Grand Square - History and Variations

The Grand Square is a Square Dance figure which has been popular since the 17th century. Because it involves half the dancers moving backwards while the other half are moving forwards, it only works if all the dancers know where they are supposed to be going. Many thanks to all those who provided information in the discussions on various forums, especially Clark Baker who provided "Shadowed" and pointed me at the Will Orlich document and "Row Your Boat".

Note: I use the historical role names of Man and Lady below, but anyone can dance any role.

The Grand Square

video shows the way it is danced today, and an interpretation of how it might have been danced in the 17th century, in a dance called Hunsdon House.

The modern version starts at 1:15:

The historical version starts at 4:24:

As you can see, the Grand Square is identical in both versions. The dancers in the faster set are dancing at around 131 bpm; the ones in the slower, historical set are walking at around 78 bpm. My belief is that they would have been dancing just as fast in the 17th century as we do today. Cecil Sharp obviously felt the same way; his interpretation has parts of the dance executed with a "running step", hardly possible at 78 bpm!

The dance being performed on the left is a standard Square Dance, called "Grand Square"!

Grand Square - Square Dance - One Version

Break Sides Face, Grand Square
A1 Heads Right & Left Through (there and back)
A2 Sides Right & Left Through (there and back)
B1 Heads face their right-hand couple: Right & Left Through (there and back)
B2 Sides face their right-hand couple: Right & Left Through (there and back)
Break Sides Face, Grand Square
As above, but using Ladies' Chains
Break Sides Face, Grand Square
As above, but using Half Promenade Across; Right & Left Through Back
Break Sides Face, Grand Square

Historical References

17th Century
John Playford documented
Hunsdon House in The Dancing Master 3rd Edition in 1675. It was still there in the last (18th) edition in 1728.

First and 3. cu. meet, and taking the co. wo. fall back into the 2. and 4. place, whilst the 2. and 4. fall back each from their own, and meet the co. wo. in the 1. and 3. place. As much again.

But the first document I know of, in which the figure appeared, was the Lansdowne Manuscript in approximately 1648. The dance was unnamed, but is referred to as "Old Hunsdon House".

1st & 3rd cu; meet & taking the co w fall back into the second and 4 places whilst the 2nd & 4th fall back each from his owne & meet the con w. in the 1 & 3rd place as much againe

Note: this is only Half a Grand Square in modern terminology. These days the movements described above are followed by the call "Reverse" which instructs the dancers to do the movements again, but to start by reversing the last move they made, as in the video above.

We have no way of knowing how popular Hunsdon House was, though its continued publication from 1648 to 1728 would seem to imply it had some popularity.

18th Century
Sadly, Square Dancing was out of fashion for most of the 18th century; all the interesting old
formations gave way to a vast preponderance of Longways dances.

I am not aware of any publications of Square Dances, let alone Grand Squares, after 1728.

19th Century
Cotillions and Quadrilles started appearing in France in the late 18th century and reached England in around 1816. I don't know exactly when the Grand Square was introduced into Quadrilles. The earliest Quadrille document that I know of, with a Grand Square, is "The Lancers' Quadrilles or Duval of Dublin's Second Set... As Danced at Almack's London & at the Rotunda Dublin", originally published in 1817. This is also the earliest publication that I know which uses the name "Grand Square" for the figure.

Prior to this, as far as we know, the figure only appeared in Hunsdon House; but, from here on, it starts appearing in multiple dances. Was it created independently as part of Quadrilles? Or did someone know about Hundson House and re-introduce it?

Here is a copy of the 1857 reprint edition of this 1817 book.


Note that the dancers "chassez" throughout, possibly galloping or slipping. The description is of Half a Grand Square, done four times, so two complete Grand Squares.

Rock's Ball-Room Hand-Book (London 1845) has Les Lanciers:

Concluding with the Grand Square:- Viz.- First and opposite couples move forward and meet, while the side couples move from their partners to the sides - first and opposite couples take opposite partners, and move open straight to the sides, while the side couples move forward - first and opposite couples leave partners and move strait back, while the side couples taking opposite partners move to the centre - first and opposite couples return to places, while the side couples do the same.

Repeated for the three other couples.

When the side couples commence the figure, the square is reversed - the side couples going forward, and the top and bottom couples moving open.

In The Ball-Room Manual and Etiquette of Dancing by J. Seaton (London 1848) the Lancers First Set, Finale (Fifth Figure) has "finish with the grand square" and The Queenís Quadrille, 1. Le Pantalon starts with "Grand square". The definition of a Grand Square doesnít appear in the glossary of French Terms, nor anywhere else, I assume therefore that the figure was well enough known, by this time, not to require explanation.

