Don Armstrong Caller Seminar

Motivation and Leadership
The Fundamentals of Calling
Prompting and Cuing
Contras and Quadrilles
The Fundamentals of Teaching


Motivation is that which induces action or determines choice It is that which provides a motive. A motive is the “inner urge” only within the individual which incites him to action, such as an idea, emotion, desire, or impulse.
It is the hope or other force which starts an action in an attempt to produce specific results.

Motivating yourself and others
When you know principles that can motivate you, you will then know principles that can motivate others. Conversely, when you know principles that can motivate others, you will then know principles that can motivate you.
The motivator usually needs at least the following:

  1. A positive mental attitude.
  2. A definiteness of purpose.
  3. Very accurate thinking.
  4. Self discipline.
  5. A pleasing personality.
The motivator utilizes these speech methods:
  1. Speak confidently.
  2. Do not speak too slowly.
  3. Emphasize - (the important words).
  4. Hesitate! When you talk rapidly, hesitate where there would be a period, comma, or other punctuation in the written word. Thus you employ the dramatic effect of silence. The mind of the person who is listening catches up with the thoughts you have expressed. Hesitation after a word which you wish to emphasize accentuates the emphasis.
  5. Modulate both pitch and volume and KEEP A SMILE IN YOUR VOICE!
There are two forms of leadership. The first, and by far the most effective, is leadership by consent of, and with the sympathy of the followers. The second is leadership by force, without the consent and sympathy of the followers.
Naturally, dance leadership is solely by the consent of the dancers.

Some of the vital attributes of successful leadership are:

  1. Unwavering courage based upon knowledge of self, and of one's occupation. No Dancer wishes to be dominated by a leader who lacks self-confidence and courage. No intelligent dancer will be dominated by such a leader very long.
  2. Self-control. The man who cannot control himself can never influence others. Self-control sets a mighty example for one's followers, which the more intelligent will emulate.
  3. A keen sense of justice. Without a sense of fairness and justice, no leader can command and retain the respect of his dancers.
  4. Definiteness of decision. The man who wavers in his decisions, shows that he is not sure of himself, cannot lead others successfully.
  5. Definiteness of plans. The successful leader must plan his work, and work his plan. A leader who moves by guesswork, without practical, definite plans, is comparable to a ship without a rudder. Sooner or later he will land on the rocks.
  6. The habit of doing more than paid for. One of the penalties of leadership is the necessity of willingness, upon the part of the leader, to do more than he requires of others.
  7. A pleasing personality. No slovenly, careless person can become a successful leader. Leadership calls for respect. Dancers will not respect a leader who does not grade high on all of the factors of a pleasing personality.
  8. Sympathy and understanding. The successful leader must be in sympathy with his dancers. Moreover, he must understand them and their problems.
  9. Mastery of details. Successful leadership calls for mastery of the details of the leader's position.
  10. Willingness to assume full responsibility. The successful leader must be willing to assume responsibility for the mistakes and the shortcomings of his dancers. If he tries to shift this responsibility, he will not remain the leader. If one of his dancers makes a mistake, and shows himself incompetent, the leader must consider that it is he who failed.
  11. Cooperation. The successful leader must understand and apply the principle of cooperative effort and be able to induce his dancers to do the same. Leadership calls for power, and power calls for cooperation.
Why then, if a leader realizes the above, do some leaders fail. Let's examine the seven major causes of “failure” in leadership:
  1. Inability to organize details. Efficient leadership calls for ability to organize and to master details. No genuine leader is ever “too busy” to do anything which may be required of him in his capacity as leader. When a man admits that he is “too busy” to change his plans, or to give attention to any emergency, he admits his inefficiency. The successful leader must be the master of all details connected with his position.
  2. Unwillingness to render humble service. Truly great leader are willing, when occasion demands, to perform any sort of labor which they would ask another to perform.
  3. Expectation of pay for what they “know” instead of what they do with that which they know. The world does not pay men for that which they “know”. It pays them for what they do, or induce others to do.
  4. Fear of competition from followers. The leader who fears that one of his peers may take his position is practically sure to realize that fear sooner or later.
  5. Lack of imagination. Without imagination, the leader is incapable of meeting emergencies, and of creating plans by which to guide his dancers efficiently.
  6. Selfishness. The leader who claims all the honor for the work of his dancers is sure to be met by resentment. The really great leader claims none of the honors.
  7. Emphasis of the “authority” of leadership. The efficient leader leads by encouraging. The leader who tries to impress his dancers with his “authority” comes within the category of leadership through force. If a leader is a real leader, he will have no need to advertise that fact except by his conduct - his sympathy, understanding, fairness, and a demonstration that he knows his job.
These are among the more common of the causes of failure in leadership. Any one of these faults is sufficient to induce failure. Study the list carefully if you aspire to leadership and try to make sure that you are free of these faults.

