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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Square Dancing
as a Part of a Corrective Therapy Program

By Herbert G. Vogt, 1951

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Square Dancers

A Research Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
of the 8-0-13 Officers' Physical Reconditioning Course in the
Department of Physical Medicine
Medical Field Service School
Brooke Army Medical Center
Fort Sam Houston, Texas

May 1951



In this day and age dancing may seem to be a purely recreational function. A Dr. Bernard Flaherty and his assistants who were corrective therapists in the treatment of neuropsychiatric patients initiated a study of the possibilities of dancing as an adjunctive therapy in a corrective therapy program in a neuropsychiatric hospital.1 He felt that the results were encouraging, that such therapy possesses a great deal of value, but which is still in a purely experimental stage. Along this line, Kurath notes that much study by dancing teachers and psychiatrists will be required to discover the "special therapeutic rhythms and choreography adapted to different ailments,"2 and Lawton stresses that a medico-dance language will have to be developed before dancing can make its full contribution to therapy.3

The James-Lange theory of emotions clearly implies that if sufficient physiological relaxation can be secured to achieve rhythmic movement, it will be accompanied by a corresponding emotional relaxation, which should at the very least render the patient more accessible to the establishment of rapport with the doctors and therapists. There is little that can be done in the way of treatment when a patient is acutely disturbed; anything that will lesson this disturbance and direct the patient's thoughts to associations on the level of reality is desirable.4

All concerned were in complete agreement that the approach must be from the standpoint of physical medicine rehabilitation, not from that of a recreational activity. Van de Wall indicated that aims for such therapy when he pointed out that music might aid in arousing the patient's interest and participation in a pleasurable aesthetic activity associated with normal life, and thus reduce his susceptibility to the depressing influence of idleness, boredom, and preoccupation with undesirable thoughts.5 With this in mind, the following treatment aims were established:

  1. General and progressive increase in emotional resonance.
  2. Increased socialization and spontaneity.
  3. Improved personal hygiene and grooming.
  4. Increased accessibility to individual psychotherapy.
  5. Increased participation in adjunctive therapies.

The actual dancing was conducted with the cooperation of young women volunteer workers, one of whom was a dynamic experienced daner whose contributions of time, energy, and knowledge were invaluable. The actual supervising of the program was done by one or more corrective therapists. The psychiatrists considered that it was essential that these therapists participate actively in the dancing, and their association with the patients was on the basis of masculine activities and this served to remove any anxieties that the patient might feel as to whether rhythmics led by women was a social pattern in which a male might participate without loss of status.

The volunteer workers were instructed that they should encourage the patients to talk as well as to dance. They were to display an attitude of encouragement toward them and to endeavor to build up their self-confidence by praising their dancing. Their attitude was to be one of kindness.

The patients were to be treated on an equal basis and their first faltering steps toward resocialisation were to be encouraged and praised. At the beginning of each session, the volunteer workers were to be informally introduced to each patient. However, the first names of the patients and volunteer workers were used exclusively. If the patient indicated interest in the volunteer worker's last name, or showed any other interest of a personal nature, this response was quietly encouraged. The general attitude was one of informality and spontaneity.

The dancing was held in a well-lighted and cheerful room. Only patients who were prescribed for this activity by the ward psychiatrists were present, as it was found that the presence of non-participating patients was a definitely disturbing factor.

The fundamental steps were taught as a group activity, usually with the patients in a line and the volunteer workers demonstrating the step in front of them. Each worker then took two or more patients and practiced as a unit, after which she danced with the patients individually.

The socially non-acceptable behavior occasionally displayed by psychotic patients might occur at this time. However, the therapists, who were constantly alert for such behavior, quickly and unobtrusively insured its discontinuance. Such happenings were met with a calm, un-punishing attitude, but it was extremely important that the volunteer workers be warned ahead of time that they may occur and assured them that the therapist would stop any such actions before they progressed to the point of unpleasantness.

During the social dancing, the therapists themselves remained more or less inactive so far as actual participation was concerned, but occasionally it was found necessary for them to act as partners for the patients who could not accept the proximity of female partners.

