February 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Let’s tackle the subject of money. Larry and I have been dancing long enough to see the door price creep up at most dances. Likewise, the cost of music, the cost of dues and the cost of license fees have increased. All these costs have increased but they have not kept pace with inflation or the increases we see other places in our lives. Why not?

The first night of one class the club president was bemoaning the shortage of new dancers. One brand new dancer overheard and commented, “Maybe there aren’t more people here because you are not charging enough.” Wow! What an idea!

Many conversations at dances, in club and council meetings, in the parking lot and even in online imply that the square dance world needs to keep prices low or people won’t come. Guess what? People aren’t coming with low prices.

A friend of mine who does not square dance but has experience in the entertainment field said she would expect to pay at least $10/hour for square dance lessons. For a 2- hour lesson, she would be perfectly happy to pay at least $20/night. She also said that she would expect 75-80% of that fee to go to the teacher/caller. Double wow!

Years ago, working on fundraising at my children’s school, I learned the axiom, “it takes money to make money.” It is not so different in Square Dance Land. A hall has to be rented, a caller and cuer hired, and advertising paid for before a dance or lessons can happen. Before the dancers come to dance and have a good time.

Most clubs dance in granges or community clubs. Some dance in senior centers or schools. How much are you paying in rent? Has your rent gone up every year? Why not? I was president of club (now folded) 13 years ago. Recently, I rented the same hall for a private square dance party. The rent was the same because we were square dancing. I’m sure that in 13 years the hall’s expenses (taxes, utilities, and insurance) have increased. A different hall manager shared that keeping his hall open cost $3000 a month, for taxes, utilities, insurance, and a nominal salary for a hall manager. That is not extra money for major maintenance projects like painting, new carpet, roof replacement, or floor refinishing. The extra money comes from keeping the hall rented as much as possible.

Hall managers talk with each other. They like square dancers because we don’t have keg parties and spill beer all over the hardwood floors. However, they don’t like square dancers because we rarely pay our fair share of hall expenses and upkeep. At one hall a private party will pay $55 per hour for a Friday or Saturday night. Is your club currently paying $165 to rent the hall for your Friday or Saturday night dance? Or is your hall rent less than half that amount?

Callers are the professionals in this square dance activity. Some callers regularly attend Callerlab conventions to refresh their calling skills and enthusiasm, and to network with callers from around the world. Many attend Caller Colleges every few years. Callers’ expenses include maintaining and updating calling equipment, annual dues and license fees, new music, clothes, education and travel.

Teaching new people and calling a dance are labors of love for most callers. Are we being responsible stewards of the square dance activity to expect a caller to work for free time after time, or to pay callers the same fee for lessons or dances that we did 25 or 30 years ago?

Advertising is important to do and to continue doing. Advertising is a topic to be tackled all on its own.

So where do we get our money to hold dances and new dancer classes? From dance fees, lesson fees, club dues and maybe a fundraiser or two. What are your club dues? Council dues? State Federation dues? Have they been increased a nominal amount every year? What are your fees for lessons? Have they increased every year or two? How about your dance fees?

Lessons are the ‘loss leader’ of our square dance business. New dancer classes are what get new people in to club level dancing. What gets people in the door is sharing how much we enjoy this activity and the benefits we receive.

Dance, almost any type, is very popular right now due in large part to shows like
Dancing With The Stars. The Happy Hoppers in Marysville sponsor their lessons with the Marysville Park Department. This year in their brochure square dance lessons were listed on the same page with ballroom dancing, salsa dancing, and belly dancing. Here’s how square dancing compares with other dance forms: salsa dance, $45 for 4 one-hour classes, ballroom dance, $59 for 6 one-hour classes; belly dance, $54 for 6 one-hour classes, square dance, $50 for 10 two-hour classes. Would you like the dollar per hour translation? Salsa dance is $11.25/hour. Ballroom dance is $9.83/hour. Belly dance is $9/hour. Square dance is $2.50/hour. Who values their activity?

As I have been writing this month’s article, the thought that keeps coming to mind is the old question, “is the glass half full or half empty?” I think that most of Square Dance Land has been operating with the attitude that the “glass is half empty.” As a result we have become miserly. “We can’t charge any more than this. People won’t come.” “We can’t pay any more than we are already.” I bet that if we would change our attitude to one of plenty, “our glass is half full,” things would change.

My challenge to you this month is to ask for more money and then pay more money. I know that the discrepancy between what we are paying/charging and what we should be paying/charging is too great to make the jump all at once. But little increases can make all the difference in the world. Start now and pay $10 more a night for hall rent. Surprise your landlord! Next fall increase your rent again.

You say you are not sure where the extra $10 will come from. Raise your door fee $1 or $2 a person. Yes, even for club members. While you are at it pay your caller and cuer more too, especially if you have not raised either their lesson or dance fee in the last two years. Or this year give them a bonus at the end of the dance season and raise their fees next year.

We can’t forget our square dance friends on fixed incomes. We want to keep them dancing as long as possible. Let’s get creative. We need to talk as clubs and councils and as dancers and callers to figure this out. We’re smart! We can do it together!

“Teamwork - the more you share and the harder you work together, the more you can achieve.”

Happy dancing,
Susan and Larry