  Top     Motivation and Leadership     Prompting and Cuing     Contras and Quadrilles     The Fundamentals of Teaching     End


The fundamentals of calling may be broken down into several areas. Not all of these areas have to be mastered at once to start calling to or teaching a group, but they are elements which must eventually be mastered to become a successful teacher-caller.

Clarity. Clarity is one of the most important elements in calling. A caller must both be heard and understood or the dancers will not be able to dance. When calling, each word must be spoken distinctly and separated from the other words in the phrase. To do this keep your mouth open and mobile for maximum distinctness. Form each word with a beginning and an end. Then project your voice as if you were speaking to someone in the back of the room. Don't shout! Let the microphone do the work for you. Let your personality and enthusiasm show through with natural tonal changes. Words spoken in a monotone tend to run together. Tonal changes help to separate the words and make the call more interesting to the dancer.

Rhythm. Rhythm is another extremely important element in calling. The dancers will be moving to a rhythm derived from the music and you must be able to call to that same rhythm.

Command. Command could be defined as “Don't ask ...: tell!” Every call has key command words which must be emphasized. The call must indicate clearly who is to do the action and what action is to be done.

Example: HEAD TWO COUPLES ... (who)

Highlighting these command words may be accomplished by several means:

  1. Increase the volume of your voice. In the above example emphasizing the word “Head” alerts the head couples that something is coming. “Right and Left Through” must all be emphasized.
  2. Use changes in pitch. Command words may be spoken in a higher pitch or higher note in the harmonic pattern when using this method of calling.
  3. Repetition of the command. Example: Allemande left with your left hand. “Left” reinforces the command.
  4. Vary your method of delivery. Change from chanting the call to talking special commands which you want to emphasize.
Command must be tempered with persuasiveness. You should tell the dancers what to do in a manner which makes them want to follow the command. Inspire, don't demand.

Pitch Calling. Pitch and Tone are related musical terms which generate much discussion when the definition of each is attempted. For purposes of calling, you pitch your voice to fit the musical chords of the particular piece of music. The tones you will use are part of the chord structure. This may sound difficult, but for most people it is quite natural. Put on the hoedown that you like best. Try to hum one note which sounds “on-pitch” with the music. This will normally be the dominant note of the chord. Now, try adding words to the “hum” and you will produce a chant. Now pick out notes above and below the dominant note that do not seem to clash with the music and hum a little tune made up of just these notes. Chances are you will have picked out two other notes of the chord. Add these notes to your chant and you are calling on “pitch”. It will take practice and you will want to develop several little chant tunes to fit various pieces of music. Be careful to avoid using the same pitch tone for the entire dance. This becomes monotonous.

Voice Inflection Calling. Many perfectly adequate callers ignore the pitch and use the technique of “speaking with vocal inflections”. The calls are spoken in the normal tone range of the caller. Inflection is effected by a combination of many things. Again put on a good hoedown. Then, using good rhythm and clarity, speak the commands. Now add enthusiasm to your voice and increase your voice volume and projection on key words. Make the people want to dance. Use excitement or smoothness in your voice to set the mood of the dance. As you can see, many of these same things apply to pitch calling. The major difference is in where your voice is pitched in relation to the music.

