Etiquette – A few words about square dance courtesies

Yes, there is square dance etiquette. It’s not a prissy thing … it’s just the imposition of a couple of rules on what sometimes feels like a contact sport.

Number one is BE ON TIME. There’s nothing better than the huge round of applause you’ll receive when you’re the eighth person to show up for club night, but that gets pretty old after a while. Public transit should run with the punctuality of square dancers, so don’t keep people waiting!

Before you decide on where to have dinner that night, remember how close you’re going to be to people later in the evening. Be careful with the garlic and onions, and please shower and use deodorant sometime within recent memory. START OUT FRESH … it’s going to get sweaty!

Even the best dancers have to concentrate. That means all the rest of us have to be really straight to get through a tip. DON’T DRINK OR USE DRUGS while dancing, or use anything that would impair reaction time. In square dancing, it is considered discourteous to smell of alcohol at all, even from one beer.

At some point in your square dance career, you will undoubtedly be grabbing some one in an embarrassing spot. It happens to everybody. If you’re the grabber, it’s perfectly ok to say “Excuse me.” Just don’t stop dancing and for heaven’s sake, don’t start giggling. If you’re the grabbee, remember it’s just an accident, nothing was mean by it (one way or another).

Enough about you. Now let’s talk about what happens in the square — and what shouldn’t.

These courtesies that are practiced by square dancers the world over. To join that square dance community, you too should be comfortable with the etiquette.

Most important is to COOL IT! This would seem obvious to everyone, but it’s surprising how quickly tempers can flare or control freaks leap into action when things go wrong. No one steps into a square to make a fool of themselves, so figure that mistakes really are just that – mistakes – and not intentional attempts to break down a square. You experienced dancers out there: remember your first dance and how scared you were that someone would yell at you? Allow others the space to make the same kind of goofs you did.

As for the control freaks, sometimes you just have to let it go. Not every square has to be step-for-step perfect to be fun. Grabbing people to put them in the correct position is often very disconcerting – in fact, it’s an unusual dancer who likes to be pushed around. And shoving, tackling, and hammerlocks are definitely out of bounds.

If a dancer appears not to know where he or she should be going (remember, they could just be styling), point to the correct position or whisper in their ear (NO YELLING!). And if they don’t get there, if the square breaks down, have a laugh about it. Remember that the next mistake may be your own.

In a class situation, let the instructor correct mistakes. After the tip is over, it’s appropriate to offer to review a call with a student and a great way to help out the class.

Meet and greet your square-mates

Memorizing hundreds of calls is only one part of being a good square dancer. And if all you were after was the exercise, we could go to 24-hour Nautilus and crunch all you want. But dancing is, above all, a social activity where you get to meet fun people and become better acquainted with folks you’ve only known in passing.

Square dancing is beneficial for people who tend to hang back and decorate walls. As long as there’s a space left in a square, you’re in demand! Of course, if all positions are filled, you’re back to holding up the wall. So there are a couple of ways to get into a square: you can ask someone to be your partner and the two of you find space in a square, you can wait until there’s a square needing a single person, or you can take your position in a square as soon as you see people start to square up. If you dance boy, stand there holding up your right hand, if you dance girl, hold up your left and — voila! — someone will soon be at your side.

Once in a square and before the calling starts, take a look at the other seven people. Acknowledge friends if you haven’t seen them prior to this particular square: you can nod, smile, wave, or grab them and give them a hug (when in a square, it’s called “yellow rocking” and it’s legal). If you see someone you don’t know, introduce yourself. Stick your hand right out there and give that person a handshake. Not appreciated — expect maybe by the participants and maybe not all of them — is grabbing in a sexual or other inappropriate manner.

When the tip is over, gay and lesbian dancers the world over thank their square by crossing their right arm over their left, joining hands, and turning around by ducking out under their right arm. After that, regional differences intervene as you’ll discover at the next convention. It is said (by East Coast Dancers?) that only dancers on the West Coast hug. That doesn’t seem 100% correct, but NOT EVERYONE hugs. Be sensitive to other people. If it seems that someone doesn’t want to get up close and personal with you (the clue can be that their arms are not reaching for you, or they may even be locked at the elbow like a running back), try placing a hand on their shoulder or arm and say “thank you.”

Next point: what if you’ve ended up in the Square from Hell?

What you don’t know about square dance etiquette CAN hurt you

The caller only has to LOOK like he/she is heading for the microphone and dozens of square dancers (make that hundreds at convention) scramble for a square. It seems like everyone wants to be in the very front square (once identified by a very astute observer of human nature as the “alpha square”) and of course everyone wants at least the other seven dancers to be the best dancers ever to do-si-do.

Well, if you get the front square and if everyone else is a fabulous dancer, that’s great. Congratulations. But it rarely happens that way.

First of all, a universal rule of square dancing is to join the VERY FIRST SQUARE you come to. It’s considered rude to pass by squares for greener pastures. Which also means that you can’t pick your corner, opposite, etc. You CAN pick your partner by asking someone to dance before you approach the square.

But don’t start re-arranging the square to fit in your friends or favorites. Take a chance and dance with new people … you never know who you’ll meet across the square.

Remember too that in gay and lesbian square dancing, you can go to a square, alone, and hold up your hand for a partner. In straight square dancing, you should have a partner before you reach the square.

You should also never leave a square once you’ve joined it. Dancers may not see you pass them by to join another group, but they will never forget that you were in the square with them and left.

So what happens if you break your ankle on a weave-the-ring? If you must leave before the tip is over, try to get a substitute to fill in for you.

Finally, listen to the caller. Not only will you miss calls if you don’t, you’ll also make it hard for the other dancers to hear the calls if you’re talking.

A courteous dancer is a GOOD dancer

Once again, this is all about having a good time with other people. We all admire good square dancers who never seem to make a mistake. But if you think back to your BEST squares, they were probably with people who made you laugh, and made you feel that YOU were the good square dancer — whether you are or not.