The International Square Dance Magazine

By Patrick Demerath

Saving Square Dancing

The American Callersí Association in its attempt to be of service to all callers, dancers, and associations has provided current, timely, and effective information on new dancer recruitment, winning ways to retain club dancers, and pitfalls that drive square dancers away for the past fifteen years. ACA really appreciates the positive comments, encouragement to continue, and the contributions from callers and dancers all over North America and abroad to continue these initiatives. ACA will continue to provide information that will help the square dance community recruit, retain and retrieve square dancers as well as encourage the dancers to speak out on the cumbersome and segregationist dance programs.

This monthís ACA Viewpoint was communicated from callers and dancers advancing thoughts on why square dancing is declining. The consensus is that today there is an uneasy feeling among dancers and callers, which holds that square dancing is neither as it used to be nor what it ought to be.

I would like to talk about the state of square dancing today and the reasons for its decline. Recently callers expressed that the reason for the decline in square dancing was due to callers and callers associations. Several recognized callers were asked the same question and all gave the same answer. On further reflection this may not be a fair answer to the question. Callers and the square dance leadership are to blame just as much. Letís look at the situation.

Back in the day when square dancing was really thriving some callers thought that it could be made better if everything was standardized, with the idea that dancers could go from place to place and not be subjected to calls they hadnít heard and didnít know. It also facilitated travelling callers who needed guidelines as to what they could call to different groups, i.e. should I use the mainstream list or the plus list or what. Many callers had been traveling successfully up to that point without these guidelines but others wanted these established programs to help them catch up with the travelling callers. In other words we callers became lazy and wanted someone else to do our thinking and programming for us. We had lost our individual originality and creativity.

Many callers were convinced that established lists were a good idea. We tried to change our programs to conform to these guidelines. Callers who were running successful programs and clubs who were successful all started changing to the new programs. This led to stressful large dance programs with dancers leaving square dancing. This was the time that television and computers started to expand programs and the internet and all these changes added up beginning of the decline in square dancing.

Many solution ideas and dance program varieties were put forward and have been tried and most of which have not succeeded. We must remember we are callers not actors, doctors or lawyers. We need to get back to basics. Square Dancing is a participation activity and people need to dance to really enjoy the activity.

Square dancing provides physical exercise, social interaction, communication and just plain fun. Some callers have gone back to the old Set in Order 75 basics list and have seen growth in their area. Square Dancing desperately needs people on the local level to become excited about the activity. Dancers are our best recruiters.

The growth of the activity depends solely on what is done at the grass roots local level. There wouldnít be any traveling callers if there werenít any local clubs to dance to them. The local clubs dancers and local club callers are the MOST IMPORTANT part of our activity. So in your area decide what you want to do and what works and stick to it. If you use only 25 calls and you bring in a travelling or guest caller from outside your area, tell that caller what the dancers can do. If that caller is worth their salt they will be able to handle it and let the dancers have fun. The only competition should be between the dancers and the caller and the DANCERS should always WIN.

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Until Next Time, Happy Dancing!


Fun set to music!