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Selecting Key Couples

Overview of methods for preparing to resolve the square by sight
and Memorization Techniques

Rich Reel   2017 Apr 16

Different approaches

Adjacent Couples
and Corners

(by far the most widely used)

Adjacent Couples
and Sequence

(highly versatile - same mental process works in any formation)

Mental Snapshot
of the square

(extremely fast - evaluate the whole square at once)

One Key Couple
and Two Corners

(makes certain kinds of resolves easier to see)

This article seeks to present these methods equally.  Typically, a caller will select and use one of these approaches depending on what is easiest.  Note that while one method may be easier early-on in a caller's career, another may become the preferred method after years of experience.

What Are Key Couples?

Key couples are a select pair of couples that a "sight caller" will watch in (sometimes several) "pilot squares" to resolve the dancers before calling the final call that brings the dancers back to their home positions.  Typical final calls include Allemande Left, Right And Left Grand and Promenade Home although many other calls may be used to get the dancers back home. 

Before calling, the caller will strategically choose couples in squares to be his/her key couples and make note of their home positions.  After calling for a half a minute or so, the caller will begin to "resolve the square" by looking for the key couples in the pilot square(s).  S/he will first want to observe how the key couples are positioned relative to each other by looking for patterns.  Next s/he will call to rearrange the dancers and ultimately deliver the final calls that will bring the dancers back home - hopefully without any hesitation so the dance experience is smooth and the dancers are surprised when the final call comes!

How Many Dancers Do Callers Need To Watch To Resolve The Square?

Fortunately, with symmetric choreography, we don't need to watch and position all 8 dancers.  It is possible to resolve the square if we know the original squared-up home position of only 4 select dancers.  What is required is 4 dancers such that no 2 of these dancers are opposites.  There are several combinations of 4 dancers that meet this requirement, but by far, the most widely used combination is two adjacent couples.

The caller can watch only these 4 key dancers and more or less ignore the others for purposes of resolving the square.  When it is time to resolve, the first thing the caller must do is locate the key couples and see if they fit any recognized pattern the caller is familiar with.  The caller can then develop a strategy to move them around with respect to each other and call a memorized "get-out" - a series of calls that the caller has memorized to get from a known "setup" to the final call that gets them back home.  It is also possible to resolve the dancers "at home" by using only the key couples.

Why 4? Why not 3?

Some people believe that the square can be resolved by watching only 3 dancers.  They believe if one (primary) couple is paired, and the primary man is facing his corner, they could confidently call Allemande Left.   Unfortunately, this only works about half of the time unless we know something about the type of choreography that we've called all along (see Keep Order / Change Order Modules).  By getting 3 key dancers into relative position, and using symmetry, we can be sure only 6 of the 8 dancers are in position for the Allemande Left.  In other words, if one (primary) couple is paired, and the man of this couple is known to be facing his corner, this leaves open the possibility that the remaining two men (the primary lady's corner and the primary man's corner's partner) could be switched with each other.  To catch this case we'll need to track a 4th key dancer to guarantee a successful resolve every time.


Seeing Patterns

It almost goes without saying that a caller must recognize patterns.  The more patterns a caller can recognize, the easier resolving will be.  The most essential skill is to be able to "unwrap" the dancers in a formation to determine if they are in the correct order.  This relates to how they were squared up at home.

The following types of pattern recognition, while not essential, will vastly expand a caller's ability to resolve the square quickly from a variety of real-world situations.  The most essential skill is seeing all 4 dancers of the key couple in at least one formation (typically facing lines for the newer caller) and then be able to tell who is paired and ultimately if the dancers are in the correct order. 

(Note the following patterns have all dancers in the correct order for resolve.)

  • Various orientations -or- Which couples to use as key couples





  • Various relationships

  • Various formations

  • and various arrangements and so on. 

    While these diagrams have easy-to-see colors and little dots to aid in seeing the patterns it is quite another story to be able to see these patterns quickly and reliably in a real square, especially if there are complicating factors.

    To begin to see the variety of patterns that are possible see these articles...

    As you read about each method below, consider how difficult it will be for you to relate key couples to each other in all the various ways you'll encounter them in real formations.


