Square Dancing 101

This document contains basic square dancing instructions for the Unnamed Facility Square Dancing Club. We dance pretty much the same as other square dancers, but when there's any difference with other groups, we use our own rules above others' variations.


A square consists of four couples, with one couple stationed on each of the four sides of the square. Everyone starts facing the center of the square. Each couple consists of a "boy"/"man" and a "girl"/"lady", with the boy standing on the left. The actual sex of the dancer is unimportant as long as everyone remembers who is the "boy" and who is the "girl". Each member of a couple is the other member's partner. The lady on a man's left is his corner, and conversely the man on a lady's right is her corner. Couples are numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 starting with the couple closest to the caller and moving counterclockwise. Couples 1 and 3 are the heads, and 2 and 4 are the sides.

When drawing square dance figures, it is traditional to specify men as squares and women as circles, with small protuberances denoting the front of the body. When the Unnamed Facility club draws square dancing figures, couple 1 is blue, couple 2 is red, couple 3 is green and couple 4 is yellow.

Square dances begin in the square formation. As the dance progresses, new formations occur, and you might find yourself at some points in the dance with a partner who is not your original partner. At any particular point in time, your partner is the person standing alongside you, and your corner is the person across the corner as described above. For example, a call to "swing your partner" would mean to swing your current partner, NOT your original partner from the starting square if that is different from your current partner. However, your designation as man, lady, head, side, or couple 1, 2, 3, or 4 will remain with you throughout the entire dance from your position in the starting square.


A caller at a square dance is responsible for calling out the instructions to the dancers. These instructions are at heart a sequence of figures which have unambiguous definitions as to the pattern of moves to be performed. Some popular figures and their definitions are described in the Glossary.

Any given call might be modified by an instruction specifying which dancers should do this particular call, such as "heads promenade." The other dancers (in this case the sides) watch appreciatively and maintain whatever position they were in before while the specified dancers complete the figure, unless the particular figure specifically calls for the other dancers to do something. If there is no modifier specifying particular dancers, it means that everyone does the figure. Calls might also contain a modifier describing how many times (or fraction of a time) the call is performed, such as "promenade "). These modifications are described with the individual figures.

So what happens if you are separated from your original partner but the caller asks for you to do something? These calls might occur in instances where the meaning is unambiguous, and you should follow the instructions. For example, the caller might ask for "heads" or "sides" to do something, as in the following case:

Starting square

Configuration at time of the call

If "heads" are called upon to do something here, all of the original head dancers (blue and green) will perform the call even though the couples are mixed up. However, it is improbable that the caller would ask "couple 1" to do something in this situation, since couple 1 as a unit does not exist in this configuration.

There are some conventions that are not called but are simply known. One of these is the passing rule, which states that whenever two dancers are walking toward each other and want to get by each other, they pass right shoulders.


Two people standing side by side are partners. Partners are said to form a couple if they are facing the same direction, or a mini-wave if they are facing opposite directions. Partners should always join inside hands, even if they are facing opposite directions. Note however, being at a 90 degree angle with someone does not count; for example, in the starting square, the 2 dancers on any 1 side of the square form a couple and hold hands, but a dancer and his/her corner are NOT considered to be partners and they do NOT hold hands. Also note that facing dancers are NOT partners since they are directly opposite each other, not side to side.

Multiples of couples or mini-waves in a straight line, whether facing the same or in opposite directions, should all join hands:

Figures are performed exactly as they are described in this manual. However, at the end of each figure, dancers should assess if they are in a couple or mini-wave formation and take the appropriate handhold. Even if they are in position for only a brief moment, they should take up a handhold. If dancers are in a different handhold upon arrival into a couples or mini-wave formation, they drop that handhold and take up the normal couples handhold.

Handholds are maintained until the couple or mini-wave is destroyed by a change of relative position of one or both of the partners. If multiple figures are called that do not change the couple's (or mini-wave's) relative position, then the handhold is maintained through the multiple figures (NOT dropped and picked up again between figures). Note that a couple's actual position on the floor can change without the handhold being destroyed, if they walk as a unit (couple) and therefore their positions relative to each other do not change.

