American Square Dance

Cultural, Historical, Social, Creative

Square Dance teaches inclusion and cooperation where everyone is part of the dance and everyone helps to make it work.



Our American heritage, values and beliefs are expressed through commonly recognized symbols that represent the foundational American concepts of freedom, community and equality of opportunity.  Every day, in public schools across the United States, children are reminded of these concepts as they turn toward the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  The pledge and flag are national symbols of our American pride and sense of community that draw us together as citizens.  Many of our national symbols are represented through music, visual art, and dance.  The Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem, and other patriotic songs are expressed through music.  National monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, the Capitol building and other famous sites located throughout the country serve as icons of our heritage.  National holidays and stamps are designated for celebration and remembrance of significant events that have shaped our nation.  Dance has also found its place among the many symbols that represent the United States.  On June 1, 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed into law Senate Joint Resolution #59 of the 97th Congress (, which established Square Dance as the national folk dance of the United States for that year.  The text of the bill reads:

“Whereas square dancing has been a popular tradition in America since early colonial days; Whereas square dancing has attained a revered status as the folklore of this country; Whereas square dancing is a joyful expression of the vibrant spirit of the people of the United States; Whereas the American people value the display of etiquette among men and women which is a major element of square dancing; Where as square dancing is a traditional form of family recreation which symbolizes a basic strength of this country , namely the unity of family; Whereas square dancing epitomized democracy because it dissolves arbitrary social distinctions; and Whereas it is fitting that the square dance be added to the array of symbols of our national character and price:  Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the square dance is designated the National Folk Dance of the United States of America.”


            When a square dance leaning experience is connected to the Social Studies curriculum, students gain a comprehensive knowledge about the historical, social and cultural heritage of the United States.  They learn about how different regions and the people in those respective regions contribute to American society and how music, visual art, theatre, writing and dance are inherent in how we express our feelings and understandings.  Through learning and creating square dances, students can experience a way that people socialize, learn from each other and contribute ideas for all to share.  The basic American concepts of freedom, community and equal opportunity become visceral, as they are experienced through body movement.



Lesson Outcomes
To develop an understanding of how square dance represents the American values of freedom, community and equal opportunity.
To perform the traditional square dance steps with a partner and group when the step is called by the caller.



Grade Level: 4-12


Equipment: CD/MP3 player music, microphone, pictures or artifacts of American symbols, books on square dance, costumes, pictures of people square dancing.  A sign for each Square Dance step is posted in a visible place for all students to view.

Movements: Traditional square dance steps



Introduction, presentation and discussion of American symbols and the concept of moving together as a community:

The following activities can be used in the introduction.


Traditional Square Dance


Movements: Teach the basic steps using the Big Appalachian Circle before using a traditional square formation.


Everyone All Together at the same time

March in Place

Circle Right and left using Slides or Grapevine

Single File  -Move counterclockwise using the Walk, Run, Jog, Shuffle, Gallop or Skip

Forward and Back - Walk four steps forward in to the circle and four steps back out of the circle.

Grand Right and Left

Weave the Ring


With a partner

Greet Partner and Greet  Corner Partner


See Saw

Elbow Swing

High Five

Wrist Turn

Promenade around the ring

Promenade Tunnel

Whole Group
Grand Right and Left
Weave the Ring
Circle Right and Left
Forward and Back


Small group of 4, Such as Head or Sides

Star with palms (pointed star)

Star with wrists (basket star)

Circle Right and Left

Forward and Back - Walk four steps forward in to the circle and four steps back out of the circle

Promenade around the square.



Demonstrate the Traditional Square formation that uses 8 dancers.

The partners stand side by side facing into the square. 
The partners with their back to the music are designated as partners # 1,
The partners to the right of partners # 1 are designated as partners #2,
To the right of partners #2 are partners # 3 
To their right of partners #3 are partners #4
Partners # 1 and # 3 are called Head Partners and
Partners # 2 and 4 are called Side Partners.

Traditionally partners are paired as male and female with the women standing on the right and the man on the left.  In many classes teaching gender neutral dance is appropriate and the gender of the partners can be any combination. Gender neutral Partners can be designated as Partner A (traditionally male) and Partner B (traditionally female)



                               Music Source

Partners #1 Head

Partners #2                                        Partners#4
Side                                                     Side

Partners #3 Head

Demonstrate How the Dancers move in the Square Formation

They can:
    Greet their partner and then their corner partner
    All circle to the right and then to the left
    Head Partners can be called to do a movement such as Head Partners Elbow Swing - the Head Partners move to the center of the square and elbow swing the person across from them.
    Side Partners can be called to do a movement such as Side Partner Elbow Swing - the Side Partners move to the center of the square and elbow swing the person across from them.
    Usually the Head Partners go first in the call followed by the Side Partners For example, Head Partners Wrist Turn,  Side Partners Wrist Turn.
    Partners #1 and Partners #2 can complete a call while Partners #3 and Partners #4 complete the same call at the same time. For example, Partners 1 and 2 and Partners 3 and 4 Do-si-Do

Teacher Calls a Sample Square Dance using traditional movements in the square formation.  Usually there is a pattern to the calls.

Sample Dance

Greet Your Partner
Greet Your Corner Partner

All Circle to the right for 16 counts
All Circle to the left for 16 counts
Everyone Forward and Back  Repeat again

Partners Elbow Swing
Corner Partners Elbow Swing
Repeat Again

Head Partners Do-si-Do
Side Partners Do-si-Do

Partners Elbow Swing
Corner Partners Elbow Swing
Repeat Again

All promenade around the ring to you get back home.

Partners Elbow Swing
Corner Partners Elbow Swing

Everyone Forward and Back

Students Use Cooperative Calling

Each student in the square has an opportunity to made a call
The partner on the left in Head Partners #1 makes the first call, next the partner on the right in Head Partners #1 makes a second call
Next the partner on the left in Side Partner #2 makes a third call followed by the partner on the right in Side Partners #2.
This procedure continues around the square as each person makes a different call using any of the square dance steps.
Students can repeat this procedure going around the square several times.

Strategies for Groups of More or less than 8 to form a square.

The goal here is not to have students sit out and observe because the class does not have equal squares of 8.

If there are more than 8 you can add students to one of the Head or Side Partners and have three Head Partners.  Ask students to solve how the steps can be performed with additional students.
If there are less than 8, you can add in an imaginary partner and ask students to solve how the steps can be performed with missing partners.