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Square Dance Programs...What's the Difference?

In March, 2000 Brian Shepard asked the following question on the Square Dancing Discussion List:

"I am interested in knowing what the different levels mean, (example C1) and what order they would be taught. I am a plus dancer with some DBD experience. A1 and A2 I'm famillar with but do not know. Some of these other terms for dance levels I have never heard before. I am curious what they mean? "

Clark Baker replied as follows (revised in September, 2000:
The order is:
  • Mainstream (Calls 1 - 71)
  • Plus (Calls 72 - 100)
  • A1 (Advanced 1)
  • A2 (Advanced 2)
  • C1 (Challenge 1)
  • C2 (Challenge 2)
  • C3A
  • C3B (non-Callerlab)
  • C4 (non-Callerlab)
Callerlab created and maintains all of these "dance programs" except for C3B and C4. Each dance program builds on the skills learned in the previous dance programs.

Mainstream provides a wide variety of calls, including most of the building block calls. Many of the Mainstream calls were (and still are) used in traditional square dancing, and have been around for more than 50 years.

Plus adds about 30 calls, most of which were created in the 1970's. Some of these are large pattern calls (like Relay The Deucey, Spin Chain And Exchange The Gears, Load The Boat). Often the Plus calls are taught and danced from one position only.

In some areas, A1 is a separate level from A2 -- there are A1 clubs, A1 halls at conventions, etc. In other areas, the whole thing is simply called Advanced, and you have to learn the 60 or so calls on Advanced. Advanced introduces a few concepts (As Couples, All 4 Couples, All 8) which can apply to many calls, and change how they are done. Also, the caller reduces his "all dancers must succeed at all costs" attitude, and dancers are expected to learn the calls better, and dance them from more positions. If the caller trips the dancers up by calling some call from a slightly unusual position, the dancers reaction should be "he tricked us this time, but he won't get us next time" as opposed to "we broke down; this isn't fun; let's dance to a good caller". There are less singing calls at Advanced.

Challenge dancing is the logical extension with more of everything. More concepts (about 100 by C4), more calls (about 1000 by C4), and the addition of "phantoms" (imaginary dancers with whom you Square Thru and Load The Boat and who are hard to see and little help in pulling you into position). There are few singing calls at Challenge.

There is a Challenge Dancing web site, and I recommend the following papers:
For those who know nothing about Square Dancing, Challenge or otherwise. and
For those who know about Square Dancing, but not Challenge

Some further comments:
There used to be a list called "Basic" which contained about the first two thirds of the Mainstream list. It has been eliminated and you may see it referred to as "MS (1-53)" meaning the first 53 calls of the Mainstream list.

At Callerlab, we refer to levels at "dance programs". The term "level" brings with it the idea that being a higher level dancer makes one somehow better, and that most should aspire to move up the levels. Despite at least 15 years of calling them dance programs, most people still call them levels.

There are good and bad dancers at each dance program.

There is good dancing and non-dancing (stop and go, breakdowns, poor choreography) at each dance program.

The dance programs do not specify the degree of difficulty. There can be Hard Mainstream (sometimes called APD or DBD or EA-Extended Applications) and Easy C4.

There are people having fun and people who wish they weren't there at each dance program. (Sometimes they are married to each other :-)

You should think carefully before going onto the next dance program. Why are you doing it? Do you have sufficient skills at your current program? Have you exhausted most of the fun at the current program? Is what the next program offers (concepts, phantoms, puzzles, DBD) what you really want and need? Does it match your current dance style? For example, dancers who dance by feel and flow often have problems with concepts and phantoms.

Once you move to the next level, and get good at it, it may make your current level not seem as much fun. Often, there is no going back.
-- by Clark Baker, Belmont, MA cmbaker@tiac.net


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