Tag Archives: Mel Wilkerson

Square Dance Caller Advice: Sight Calling by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

Benefits Of Sight Calling
Rich Reel 18 July 1999

  • Watch dancers 100% of the time (connect with them)
  • Catch and correct mistakes more consistently
  • Adjust level of difficulty instantly
  • Custom tailor workshop for problem calls and/or concepts
  • Resolve quickly when squares break down
  • Develop a mastery of choreography

I’ve already seen many of these benefits in my very first club calling experiences.

Things tend to go well when you prepare, and not so well when you don’t. Areas that you have prepared go much better than areas you haven’t. If you work on one area to exclusion of others, that one area is usually the only area you feel good about after you have called. You will feel disappointment in the other areas you have not prepared for.

Rich was a very smart man and given what he gave as axioms in 1999 I am posting about one more tool in the tool box.

One aspect of sight calling I get asked about a fair bit is what extemporaneous sight calling is. This is a term which often flies in the face of everything I say and most other callers say about preparation and practice and more practice with your calling. The term is probably the best appropriate misnomer that there is.

Extemporaneous – adjective
1. Done, spoken, performed, etc., without special advance preparation; impromptu: an extemporaneous speech.
2. Previously planned but delivered with the help of few or no notes: extemporaneous lectures.
3. Speaking or performing with little or no advance preparation: extemporaneous actors.
4. Made for the occasion, as a shelter.

Those are essentially what extemporaneous means: doing it on the fly without advanced preparation, being impromptu with no notes and no preparation on the delivery… basically everything that a good caller will tell you not to do.

The reality is that extemporaneous sight is essentially making it up as you go along… but that does not mean being unprepared.

  • You will have already practiced at least one resolution technique so you will never get lost again.
  • You will have already decided a focus movement for your tip (even quickly).
  • You have practiced and prepared in all the time you took learning to call and mastering your art.
  • You deliver your “unprepared” and “impromptu” seemingly made up on the spot choreography with no problems and everyone says, “WOW.”

Now that is sight calling.

Yes, it is, but there is a lot more that goes into it. Extemporaneous sight calling is memory calling, module calling, formation recognition and management (all put together and memorised), using zeroes and conversions, memorising resolution techniques – how to set them up and bring them back – and sometimes just getting plain lucky all thrown in one tip in a seemingly haphazard way without really caring who is with who until you are ready to get them home.
For the dancers, it is about smooth flowing, interesting and successfully challenged choreography and mainly fun and entertainment.

For the caller, it is mainly having practiced moving the dancers from one movement to another smoothly, recognising a few basic formations, and knowing how to resolve to get them back.
For example, I am visiting a club and the caller asks me to a guest tip. I have not prepared anything special for that evening but I always carry a few records or a thumb drive these days with me. I choose the move recycle and the song Ghost riders in the sky in my head. Nothing flashy or way over the top because I AM THERE AS A GUEST, NOT AS A FEATURE. I call smooth choreography and use the movement recycle a few times from a couple of different set ups and then use a figure known to me for the singing call that has recycle in it.

Well, that is a long winded introduction to the next posting in this sequence of tools in the tool box.

Here is another tool that you can use to make yourself better at sight calling. Some call it two couple dancing, others call it mirror image dancing and others call it isolated sight. I prefer the latter term but essentially they are all correct.

WARNING: Like all other tools, it is very useful but remember, you cannot build anything with only one tool.


Isolated sight is a calling technique used to isolate (or separate) two couples in a square. In theory, the methodology of isolated sight is to move the selected dancers through a series of choreographic sequences while keeping them separate from the other dancers in the square. As long as there is never another dancer (i.e. not one of the four you are working with) they are considered isolated and the techniques of isolated sight apply.

In keeping these two couples isolated, or separate from the other dancers in the square, it is possible to use a variety of choreographic manoeuvres and sequences. In basic terms, isolated sight is a two couple people mover technique used in conjunction with a complete square. (It is the application of two couple dancing; only it is done with a full square moving at the same time. You only work with two couples and ignore the others.)

1. The technique allows the caller and the dancers to concentrate on the specific nuances of selected choreography without having to worry about the rest of the square (Mirror image – what one half does the other half does)
2. The snapshot (often referred to as a burnt image) aspect of the technique allows callers a quick path to get-out resolution in case of difficulty with his/her choreography
3. It facilitates very easy teaching of movements which (as most do) only requires two couples.
4. It gives the caller the advantage of two couple concentration, whereby when using cross over movements (scoot back – Ferris wheel and pass through) the caller may concentrate on the isolated dancers while still giving the feeling of total interaction with the rest of the square.

