Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Challenge Challenge

The DCLS online survey, completed by 45 members, has produced a rich treasure trove of information. This is the second installment of highlights published in the Club's weekly newsletter.

As the membership of DC Lambda Squares steadily falls (along with square dancing in general) the club’s board is having a more difficult time balancing competing factors. Providing adequate dancing opportunities for dancers at four main skill levels is expensive in terms of hall rental and callers’ fees, with fewer dancers to share costs. This dilemma is especially acute regarding the club’s 15 Challenge-level dancers (not including callers). We currently offer scant opportunities to dance Challenge, and some C dancers are balking at paying club dues. It seems DC Lambda Squares has a choice of formally abandoning support of the Challenge level, or discovering some way of meeting their dance needs at a reasonable cost.

Presented with the direct choice on the survey, only 9 out of 44 respondents (20%) agreed with the statement, “The club should not bother to support Challenge dancing on a regular basis.” Of these nine, only one person “strongly” agreed. By far most respondents (29, or 66%)disagreed, 14 of them “strongly. Twelve Challenge dancers completed the survey, so this response clearly included many non-C dancers who want to keep Challenge in the club. A firm plurality (58%) also agreed that “the club needs to figure out how to support Challenge-1 dancing at least twice a month.”

Members offered a number of specific suggestions to make this happen:

  1. Have longer Community Dances (5 hours long; but first half is obviously open to all, - first two hours MS/Plus, pot-luck, then two hours of A/C1.
  2. I think it's absurd to have no regularly scheduled Challenge with so many DCLS club members dancing at that level... True, Ettcetteras and the Barkley Squares make up for the lack of C1 in DCLS...but then why continue with DCLS? My [suggested] schedule:First Thursday: Plus and Advanced; Second Thursday: C1 and Advanced; Third Thursday:Plus and Advanced; Fourth Thursday: C1 and Advanced; Occasional fifth Thursday: Plus and Mainstream
  3. Make more use of star tips [dancing at the highest level dancers can support]. Years ago, we had the following rotation: First Wednesday: Mainstream and Plus; Second Wednesday:Advanced and C-1; Third Wednesday: Mainstream and Plus; Fourth Wednesday: Plus and Advanced; Fifth Wednesday: GCA open mic. We abandoned it because we couldn’t get a square of C1 on the 2nd Wednesdays. This might give you some ideas.
  4. Have A2/C1 nights
  5. Twice a month A-, C-1, & C-2 nights; twice a month Mainstream & Plus nights; 5th (Thursdays?) All Level Dance
  6. I don’t think there should be Plus-only nights or Advanced-only nights or Challenge-only nights. I think this is bad for the club. I think that we should have nights that are Plus/A or A/C, so dancers can dance at two levels and meet dancers at other levels.
  7. I think C-1 dancers need another night to dance. It should be integrated with Plus and Adv. dancing nights. Not a separate night.
  8. If you made the 2nd Thursday A2/C1, you might address some of your Challenge concerns.
  9. I prefer Mainstream thru C-2 Club Night dancing
  10. I don't like the idea of Plus-only or Advanced-only nights. An alternative would be Plus/Mainstream and Advanced/Challenge for those nights.
  11. I think the club is fractured. There are those that are MS/Plus and those that dance athigher levels. Why can’t we dance all levels every night. Instead of a call dance followed by a singing call at the same level, just have a MS tip, then a Plus, then an A and if enough people a C. This way everyone could dance at least three times (2 tips every 20 minutes = 3 same level tips per hour) (1 tip every 10 minutes = 6 different level tips per hour X 2 hours that is 12 or 3 tips/level.
  12. Allow Challenge dancers to pay a 50% membership IF the club can provide at a Challenge 1 night least 2 other nights (other than Thursday) a month. Those who attend these additional nights would be asked to pay an “at door” fee (between $5-10) as well as be allowed to dance on the club night for free. These additional “Challenge” nights can be offered as workshops or just dancing. And let’s face it, this is already happening at the Barkley every other Wednesday, and the club is not getting anything out of it, even though 99% of the attendees are DCLS members.
  13. Consider sponsoring additional C-level events 1-2 per month *outside* of Thursday club nights.
  14. Create a Challenge affiliate with its own financial structure - they could be Associate Members of DCLS. Their separate organizing committee needs a member on the DCLS Board.
  15. We may have to raise club dues to make this happen, or charge a door fee for those Challenge nights maybe.
  16. Rely on other clubs to support C-1. We can support those.
  17. Perhaps instead of looking at a monthly format look at something broader. Take the number of club nights per years and support the desired levels. Hopefully! people do have other things to do so if Challenge ends up on a first, second or third Thursday, so what?!

