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I think the key to success at a club dance is to have a solid foundation with the Basics along with the ability to listen, trust, and react to directions from the caller. Most of the time these “directions” are simply the calls, but it has become increasingly fashionable for guest callers to alter the calls in some manner in order to provide more interest. Is there an unspoken assumption that a program’s calls cannot stand alone?

Read more: Arm Turns Easy As Pie

In Southern California (SoCal), square dance clubs have been following the same model since the early eighties: teach new dancers the PLUS program, and host periodic dances featuring guest callers. The central focus for clubs differs. Some emphasize socialization more than others. Some enjoy a little more of a challenge in the dancing. Whatever the focus for any particular club, no one will argue that recruitment is not becoming increasingly more difficult.

There is active discussion taking place in other forums about the reasons why attracting and retaining dancers is so tough. For the moment, let us set aside the problem of recruitment and focus on keeping the rare few who make it through a 30+ week class to become so-called PLUS dancers.

Clubs seem to believe that the average dancer can be trained to dance PLUS in the time they allot for their classes. Yet, their new dancers often experience a big shock when they graduate from class and attend the club dance on a Friday or Saturday night. They quickly learn to one degree or another that they have to struggle to keep up, or that they cannot, in fact, do so.

Realizing that the size of the shock might make the difference between keeping or losing those precious new dancers, clubs are beginning to dumb-down the initial dances their new dancers are expected to attend. Some clubs shift between levels at their dance, offering alternating tips of MAINSTREAM and PLUS. Some simply instruct their guest caller to coddle the new dancers with “easy” material. Some do both. This has the potential of being dissatisfying for everyone.

Read more: Caller Club Sandwich

Our Southern California area calls the Basic Program (1 and 2) Halfway Level. The entry level to the square dance activity in Southern California is ostensibly the Plus Program after a nine month class. Area clubs host Halfway Dances when new dancers have been exposed to all the calls up to Ferris Wheel – i.e. the Basics.

At Halfway Level, new dancers have not mastered the basics, and it can be argued that the average club dancer is not particularly skilled with all of the basic calls either. This is rather disappointing; the basics serve as the foundation for all that follows in square dancing. The sad fact is that typical attrition in most classes occurs after the halfway point, and ironically, nearly all dancers seem to have a Rip-Roarin’ Good Time at the Halfway Dance! After the halfway point, callers are forced by lack of remaining time to teach Mainstream and then Plus calls to usher dancers to the required entry level threshold. At the halfway point, the typical new dancer has not had much time to become comfortable with all the basics and their deeper mysteries. Many are ill-prepared for Mainstream, but could be allowed to grow and have fun with the basics if the pressure to move beyond them was removed. Moreover, if dancers were allowed to master the basics before moving forward, the transition to Mainstream would become far less demanding.

 

Read more: Meet Me Halfway

Akk! The caller is still yacking out calls and you’ve just looked at the other side of the square, because part of your side seems to be missing. You realize your “square” is more of a blob, and dancers’ expressions, the looks in their eyes, or the occasional silly grin and chuckle signal a breakdown. Not to worry. What do you do?

Read more: Recovery 101

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As much as we like to believe we are free to think and act as we choose, there is evidence to suggest that mind control is running rampant in the square dance activity! How do you avoid becoming a victim, without quitting and walking away?

Read more: Dancer Mind Control

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