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Square Dance Calling

The Square Resolution Process

Rich Reel   25 Nov 2009

It may seem like a daunting task to get all 8 dancers back to their partners with smooth flow and seamless timing considering how many possible combinations there are.  The secret is to significantly reduce the number of combinations with a resolve process.

Prior to any sight calling to the square, you'll need to select and memorize "key couples" so that you'll have the information necessary to resolve the square using a sight calling technique.  See article: Selecting Key Couples.

Overview of the resolve process

Familiarity with "FASR" - Formation, Arrangement, Sequence, Relationship - will help you understand the following explanations.


  The Resolve Process - Step By Step  


When it comes time to resolve, if you have a choice of squares to use, choose a square that is still symmetric

If you can do it quickly, you might try to correct any asymmetry you notice.  Otherwise, simply accept that the occasional dancer errors will cause squares to be asymmetric in ways that make it impossible to get the usual patterns needed for resolving. 

My experience has been that dancers really don't care that much if callers don't resolve correctly every time.  Just get them close, call your "best guess" get-out, laugh at yourself, and quickly move on.  The dancers will be more relaxed and have more fun if they know they can make mistakes along with you.


  Known Formation and Standard Arrangement

Before looking for partners to pair, get the dancers into Normal / Standard Arrangement in one of these formations:

This will give you, as well as the dancers, a comfortable starting position and will reduce the number of patterns you will need to recognize quickly under pressure.

If you call to a square with dancers who are not dancing their gender associated part, determining the arrangement of the square can be quite difficult.  See article: Discovering Arrangement while Sight Calling

A strategy I use is to track (always know) the arrangement at all times while calling.

"Keep 'em Normal"

The rule is simple: If you aren't sure what the ending arrangement will be after a particular call, don't call itThink of different arrangements as completely different formations.  Simple calls like Star Thru or Boys Run are not even legal if the arrangement is not correct. 

A strategy that many callers use is to keep the dancers in standard arrangement most of the time and only venture into other arrangements in controlled ways for variety.  At Plus and below, and even at Advanced, it is quite a bit more difficult for many dancers to execute certain calls when they are not in the usual arrangement for that call.  In order to control the difficulty of material, it is essential that callers know the arrangement and choose calls at an appropriate difficulty for the skill of the dancers.  Knowing the arrangement at all times can be particularly useful when you need to fix dancer mistakes, especially in a teaching situation.

Callerlab publishes a guide: "Standard Applications Handbook" (see Callerlab Publications to purchase a copy) that details what is considered to be the "standard application" for each call.  In addition to keeping the dancers very close to standard arrangement needed for resolve, it will guide you to use choreography that will more likely be successful no matter where you call.

To extend beyond standard applications and call into non-standard arrangements, many callers will use memorized modules that they know ahead of time will take the dancers from a standard arrangement, through a few calls, and end back in standard arrangement again.  This is what the dancers are used to and what I recommend when you are first starting out.



When we speak of a "paired couple" or a "partner pairing", we speak of having a set of original squared set partners standing next to each other as a standard couple (boy on the left, girl on the right).  If the dancers are symmetric and one of the key couples is paired, that means that one other couple must be paired - the paired key couple's opposites.  In other words, if we have one of the two key couples paired, we really have two of the four couples in the square paired. 

Generally we will want to call a small number of calls to "pair one couple", i.e. get two particular original partners of one of our two key couples together as a "paired couple" - somewhere - anywhere - in any convenient formation.  Once a key couple is paired, you'll usually want to keep these dancers together while calling to get all of the dancers into a familiar formation where you will evaluate the square to determine your get-out strategy.

You might save time if you can locate all 4 dancers of both of the key couples and determine if either one of them is already paired.  However newer callers may have trouble looking for so many people and may want to concentrate on pairing only one specific couple.  I usually try to pair the harder-to-see couple first, saving the easier-to-see couple for that final moment when I need to decide the get-out quickly and accurately under pressure. 

To pair one couple, you'll need to see both partners at once and call to bring them together.  Since the dancers are in normal / standard arrangement, there are only 4 possible places any one key dancer can be in any one formation.  With one key dancer's position located, there are only 4 places where that dancer's partner could be, relative to their position.  That makes 16 combinations - 16 possible ways that 2 dancers (of a couple to be paired) could be positioned relative to one-and-other in any one formation.