Let's keep the discussion going.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Square Dance's Slow, Twisting Death Spiral

Tim and I were out dancing last night at a Challenge 1 club. I was talking with one of the oldtime dancers. He told me about dance nights twenty years ago when eight squares (sixty-four dancers) would show up for Challenge 1 dancing. We had two squares and two extra couples last night.

The square dance population is aging quickly. Since I started dancing with DC Lambda Squares eight years ago, I'm wagering that the average age of the club has increased eight years. And it's still a viable club. Elsewhere, it can be pretty glum in Square Dance Land. Many clubs have folded, or are down to a single square. Part of the cause is self-inflicted: many clubs have dress codes and are couples-only. When a partner dies, which is happening with increasing and heart-breaking regularity, the other partner, usually the wife often quits square dancing for good.

An old age square dance population also has other issues: mobility and focus both being challenging for older dancers. Thankfully, in the clubs I dance with, the dress code is relaxed, but it's still a couples world. Tim and I have been able to dance as a couple, but that would certainly change if we were dancing in a different part of the country.

In DC Lambda Squares, we have diminished numbers, too. Each year, getting new students for square dance classes is increasingly difficult. Because square dancing needs at least eight dancers, it is an activity that requires ample space, and a caller (it takes specialized training and knowledge to move square dancers around the floor). The expense of rent and caller fees looms large for clubs organized like DC Lambda Squares. Another kind of club arrangement is a caller club where the caller rents the hall, and charges a door fee to cover expenses. In either model, the dancers have to pay enough to keep the enterprise afloat. Lately, fewer dancers are doing that.

Can this downward trend be reversed? Probably so, but to do that will require some painful readjustment.

The biggest challenges for the activity appear to be its image, its learning curve, competing activities, and a viable support model.

Image may be the biggest public relations nightmare. Crinolines and cowboy boots keep people off the dance floor. People coming to the activity cannot picture themselves wearing the outfits, and in fact, more clubs are going casual except for regional square dance events. (My own aside, "They look so gay!") Frankly, the costumes are offputting for most people.

Has anyone noticed that square dancing is, well, square?

Other image issues include square dancing's rigid gender role prohibition about men dancing the woman's part, and to a (much) lesser extent, women dancing the man's part. One of the main reasons for gay square dancing was to provide a place where dancers could dance whatever they wanted, and in fact, many gay square dancers are skilled in both roles. Another image problem is that non-dancers remember their disastrous introduction to square dancing in grade school. Introducing children to square dancing when those kids are at an age where they *hate* the opposite sex usually means that they will never get over their aversion. And believe me, they always remember their square dance adventure in fifth-grade gym. It wasn't pretty.

Square dancing also has a big learning curve. It takes about a year to learn proficiently, the first couple of square dance programs (Mainstream and Plus about 100 calls or movements). Most potential square dancers don't feel they can commit to a year's worth of classes, before they get to dance. Instead, they would rather go to a dance, and simply dance! The learning curve is a killer! The square dance community is wrestling with this by offering ABC programs and other kinds of introductions to square dancing, but as long as square dancing remains an activity of aficionados rather than a social activity for dancers, those efforts are doomed to failure. In some ways, the ABC program hearkens back to country square dancing. In the old days, you came to the community dance. You didn't have to know the program, because the caller taught it to you as the night progressed. Dancing was a social activity.

