The Development of
Caller Leadership


By: Bob Osgood, Arnie Kronenberger, Lee Helsel and Bob VanAntwerp
The History of CallerLab

In tracing the "why" and "how" of the beginnings of an international caller-leadership organization, we need to go back to the start of the period of contemporary western square dancing.

Square dance history includes the names of pre-war pioneers. All of them were performing callers. Few, if any, would have been considered "leaders". There is, however, one exception -- one name that stands out. He was a leader.

That man was Dr. Lloyd Shaw. He researched the western square dance and introduced it to his high school students and others in his community in the 1930's. His first wide-spread recognition came in the mid '30's with the publication of his book "Cowboy Dances" and with the start of cross-country tours with his Cheyenne Mountain Dancers.

All this, just a few years before America's entry into WWII, lit the fire that would eventually propel square dancing (as a household term) into neighborhoods across the country. Shaw's methods and philosophy would make square dancing accessible to all.

Prior to this, in rural communities across America, people enjoyed this form of dancing as an occasional activity. While there were a few itinerant callers who could handle a whole evening's program, much of the calling was done by individuals who might know only one or two calls. There were a limited number of books with calls available but fewer than a handful explained how the calling was to be done. The dances themselves were uncomplicated when compared to today's square dancing and, without sound amplification, the calls also were simple.

During the war, service personnel and defense workers moved from one area to another and, if a square dance was available, anyone who knew how to call, would likely share in the program. It was during this period that many of the post-war dancers and callers had their first taste of square dancing, but the role of developing leadership would fall to Lloyd Shaw.

Shaw's early cross-country tours and his book created great interest among school teachers and others. It wasn't long before he began receiving requests to set up a master class and teach callers. Summer classes started in Colorado Springs a year or two before the war, but had to be suspended during the emergency. In 1946 they began again and the following year Shaw also revived his tours and the big boom of square dancing was under way.

Requests to attend the week-long callers' sessions were overwhelming. The available dancing space in the small cafetorium of the Cheyenne Mountain School would only permit 96 registrants and, taking great care to insure that a wide variety of geographic areas were represented, each class filled rapidly.

Curiosity along with a desire to collect written dance material may have been the initial reason many enrolled, but what Shaw taught went far beyond calling. Among other things, callers learned how to work with people, how to be leaders and how to insure that the wholesome qualities of the activity would be preserved and protected. The opportunity to call for evaluation and the learning of more dances was just part of the curriculum. The "caller's tripod", based on the essentials of clarity, rhythm and command, was a launching pad. The importance of "dance" to an individual with movement-to-music and comfortable dance styling showed the participants that Lloyd Shaw aimed to develop leaders who could carry the torch into the second half of the 20th century.

When each class ended, these "students" returned to their home areas, started classes, became leaders themselves and soon began teaching others to call. To the best of their ability they passed along what they had learned.


Shaw continued to hold twice-yearly summer master classes into the mid-1950's, and from each class came new leaders who went out and taught dancer classes, formed callers schools, and helped create callers associations in an effort to carry on leadership training.

At first, those who had trained directly under Shaw trained others. Eventually those who were training new callers were several generations removed from Shaw. The cloak of leadership had been passed from a single individual to many.

With the steady growth of the square dance activity, individual areas came up with their own guidelines and some created their own codes of ethics.

For a time, there was little coordination other than that collected and published by Sets In Order.

Sets In Order magazine was the first national square dance publication.

The magazine, owned, edited and published by Bob Osgood and originally inspired by Lloyd Shaw, broadcast much of the Shaw philosophy.

It carried articles by the leaders of the day, took the lists of basics from square dance centers around the country, combined them, interpreted their styling to come up with a coordinated list and, in general, became a representative "voice of caller leadership".

On this framework individual callers and the various area organizations went their own way, but there was an ever-growing urgency for callers to work more closely together for the advancement of the activity.

A need for some sort of consolidated leadership became more and more apparent through the 1950's.

In August, 1960, a group of caller-leaders from several different areas met in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to search for solutions to the escalating need of unifying terminology and styling, to create a universal moral code for callers and to offer needed leadership for the activity. Bob Osgood, Ed Gilmore, Bruce Johnson, Jim Brooks, Don Armstrong, Frank Lane and their wives attended the several days of meetings.

In July 1964, SQUARE DANCING Magazine (Formerly Sets in Order) working with Southern California callers, Ed Gilmore, Lee Helsel, Bruce Johnson, Arnie Kronenberger, Bob Osgood, Bob Page, Bob Ruff and Bob VanAntwerp, and in conjunction with the extension division of The University of California -- Los Angeles, presented a two-day on-campus caller-leadership conference.  The conference utilized a combined university and caller faculty which attracted callers from across North America. The success of this conference prompted a second session the following year.

As a result of leadership guidance in these ventures and because of the continuing growth of caller-interest, it became increasingly apparent that a close association of callers was long overdue. It was further felt that experienced, proven individuals working together could form and realize such a type of leadership.

During this time SQUARE DANCING Magazine continued to reach out to more and more caller-leaders. Articles by top leaders disseminated on-going square dance leadership information. How-to-do articles were shared. Callers around the world had an increasing influence on each other. Codes of ethics were published and adopted by various associations. Consolidated lists of the basics along with styling notes, were also published.

Even though it reflected a true composite, all of this was done in an independent, somewhat detached manner. There still was a need for the existing leadership to work closely together.