If you find you get the situation where no one is paired, you should know that there are few calls that are more powerful than others when it comes to getting two partners closer together.  Here are a few useful modules...

This is not a complete list - there are many other calls that do this.  What is important is that these calls change the relationship, moving every dancer to a new temporary partner.

For an analysis of all 16 possible cases, see article: How to pair two dancers from common formations

There are two other approaches to dancer pairing that I'll touch on briefly...

In the Challenge program, and to some extent in the Advanced program, it is easier to get away with calling and not worrying about arrangement until it comes time to resolve.  The dancers know all positions much better and there are fewer calls that are gender dependent.  You may find it easier to call things that generally move your partners toward each other before straightening out the arrangement and getting everyone into the formation you'll want for your getout.  The greater number of calls at these programs make it easier to accomplish this.

Advanced Tracking Technique

If you work at it, you may find it's eventually possible to track your key couples all of the time.  When you always keep all 4 dancers of both the primary and secondary couples in view, you will not have to look for anyone when it comes time to resolve.  Another handy feature of this technique is that you will notice right away when your key couples go asymmetric because you will observe a strange pattern that you won't recognize (or will recognize as being asymmetric).  To practice this technique, you may want to try tracking dancers from the sidelines while another caller is at the mic.  Try following 2 people while everyone is dancing, then try following 3, then after a while, try following all 4.  You may also try to do this while you are calling (reading cards or sight calling).  If you loose track of them momentarily, you can always look for them again.  This is a powerful technique that will strengthen your calling as well as your resolving skill.



Now that you have one couple paired in a symmetric formation with standard arrangement, there are only 4 ways the remaining dancers can possibly be scrambled among the remaining 4 spots.  (The 4 spots remaining are those not occupied by the first paired couple and their opposites.)  You can now evaluate the square for your final resolve by answering only two yes-no questions...

  1. Is the other couple (secondary couple) paired?
  2. Are the dancers "in sequence" or "out of sequence"?

To answer these questions, you will need a familiar formation that will allow you to recognize the 4 possible patterns.  Here are formations that many callers use and a word or two about each one...

Designator Formation                         Comments                        
[0L] Facing lines
  • Easy formation to get into
  • Many choices when proceeding to the get-out
  • Use Forward and Back to give yourself extra time
  • Resolve with early class-level Basic calls
  • [0P] Double Pass Thru Formation
  • Resolve quickly using very few calls
  • Easiest method to learn quickly with no experience
  • Pair one couple before calling into [0P]
  • [0F] 2-Faced Lines
  • Use Circulates and Trades to pair couples
  • Proceeds nicely to [0L] or [0P] to use popular get-outs
  • Ideal for resolving 'at home'
  • [0W] Parallel Ocean Waves
  • Pair couples without it being obvious to the dancers
  • Greater variety of calls at higher levels
  • Easy to convert to any desired FASR state
  • Resolve with optimal flow and timing
  • If you are new...
      You'll be doing yourself a big favor if you choose only one formation to use as your method for pairing your key couples.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.  Whichever formation you choose to work from, you should get very comfortable with it before learning another.  The reason for this is that the patterns for different formations look very similar but require different strategies to achieve the pairings.  Learning several at once can be confusing.

    Since it can be difficult to answer both evaluation questions quickly enough that dancers will not notice a delay, try to answer at least one of the questions on the way to the formation you'll be using to make the evaluation, i.e. while the dancers are executing the call that you called to get them into the formation needed to answer the question.


      Translating the Setup

    This is an optional step needed only if you want to call a specific get-out and you notice after evaluation that you do not have the necessary FASR state.  There are several approaches you could take:

  • Mix 'em Up at Random

    This is a good first step toward variety, albeit not all that efficient!  It may be what happens for a while as the new caller learns to master this step.  Perhaps random use of one of the "power calls" listed above will help you get different pairing patterns more quickly.

  • Use Conversion Module

    Conversion Modules are a memorized series of calls that you know ahead of time will convert from one setup to another.  Conversion Modules are listed on the lower half of each of the get-out pages on this website.  See: Get-outs from common FASR's.  This is a great way to get exactly what you want, but could limit the variety of your calling in ways the dancers will soon begin to recognize.

