MWSD Has Overlooked Sociability

by Jim Mayo, Hampstead, NH

Since our activity reached its peak of popularity more than 30 years ago we have moved away from what made us so popular. In 1980 New England had more than 450 clubs. Today the EDSARDA Directory lists about 30. Clearly we are doing something wrong. Many have blamed the decline on social change and that may account for some – and maybe a lot – of it. But, I would like to suggest also that we have changed our activity in ways that make us less appealing than when we were so popular.

It took me a long time to realize and accept that choreography was not the most appealing thing about modern square dancing. I did, however, finally come to understand that sociability and friendship were even more important in the success of a club than the caller. If you talk with nearly any long-time dancer today they will almost certainly tell you that most of their friends are dancers. They can probably tell you what club they started with and most will tell you when they served as an officer of that club. Many of them have a Century Club book or two stashed away at home. They may also tell you about the Knothead trips they took and the banner raids the club made. We callers often thought they made those trips to dance to our calling. We should have realized that the trips were a wonderful way for friends to enjoy each other’s company.

In the 1970’s most clubs had refreshment breaks or folks stayed around after the dance for coffee and goodies. Sometimes it was tough to get them to end those parties. The club officers often met at someone’s house once a month to manage the club affairs. It didn’t take that many meetings to run a club but I now realize those too were gatherings of friends. One of the jobs they did at those meetings was to plan club parties for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year’s party. The parties always drew the biggest crowds.

In 1980 we callers, also made a change. We identified “All Position Dancing” (APD). The dancer reaction was strong against it so Jack Lasry and the Mainstream Committee, of which he was the head, changed the name to “Dance By Definition” (DBD). That didn’t change the fact that callers interest in complicated dancing was growing. Many were just learning to call without memorizing dance routines. “Sight” calling made two changes to how we danced. One was a search for ever more complicated routines and the other was to never repeat a routine, even in singing calls. Callers were fascinated by the variety they could present to the dancers without having to memorize. The dancers, who just wanted to move with the music and spend an evening with their friends, were less fascinated.

Over the next three decades we added many callers who weren’t much interested in dancing. They enjoyed the challenge of choreographic puzzles. They appealed to experienced dancers who were willing to play choreography games and move on to more advanced programs. As the dancing became more difficult, recruiting new customers into modern square dancing also became more difficult. Many of today’s callers have little experience with smooth, well-timed dancing and no memory of the kind of sociability that made square dancing so much fun.

The CALLERLAB Winning Ways stories about successful programs include several about clubs that have maintained their sociability and thrived because of it. Even in today’s busy world, friends are a valuable pleasure. Our activity has created many long-lasting friendships. We could do it again if we (callers) could get over our fascination with choreography and pay more attention to smooth, successful dancing.

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