1. It can very easily lead to overflow or redundant choreography if the caller is unprepared or if the dancer ability is limited
2. It is very susceptible to becoming a “caller crutch” and therefore predictable to dancers when new material is being introduced


Technique: The basic technique starts from a static square but may be modified to suit requirements as the technique is developed

STEP 1: Select Key Couples in a Square – Nominally couples 1 and 4

STEP 2: Use a “get-in” to set up a snapshot of the chosen four dancers. (Example: Sides Square thru 4…. Snapshot the image on key couple” – This position is a Zero Box)

STEP 3: Call your choreography stressing your tips emphasis calls, which moves the dancers through your dance, yet never separates the four.

STEP 4: When ready to resolve or return to a “known location” return your dancers to the “snapshot position”. It is important to not that when you move the key couple to the outside of the snap shot box, the square is zeroed.

1. A right and left thru is a great direction changer for eliminating overflow and setting up a new flow

2. Crossover zeros and equivalents are an effective interaction with the rest of the square without breaking the isolation of the four chosen dancers. (For example, from a zero box (the position you are in when you finish a “heads square thru”) swing thru, boys run, Ferris wheel, pass thru brings you back to the same position but the Ferris wheel creates a cross over interaction with the rest of the square.

3. Use flip-flops movements or modules to create square interaction without changing the isolation of the four chosen dancers. (Example: Eight chain four or relay the Deucey. Both these movements interact the dancers and flip-flop them to the exact same position only on the other side of the square)

Note: With practice, multiple snapshots become possible giving increased flexibility by moving and changing isolated couples

1. Set-up to a Zero Box = snapshot the position for isolated sight Chorography
Return to the Zero box (ZB) snapshot
2. Call: right and left thru, Pass thru, trade by (cross your fingers to remind you)
o You have just set up another snap shot (out of sequence Box(OSB)) for isolated sight choreography with other couples in the square
Return to the new snapshot position (OSB)
3. Call right and left thru, pass thru, trade by (uncross your fingers)

So to see how this all works lets go back a bit to my previous example of being asked to call a guest tip and I am a “newer caller”. I know the singing call figure from Ghost Riders and my caller-mentor who asked me to do a guest tip at his dance chose recycle for me to use.

Singing call figure: (H) square thru 4, swing thru, scoot back, ladies trade, recycle, sweep 1/4, square thru 3, cnr.

I want to use recycle in my patter and my singing call and I have practiced my resolution techniques however, I have not prepared a tip for this evening. My mentor surprised me. OH No!
Relax – just keep it simple yet interesting and use the moving techniques you know. You know at least one resolution technique so, if you get lost you know there is no real problem to get the dancers home.

Now you think, I want to use this movement recycle but I need to watch it – I know…two couple patterns (or that isolated sight stuff they talked about)

The heads are in a box so I will start with them… (heads at home is my snapshot)

Heads pass the ocean, ladies trade, recycle, slide thru – heads at home

Let’s do the sides now. (snapshot sides at home)

Sides right and left thru, ½ sashay, pass the ocean “boys in the middle trade”, swing thru, recycle, sweep ¼ (snap shot – sides are home)

NOTE. Those two quick heads and sides routines I made very short to avoid a lot of standing, but look: although those are quick and painless, by doing this, I just created two box zeros. Do not try to remember them now. Just focus on what you are doing.

Now to get the whole square moving…

Square thru four (Zero box snap shot only two couples – head man (left) side of the square will do)

Move these two couples around in relatively short sequences but make sure you break the flow by interacting with the other side of the square. For example:

(ZB snapshot) tch ¼, scoot back, hinge, ladies trade, recycle

Now I need an interaction with the rest of the square. I do not know where the dancers are in relation to my snapshot and at this point I do not care. I just want to change the body flow a bit, interact with the other side of the square and come back to my snapshot to get out.

Right and left thru, veer left, ferris wheel, centres pass thru –

That brings me back to my isolated four dancers. I want to quickly move the dancers back to my snapshot. I want to keep my focus on recycle.

Dosado, make a wave, ladies trade, recycle (ZB snapshot) flow is good left hand is free, why not? Allemande left and right and left grand.

This whole sequence is isolated sight.

  • It was not memorised.
  • It was not a module (other than the right and left thru, veer left, Ferris wheel, pass thru – to intermix with the rest of the square).
  • It kept the focus on my feature move – recycle.
  • It was not always the same way of getting there even though the recycle was done from the same right hand standard position.
  • I have used the figure focus for my singing call.
  • The choreography was varied and interesting for the dancers.
  • I did not try and outshine the host caller but gave a good show of myself to the dancers.
  • I have used the figure focus for my singing call.

I now have another tool in my tool box to help me become a better sight caller.

The entire sequence thus far, (about the first minute and a half of the patter tip looked like this.

