True and Technical Zeros

A Talk given at Callerlab 2012

Moderator Clark Baker and Panelist Tim Marriner

This is an educational talk about Zeros. No matter what your choreographic management system, an understanding of the types of Zeros and when to use them can be useful. This subject can be confusing, and isn't always appropriate for newer callers or in a caller school setting. We will start with the basics and by the end of the session you will understand the terms True Zero, Geographical Zero, Technical Zero, and Fractional Zero. Not only that, you will know how to add them to your choreographic management toolbox.


I was first exposed to Zeros and Equivalents in the late 1970's. If we go back in history, our Milestone award information on Lloyd Litman indicates that we credit him with "such commonly used terms as zero-movements, equivalents, set-ups, get-outs, 1P2P route lines, box 1-4 couple formations, etc."

My first CALLERLAB Convention was in 1980 when Bill Davis's formations committee first defined these terms for our organization. I remember sitting in on those discussions. Ever since 1975 I have worked on computer programs that create and/or dance square dance choreography. By 1983 these computer programs went through their database of calls (Mainstream through Challenge) and identified calls and call sequences that were True or Technical Zeros.

Each caller understands how to move dancers around and resolve the square differently. Initially we are taught one system, and often a second or third. As we grow and call more, we begin to merge these systems, talk with callers and make other discoveries. Some of us are particularly interested in the choreography and resolving aspect of calling, including the "math" behind how it all works. I am one of those people.

Early on I learned about Don Beck's Mental Image system. Even though I don't use it, by understanding it, I also have a better understanding of how calls work and how to resolve the square. In the same way, I don't actively use True and Technical Zeros in my calling, but my study and understanding of them does help me be a better caller.

I will start by laying the groundwork and making sure you understand all the terminology we will be using. Tim will offer some practical applications, especially for the Modular caller.

Terms we need to understand

Why do we need all this terminology? If there are some common areas of discussion that come up time and time again when callers get together and discuss their craft, it may be worth creating a common language. For example, instead of saying "I had the dancers in that place you get to like when the heads square thru 4" we can simply say that we are in a Zero Box. If the terminology is used a lot, it becomes second nature. If it is new to you, it can be slow going. Too much new terminology at one time, and your eyes glaze over and you can't really understand what is being talked about. With that said, here we go with a review of FASR.


Types of Zeros

The general idea we are exploring is a call (or sequence of calls) that starts from a certain Formation, moves the dancers around, and ends with them back where they started. Such a call, which accomplished nothing, is known as a Zero. Here are the various type:

Geographic Zero

A series of one or more calls that returns the dancers to the same footprints. With respect to FASR, only the "F" matters as one must be in the proper formation to do the call(s). The FASR will remain unchanged.

I want to loosen (or broaden) the above definition slightly. When we speak of FASR we are restricting our discussions to a square of dancers. Consider the following sequence from Facing Couples: Swing Thru, Centers Run, Wheel And Deal. We could also say that this is a Geographic Zero because it starts from a specific formation (that is, Facing Couples) and everyone ends exactly back where they started.

Consider the following from Facing Couples: Star Thru, Right And Left Thru, Star Thru. It is done from a specific formation (that is, Facing Couples) and everyone end exactly back where they started. Is it a Geographical Zero? Yes and no! Because it uses gender-dependent calls (Star Thru, and perhaps Right And Left Thru), we know that the starting formation must be Normal Facing Couples. Generally the starting formations of a Geographical Zero are independent of Arrangement. However, much of our calling does make use of gender-dependent calls, and they are often easier for the dancers, so we will call such sequences Geographical Zeros with the knowledge that you must be careful to call them from normal formations. Here are some more Geographic Zeros:

True Zero

A series of one or more calls that returns the dancers to the same footprints, but the entire square may be rotated with respect to the walls. As with a Geographic Zero, the "F" matters and the FASR will remain unchanged. While it made sense to have Geographical Zeros with fewer than eight dancers, it doesn't make sense for True Zeros. Therefore, all the True Zeros we discuss will have 8-dancer starting Formations.

Similar to our caution with allowing gender-dependent calls as part of certain Geographical Zeros, the same holds for True Zeros. Here are some examples:

Fractional Zero

A series of one or more calls which must be called two or more times in order to return the dancers to the same FASR. The "F" matters, and when the call(s) are repeated the necessary number of times, the FASR will remain unchanged. The following fractional zeros have been identified: 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/12.

Technical Zero

A series of one or more calls that returns the dancers to the same footprints (the entire square may be rotated with respect to the walls) and interchanges the head and side dancers. When called from the appropriate "F", "A", and "S" the FASR will remain unchanged.

