A New Approach to Teaching SD

Note: This document is a Work in Progress and should be read as such


  • It should be fun, and feel like Dancing

  • The teaching order is determined by the positions from which the moves are done

  • Certain moves from later programs are taught early as they help in teaching some of the Mainstream moves

  • Moves are taught in sets of 4 people for as long as possible

  • Moves are taught from all positions and in both hands, if not at the same time then close together

  • The definitions are constatly emphasised

  • Circle moves (e.g. Allemande Thar) are left to last


My local club had 16 people start a beginners course, and by the end they had 4 left.  This didn't seem right to me, so I looked at the way it was taught - in particular I looked at what people find easy to learn, and what they find difficult, what sort of environment helps people learn, and what things can cause them not to learn, or not to come back.

Whilst there is huge variety and everyone learns differently, there were some common factors.

In my experience the thing that causes beginners most problems is what formation the move is done from and who they’re doing it with (essentially the same thing, since one determines the other). 

This approach teaches the moves in fixed sets of 4 people.  This eliminates the things that cause beginners most problems:  what formation is it done in (it’s the one you’re in), who’s my partner (it’s the person next to you) and who am I doing the move with (it’s the 4 people in your set).

In terms of the environment, I found five things to be important:

  • People to want / be prepared to learn (marketing & selling)

  • An approach that builds on knowledge, reinforces learning, and doesn’t introduce too much new stuff at once

  • It to feel like dancing (so people are having fun)

  • The right atmosphere (no fear, social occasion, respected workshop leader)

  • A sense of achievement and learning that is recognised by the dancers (and reinforced by the workshop leader)


Rather than teach in Squares, I teach as much as I can in two couple sets, using a Contra Dance formation known as Becket.  There is more detail about this including the extensive benefits here: http://barndancecaller.net/ContrainSD.html

This formation can extend to "Grand" sets where all the two couple sets become part of a single set - for example with 6 couples after a pass the ocean, moves such as Ferris Wheel, Wheel and Deal, all 8 Circulate, Couples Circulate, Spin Chain Thru, Column Circulate, Grand Swing Through, Trade By can all be done - and without a square in sight.

Teaching Order

In order to limit the number of new concepts at the beginning, moves are taught in one fixed formation at a time, and only when that has been exhausted is a new formation introduced.  The first formation is facing couples, the next is Couples facing out, then box circulate and so on.  I have deliberately left “whole square” moves such as Thar until last because I believe that introducing a formation that cannot be built on at the beginning is counter-productive.  All the main 4 person formations can be seen as extensions of the others, whereas a square bears no relation whatsoever to the other formations.

The full teaching order is:

Facing couples

  • Ladies chain, F&B, stars, circles, Flutterwheel, R&L Thru, Promenade, DoSiDo, Box the Gnat

Couples facing out

  • Pass Thru, Partner Trade, Cal Twirl, U turn back, Turn Thru, 1/4 in (from A1)

Box Circulate

  • Use Ladies (or Gents) U turn back for transition

  • Box Circulate, Partner Trade, Scoot Back, Zoom

Transitions between Facing Couples and Box Circulate

  • Walk and Dodge, Run

Half Sashayed and Same Sex Couples (all moves)

Changing Direction

  • Slide Thru (from normal couples teach as "pass thru, quarter in" – but be careful not to let it get too ingrained before doing it from 1/2 sashayed couples), Star Thru, Sweep a Quarter, Fractional Circles / Stars, Square Thru

Ocean Wave

  • Use Hinge from/to Box Circulate for transition

  • Swing Thru, Trades

  • Lock It (from A1), Fan the Top (from Plus - teach as "Lock It but centres go 3/4"), Spin the Top (Teach as "Ends and adjacent Centres turn 1/2, Fan the Top")

Transitions between Ocean Waves and other known formations

  • Cast off 3/4, Chain down the Line, Step to a Wave, Pass the Ocean (Teach as "Step to a wave, Lock It"), Dixie Style, Half Tag, Touch a Quarter (Teach as "Step to a (mini) wave, hinge"), Fold

Two Faced Lines

  • Getting into: Veer L/R, Tag the Line, Run

  • Getting out of: Bend the Line, Veer,  Tag the Line, Fold, Half Tag, Chain down the Line, Run

Warm up Circle (once introduced, done at the beginning of every session)

  • Circle Left & Right, Dosado, LHT, RHT, Swing, Box the Gnat, Turn Thru, Right and Left Grand, Weave the Ring


  • Cross Run, Cross Fold, Recycle (use an alternative definition: "Hinge, [split] Circulate, 1/4 in")

Moves requiring more than 4 people, but not necessarily 8

This sections covers moves that only require a multiple of 4 people.  They are done in Becket lines but with all dancers taking part in a "Grand Set"

  • Eight Chain Thru, Trade By, Wheel And Deal (from 2 faced lines only), Ferris Wheel, All 8 Circulate, Extend, Spin Chain Thru (Teach as “Ends and adjacent Centres turn 1/2, those who can turn 3/4 by the other hand, those who can turn 1/2 by the other [i.e. original] hand, those who can turn 3/4 by the other hand”), Lead Right / Left

The next section is the first point at which the dancers see a square!

Introducing Squares and 4x2 Boxes

  • Split 2, Circle to a Line, plus recap on moves such as Square Thru 4

  • Practise all moves learned so far in a box of 8

Moves in a Box of 8

  • Dive Thru, Put Centres In, Double Pass Thru, First couple go Left / Right, Cloverleaf, Pass to the centre, Tag the Line (then face In/Out), Wheel And Deal (from lines facing out), Circulate (split/ centres box)

Completing the Circle

  • Star Promenade, Alamo Style, Thar, Grand Square (Teach as "walk forward/backward according to whether there’s someone immediately in front of you, 1/4 in, repeat another 3 times"), Shoot the Star, Slip the Clutch, Walk around your corner, Backtrack, Do Paso

This is not definitive, and sections such as Half Sashayed, Same Sex Couples and Changing Direction can be interspersed anywhere.  The important bits are having Facing couples – Box Circulate – Lines in that order.

Other Things

Speed practice: One of the things the dancers don't get directly from this approach is any early sense of full dance speed or flow.  Occassionaly I will chose 4 dancers, and take them through a sequence called at speed, and with a few stacked calls.  I select the dancers according to ability so that the better ones get a chance to really "go for it" without being held up by the less able.