(H) pass the ocean, ladies trade, recycle, slide thru, heads back away – Sides right and left thru and a half sashay, pass the ocean “boys in the middle trade”, swing thru, recycle, sweep 1/4, back away and the heads Square thru four, touch 1/4, scoot back, hinge, ladies trade, recycle, Right and left thru, veer left, ferris wheel, centres pass thru, Dosado, make a wave, ladies trade, recycle, Allemande left and right and left grand

Now that is not a bad looking sequence and personally, I think it would be a nightmare to try and memorise, but we do not have to because it is just a couple of isolated site sequences and a zero module intermix. Same sequence now in short. (ss = snapshot for two couple dancing, im = intermix memorised module)

  • (ss- heads) pass the ocean, ladies trade, recycle, slide thru, heads back away
  • (ss- sides) Sides right and left thru and a ½ sashay, pass the ocean “boys in the middle trade”, swing thru, recycle, sweep ¼, back away
  • Heads Square thru four,
  • (ss – zero box) tch ¼, scoot back, hinge, ladies trade, recycle,
  • (im to change body flow and mix with the rest of the square) Right and left thru, veer left, ferris wheel, centres pass thru,
  • (two couple movement to my snapshot zero box) Dosado, make a wave, ladies trade, recycle, (ss – Zero Box) Allemande left and right and left grand.

Have fun and play with this concept. Comments are always welcome.

Square Dance Caller Advice: Body Flow by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

This is the second in a series of long posts for newbie or newer callers. Whereas the last one was about ripping apart a singing call and making modules for use in patter and fillers for yourself, this one is more applicable to sight calling and in particular smooth dancing for both patter and singing calls (for those of you that write your own).
It is all about body flow.

Thank you to contributors from great teachers like Ken Ritucci, Tony Oxendine, Rich Reel and others at one time or another from whom I have happily plagiarised stolen and otherwise bastardised sections of their infinite wisdom, added some of my own thoughts and set this down on the keyboard.


Callers may create a myriad of choreographic sequences, however, if the caller does not pay attention to BODY FLOW and HAND USE when moving from one position to the next, the result is a technically legal choreographic sequence that is awkward and uncomfortable to dance.

Note: Always check your singing call figures for body flow, and hand use. Dance them yourself from BOTH positions.

The following are examples of GOOD body flow and hand use:

  • From a Line — Right and Left Thru, Flutter wheel…
  • From a Standard 2-Faced Line – Bend the Line, Reverse Flutter wheel…
  • From an Parallel Ocean Wave with Boys looking out – Boys Run, Reverse Flutter wheel

The following are examples of REALLY BAD body flow and hand use.

  • From a Line — Right and Left Thru, Reverse Flutter wheel… (YECCHH)
  • From a Standard 2-Faced Line – Bend the Line, Flutter wheel… (YECCHH)

Body flow is one aspect of smooth dancing and as important as variety. Don’t use choreography that is not flowing, especially if you are only doing so because you want to vary your calling or for gaining the dancers’ attention.

These goals can be achieved in other ways. You should try to think not only of one dancer when considering a combination. Think of more dancers, and especially think of the ladies.

No offense ladies, but the truth is that most callers are men and it is a proven scientific fact that most men are generally lazy. With that in mind, callers tend to find excellent flowing choreography for themselves (from a man’s perspective) and sometimes overlook the fact that usually two but sometimes all four of the ladies in the square have turned into human corkscrews.

Body flow has at least the following four aspects:

Aspect 1
The dancers should not be forced to sharply change their direction of motion.

An obvious example:
From Right Hand Waves: Ends Run; Bend the Line; Reverse the Flutter

Other bad flow examples which often occur with new callers managing formations or resolving the square:

  • From Lines facing out: Wheel & Deal; Zoom
  • From facing Couples: Star Thru; Veer Left
  • From Right Hand Box Circulate: Out facers Run; Veer Left

Aspect 2
The dancers should not be forced to use the same hand twice in a row.

An obvious example:
From Double Pass Thru: Centers Square Thru 3; Touch 1/4

Other examples:

  • From Static Square: Heads Square Thru 4; Star Thru
  • From Standard Lines: Star Thru; Right & Left Thru
  • From Standard Lines: Star Thru; Allemande Left

Aspect 3
Avoid overflow. From time to time the turning direction should be changed.

From Static Square: Heads Touch ¼; Head Boys Run; Star Thru; Slide Thru; Touch ¼; Boys Run; Partner Trade; Touch 1/4; Girls Run; Star Thru; California Twirl ….

Other examples include often seen two particular moves called back to back which are technically do-able but simply do not work and should never be called:

From Right Hand Waves:

  • Spin the Top; Fan the Top
  • Swing Thru; Fan the Top
  • Cast Off ¾; Swing Thru
  • Cast Off ¾; Centers Run

Aspect 4
Some calls end a little bit offset, so that the dancers might not be in the right position for the next call. Dancer anticipation must be considered and is acceptable for some things but should not be relied on for everything. Make your choreography smooth flowing in a way that dancers do not explode and/or spread out from the desired formation and have to constantly adjust to do the next call.


