What Is Square Dancing?

First and foremost, square dancing is people; socializing, dancing, playing music, and having an experience together! It is a centuries-old social dance form with European roots, alive and growing in many parts of the world. Square Dancing has changed over the decades to fit the needs of the people doing it; this evolution tells a fascinating story, and points to a bright future for this flexible folk art form.

To learn about the nuts and bolts of what makes up a square dance, check out our overview of the various styles of squares you will encounter as you explore this set of resources. You can find additional overviews in the Wikipedia articles about square dance, traditional square dance, and modern Western square dance.

Traditional vs. Modern Western

There are two main branches of square dancing; traditional, and modern Western. Since the 1960s, the two branches have grown farther and farther apart. Some efforts have been made to bridge the gap between traditional and modern Western square dance, reflected by articles such as Explaining Traditional Squares and Contras to MWSD Folks, which describes the differences in choreography and community feel between MWSD groups and groups dancing traditional squares and contras. A Guide to Learning Western Square Dance for Traditional Dancers is a detailed description of how the dancing differs between MWSD and traditional forms, geared towards the traditional dancer interested in learning MWSD.

Square Dance History Project

Dance history scholar, videographer, and traditional square and contra dance caller David Millstone has assembled an amazing team of consultants to create the Square Dance History project, a huge new (2011) undertaking with technological and hosting support from The University of New Hampshire, as well as artistic and financial support from Country Dance and Song Society (supporting traditional forms) and from CALLERLAB and Square Dance Foundation of New England (providing MWSD resources and support). This effort to tell the story of the North American square dance will appeal to square dance enthusiasts everywhere, and bring more cohesion and potential collaboration between the traditional and modern Western branches of square dancing.