande left on that corner
Come on home swing your partner
And take it promenade I say
Through the fields of clover we will rock it on to Dover
Just to dance our troubles away
 
Side two couples forward get your corner
Then come back and turn alone
Go forward up and back again with you
Pass on thru then let’s turn alone
Right and left thru a coming home
Join hands and circle eight and then
Your gonna do sa do with the corner
See saw around your partner
Go back and allemande the corner girl
Grand ol’  right and left go round you go
Walking on the heel and toe
Hey meet and do sa do and then
Allemande left on that corner
Come on home swing your partner
And take and promenade I say
Through the fields of clover we will ride on to Dover
To dance our troubles away
 
Side two couples forward get that corner
Then return and turn alone
Go forward up and back again with you
Pass on thru and then let’s turn alone
Right and left thru a coming home
Join hands and circle eight and then
Your gonna do sa do with the corner
See saw around your partner
Go back and allemande the corner girl
Grand ol right and left go round you go
Walking on the heel and toe
You meet and do sa do and then
Allemande left on that corner
Come on home swing your partner
And take and promenade I say
Through the fields of clover we will ride on to Dover
To dance our troubles away
 
 
Today, square dances are about evenly divided between patter calls and singing calls. The singing calls still are built around the popular standards of the times with the better callers using their own choreography for the figures. This provides a smooth relaxing rhythm to a melody which everyone knows. The history of singing calls can be traced through popular songs of the day, starting with Oh Susanna, Nellie Gray, on through Good Old Summertime, Oh You Beautiful Doll, The Best Things In Life Are Free, and right up to one of the very latest Mack the Knife.
 
(Music starts)
 
Mack the Knife
 
Come on you’re going to join you hands and circle left,
Eight hands around you go,
Keep movin’ dad all the way ‘round on your heel and toe.
Allemande left your corner girl, do sa do your own
Men step in and star by the left now move it, move it round the room
Hey get back home and do sa do, and then left allemande
And get on home and promenade you go walking ‘round the land
Oh the line forms on the right girls
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
Head two couples square thru, all the way round you sail
Move it around to the outside star by the right you know.
And then heads star by the left and move it once and then
Turn your corner by the right now partner by the left
Hey then go back to the corner
Catch all eight the right hand half way round
Go back by the left and turn it then promenade around
Oh the line forms on the right boys
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
Come on now head two couples square on thru, all the way round you sail
You star by the right with the outside now move it down the trail.
Heads to the center and star by the left and roll it once and then
Turn your corner by the right now partner by the left
Hey then go back to the corner
Catch all eight the right hand half way round
Go back by the left and turn it promenade around
Oh the line forms on the right girls
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
Come on you’re going to join you hands and circle left, 
Eight hands around you all,
Keep movin’ movin’ movin’ all the way around the hall.
Allemande left your corner girl, now do sa do your own
Men step in and star by the left roll it, roll it, round the room
Hey meet your baby do sa do, and then left allemande
And come on home and promenade go man … man
Oh the line forms on the right boys
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
Side two couples square thru, and all the way round you sail
You star by the right with the outside, now move it down the trail.
Sides to the center, star by the left roll that thing along
Turn your corner by the right now partner by the left
Hey then go back to the corner
Catch all eight the right hand half way round
Go back by the left and turn it you promenade around
Oh the line forms on the right boys
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
Side two couples come on square thru, and all the way round you sail
You star by the right with the outside, roll it down the trail.
Sides to the center, star by the left now roll that thing along
Turn your corner by the right now partner by the left
Hey then go back to the corner
Catch all eight the right hand half way round
Go back by the left and turn ‘em and promenade around
Oh the line forms on the right boys
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
You’re going to join your hands and form a ring and circle round the hall,
Keep movin’ movin’ movin’ all the way ‘round you all.
Allemande left your corner girl, now do sa do your own
Men step in and star by the left now roll it, roll it, round the room
Now meet your baby do sa do, and then left allemande
And get on home and promenade walking ‘round the land
The line forms on the right boys
Now that Mack is back in town.
 
Oh that Mack is back in town.
 
