Spotlight on the first Lao Callers for Modern Western Square Dance – a fun tool for integrated English teaching (summer term 2019 and 2020)

All Posts, Intercultural Activities, Savannakhet University (SKU), Teaching experiences

Square Dance Calling classes 2019 and 2020 at the University of Education Karlsruhe with Erasmus+ students

Editor’s note: Learning Through the Arts” (LTTA) is an approach to teaching which can also be applied to foreign languages. Action songs, dance, theatre, storytelling, and hand puppets (as well as language games) help new learners to overcome their shyness and pick up first English words because their meaning is clearly contextualized and semanticized. This is especially useful and motivating for young learners who cannot read yet or are not familiar with the Latin alphabet.
Modern Western Square Dance Calling is a special LTTA skill for English teachers who want an easy, foolproof ice-breaker (“facilitation”) into teaching English for total beginners. The learners do not need any pre-knowledge, they do not have to speak (yet), only listen to some simple short commands which are demonstrated and “called” by the Caller and then performed by the entire group.
This technique never fails: Every learner group grasps the learning principle quickly, has fun applying it, and in the end is proud to have accomplished their first English assignment – they managed to dance an entire new choreography called in the English language together, just by following the Caller’s commands. After such a motivating achievement, learners develop an appetite for learning and communicating more in English.

Excerpts from my “Square Dance Calling for integrated English-teaching” class at the University of Education Karlsruhe can be viewed in this teaching video. (My explanations are in German, the calls are in English, and the moves are self-explanatory.) With the support of my Caller and tandem-teacher Mr Andreas Hennecke, I started this project in July 2012 as an ice-breaker for the 50th anniversary of our university and – after instant success – established the first Caller class in the following term (subject area: English didactics and methodology).
We have qualified around 100 “Young Callers” since. Most of them are teachers at schools by now, where they continue to call, do integrated projects during project week, and stage Square Dances with their classes at school parties. Some of them use this technique to stop bullying and end disharmony in difficult classes, and this remedial effect has also been researched and documented in Master theses.

When our “Bi-directional learning and teaching” project started in Laos in 2015 (we called it “Teaching English in Laos” at that time), we tried out this teaching technique with our new Lao learners in the schoolyard. While the pupils picked it up quickly, the teachers and officials took more time to accept that such commotion outside of the school building could pass as “teaching”.

In the summer of 2019, about a dozen international students participated in the Caller class. They mainly came from Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Laos, but we also had participants from Greece and Israel. Those who came from teaching cultures centered around textbooks were excited to discover a new artistic way to introduce English new words to young learners which involves movement, music, and lively interaction, and eventually they started planning to try this in their own schools back home.

Here are our first five Lao “Young Callers”: Ms Viengvilaiphone Botthoulath, Mr Napha Khothphouthone, and Mr Thaithanawanh Keokaisone from the 2019 class, and Mr Phongsavang Xaikhongkham and Mr Chanthalakhone Souydalay from the (online) Caller class of summer 2020.

The first group was able to participate in the “Open House Party” at Landau University in April 2019 shortly after their arrival to experience our professional Caller Andreas in action with around 100 dancers. Then, after two practical workshops in May, they did their own Square Dance projects in German schools in June-July together with their German partners. The class ended with presentations about their project results.
The second group was less fortunate because of the Covid-19 restrictions on schools and teaching generally. However, Andreas supplied two amazing theoretical workshops online, I added a “Square Dance Reader” (231 pp.) for background reading, and my colleague at Landau University, Dr Birgit Smieja, toiled through heaps of paperwork to finally obtain permission for a live, small-scale workshop-party
on 15 August, outside, with her and my groups of students. At long last, our two Lao guest-students were able to dance-practise, call-practise, and teach-practise with their peers. Spirits were so high that we continued practising calls in the car on our way home.

“Square Dance Calling” class 2019 at the English Department of the University of Education Karlsruhe – by Napha Khouthphouthone

My impression on Square Dancing

When it comes to English learning, sitting in the class, looking at the board, paying attention to the teacher is coming to my head. Because this is the learning-teaching methodology I am familiar with and was taught like this all my lifetime. The first time that I heard about “Square Dance” I had no idea and could not imagine how could it work in the teaching method. I thought it is the only kind of dancing that people dance at some party or other events. Yes because of Its name. But after I took this course I found that there is more to it than dancing. “Square Dance” includes Circle Dances, Line Dances, and Square Dances.

