The International Square Dance Magazine

Barry Clasper

The following are excerpts from the Chairman’s speech given at the 2014 CALLERLAB Convention in Sparks/Reno, Nevada.

Our theme for this year’s Convention is, “MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN!” Certainly a catchy slogan, but it raises the obvious question; what exactly, should we make happen? Where exactly are we trying to go?

We have become increasingly dismayed by the obvious decline in our activity, and we are casting about (some might say frantically casting about) to find the path to better things. We want to take steps, the right steps along the right path, but what is that path?

The thing about a path is it has a beginning and an end, and you follow it putting one foot in front of the other, moving from the beginning to the end. Finding the beginning of our path is easy. We are where we are. Wherever we’re going, we’re starting from here and from now, but where is the end? Do we even know, collectively where we would like to get to?

There are many who would like to go back to better times, “the good old days”. They believe our goal should be a return to the way things were when we had a convention with 40,000 dancers, but realistically that will never happen. The world has changed, transformed really, since those days. We are starting from a different place and even if we are wildly successful in reinvigorating square dancing, it will assuredly look much different in the future than it did in the past. It will be shaped by many factors, some within our control, but many not. In fact, it will undoubtedly be strongly influenced by things that do not even exist now, and which we cannot even imagine.

How then can we determine the path to start down? What are the first steps we should take?

My feeling is that the idea of a “path” is the wrong metaphor. We want things to be better. As a community, we have only fuzzy ideas about what “better” means, and as I said earlier, even if we had a clear idea of exactly where we wanted to go, it is unlikely we would get there. As the saying goes, “stuff happens”.

So let’s rethink how we look at making plans to move forward. I think a more apt metaphor for what we need to do at this point is planting a garden. The thing about gardens is that we prepare some ground, sow some seeds, do some watering and weeding, but much of what happens is beyond our control. We can set some things in motion, but we can’t be entirely sure how they develop. It’s not uncommon to be surprised, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much. Other factors such as the amount of rain, sun, bugs, rabbits, and many more will have a huge impact on what turns out; but thinking along these lines gives us some guidance on how to make a start on our task.

The first step is to decide what kind of garden we’re trying to create: flower garden? vegetable garden? Chinese garden? herb garden? For CALLERLAB, this translates into ensuring we have a clear understanding of what our purpose as an organization actually is.

Last year we had a professionally facilitated focus session to review and update the CALLERLAB mission. That session did indeed result in a new Mission Statement and it was approved by the Board of Governors during the Wednesday afternoon meeting. The new Mission Statement is really an affirmation of the existing CALLERLAB mission, but it is much abbreviated. It’s only 12 words compared with the previous 117. Do you know what the new mission statement is? Can you recite it? Have you been reading the CALLERLAB Newsletter, DIRECTION for the past year? “To foster the art of square dance calling, and improve caller skills.”

The purpose of having a concise statement of our mission is to measure every decision we make against it and decide whether it supports the mission or not. When initiating something new, be it a committee, a project, a document, or whatever, we should be able to describe how it supports that mission.

Those of you who have read any edition of DIRECTION this year will already know that we have identified a current top organizational priority based on our Mission Statement. Since it is hard for square dance calling to flourish without dancers, our top priority for the foreseeable future is to recruit and retain more new dancers.

With a crisp and clear Mission Statement we have decided on the nature of our garden and we have turned over some soil. Now it’s time to start planting seeds. For the past year, the Executive Committee (EC) and the Board of Governors (BOG) of CALLERLAB (CL) have been planting seeds based on how well they support our mission and current top priority. Some examples are:

  1. The Lesson Grant Program allows clubs that have graduated new dancers to claim a $250 grant. This year the EC has allocated $5000 towards supporting this program. The application form and rules are available on our website at

  2. The Club Development Grant is aimed at helping new square dance groups get launched. Thus far, grants have been awarded to the Twin City Spinners, a new group starting up at Central Maine Community College, and another group starting up at University of California, Berkeley. The differing circumstances new groups encounter make it difficult for us to create a hard-and-fast set of rules for this program. So for now, the EC is evaluating applications on a case-by-case basis. To apply, please send a request to the Home Office.

  3. The CL website has been slowly evolving to become more central to the everyday operations of our organization. The EC has decided to accelerate that process and enhance the website to take on functions such as online voting, merchandise purchase, and membership renewal. An outside company, Kansas Website Services, has been engaged to support that effort and also provide computer maintenance services to the Home Office.

  4. The New Initiatives Program is being reinvigorated to collect more data and organize it into a searchable form. New incentives for contributing are being considered. For example, a contest with a prize for the best submission in a given period. If you have ideas, please come and talk to us.

All of this is just early, tiny steps. We haven’t even planted a whole row of seeds yet. Which ones will grow and which ones wither? Who knows? The future won’t be like the past. The world has changed. Wherever we’re going, we have to start from where we are, and where we arrive will be the result of our collective actions or inactions.

One of the fun things about a garden is looking at it after all the planting is done and imagining what it might look like when things start to grow. We have lots more seeds to plant, but let’s pause for a moment and take a fanciful journey into the future. What might our garden turn into? How might our garden grow over the next few years?

(Chairman Barry Clasper’s future fantasy has been deleted from this article for time and space reasons. Check out the You Tube video of Barry’s speech if you are interested.)

Some will say this “tongue-in-cheek” projection is a fantasy, others a nightmare. It doesn’t really matter because far more likely than not, the seeds we plant today will grow into something entirely different. But, if we plant no seeds at all, what is most likely is that square dancing will continue on its current course. There won’t be millions of dancers in the future and maybe there will be none. If we stir ourselves to make changes we can’t be sure what will happen, but if we do nothing, the current trend doesn’t look pretty.

So everyone, start thinking about what seeds you can plant. Hopefully, you heard some ideas during your time here. Try some of them out when you go home, or maybe run for the Board of Governors, or indicate interest in serving as a committee officer. Get more involved in committee projects. In other words, “MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN!” 

Fun set to music!