If you read any of the square dance publications today you will note that many articles suggest the way to attract more people into the square dance activity is to provide a square dance Program which: 1) takes a short time to learn; 2) provides dances where a person can dance that Program frequently. The thought is, that if you can teach dancers enough quickly to where they can dance frequently knowing a few calls, they will spread their enthusiasm for the activity to their friends who can start dancing almost immediately without waiting a year for the next cycle to start.
In the past there have been plans that provide for a Program with less calls (ABC 1, Community Dance Program2, Basic 1 3, etc.) with little thought to moving those folks who dance that Program forward. There have also been multi-cycle plans which have short periods between new class starts but they have not included a way for people who want to, to dance frequently to a Program lower than Mainstream.
The plan described here is a combination of the best parts of those two plans, and shows that if it is implemented in a region where there are multiple clubs, who all follow the plan, a new dance Program can be introduced into the region which has fewer calls thus creating a pool of dancers from which new Mainstream dancers will eventually emerge.
To implement this plan there are three steps.
Step 1 – Choose A Destination Program, Program X, which is below Mainstream
The first step is to choose a series of calls that can be taught in a short time, for example in 3 weeks in classes which run 1 ˝ hours. This could be the ABC series of calls, or the Community Dance Program, or some other combination of calls. The goal is to pick a set which can be taught from scratch in 3 (maybe 4) weeks and a set where you can then move to the Mainstream Program in an additional 8 or 10 weeks. We will call this series of calls Program X in this document. The class callers should agree on the calls.
Step 2 – Select A Cycle Length
The second step is to determine a cycle length. If Program X can be taught in 3 weeks, you add on one more week to provide for a dance where the full Program X is used. Thus the cycle length would be 4 weeks. Every 4 weeks a new class would start, and every fourth week there would be a dance where anyone who had attended the 3 weeks of class at in the last class or a class at some earlier time, could dance (with no teaching) for an evening. The thought is that some people would take the 3 weeks of class a second time if they were having trouble with some calls. They might also bring their friends to those sessions and dance with those friends as angels. Some people after mastering the 3 weeks of calls might just come to the 4th week dances forever and never move to a new Program.
Step 3 – Add In A Mainstream Cycle
When enough dancers have indicated an interest in extending their knowledge to the next Program, start a cycle to take them from Program X to the Mainstream Program. This would require an additional 8 weeks of classes of 1 ˝ hours a week. This cycle would run concurrently with two consecutive Program X cycles. This cycle would run on the same night as the Program X cycle and the dancers in these classes would be angels for the current Program X class if they desired (they may have friends in the Program X class) and they would also attend the every 4th week Program X dances if they desired. At the end of the eight week cycle, anyone desiring more instruction could join the next Mainstream cycle which would probably be starting the next week or at least within four weeks. Strong dancers after one Mainstream cycle could join local clubs who dance the Mainstream Program. After two Mainstream cycles most class members should be reasonable Mainstream dancers.
Some of the ramifications of implementing this plan are described in the next sections.
If you look at the number of hours a class member dances you find the following. Assuming each class session is 1 ˝ hours, the time in the first cycle is 4 ˝ hours, and if they attend the 4th week dance it is 6 hours. When they are angels for the next cycle they have danced 12 hours. 12 hours would be the average time to get a new dancer to dance Program X. If they then start a Mainstream cycle of 8 weeks and attend the Program X cycle as angels at the same time, they add 24 more hours for 36 total hours. If they take the second Mainstream cycle they add another 24 hours for a total of 60 hours in 6 months. Callerlab suggests 58 hours for a Mainstream class. However, since the plan is multi-cycle AND multi-Program, dancers can quickly retake any cycle they would like more experience in. Also if they have a reason to miss some classes, such as a sickness, they can quickly pick up where they left off. In the best scenario case, an average dancer can become a Mainstream dancer in six months.
Note: dancers wishing more dancing at the Program X level could attend the Program X dances of other classes in the region. If there were three clubs running classes in an area and their cycles were staggered (either by day or week) Program X dancers could attend three Program X dances a month as well as participate in the other groups cycles. If they only attended two of the other clubs Program X dances they would have an extra 18 hours of dancing in the 6 month period or 78 total hours. And if they angled two Mainstream cycles they would have an extra 24 hours or 102 total hours total and definitely be ready for a Plus cycle.>
A timeline diagramming this progression is shown below.
How do other types of square dances fit into this plan? Barn dances and ABC dances can still be used to attract non dancers. These dances would typically be longer than 1 ˝ hours and teach all the calls used for each dance. Community Dance Programs would also be longer and provide a richer set of dances which could be phased out (if necessary) in place of the Program X monthly dances. Mainstream and Plus clubs would operate as usual. Only their classes would be replaced by the Multi-Cycle Program X plan.
