Dance Definations

Definations of dance terminology used for square dancing, contra dancing and quadrilles in the Community Dance Program. Includes styling, timing and teaching tips. To access other pages on this website click on of the following buttons. DFBP Hm is the home page.

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Dance Terminology and Recommended Teaching Order

(As listed in the book "Dancing for Busy People")

Circle Left/Right
Forward & Back
Promenade Single File
Arm Turns
Couple Promenade
Allemande Left
Right & Left Grand
Star Left/Right
Pass Thru
U-turn Back
Courtesy Turn
Ladies Chain Two/Four
Right & Left Thru
Split the Couple/Ring
Roll Away 1/2 Sashay
Lead Right/Left
Circle to a Line
Bend the Line
Star Promenade
Wheel Around
Grand Square
Star Thru

General Styling, Steps & Handholds

Arches - In a couple arch, dancers standing side by side, join their inside hands and raise them to form an arch. In a two hand arch, dancers face and join both hands and raise them high enough to form an arch of sufficient height for people to duck under.

Arms in Natural Dance Position - Arms should be held slightly bent at the elbow in comfortable position in anticipation of the next movement.

Bow to Partner or to Corner - Men turn slightly to face their partner and make eye contact. The left hand should be placed behind the back or at the left hip, palm out. Place the right foot in front of left foot. The right foot should be pointed toward the lady with the toe touching the floor. The lady's left hand is held by the man's right hand. Both legs are straight, with weight on the back foot.

Ladies turn slightly to face their partner and make eye contact. The right hand should be used to pick up the right side of the skirt or the hand held out gracefully to the side. The left foot should be pointed forward with toe touching floor, right foot in back. The man's right is held by the lady's left hand. Both legs are straight with weight on back foot. [In an acceptable traditional variation of styling, the men bow slightly from the waist as the ladies acknowledge with a curtsy.]

Couple Handhold - Inside hands joined. Men with palm up, ladies palm down. In the event of a same gender couple, the left-hand dancer places their palm up, the right-hand dancer places their palm down. Arms should be bent at the elbow with hands held slightly higher than the elbow of the shorter person.

Dance Step - Should be smooth and gliding. The ball of the foot should touch and then slide along the surface of the floor before the heel touches the floor. The length of stride should be comfortable for an average height lady. Dance steps should be in time with the musical beat. The objective is smooth gliding steps where the dancers appear to float around the floor with little or no bobbing up and down.

Forearm Grip - Dancers are facing and holding the opposite person's arm midway between the wrist and the elbow. Each dancer places their hand on the inside of the arm of the opposite person. Firm support should be provided, but dancers should not grip the arm tightly. The center of the turn will be where the arms are joined. While turning, each dancer is moving equally around the other.

Handshake Hold - Use a comfortable handshake grip, i.e. firm, but not tight. The thumb should overlap the back of the opposite dancer's hand. It is important in a Right & Left Grand to release hand holds prior to passing shoulders.

Posture - Dancers should stand erect and tall, shoulders back. The body weight should be forward on the balls of the feet with the heels just touching the floor.

Promenade Ending Twirl-Square dancing - Man raises his right hand holding the lady's right hand loosely as she turns clockwise underneath, ending in a squared up couple position.

Sashay Step - A quick sliding step to the right or to the left. Basic action is a side, close, side, close, etc. The movement is used primarily in prompted dances and mixers.

Skirt Work - With the free hand, pickup the skirt between the thumb and index finger and roll the hand under the fabric. The thumb should be on top of the fabric. Hold skirt in free hand about waist high using very slight rhythmical flourishes to move skirt in front and back, right hand moving with left foot, left hand moving with right foot.

Star (Box or Packsaddle) - 4 to 6 dancers place the hand over the wrist of the person ahead of them to form a box. The palm is down.

(Palm Star)- Place inside hands together with the other dancers with fingers pointing up and thumbs closed gently over the back of the adjacent dancer's hand. Arms should be bent slightly at the elbow so the height of the handgrip is at average eye level.

Step By - The movement brings two facing people past each other. If hands are held, the handhold should be dropped before their bodies cross a common plane.

Basic Square and Prompted Dance Movements

The basic dance movement definitions listed below are arranged in alphabetical order. A suggested order for instruction is listed at the top of the page. The same general teaching order is used for dances presented in other formations. The goal is to provide a means to easily enable dance leaders to combine squares, contras, quadrilles, trios, etc. into one program and to still have a wide selection of dances available at each stage of the development of the dancers.