Timing. Timing is variable in square dancing. The dancer tends to react as soon as he recognizes the command. Timing is related to the number of steps required to complete a given command and this in turn is related to many things such as the physical size of the square, reaction time of the dancers, type of surface on which the dancers move, etc. You will have to judge when to deliver each command. The idea is to time your calls so that the dancers flow through the dance in a smooth manner, to the music, without having to hurry or wait at any point. This is a matter of practice, experience, and experimentation. The only practical way to approach this problem is to WATCH THE DANCERS CAREFULLY! You should try to deliver each call just before the dancer completes the previous command. Be sure you are monitoring the whole floor and not just a few “good” squares. Don't hurry the dancers, but emphasize smoothness and flow.

  Top     Motivation and Leadership     The Fundamentals of Calling     Contras and Quadrilles     The Fundamentals of Teaching     End


Prompting. A dictionary defines “prompt” this way: “... assist by suggesting the next words of something forgotten or imperfectly learned; ... to give a cue to.” A square dance dictionary might modify it slightly to read: “... assistance given by calling the next action of a dance so the sequence will not be forgotten; ... to give a cue to the dancer just far enough ahead of time so that the action can be executed in accompaniment to that portion of the music allocated to it.” However, if this definition is more broadly interpreted it would apply to regular square dance calling except for one very important fact. This fact is in the way the dancer reacts to the prompted call. To illustrate: In regular square dance calling the dancer normally reacts as soon as he recognizes what action is being called. He (the dancer) executes the action primarily to the beat of the music, and the timing allocated to this action is the responsibility of the caller. Conversely, when dancing to the prompted call, the dancer plans to react, or to start executing the called action, when the next musical phrase starts. In the prompted call the timing is controlled by the musical phrase. In both cases the dancers move to the beat of (in time with) the music.

Cuing. The same dictionary defines cue in this manner: “... a signal to begin an action; ... a hint or suggestion as to what course of action to take or when to take it.” It is quite apparent that prompting and cuing are very much the same. From the caller's point of view they are practically synonymous, except that in most cases the term “cue” is more specifically used in reference to round dancing. Either word would be technically correct in either application, but generally speaking, contras and quadrilles are “prompted” and rounds and mixers are “cued”. In both, the dancer reaction is exactly the same. The dancer does not respond to the “cue” (prompt) until the start of the musical phrase to which the action is supposed to be danced.

Another vital point to be remembered is that the dancer should be reminded by the caller or teacher when he is expected to respond to a dance which will be prompted or cued. If the leader fails to do so it is quite probable that many dancers will rush the action and miss the pleasure of executing the dance more beautifully.

  Top     Motivation and Leadership     The Fundamentals of Calling     Prompting and Cuing     The Fundamentals of Teaching     End


First, some definitions are needed. What is a contra? What is a quadrille?

A CONTRA is almost literally a “dance of opposition”. It is usually performed by mans couples, face to face, line facing line, in long lines normally formed lengthwise so that the “head” of the line (set) is at the caller's end of the hall. The caller can then look “down” the lines. Some time or another, usually back in their school days, everyone has either danced or watched a “Virginia Reel”. This is one of the many forms of a contra.

A QUADRILLE set and a normal square dance set are basically the same formation. However, a quadrille usually has three distinct differences. First, a quadrille is normally a “fixed” pattern within that particular dance which is very seldom varied by the caller. The second is that the individual figures within the dance (a right and left thru, ladies chain, etc.) are rigidly timed and danced strictly in conjunction with the musical phrase. In other words the dancers start to dance the figure, for example a right and left thru, at the start of an 8-count musical phrase and complete that action precisely at the end of the same 8-count phrase. The third difference between a square dance and a quadrille is that the caller “prompts” (cues) the quadrille so that the dancers can hear and start on the first count of the next musical phrase. In doing this, the caller very seldom uses any “fill-in patter”, but says only enough to get the dancers through the figures, allowing them to dance and enjoy a maximum amount of music.

