Keeping them interested
September 28, 2003
Check out this thread in rec.folk-dancing: Humility: The Virtue.
The discussion covers all sorts of issues, including the challenge of keeping a dance series accessible to new dancers and entertaining to experienced dancers. Seems like all dance forms struggle with that; square dancing (MWSD) has clearly failed in its current incarnation.
The thread was started by Bill Martin, a Portland, Oregon, old-time square dance caller and musician. Here's what he says about getting new people into dancing:
Start up a contra series that is safely separated from the established
contra scene by aiming at a new customer base: people who don't know about
contra dancing. Variety - call more than contras. 5 contras is way more than
enough. 2 mixers in the first half, like Ted Sannella used to do. Use a
progressive dance program to build the newcomer's skills - don't put a hey
in the first dance, sheesh. Enough with the twisted becket dances. 3 or 4
square dances in the evening, keep them fairly simple to cut down the
teaching time. A couple of waltzes, and a schottische (easy to teach.).
Maybe a swing dance because people can fake it. They can't fake a hambo.
Maybe even start off with a couple of tiny kid dances. We've done that a few
times to good effect.
Keep it nice and easy at the beginning of the evening, with only short
walk-throughs needed for the first couple of dances, which leaves time to
incorporate style tips into the teaching. A mixer early on, another near the
break. With this program you will lose a lot of current dancers and pick up
a whole bunch of new dancers. Your old-fashioned contra dance will have an
inclusive, friendly tone and attract a largely different crowd. And keep it
that way. Don't let the old habits creep back in. If the hotshots and contra
nazis don't like it they will mostly stay away. Better that they stay away
until they understand that it is not a pre-school dance for newbies but is a
real oldtime traditional style dance party.
Now, how do you get that new customer base? Do it the way it worked out for
the Portland square dances. The contra musicians in town are talented and
their music can be highly entertaining. Why don't any of those bands play
out in the pubs? At farmer's markets? Wherever, just like the old-time bands
do that now play for the square dances. (The Alberta St. Pub and The White
Eagle have dance floors big enough for a short contra line if you want to
include some dancing.) At every public or private gig draw attention to your
email sign up sheet like we did. In a year or two you will have a couple of
hundred addresses of people who like contra dance music even if they have
never heard of a contra dance. When their favorite contra music band starts
advertising and promoting the new community style contra dance, those people
will follow the band. That's what happened to square dancing in Portland,
which is driven by the musicians and their fans.
Dudley Laufman contributed a poem to the discussion: I HOPE THIS IS A REAL CONTRA DANCE, which starts
Is this dance gender free
but w/gender balance*?
Decible free, scream free
Is this gig free of Christmas?
I trust there's no squares,
all contras improper
w/those gypsies and heys,
neighbor swings and w/partner,
and intense eye contact please,...
BTW, I'm currently in Oregon (called a dance for the Rainbow Wranglers last night); I'm planning to go to one of Bill Martin's old time square dances this Thursday, on my way to A little more Magic, an Advanced and Challenge weekend in Vancouver.