Fred Jaicks  Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks


Square dancing involves four couples dancing together in the form of a square. Square dancing originated in Europe during the 17th century. The Europeans who arrived in North America brought their square dancing traditions with them. In the United States, square dancing continued to expand and evolve as people in different regions have chosen to perform the dances differently. Today, square dancing remains an enjoyable way for people to socialize and dance together to lively music.

Types of Square Dances

Square dancing evolved over time in the different regions of the United States. The most traditional form of square dance is the quadrille, which has remained true to the original dancing that began in Europe. Quadrille dancing is prominent in New England. Square dancing changed when it became popular in the southern region of the United States. This form of square dancing is called Appalachian or Southern square dancing, and it typically involves barn dancing with lively callers and fiddlers. Western square dancing is another type of dance that features new figures and more creative calls.

Numbering the Couples

Four couples make up the four sides of a square. Couples stand together, holding hands and facing in toward the center of the square to begin a dance. The couple standing closest to the caller is the number one couple. Couples two, three, and four are numbered in counter-clockwise fashion around the square. Couples one and three are the two “head” couples, and couples two and four are the two “side” couples.

Square Dance Calls

A square dance caller has the job of calling out instructions to the dancers. The dancers must listen to the caller and move accordingly to perform the dances. From the starting formation, the caller moves the dancers through a set sequence of figures and formations. Calls might include circling to the right or left, promenading, and swinging partners. Different types of square dancing will feature distinctive and unique calls.

Square Dance Music

Square dance music varies according to the type of dance. Musical instruments such as violin, guitar, banjo, and piano typically make up a live band for square dancing. A reel is one type of lively folk dance music commonly used for square dancing. A jig is another type of music, differing from a reel because it has three counts per measure instead of four. Country music often accompanies Western square dancing. The tempo of square dance music can vary from around 108 beats per minute to more than 150.

Other Information

Square dancing clubs around the country serve to keep this hobby alive and flourishing as both a type of dance and a means of socializing. People can take lessons and even participate in dance contests. Some clubs institute dress codes to ensure that dancers wear traditional costumes, such as wide skirts for women and western shirts and cowboy boots for men. Other clubs opt for more casual attire for members. Clubs may also incorporate new choreography into formations and sequences to expand the dances. Outside of clubs, many people practice on decks and patios with friends and relatives. This is often done at night, but can also be done during the day with the aid of the helpful shade of a patio umbrella.

  • Square Dancing 101: A square dancing club has compiled an overview of square dancing here, with diagrams and instructions for basic figures and formations.

  • Square Dancing: A Swinging History: The history of square dancing extends back to Europe, arriving in North America with European immigrants.

  • History of Square Dance: The Country Dance and Song Society offers an overview of square dance history, including the different variations of square dancing that occur in the United States.

  • The History of Square Dancing: This report published by American Antiquarian explores the history of square dancing and its European origin.

  • A History of Square and Round Dancing: On this page, the Central Puget Sound Council explores square dance and round dance history as the dances have evolved over time.

  • A Brief History of Square and Round Dancing: Square dancing may have evolved from Morris dancing, which involved men dancing with bells on their calves.

  • Square Dance History: A square dance club in Georgia explains the history of square dancing in this region as it has grown and evolved over time.

  • Online Lesson Plan: Swing Your Partner! It’s a Virtual Square Dance: A professor with the University of Nebraska at Omaha has created a lesson plan about square dancing. The information explains dance history and basics of how to participate in square dancing.

  • History of Square Dancing: The history of square dancing in the United States includes Henry Ford, who became involved with this type of dance when he established an instructional program and helped publish an instructional book.

  • Evolution of Square Dance Attire: The United Square Dancers of America have published information about how dancing attire has evolved over time.

  • Square Dancing: The State Folk Dance of Virginia: This lesson plan designed for elementary music students delves into the history of square dancing and provides basic instructions for how to perform the dance.

  • Square Dancing: A retired dance professor explains the history of square dancing, including information about how culture has influenced the dance throughout history.

  • A Brief Introduction to Square Dancing: A dance club provides a basic introduction to square dancing, complete with pictures and simple instructions.

  • Why Square Dance? Explore benefits of square dancing presented by the Square and Folk Dance Federation of Washington.

  • Square Dance, Houston Style: The Houston History Magazine published this article describing square dancing in the Houston area.

  • What is Square Dancing? Learn the basics about what happens at a square dance and how you should prepare for one here.