Being the Best Square Dance Teacher

  By Jim Wass, Certified Square Dance Teacher


In every caller school and most gatherings of callers you will hear it said that teaching new square dancers is one of the most important things that we do.  It’s important because new dancers breathe life into our activity.  With the average dancer staying in square dancing for approximately 3 years we need to graduate a sufficient number of new dancers to replace one third of our square dance population every year.  Better-taught dancers have a greater chance of being successful dancers and will possibly stay with us longer.  So the better we teach, the more likely we are to help preserve our activity.


Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines teaching as “to cause to know something” as well as “to accustom to some action or attitude” and “to impart the knowledge of…” The second definition relates well to what we do in square dance teaching.  We are helping new dancers to act or behave as square dancers.  We are helping them to change behaviors, helping them to become square dancers.


To have the best chance of successfully changing behaviors and replenishing our numbers I suggest the following belief system:


o     Awareness and Control

ü      The best teaching occurs in a class of a size and composition that the teacher can control.

§         Essential to your continued awareness of the class and ability to control it, you should teach a class that is no larger than you, your partner, and your angels can see and perceive and control.

§         Classes that present additional challenges [children, senior citizens, persons with disabilities] are harder to control than ordinary classes and you should prepare accordingly.


o     Preparation

ü      The best teaching occurs when the teacher is adept at conveying the subject matter.

§         Other things being equal, the better that you call, the better you will teach.  While some callers who cannot get large floors of dancers on club night might still be excellent teachers, better callers can be even better teachers; they have the ability to give the dancers a better dancing experience.

§         Improving your calling is improving your teaching.  It is vital as you teach to continue to work to improve all facets of your calling; this will help you to do a better job on club night and class night.

ü      The best teaching occurs according to a plan

§         You should always prepare a lesson plan, both a schedule of teaches for the season and a plan for each individual lesson.

§         The better prepared you are, the more able you will be to divert from your plan when necessary and still succeed.


o     Programming

ü      A square dance class is a square dance.

ü      As a dance, your class should be as fun and entertaining as possible.

§         Your class/dance may focus on teaching new calls and drilling those recently presented, but it must include music, dancing, and fun.

§         In programming your class/dance you should attempt to change moods through creative use of music and choreography.  You can change musical moods by varying your music from traditional hoedown to jazz to ballad to modern synthesized hoedown, etc.  You can change choreographic moods by shifting from “stop and go” choreography inherent in some drills to smooth choreography featuring circles and stars.  You may change from squares to contras and mixers for a portion of the lesson. Change the difficulty between newer, more difficult calls and older familiar calls.


o     Teaching Order

ü      The CALLERLAB suggested teaching order for the Mainstream program is a decent teaching order but is not inherently superior to many other teaching orders; it is a compromise among alternative approaches.

ü      There is no “one best” teaching order.  The best teaching order for you to use is totally dependent on your situation and what you are trying to accomplish with your class.  The following factors all affect what is the best teaching order for you to use:

§         Available class time per evening – some teaching orders might not work well with a short class session.

§         Destination program – if you are teaching through Mainstream you might not have to finish the Basic program before teaching Hinge or Cloverleaf.  If you are teaching through Plus you might teach Teacup Chain before finishing the Mainstream list.

§         Total class time available – if you have limited total class time you may want to save some calls or applications of calls for workshops later on rather than include them in your lesson sequence.

§         External factors such as coordinated class progression dances, fractional dances, etc.  If the region is having a big dance programmed up to Basic 33, you want to make sure if possible that your people are taught Basics 1 through 33 by the time that dance is scheduled.

§         The way you teach a call.  If you like to convey to the dancers that Spin the Top is a trade followed by Fan the Top it makes much sense to teach Fan the Top first. (That is my preference.)

ü      You can and should explore alternative teaching orders to best accommodate your teaching style, the needs of the program you are supporting, and the dancers that you are teaching.  You should ensure that the teaching order you use is logical in your mind and makes sense to you.


o     Teaching and Learning Styles

ü      People learn according to a learning style and it is essential that the caller address the learning styles of those in the class.

§         Depending on the model used, people learn in three to six ways different ways. 

§         If you are not teaching to the primary or secondary learning style of any student, you will not get through to them and they will not succeed as square dancers.

ü      If you can match your style of teaching to a new dancer=s style of learning and are given enough time, then you can teach anybody to square dance.

Copyright 2000 Jim Wass. May be copied and shared without charge for educational purposes.