FormationArrangementSequence (men vs. women)Call(s)
Facing Lines#0, #1/2sameBend The Line
Two-Faced Lines#0, #1/2sameCouples Circulate
Ocean Waves#0, #1/2oppositeCirculate
Eight Chain Thru#0, #1/2oppositeEight Chain 2
1/4 Tag#0, #1/2oppositePing Pong Circulate
Two-Faced Lines#3, #4sameCross Over Circulate
Ocean Waves#0, #1/2sameSpin Chain The Gears
Tidal Wave#0, #1/2sameGrand Swing Thru Twice
Facing Lines#0, #1/2sameRight and Left Thru, Pass Thru, Bend the Line
Facing Lines#0, #1/2samePass Thru, Tag the Line, Peel Off
Ocean Waves#3, #4sameSame-sex Diagonal Boxes, Circulate
Squared Set plus Sides Face#0, #1/2sameGrand Square 16 steps

Similar to our caution with allowing gender-dependent calls as part of certain Geographical Zeros, the same holds for Technical Zeros. Here are examples:

FormationArrangementSequence (men vs. women)Call(s)
Facing Lines#0oppositeSquare Thru, Trade By, Star Thru
Eight Chain Thru#0sameStar Thru, Pass Thru, Bend The Line, Star Thru
Squared Set#0opposite4 Ladies Chain

Ways to think about Technical Zeros

First, let's see a technical zero in action. Consider the following sequence:
Heads Square Thru 4
Swing Thru
Scoot Back
[optional Circulate]
Left Allemande
After the Heads Square Thru, the men and women are both in sequence. The Swing Thru leaves the men out of sequence. The Scoot Back doesn't change anything. If we do a Recycle, we are at a Zero Box with sides on the outside and heads in the middle. We can Allemande Left.

Instead, after the Scoot Back, we are in #0 Ocean Waves with S=opposite. These are the required conditions for Circulate being a Zero. We do the Circulate. Now the Heads and Sides have switched places. Do the Recycle and we have Heads on the outside and Sides in the center. We can still Allemande Left.

The Circulate was a "Zero" because we could leave it in or take it out. It is a Technical Zero because it only works as a Zero under the conditions of #0 or #1/2 Ocean Waves with sequence of the men not the same as the sequence of the women.

Let's look at another example:

Heads Lead Right
Pass The Ocean, Linear Cycle -- a True Zero
[optional Eight Chain 2]
Touch 1/4
Walk And Dodge
Partner Trade and Roll
Right And Left Grand
After the Heads Lead Right we have the men out of sequence and the women in sequence. The conditions are correct for the Technical Zero Eight Chain 2. Notice that when we use a Technical Zero the promenade distance will change.

What if you use a Technical Zero from the wrong place?

What do we mean by "wrong place"? The Formation must be correct or else the call or sequence of calls may not work at all. The Arrangement must also be correct. Remember that there are four possible combinations of Sequence and for a Technical Zero to be a Zero, the Sequence must be one of the proper two. If it is incorrect, you will still interchange heads and sides, but instead of having the same FASR, you will get the same FAS and a new "R"! You will have accomplished a 4 Ladies Chain.

Let's look at a simple example of that:

Heads Right And Left Thru
Star Thru
Pass Thru
[optional Eight Chain 2]
Left Allemande
Promenade, Keep Walking
The sequence works just fine without the Eight Chain 2. The dancers are all promenading their partners and they are in sequence. With the Eight Chain 2, the dancers are still in sequence, but the boys are all promenading their opposite girl.

Some callers who use memorized material and are aware of True Zeros will embellish their choreography by inserting True Zeros in appropriate places. For example, when in ocean waves, throw in a Relay The Deucey. However, the same technique can seem hit or miss with Technical Zeros. If you throw one of them into a memorized sequence at a place where the Formation and Arrangement are correct, it can be hit or miss if the dancers get their partners or opposites. You could watch for this and correct it at the end of the sequence. You could keep track of sequence while calling, but that is a skill I think few callers have. Instead the callers either avoid Technical Zeros, or use them as places where they know the sequence of the dancers (for example, just before the Allemande Left when S=same or just after the Heads Lead Right when S=opposite).

How can 4 Ladies Chain be a Zero?

Consider the following (in a simple form you can follow in your hear and without good flow and motivation):
Head Ladies Chain
[optional 4 Ladies Chain]
Heads [Sides] Lead Left
Left Allemande
Without the 4 Ladies Chain you can see that it works. With the 4 Ladies Chain you may wonder why we need to have the Sides Lead Left (other than to make it work). The answer is, after we use a technical zero, we have flip-flop the heads and sides. If there are any uses of heads or sides in the rest of the sequence, we have to flip-flop those words, also.

What kind of Zero is this?

Consider the following:
Heads Square Thru 4
Swing Thru
Scoot Back
[optional Trade The Wave]
Left Allemande
Since the Trade The Wave is optional, does that make it a Zero of some sort? The answer is "no". This is just an interesting combination of calls. Recycle destroys information. There are two different starting formations (right-hand ocean wave and left-hand ocean wave) each of which ends in the same place (facing couples). Trade The Wave moves the dancers from one starting formation to the other. The same could be true with any call that starts in a handed formation and ends in a non-handed formation (e.g., Explode The Wave, Turn Thru, Linear Cycle).

I do find the Trade The Wave, Recycle combination useful. I prefer the flow going into a Left Allemande to be toward the right. From a Right-Hand Ocean Wave, Recycle generates flow to the left. The Trade The Wave before the Recycle fixes that flow issue.

Note: When we gave the talk, this part caused a lot of discussion and some confusion. I attribute this to it having not been seen and thought about before. Everyone was seeing it for the first time.


For more information

Revised: $Date: 2012/04/08 23:18:47 $