January 2011

Happy New Year to one and all!

Last month I wrote about the need for New Callers and about Guest vs. Club Callers. I went so far as to suggest that New Callers should take the initiative to start a new club of their own. I’m sure that many of you in established clubs, whether your clubs are struggling to survive or not, are still sputtering.

When dancers get together after the dance is over or in meetings, we start talking about the issues our clubs face: hiring callers, getting new dancers, increasing attendance at dances, getting club members involved, to name just a few. The issues are universal. Frequently people are very passionate about their point of view or frame of reference. It’s good to be passionate about an activity that you love. It is also good to pause and consider another point of view or frame of reference. If we listen to what others are saying, there might be an idea to add to what you are already doing that makes square dancing more fun for your club or results in more dancers, in class or at dances.

Below are some thoughts that have been shared in numerous conversations over the years along with some questions to ponder and discuss with your club members. After thinking about it and discussing alternatives, you might decide to continue along the same path or you might decide to try something new. The benefit is in the discussion and making a decision rather than going along on autopilot—“because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Many clubs feel that Guest Callers will bring more dancers to their club’s dances. This feeling is especially true if the number of guests
(non-club members) has been declining. With a Guest Caller, attendance may go up initially. Points to ponder: Are the number of guests holding steady or increasing every dance with Guest Callers year after year? Or visit after visit by the same Guest Caller? Is the number of guests up at every dance? Are the majority of your club members at every dance? If not, why aren’t club members attending club dances? Are club members/leadership getting tired from the time and energy needed to host a Guest Caller every dance?

Club Callers provide an ongoing presence in a club. They are the ones who are there year after year as dancers come and go and as club leadership changes each year. There is comfort and stability being in a long-term relationship. The danger is that it can also become boring. Points to ponder
(callers especially): Is your program/music the same this year as it was last year? Have you added anything new (figures, music, gimmicks, teaching methods, or even outfits)? Are club members commenting to you (the Club Caller) or to each other that they would like something new or different?

The most important thing that a club does is host New Dancer Classes every year. Without new dancers, clubs face a bigger challenge to survive, and there will be no new callers or cuers in the future. The Club Caller usually teaches the new dancer classes, or if the club uses Guest Callers for their dances, they hire a Teacher Caller to teach their classes. The Club Caller and Teacher Caller are there every week to establish relationships with the new dancers. New dancers often have a strong loyalty to the caller that taught them to dance. Club Callers can unobtrusively continue lessons by featuring some of the calls at the end of the teaching list in workshop tips, thereby increasing new dancer confidence. Club Callers can also identify, encourage, and mentor new callers. Points to ponder: Are you having New Dancer Classes each year? Do your new dancers join the Club? Do they participate in Club activities? Has anyone indicated an interest in calling/cueing that needs encouragement?

Now the club has a responsibility too, for attendance at dances and relationships with guests, club members and the new dancers. The caller, whether Guest or Club, is not the only one in charge of making sure that guests and club members are having fun and want to come to dances. Points to ponder: Is your club a friendly place to be? Are your club members friends with each other? Do you have activities outside of square dancing that you do together? Has everyone in your club found a place and way to participate and contribute? If you are a club leader, have you encouraged participation by all members at the level they are comfortable? Are your new dancers included in club activities from the first week of class?

As in any life situation, there are two sides. Both have their supporters and protestors. Think coins—there are heads and tails. Both sides are valid. The challenge is to think and talk about it. Talk with each other. Talk with your club members. Talk with your caller. If your club has had Guest Callers for a number of years, it may be time to have a Club Caller for a few years. Or vice versa. A change, even for a short while, may rejuvenate enthusiasm in your club and by extension in square dancing. Be kind and keep talking to each other!

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
---- Margaret Mead

Happy dancing,
Susan and Larry