It was full of fun and knowledge at the same time. I think square dancing is an authentic and interactive way to learn English (can also apply to other languages), I could train my listening skill both from music and from the Caller. For me, square dancing is more dancing and learning course.

I would like to recommend the following benefits to it: Fitness training, brain training, fun learning, and team-building.


Physical fitness training
We all know that exercise is good for health. But square dancing is not a form of exercise that is also fun and does not seem like hard work. Square dancing is a very good exercise. It is a low impact activity that helps keep the body in shape. Many square dance movements can strengthen your weight-bearing.


Mental challenge
While I am in the dance I try to react as quickly as I can to the square dance Caller keeps me mentally on my toes. And while concentrating on the moves, I escape from worries, stress, anxiety, and depression. It is very good very of nourishing the soul.

Easy to learn: As I have said I have never heard about square dancing before, but I took around 10 to 15 minutes to catch up my partners and followed the Caller in the basic dances because it is based upon walking in defined directions for defined distances – which is exactly what walking is.

Learning some basic music theory is also part of the mental challenge.


I remember that the first time I joined the “Open House” dance at the end of April, I had a very long day of learning, but the Caller and other friends entertained me to make me forget my worries day. And it worked. No matter how tired I was from a long day’s work, once I started dancing and seeing all people dancing with a very big smile I could absorb positive energy. I become energized again and forget my troubles. I found myself dancing to many different types of music, e.g. country & western, rock, jazz, and pop. I think we can dance this also to Lao traditional songs.

The happy Karlsruhe Square Dance class after the Open House party with Caller Andreas:


All dancers depend on each other to keep the dancing move. As I was a student I took a square dance course with 3 credits point, so I needed to do the assignment. All of my classmates and I were trained to be a Young Caller at first, and then we had to do a school project: Create a teaching sequence of a few lessons, teach and call a few dances for primary school students, and we did it together in the teamwork. We prepared, suggested, and argued with each other.

Our work in the schools one month later:

Another project result from a secondary school (calls by Natalie Staufer):


In our last seminar session, the groups presented their teaching sequence plans for transcurricular projects, showed their project videos and gave teaching tips based on their new Caller experience:

And when I returned home, I called my first Square Dance for my students at Savannakhet University:


I hope that when the next Lao “Young Callers” come back from their mobilities in Germany, we will host a Square Dance party at SKU together!


Square Dance Calling class 2020 – online – at the English Department of the University of Education Karlsruhe – by Phongsavang Xaikhongkham

Square Dance seminar

Square dance is an important course that provides students who took the course to get to know new friends and good relationships as well by learning by movement, to get to know how to work in a team, and the harmony with friends.
The square dance experiment first time at the University of Education Karlsruhe was in July 2012 by Professor Dr. Isabel Martin. It was the university’s 50th-anniversary celebration and Dr. Isabel had suggested to the organizing committee of the Jubilee week to hire professional Caller Andreas Hennecks for an ice-breaking opening act on the final festive night of celebrations in the Jubilee week and took 45 minutes for square dance at that time.

Square dance or learning by movement is the one course that very important and is a course that I like because it could provide me the knowledge and enjoy it at the same time. It could be provided to meet new people and to have known friends by dancing. When I was in my home country I like to dance when I went to a wedding’s Day party or special occasion party and when I come to study in here and took the square dance course could improve my dancing skill after I return to my home country I could be teaching square dance to my students or other people who interested.

The importance of square dance should be learning and practice from the teacher or lecturer in person and for me when I finally did the square dance session with other students and lecturer in person it was very comfortable and easy to understand the rule of dancing more than online learning, and all in English.


In the first weeks of learning this course it was quite difficult for me because I learned by online and I cannot remember the rule of dancing anymore, I do not know exactly the step of dancing, I do not remember rhythm of the song because our feet never did it, only the eyes and brain. I would like to learn in the real situation and practice dancing with the lecturer in person, but unfortunately at first I could not do like that, otherwise it would be perfect.