Take special notice of the fact that except for the formation, BOTH the DANCING and the CALLING of a CONTRA and a QUADRILLE are EXACTLY THE SAME. And the calling technique employed in contras and quadrilles is, to all practical purposes, the same as that used in cuing a round dance.

  Top     Motivation and Leadership     The Fundamentals of Calling     Prompting and Cuing     Contras and Quadrilles     Ende


There is no one perfect teaching method. Each instructor must develop a system suited to his professional ability and personality and aims. Even so he will find himself instructing each new class in a somewhat different manner. While teaching plans and techniques are important, the dancers will be greatly influenced by the teacher’s attitude and dancing example. All classes must be FUN. Assume the dancers are having a good time - act as though you are too! Also, keep in mind that psychologists claim that the learner will remember about 20% of what he hears (talks and explanations), 50% of what he sees (your demonstration), and 80% of what he does: the walk-thru and the dancing. So keep them moving.

Demonstrating. Demonstrations should be done to the music and the presentation should be done correctly and without unnecessary frills which make it look more difficult than it is.

Partner Changing. In learning or beginner groups partner changing is essential. There is less couple conflict when partners are changed regularly. Those who tend to get discouraged will not show this feeling so quickly with a new partner. Changing partners will keep the dancers from the feeling they are being drilled too much. Also, dancing with the dame partner all the time may result in poor dance habits and unfortunate disagreements. In groups where partner changing is a general practice the progress is much faster individually and as a class. The faster learner is able to help others who find the going a bit slower.

W - H - E - R - E. In teaching a basic action, the caller/teacher should remember this word - WHERE.
W is where the dancers will end the action.
H is how they will get there.
E is to execute the action.
R is to repeat it.
E is to embellish it and make it smoother.

Freeze. Before teaching, analyze spots that may cause trouble. You may wish to teach the trouble spot by itself before adding the easy parts. Another technique is to “freeze” the action at the difficult place. Stop long enough to remind the dancers how they got there, tell them what is going to happen next, remind them of where they are going to be at the completion of the action, and how they will get there.

Dancing and Teaching Manners

Good dancing. Teach your students as you want them to dance; start them out right - dancing to the beat, listening to the instructor, concentrating, coordinating, cooperating, and showing courtesy. Stress good dancing posture - keeping the weight over the ball of the foot, keeping the feet on the floor, dancing - not marching, etc.
Emphasize “manners” to your students:
   Invite your partner to dance.
   Thank your partner for the dance.

Good teaching. The manners of teaching are important, too. If you do not act as though you enjoy teaching a dance, the dancers won't enjoy doing it. Don't be hypercritical, especially the first time around. If they don't get it right, repeat it until they do. Don't yell at your dancers. Don't overteach! Keep your preliminary remarks brief - just enough to arouse interest, not enough to bore. Try to communicate your enthusiasm through your voice. Keep a smile on your face and a happy sound in your voice!

Don't pick out one person or couple and make them practice while everyone else stands and watches. All the dancers can use the practice even if they feel they know the movements.

Treat a dance as a social event instead of an athletic event. Don’t teach it like a drill sergeant leading exercises or a coach leading warm-up drills. Don’t demand precise and uniform performance. Even group dancing is expressive, and people respond to the beat differently.

As you progress you will find that probably you will get tired of teaching or calling a specific dance long before your dancers get tired of it. Be patient; people love to do things they can do well. Let them enjoy it. Try changing the music. This will give both you and the dancers a lift.

Be yourself. Don’t try to sound like a Texan when you call unless you are a Texan. Make use of your talents and don't try to change your speech unless you are hard to understand.


  Top     Motivation and Leadership     The Fundamentals of Calling     Prompting and Cuing     Contras and Quadrilles     The Fundamentals of Teaching

May be reprinted including: “Reprinted from text prepared by Don Armstrong.”

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Published 2003-01-01   /   Heiner Fischle, Hannover, Germany