The therapists, however, performed every movement as it was taught, because it was observed that the patients would become reticent in their own participation if the therapists simply observed.

Needless to say, definite progress toward resocoalization was registered when a patient who never danced before attended his first social affair and found it possible to mingle with the group on an equal basis.

In writing of the need for re-socialization, Render brings out the fact that the person who is mentally ill thinks chiefly about himself.6 He keeps away from others, or, if he is in their midst, he disturbs them. This barrier in social relationships has to be broken down, and the patient must learn to function adequately and harmoniously as a unit of a social group.

All purely social activities should be as nearly normal as possible—tea dances at tea time; social dances in the evening require special grooming. The nursing personnel wear clothes appropriate to the occasion and the need.

Render further brings out that when the patient cannot conform to the needs of a particular group, he is not well enough to be with that group; and, if he is removed, he should be told exactly why and what is expected of him in order to return.7

The need for social and recreational therapy is brought out by Kalman:

There are types of psychiatric treatment that attempt to change the individual by making changes in his environment. These techniques are concerned with broadening his social horizon. They attempt to teach him to play, to pursue hobbies, to make friends, to find his most suitable occupation, and in general to feel more comfortable in his environment.

Recreational therapy helps the patient to improve his relationships with others. Many individuals who come for psychiatric treatment have never learned to play or have, under stress of business or household duties, neglected to play. Play helps to get the patient's thoughts away from himself and directs them toward others in a way that gives him pleasure and helps him to make friends. Play also affords him release from emotional tensions.8

Deutsch writes that recreational therapy such as given in modern state hospitals, is a positive factor in curative treatment.9

Thus, several writers and authorities on the subject indicate that there is a place for recreational therapy that has a curative value.

Dancing is one of the means of socialization that has been tried, although it would help to have a more scientifically controlled test to prove dancing of value as therapy.

Flaherty, however, cites a few cases typical of successful results achieved through therapeutic dancing:

Patient A is a 27-year old white male schizophrenic, with catatonic features. He was extremely slow in gait, mute, careless in appearance, with slight protrusion of the shoulders and head. After a few months of dance therapy, the patient has responded to the extent of carrying on conversations with the therapist and volunteer workers. At the close of the dance, he remarks to his partner that he enjoyed her company and thanks her for helping him. His appearance has improved and his posture is now erect, so that when he walks he appears alert, with head up.

Patient B was an extremely regressed 26-year old white male schizophrenic, with catatonic features. He was hostile and negativistic about going to the adjunctive therapies, always wanting to be left alone. The therapist, with the ward doctor's advice of "total push" for the patient, managed to keep him in the dance therapy activity. With help of one volunteer worker, who gave the patient all possible encouragement and praise during each session, remarkable results were achieved. This patient is now alert, eager, neat in appearance, and helps the therapist with the other patients in the dance therapy program. He had become readily accesible to other adjunctive therapies and displays enthusiasm in the work to which he is assigned.

Patient C was a 25-year old white male depressive case. He would not take part in any hospital activity and was not interested in his personal appearance. For the first three weeks, of therapeutic dancing, he would only listen to the music, refusing to take any parat in the dancing. The therapist then noticed the patient had begun to keep time to the music and immediately had one of the volunteer workers ask the patient to dance. His reaction was favorable and was accompanied by attention to his personal grooming. He is now at home and reports indicate he is making a satisfactory adjustment to his environment.10



Occupational therapists are interested in the physical or recreational aspects of treatment of hospital patients. In a list of types of occupational therapy, Mrs. Marshall L. Price writes of the use of folk dancing and regular dancing (ball room).11

Ingram reminds us, however, to learn what we can of our patient's likes and dislikes before we institute an activity. This is especially true in relation to sounds.12

According to the individual need and to the highest capability of the of the patient, the occupational therapist's purpose is to reconstruct, to rebuild, or re-educate the patient mentally, physically, and socially:

(a) Mental:

  1. Arouses and develops attention.
  2. Creates new interests.
  3. Gives an opportunity for self-expression.
  4. Eases emotional stress.
  5. Gives an outlet for repressed energy.
  6. Substitutes encouragement for discouragement.
  7. Replaces unhealthy mental trends with healthy ones.
  8. Has a normalizing influence—it is natural for man to be occupied.
  9. Conserves the work habit and prevents invalid habits.