  • from Standard Lines: Square Thru 2; Trade By
  • From Standard Lines: Everybody do the girl’s part of Slide Thru; Everybody Trade
  • From Lines: Tag the Line, Face Left; Centers Trade

On the other hand, the next combination is OK, because the dancers are expecting the next call and therefore adjust themselves to do it smoothly. This is another interesting aspect of Body Flow.

  • From Double Pass Thru: Centers Square Thru 3; Allemande Left

So with all that in mind, for all you newbie callers consider the following singing call figure that was pulled off a recording session at a caller’s school. What is wrong with it, other than the fact that it is a boring sequence?

  • Heads Promenade 1/2
  • Right and Left Thru
  • Square thru 2
  • Right and left thru
  • 8-Chain 2
  • Slide Thru
  • Right and Left Thru
  • Slide thru
  • Swing and Promenade

Square Dance Caller Advice: More on Building Patter from Singing Sequences by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

I just got some interesting correspondence on this post regarding using singing calls in patter by breaking them down into modules for use. Please remember doing this is not all there is to calling patter. It is only one small tool in the basic starter kit moving dancers around the floor.

The focus of the correspondence was looking at a singing call figure that really doesn’t break down much into remnants to give you module zeros (line or box zeros). This is true of many (probably nearly half) of all singing calls when you start getting into more complex choreography. The thing is do not even try to break down these more complex ones into anything beyond one or two uses. If you do, you will frustrate yourself trying to think of 1p2c lines or 1c-3p OS box and all sorts of crap that you really do not need to frustrate yourself with. The simple rule is: KEEP IT SIMPLE!

Do you need to know what a FASR/FAROO CW/CCW 1-3 OS position by number and letter designation means? No. It is nice to know and eventually all that stuff will come but in reality, at this point you don’t need it and frankly, you do not want it.

Anyway, back to the correspondence. The singing call provided was as follows:

Why 1 & 3 (2 & 4) you square thru & you count 4 hands you know
When you see the corner girl, do a little dosado
Swing thru & now boys run to the right
Tag the line & when you’re there, let’s cloverleaf tonight
Oh girls square thru, go 3 hands around
Swing that corner lady, promenade her
Heads Square thru 4 , Do-sa-do, Swing thru, Boys run, Tag the line, Cloverleaf, Girls square thru 3, Corner

Simple break down:

Heads square thru puts it into a box position (two boxes and in this case a zero box or allemande left box)
Do-sa-do does nothing to either the formation or arrangement
Swing thru – boys run (this makes a two face line with your original sides facing out and the heads not paired facing in and out of sequence. – in other words a two face line where you can call a wheel and deal and be at an allemande left)
Tag the line – this puts you in a completed double pass thru position with the girls in the lead – (for new callers this is a difficult formation to pick and flow from so we will ignore it for now
Cloverleaf – puts the girls in the middle of a double pass thru position – again this is a more difficult formation to recognise for new callers at a glance so we leave it alone
Girls square thru 3 – corner swing. – Note: this corner swing formation is not good for an allemande left


After the initial square thru you are in a zero box (allemande left box). You can add in any module for a box, or any singing call figure remnant that takes you from a zero box to a zero box. For example from the call (heads promenade ½ , sides right and left thru, square thru four (ZB), right and left thru, veer left, ferris wheel, pass thru (ZB), swing corner) – you can add the singing call remnant from the zero box(ZB) to the (ZB) as a module

After the swing thru – boys run you are in a two face line. This particular line has one couple (sides) paired facing out, and the other facing in. Learn to recognise this formation. It really doesn’t matter which paired couple is facing out. All you have to know is that the couple facing in is not paired. From there it is just a matter of seeing if one of the unpaired couple is a corner for the paired couple. If it is you now have a corner get out in your repertoire.

From a two faced line – paired couple facing out and the unpaired couple has a corner dancer for the paired couple you simply call the rest of the singing call figure to an in sequence corner pairing – Tag the line, cloverleaf, girls square thru 3 – CNR
From this position a star thru and boys circulate takes you to a partner promenade, but there are lots of other options

The important thing is that if you recognise this starting position (two face line – one couple paired facing out and the other not paired and one of the dancers is a corner to the paired dancer in the line – you have a get out

This particular singing call figure is probably not the best one to break down into component bits and pieces for modular example but it does have some aspects which are good for new callers.

The module that you have is from a zero box.

Swing thru, boys run, tag the line, cloverleaf, girls square thru 3 – takes me to a corner swing
Most would think that it is really only good for corner resolution from a zero box or for use as a get out. This is not the case at all.

It is also a good box to line conversion by adding a star thru or a slide thru at the end of it. Let’s say for sake of argument you are calling away and you get lost and lose track of where the dancers are. You do however see that they are in a box, so you call this little module: swing thru, boys run, tag the line, cloverleaf, girls square thru 3, star thru. You are now in a two face line boys on the inside. You have a chance to see who is with whom and carry on.

But wait there is more.