Okay, I'm an aficionado. I like dancing on the edge - a program that challenges my skills. But you don't learn dancing in a class, you learn dancing on the dance floor, and maybe the square dance community needs to rethink completely its means of instruction and its daunting learning curve.

These days, square dancing has an extraordinary array of competing activities. Our society is rethinking what it wants to do socially. Square dancing not only competes with bowling or the Elks Club, but with the very notion about what people want to do with their "free" time. The demands on that time are increasing. People are working longer. Kids activities require more parental involvement. The internet has opened up new ways of social engagement that bypass old ways of getting out and socializing. This competition is real, and it's not only beating up square dancing, it's beating up all kinds of other socializing including bowling and the Elks.

Part of the solution is to identify social activities and situations that engage our society, and organize square dancing in those places. Saddleback Squares, anyone? (And I'm not kidding.)

So how can square dancing remain viable? The quickest way to turn it around is for clubs and callers to recognize that they will have to change radically their approach to the activity. The image has to change, and younger dancers have to be engaged in a manner that fits their lives: no long-term commitment to square dance classes, no outfits that make you feel like a freak, immediate gratification - if you come to a square dance you dance; no matter what your skills are, and great social and entertainment value for the money spent.

I think that can be achieved. It will be painful for the aficionados like me, but ultimately, it will save the dance. Our greatest challenge is to bring new people in the front door to enjoy our wonderful activity, because once they are in the door, they often decide to stay for the dance.

Friday, August 8, 2008


At square dancing last night, Dayle had us in facing lines, then he called Wheel and Deal. We stood there, confused, and broke down the square. Some of us tried to work with the line that we were facing. Wrong! We should have been working in our own line.

Note: How do you do that??? Should we shimmy around that couple that's in front of us? Maybe I'll just stand here. Doh!

Right couple moves in front of left couple, moving to face out and forming a completed Double-Pass Thru. I should know that! It seems that now that I'm dancing C1, my dancing at the other levels is going to hell in a handbasket, which is probably a C4 call.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

As Easy as ABC!

I was over at Kent, Brian, and Michael's last night. Kent and I were discussing the DC Diamond Circulate web site, then veered off into other square dance topics. He asked me if I had heard of ABC Square Dancing. I had heard about it, but hadn't really looked into it.

One of the challenges of square dancing is that if people are going to learn it, they have to make a big time commitment to it to take classes and learn the calls. Most people want to dance, rather than learn how to dance.

In the Olden Days before Modern Western Square Dancing, that's exactly what people did. The caller would teach the figure at the beginning of the dance, the new dancers would be designated the third or fourth couples in the square, and by the time the dance came to them, they knew how to do the figure. In ancient days, when people went to a square dance, they danced.

The ABC square dancing restores some of this immediate danceability back to square dancing. Couples, within a tip or two, learn basic calls that move them around the floor. By the end of an evening they know fifteen or so calls. The whole ABC program teaches 22 calls/formations/designations. Within three sessions, dancers will have learned all 22, and can become quite proficient in the ABC dance program.

If some of the dancers want to go on the Mainstream or beyond, they can then take square dance classes. The beauty and simplicity of the ABC program is this: you encourage people to dance first. Let them dance the first time they are out on the floor, and if they want to learn only those calls that's fine! They're square dancing, and that's what they want to do! You encourage dancers to dance immediately. You don't worry whether they will continue with square dancing; instead, you focus on giving dancers a great dance experience.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When A Dancer's NOT Supposed To Be There

Several weeks ago I was in waves (trailing center) and heard the call "Motivate, Leading Ends Don't Move." After circulating and casting 3/4, I arrived in the center waiting for my star to form. It was only later (that evening, after the dance) that I realized it never would. My partners in the star were my original partner and her symmetric opposite whom I (and my symmop) had left behind at the call's start. I can't imagine being quick-witted enough to have caught that on the fly, on the floor. I guess this all comes under the rubric of "When the Formation isn't There." There are some calls that end with dancers in the spot where they began. Motivate is one of those, for the leading end ... and for the trailing center as well. The leading end does nothing but wander around, join in the star, and drift back to home. That's how the call above was able to work. The trailing center however has to Cast 3/4 both before and after the star. No one, even at C1 (where this all happened), would expect dancers to do that solo. I wonder how many other "fixed-point" calls there are that could work with stationary dancers. I doubt there are many, but I'm sure if I keep dancing/moving, they'll come across me (sigh).