We saw excerpts of last year’s Open House with Napha and Thaithanawanh dancing:


On the 29th of July, we could go to do the final presentations about square dance at the University of Education Karlsruhe in our group because we were allowed into the building again after three months online. Because we could not do a school project I presented about Lao traditional dance and other students who are German presented about the square dance, and we all also exchange our dancing together. Our German peer-student Nadja Ainetter showed how to square dance in an integrated teaching project about a German fairytale “The musicians of Bremen. So it was the first time for me to meet my classmate for a square dance in person and it was the first time for a square dance session in the real situation too and everyone was very happy to see in person and spent the time dancing together.

Simple circle dance for young learners invented by Nadja:


I taught them how to dance Lao traditional dance “Baslop” and “Lao Lamvong“, both group dances. “Lam” (“singing and dancing”) “Vong” (“circle of dancing”) means circle dance with the couple, the basic idea is a slow dance with a partner around a circular. Lamvong is carried out on special occasions such as guest welcoming, wedding by the groom and the bride, celebrating New Year, at parties, festivals, etc.
The Baslop or “Basalop” dance is considered as Lao traditional modern dance you see in weddings, parties, and ceremonies, it is very popular in Laos right now and Lao people know well how to dance, especially women, around 80% of Lao women know how to dance this. The Baslop dance originated from foreign countries especially France that has Baslop, but Lao people adapted as the Lao style dance. It could be small or a big group of dance by the movement of the lower part of the human body (legs) and also using hands, and the person who wants to dance should make a row as following to Basalop dance rule and use hands for a beautiful performance.

Editor’s note: The meaning of the word is unclear (to us). “Bas” in French means “low”, or “nether part”, but the word was probably loaned from “pas”, which means “dance step” in French. “Slop” according to our Lao colleagues is supposed to mean “moving or movement” in French (?), but probably originated in “saloper” (“do sloppy work”, or, positively: move “carelessly”). The word “bas-a-lop” follows the phonetic rule of placing a vowel between two consonants of a loan word to make it pronouncable for Lao speakers, who expect to follow Lao syllabic patterns, as in “sa-pa-ge-ti” for “spaghetti”. A case in point would be another dance name, “Basaloh” (“Pas slow”), as Michael Schultze pointed out.

Basalop dance practice part1

Baslop dance practice part2


We also taught and danced both dances at the 6th Lao-German Friendship Feast with our guests on 10 July 2020 and you will see the videos in one of the forthcoming posts.


Square dance session in Landau

After the end of the semester on 15 August we went to do the square dance session with other students who took this course at Landau University, but the same teacher-Caller Andreas Hennecke. We spent time the whole day for the workshop, and practice dancing, calling, and teaching with the new friends, there are 20 participants, everyone can share their opinion during the workshop then after that some of them doing the teaching session because in the future they will going to teach square dance for the students at the school, they have to practice they teaching skill before they go.

Square dance course is a course that very useful for the students who study about the education or who want to be a teacher in the future because square dance is teaching about how to use the language, movement, and how to motivate students with the English lesson as well. It could also help students to practice concentration and meditation, make the children assertive to show their talents without shyness. Thus, I can say that square dance is very necessary for the early teaching and learning section, but it could be used in every level of teaching and learning section as well.

Calling practice:


Dancing practice:


Group of Young Callers at the end of the day with teacher-Caller Andreas:


Still practising on the way back:


My plan

Like I mentioned above that square dance is the basic way and necessity of teaching English and other languages because teachers will teach students by calling and counting so it could make students know how to use the words exactly. When I return to my home university I hope that I could use my experience that I have got from this square dance seminar session with my students to know the square dance and I will also work with the alumni (Napha, Thaithanawanh, and Viengvilaiphone) who came here last year to do the Square dance seminar session as well.

The benefit that my students will get from square dance sessions first they will get to know English words by calling and counting and the second thing they will get to know a new culture dance which is not Lao Lamvong or Baslop.


Text by N. Khothphouthone, I. Martin & P. Xaikhongkham

Photos by I. Martin, N. Khothphouthone & B. Smieja

Videos by I. Martin, P. Xaikhongkham & N. Staufer

U-tube video by I Martin & M. Richter (2017)



Martin, I. & Richter, M. (2017). “Square Dance als pädagogisches Werkzeug in der Grundschule”. (7 min. video.) (last accessed 25 September 2020)