The following descriptions are detailed. It is usually not necessary for all this detail to be orally communicated to the dancers. Demonstrations and the correct choice of words should enable any basic (even Grand Square) to be explained quickly. Be prepared to explain each basic using several different choices of words. Using different selections of words will often help.

Allemande Left - Starting formation - facing dancers. Dancers face their corner and turn by the left forearm (Arm Turn). The corner for the man is always the lady in the first position clockwise around the set. The corner for the lady is the man in the first position counterclockwise around the set. Release arm holds and each person step by and face his or her partner.

Styling: See Arm Turns (See next)

Timing: Square or Contra line with corner = 8 steps.

Teaching Tips: Point out that Allemande Left is really just a version of an Arm Turn.

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Arm Turn Right/Left - Starting formation - dancers facing. Dancers join specified forearms (left or right) and walk forward around each other the distance specified; e.g. half (180°), three quarters (270°), full (360°), etc.
Styling: The arms are held midway between the wrist and the elbow. Each dancer places his hand on the inside of the arm of the opposite person. The fingers and thumb are kept close together. The center of the turn will be at the joined arms. While turning, each dancer moves equally around the other.

Timing: Square or Prompted Dances-Full around = 8 steps; three quarters = 6; one half = 4; one quarter = 2.

Teaching Tips: Teach from a big circle and change partners several times. Encourage eye contact. This will assist in keeping the facing people turning around a center point between the two dancers.

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Bend the Line - Starting formation - any line with an even number of dancers. Dancers in each half of the line must be facing in the same direction. The center dancers in the line drop hands with each other. With each half of the line working as a unit, the ends move forward while the centers back up until both halves of the line are facing each other.
Styling: As ends move forward, centers back up equally. Use normal couple handhold and in the event a new line is formed, immediately join hands in the new line.

Timing: Lines of four, six or eight = 4 steps.

Teaching Tips: In square dancing, Bend the Line results in the formation of new lines. In contra dancing, Bend the Line usually results in the formation of long lines. Have the dancers back away from the center of the set on the last 2 steps to spread the long lines apart.

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Circle Left/Right - Starting formation - two or more dancers. Dancers join hands to form a circle. Face slightly left or right, as directed, and move forward around the circle. When left or right is not specified, then Circle Left.
Styling: All dancers walk (dance) with joined hands, men's palms up and lady's palms down, elbows bent comfortably so that hands can be held above the level of the elbow of the shortest person. When adjoining dancers are the same sex, the right hand person in the pair should place their hand palm down and the left hand person in the pair should place their hand palm up.

Timing: Standing or static square of 8 people-Circle full around = 16 steps; Circle three quarters = 12 steps; Circle one half = 8 steps; Circle one quarter = 4 steps.
Square or Prompted Dance-sets of 4 Circle full around = 8 steps; Circle one half = 4 steps; Circle 3/4 = 6 steps

Teaching Tips: Usually taught from a large circle. Try to avoid the grapevine step action because it tends to throw off the balance of other people in the circle.

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Circle to a Line - Starting formation - facing couples. The lead couple is on the inside of the set facing the outside couple. Couples Circle Left one half (180°). The lead dancer in the couple who started on the inside (man's position) release the left handhold, but retain the handhold of the dancer on his right. This lead dancer becomes the left end dancer of the line of four. The released dancer (usually, but not always a lady) will move forward under the raised arm arch formed by that dancer and the adjacent dancer to become the right end dancer in the line of four.
Styling: The Circle portion of the movement is the same styling as in Circle Left. As the man breaks with his left hand to form a line, he should lead the line several steps before turning. After the end lady has released her right hand, and while retaining the right hand of the man beside her, together they will raise their joined hands and make an arch. Then as the line begins to straighten out, the lady will move forward under this arch, turning left face gradually under her own left arm so that instead of backing up she is moving forward to the end of the line.

Timing: 8 steps. (Circle Half takes 4 steps, make the line of four takes 4 steps)

Teaching Tips: The end result will be two lines of four facing across the set. In a square dance, the active man will be on the end of the line closest to his home position .