A zero box is a box where everyone is facing their corner.
A corner two face line is a two face line in sequence where everyone has their corner as a partner.
With the addition of the “star thru” we also have a module conversion from a corner box to a corner two face line.

This may not be of great use to you at the moment, but as your repertoire of modules and such grows, you will have added conversions, lines to boxes, boxes to lines, and get outs from known positions. They all help build the caller into a well-rounded repository of knowledge.

Square Dance Caller Advice: Patter Calling by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

This is a long post regarding calling patter for the first time around. Of the six or seven new callers I am corresponding with, this is an issue that frequently comes out and newer callers often feel disheartened that they are not sight calling and get lost when trying to remember long patter sequences.

I say, “Don’t.”

You already know long sequences but you know them in short bits. This is from a training exercise in one of my caller schools where we had the callers break down and create a full patter call using only two modules (every caller used the same ones), and two known singing call figures). No other moves were allowed except moving dancers into a single resolution technique if the callers got lost. It is quite basic but, for experienced callers, it is also quite challenging to go back to basics.

Before you read on however, I am a very strong proponent of sight calling, extemporaneous calling and resolution, even though this exercise may not seem like it. Remember it is a training, confidence building and learning exercise.

Starting Out Calling Patter – Two Singing Calls and Two Zeros Only

There are many books, texts, modules, organisational workshops, caller schools and other resources available to all callers at any level. Nevertheless, when virtually all callers start (yes there are a few exceptions), they begin to practice their first patters by using the known. This usually takes two forms:

1. Just calling random movements to feel the rhythm of patter and working the music.

  • One benefit of this is you learn to adapt phrasing and flow of word annunciation with the music.
  • One big drawback is that you are not actually using the music timing of movements and body flow to incorporate into your patter.

2. The second and more common thing that happens is that most new callers know about 1-5 singing calls and draw on that memory of the figures to adapt their patter routines into flowing and successful flow

  • One benefit of this is that the timing is known usually for the movements and the body flow is accurate usually to a resolution. It is comfortable and easy. It is also a good way to adapt patter phrasing and flow with the music.
  • One drawback is that your patter becomes redundant and you tend to rely on the same flow figures over and over again.

HOWEVER, the second method is a very valuable tool.

I have been asked by many new callers that I have taught, “”How do you sight call and still remember so many zeroes and combinations and modules?” Part of the secret is to accept that PURE SIGHT CALLING IS A MYTH – IT DOESN’T EXIST.

How is that for a controversial statement? The truth is patter calling is much, much more than just moving dancers around the floor successfully. I have yet to meet a caller that does not have memory modules and tools in the toolbox to draw from. Sight calling is little more than knowing your basic three tools and expanding the toolbox beyond one or two known formations comfortably. As you grow and practice, so too does the tool box and so too does your ability to sight call, move dancers without memorised sequences and the ability to resolve from anywhere.
As callers get better and more practiced, their ability to randomise the flow and move the dancers comfortably around the floor in a seemingly random flow increases. The reason for this is that they have learned to use the tools effectively and have learned to build bigger and better things with the tools and resources available. Nevertheless, pretty much all of them start with three basic tools


1. Understanding of the square dance movement. Knowing how the movement works – where it starts and where it finishes.

  • This does not mean knowing where everyone is or what the name of this or that formation is or even who is specifically with whom. All of that will come in time.
  • This refers to things like from a static square – heads square thru puts me in a box. OR a pass thru from a line of four takes me from a face to face position to a back to back position but still in a line – simple things.
  • If you understand those basics and your movements for the level you are learning (hopefully starting at basic and mainstream) then you will quickly learn that when I call this movement, I end up in this type of position and I can call something appropriate from the new position.

2. The caller must learn ONE GUARANTEED RESOLUTION TECHNIQUE and practice it until you own it.

  • Once you own a resolution technique, then you can confidently state that it doesn’t matter where the dancers are at any time you can get them home.
  • Knowing that you know this is the greatest confidence builder in the world.
  • It means that you will never get lost and you can move dancers around and if you lose your place, you will always be able to get them back home without having to call – “FIX IT”..or “Star promenade pick up your original partner and promenade home – etc.
  • Don’t laugh: even the very best callers have done this at one time or another
  • PS: once you know one resolution technique – you can call yourself a sight caller because the first two tools are really all sight calling is.

3. The caller must learn at least ONE MODULE ZERO FROM A LINE and ONE MODULE ZERO FROM A BOX

  • The reason I say this is that these two zeroes are your breathing time to relax and gather yourself when you lose your place on the floor.
  • Trust me it will happen, but if you know your movements, it doesn’t matter. – you are always no more than three moves from either a line or a box no matter where you are in the square.
  • Once you get to either that line or box, you can use one of those two modules to gather yourself, whilst keeping the dancers moving.
  • This allows you to use your one guaranteed resolution technique to get home and start again.