Clubs benefit in many ways. They should get stronger dancers at Mainstream because new dancers are not just pushed out onto the dance floor after 30 hours of dancing. Since they can easily find a place to dance until they are strong Mainstream dancers, they are more confident and happier dancers when they finally join the club. Strong and happy dancers mean a stronger happier club. Because there are probably more dancers going through the multi-cycle Program X lessons than would be going in a normal class, the incoming revenue will probably be higher, even if the Mainstream cycle dancers are given free admission to the Program X dances held on the same night. Even if the admission for each session was reduced because the teach time is less, the overall income should be higher. This makes it easier to pay the caller and pay for the hall. The hall price and caller fee should stay the same.
The effect on the callers should be minimal. They are calling probably for the same length of time or close to it, they are teaching the same calls. They will have to prepare two sets of material for an evening and they will have more people to deal with. They will have to make sure their material is not repetitive so that dancers taking a cycle for the 2nd or 3rd time will not be bored with the same material. Note that non repetitive and imaginative material will create stronger dancers.
As described above, the Multi-cycle Program X plan does not require any new class locations. The plan merely splits the time at one location in two and perhaps extends it from 2 to 3 hours. Thus there should not be extra requirements on the clubs to find new locations. Some clubs today tend to split their dance time between a class and a dance so there is a precedent for this type of splitting. It is just that with this plan it is the class time that is split, not class and club.
Callerlab suggests that callers allow 38 hours for teaching the Plus Program to Mainstream dancers. Experience also shows that it is probably best for Mainstream dancers to dance the Mainstream Program for several months before moving on to Plus. Since the Mainstream cycle is 12 hours, it would take at least 3 mainstream cycles to teach plus (2 if they catch on real fast). Thus it is probably not sufficient to replace 3 Mainstream cycles with a Plus cycle. (notice the cycles get longer as the Programs are advanced).
So the Plus cycle could be added to the front end of a Plus dance and be spaced out over a longer time if, for example, the Plus dances are every two weeks. This way the dancers get accustomed to dancing on the club night and with the club dancers present who could be angels. This would build a club/student bond. The problem is that the Plus cycle gets spread out over so many months that there is only room for about 1 cycle a year (two at the most). Thus the club should probably find a new location and run weekly Plus classes in the traditional fashion (three months at 2 ˝ or 3 hours a session).
The multi-cycle program could cause more work for treasurers. However, if the treasurer sets up just before the start of the second session to get the money from them, they can also get the money from the people in the first session of the evening just before they leave. That way there is not much extra work.
There is a little more work for the people doing publicity (in papers, on the computer, radio, etc.). With a new class starting each month, publicity needs to be constant. However, the hardest part of publicity is finding out the contacts, and once that is resolved it is just a matter of sending out a press release each month. The positive side is that it is easier to get the publicity outlets to insert your larger articles since they can do it any month they like when the other news material is sparse. Also there should be more “word of mouth” publicity because the newest dancer’s enthusiasm will be high and that should lessen the need for external publicity.
With so much repetition you may find that the traditional angels will not want to participate. However, the traditional angels will be replaced by people in the advanced cycles who are now helping the new dancers (hopefully the friends they introduced to square dancing) in the lower cycles. Later, in the Mainstream cycles, some traditional angels could take turns attending classes to start to form the bond between the new dancers and the club.
In Northern New Jersey a two cycle, multi-cycle plan was tried by the Bee Sharps from fall 2006 to spring 2009. During this period they had more success in keeping dancers than when they tried to teach Mainstream and Plus in a single year. On Staten Island Barbara Kanter has been using the ABC program as a feeder program for her Mainstream class. When there are enough people who want to learn Mainstream she has started a class. With fast learners she has gone from ABC to Mainstream in six weeks. Two extra weeks and a second Mainstream cycle should handle slower learners.
The bottom line is that a multi-cycle Program X plan could grow the number of entry level dancers in the same halls, the same time periods, and with the same callers that are used for current classes. All that is required is some rearrangement of schedules, cooperation of the callers, and perhaps some cooperation between regional clubs, although regional cooperation is optional. Having a class “always starting” is a great way to not disappoint those wanting to learn. Having the Program X as a destination Program allows people to plateau in a reasonable time without having to put in the effort necessary to get to Mainstream. If this plateau is available on a regional basis it should satisfy the needs of those only wanting to dance a lower Program once or twice a month (until they get the bug to go to Mainstream).
This type of program was discussed at the Callers Council of New Jersey meeting on September 8th, 2012. From a caller’s standpoint the plan as outlined is feasible. It was however felt that the clubs that sponsor classes might not see the benefits and that the callers might have to implement this plan by themselves. However, I feel clubs will agree to try this plan since it does not take many more resources than the current plans and there is more of an opportunity to grow the base of dancers who will feed into the Mainstream and Plus Program clubs. All clubs don’t have to convert to this plan at once. One or two clubs could start a pilot program and when it is successful other could phase over.
If you would like to discuss this plan further please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. ABC Program Description
2. Community Dance Program Description
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