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Courtesy Turn - Starting formation - couple, facing dancers. The man (left hand dancer) takes the lady's (right hand dancer) left hand (palm down) in his left (palm up) and places his right hand in the small of the lady's back. Moving as a unit, the couple turns around (180°) with the left hand dancer backing up and right hand dancer walking forward. Unless otherwise specified, the couple faces the center of the set or the center of the formation. (Courtesy Turn is part of Ladies Chain and Right & Left Thru)
Styling: The man's extended left hand serves as a direction indicator and the man uses his left hand to lead, not pull, the lady around. The man should place his the right hand in the small of the lady's back and push gently. Ladies use the right hand to work her skirt or she can place her right hand in the middle of her back where she wants the man's hand to be placed. The call Courtesy Turn is limited to turning a woman on the man's right.

Timing: 4 steps.

Teaching Tips: The word 'courtesy' implies being gentle. Emphasize this to the dancers. Tell them, "Ladies do not like to be pushed around. Be gentle about it."

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DoSaDo - Starting formation - facing dancers. Dancers advance and pass right shoulders. Without turning around, each dancer moves to their right passing in back of the other dancer (slide back to back). Then step backwards, dancers pass left shoulders and return to starting positions.
Styling: Men - arms are held in natural dance position, right shoulders turned forward as right shoulders pass, left shoulders turned forward as left shoulders pass. Ladies - both hands on skirt, moving her skirt forward and back, right hand moving forward as right shoulders pass, left hand moving forward as left shoulders pass.

Timing: Square and Prompted Dances-DoSaDo with corner = 6 steps; DoSaDo with partner = 6 steps; DoSaDo from a box formation (couple facing couple close enough to easily touch hands with the facing person) = 6 steps; DoSaDo across the set = 8 steps.

Teaching Tips: A DoSaDo once around starts and ends with the participants facing each other. Adding following calls that emphasize these positions will help in keeping the dancers from developing sloppy positioning habits.

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Forward & Back - Starting formation - single dancer. Each dancer walks forward 3 steps. On the 4th beat of music, bring the free foot forward and touch the toe to the floor beside the weight bearing foot without transferring the weight. Each dancer moves backward 3 steps beginning with the free foot. On the 4th beat of music, touch the free foot beside the weight-bearing foot. From facing lines of four or similar situations where 8 steps are not appropriate, each dancer steps forward 1 step and pauses while bringing the other foot forward and touching it to the floor without transferring weight. Each dancer then steps back on the free foot and pauses while touching the other foot beside it. This is often referred to as Balance Forward & Back.
Styling: Couples have inside hands joined. As couples meet in the center, outside hands of the facing people may be touched palm to palm. Eye contact with the opposite person is encouraged. As the foot is brought to touch on the 8th count, it should remain on the floor and weight returned to both feet.

Timing: Static Square or Contra lines- All Forward & Back = 8 steps, heads or sides or lines Forward & Back = 8 steps, rock Forward & Back = 4 steps; balance Forward & Back = 4 steps.

Teaching Tips: Verbal cues are often helpful in perfecting the timing. Have the dancers walk forward three steps and say "Whoa" and then back up three steps and "Hey".

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Grand Square - Starting formation - square. In the dance movement the heads dance one part (1a & 1b) while at the same time the sides dance another (2a & 2b).

Part 1a-Number of steps =16.
Heads move forward into the square (4 steps), turning one quarter (90°) on the 4th step to face partners and back away to the sides of the square (4 steps). Turn one quarter (90°) to face the original opposites. Back away to the corners of the square (4 steps) and turn one quarter (90°) to face original partners and walk forward to home (4 steps). Do not turn.

Part 1b-Number of steps =16.
From this point the action is reversed. Heads back away from their partners (4 steps), turn one quarter (90°) on the 4th step and walk forward to the opposites (4 steps). Turn one quarter and walk forward into the center toward partners (4 steps). Turn one quarter (90°) to face opposites and back up to home. Total steps 1a + 1b =32.

Part 2a
While the head couples are doing the first 16 steps, the sides start by facing their partners to back away and do the second 16 steps (Part 1b).

Part 2b
Then the sides do the first 16 steps (Part 1a), while the heads are doing the last 16. The two parts interlock. The principle of walking 3 steps and then turning (or reversing) on the 4th step is followed throughout. Total steps = 32.

Styling: Mens' arms in natural dance position; ladies work skirt with natural swinging action. When moving forward and backward as a couple, normal couple handhold is desired.

Timing: 32 steps.