The two module zeroes that I learned first were:

From a Box (two boxes actually one on each side of the square)

Swing thru – Girls circulate – Boys trade – Boys run – Bend the line – Touch 1/4 – All 8 circulate – Boys run

From a line (facing lines of four)

Pass thru – wheel and deal – double pass thru – first go left – next go right

Note that both of those have an interactive flow with the dancers throughout the square but do absolutely nothing other than move the dancers from one point, back to the same point without changing anything.

OK so now I have my three basic tools. I have to ask – how do I call?

Start easy. Move the dancers around using known stuff to make your patters. Let’s, for instance, start with a common singing call pattern from one of your known singing calls.

First – look at the full call and see what it does.

Heads Square Thru 4 – Swing Thru – Boys Run – Ferris Wheel – Centers Pass Thru – Slide thru – Square Thru 3 – Swing Corner and Promenade Home

Hmmmmm… This takes me from a static square to a corner swing. If I change the corner swing to an allemande left, I have a short patter sequence.

Now, let’s look at where this puts us with each movement we call, but at this point we are only going to look at lines and boxes. (Don’t worry the rest will come later as more tools get into your tool box.)

  • Heads Square Thru 4, – (from a static square to a box)
  • Swing Thru, (not a line or box – ignore it for now)
  • Boys Run, (two face line – but not a line of four or box so ignore it for now)
  • Ferris Wheel, (double pass thru position, not a line of four or box so ignore it for now)
  • Centers Pass Thru, (box)
  • Slide thru (line of four)
  • Square Thru 3, (line of four facing out – not a facing line or box so ignore it for now.)
  • Allemande left
  • Promenade

We can now incorporate our known line or box modules to make a longer patter sequence.

  • Heads Square Thru 4, – (BOX – insert box module)
  • Swing Thru, (not a line or box – ignore it for now)
  • Boys Run, (two face line – but not a line of four or box so ignore it for now)
  • Ferris Wheel, (double pass thru position, not a line of four or box so ignore it for now)
  • Centers Pass Thru, (BOX – Insert box module)
  • Slide thru (LINE OF FOUR – Insert line module)
  • Square Thru 3, (line of four facing out – not)
  • Allemande left
  • Promenade

Now with only one singing call figure, one line zero, and one box zero our full patter looks like this:

Heads Square Thru 4, – (Swing thru – Girls circulate – Boys trade – Boys run – Bend the line – Touch ¼ – All 8 circulate – Boys run) – Swing Thru – Boys Run – Ferris Wheel – Centers Pass Thru – (Swing thru – Girls circulate – Boys trade – Boys run – Bend the line – Touch ¼ – All 8 circulate – Boys run) – Slide thru (Pass thru – wheel and deal – double pass thru – first go left – next go right) – Square Thru 3, allemande left – promenade

At this point we have not done any sight calling. All we have done is used three memorised modules (the singing call figure, a box module and a line module).

Many new callers say at this point that yes but I only know one box module I need to know more. My answer to this is that you already do know. Let’s look at your singing call figure again.

Heads Square Thru 4 – Swing Thru – Boys Run – Ferris Wheel – Centers Pass Thru – Slide thru – Square Thru 3 – Swing Corner & Promenade Home

After the first heads square thru you are in a zero box (allemande left box). The swing thru – boys run – ferris wheel – centres pass thru – brings you back to this same box. Now you have two box modules that you can use at any time and you have not had to memorise anything else.

You also know that from any zero box (allemande left box) you can call two successful memorised resolutions to an allemande left. Both of these are in your singing call figure already.

The first (from a zero box – the entire singing call figure) Swing Thru – Boys Run – Ferris Wheel – Centers Pass Thru – Slide thru – Square Thru 3 – allemande left

The second is from the last zero box after the centres pass thru: Slide thru – Square Thru 3 – allemande left

Now most new callers have at least two singing call figures memorised so let’s add a second simple singing call to what we have already.

Heads Square thru – Right and Left Thru – Veer Left – Couples Circulate – Chain Down The Line – Star Thru – Pass Thru – Trade By – Swing and Promenade

As we did with the first singing call, let’s break it down only into boxes and lines of four, and change the swing and promenade to an allemande left and promenade.

  • Heads Square thru (box)
  • Right & Left Thru (box)
  • Veer Left
  • Couples Circulate
  • Chain Down The Line (line of four)
  • Star Thru (box)
  • Pass Thru
  • Trade By (box)
  • Allemande left and promenade

What I am going to do now is use the three zero modules that I have and insert into the sequences. Remember the three modules we have:

1. (Box) Swing thru – Girls circulate – Boys trade – Boys run – Bend the line – Touch ¼ – All 8 circulate – Boys run
2. (line) – Pass thru – wheel and deal – double pass thru – first go left – next go right
3. (Box zero module from first singing call) swing thru – boys run – ferris wheel – centres pass thru

Note that in this singing call figure there are two box formations, a line formation and then two more box formations. I will now take my second memorised singing call, and add the already known zero modules for the first box only then the line then the first box in the second part. I then have a patter sequence that looks like this:

  • Heads Square thru (insert box module ) Swing thru – Girls circulate – Boys trade – Boys run – Bend the line – Touch 1/4 – All 8 circulate – Boys run
  • Right and Left Thru
  • Veer Left
  • Couples Circulate
  • Chain Down The Line (insert line of four module) – Pass thru – wheel and deal – double pass thru – first go left – next go right
  • Star Thru (insert second box module) – swing thru – boys run – ferris wheel – centres pass thru
  • Pass Thru
  • Trade By (box)
  • Allemande left and promenade

For variety I can mix and match these routines by inserting the module after the second box modules rather than the first or choosing to ignore them entirely.