    Key Couple Relationships - Method Overviews

    Once we have chosen 4 key dancers, we will need to be able to get them in the correct orientation with respect to each other in order to resolve.  To assure this orientation, we need to make note of 3 relationships between our 4 dancers.  In other words, after we memorize who the 4 dancers are, we must also memorize 3 additional pieces of information to associate these dancers with each other.  This is where the various methods differ.

    Jump down to...
  • "Adjacent Couples and Corners" Method
  • "Adjacent Couples and Sequence" Method
  • "Mental Snapshot of the square" Method
  • "One Key Couple and Two Corners" Method

    "Adjacent Couples and Corners" Method

    This is the most widely used scheme and is the one taught in most caller schools.

    1. Partner relationship for couple #1  (i.e. these 2 folks are partners)
    2. Partner relationship for couple #2
    3. Corner relationship between the couples (which 2 of these 4 dancers are each other's corners)



    "Adjacent Couples and Sequence" Method

    1. Partner relationship for couple #1   (sometimes referred to as the "Primary Couple")
    2. Partner relationship for couple #2   (sometimes referred to as the "Secondary Couple")
    3. The sequence of the couples - Note which couple should be in front of the other as they Promenade 



    "Mental Snapshot" Method

    1. The visual pattern of all 4 dancers when they are in the correct order
      The pattern would appear broken if any dancer was out of order



    "One Key Couple and Two Corners" Method

    1. Partner relationship for the primary couple
    2. The primary man's corner
    3. The primary lady's corner


    Memorization Techniques

    I find that simply remembering who the 4 key dancers are after I've been calling a while is the single most difficult aspect of sight calling.  I will mention a few things I've noticed and make a few comments about this aspect of sight calling.

    Things that make it easy....

  • People we naturally associate with each other are dancing together
  • Each couple is wearing matching clothing
  • The clothing is unique within the square
  • There are several squares for a better choice of easy-to-remember key couples
  • Our sight square has strong dancers that we can count on

    Things that make it tough....

  • Squares we can see easily have weak dancers
  • Dancers are not dancing their biological gender
  • Dancers have nothing identifiable in common with their partner
  • Dancers with something identifiable in common are not partners
  • Dancers who danced together last tip are now dancing with different partners
  • Everyone is wearing a club uniform and looks exactly the same
  • Lighting is poor (e.g. demo tip in a night club with colored spot lights on the floor)
  • Look for similarities; Make associations

    My advice: be politically incorrect.  If the square is difficult to memorize, use any device that will help.  Who's going to know?!  Look for outrageous similarities that will make an association you'll never forget.

    Sound Memory

    If you have a good auditory memory, perhaps you would do better by vocalizing (to yourself) whatever association you've made.  Try saying all four dancers' names in order.  If not names, you could use physical characteristics, dress, or a mixture of all of these.  Chant to yourself the verbal association until you hear it as a familiar phrase.

    If not 100% sure write 'em down

    I've heard some callers say they never write down any key couple information.  I've heard other callers say they always write down key couple information, including some that write down every one in the square, and in fact, every square in the hall.  You'll need to discover how much you can trust your own memory.  I find that after I've been calling a while, I get tired and have a much harder time remembering key couples than I did in the first few tips.  I feel it is better to write the information down and never use it, than to need it and not have it.  If you use politically incorrect mental mnemonics, be sure to destroy your notes after each tip!

    A pro's strategy from veteran caller Mike DeSisto

    One day the dancers were already squared up.  I watched Mike step up to the stage, put a record on and immediately start calling.  After the tip I pulled him aside and asked him "How did you memorize the couples so quickly?"  His answer: He doesn't. 

    Mike will start calling memorized material.  At first, he calls whole memorized sequences (like an opener for example) and watches the floor to see which squares look like ones he can depend on.  Next he'll call memorized modules.  At each point when everyone should be in the correct sequence, he'll look at a square and start memorizing.  He'll then call another module or so and look at the same square again.  When he feels confident with his ability to recall the order of couples in that square, he may start looking at another.  When the dancers have danced enough, he'll resolve (since he is calling memorized modules, he always knows the sequence for resolve.)  This process continues until he feels he can trust his memory and the pilot squares he's chosen then he moves to sight calling.  This process is completely invisible to the dancers (and before he let me in on his secret, invisible to me!)  Now I observe many professional callers using similar techniques.


    See Possible Pairings to test your ability to recognize the resolve using the memorization scheme you've chosen.


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