The following information is published with ROUNDALAB's permission from the ROUNDALAB Reference Manual compiled by Richard & Jo Ann Lawson, 1987.
How to Read a Round Dance Cue Sheet
Taken from Square Dancing Magazine February, 1974
A round dance cue sheet is rather like a recipe (or from the masculine viewpoint, a blueprint), with the ingredients or parts listed and directions given for putting them together for the desired results. You wouldn't think of baking a cake or trying to assemble an engine with the recipe or plan in your pocket. Unless your memory is phenomenal, it is just as chancy to practice a round dance without first checking the cue sheet. To most people, the initial glance at a cue sheet is like reading something in a foreign language. It takes a little time and patience to learn to interpret one quickly. Here are a few explanations which may be of some help.
If all instructions for a dance were written out in full, most cue sheets would be several pages long, so abbreviations are used. Here is where we begin to run into some differences from that to which we are accustomed. Where we normally use a period (.) to signify an abbreviation, there are no periods used for this purpose in round dance cue sheets. That is, if we were to use the abbreviation for Line of Dance (the usual method of taking the first letter of each word follows through here), it would not be printed L.O.D., but, instead, LOD — no periods and all run together. In the same way OP stands for Open Position; even more peculiar looking are the words SCAR (Sidecar) and LOP (Left-Open Position). Although at first these may seem very strange, there are many excellent leaflets available which list the most commonly used abbreviations, and one can either memorize these or refer to them each time an unfamiliar one appears and they soon become automatic. It's surprising how quickly this can be achieved if you take the trouble to try. Once the abbreviations have been mastered you are halfway toward understanding a cue sheet.
A dancer with musical training has a distinct advantage over one who has had none because he has not only become accustomed to counting, but also because he is used to the "measure" division of music which is also used in round dancing. To define a measure musically would be far too technical for the uninitiated. To describe it as simply as possible, a measure is a set number of beats or counts in music and each piece of music has this set number of counts per measure throughout. Two-steps most frequently have four counts to a measure while waltzes usually have three. In round dance cue sheets, these measures are grouped in lots of four. Therefore, you will notice when you pick up a cue sheet that the measures are listed 1-4, 5-8, etc. This method breaks your measures down unto useable sections.
Punctuation also plays a large part in your cue sheet. Each punctuation mark has a special significance. First the comma (,) indicates that the movement described before it takes one beat or count to execute; next, the dash (-) means a hold, one of the most difficult things to accomplish because you do nothing for that count; thirdly, the semicolon (;) which denotes the end of a measure; fourth, the slash (/) which marks a split measure or count; lastly, the parenthesis (), used as a preface to the footwork for a familiar movement (e.g. (Limp) Side, Behind, Side, Behind;).
All cue sheets are written with directions given for the man. Footwork is for him and, unless otherwise stated, the lady must use the opposite foot.
All cue sheets have their directions written twice, one in the "cue line" describing the footwork and sometimes the position; then in fine print below giving the movement in detail. Most record companies are now numbering the measures in fine print which makes them easier to follow than the old method of putting the description in paragraph form, with the measures separated by semicolons. You must be very thorough in checking the fine print as sometimes it includes special directions for the lady which are not included in the cue line. Also it is here you find your facing position, the specific direction of a certain movement such as a twirl, wheel, etc., your dance position, etc.
Let us use a few examples to illustrate what we have said before. Here are the first four measures of the classic, Dancing Shadows: Walk, -, 2, -; (Scissors) Side, Close, Cross, -; Side, Close, Back, -; Bwd Two-Step; This allows us to use many of the things referred to in the above paragraphs. (Incidentally, when learning a dance you should never go further than about four measures at a time. Become familiar with these, then add four more and build your dance in this manner.) You will notice that there are four semicolons so we know that this description covers four measures; that the two Walk steps are slow with a Hold after each (see the dashes?); that the "Scissors" step is emphasized in parentheses; that the abbreviation Bwd is used for "backward"; that a two-step requires one four-count measure to execute. All of this you learn from the cue line described above, but you must refer to the fine print for your detailed footwork and direction of movement.
Many people say they can't use a cue sheet; yet, these same people bemoan the fact that they have trouble remembering a sequence. If you take the time to decipher a cue sheet and work it out carefully, you will find that it becomes as clear as your daily newspaper and vastly improves your ability to recall sequences. No one can expect to learn a dance thoroughly, without years of practice, unless he makes some reference, at some time in his career of round dancing, to the cue sheet. Also, the dancer who depends only on the cue line description is out at first base. Just think! A two-step can be done in LOD, RLOD, to the WALL, to COH, and diagonally between all of these; but in the cue line it would just be written Fwd Two-Step!
Similarly, it could be done in Open, Closed, Semi-Closed, Left-Open, Half-Open, Banjo or Sidecar Position, etc. The man could walk while the lady twirls, rolls or executes some other different movement. No matter how excellent your round dance teacher may be or how carefully he breaks a dance down for you — regardless of how talented you yourself may be — very few of us are mind readers, and, unless you are one of those lucky few, you will find that you will benefit greatly if you take time and trouble to learn to interpret a cue sheet correctly and put this knowledge to good use.