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Who's Your Partner?

by Orlo Hoadley - 2/28/96

The tricky thing about identifying which dancers in a square-dance set are partners is that the rules for defining partners are different, depending on what type of formation the set is in at the time. In these days, a half-century A.S. (After (Lloyd) Shaw), almost all of square dancing is done in two types of formations, which are labeled as Ring formations and Quad formations.

Ring Formations

A Ring formation is one that looks the same to an observer from any wall of the room, or in other words, a formation in which all four men have the same position relative to the center of the square, and so do all four ladies. The squared set is a ring formation, and so is any other formation that can be made from the squared set by using only calls directed to all four men or all four ladies, or both. Some calls to only two couples -- Head Ladies Chain, for instance -- still result in a ring formation but change the Sequence of the men or ladies or both; others can change the Relation of the men and ladies (remember FASR?).

In Ring formations, new dancers need to learn only two parts: the (normally) man's part and the lady's part, and not even that for such sex-sensitive calls as Right & Left Thru, Ladies Chain, Swing, etc. Once they have learned the right-handed versions of a call, it's not too difficult to pick up the left-handed version.

The rules for partners in Ring formations were listed by a woman writer (Madeleine Allen?) in Square Dance Magazine about twenty years ago, although I haven't been able to find the specific reference. While in any Ring formation, a man's partner is whichever of these actions happened last:

The lady he squared up with;
The lady he faced after doing a Left Allemande;
The lady he swung;
The lady with whom he started a Grand Right and Left, or any of its variations. Dancers should learn in class to take a good look at their new partner when they start the movement, so they know whom to look for at the other end;
The lady with whom he started a Do Paso;
The lady on his right in a normal Circle of Eight (a Chinese circle is not a Ring formation);
The lady he received from a Ladies Chain or a Flutter Wheel (although that article was written before Flutter Wheel was invented);
The lady he promenaded or took home at the end of a sequence of calls.
Notice that the lady he formed a Thar star with is not mentioned.

Quad Formations

When it comes to Quad formations, who is whose partner depends on how the dancers are located in the particular formation the square happens to be in at the time. Most usually, partners are side-by-side and facing in the same direction. In lines-of-four, partners are an end and the adjacent center. Couples may be normal or sashayed, or two men together and two ladies together (same-sex). In the latter case, symmetry says that no opposites can be together.

When teaching, the caller should always be aware that in Quad formations the dancers' learning problems are more than doubled over the ones of Ring formations. Instead of just the man's part and the lady's part, each man and each lady has two possible positions in a formation, depending on whether they started out as heads or sides, and that applies only while "standard setups" are used. Most of the calls are not sex-sensitive, which means that there are actually four different positions in the formation that each dancer might occupy. On top of that, the calls tend to be more complex, which makes learning left-handed versions of the calls not as easy.

In ocean waves, partners have traditionally been defined as two dancers who are facing in the same direction, and not adjacent. More recently, some callers have ardently advocated the idea of following the adjacent-center rule for ocean waves, and Callerlab conventions have been unable to agree on this point. It seems, though, that the latter view is held largely by A/C callers, who are using complex calls and formations that are largely unfamiliar to Plus callers and dancers. To the point, in the September 1971 issue of American Squaredance Magazine caller Carl Brandt suggested that the call Follow Your Neighbor provided us with a convenient term for two dancers who are adjacent but facing in opposite directions, and I have been using it ever since. A trick that you can use to get your dancers to listen sharply is to call, "Heads square thru four - Dos-a-dos - Partners trade." Or try this one: "Heads square thru four - All square thru three - Partners trade."

Goalpost Figures

Sort of a bridge between the Ring and the Quad formations is what as known as Goalpost figures. In them, two "active" couples execute all of the calls, while the other two couples do what is known as "counter-dancing," which means that they move around a little bit to stay out of the way of the actives. Formations as such are not very important, and if the question of partners comes up, it's usually only whether the active men are alongside of their original partners or their opposite ladies.

However, Goalpost figures can be used to teach new dancers calls that can't be done in Ring formations, in particular Square Thru (2, 3, 4). They can also be stopped when the set is approximately in a Quad formation -- facing lines, DPT, box -- and so introduce the new dancers to Quad formations and the whole slew of new calls that can be done from them.


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