Touch A Quarter Century

Wasn't able to dance much at this convention but almost every tip was instructive:

1. All 4 Couples, Partner Tag — what an interesting (?) idea, applying "All 4 Couples" (meant for facing couple calls) to a single couple call. Or, what is the difference between All 4 Couples, Partner Tag vs the simpler Partner Tag? The answer lies in one of the subtler passages from Callerlab's Advanced Definitions (p. 21):
At the end of the call, you must adjust to the nearest static square footprints of the wall you are facing. For example, if you end facing the head walls, adjust (without turning) to the nearest head position. If you end on that spot, you don't adjust.
i.e., with "All 4 Couples, Partner Tag," after partner tagging, you advance to the original footprints of your partner's corner, facing in the opposite direction. I won't mention who in my square went wandering right-shoulders past his corner etc.

2. In Your Blocks, Split Square Chain Thru — I'm a sufficiently inexperienced C1 dancer that at first this call struck me as a paradox. How could you move (split) outside of your block!? Well of course you don't. "Split" means do the first part of the call and then quarter in to the inactive dancers and do the rest. If your block is t-boned (couple facing facing singles), the couple are the inactive dancers and all works well. (Note: if the couples in the blocks are near the center, it could get really messy!)

3. From Waves, Ends O-Circulate, Centers Butterfly Circulate — I'll let you figure this out yourself. Hint: you know how the next call begins!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I Belong to a Cult

I went to a Challenge workshop this morning at Ett's. She had various lists most popular and least popular calls for C2 levels and above. There's actually a person out there somewhere who surveys Challenge dancers and their tastes!

We asked Ett about the various Challenge level lists. C1, C2, and C3A all have official lists. C3B and C4 do not. C4 is the place dead square calls end up, and get resurrected. Is it a museum or mausoleum? I don't know, because I don't ever expect to get there.

Challenge has a mythology surrounding it. Purportedly, it's full of angry-looking dancers debating definitions at undisclosed locations, by invitation, only. I've certainly discovered that! And I've only been dancing C-1 since last Thursday, just kidding.

Tim and I often compare square dancing to religion: Square dancing has its own scriptures (the official Callerlab dance definitions, which leads to an important question; because C3B and C4 are acknowledged as levels but their lists are not quite canonical, could they be, in fact, appocryphal?1 Inquiring minds want to know). Square dancing has its own rituals from "Square up!" to the "Thank you!" at the end of every tip. Of course, there's high church complete with petticoats and bolo ties, and low church which allows for short sleeved shirts and shorts. Orthodoxy lines up gender and position, and heterodoxy claims you can be any position in square dancing, whatever you want to be.

I do know this: square dancing is endlessly fascinating. Each level has its thrills and excitement. As I move through the levels, I gain new insights about why different square dance calls are what they are.

It does teach me about God and religion, too. If the square dance definitions are revelation, let's just say there is, at times, a capricious, contradictory, mysterious higher power underlying their enigmatic and arbitrary application. And that makes square dancing lots of fun!

1Callerlab does not have program lists for C3B or C4. Vic Ceder, Lynette Bellini, Ben Rubright, and others have published C3B and C4 lists. Mona Tomqvist maintains an extensive Challenge square dance site.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Square Dancing at Str8 Events

There's a lot of square dancing to be had in town! In addition to the gay hoedowns and fly-ins, there's the straight Festivals like WASCA's.

