Appalachian square-dance calling

mtn music fest dancers' feetThere’s thinking, and then there’s moving, and for the latter, it’s hard to beat an oldtime square dance: live music, fancy figures, and someone (sometimes me) good-naturedly telling you how to do those figures.

I call dances at venues including the NC Squares monthly dance, the Rowdy Square Dance in Durham, N.C. (and occasionally elsewhere), the Shakori Hills Festival, and the Hoppin’ John Oldtime Fiddler’s Convention. I like to flatfoot and call at the same time.

I call without reference to gender, so that anybody can dance with anybody who wants to dance with them, without concern for how their or anyone’s gender identity matches up—or doesn’t—with the caller’s language. Otherwise I am devoted to the conventions and calls for traditional Appalachian squares, which are durable, flexible, complex, and super fun.

If you’re wanting to learn to call, most callers are happy to share dances, and some regular dances have an open-caller night. Here is my affidavit: calling might not cure every ailment, but it sure can improve your outlook. And that is half a cure itself.

Some resources for finding square dances and for learning to call:

A Look at Southern Squares, from Bill Martin:

General information from the Country Dance & Song Society:

Recordings from old 78s of square-dance calling, divvied up by region—from Phil Jamison:

Guide to Belk Library’s Appalachian Dance collection in Boone, NC:

A list of dances around the U.S., plus a time-tested FAQ from Jason Phillips:

Dare to Be Square’s national calendar of dances:

The Square Dance History Project:


(The photograph, from the Library of Congress/Lomax Collection, shows the Bent Creek Ranch Square Dance Team at the Asheville Mountain Music Festival, ca. 1938–1950. Full image here: