Explanations, clarifications and disclaimers galore.
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little circles
big circles

An old-fashioned Southern "square", sometimes called "running set", can accomodate as few as four or as many couples as want to crowd in. The formation is really a big circle with any number of couples. (There are, of course, a body of Southern squares that are done in 4-couple sets.) Most commonly, a Southern "running set" type of square dance is structured in two parts: First the major circle and then the minor circle. With all hands joined in one big circle around the hall, one or more introductory big circle figures are danced.
     The big circle then breaks up and each couple joins with an adjacent couple to dance some little circle figures. The little circles can be spaced in a major circle around the hall, as in a Sicilian circle; or they can be scattered all over the dance floor. The couples move on (progress) to join a new couple and repeat the little figures; progression may occur several times. To conclude, all rejoin in a large circle and dance a finishing big circle figure.
     The way we have been doing it around Portland, the circular "square" formation allows for an extra couple. This "wild card" couple fits in nicely during the big circle figures but, during the little circle figures, has to stand alone one time through (like the couple out at the ends in a contra). At progression they get a couple to dance with and the next couple in line stands out. No one need sit out the dance, as can often happen in the usual 4-couple square dances.
(If you are new to square dance calling you might want to plow through the workshop, where I will guide you through calling a first dance.)
The poetry of the calls: I had not at first planned to include calls with the figure descriptions since the project was mainly intended to help me get a handle on the figures themselves. The following note from Larry Edelman convinced me that this project was hardly half done without the characteristic language of American square dance calls. I am proud that my own backsliding inspired the following eloquence:

"I think that when we pass along traditional square dances we need to transcribe actual words that have been used to successfully call the dance. For at least two reasons. The first reason is mainly aesthetic. The time-tested words have so much character and give the dances their life, their color. The patter is essential to the artistry of calling the old squares. Granted, some of the phrases of the calls might be a bit dated and might, for some people, even be a little offensive and need some revision, but they are still inextricably linked to the dances. I think that the calls can be thought of as being the very souls of the dances. In other words, the essence of each square dance is captured about as much by the poetry of the calls as by the dance movements themselves. The calls are part of the music of the dance. Another way to think about the importance of the calls is through an analogy to fiddle music. Calling a great traditional square dance without the well-traveled calls that distinguish the dance so well, that make it whole, is like playing an old-time fiddle tune with regard to only the notes and not the bowing. It is the bowing that gives the tune it's lilt, it's bounce, it's rhythm, it's very self. The second reason to transcribe the words of a call is practical. Newer callers need calls that work to be able to call a dance in a way that they can convey a lot of information (who does what with whom, when) in a brief time without getting tongue-tied. The old calls evolved from the need to say a lot in a few words. An added benefit is that many of these calls evolved as nursery-rhyme type poetry so that the caller had an easier time remembering the calls naturally. This whole issue of needing to describe square dances by transcribing the actual call-words (rather than only by describing the figures) is not so true with contra dances. But it surely is with squares." ~ Larry Edelman

Abbreviations: ccw = counter-clockwise, cw = clockwise, c = corner, p = partner, sw = swing, dsd = simple do-si-do, prom = promenade, r&lg = right and left grand. Nothin' to it.
The balance: Takes four beats of music. Join two hands with partner, use two beats to step toward partner and two beats to back off. The backing away can finish with a little snap, or not.
The swing: Swings are usually once around or once-and-a-half and are almost always done from a circle position in the little circle part of the dance. Once around puts you back in place. 1-1/2X around is mostly done with corners, causing you to swap places with corner and finish facing partner. A two-hand swing is delightfully old-fashioned and allows a very smooth and intuitive transition into and out of circles. However, in the film I have seen (and as Bob Dalsemer showed us is the West Virginia custom at the Fiddle Tunes festival a few years ago), a trotting swing in ballroom position is most often used, casual and bouncy. Forearm style is to join gent's left hand and lady's right hand while using a forearm grip with the other hands, gent's right and lady's left. Eye-contact does not seem to be customary during any style of swing.
The promenade position: I found three promenade positions described in the various books. In each style partners stand next to each other facing the same direction, gent's right side to lady's left. Skater's position: Partners join hands out in front, right hands joined above and left hands below. Arms around: Gent puts right arm around partner's waist and lady puts left arm around gent's waist. Over the shoulder: Partners join left hands in front and park their joined right hands on lady's right shoulder, gent reaching right arm behind lady.
Baskets: Use a walking step, not the buzz step. The transition from a circle into a basket should be done without the circle pausing its movement.
Stars: Unless noted otherwise, use a handshake hold. Gent's shake right hands and ladies shake right hands under them, etc.
Inside hands: Usually gent's right in lady's left, sometimes gent's left in lady's right.
Do-Si-Do: In the figure descriptions, "do-si-do" refers to the more complicated versions of the figure. I use "simple do-si-do" for the quick back-to-back figure.
Couple turns: Turn alone: Drop hands, turn halfway around to face the reverse direction and rejoin hands. A suggestion is to turn toward partner (if lady is on the right, gent turns cw and lady ccw.) Wheel as a couple: Keeping partner's hand, the joined couple rotates or wheels half around to face the reverse direction. Some books indicate the man walks forward and the woman backward, but most sources don't give directions and I don't see why it would matter (unless you are set on passing on a particular tradition.) Also, the california twirl: Inside hands joined and raised above, partners trade places as lady twirls half around ccw and gent walks around her cw so both face in the opposite direction they started from. Just a fancy way to wheel as a couple.
Number Sequence of couples or individuals is always ccw.
The Format: The dances are organized by general figure family using a name I picked from the many variations. The variations are explained under the header and include the published source for each.
orientation bibliography little circles big circles squares mixers
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