Last updated: 26 November 2013 15:30
This represents the state of the proposal at the time of the 24 November 2013 meeting of the SCVSDA Delegates. For updated information, visit the SCVSDA web site.
GDP Planning Committee
Joe Dehn, Chair
General Dance Program
This document describes a proposal for a new way for the SCVSDA to contribute to the growth of square dancing in this area. The "program" in the title refers both to an activity -- an ongoing series of dances -- and a dance level -- a set of calls. In a nutshell what we are proposing is that SCVSDA establish and manage a series of dances at a level about halfway between zero and Plus. This would be operated independently of (and supplementary/complementary to) any other dances now sponsored by SCVSDA (Whing Dings, Jubilee) or any other local organization (club hoedowns, newer dancer hoedowns).
Growing the Dancer Population
The overall goal of this program is to support the growth of square dancing by facilitating the recruiting, teaching, and retention of new dancers. This goal actually involves two complementary subgoals:
To make it easier for new people who are eventually going to become Plus dancers (or beyond) to reach that level.
To provide a level of dancing for people who are not interested in / capable of becoming Plus dancers.
It isn't the purpose of this document to rehash the reasons why both of these are important to the health of square dancing. Anyone reading this will most likely have already come to the conclusion that we have serious problems, whether they prefer to describe the situation in terms of the steady decline in overall numbers, the "inverted pyramid", the length of the list, or the changes in lifestyles that have made it difficult to recruit and retain class members.
Instead, we will outline a vision of how we could make use of an intermediate level as a tool for addressing all of these problems, and point out some of the synergies that we see possible with this approach.
General Dance Program as a Bridge/Interchange
What we envision is this program serving as a common connection point among:
- Recruiting/teaching methods optimized for bringing in new people
- Teaching/retention methods optimized for building clubs
- Dancing opportunities for people who are learning Plus
- Dancing opportunities for people who will never learn Plus
There would be a wide variety of options for reaching the GDP level:
- ordinary weekly class: GDP could be taught using essentially the same approach now used to teach Plus, to a similar mix of students, and at a similar pace. But instead of a club having to allocate 6 to 9 months for this, they could do it in about 4 months. This would allow them to either run more than one class per year, or to spend a larger part of the year "just dancing".
- fast-paced weekly class: A club or caller that wanted to offer a class specifically for people who are able to learn quickly, but still make use of a weekly format, should be able to teach the calls of this program in less than three months, especially if they are willing to do things like allocate more time per week and ask their students to do studying outside of class.
- slow-paced weekly class: Anyone who wanted to address the needs of people who are unable to keep up with an "average" pace class would have the option of spending 6 to 8 months (the time currently allocated by many clubs to reach Plus) teaching just to the GDP level. There are various kinds of beginners who might be able to get involved in square dancing in this way, who can't do so now -- not necessarily just "slow learners", but also people who have trouble attending every week for one reason or another. (Some classes might even be designed specifically to address these different kinds of needs.)
- super-multi-cycle models: Various people have proposed or are experimenting with alternative ways of structuring classes that allow dancers with no previous experience to join much more frequently than just "at the beginning of the class", in some cases as often as every week. These approaches generally rely on different students learning different things at the same time, a process that is more likely to be practical with a smaller list as its target.
- other experimental methods: Even more radical approaches might be possible, perhaps involving more self-study, or online teaching. This proposal doesn't attempt to address what will or will not work -- but by providing a smaller program as a target it can create an environment where people find it easier to experiment with new ideas about teaching.
- blast classes: We know that blast classes can be effective for teaching some people, but experience with them has shown that scheduling them (enough hours, over a compact enough span of time) can be a serious obstacle. Without having to invent any new teaching methods, it should be possible for many people to reach GDP in four days of full-time instruction (e.g., two weekends, one weekend day four weeks in a row, or a four-days-in-a-row "camp").
There would also be multiple ways of reaching Plus from GDP:
- weekly upgrade class: A club or caller could teach the remaining calls just as most do now, with a weekly class. Again, this might go at an "ordinary", "fast", or "slow" pace.
- upgrade blast class: With another few-day "blast", some GDP dancers could move up to Plus. People trying to organize such an "upgrade" class would be in a much better position (compared with somebody organizing a beginner blast class) to advise students on whether the blast approach would work for them, based on their previous experience in learning GDP.
- continuous workshop model: Some clubs might choose to invite GDP dancers to join them from time to time (e.g., starting once or twice a year) and dance a sort of "GDP with workshopping" level for part of the year to bring these dancers up to Plus in a gradual way, while integrating them into the club.
The diagram also shows two elements that are not currently significant in this area and are not important to this proposal, simply to illustrate where they would fit if somebody wanted to introduce them:
- Mainstream: Anyone who wanted to try creating a Mainstream club, or to prepare a group of people for a trip to an event where Mainstream is available (e.g., NSDC), could run a class specifically for that purpose, teaching GDP dancers the necessary additional calls in a reasonably short time.
