Square Dancing: 7 Most Popular Square Dancing Styles

Square dancing is a social dance form with English, French, and Scottish-Irish roots. It is a dance for four couples arranged in a square with one couple on each side facing the middle of the square. Square dancing is also known as Modern Western Square Dance, Folk Dance, Barn Dance, Scottish Country Dance, and Irish Set Dance.

1. Quadrille

This is the classic style of square dancing. Quadrille style of square dancing represents a variation of square dancing originated from the French courts and English elite class. Most of the traditional New England squares follow this form. The quadrille style was initiated by the French in the 18th century. With the passage of time, this style was spread across Europe and then to America.

These are very well-synchronized and well-choreographed sets of movements depicted by four couples forming a square, linked to the music and its beats and lead by the caller. It includes bows and honors and various quadrille movements like lefts and rights, ladies’ chain, etc. It is performed upon numerous tunes of music having English, French, Scottish, Irish or French-Canadian feel or touch to it.

2. Southern Mountain Style 

Popular across the Southeastern states and also the Appalachian ridge from South to Georgia and the Ozark Mountain zone as well, Southern mountain style is a markedly unique arrangement depicting geometric formations. This arrangement is not in the shape of a square but a large circle with an unspecified count of couples, some of which are active and performing while others are not performing and stand inactive.

The performers lead the non-performers; so, the active performers are arranged in a way that they have their back to the midpoint while non-performers are facing the midpoint. Performing couples advance towards the non-performer couples in a sequence until they have progressed towards all the non-performing couples. After that, all of them join each other and form an enormous circle. This style unique as it presents a new style with some dancers performing and some just giving the dancing ones an additional chance of movements.

3. Traditional Squares

Traditional Square Dancing makes use of the old-style movements which have been traveling and reached the US from the 18th century onwards.  Traditionally, the square dancers are commanded by a caller who is supposed to call out the specified movements. Usually, the dancers start by walking and then executing the dance steps.  “Visiting Couple” design is followed by a majority of traditional and old-style square dancers.  

The first couple advances to the second couple and performs a sequence of steps with them.  After that, the first couple advances towards the third couple and fourth couple and performs the same steps with them.  This is followed by the advancement of second couple towards the third and fourth couple and performing their steps and so on.  In this way, each of the four couples are given an opportunity to perform.  Typically, a fresh dancer will be put in position number four. This enables him to observe all the earlier couples perform their steps and then at his turn, he will have an idea about performing his steps in a better manner. 

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4. Western Squares

Western Square Dancing was developed from traditional square dancing. It became popular between 1950 and 1980. Western Square Dancing uses 99 movements!  A caller calls the movements and dancers execute them.  One of the major differences between Traditional and Western Square Dancing is that in Western, calls are more randomized. There is not a definite set of movements that goes with a certain song. 

The caller is expected to be creative and present innovative movement arrangements, using the standard movements that the dancers have learned. Western Square Dancing is done at two major levels, Mainstream, and Plus.  Mainstream includes very basic moves such as the ones used in Traditional Dancing, as well as other movements such as Spin the Top, Swing Thru, and Ferris wheel. While there are over thirty-one movements, most of them are a combination of Mainstream movements. 

This era of square dancing witnessed a transformation of old-style into a modern and diverse form of dancing. This transformational period was marked with the overlapping of both the old style and modern style. This origination was developed with the entire four couples of the arrangement moving at the same time. This gave an idea about the development of more complicated styles. In the 1960s this complexity was utilized to its peak by the introduction of innovative steps, blocks, trainers and dancers and proper knowledge of movements was developed.

5. Modern Western Squares

The extraordinary and growing interest in square dancing gave birth to a similar type of square dancing technique called the ‘Modern Western’. Many callers learned from Lloyd Shaw, then took their newly acquired skills and interpreted them for use in their own local communities. It began in the 1940s and overlapped in a twenty-year period of transition with traditional Western squares. 

It became difficult for dancers to keep up with the vast number of new figures that were being invented. Therefore, the governing organization for modern Western square dance leaders, CALLERLAB, was founded in 1974. There are eight people in each square. At a dance, there may be many squares.

Generally speaking, each of these squares dances are independent of each other. The modern western square dance consists of two dances. The first dance part is known as a hash call in which the music is usually instrumental and the calls are typically not sung, but rather rhythmically spoken. The second dance part of a square dance tip is a singing call.

The dance instructions are sung as well as the lyrics during the long duration of calls. During a singing call, the female dancers temporarily switch partners in a  counter-clockwise order around the square until they return to their original partners. The caller restores the original order of the square both at the end of the hash and the singing call. The music is usually played from recordings and the dancers take one step per every beat in the music.

6. Maritime Canadian Squares

Maritime Canadian style is a strangely unique style depicting a stretchable square, extending the couple count from two to five or more considering the available dancers, size of the hall where the performance would be carried out and other factors. Employing the rhythms of polka and waltz, it is synchronized with the phrases and beats of the music. It is an authentic traditional dance form in the region and is spectacular as well as interesting to dance as well as watch. It is not very famous outside its native region.


7. Singing Squares

A comparatively contemporary type of square dance is the singing square. It exists and extends throughout the United States of America and the Canadian region. It was introduced in the 1930s and exists till today with variations and modifications taking place over time.

Singing squares make use of movements from different variations of square dance including the quadrille, old mountain style, traditional style, and western style. A movement is synchronized with the verses and beats of a popular song and changes are made in the song as per the need of the dance. Sometimes the lyrics are altered or the style is changed for the dancers. It also makes use of the latest songs and manipulating them as per the need of dance movements. A caller leads the dancers and instructs the movements for the dancers. If the lyrics are changed, the caller is supposed to sing or call out the changed verses and the dancers will execute the steps synchronized to those verses. It is a unique style that uses old traditional songs, as well as the latest ones and figures, are attached to the songs.


These days, it is easy to see that music and dance are once more gaining popularity. With this rising interest in dance and music, square dance is becoming popular once again. However, each generation and time era has its own quirks and unique traditions. Similarly, this generation has taken an old folk style of dancing and over the years, has modified it in various different ways.

Going through the various styles and types of square dancing shows how an old dance form has changed over time throughout the various regions of the world. Each region has had a wonderful influence on square dancing as a whole. There are many variations that occurred over time and gave birth to diverse variations of this traditional and folk-dance form.

At the end of the day, what matters most is whether traditional square dance or modern square dance, this form of dance brings people closer together.