I wonder why not more gay/lesbian dancers go to these events.
I can think of a few reasons. Feel free to add your thoughts.

Some possible reasons why NOT:
-some gay dancers only dance the opposite gender role (boys dancing as girls, vice versa). and therefore not feeling welcome...
-too many events, not enough vacation time, therefore prioritize which ones to attend.
-strict dress code (that stifles one's style).
-your reason here <>

Some reasons why YES:
-if it's local, why yes! no need to worry about extra costs.
-most of them charge only $40 for 3 days and nights of non-stop dancing!!!! $40 only!!!
-a chance to dress up, traditional square dancer style (of course you can do that and MORE (er, also LESS ;-O) at gay fly-ins
-a chance to represent the gay square dance community
-if Club night dancing is not enough, you'll become seasoned within your level in no time.
-Plus DBD dancing for hours and hours and hours!
-general square dancing at any level with plenty of strangers! helps you improve
-you get to dance again to fantastic callers that you've met at fly-ins.
-your reason here <>

Have DCLS members actually discussed these things in the past? (Just curious)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Relay the Deucy, Redux

Butch Adams called for us last night, and brought a different take to Relay the Deucy. To keep us all honest, here's the definition of the call:

RELAY THE DEUCEY - Starting formation - Parallel Ocean Waves. TIMING - 20

All Circulates in this definition refer to the Original Circulate path established by the ends of the original ocean waves. No dancer ever stops moving during this call; the pauses written into the definition (i.e., the action described as "half-circulate") are there for clarity of description and for teaching purposes only. Each end and the adjacent center dancer turn one-half (180°). The new centers of each ocean wave turn three-quarters (270°), while the others half-circulate, forming a six-person wave and two lonesome dancers. The wave of six, working as 3 pairs, turns 1/2, while the others half-circulate. In the wave, the center 4 turn 1/2, while the other four dancers half-circulate. The wave of 6, again working as 3 pairs, turns 1/2, while the others half-circulate. Finally, the center 4 of the wave turn 3/4 (becoming the centers of the new waves), while the outside 4 half-circulate to become the ends of the final waves.

STYLING: Basic swing thru styling is utilized for turning movements within the ocean wave formations. Circulating dancers do the circulate action with arms in natural dance position, blending to hands up ocean wave formation at the conclusion of the call.

The rest of what I write here is a "cheat," but it's based closely on the definition. Here goes:

  1. Partners trade.
  2. Centers cast off 3/4s and the ends move forward. (The out-facer end moves to the end of the six-person wave forming in the center. The in-facer end moves forward alongside the wave.)
  3. The center wave of six does a grand swing thru. The two outside dancers move forward alongside the wave. Those on the ends of the wave, move off of the wave in a forward direction.
  4. The six dancers remaining in the wave spin the top while the outside dancers step to the ends of the forming new waves.

Butch provided a couple of other hints, too: If you are an out-facer in the original waves, you are going to be (mostly) moving along the outside. If you are an in-facer, you'll be working in the wave in the middle of the formation.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Relay the Deucey

Relay the Deucey is a hard call to teach, to workshop. I've never seen it done successfully. I've come to think a large part of the problem is dancers not knowing how to Half-Circulate.

Teaching or workshopping Relay the Deucey should begin with dancers in parallel waves. Then the end dancers should Half-Circulate eight times, with an emphasis on how small the Half-Circulate is for a trailing end, how large for a leading one. Finally, Partner Trade and repeat.

It should also be clear that there are six parts to Relay the Deucey:

1.  Partner Trade
2.  Centers Cast Off 3/4
3.  Center Six Trade
4.  Center Four Trade
5.  Center Six Trade
6.  Centers Cast Off 3/4

—with dancers at every part doing a Half-Circulate if not otherwise directed!

Dancers should be able to dance each part, stop, look around, understand where they are, what they're doing, where they're going. Callers should not buy into the cop out that Relay the Deucey is harder to do slowly and in stages. It's an illusion that dancers know what they're doing if they can fluff their way through at higher speeds.