Teaching Tips: Notice that dancers are either moving toward or away from their partner or the opposite person. After each 90° turn there is only one choice. If dancers are standing face to face, they must back away 4 steps. If facing dancers are across the set, they walk forward 4 steps. This simple piece of logic usually enables a Grand Square to be taught in a very short period of time. Grand Square may be broken into fractional parts by the caller directing the number of steps required. The call may also start with the heads, or other designated dancers, directed to face.

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Ladies Chain - 2 Ladies Chain: Starting formation - facing couples (man on the left, lady on the right). The ladies step forward, extend right hands to each other and step by. Each man should step slightly forward and to the right. The lady coming toward the man extends a left hand to the man for a Courtesy Turn. Couples finish facing each other. 4 Ladies Chain: Starting formation - square or circle of 8 dancers. Similar to 2 Ladies Chain except that all four ladies step to the center and form a Right Hand (Palm) Star. They turn the Star halfway around to their opposite men. All four couples Courtesy Turn to face the center of the set. Two (or Four) Ladies Chain 3/4: Starting formation - facing couples, a square or circle of 8 dancers. The directed ladies step to the center, form a Right Hand Star and turn the star three quarters and Courtesy Turn to face the center of the set.
Styling: Men release partner then turn right shoulder slightly toward the center of the square to begin the Courtesy Turn portion of the call, step back with the left foot. Ladies use handshake and step by for 2 Ladies Chain. No skirt work except as part of the Courtesy Turn. In 3/4 and 4 Ladies Chain, the ladies use the hands up palm star, touching right hands in the star pattern. It is important that the man clear a path for receiving the lady after the chain by moving slightly to the right and starting the Courtesy Turn motion before the lady arrives.

Timing: Squares or Prompted dances, 2 Ladies Chain across set = 8 steps; Squares, Ladies Chain 3/4 = 10 steps; 4 Ladies Chain across the set = 8; three quarters = 10 steps.

Teaching Tips: This movement is defined with terminology used in other movements. Be sure the dancers are comfortable with Courtesy Turn and with Right/Left Hand Stars before attempting to teach a Ladies Chain.

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Lead Right/Left - Starting formation - couple. The directed couple(s) take a step forward and, as a unit, turn to the right 90° and move forward.
Styling: Normal couple handhold between the man and lady, outside hands in normal dance position.

Timing: 4 steps.

Teaching Tips: Most of the dances which feature Lead Right are in the square dance formation. This means the active couples will end facing the couple to the right.

Pass Thru - Starting formation - facing dancers. Dancers move forward, passing right shoulders with each other. Each person ends in the opposite persons starting position (back to back) but neither dancer changes facing direction.
Styling: The right shoulder should be turned slightly forward as right shoulders pass. Arms are held in natural dance position or ladies can work skirts with both hands, right hand leading as right shoulders pass.

Timing: Square or facing lines, Pass Thru across the set = 4 steps; Pass Thru from a box formation = 2 steps.

Teaching Tips: When dancers Pass Thru and face out, many dancers will want to turn around and not remain facing away from the center of the set. Use choreography that leave them facing out for 4-8 beats of music.

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Promenade (Couple) - Starting formation - two people side by side. Couples walk forward as a unit in the direction indicated. Unless otherwise specified, Couples Promenade until they reach the man's (left hand person's) home position. Square dance special rules: The normal direction of movement is around the circle counterclockwise. At the end of the Promenade, the couple turns, as a unit, to face the center of the set. If Promenading to the man's home position, the couple always goes at least one quarter around the square. If need be, they continue past the man's home position for another full time around. Contra dance special rules: Dancers may be asked to Couple Promenade up or down the hall and Half Promenade across the set. See individual dances for further description.
Styling: Both the man's hands are palm up, right forearm above the lady's left arm. Lady's hands are palm down in man's hand. Joined hands should be positioned equally between partners and at a comfortable height for the lady. Discourage any pumping actions.

Timing: Square Dances-Couples Promenade full around = 16 steps; three quarters = 12 steps; one half = 8 steps; one quarter = 4 steps; Promenading inside = 8 steps. Prompted dances-Promenade Half from facing lines or couples = 8 steps.

Teaching Tips: Teach from a big circle. Use a Single File Promenade preceding teaching the Couple Promenade. From a Single File Promenade position have the men move to the inside of the circle and up beside their partner. Shake right hands with their partner without facing them. Join left hands under the joined right hands and walk forward. This can often be done while people continue to walk forward. Point out that a Couple Promenade is one of the few times during a dance where there is time to have a little conversation with the other person. Smile and talk a while.

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