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Why Bother With Standards?

by Sandi & Dan Finch

The pioneers in our activity early on stressed the need for standardization in terminology and in how dances are written. Two individuals—Ginger Osgood and Doc Alumbaugh—are given credit for the first attempt at a uniform system of explaining routines and establishing round dance terminology. That was in 1950.

By 1959, there were 300 new routines being written each year, according to Frank Hamilton, a local leader who wrote an early book of standardized terminology. The varied backgrounds of the teachers—some from folk dancing, some from ballroom, and some with only a few months of round dancing under their feet—demanded standardization. “Otherwise, with each teacher in each locality going it alone, we would have had dozens of sets of terms and as many ways of writing counts and measures,” he wrote in a report to the RDTA of Southern California in January 1959. When that happens, dances could not be shared cross-country.

He was reporting on the National Square Dance Convention meeting in Kentucky on standardization of round dancing. He had presented new figures codified in his book, American Round Dancing, first published in 1954. (Roundalab and URDC/ICBDA had not been formed yet—and wouldn’t be for another 20+ years. RDTA published its own book of Standards, based on Hamilton’s book, and much of the RDTA manual was adopted into Roundalab’s first Manual of Standards in 1978.)

Hamilton acknowledged that a teacher may use a pet cue word in class, but he discouraged those in a cue sheet. “Whether or not we personally like or use a particular term, as members of a quasi-professional group, we should all agree that ANY standardized and widely used name for a figure or position is better than having many different terms for the same thing.” He lamented instances such as one leader he knew with a following of half dozen couples “who states flatly that his terminology is the ONLY correct one—and there isn’t a single term on his list which I could recognize.”

Some of our most familiar terms date from 1959. Based on his poll of 35 national leaders, these came into our language: half open vs. semi-open, line of dance rather than line of direction, forward waltz instead of pursuit waltz. My favorite: "maneuver," preferred by 4/5ths vote. He said a few preferred “fudge.” The basic waltz was adopted to end with a closing, rather than a running step or a hesitation.

More than two dozen changes are proposed this year for the RAL Manual of Standards at the annual convention to be held this month. It fits with Hamilton’s original idea that the standards themselves may evolve but the concept of standardization should be maintained. When change is desirable, Hamilton had said, take it to the national level for discussion. “Let’s operate on the premise that any workable and currently accepted system is better than a confusion of many conflicting approaches, “ he wrote.


From a club newsletter prepared by Dan and Sandi Finch , June 2013, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, July/August 2014.



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