The International Square Dance Magazine

Mike Seastrom

Historical Summary of a Condensed Teaching Program

The following is a historical perspective of CALLERLAB’s Condensed Teach Order Ad Hoc Committee. More information on this 12 Week Condensed Teaching Program and its supportive documents are available at A tremendous amount of work has gone into the research of this alternative method to make it easier to join our dance. It may very well be the key to the future of our club based activity.

A brief reflection of the past should provide better insight to the proposed CALLERLAB Teaching Order of the future. In 1974, CALLERLAB adopted the “Sets in Order Basic 50” program of calls as well as the Extended 75. In 1977, Basic 1-38 was approved on a one year trial basis. In 1980, Basic 1-34, Extended Basic 35-47, and Mainstream 48-68 were approved. Basic and Extended Basic were merged in 1981. As the activity evolved, so did the program list. Some calls were dropped while others were added. Definitions became more explicit.

Some restrictions were put in place. Even the naming of the calls themselves became more standardized. This standardization helped the activity become more accepted around the world. Dancers and callers could travel from dance to dance with the same expectations of fun and fellowship. Creativity never stops, however, and more and more calls were being introduced. Hence, other programs emerged: Plus, Advanced, and Challenge.

The CALLERLAB Basic Mainstream Program is still the cornerstone for the activity. It is however, more than a listing of calls; it’s also a recommended teaching order. Unfortunately, little consideration of the teaching order was given as calls were added to the Program. Often calls were placed at the end of an existing program in the order they were accepted. Explicitly following the teach order became difficult. As a result, many callers developed their own method of introducing calls to new dancers that varied from the CALLERLAB recommendation. In 1991, a proposed new order was offered by the Mainstream Committee, only to be defeated. Recently, however, several leaders raised concern over the way new dancers were being taught. In an effort to expedite the process, some pushed for a total revision of the Basic Mainstream Program but little compromise was found.

In 2004 the Mainstream Committee agreed to address the obvious teaching order problems. A focus group under the leadership of Bruce Simpers was formed with the hope of obtaining a more concise teaching order. Several ideas were submitted, but the task of reaching a consensus became daunting. An agreement was made to compile a document describing the principles of designing a new teaching order to rationalize changes. With help from the Ad Hoc Committee, Clark Baker, and Dottie Welch, a “Teaching Order Design Principles” document was approved. An experimental teaching order was designed with these principles in mind and in 2007 was approved on a one year trial basis. It was hoped that research could be gathered to support the changes. To date however, very little feedback has been acquired.

The Ad Hoc recommended several logical modifications with the existing order that were approved in 2009. However, very few really took even a first glance at the proposal. The proposed teaching order, after all, is still only a recommendation. Most callers teaching new dancers will continue to do so with their own proven methods. Interestingly enough, many of the self-changes callers have made over the years were addressed. On the other hand, someone teaching for the first time might adopt these seamless changes with no apparent problems. The revised order still might not meet everyone’s expectations.

In 2010, a split of Basic between the columns as A and B was approved and later modified as 1 and 2. Some areas host open dances with new dancers, and this division assists with these events. Non-English speaking countries also need to teach terminology not listed; something taken for granted in the U.S. The division of Basic is very useful in this respect.

In October of 2012, Elmer Sheffield, Jr. reformed a united ad hoc committee with two colleagues from the American Callers Association (ACA) and two from CALLERLAB tasked with developing a reduced teaching framework that could be utilized by groups seeking a faster entry point for the activity. The results of the ad hoc committee yielded a 12 session teaching format based on one and a half to two hours of dancing per session. This experimental condensed teaching order reflects what is currently being danced the most. It defers actions that are redundant, as well as actions that are less utilized. It is not a fast track to other Programs. It is meant to provide quality entertainment with less material in a reduced teach time. Late in 2013, ACA abandoned the joint project to pursue a similar path that best followed their goals. CALLERLAB continued the task, modified the content, and created supportive documents to assist with teaching. The resulting “Condensed Teach Order” and other supportive documents are all available at

Groups can adjust the teach method to best suit their needs. A group not experiencing any difficulty retaining dancers might not deem this as useful. If a current dance group is in the need for a new teaching approach, it is hoped they might adopt this order and provide feedback regarding its effectiveness. If you have any questions, comments, results, or constructive criticism, please contact the Home Office or email
More information on this new dancer program and other ideas to grow your club will be presented in future CALLERLAB articles. 

Fun set to music!