Sadly, as Colin Hume points out it was not always popular. The Fashionable Dancer's Casket (1856) bemoans the fact that:

The grand square, which used to end these Quadrilles, is now omitted in London, being found too difficult of execution in the ballroom. This is to be regretted, as it was a very beautiful movement.

It was replaced by a Promenade or Grand Chain (Grand Right & Left).

Quadrilles became popular in America. Here is an example from the Call book of modern quadrilles by Herman A. Strassburg (Detroit, 1889). The Saratoga Lancers is described as being designed to keep the whole set moving. The Grand Square is an optional replacement for the Grand Right & Left at the beginning of the 5th Measure (Figure):

"The Grand Square:" Head couples go forward four steps; at same time the side couples face partners and walk backward, away from partner, four steps to corner of set. From there the side couples take four steps to head couple's places. While sides are doing above movement, the head couples take the opposite ladies' left hands and lead towards the side, four steps. Now the side ladies and gentlemen are head couples, and the head couples sides, but the ladies must all be standing at the gentlemen's left. The sides (now at the head) go forward four steps. take the opposite lady's hand, separate, and walk to original place with partner. At same time, heads (now sides) separate, going backwards four steps to corner of set, and then four steps to place, where they meet original partner. Repeat, sides first going forward and heads separating. Each person takes just sixteen steps, and forms a square in their corner of the set.

Note that the couple leaving the centre appear to be walking forwards rather than backwards.

20th Century
By the end of the 20th century the Grand Square was firmly embedded in many genres; it is a well-defined figure in Modern Western Square Dance (MWSD); it is commonly used as a break (chorus) in traditional squares; it appears in country dances.

Furthermore, throughout the 20th century choreographers introduced lots of variations. The earliest ones that I know about were documented in the 1930s and were basically the same variation done in two different styles.

Sides Divide
Cowboy Dances by Lloyd Shaw (1939), starting on page 314, there is a description of a dance called "Sides Divide". After some introductory figures, there is a Grand Square, but every time you meet someone you Swing with them to change places. "Swing" is defined as Half a Two Hand Turn, but the notes at the end of the dance offer an alternative of a "regular swing (twice around in dance position)". I assume he means once and a half or twice and a half, as you still need to change places.

This is also used these days as the Half a Grand Square Break.

Swing at the Center and Swing at the Sides
The previous dance in Cowboy Dances has the main figure starting with a Grand Square, but once the Heads are in the middle they stay there, moving around the inner square by swinging, while the Sides stay in the outer square, moving around it by swinging.

Cupid's Garden
This dance from
Maggot Pie (1932) starts with a Grand Square using the same concept as in Sides Divide. The timing is slightly different; it is in waltz time, and the couples lead out to the sides before doing the Half a Two Hand Turn to change places.

It seems unlikely to me that Lloyd Shaw would have seen a copy of Maggot Pie. I feel it is more likely that the concept of switching places every time you meet evolved naturally and independently on both sides of the Atlantic.

Grand Galaxy
The Grand Galaxy uses the same concept as "Sides Divide", but in this variant you switch places, every time you meet someone, by executing a Star Thru. Here is the MWSD definition of a Star Thru:

Man places his right hand against woman's left hand, palm to palm with fingers up, to make an arch. As the dancers move forward the woman does a one quarter (90 degrees) left face turn under the arch, while the man does a one quarter (90 degrees) turn to the right moving past the woman.

There is no extra time for you to execute the Star Thru, as you approach someone you raise your appropriate hand and do it decisively!

Twisted Grand Square
Keith Wood's dance
Isobel's Idyll dance has the couples circle right a quarter whenever they reach the centre, before backing off together to the sides

Dave Turner's dance "Shambles" uses the same concept, but uses a Half Sashay to switch places. (Half Sashay MWSD Definition: Dancers exchange places without changing facing directions. Dancer on the right side steps to the left while the dancer on the left steps back, side steps to the right, then steps forward, ending as a couple.) In this dance you only do the Half Sashay, to switch places, as you Lead In, not as you Fall Back. So halfway through you have switched places with your partner; then, after the Reverse, you end up halfway around the set to finish the figure.

Row Your Boat (Canon)
Games: Row Your Boat - A Grand Square variation done as a round while singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. From a squared set: On the command "Sides face, Row Your Boat", #1 couple only starts a Grand Square four steps. Next the #2 man and #4 lady start a Grand Square four beats. Next the the #4 man and #2 lady start a Grand Square four beats. Finally the #3 couple start a Grand Square. Once a dancer starts the Grand Square, they do the 32 beats without stopping.