- ABC: ABC has primarily been promoted as a stand-alone activity, not connected with programs like Plus or with the idea of having to "learn a program" at all. But if there were active ABC events in our area, anyone who became involved with square dancing in that way who wanted to explore other options would have an easier time getting to GDP than all the way to Plus.
Differences from Current "Newer Dancer Hoedowns"
It should be clear that this proposal differs from the current offering of "newer dancer hoedowns". It is true that for those dancers who are taking a class designed to bring them directly from zero to Plus, the GDP dances would serve the same purpose at a certain point somewhere in the middle of their class season (as soon as they have learned the appropriate set of calls).
But there are important differences:
- Scheduled on a continuous basis, year-round.
GDP dances would not be scheduled only when some particular class, or any group of classes, reached a particular set of calls. They would be held year-round, independent of the scheduling of classes -- and welcome anybody who had learned that set of calls through any method. An important implication of this for clubs and callers is that anyone would be able to run a class that teaches to GDP, either as a destination level or as a plateau, using any method, starting at any time of year, knowing that dances at this level will be available whenever their students get to that point.
- Fixed set of calls.
The list of calls used at these dances would not vary from dance to dance.
Dancers who have been dancing for a long time would know, from past experience, what to expect. The callers calling these dances would be able to gain experience and develop techniques and/or material that works well with this program. Instructors considering sending their students to these dances will be able to depend on it being a consistent "product", and not have to worry that it won't be right for their students because the caller is focused on the needs of some other class.
We are not proposing this as a replacement for newer dancer hoedowns generally, and especially to the extent that other groups want to continue offering them at times of the year that make sense for classes that start at a particular time of year. As a practical matter, this probably means that people will still want to schedule newer dancer hoedowns at a level lower than GDP for the benefit of September classes during the November through January time frame, and some may also want to schedule hoedowns at a higher level during the March through May time frame.
Differences from a "Club Level"
Some attempts to improve the teaching and retention situation have revolved around changing the "club level", i.e., the level most commonly danced by clubs in that area. For example, in many parts of the country it is a common view that there should be more Mainstream clubs than Plus clubs. The American Callers Association has for many years been pushing their "One Floor" program as a replacement for both Mainstream and Plus. We are not proposing that here. We are not proposing GDP as a replacement for Plus.
We are proposing to treat GDP as a "dance level", but not a "club level". It would be a dance level because there will be frequent dances at that level, and it is for this reason that it would make sense for people to teach it and learn it. If somebody wanted to start a club that also danced that level they could, but that is not part of this proposal.
The GDP Dance Level
An essential component of the General Dance Program idea is that the level of dancing be approximately "halfway to Plus" in terms of how much there is to learn. (The important feature here is the "size" of the level, not that it correspond to the first half of what people now typically learn when they are learning all of Plus, which is different in different classes anyway.) If the level were much bigger than that, it would not be able to serve as a catalyst for the wide variety of learning alternatives that we would like to promote. If it were much smaller than that, it would be too easy to dismiss as totally a "beginner" level.
In selecting the list of calls for GDP, the committee considered several alternative approaches, including adopting Basic or some other subset of the CALLERLAB teaching sequence, adopting some alternative existing list published by somebody else, or developing a new list. After examining these possibilities, it became apparent that no existing list had the combination of properties that the committee believed important -- namely inclusion of at least some popular Plus calls while still being about half the size of Plus.
The committee then considered whether taking an existing list as a base and making modifications would be an effective way of creating a new list. The "Experimental Condensed Teaching Order" recently developed by a CALLERLAB committee was used as the base. The committee went through an iterative process of considering various classes of additions and deletions. The result of that process is the proposed GDP list.
This list contains about 35 calls and call families from the Basic list, 11 calls from the Mainstream list, and 8 calls from the Plus list, including some but not all of the CALLERLAB-listed variations of these.
The calls were selected on the basis of factors such as frequency of use, ease of learning, choreographic utility, and the degree to which they bring variety to the program as a whole. The committee evaluated the size of the list in several ways, to confirm that it meets the criterion of being "about half the size of Plus".
In order to provide a consistent experience both for new dancers and for longer-term dancers who are looking for a less-challenging experience than currently provided by Plus hoedowns, in addition to specifying a list of calls the focus of the "GDP level" is on the easier usages of these calls, generally speaking in the spirit of what CALLERLAB refers to as "standard applications". Callers for GDP dances will be given general guidance about this aspect of the "level", and will be expected to use their judgement about how to apply that at the actual dance. (This would include, as with any dance, the possibility of calling other cases with suitable workshopping -- it's just that dancers would not be expected to be fluent in these usages when they arrive, and that would not be the main focus of the dance -- these dances are not intended to be either "classes" or "workshops".)
