December 2010

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

This month’s topic is the need for new callers (and cuers) and Guest vs. Club Caller.

If you get any group of dancers, who have been dancing awhile, together with a caller or two the topic of new callers will eventually come up. I get asked the question more often than I used to; are you working with any new callers (cuers)? Or do you know of any new callers (cuers) in the area? My answer for the area I most often call in is NO. The next question should be, why? Why aren’t there dancers interested in learning to call or cue? Maybe there are but we, as callers and cuers, haven’t figured out a good way to identify them.

The way I was recruited into calling was by expressing an interest in the choreography. A square dance friend, who had been to Callers College, gently but
firmly twisted my arm to give calling a try. I just had to do it once as a favor to him. Well, one time led to one more time and one more time after that. I found that I enjoyed it. And I liked the challenge of learning something new and working toward mastering it. Maybe enough of us don’t have the firmly part of this equation down. It is actually much like the ploy many people use to get their partners to that first square dance class, isn’t it? “You just have to try it once, honey. Just one time for me, ple-e-ease.”

Some of the objections to learning to call I have heard from dancers are – where would I call, all the clubs in my area use guest callers. Or where would I be able to practice, my club has only guest callers. Which leads right into the second topic. If you were at Leadership Seminar this summer, Daryl Clendenin spoke on this very topic. He talked at length about why every club should have their own caller and every caller should have a club. They should be synonymous with each other. The club caller calls all your club dances, teaches the lessons, goes on club caravans, and attends club meetings for important discussions.
You can read the transcript of Daryl’s speech in the Leadership Seminar Proceedings Book that will be available to those who attended.

At one of the very first classes I attended, the New Callers were made very aware of “Correct Caller Protocol.” When you are a Guest Caller, you are not required to give any other caller in the hall that evening a turn on the microphone. In fact, I have heard that some clubs include that in the Guest Caller contract – “Thou shalt not share the stage with any other caller.” As a Guest Caller, most likely from out of the local area, you want to make a good impression so the club asks you back or so a visiting dancer from another club might ask you to come call for their club. Sharing the stage with a caller you might not know is a gamble that Guest Callers aren’t willing to take in most cases.

So by this rule, a New Caller will never get the opportunity to call a tip at a club with Guest Callers only. UNLESS: the local club hires him/her, the New Caller, to call a whole dance. This is another of Daryl Clendenin’s points in his Leadership talk – give New Callers a chance. You can sing all you want in your living room to practice. But it is nothing like having real people to call to.

The other part of “Correct Caller Protocol” is that as a New Caller, you should NEVER bring your music into the hall until the Caller asks if you would like to call a tip. Several stories were shared with us about New Callers, in the past, who brought their record case in, set it on the edge of the stage and announced – Well, I’m here. What tip do you want me to call? Needless to say, they did not get a turn on stage that night.

On the other hand, Club Callers can help, nurture, and mentor New Callers. I was fortunate that Larry and I were able to angel at the Samena Squares lessons with Wayne Easton calling and teaching. I danced to him and watched him teach for a couple of years. Eventually, he asked me to call a tip at lessons to review the new calls from the previous week. A couple of years later, he would call me at work and ask me to teach the class because he couldn’t make it that night. I learned a lot from him just watching and dancing to his calling. But then I also gained more experience and confidence when I filled in for him. Thank you, Wayne!

New Callers are told at Callers College, to go home and start their own club. To get a bunch of friends together, teach them how to dance, and form a club. Maybe that is the answer after all. The way to recruit New Callers is to encourage interested dancers to give it a try and go form a new club.

I know all of you in existing clubs are sputtering – “But, but, but...our clubs are struggling to survive. How can you be suggesting that someone start a new club?” I am suggesting that. But more I’m suggesting that your club hire the New Caller in your area to call a complete dance. If you don’t have any New Callers in your area, start talking amongst yourselves to see if someone is interested and just needs a bit of encouragement. Or they need to know that their friends and club members are behind them and will be patient and encouraging and supportive. If you have a Youth Caller in your town, hire them.

I will hazard a guess that for every caller in your area over the age of 70, there should be one or two new callers learning the ropes, getting experience, and being mentored. If we go by Daryl’s suggestion that there be a caller for every club, many areas are behind already. Square dancing may indeed disappear. But it won’t be because there are no more dancers. It will be because there are no more callers.

So the challenge this month is to let someone know if you would like to give calling or cueing a try. Or encourage a dancer friend who has expressed an interest. I mostly talked about callers because that is my experience. But the square dance community needs new cuers too. Ask a caller or cuer in your area for some help getting started. They will be happy to help you.

“T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
- - - Clement Clark Moore

Enjoy a fabulous holiday season! Don’t forget to dance!

Happy dancing,
Susan and Larry