Square Dance is a form of folk dancing that consists of one or more "squares" each with four couples. Dancers' movements to the music are prompted on-the-fly by the "caller" who strings together a sequence of individual "calls" to create a pattern that is beautiful to spectators and fun for the dancers.
The number of active dancers on the floor is always a multiple of eight, and each square generally dances independently of each other.
Members of a square dance together for the duration of a "tip," which is usually two songs. Each song can consist of dozens of individual calls which tend to mix up the couples and dancers inside the square, with the caller periodically resetting the square by bringing the couples back together at home position.
After each tip, there is generally a break, after which dancers form new squares, being encouraged to dance with new people.
The earliest record of Square Dance is from 17th century England, though it was common also in France and throughout Europe.
Modern Western Square Dance is the form that was established by Lloyd Shaw in the 1930s and 1940s, who succeeded in providing clubs and callers with a standard set of calls to use.
Bent Creek Ranch Square Dance Team at Asheville Mountain Music Festival. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress (public domain)
Following World War II, thanks to returning veterans and the home/family culture of 1950s, modern Square Dance grew in popularity.
Since the 1970s, the International Association of Square Dance Callers known as Callerlab has promoted and standardized Square Dance. Most callers and clubs follow the guidelines set forth by Callerlab.
Currently there are hundreds of Square Dance clubs throughout the United States and more across the world, with new clubs being formed in various cities and towns every year, and of course weaker clubs shuttering as well periodically.
Modern-day square dancers (club unknown). Photo used with permission from Edward Pien.
Square Dance has seen somewhat of a decline in recent decades, as it has struggled to stay relevant for newer generations. Though, clubs have been making a concerted effort to improve training of new dancers and callers in recent years, and to relax guidelines on dress code.
Square Dance may see swings of growth and decline over the years, but the art form will likely thrive for many generations to come due to its unique position in the dance world and its very family-centered focus.