The patter call dances furnish the beat and challenge which experienced dancers love so well. You may have noticed that our dancers don’t run and skip which many people associate with square dancing. The movement today is a shuffle, to show what I mean I’ll call a little hash which is a combination of some of the many basics learned in square dance classes now being organized in all sections of the country.
 
(Music starts)
 
Bow to your partner there, wave to the girl across the square
Walk all around the left hand lady,
Get back and see saw around your pretty little taw
Allemande left and allemande O go right and left and do pa so
Her by the left a little more do, the corner lady by the right
Partner left and allemande thar, you back up boys you’ve got a star
You back up now but not too far
You shoot the star and on you g,
go right and left to the next A do pa so
Like a chicken in the bread pan picking up dough
And the corner by the right and not too far
Your partner left and thar again, gents wheel in
Back up boys and you’re gone again
You spread out wide but not too much
Box the flea, throw in the clutch and the girls in the middle
Put them in low and pass them twice and on you go
Next by the left a do pa so and the heel and toe
Rack it right along like you did a bit ago
Your partner left and promenade
Promenade and you keep on a going and you don’t slow down
You promenade around
Head couples wheel around, cross trail thru
You turn back, now Dixie chain
Girls turn left the men turn right and here’s you corner
Allemande left with your left hand, here we go right and left grand
Hand over hand Right and left grand and meet your partner
You promenade ol’ Sal, and you promenade Sue
Promenade it’s up to you
And you walk along home like you always do
 
And then one and three go forward up
In to the middle and back with you
Forward again you square thru
And you go four hands
All the way around then right and left thru the outside two
You’re gonna dive thru and pass thru right and left thru the outside two
You’re gonna dive thru square thru five hands, five, five,
The middle of the land
Hey look alive there’s you corner, left allemande
And here we g, right and left grand
Hand over hand and then you meet your girl, the little red hen
And promenade, you promenade your honey and homeward bound
The feet in the heavens and the foot on the ground.
 
Two and four forward up and back with you
Now forward pass thru you turn back and box the gnat and face the sides
Right and left thru
Inside arch and dive thru, box the gnat
Face the middle, right and left thru
And roll a half sashay and box the gnat across the way
Face the sides and right and left thru
Inside arch and dive thru, and box the gnat and face the middle
Go right and left thru
Now Dixie chain and the girls you go to the left
The men turn right and you go around one
Walk down the middle, right and left thru in the middle of the set
Oh turn all, swing your partner round and around
And everybody swing and whirl
And promenade the pretty little girl
Promenade go round the ring, the roosters crow and the birdies sing
Then get on home and home you all
 
Walk all around the left hand lady
See saw go round your pretty little taw
Allemande left in Alamo style right to your partner, balance awhile
Balance out and in
Roll to the right and balance again
Balance out and around
Roll to the left and balance all
Balance out and in
Roll again and balance again
Balance, not too far
Swing with the left and allemande thar
Men back up and not too far, and you back up boys
Now slip the clutch left allemande
And allemande O, go right and left to the next
A do pa so, and chick a chick, chick pick’n up dough
And a corner right and you come back home
And a left to your own
Then promenade your honey leave mine alone
And Promenade the ring
Hey get on home the pretty little thing
And everybody dance
 
And then bow to partner and the corner too
And one and three forward up, back with you
And forward again go right and left thru
You turn and pass thru and both turn right
In single file, and the lady go round two
The man around one
Walk into the middle box the gnat
Right and left thru in the middle of the set
Same two ladies chain
Face the two and pass thru and split the ring
Go around one down the middle, you cross trail
Corner, left allemande the corner girl
Grand right and left the world
Here we go right and left grand
And you meet your partner man
Promenade Sal and Sue
Promenade that’s what you do
Now walk on home like you always do
Bow to your partner there
Wave to the prettiest gal in the square
And keno man, that’s it you’re there
 
So this is modern square dancing, fun and good fellowship are the keynotes as it represents one of the most wholesome of adult recreations and an unparalleled social mixer. You too can enjoy square dancing. Come and try it sometime.

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Written By: Johnny Wedge
Date Posted: 10/1/2010
Number of Views: 1663

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