(b) Physical:

  1. Restores function to disabled joints.
  2. Renews wasted nerve and muscle tissues.
  3. Increases blood supply and healing processes.
  4. Builds up resistance to fatigue.
  5. Develops mental and physical coordination.

(c) Social:

  1. Raises morale of patient, ward, and hospital.
  2. Develops group responsibility and cooperation.
  3. Gives opportunity for social contacts in normal activities.13

A recreational leader can readily see how dancing as an activity for patients could fit into the various aspects listed above. Along with community singing, concerts, music, parties, and many other planned activities, Render includes dancing (square dances, folk dances, tea dances, evening dances with refreshments).14

In an interview with Miss Sarah Penn of the Brooke Army Medical Center Service Club the writer learned that the Wednesday night square dancers were good for dancers and on-lookers alike. Callers were secured from the San Antonio Recreation Department. The Red Cross recruited and trained young hostesses who were but partially handicapped by casts, loss of some sight, hearing, or limbs. Miss Penn related how one patient would become all mixed up in round dancing, but could successfully follow the calls in square dancing. Another would get over to the hall with crutches, but seemed to have little need of them during the square dancing. Many of the observers seemed to forget themselves even though they did not take actual part in the dancing. They enjoyed the rhythm. the following of the caller, even the kidding at the mistakes of their buddies while thay had fun trying to get through some of the more intricate phases.

Miss Penn said that the success of some of the square dancing was because of the personality of the caller who with patience and insight was able to win the dancers over to become fairly good. Not all callers thereby antagonize the patients.

A greater part of the success, moreover, was because of the hostesses who were well oriented about how to deal with patients and what to expect of them.13



The writer had an interview with a national authority of square dancing, Rickey Holden, San Antonio, Texas, who was explaining how callers almost never use their hands:

"I have seen exactly one person utilize hands to any advantage in calling, and this was a young lady named Lily Duhon at the Houston Festival in April, 1950, who called for an exhibition set composed of dancers who were, like herself, completely deaf and dumb."14

Rickey Holden further helped the writer find other articles in his personal library pertaining to square dancing for the handicapped.

Dr. Alfred L. Brown, Superintendent of the Colorado School for Deaf and Blind, writes:

When we saw how much fun and and pleasure the students of the Cheyenne Mountain School were getting out of Square Dancing under the direction of Dr. Lloyd Shaw, who, by the way, is Superintendent of the school and a national authority on the square dance, we became very much interested. We joined one of Dr. Shaw's Old Time Swing Club sets and learned many of the calls and how to execute them. We found it to be fun.

We wonder if it wouldn't be fun for our deaf students, too. We tried it out. It was a success from the very start. Our students learned the different calls more quickly than did some of us.

Naturally, the calls had to be given in the sign language as the deaf could not follow the spoken call even by lip-reading where so much action is required. As we had never heard of any one teaching square dancing to the deaf before, I, as caller, had to coin the signs for the different calls. By following these coined signs of the caller, our students were able to execute any of the ordinary square dances, but of course, did not attempt any of the singing quadrilles. The patter of the usual caller that helps the hearing dancers so much is of no assistance to the deaf. In order to put the calls over, the caller must be located where he can easily be seen. This is accomplished by standing on a chair. While the dancers cannot hear the music, they do get something from the vibration, and if the caller has the spirit of the dance, they get much of the rhythm from him.

