Introduction to (Challenge) Square Dancing

by Lynette Bellini and Kathy Godfrey

What is Challenge Dancing?
Challenge dancing is Square Dancing taken to its puzzle-solving extreme. If the words "square dancing" make you think of 6th grade and "swing yer pardner round and round," I should point out that Challenge dancing bears very little resemblance to what happened in 6th grade. It has become an extremely intellectual and mathematical activity far removed from its beginnings. Square Dancing itself has changed from a country activity to a city activity in that it has become more sophisticated over the years.

Ok, so what is Square Dancing?
Eight people work as a team (called a square) to successfully complete a set of complex figures delivered in real time. The caller choreographs the figures either on the fly or ahead of time, but the dancers do not know what is coming next. The figures are called calls, and they are put together in groups of 12-25 calls called sequences. Each call takes from 2 to 16 beats of music (typically in 4-4 time, though sometimes in 2-4 time). Each sequence starts and ends at home position, and the goal of the square is to solve all the puzzles in the sequence and return to home.

So how is Challenge Dancing different than Square Dancing?
Square Dancing has different levels, starting with Mainstream, then Plus, Advanced 1 and Advanced 2. After Advanced comes Challenge, Levels One through Four. The difference is not a step function; ordinary Square Dancing blends into Challenge dancing, and it is hard to discern the break points. At each level, more calls are added to what the dancers must be able to do, and eventually, concepts are added. Concepts change something about a call, as adverbs modify verbs, and are delivered as concept call - never alone. At lower levels, dancers usually wear traditional Square Dance clothing; the higher the level, the more appropriate it is to wear t-shirts, shorts, and athletic shoes. At the highest levels of Challenge dancing, it is an almost purely mental event, consisting of real-time puzzle solving in a highly mathematical context. If you can walk in reasonably close time to music, you have all the prerequisite dancing skills for challenge dancing.

It is the use of concepts that most clearly differentiates Challenge dancing from other forms of square dancing. If you have a bent for algorithmic thinking and problem solving (logic, linguistics, mathematics, engineering, science, etc.), challenge dancing is worth a look.

How Do I Start?
Call 1-800-33-DO-C-DO - this information number will be able to tell you where square dance classes start in your area. If you are already a square dancer, and want to know what advanced clubs are in your area, you can look on the Modern Western Square Dancing page, or contact the author of this page.