In summary, handholds are greedy: if you are not in a handhold you look for an opportunity to form one according to the rules above, but if you are in one you do not drop it until you absolutely must due to a change in position. So when dancing, maintain your handhold from the last figure until you know that the next figure will break it.


To make square dancing more interesting, the Unnamed Facility Square Dance Club sometimes plays a game during dances in which a token is passed during the dance according to the rules below. We call this token the "bit flip token", or "BFT" for short. The rules for movement are:

        A handhold consists of a hand from one dancer joining a hand of a different dancer. A handhold is broken when the hands no longer touch each other, even if the dancers who formed the handhold are still touching through other body parts.

        BFTs are passed from one dancer to another whenever a handhold is formed between a hand holding a BFT and a hand from another dancer. A handhold is necessary for a pass; hand-to-back, hip-to-hand, etc. passing DOES NOT occur.

        Token movement from one dancer to another is considered to occur the instant the aforementioned handhold is formed. After a token moves, the handhold in question must be broken before the token can move again. When a new handhold is formed after this activation, the BFT MUST move as described above.

        If a handhold is formed between 2 hands, each of which has a BFT, then the above rules still apply and each token is considered to move to the other hand.

        At the start of a square dance, dancers take up their tokens BEFORE entering the square starting formation. This means that if a lady starts with a BFT in her left hand, or a man starts with one in his right, the BFT moves when the dancers take starting position and before the first figure is called.

        In cases where four hands form a handhold, as in the Four Ladies Chain, the token moves from 1 hand to the hand directly OPPOSITE in the star.

        The BFT exerts its functional effect only in the final formation after the sequence ends. It has no functional effect during the dance sequence.

        Two BFTs are functionally equivalent to zero BFTs.


Token starts: Lady 1 left hand, Man 3 left hand

Starting formation (couple 1 = blue; couple 2 = red; couple 3 = green; couple 4 = yellow):


Token locations after step ends

Formation after step ends


Couples enter the square

Man 1 Right hand, Man 3 left hand

When the dancers get into formation and take up couples handhold, a BFT passes from Lady 1 left hand to Man 1 Right hand. The other token does not move.

Bow to your partner, Bow to your corner.

Man 1 Right hand, Man 3 left hand

No change.

Heads forward and back

Man 1 Right hand, Lady 1 right hand

Couples touch outside hands when they do the forward and back, so a BFT goes from Man 3 Left to Lady 1 Right

Sides forward and back.

Man 1 Right hand, Lady 1 right hand

No change

Circle left

Man 1 Right hand, Man 2 Left hand

When hands are joined in the circle, a new handhold is joined between all corners, and a BFT moves from Lady 1 right hand to Man 2 left hand.

Heads promenade 1/2

Man 1 Right hand, Lady 4 Right hand

As the heads promenade, the sides do a forward and back, touching outside hands in the process. A BFT moves to Lady 4 right hand.

(All) swing your partner

Lady 1 left hand, Man 4 left hand.

The swing move breaks the couples handhold between the lady's left hand and the man's right hand, thereby activating the BFT in Man 1's right hand to move again. When the swing move has completed and the couples take up the couples handhold again, this BFT moves to Lady 1's left hand. In addition, the swing move involves a handhold between the man's left hand and the lady's right. Therefore, the BFT in Lady 4's right hand moves to Man 4's left hand.

Allemande left

Man 4 left hand, Lady 1 left hand

The BFT in Lady 1's left hand is activated when the handhold with Man 1 is broken, and then passes to Man 4's left hand during the allemande. The BFT in Man 4's left hand passes to Lady 1's left hand during the allemande.


Man 4 left hand, Man 1 right hand

When the couples handhold is formed, a BFT passes from Lady 1's left hand to Man 1's right hand.


Note: the animations and figures in the glossary are to help illustrate the moves. They do not necessarily represent ALL the possible configurations from which to perform the move, but just illustrate one or more examples.


Bow to YOUR Partner, BOW TO YOUR Corner

















Thanks go to Noriko Takahashi's web site for the checker-style animations and to the Japan Square Dance Association for the people-style animations.