Also note that in the second singing call figure: the figure itself is a zero box module. After the Heads square thru I am in a zero box (allemande left box). From there, the rest of the singing call brings me back to the same allemande left box.

• (zero box) Right and Left Thru – Veer Left – Couples Circulate – Chain Down The Line – Star Thru – Pass Thru – Trade By (Zero box) – Allemande left and promenade

If you keep looking at what you know you will find out that you know a lot more than you think. With two modules and two singing calls and only adding in the zero modules at the box or line positions of the singing call figure I can now create – what I know at the box and lines I can make at least 8 different independent patter routines from the first singing call and 12 different routines from the second patter by only changing adding one box or line module – this increases exponentially if I add more than one box and one line in the same figure.

I have still not done any sight calling because at this point it is all been using two singing call figures and two modules. Remember the second tool in your tool box (ONE GUARANTEED RESOLUTION TECHNIQUE) if at any point you lose your place or where you are in the sequence, then you use your memorised resolution technique…the sight part is moving the dancers from where they are to match up your key couples and resolve. Simple, yes?

Good luck and hope this is useful to some new callers. Please remember that this is one opinion only. Do not just listen to one. Listen to all the experienced callers out there. Ask them questions and find out how they do things. Find out what is right and comfortable for you and make it yours. You only get better through practice and more practice.

Square Dance Caller Advice: Avoiding Overflow by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

I was asked, why don’t callers call for the ladies. The question eventually was sorted out to be a comment on a quip made regarding round dancing. That being, “God created women to dance backwards”. A relative joke in that most round dancing, ballroom dancing etc. is geared for the man to move forward the lady to move backwards and the remaining geared around the lady doing most of the work. True in dancing as in life I suppose.

Face it ladies, the reason for this is that you are generally better at dancing and adapting than we men are. You are generally quicker and more readily adapt to change than we men do. Therein lies the crux of the original question. It was a comment a dancer came to me with a comment on body flow or rather overflow.

An important point for dancers’ wellbeing is to avoid overflow. Callers need to be aware to avoid turns of more than 270° (3/4). Or they run the risk that dancers will lose their orientation. Several turns in the same direction can make some dancers dizzy. I was given some advice when I started that may be helpful for new callers.
When you check your routines for flow, follow each of the eight dancers. Sometimes only two or four of the eight dancers are affected. Watch out to avoid the so-called sequential overflow. I. e. over a longer period of time the momentum (mostly to the right) does not change.

Overflow is usually a problem for the ladies. This is primarily because most callers are men and when they write choreography and move their checkers through the flow, they tend to do it only from the man’s position.

Consider the following sequence.

From an ocean wave –

Recycle- veer left – ladies trade – wheel and deal – touch ¼ – scoot back – scoot back again – girl run – touch ¼ – —you should get the idea by now.

For the boys, this is not so bad. Dance it from the ladies (standard) position and it is time to get the dizzy chair.

Just some thoughts to stir discussion.

Square Dance Caller Advice: Teaching and Unteaching of Calls by Mel Wilkerson

This is a guest blog post by Mel Wilkerson.

I am going to start a new blog line on what has become a passionate issue – the teaching and un-teaching of calls where sometimes, a long standing bad habit of teaching and dancing has become the normal standard for teaching. I am in several chat rooms and this subject comes up time and again…the latest is the re-hash of the recycle dilemma. I thought I would post a long blog thought piece here for consideration and comment.

Fixing the Recycle Problem

Remember back when that new caller started calling. Every time he/she got up to the mic everyone knew what she was going to call and what the caller was going to do and the comments from the floor in whispers often became, quite derisive. Welcome to the development of the hard skin.

Callers have the capability and the ability to stretch. Your best work as you put it is not just the singing call, it is the package. You want to do a good solid patter and a good upbeat singing call that the dancers will be happily challenged and have fun with. No real out of the box fancy stuff, just good solid smooth flowing dancing that says, wow, he/she can call, and that was different but fun.

