March 2011

Happy Spring!

Let’s talk about new dancers this month. As I write this mid-January, fall classes are busy making plans for graduation in the next few weeks. By the time you read this in early March most classes will have graduated. Those classes starting in January will be about half way through lessons. There is celebrating all around Square Dance Land as these new dancers join us!

Your New Dancer Class graduated, now what? Did they all join your club? Some? None? Why not? Are they attending your club dances? Are they visiting other clubs?

A few years ago at a Callerlab Convention, Jim Mayo, the first chairman of Callerlab and a long time caller from the New England area, shared the following information. When square dancing was in its heyday, the classes each Fall were large. Twenty to twenty-five squares of new dancers were not unusual. He kept statistics on his classes. Between the time the class graduated in mid-March or early April and the end of the dance season only half (50%) of the class kept dancing. Only half of that number returned the following fall. If he started with 200 new dancers (25 squares) one year, the following year he had 50 dancers returning to help with the next class or dance with the club.

The interesting thing that Jim shared was that his statistics today are the same. If his new dancer class has 20 new dancers in the fall, after graduation only half continue dancing until the end of the dance season. And half of them or 5 dancers are still dancing the following fall. The difference is the magnitude of the numbers. If 50 people are dancing the hall looks fuller than if 5 people are dancing.

Back to my questions – what are the answers for your club? Now is the time to start planning for next years New Dancer Class. Now is a good time to invite one or more of your new dancers over for dinner or dessert or coffee and ask them. How did they choose your class? Did they go to New Dancer Dances? Did they join your club? Are they dancing now? Are they planning to continue dancing next year? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of the last four questions, find out why. Be open to hearing what they have to say.

Let’s look at these topics one at a time:
Where do New Dancers come from: This shows the effectiveness of your advertising or promotion. Did they come at the invitation of a friend? Did they see a flier or an ad in your newspaper? Did they see your club dancing and having fun with each other at a demonstration dance or local parade? Or even at an after-party at the local diner?

New Dancer Dances: Clubs need to get together to plan these. In recent years, too often there are either 2 or 3 New Dancer Dances on the same night/weekend or there are no New Dancer Dances. It is feast or famine. We encourage the new dancers to go to dances to practice their skills, to meet other new dancers, to dance to other callers. We had better actually have dances for them to go to. Numerous times I have had new dancers come ask where the dance is this weekend only to tell them the next New Dancer Dance is in two or three weeks. Or I have to tell them that it is a regular club dance this weekend and they can’t come yet. They don’t want to wait. One reason to have New Dancer Dances every week is to get the new dancers in the habit of dancing regularly.

Many new dancers have shared that they don’t feel confident going to other dances. Square dancing is one of those activities that you have to practice in order to get better, to build your confidence. If your new dancers don’t feel confident going by themselves to other dances, go with them. Make it an impromptu club caravan.

If your club has a Club Caller, talk to him/her about inviting your new dancers to attend your club dances beginning half way through the lessons. I’m talking about dancing the whole dance, not alternating tips with new dancer tips and club level tips. Possible benefits – bigger dances, more confident new dancers, new dancers and club members knowing each other better, and stronger club dancers.

I have a revolutionary idea! How about all the clubs in your council or geographic area, if councils overlap, agreeing that all club dances after Week 10 are student level dances? You just won’t announce them as student level dances. New dancers and club members can dance together. It eliminates the “them and us” differences. Your club is likely to be visiting those clubs anyway. Go together! It will give the new dancers more dance opportunities.

Will your club members miss dancing Dixie Style to an Ocean Wave or Spin Chain Thru for three or four club dances? I don’t think they will notice. They will probably be relieved that they don’t have to remember how to do those calls. Will your Club Caller and/or Guest Caller have to work harder to not use Recycle and Scoot Back for a few dances? Yes! Are they up to it? I say yes! If they say no, give me a call. A few of my caller friends and I would be glad to help you out. If you have Guest Callers and want to try this idea out, please let them know before they get to your dance so they have time to prepare their program.

Club membership: One goal of having New Dancer Classes is that they join the club. Once the new dancers join your club you need to keep nourishing that relationship and make them feel welcome. Many of us, who have been around a long time, fall into conversations that draw upon that history leaving our new friends out of the conversation.

Remove any barriers to having dancers join your club.

There are many levels of club participation. Help your new members find one that works for them. There are also many clubs to join. If the night when your club dances is not going to work for your new dancer, help them find a club dance night that will work. Don’t be mad that they are not joining your club. Be happy that they are square dancing!

Dancing now and into the future: This is closely tied to club membership. New dancers that join a club, I believe, dance more and for a longer time. If you haven’t seen one of your new dancers for awhile invite them to go to the next dance or visitation with you. Dinner plans before a dance or a plan to carpool may be just the incentive to get them out dancing.

Don’t forget, some people take square dance classes to try it out. They come and then they are gone. Next year they go try something else. We need to be kind. Have fun with them while they are here and then let them go. If they enjoy their time in Square Dance Land, I’m convinced that they will come back someday. Even if they don’t, they will have good memories of their time here and will speak positively about square dancing.

The challenge this month is to talk to your new dancers. Find out how they got here; what is working for them; what is hard. Invite them to join your club. Welcome them. Nurture them along so we can dance together for many years. Start planning now for your next New Dancer Class. Take what you have learned to make some changes.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Happy dancing,
Susan and Larry