Choreography Gimmicks Will Orlich give a variant he calls "Trace". Whoever is told to Trace has to follow their partner. So "Head Ladies Trace" would result in the Head Ladies executing the figure like this, while their man perform the normal move:
Forwards 1, 2, 3, Turn to Face Partner
Forwards 1, 2, 3 (following your Partner, face-to-face), Turn so that you are side-by-side with your Partner
Backwards 1, 2, 3, Turn to Face Partner
Backwards 1, 2, 3 (leading your Partner, face-to-face), Reverse

Grand Square Same Direction
Will also plays with facings by having everyone start the Grand Square by facing the Caller. For "Grand Square Same Direction", everyone does the standard "1, 2, 3, Turns" always facing either their Partner or the Caller.

Chinese Grand Square
Will continues to play with facings by everyone starting the figure facing the opposite direction to normal. Where you would walk forwards you now walk backwards and vice versa. You follow the same route as normal but always have your back to the person you would normally face.

Will's document for lots more ideas involving combining Grand Squares with other Modern Western Square Dance figures.

Hash Reverse
A "hash" call is one where the caller can call any figures they wish, and the dancers donít know what is coming next. The standard call for a Grand Square starts with "Sides Face Grand Square" on the four beats preceding the figure; this lets the dances face in the correct direction and be ready. As the dancers finish the first 16 steps the caller then calls "Re-Verse" on the last two beats to remind the dancers that they are going to start the second half of the Grand Square by reversing the last route they took.

Some callers like to have fun by calling "Re-Verse" multiple times at unexpected times. As long as the dancers follow the instructions, a good caller will get the dancers Home... eventually.

The figure can, of course, start with "Heads Face" and the Sides go to the centre first.

Grand Square Daisy Chain
Choreography Gimmicks Will Orlich give a specific set of Reverses following a pattern of "Two Forwards, One Backwards":
1, 2, 3, Turn; 1, 2, 3, Reverse; 1, 2, 3, Reverse
1, 2, 3, Turn; 1, 2, 3, Reverse; 1, 2, 3, Reverse
1, 2, 3, Turn; 1, 2, 3, Left Allemande

Changing the Formation
Jacob Bloom's
"Grand Square Contra" (AKA Fox Hollow Fancy) is a Mescolanza/Double Contra, with the formation switching from Four-Face-Four to a Square:

Colin Wallace, in his "'Not Quite' Square", plays with the ending of Half a Grand Square, getting the sides to finish with a Half a Two-Hand Turn instead of falling back, thus converting from a Square to a Longways Set.

Julian Hill's "Pentajig" goes a step further and has the Grand Square figure being executed from a Five-Couple, Proper, Longways set. The #1s and #5s start by leading in; the #2s and #4s start by falling back. All eight of those dancers just execute a Half a Grand Square movement, finishing where they started (no Reverse). The #3s do Half a Two-Hand Turn; join in with the end couples as they fall back; come forward again and fnish with another Half a Two-Hand Turn.

Timing & Styling

In most genres the dancers are careful, when dancing a Grand Square, to take three beats/steps then turn 90 degrees on the last beat, making the move very precise and with everyone moving at the same time. (The exception is MWSD where, in my experience, the call is not always at a precise time, and the dancers often race through the figure at different speeds.)

Of course, that only applies when the music provides beats in groups of four. When the dance is in waltz time then the timing needs to change. Sharon Greenís
Tammy has the movement in one waltz step and the turn in another.

It is common for dancers who are about to move away from each other to use both hands, in high-five style, to gently push away from each other.

Some gentlemen (I think I saw this in California) like to offer an elbow to the lady beside them, so that she can hook on and they can advance or retreat as a couple.

Some dancers sometimes skip or gallop some parts of the figure.

Some dancers like to race towards the next person and give them a quick swing, but not changing sides, and keeping within the timing.

Major Variations

Single Grand Square
Choreography Gimmicks Will Orlich defines a Single Grand Square as one in which the ladies start by facing their partners and backing away, while the men perform a normal Grand Square. Everyone moves indivually following the normal pattern of moves and turns. Will provides variations on the Single Grand Square such as a Daisy Chain Single Grand Square.

Grand Tour
This takes the Single Grand Square a step further and changes some of the moves from three steps to seven steps. You can see the figure being called by Dick Leger in this video.

The Grand Tour is a full 32 bars, twice as long as a Grand Square.

The ladies prepare by turning a quarter to face the men: The sequence is actually the same for everyone; the two genders just start at different points in the sequence. It is best to practice with each gender separately. Everyone needs to move forwards decisively on their own path. Note that on the long crossing you must let the person in front of you, on your left, pass in front of you. You can see one man helping another to do this at the beginning of the video. I usually call it as "Ladies Turn, Grand Tour".

A challenging figure, but great fun!

Grand Triangle
Sibby wrote a dance called "Hufflepuff" which includes a figure he named a "Grand Triangle". (Should be at, but it seems to be down at the moment.)