  • Modify FASR state

    This seems to be a difficult concept for many newer callers, but it is really not that difficult.  You can receive benefits with only a little extra effort.  When you know how to change the FASR state, you'll be fully in charge of your get-outs rather than simply reacting to whatever situation you happen to discover at the evaluation step.  If you see you don't have what you want, change it!

    You should know that certain calls are a little more powerful when trying to affect the FASR state.  Look at the two lists of calls below and study how these calls change the pairing patterns.

    First Group

    This group of calls either changes the girl's sequence (and doesn't change the boy's sequence) or changes the boy's sequence (and doesn't change the girl's sequence).
    (from applicable formations, standard arrangement)...

    These calls tend to change the pairing pattern (go from one to the other or back again): (In the diagrams below, don't pay attention to dancer's facing direction, look primarily at the patterns of dancers of like color)

    Quadrant Pairing   Stripe Pairing

    Ring Pairing   Mixed Pairing

    Second Group

    This group of calls does something I like to think of as the "Acey Deucy Effect".  What this means is that if you divide the square into two groups of 4 dancers each (boxes or lines or waves etc.), then call any call or series of calls that accomplishes the "Acey Deucy Effect", only one dancer will have moved out of each group to join the other group.

    These calls tend to change the pairing pattern (go from one to the other or back again):

    Ordered Pairing   Ring / Mixed Pairing

    This is of course a general sense of the patterns.  You may have to "circulate" the dancers to discover the nature of the more mixed-up patterns using calls like these...

    There are actually 16 different patterns, each with 2 variations.  See article: 16 Combinations with Standard Arrangement and view the various diagrams.  Try to visualize what the various calls from the groups above do to the dancers.


      Calling the Memorized Get-out

    This is an area that you can work on your entire career.  It is an area that really separates more experienced callers from newer callers.  Fortunately it's an area covered extensively at  See: Get-outs from common FASR's.


      How Often Should I Resolve?

    If you are a newer sight caller, I would suspect it is much more often than you do! Resolving the square is a lot of work for the newer sight caller.  It undoubedtly takes you away from the "interesting" choreography you are planning to call.  But here's the deal: When you are calling, you want the dancers to feel successful.  When they are successful, they trust you and they like you.  Standing around waiting while you take 20 calls to resolve the other squares before they can start dancing again is no fun.

    At the begining of every tip, it is very important that you call a few opening sequences that 100% of your squares will get.  I open with a memorized ring figure that is very short, and has no surprises.  My second sequence is very easy and very short (certainly less than 10 calls) and completely memorized.  I try to deliver it with great timing so dancers can enjoy smooth dancing - it might be the only dancing some squares accomplish before I move to more "interesting" material.  Calling memorized openers allows me to survey my squares and see which ones I can trust as being dependable enough to use as pilot squares for sight resolving.

    My third sequence is for me: I want to test myself.  I want to make sure I have the couples memorized and I can confidently resolve.  In that third sequence, if I made any mistakes, or felt a little shakey, or wasn't confident in my pilot square, I will call another sequence and resolve quickly again (after 4 calls or so) until I am confident in both my pilot square and myself.  I can tell you that if I don't resolve right away in the first sight-called sequence, my memory fades and I cannot recall my key couples.  (Very embarassing!)

    Here is a good rule.  The moment any square breaks down, it's a signal:  Resolve right away.  When teaching, it is absolutely critical that every square is successful.  We don't want dancers coping with trying to learn with dancers out of position.  Ideally we are so careful in our teaching that dancers never dance a new call in a wrong way they will have to un-learn.  Short of that, if anyone makes a mistake (especially the caller), get 'em home, then get them back into the starting formation to hear the call explained again. 

    If you ever find yourself taking too long to resolve, just have everyone square up.  If you do this quickly, it is very professional and will help put the dancers "on your side" as it shows that you are honest and that you respect their time.  Study your key couples and do not begin calling until you are 100% sure you have them memorized. 


    For more information on resolving and specific resolve formulas, see...

  • The Easiest Way to Resolve a Square
  • 2 Face Line Method


    May your dancers enjoy the best dance experience and may you reap the rewards of their success!


    See more of my site! - click here   Richard Reel   Hayward California USA