On The Rights of Call Authors

Clark Baker

January 31, 1999

Recently, there was some discussion on the square dance caller's e-mail list regarding what rights the author of a square dance call may or may not have. I would like to offer my opinion on this subject.

First my view of how calls are created and disseminated.

Creation: An author (usually a caller, sometimes a dancer) has an idea for a new call or concept. After thinking about various alternatives (i.e., should it start with a 1/2 Circulate or a Circulate 1 1/2, should it end in a 1/4 tag or have a final Extend, does it time better with a Cast Off 3/4 or a Hinge while the others are circulating, etc.) the author tries the movement out on some dancers. At this point, he begins to learn how to teach and describe it. Sometimes the dancers will have questions and offer suggestions. After exposing several groups of dancers to the call and its variations, the author might share it with a few friends and see what they think and how their dancers reacted to the call. Somewhere along the way the author has to come up with a name. Often it is related to some movement in the call (e.g., the new call Sink The Boat is called that because it has the centers part of Load The Boat in it, which makes it "Boat" related). Sometimes the name is unrelated to anything which has come before (e.g., Potpourri). Sometimes the name changes while the call is being fine tuned.

Documentation: After the creation, the author may "write up" the call. His writeup could include teaching hints, extensions, dance examples, singing call figures, equivalents, examples of illegal extensions, etc. It may list popular starting positions or all starting positions. It may be written using terms from the Plus, Advanced, or other dance programs. It may be written with great precision or with a lack of precision.

Distribution: This writeup can be sent to the publisher of Burleson, various caller note services, a Callerlab QS chairman, or to some of his caller friends. In addition, as the author travels to and calls dances, he uses the call and tells others about the call. Often dancers who have been taught the call at one dance tell their caller about the great new call. If the author tapes and distributes his dances then anyone who dances to the tape will be exposed to the call. Today, the Internet can be used to distribute new calls.

Evolution: Now the call spreads like wildfire. Everyone is doing it. Some learn it by word of mouth, some read about it in a note service. Perhaps it becomes a Quarterly Selection. Many note services reword the call definitions they receive so they use a common language. I believe some note services have "improved" calls. Different callers attempt different ways to teach the call. Sometimes the teaching words are taken by the next person as the definition. Occasionally calls created for Mainstream and Plus contain enough variety that they are of interest to the Challenge community. Here they need precise definitions and often lots of issues which were never thought of by the original author must be decided (who can Roll, how many parts, is it Walk And Dodge or Do Your Part Walk And Dodge, etc.). As the call is used and abused, these issues are worked out, often based on suggestions from the dancers.

At some point, the call may be proposed to be a Quarterly Selection. Usually without having seen any written definition by the author, it, along with several other calls, are written up and distributed as a ballot. This involves deciding how much of the call should be a QS (right-handed and/or left-handed, waves and 1/4 tag or waves only, Partner Hinge or only the Single Hinge version, etc.), and how to write the definition so that it fits existing Callerlab definitions and only uses terms appropriate to the corresponding dance program. In addition, dance examples and teaching hints are created. The ballot is distributed to all QS members. If the particular call is selected then Callerlab issues a press release which is usually picked up by various magazines. If the call is later voted onto a dance program, it would probably enter that program with the definition which was published as part of the QS press release.

For calls which existed prior to Callerlab definitions, a group of callers sat around a room and made up definitions. They tried to define the calls as they were being danced at that time. After at least 12 drafts, the Mainstream definitions were considered in good enough shape to be approved by all members of Callerlab. There have only been minor changes to the Mainstream definitions since then.

Now my views on the rights of a square dance call author.

After creating a new call, the author should try his best to get the call disseminated in a clear and unambiguous way. Usually a one page writeup distributed to note services, Burleson, QS committee chairman, the Internet, and other callers will work.

If he is involved in Advanced or Challenge dancing, he should consider possible extensions and variations when creating the call.

If there are several ways to teach the call (Pass Thru & Quarter Out vs. Pass Out vs. Star Thru) and he feels that one is right and the others violate he intent, he should convey this in his writeup. He should convey the call's gestalt, if it has one.

Once the author "launches" the call, it is in the hands of the folks. While most folks are willing to respect the author's wishes if they are made known, calls will change and evolve over time. I believe that the caller has lost control once he publishes a call. If he does a good job publishing the call, and if the call has a strong identity, it will probably be preserved. However, the burden is on the author to get it right and get it distributed.

There have been several cases of one caller telling another and getting it wrong. There is nothing worse than two versions of the same call being propagated and danced at the same time. Often this will cause the call to fail.

If I try to define an old call, like Pair Off, today, I am going to make up a definition which uses modern terminology and attempts to document how it is called and danced today, not the original author's version. For many of our old calls, like Pair Off (Ed Gaut, 1959), there never was any written definition. If there was, it has been lost. Even if it still exists, the current usage may have changed greatly. Even if the original definition exists and the call hasn't changed, the words used to describe the call may not be appropriate for today's definitions. There no question in my mind that, if asked to define Pair Off today, I will make up a new definition.

One could ask lots of old time callers how a certain call works (like U-Turn Back). Often their memories all disagree. Even if they agree, the call has changed.

In a few instances, a call's author has become upset with how the folks have evolved his call and made an attempt to correct the situation. Cast A Shadow was originally done from promenade and later two-faced lines and then any sort of lines in which the ends form a tandem (i.e., the centers could be both facing out or in, or the whole formation could be waves). Still later, someone came up with a way of doing it from columns where the #1 and #3 in the column do the ends part. Since this was the way Cast A Shadow was being called and danced, it is the way it was documented in the Callerlab definitions. When the call's author attended an Advanced committee meeting and said that he never intended that Cast A Shadow be done from columns, wishes that it would stop, and wishes that we would take it out of the definitions, a vote was taken and he got his wish. The definition now says "By vote of the Advanced Committee, this call is not to be done from columns." This is an example of how an author can retain some control of a call long after it was written.

In conclusion, the square dance call author doesn't have many rights. He does his best to create the call and launch it on the world at which point he has lost control to the folk process.

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Revised: $Date: 2006/02/25 02:08:15 $