Start by facing your partner. It helps if you have a slightly larger than normal square. As usual each movement is three steps and turn on the fourth. Humble Square
Pat Shaw wrote two dances with what some people call a Humble Square:
In a group of four people, using the usual three steps and turn on the fourth:

Adding More Dancers

Something Elsche
∆gle Hoekstra wrote a Square Dance called
Something Elsche for six couples. There are two couples on each Side and they take two hands with their partner and act as a single unit for the Grand Square. There are no turns; all sideways movements are done with slips steps/gallops.

Twelve Hex

Winter Solstice
The Grand Squares can still work with more than four couples, as long as everyone knows where they are going. One example is Wendy Crouch's
Winter Solstice. The extra couple in the middle start the Grand Square facing each other, with their backs to the Sides.

Five Couple Square Plus One

Merifest Central Square
Another example is Kimberley Smith's
Merifest Central Square with two extra couples in the middle.


Grand Hexagon

Go to
Taminations, click on Settings at the bottom, select Hexagon under Special Geometry, then Play.

Shadowed Grand Square
Clark Baker provided this one (I gave it the name):

Shadowed Grand Square

"After midnight, at a MWSD weekend, a bunch of us invented (or discovered) that there is enough room in a grand square for 16 dancers. The way I show this to dancers is to have a square and then 4 more couples, each standing 3 steps behind the couples in the square.

"On "Sides Face", just the center side couples face. The dancers in the center square do a normal Grand Square. The dancers on the outside take 3 steps forward and then those in the sides position "face". They are now part of the normal pattern.

"The reverse happens after 16 beats. This means that the outside couples took 4 beats to get into the square and get to do 12 beats inside the 4x4 matrix before they have to reverse.

"Towards the end (the last 4 beats), those in the outside square will take 3 steps backwards to end where they started."

Double Grand Square
An extreme version of adding extra people is a Double Grand Square with sixteen dancers! You can see Seth Tepfer calling a dance with a Double Grand Square in this

Double Grand Square

Here's another group doing it as a solo figure:

It looks like this version of a Double Grand Square was created by Martha Edwards around 2009. See here and here.

There are earlier references to Double Grand Squares, but it is not always clear what they meant.

"A double grand square, never before presented for a local audience, is being prepared by B Squares under the direction of Bernice Braddon. Precision timing is the keynote of the square..."
See the original article here.

In the article on the exhibitions at the Harvest Holiday it just says:
Lariat Swingers
Director: Ace Smith
Dance - DOUBLE GRAND SQUARE - American
See the original article here.

"Keith does a fine job on his side, but the dancers felt that a double grand square in the opener, middle break and closer were too many. "
See the original article here.

"Bob has used a grand parade in his opener, and a double grand square in his closer."
Note: "grand square" is italicized, "double" is not. So it might just mean a Grand Square twice.
See the original article in American Square Dance Vol. 34 no. 3, page 71 here.

This one may not be serious! :-)

"This was one big double square with six side couples and two head couples. The other and even more difficult thing was I could not use my hands. To me square dancing is hands. Ever since I started it was right hand this and left hand that. I canít remember anyone mentioning anything about my feet. Patty was picking everything up just fine while I was slowly starting to get some of it with many gentle pushes and endless pointing by the other Stumblers. And of course there was the caller Ivan patient as ever saying, "George - to the right, the right, the other right... very good!" Bill, an experienced dancer, explained carefully how I was to count my steps, especially for the double grand square. Eight steps and turn, repeated eight times, that was the secret for my position."
See the original article here.

Otto Warteman said:
"I had an exhibition group from 1975-1998 and we did it with 32 dancers, but with 8 steps and turn and alternating couples turning. You can have like spokes of a wheel four couples deep where all the heads are facing the center or as alternating couples face their partner. You can also do four different contras at the same time where the number one couple is the furthest out from the center."

Jim Saxe said:
"There's a dance by Ted Sannella called "Ted's Double Quadrille No. 1" (or "... #1") that includes a different (and, I think, simpler) version of grand square for sixteen dancers than the one in the video John cited. The starting formation is a square with two couples side-by-side on each side of (as in Rod's Quads) and the action is simply for each couple to act the part of an individual in a normal eight-person grand square. If I recall correctly, when I danced to Ted's calling at Augusta Dance Week in 1985, he had partners put our near arms around each other's backs as in a star promenade, but it might also be done with partners simply holding near hands."

Double Quadrille

"Side couples begin by facing up or down the hall toward the other side couple in their foursome and backing away, while heads begin by dancing forward towards the opposite head couple. On the fourth beat each couple, turns as a unit 90 degrees to face across the square. On the next four beats, the original heads back out toward the side spots, while the original sides advance toward the head spots, all couples turning on the last beat to face up and down. Etc."

A spreadsheet index of Ted's dances lists the date of composition as 1965.

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