Why is Square Dancing Dying?

December 15, 2011

I love square dancing, it is good healthy brain and cardio vascular exercise, its nice to meet friends each week, but unfortunately our activity is dying, clubs seem to rely on the faithful few to keep going as usual, the majority just come to dance, some may be past committee members, who have left disillusioned at the way things just trundle along with no real sense of direction. 

The public need to see us!

Numbers at conventions are dwindling; the number of squares dancing is falling.  Our activity competes with so many other well promoted leisure activities, we amateurs in the market place are competing with professional organizations that target any spare leisure time people may have, hence they do other things.  We need to change our ways, we need to be more flexible, we need to be more modern, more attractive. Below I list some of my observations and comments compiled over the relatively short time I have been dancing.

  • ·         Them v  Us - Clubs end up with “clicky” dancers who will not go to other clubs.  It is evident that many callers do not really combine to promote square dancing, they prefer to promote their own club and may look upon nomad dancers as “unfaithful”.
  • ·         Bad Promotion – fitness and health may be a much better way to promote our activity, this is a cult craze with our younger generation, I never ever thought I would be “square”, our activity has a poor image.  Placing an advertisement in a newspaper and waiting for new dancers to turn up, or relying on existing dancers to bring friends (over time an ever diminishing occurrence unless the club is expanding exponentially) just does not work.  We need to regularly get out in our communities and “strut our stuff”, AND involve our audience, thus encouraging them learn.  How square dance promotions have you seen lately at a farmers market, a school fete or other community gatherings?
  • ·         Very Low Entry Price – The perception these days is that if it’s cheap it’s no good.  Charging a few dollars for a whole nights entertainment implies it’s poor quality.  OK so the regular old fogies will object to a price increase of a few cents, BUT they will eventually leave the club through old age – so who will you have left then?
  • ·         Poor Hospitality – Most square dances we ask dancers to bring their own food.  If we increase the entry price a little we can provide the supper, its surprising how much food you can provide for as little as $2.00 per head.
  • ·         Poor Communication – It is very important that we keep in touch with our club members.  If we don’t keep records how do we know that Joe has not been along for 3 weeks?  Someone should know this fact, someone should contact Joe and see if he is all right, we need to be interested in the welfare of our club members.  Similarly we need to keep a close watch on those dancers learning, if they fail to attend what is their reason.  Could it be that the pace is too fast or too slow, or someone said something, or they don’t like the music?  Just why have they dropped off the horizon?  Again they need to be contacted and we may need to change our act.
  • ·         It Takes Far Too Long to Learn – We (new dancers) want to dance now, not in 10 months time.  Bring back the 50 call Basic level?  Perhaps even less calls than Basic and then run alternative club level and newcomer tips at our club dances.  You’ll be surprised how many experienced dancers will not recognize the difference or alternatively their square will break down because they are not used to Basic calls.  Further, if the easy tip is slowed down a bit, then older or less mobile dancers can enjoy a relaxing dance some of the old’s could come back.  We should also consider ways to start more learners classes each year which would requires clubs to work closely with each other.  Remember club callers and committees, it’s your clients you need to please, a call may be interesting to you, or you may always have run your club “this way”, but if the dancers don’t like it then they won’t come back and there are very few replacements available right now.
  • ·         Backup Callers – one problem I think Callerlab tends to generate is one club one caller, again dancers may get a same old, same old perception.  I have attended a couple of clubs with two callers, who alternate tips.  I liked that a lot.  We need new callers who need to be encouraged and nurtured, it takes many years for them to develop we need to look well ahead.  I believe novice callers should also become involved with those learning to dance, they will certainly be more sympathetic to a caller mistake than will the more seasoned club dancers. Club callers, don’t expect a novice caller to ask to give a call, rather YOU ask the novice to give a call.
  • ·         Too Many Rules – sure we all need the same international road rules but stuff like a square dance caller must run a club and teach (has some basic good intention) can rule out some good callers who have limited time.
  • ·         Are We Really With It? - the sign says “Modern Square Dancing”, how many callers keep up to date with what’s charting in the pop world?  Ho many callers use “Modern” songs.  Many just roll out the same old same old.  Get with it, if we want to attract younger dancers then the music needs to be attractive to them.
  • ·         Live Music- if only we could have live music like the good old days, a band will always attract a following – but then we would need to upgrade the stakes a bit – bigger hall and more dancers, so that the door take covers the expense.

I have been a member of many committees (not just square dance committees) and it amazes me that the staple comment is “we’ve tried that before” or “we’ve discussed that a while ago” followed by “and it doesn’t work” or “we’ve decided against that”.  Rarely have I heard a supporting argument as to why it did not work or why they decided against the action or idea or importantly what could be done to try and make it work, and heaven forbid suggesting that perhaps the idea was not managed very well.  I have found that most committees are reactive rather than proactive and for many clubs and associations that is a problem.

Will these comments make any difference? I hope so, if not then we are doomed.


One Response to “Why is Square Dancing Dying?”

  1. Duane on January 7th, 2012 12:43 am

    Great article. I don’t see anything to disagree with, and many points were the same that we have run into. When we raised some issues with our club, we were told we could dance elsewhere. So we did. We have formed a new club in the past few months and are working through the associated issues… we don’t even have officers or members yet, just a great caller and some plus dancers that don’t mind using their full brain once a week.

    We are the “Wildcards” of San Jose, California, USA…

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