The International Square Dance Magazine
                         

CALLERLAB VIEWPOINTS
By
Mike Seastrom

We’ve all got so much to be thankful for and this is the month to stop and count our blessings. Sure, there are challenges that each of us face on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis, and some of those challenges can be major. Yet in the big scheme of things, if we’ve got our health and are still able to get out on the dance floor and share the joy of moving to music with others, we truly do have something to be thankful for.

Long ago, Henry Ford realized that his factory workers could really enjoy a dance activity for the exercise, fun, health benefits, and the social value that it could bring to them. He knew that the majority of his workers came home, did their chores, went to sleep and came back to work the next day, week in and week out. He wanted an activity that his workers could enjoy with each other, without regard to their hierarchy in the work place. If he was successful, he could not only make his workers lives more enjoyable, and improve the relationships of his employees, he could even make them healthier and more productive.

He also knew that those who could teach and call American Square and Round dance were slowly becoming more and more difficult to find and that many of the written information of the dances of that time were in danger of being lost or forgotten. His book, Good Morning America, was a great step in documenting, collecting, and organizing some of the dances of that day and before. He built a wonderful dance hall, found a dance teacher/master to come to Michigan and began to hold these dances on a regular basis. He did succeed with all the benefits mentioned above, and this began the resurgence of American Square and Round dancing in the United States. These dances also included contras, mixers and other traditional dances.

Some of the above points may sound familiar. We’ve got millions of people around the world that work a long day, come home, do their chores and go back to work the next day. Today, we can add television, computers, phones and other competing recreations to the equation, but there are still many people who would benefit from the fun, exercise, and social capital (as we call it), that our dance activity brings its participants.

This activity also allows people from all walks of life to come together equally and enjoy moving to music. I can’t think of any other recreation where so many people from so many different backgrounds, who otherwise have nothing else in common, can have so much fun together.

We also have another similar parallel to Henry Ford’s time. Those who teach, call, and cue in our activity are becoming more difficult to find. Many callers, cuers, and prompters have retired in the last 15 years. It’s estimated that we have only one-third the number we had in 1985. There are many areas in the North American continent and around the world where the nearest caller or cuer may live 50 to 200 or more miles away. Getting someone who lives close enough to teach a class, and call or cue a dance can be a big challenge or might be impossible.

An important part of the success of growing and maintaining our activity in the future will be based on recruiting and training new callers and cuers. The CALLERLAB Mission Statement is very simple and straight forward and addresses this huge future need directly. The Mission Statement is as follows: “To Foster the art of square dance calling and improve caller skills.”

CALLERLAB has been promoting caller education since its inception. Every Convention has educational seminars that have been recorded and made available to callers and dance leaders around the world. Handouts from all those sessions are also available from the website and Home Office. Members can now get a complete set of MP3s of each recorded session from an entire Convention for only $25.

Our Caller-Coach Accreditation program has expanded and CALLERLAB, Grand Square Inc., the Music Producers Committee, and others, have partial and full scholarship programs to caller schools. Grand Square Inc. has funded caller schools with free tuition to promote and improve square dancing by educating new and seasoned callers for many years now. One of GSI’s largest free caller schools occurs just prior to each National Convention in June, and educational sessions continue at the Convention itself. Efforts like these are really starting to turn the numbers around, but we still have a long way to go.
There are several very easy things we all can do to help encourage our existing and upcoming callers and cuers. Clubs and dancers can encourage and compliment your own callers and cuers during and after a dance or festival. Kind words go a long way to make someone feel good about their efforts and can even provide the incentive for some to make additional efforts to improve and update their skills and repertoire. Applauding your caller and cuer at the end of each tip and even an occasional standing ovation, if warranted, to have your caller and cuer do “one more song” is an enormous boost in one’s self worth. Those who call and cue overseas see this on a regular basis. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the dancers like what you do and are enjoying it enough, to have you do an additional song or two. Constructive criticism, if done properly from the right source, can also help a caller and cuer. Many of us actively seek that feedback from callers and other dancers that hear us teach and entertain.

Gifts to your caller and cuer for special occasions are also very much appreciated and can add to their continuing education. Subscriptions to dance publications, scholarship-like gifts to caller schools and seminars, partial and/or full payments for attending CALLERLAB, ROUNDALAB, CONTRALAB, a national convention, or regional festival can also be a great incentive for callers and cuers to learn, continue their education, and improve their skills. Gift certificates for new music are also a wonderful gift.

Callers, cuers and prompters can also help. Encouraging dancers to learn to call and cue can sometimes be all that is necessary for someone to start. Mentoring newer callers and cuers is also an important part of growing our activity. It takes a long time and a lot of effort and practice for someone to learn to call and cue. Purchasing equipment, records, etc., is also no easy or inexpensive task. Any help we can give each other in this area can go a long way.

CALLERLAB, ROUNDALAB, and CONTRALAB all have good educational information available from their Home Offices and websites. Joining a national or regional organization can be very beneficial in learning and continuing the education process that is so necessary to successful calling, cueing, and prompting.

We do have so much to be thankful for. In the coming years it will be so important for us to show our appreciation for each other, encourage and be tolerant of our newer leaders, and support our existing leaders for their efforts. That kindness will go a long way in growing a truly wonderful activity and spreading the joy of dancing to our ever improving library of music.

 

Fun set to music!