Recycle is the focus of this issue but it applies to a lot of movements. Teaching has been shortcutted for so long that now bad habits have become “teaching standards” and rob the dancers of a full program, not to mention frustrating other callers when dancers say things like, “you called that wrong” or “you can’t do that from there”. What happens is we as callers have to un-teach and have the dancers re-learn. For this my opinion is to use simple routines for your focus. If you are calling Mainstream which I believe most should be, use routines like:

Focus of the patter = RECYCLE (end cross fold and centres fold and follow)

Now that you have selected your focus, it is best not to try and memorise everything you read or write nor to read your hard work routines when you call.

Home work – develop some flow routines and play with them and see how they flow. They will show you some ways to set up and dance dancers using your focus move. Figure out beforehand, a couple of conversions, ZL to ZB for your focus movement and a couple of get outs with the focus movement. Only memorise one or two of them and you can add them to your repertoire as you build and go. When you know them, you can then use them whenever you see a zero line or a zero box, to add variety to your patter calling.

Of note: as time goes on use of the movements can get progressively more difficult as you go through them and there are a few little nuances like ½ sashayed pass the oceans and recycles from different positions. Make sure you are familiar with them before use, because the dancers WILL (not may) balk at them unless you are confident and can guide them through it. When you go through these look at some other stuff in the preparation of a “show tip” or focus tip…to me they are both the same anyway.

Remember however – two things…

One – you can be over prepared (in other words do not try to do too much in one tip)

Two – It is imperative that the dancers succeed easily (it is even better when they only think they had to work hard for it but really didn’t)

Develop a couple of “reliables”

For example:

(Zero Box)
Swing Thru, RECYCLE, Left Square thru 3/4, Right and Left Grand.

Or even a relatively simple patter routine to focus your left hand recycle to a get out
Heads 1/2 Square Thru, Touch 1/4, Split Circulate, Boys Run, Reverse Flutter Wheel, Dixie Style To A Wave, Girls Circulate, Boys Trade, Left Swing Thru, RECYCLE, Pass Thru, Trade By, R.L.G.

Play with the movement in your two couple movers… remember you are only a notch or two away from normal facing couples at any time so don’t worry too much about it.

Use the movement in a few different set ups so the dancers are comfortable then ensure you use a relatively safe but still within the “focus” of the tip movement near the end of your singing call. (if putting it near the start or middle, it is often best to use fairly simple choreography for the rest of it and give the dancers some breathing room until they are used to it.

The reason for this is things do not always go according to plan but if your focus is RECYCLE, you want to successfully (dancer success not yours) use it in your tip. Classify your singing call figures and make sure they relate to your patter sequences — not exactly, but close enough that the dancers see the familiarity but do not anticipate or worse, know what you are going to call before you call it.

For example…. If my focus was a standard right hand wave recycle with the girls on the outside I might use a singing call figure such as:

Heads Square Thru 4, Dosado To A Wave, Swing Thru, RECYCLE, Touch 1/4, boys Run, Slide thru, Swing And Promenade
Or Heads Promenade halfway, Lead to the right, Circle to a line, right and left thru (Zero Line), Pass the Ocean, Swing Thru, RECYCLE (girls leading), pass thru swing and promenade (right hand lady progression)

If my focus was a left hand recycle, I might have something like:
Heads Square thru 4, right and left thru, star thru, reverse flutter wheel, Dixie style to an ocean wave, boys trade recycle, swing corner promenade

Definitely stay away from overuse of variants until your dancers are completely comfortable. A figure such as:

Heads square thru 4, swing thru, spin the top, recycle, reverse flutterwheel, dixie style to a wave, boys trade, RECYCLE, veer right, promenade home

is not for the night you start introducing more than the vanilla recycle.

However, if you have taught it right the first time and have used it in different ways then there should not be a problem.

Prepare by looking at your choreography. Have some easy stuff prepared and know one or two as back up. They are good for when you want to relax the floor but let them know that they are still dancing the new stuff they were taught. This is important as dancers do not want to feel that you are talking (or calling) down to them by using RECYCLE in your patter and giving challenging choreography then using a singing call that is basic third night of dancing for basics. Most dancers won’t say it but they find it disappointing.

Well that’s a lot of typing and a lot of work for callers to sift. Although this is focused on recycle, the process is essentially the same for what ever you do decide to use. Choose what you want, pick some choreo to play with, patter it, find a few “set ups (getting to zero line or zero box), play with some equivalents and conversions (dance them around to your known get out position), learn a couple of get outs (from zero or box to an allemande left) then have fun with the patter.

Decide what singing call you are going to use and ensure that your patter reflects similar flow. Remember that your patter is not memorised, it is flowing, but aspects of it are memorised such as your set up, get out or conversions and zeros. It is still sight calling as the actual flow is controlled by you, and moving the dancers is not predetermined. You only use what you want when you want. Just make sure that the patter reflects your singing call.

NOTE: remember to have an easy out singing call memorised as well.

Practice your singing call(s) until they are solid and you need no paper to refer to. Make it yours, play with it and torture it until it bends to your will then practice some more.

This is only one caller’s opinion and please, feel free to comment on it.