Similarly, it will be important to keep the focus of these dances on an intermediate speed of dancing -- they must be fast-paced enough to satisfy the average dancer, without being too fast for people who are either new to the level or who have moderate physical limitations. We can't try to make these "high-energy" or "youth-oriented" without making a lot people who can't move that fast uncomfortable. On the other hand, we can't slow them down to accommodate people who really can't move at dance speed, or people who can't keep up because they haven't really learned the calls. These are not "student" or "class-level" dances -- they are for people who have already learned a specific set of calls.
Other Features of GDP Dances
Aside from the actual dancing, many other aspects of a dance can affect how dancers see it, and what kinds of dancers are attracted to it. We want the features of these dances to send the message that they are gatherings of the whole square dance community while taking special care to make those dancers who are not able to attend Plus or higher level dances feel especially welcome.
Some of the details of these features will be difficult to work out until the locations and actual patterns of attendance become clear, so they are best left to the committee that will be running the dances to work out, including allowing for experimentation with alternative approaches and making changes where necessary. The following therefore should be understood to be only a general description of the features we expect to see in GDP dances.
Some sort of food generally makes a dance more attractive to most people. We anticipate having a food table and inviting dancers to bring appropriate snacks or other "finger food". However, leaving this aspect of a dance completely unorganized sometimes results in disappointment with respect to quantity and/or variety. To make this work well, we recommend that the committee try to recruit somebody from each SCVSDA club who will take on the task of encouraging dancers to bring food, and of making suggestions to dancers who may be unsure about what they can bring that will be most helpful.
The fact that somebody cannot come with a partner should not be allowed to deter them from attending a GDP dance. While we do not want in any way to discourage couples who want to come and dance together, we want to make it as easy as possible for those who come solo, along with others who have come with a partner but who may be willing to dance with other people, to pair up and get into a square. For this reason we recommend that the committee try to recruit a volunteer to actively run and promote a solo rotation.
Decorations tend to create a more festive atmosphere and generally signal that this is a "special event". However, different kinds of decorations work better in different kinds of halls, and some may represent a significant expense -- for these reasons we don't suggest investing in anything new until we have a better idea about where the dances will be held. We propose instead that the basic decorations be banners -- we have SCVSDA banners that were formerly used at Jubilee, and we will invite dancers from all clubs to bring and hang their own club banner. Not only will this be a start on providing some "color", but even more importantly it will graphically signal the idea that this is a gathering of dancers from the whole square dance community.
Consistent with the notion of these dances being gatherings of the entire local square dance community, we should encourage all club, class, hoedown, and festival sponsors to bring flyers for distribution. This benefits everybody -- it enables those sponsors to reach people who they may not be able to reach at other events, and it helps those GDP dancers who want to know what other options are available to find out about them. However, consistent with the idea of encouraging people to accept GDP as a distinct program which people can continue to dance without learning Plus, and to eliminate confusion among GDP-only dancers about which dances are for them, we should ask that all flyers include a clear indication of their level -- and specifically that flyers for Plus events be explicitly so marked. (To make things easy for people with flyers for Plus dances that were prepared for use at Plus dances, we can make available a rubber stamp so they can easily add the word "PLUS" to those flyers.)
New Dancer Recognition
Most dancers attending these dances will have danced at similar or higher-level dances before. But the key factor that will determine whether these dances are contributing to the growth of our square dance community is the attendance of new people. We propose to welcome them to our community and celebrate their arrival by providing them with a certificate. For all new dancers, this will send a message that we value them. For some of them, who may have learned GDP in a class not associated with any club, or which because of its format never has a group "finishing" at a clearly defined time, as well as for those who may still be attending a class that will not have a graduation until they reach the Plus level, this can also serve the function of a "GDP graduation ceremony".
There are also a number of features commonly found at Plus dances that we do not expect to include in GDP dances.
We want all dancers to feel able to attend GDP dances regardless of the clothing style they personally prefer or to which they may be accustomed in their club or class, so these dances will not require "square dance attire" or any special style of dress. Of course this is also true of most other dances in this area, so many people will probably assume this anyway, but to whatever extent is necessary to make this clear we will do so. This will also leave to the sponsors of Plus dances the option of making "dressing up" a distinguishing feature of their dances, if they so desire.
While we hope that dancers who dance a wide variety of programs will participate in these dances, we want to be sure that everybody who can dance at the GDP level feels that they are being treated as full participants. Many people feel that star tips, whether making use of a higher program or requiring above average abilities or knowledge (e.g., certain styles of "hot hash") send a signal to the average dancer that what he/she has accomplished isn't "good enough". This isn't an argument against star tips in general -- many of us enjoy them at other dances. But since these dances are intended specifically to have an "everyone can do this" flavor, they aren't a good fit here.