We have demonstrated before the State Square Dance Caller's contests and because we wished that other deaf students might have as much fun as ours have had from this activity, we accepted an invitation to take a set and demonstrate before the National Convention of the Instructors of the Deaf when it met in Fulton, Missouri. It is a source of satisfaction to to know that several schools for the deaf have taken up the old fashioned Square Dance.15

Dr. Lloyd Shaw wrote that he noticed how well Dr. Brown's students danced:

I have taken a couple of sets of my dancers out to join with them. I learned the sign calls quickly—they are so obvious—and called the dances for them entirely by the motion of my hands. It delighted me to see how well the mixed group, or either group separately, responded to my entirely silent call. It was good fun.16

Rickey Holden told how square dancing could be done by patients in wheel chairs. This the writer did not believe until Rickey found a write-up in his unusual and authentic library:

"Your set in order, the music, please." Somebody turns on the P.A. system and strains of "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" fill the room. There's nothing different about the caller's voice, he just says "Gals to the center and back to the bar; Gents to the center and form a star with a right-hand cross." There's nothing different about the other sounds in the room. You hear the laughing, the usual noises that go on in any Square Dance. Only occasionally you hear something a little diferent—the clang of a piece of metal hitting another piece of metal. Then you take another look. A fellow and a girl, dressed in the regular Square Dance attire—levis, bright shirt, long dress, and all—are swinging each other with a wild fury that only seems unusual because of the fact that both are in wheel chairs.17

The old statement that you "can't sit down and Square Dance" has certainly been shattered by a bunch of young enthusiasts who call themselves the "Square Wheelers" and who do their walkin' and talkin', and yes, Square Dancing, in wheel chairs. Folks thought all this sort of thing was impossible but it took eight of these youngsters together with a fellow named Peter Terry, instructor for the group, to weld the idea into a functioning activity. The gang meets once a week at the Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital. The regular dancers of the group take just about as much time as any other regular Square Dance. Broken up only by refreshments and an occasional breather, the dances last approximately three hours.

It took a lot of ingenuity to re-do some of the figures so that they would be adaptable to the wheel chair jockeys, but persistance and imagination has resulted in a most unusual demonstration of real Square Dancing.

Now members of the Associated Square Dancers, the group has put on many exhibitions throughout the Southland.18

At the Second Annual Houston Square Dance Festival on March 31 and April 1, 1950, an exhibition was put on by Doc Journell and his dance team from the School of the Deaf. Jimmy Clossin called "Caller's Choice" and the Palmers called "Bird in the Cage, Seven Hands Around." The same team danced "Sally Goodin and Do-Si-Do" to the calling of Earl Eberling, and "Double Star" to the calling of Chuck Rogers.19



From reading some of the literature and from talking with some people who know, the writer believes that Square Dancing properly managed may be of much help to patients who are psychoneurotic, deaf, and in wheel chairs, or who are convalescing with orthopedic disabilities.

The writer himself had an orthopedic disability resulting from a gun-shot wound through the left foot. His foot healed well and has proper function and full use. Among the various activities that strengthened his foot and leg muscles was dancing—ballroom, tap, and Square Dancing.

People who wish to find help in running a Square Dance may tap into the following sources:

  1. Most city recreation departments.
  2. Most school or university health, physical education, and recreation departments.
  3. Libraries of books and/or recordings.
  4. Square Dance Clubs and/or Square Dance Callers Associations.


The writer wishes to express appreciation to the following people:

  • Ricky and Marty Holden, Parks and Recreation Department, San Antonio, Texas, for their hospitality, their library and research files pertaining to Square Dancing, and their guidance and help including Square Dance lessons.
  • 1st Lt. Charles Long, M.C., physiatrist at Brooke Army Hospital, for guidane and encouragement.
  • Capt. Olga Gull, A.N.C., student-officer of neuropsychiatry, for her sincere guidance and help.
  • Miss Sarah Penn, Recreational Director of the Service Club, Brooke Army Medical Center.
  • Capt. Walter F. Robbins, MSC, MFS, and 1st Lt. C.B. Hawkins, MSC, MFSS, for their encouragement and helpful criticism of the gathering and writing of this paper.
  • In addition, there were many Texans from San Antonio and around who belong to Square Dance clubs and who were helpful with suggestions that aided to the writing of this paper.


