“Do-si-do!” Swing your partner!” “Promenade!” The caller sings out instructions. The fiddler plays a lively tune. Women in swirling skirts and men in bright Western shirts link hands and move in complicated patterns across the floor. This is a square dance, the best known form of American folk dancing.
Square dancing began in early colonial times. Settlers had brought traditional dances from their homelands. In time, these dances had merged and developed into a uniquely American form. Once found in rural areas, square dancing later became popular in cities too.
At house-raising parties in colonial days, cornmeal bran was spread on new wood floors. Couples square danced on the bran to smooth and shine the floors.
Today, square dancing are still performed to traditional country or mountain tunes played on a fiddle, guitar, or banjo. An even number of couples, usually four, face each other either in a square (quadrille), two lines (contra dance), or a circle (running set). A non-dancing caller directs the patterns, singing out or speaking rhythmically (“patter calling”) over the music. Calls, patterns, and dancing styles vary. In general, Western-style square dancing is more vigorous and complex than the older Eastern style. But both styles provide fun and exercise for dancers of all ages.