Traditionally, Modern Western Square Dance is known as a North American folk dance. Various steps and figures from different European folk dances contribute to the almost endless possibilities and permutations of dancing Modern Western Square Dance.
To set up yet another way of inviting Lao pupils to start communicating in English (in the absence of a communicative course book or common language), Prof. Martin first took us along to an “Open House” Square Dance party held at Landau University and then invited her cooperation partner and professional caller Andreas Hennecke to do a Caller Workshop for Modern Western Square Dance for us, which also included Rounds and Contras.
Sounds curious? Well, we sure did have many good reasons for doing so! Here is why.
For dancing Square Dance, Contras or Rounds, you need groups of four pairs each, or two lines facing one another, or pairs in a circle. Furthermore, every dance needs a leading person, the “Caller”, who tells the dancers what to do. They do not simply dance a rehearsed routine. Instead, they first learn a variety of figures and steps, namely the “calls”, which the Caller then “calls” them to dance in an order that only he or she knows in advance. Dancing Square Dance is therefore not cast into regular choreographies. Reacting to the Caller’s calls therefore requires a lot of attentiveness, the capacity of reacting and moving immediately, and last but not least the understanding of English language chunks, because all calls are made in English.
This is one of the reasons why Modern Western Square Dance is a suitable technique for teaching English, especially verbs and adverbs (“circle right! Forward and back!”). The calls also make use of polite phrases (“thank you””) and praise (“well done!”). While dancing, the learners connect language structures with their meanings through movement, which also happens to correspond to the principle of “Learning by movement” and is pure “TPR” (“Total Physical Response”), a method often used at the outset of language teaching. A successful square dance thus demonstrates that the language learners are literally “on their way” to understanding English.
Moreover, dancing is fun and highly motivating. This truly is the crucial argument for implementing Modern Western Square Dance into English teaching – especially in Laos, where people love music and dance.
Square Dancing provides authentic and motivating learning situations on the one hand and requires orderly communicative interaction on the other hand, thereby fostering language (and social!) learning. Listening comprehension is strengthened here, but by integrating Square Dance into other school subjects by way of the many different word fields we then move on to work on the productive (speaking) skills.
After getting our first practical experience at the Open House Square Dance party at the University of Landau on 15 September 2015, where Caller Andreas Hennecke taught us many basic figures, we were excited to attend his professional “Caller Workshop” at the PH Karlsruhe only five days later, organised by Prof. Martin on a Sunday (which Andreas Hennecke, too, donated to the project!). At the workshop, we learned more moves and figures, but also about the theory of calling and how to call ourselves. In the beginning, the calling part was difficult for us. Andreas is a great teacher, though. He explained strategies for calling, led us through step by step, and after only one day we had become “Modern Western Square Dance Young-Callers” ourselves. Naturally, we had to practice calling many times before we could manage calling to the beat of a song without losing our concentration. But by the end of the workshop with Andreas, each of us was able to call one entire dance without tripping up!
Thank you, Andreas, for your support! We had a lot of fun and hope we can inspire the students and teachers in Laos! We’ll keep you posted.
Text by J. Bauer and L. Kringe (didactic part by guest co-author Heike Müller)
Photos by I. Martin