European Association
of American Square Dancing Clubs e.V.

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EAASDC-Bulletin February 2011

Help and Advice

As already announced in November Bulletin we had the intention to deal with the matter of computer cards in a coming issue of the Bulletin. Here now two different pieces with a slightly different point of view. Many thanks to the authors!

Computer Numbers, What Are They and Why
Don Beck, Square Dance Caller, Massachusetts, USA

Have you ever danced too many successive tips with the same people, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse? Well, I’ve got your number. It’s the number system. What is the number system? Well, it started a long time ago when someone realized that it would be nice to have a way of fairly mixing people in such a way that everyone would have the opportunity to dance with different people each tip. There was always someone who had to sit out two in a row or maybe “got stuck dancing with a newer dancer” more often than they thought fair (not that anyone would really think a thing like that!) A system was needed to give all dancers an even and fair chance to dance.

Well, several systems now exist. The scheme in each is basically the same. Each couple is assigned a number. A chart tells them which square to dance in, tip by tip. Once in the square, couples may choose any position that they desire within the square. If the master chart does its job correctly, mixing will occur.

Most people initial think that this is too regimented. They would rather dance with whomever they please. In some ways, they are right, but when used under the right circumstances, there are many redeeming advantages.

Initially, number mixing was used at challenge level workshops where people realized that this was a learning experience and all would profit from mixing in this manner. Currently the greatest acceptance of dancing by the numbers still seems to be at advanced and challenge level workshops; however, many beginners’ classes are now also taking advantage of this system. Introducing the number system into workshops or classes frequently requires compromise with those people who are rightly apprehensive, by proposing a one dance trial usage of the numbers. Sacrificing only one night to regimentation is not that hard a pill to swallow. A vote after the dance then decides whether or not to continue with numbers at future dances. More often than not, people are amazed to find out that the advantages out weigh the disadvantages.

Generally when the numbers are used, they are not used the first and last tips of the evening to allow dancing with that friend that you wanted to be sure not to miss. Several different schemes have been devised to administer the system. The original one assigned each couple a number at the end of the first tip based on which square they had just danced in. Then, at the beginning of the second tip, the caller would read from a list, which couples were to dance in square one, which in square two, etc. The caller had many lists. The one he used depended on how many couples were present. If a couple came in late, they would be assigned the next successive number and a different list would be used. This system has its drawbacks however, in that the caller must spend time reading and frequently rereading the position assignments each tip, thereby delaying the start of each tip. Some groups tried having the dancers check the list during the break. This resulted in having lots of people clustered around a small sheet of paper, generally just as the next tip was about to start.

One system that attempts to improve upon these shortcomings has put their lists on large charts, on an easel at the front of the hall. A horizontal slider is moved each tip, and dancers read their square assignment at the intersection of their couple number olumn and the slider. Once again, the chart must be flipped each time a new couple arrives, in order to include that new couple into the mix.

Another system for disseminating this information, which currently is not being as widely used, is to hand one dancer from each couple his or her own card. Each card is packed with numbers, and is carried by the dancer for the entire dance. It is used to find out which square s/he goes to without having to consult a central board. Each dancer’s card is different, and he need not remember which couple number he is, since his card is unique to that number. He must only check his card to locate the square he is to dance in. The number of couples in the hall is posted at the front of the hall in large numbers so that he knows which column to look in. Should a new couple come in, a new number is posted, but new cards are not necessary. Each dancer already has the information on his card and just moves over one column. This method, as did the previous one, solves some of the problems, yet adds new ones. No longer is there a central dissemination point that dancers must cluster around, therefore if dancers do not check their number until the very end of the break, they can do so quickly, right where they are. The big problem with this system is the fact that if just one dancer forgets to return his card at the end of the dance, the set of cards is incomplete and not usable at future dances. Other complaints heard have been that because, by necessity, so much information is crammed onto such a small piece of paper, the print is to small, for people who normally wear glasses, to read.

The actual mixing scheme has been produced by computer on some of the systems and by people, trying to sort and mix evenly, on others.