  1. Flaherty, Bernard, M.D. and Assistants, The Role of Therapeutic Dancing in a Corrective Therapy Program. (unpublished paper presented at Brooke Army Hospital sometime between 1946 and 1950).
  2. Kurath, Tula, "Medicine Rites and Modern Psychotherapy," Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 20:72, Nov. 1929.
  3. Lawton, Shailer Upton, "Dance as Therapy," in Dance Encyclopedia, Anatole Chujoy, editor; New York; A.S. Barnes and Co., p.135.
  4. Flaherty, op. cit.
  5. Van de Wall, Willem, Music in Hospitals, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1946, p.42.
  6. Render, Helena Willis, R.N., Nurse-Patient Relationships in Psychiatry, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, Chapter VII (Rehabilitation) p.228-258.
  7. Render, op. cit.
  8. Kalman, Marion E., R.N., Introduction to Psychiatric Nursing, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1950, p.151-153.
  9. Deutsch, Albert, The Mentally Ill in America, Columbia University Press, New York, 1949, p.456.
  10. Flaherty, op. cit.
  11. Ingram, Madeline Elliott, Principles of Psychiatric Nursing, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1949, p.169-181.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Render, op. cit.
  15. Holden, Rickey, The Square Dance Caller, unpublished manuscript, San Antonio, Texas, 1950.
  16. American Squares, Vol. 1, No. 6, February, 1946. 38 S. Girard St., Woodbury, New Jersey.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Sets in Order, Vol. 1, No. 6, June 1949, p.16-17.
  19. Program, Second Annual Houston Square Dance Spring Festival, sponsored by the Houston Square Dance Council and Parks and Recreation Department, Room 501, City Hall, Houston, Texas, April, 1950.


Pertaining to Square Dancing:

A. Manuscripts:

  • Flaherty, Bernard, M.D. The Role of Therapeutic Dancing in a Corrective Therapy Program (unpublished). Brooke Army Medical Center, Ft. San Houston, Texas, circa 1946-1949.
  • Holden, Rickey, Syllabus for Square Dance Institute, Brockton Massachusetts, 15-16 May, 1950.
  • Holden, Rickey, The Square Dance Caller (private library, unpublished), San Antonio, Texas, 1950.

B. Books:

  • Clossin, Jimmy and Hertzog, Carl (also publisher), West Texas Square Dances, El Paso, Texas, 1950.
  • Durlacher, Ed., Honor Your Partner, Devin-Adair Co., New York, 1949.
  • Kraus, Richard G., Square Dances of Today (and how to teach and call them), A.S. Barnes & Co., New York, 1950.

C. Phonograph Recordings:

  • Albums, Honor Your Partner, called by Ed Durlacher, Devin Adair Co., New York, 1949 (three recordings). Good for beginners, intermediates, and advanced dancers.
  • Albums, Rickey Holden and the Texas Whirlwind, Folkraft, K*W Record Corp., Newark, New Jersey. Eight recordings on four ten-inch, non-breakable, plastic records.

D. Pamphlets:

  • Holden, Rickey, Square Dancing Texas Style, a guide to the perplexed, Folkraft Library of International Folk Dances, Vol. 15, Newark, New Jersey, 1949.
  • Sumrall, Bob, DO-SI-DO, Fifty-Five Square Dance Calls with explanations, Mathews Printing Co, Abilene, Texas.

E. Texts:

  • Deutsch, Albert, The Mentally Ill in America, Columbia University Press, New York, 1949.
  • Ingram, Madeline Elliot, R.N., Principles of Psychiatric Nursing, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1949.
  • Kalman, Marion E., R.N., Introduction to Psychiatric Nursing, McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., New York, 1950.
  • Moreno, Jacob L. M.D., Group Psychotherapy (A Symposium), Beacon Hill Publishers, Beacon Hill, New York, 1945 (Dance Therapy).
  • Render, Helena Willis, R.N., Nurse-Patient Relationships in Psychiatry, McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., New York, 1947.
  • Wilson, Letitia, R.N. and Scott, Ruth B., R.N. From Square Dancing to Drama, The America Journal of Nursing, Vol.50, No. 8, p.488-490.


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