square and round dance in eastern ontario

New Direction for Basic Teaching

The Ottawa Area Callers Association (OACA) reached an important decision at its meeting on Sunday, March 1, 2015. As callers, we sometimes discuss what we can do to improve the skill of the dancers at all levels. We all recognize the common problem of dancers “moving up” to a dance level when they are not sufficiently proficient at the level they are currently dancing. This holds true for dancers going from Basic to Mainstream, from Mainstream to Plus, from Plus to Advance, etc.

At the lower levels, part of the problem is that at the Basic and Mainstream dancers are always learning. There is no opportunity to “just dance” for whatever length of time is necessary to be skilled enough to go on to the next program. Currently, the only choice for graduated Basic dancers is to learn Basic all over again or go on to learn Mainstream, even if they are not quite ready for it.

Similarly at Mainstream where MS dancers often share the evening with Basic dancers. Sometimes this only allows 3 MS tips a night -- definitely not conducive to gaining skills very quickly. There is no place for Basic and Mainstream dancers to just dance until their skill level improves sufficiently.

At the OACA meeting, we discussed many things: Teach-only nights vs Dance-only nights, centralized teaching where one entity is responsible for teaching Basic dancers after which they return to their local clubs, a 3-year program to finish Mainstream, etc, etc. I’m sure all of you can imagine the logistics stacked against many of the ideas (more halls needed, more callers needed, more costs, splitting the dancer pool, distance to travel and so on).

So after a lengthy discussion on a lot of topics, we decided to concentrate on the practical: what could we actually do NOW to give our Basic dancers a better opportunity to dance well – ie, get them well-grounded in the whole foundation of square dancing before moving on.

The result was the following proposal that was approved by most callers at the meeting:

Similar ideas have been around for a long time. There are always requests that the square dance movement reduce the number of moves at the entry level and elsewhere. Members of our own Publicity Working Group have put forward many brainstorming ideas to attract new dancers, some of which mention the need to reduce the number of moves in the entry level.

So this step might be in the right direction. Most clubs rush through all the Basic moves in the first year and then spend several months during the next fall dance season reviewing the Basics before they can actually starti teaching Mainstream. It will still take 2 years to finish the Mainstream level but the moves will be more evenly spread across the 2 years. Hopefully this will allow a little more time for the moves to be practiced and become more ingrained in "muscle memory" rather than over taxing the brain.

A big Thank You to Wendy Vandermeulen for spearheading this practical idea at the callers’s meeting to help improve dancer strength.

Bob Summers
Chair, OACA