Whatever the mechanics of the system are; the thing to remember is that, as an aid to learning, it has proven itself successful; as a detriment to sociability, it has proven itself no real problem; at open dances, at any level, it is far from a necessity; and as another gadget to keep track of, it is a pain in the neck. We have survived without it for a long time, yet many groups feel they have gained by using it. The goal here is just to make you aware of what it is and allow you to use an open mind when you speak with others whose opinion my be different than yours.

As a choreographer, Don Beck is the author of many calls, including Ferris Wheel, Ping Pong Circulate, and Chain Down the Line.

(published with kind permission of author)

Computer cards and their application in Square Dance
Gerti Vieracker, ACR-Club e.V. Erlangen

An article/reprint in the November Bulletin 2010 has made me write an article about it.

The first time I came across real (!) computer cards was during a teaching week for C-programmes in Plön on New Year’s Eve 2001.

“Such things” had not come up yet up to the A-level.

In Plön it was a really strenuous experience. It was a question of laminated cards with scientifically elaborate instructions which told you
- the number the participating couples had (it only worked in the couple mode)
- with how many couples present
- at which tip
- in which square you would be standing.

The first tip was “open” as a rule, i.e. each couple stood where they wanted. After this first tip the cards were carefully distributed (1st square, couple 1 to 4; 2nd square … etc.) and kept until the end of the session. At the end they were – let’s hope so - collected. So far so good.

If there was an extra couple, it was still easy: an extra card was handed out, an extra column was made, an extra square was formed. And on it went.

It was different when a couple wanted to rest: the “highest” card handed out had to be found and went “back to the stock”, the leaving couple passed on their card, new column and orientation etc.

In spite of all the time and effort it was entertaining and an exciting question as to which couples would be dancing together in the next tip.

Nowadays, that is with a PC or laptop, it is considerably easier and very pleasant when dancing.

The aim is to make it possible to dance with all the other dancers at the dance, i.e. to be mixed thoroughly. The longer the dance event, the better, as there will be more tips.

This way all the dancers, whether experienced or newcomers, confident or afraid, will be spread evenly into all the squares – sometimes with more success, sometimes with less success. And sometimes there may be dancers in your square with whom you wouldn’t have danced without mechanical mixing.

So this is what square dancing means – everybody will dance with everybody.

When mixing with a computer, the first tip will be usually “open”, as it is with real cards.

From the second tip on the computer generates all present dancers equally for dancing. Unfortunately people may happen to be late for dancing and miss the first tip. Consequently these very people may be computed “out” for the second tip. People who do not like this will be on time at the next dance.

There are different programs – by now I know three different ones. There is a difference whether you are registered as single dancer or as a couple. Another difference is whether each dancer logs in himself (with existing technical equipment equally pleasant for organisers and participants) or is logged in by a “program-operator”. In this case the dancer has to make sure to be registered. Furthermore there are particular functions depending on the gender role you want to take (lady or gent) and if you are still learning the respective dance programme (student).

After all the dancers have been entered “present”, the program mixes the squares and tells you in which square to dance.

Who wants or has to take a break logs out or reports he is leaving. It is possible to specify certain rhythms in advance, such as to dance every second dance or to dance at most three dances without a break.

After the use of computer programs had become a natural course of action during C-level weekend dances, we also tried it during an A2-weekend dance. The feedback was great. In the beginning those dancers, who were used to choose their fellow dancer or square or their position, were sceptical how this would work. But even after a short time, the dancers were relaxed as they knew their (fixed) position and could make use of the short breaks (drinks, bathroom, chats), without having to look frantically for a free position in a square or to “safeguard” it.

Meanwhile, there are clubs that organise their club nights this way. There are no arguments as to who has to take a break, everybody has an equal dancing time, and everybody dances with everybody.

So in case you were to read, “A computer program / computer cards wild be used at this dance”, you should not flatly refuse this dance, but make use of it as a new dancing experience.

See you soon in a square – mixed or “OPEN”.

Transl.: Helmut Reitz

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