A New Approach to Teaching MWSD with the SSD programme.

Last updated July 2021.


  • 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 constantly 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:

Concepts Introduced Moves
1 Facing couples Ladies chain
R&L Thru
Box the Gnat
1/2 Sashay
2 Couples facing out Pass Thru
Passing Rule Partner Trade (Couple)
Cal Twirl
U turn back
Wheel Around
3 Box Ladies / Gents U turn back
L & R Handed Box Circulate
Partner Trade (Wave)
Scoot Back
4 Transitions: FC & Box Run
5 Changing Direction by 90 deg Touch a Quarter
Slide Thru (normal and 1/2 sashayed)
Star Thru
Sweep a Quarter
Square Thru
6 Ocean Wave Hinge
Facing Couples Rule (L) Swing Thru 
Ocean Wave Rule Trades
L & R Handed
Centres / ends
7 Transitions - Ocean Waves Cast off 3/4
Same Position Rule Chain down the Line
Step to a Wave (Extend)
Pass the Ocean
8 Transitions - Ocean Waves Half Tag
9 Two Faced Lines Veer
Tag the Line, Face L/R
Run (from wave)
Bend the Line
Partner Trade
10 Two Faced Lines Veer
Tag the Line (1/2 or Face In/Out)
Chain down the Line
Wheel And Deal
R&L Thru & 1/4 more
11 Crossing Cross Run
Cross Fold
Moves requiring at least 8 people
12 Squares Heads Lead Right
Heads / Sides Split 2
Circle to a Line
Separate, go round 1 ( or 2)
2/4 L/C
13 Columns, Facing Couples Trade By
Leaders / Trailers Double Pass Thru
Insides / Outsides Centres / ends
Pass Thru
Partner Trade
U Turn Back
1/2 sashay
14 8CT, (C)DPT  Put Centres In
First couple go Left / Right
Touch 1/4
15 Columns, Miniwaves Circulate (all / split/ centres) 
Touch 1/4
16 General Lines Wheel And Deal
As Couples Wheel And Deal (LFO)
Sweep 1/4 Ferris Wheel
Couples Circulate
Tag the Line (then face In/Out)
Couples Hinge
17 Waves Extend
Circulate (all / split/ centres/ends) 
Tag the Line (then face In/Out)
18 Tidal Lines Centres / ends
Very Centres
19 Quarter Tag Centres / ends
Very Centres
20 3&1 and Inverted Lines Run
21 Completing the Circle Alamo Style
Grand Square
Ladies in, Men Sashay

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.