Similarly, we don't believe that rounds will be a good fit for these dances. We expect that these will be among the first dance experiences outside of their class that many new dancers will have. We don't want those people -- or any other attendees who don't round dance -- to get the feeling that they aren't full and equal participants in these events.
We do not anticipate making use of "split the pot", "opportunity drawings", or similar fundraising devices. When dancers who are members of clubs see this sort of thing being done at a club-sponsored dance, they can understand why the club is doing it. But we hope to have a lot of people attending these dances who are either new to dancing and/or who don't belong to a club, and the new people especially may feel awkward being approached with a request for more money after having just paid the advertised fee. It would also send the wrong message about SCVSDA's motivations. We are not sponsoring these dances as a way of raising money for SCVSDA from the square dance community -- we are sponsoring them as a way of contributing to the square dance community.
Features that would be compatible with GDP but which are not part of the initial plan.
Assigning specific "themes" to some GDP dances would be possible, as long as it is done in a way that doesn't compromise any of the more basic features. Themes could aid in marketing, and might also involve additions to the normal food and decorations. They might also involve suggestions to dress in a specific way, but this should be at the option of the individual dancer.
A GDP dance could be held in conjunction with a dinner, barbeque, picnic, or similar event which provides food significantly beyond what is available at a typical dance. This might be related to a "theme" or not -- the meal itself could be what makes that particular dance special. But in scheduling any such combination event, the basic function of providing enough dance time for GDP-only to be able to maintain their skills should be preserved.
In order to provide enough dance opportunities, for dancers who can't attend other hoedowns because they don't know Plus, GDP dances must be held fairly frequently -- at least once per month. The committee also felt that it was important to hold the GDP dances as much as possible on Saturday evenings.
Of course most Saturdays there are other things going on. Both because the basic idea of GDP is to increase dance opportunities and because we want Plus dancers to support and participate in the GDP dances, we need to keep to a minimum conflicts with other events that such dancers might want to attend -- including nearby Plus hoedowns, newer dancer hoedowns, and festivals.
For a more in-depth discussion of these aspects of scheduling, see the scheduling considerations page.
For 2014, eight dates have been tentatively identified as ones when we could have a Saturday evening GDP dance without directly conflicting with another event likely to be of interest to a significant number of GDP or Plus dancers. The first of these is 11 January. In order to meet the goal of at least 12 dances during the year, at least four additional dances will have to be held on Friday evenings, held during the daytime on weekends, or held at a location which minimizes the number of dancers who would see another dance held the same night as being in conflict.
The GDP dances would simultaneously serve:
- dancers who want to be able to dance without learning Plus
- dancers who have already learned Plus but might enjoy a more relaxed experience
- beginners in a zero-to-Plus class who have learned enough calls
- angels from those classes who want to support their beginners
- new dancers who plan to go on to Plus but are in a "holding pattern"
- any dancers who just want someplace to dance that day
Different approaches might be appropriate for reaching these different groups. For the people already attending Plus hoedowns or who are just looking for additional places to dance, traditional flyers placed at other dances might be sufficient. We would presumably want to coordinate with anybody running any kind of class that will "graduate" at the GDP level to make sure those students are informed at an appropriate time. Similarly, we would encourage instructors of classes that are going straight to Plus to let their students know about these dances at whatever point they have learned the necessary calls. Something different would be required for dancers who are not in any sort of class and who also don't attend other hoedowns regularly -- to reach these people, we would probably want to set up a mechanism to notify them by e-mail when the next dance is coming up (which of course could be made available to anybody else who wants it as well).
This is a proposal that SCVSDA sponsor a series of dances. More specifically, that means:
- SCVSDA would select the dates and locations.
- SCVSDA would select the callers.
- SCVSDA would define the dance level.
- SCVSDA would publicize the dances to all interested parties.
- SCVSDA would back the dances financially and set the pricing.
- SCVSDA would provide the insurance.
To make all of this happen, the SCVSDA Delegates are being asked to endorse some of the policies outlined in this proposal as general guidelines. All of the remaining decisions would be delegated to a committee set up specifically for this purpose, in accordance with the general procedures for appointment of committees, with this committee having clear authority to take all necessary action including setting specific dates and booking halls and callers, without further approval of the Board or Delegates.
The mechanism for approval of this plan is adoption of a proposed standing rule.
This proposal is being developed by a committee established at the 25 August 2013 meeting of the SCVSDA Delegates. To provide a framework for understanding further development of this plan, we provide the following tentative timeline:
- August 2013 - planning committee appointed [done]
- September 2013 - create and make available a preliminary draft proposal [done]
- October-November 2013 - resolve details of plan and create final proposal [this document]
- 24 November 2013 - present to SCVSDA Delegates for formal approval [done]
- December 2013 - begin publicizing dances
- January 2014 - first dance