European Association
of American Square Dancing Clubs e.V.

Friendship is Square Dancing's greatest reward


EAASDC-Bulletin November 2010

To think about

Good enough for the next level?
Analysis and experience from the dance floor
Henning Klingenberg

The following piece has already been published in 1999 in the Advanced News (which no longer exists). Originally the essay was written focussing on computer cards. I am asking the author to excuse that I have eliminated this aspect from the new article, because many of our readers will not know much about computer cards and their application in Square Dancing. However, the remaining thoughts and proposals of the author (apart from the usage of computer cards) are a careful investigation into many of the problems on the dance floor and by all means worth being published again. So this is a slightly modified reprint and not in full accordance with the original. It is intended to deal with the matter of computer cards in a coming issue of the Bulletin. And if you can contribute, you are invited to contact me. The Editor

Square Dance events are usually advertised with a reference to the level of difficulty. If a program is announced without further specification or with an additional "solid", the dancers are expected to know the respective calls and to be able to dance them. Further it is expected that people who don't , will not take part in this event - of their own accord. Quite simple - in theory.

In reality, however, it SEEMS TO BE VERY HARD to determine if you can really master a certain program. Unfortunately this is not plainly determined, as each dancer learns at a different, individual speed. There's no "bang" after which you can dance everything. On the contrary - after learning the fundamentals of a program you go on to practicing it on the dance floor. So the question is not always: "Can I dance this program?" but sometimes rather: "Can I dance the program WELL ENOUGH to attend this dance?" A dancer who is aware that he is still in the learning phase might ask for example the organizer if the caller is considered especially difficult and what the proficiency of the dancers who have already registered is like. Only then will he/she decide whether to attend or not.

This can be compared to a driver's license, which at first only gives permission to go on practicing without a driving instructor. But there is no authority in square dancing which determines when a dancer's proficiency is sufficient and which checks in each case if this assessment is correct. And what is the meaning of "sufficiently good" in square dancing?

Some years ago I had an opportunity to listen to an ECTA discussion about Black and White Badges, a kind of minimal accreditation for a caller's experience. An American caller then declared he didn't understand the badge system. If he could find people who ask him to call for them, then he was obviously good enough. So why a test?

If you consider the principle proposed by that caller legitimate and if you apply it to dancers, then a dancer seems "sufficiently good" if the others can bear to dance with him without grumbling. A dancer, on the other hand, who is shunned by everybody, is in the same situation as a caller who is not accepted by the dancers. So this dancer should ask himself if he can satisfy the other dancers' expectations. Only when he can affirm this in good conscience - it might be worthwhile to get some feedback from people who are notorious for being honest and straightforward - a shunned dancer can justifiably criticize others.

The NEXT DIFFICULTY is in coming to an agreement if or on which conditions a "soft" dancer can expect to be tolerated.

I observed that a dancer who is new to the program and who is visibly striving to improve has practically no problem to be accepted by the others. In the higher programs this results from the other dancers' wish to have greater numbers of good dancers in the activity, anyway.

Only those dancers are a problem who break down squares with the same mistakes, year after year. They will even confuse the rest of the square by grabbing blindly any hand, by pulling and so on. They will - to top it all - tackle still another program and another without having mastered the fundamentals. It is fatal that these people almost always blame the other dancers or the caller and never themselves (if this were different the problem wouldn't exist). In some cases the callers are also partly responsible because they unjustly gave someone the Impression he/she is talented to square dance or to dance a higher program.

Where exactly is the borderline between acceptable difficulties in starting or getting back into a program and the incompetence which you can't burden the others with. This is where people disagree and where emotions run high. The problem is that dancers perceive and evaluate the same situation in different ways. It can easily happen that ONE AND THE SAME BEHAVIOR (e.g. the previously setting-up of squares) is considered impudent by one dancer while the other considers this as an act of self-defence against the insolence of that dancer, who is about to break down the square.

A few months ago I heard a dancer complain that he meets repeatedly with rejection when he wants to dance the higher programs. He was aware that he was not very proficient, but at home he didn't have a chance to dance those programs. My question is: Can a dancer in a situation like his - if he is not exactly the genius who manages this easily - claim for years the others' tolerance or should he realize that under these conditions it is simply not possible for him to dance certain programs - as regrettable as this may be for him personally?

If the rule is right that you should enter a floor only

  • if you can dance the announced program quite well or
  • if you are invited expressly by a group in case you are not really proficient

then the answer can only be that judgment and not tolerance is asked for.

It’s even worse with people who don't realize at all that the squares break down because of them - they are incapable of judgment. Unfortunately this attitude seems to be true for most of the chronic trouble-makers in a square, who are the real problem. Have you ever had the experience that a whole weekend special or even a square dance week went down the drain because dancers who came unprepared prevented the others from doing what they had come for and on which they had spent a lot of time and work? Then you know what I'm talking about. If a caller adapts his calling too much to the dancers' abilities, they will go home with the wrong assumption of having mastered the program.

Differing proficiency levels of the dancers may cause too many tensions at dances and it would be better to tell a dancer that he has chosen the wrong dance or program. Hardly anybody dares to do so openly. I wonder why? The callers, who because of their function and technical authority would be the ideal people to do this, mostly refuse to do so. The reason seems to be that they fear the "revenge of the disappointed" which on diverse occasions might be expressed loudly and possibly in a distorted way which hurts the caller.

The same is true for the organizer. I doubt, however, that this fear is really well-founded. After all there are callers and organizers who are considered as especially demanding and whose events are crammed just for this very reason. They just live with that criticism. At some time the point is reached when one's own reputation is stronger than the bad-mouthing.

But as long as the latent fear of bad rumours determines the policy, it is not surprising, that people can't think of anything better than just appealing to the dancers' own responsibility. But these appeals obviously have no effect on those who they are directed at in the first place.

Unfortunately there are also those cases when dancers or groups of dancers simply show bad manners. To shun a proficient and well-mannered dancer by setting up club squares in advance all night long is nothing but bad manners. That's my opinion, even if there is a legitimate reason to make the guest realize that he is in the wrong program. An open word would be more appropriate, I think. On the other hand I have also seen how a permanently setup square of guest dancers had been "dissolved" only at the end of the club night by the hosting dancers.

I SUGGEST A SIMPLE TEST which is also apt to assess complaints and reports on "incidents". It consists of the simple question: "Am I / Are you confronted frequently with this situation?" When the answer is an honest "No!", then it was very probably a single incident of bad manners. If not, it is very probably the dancer's own fault.

It has been discussed here already that the increasing tension between proficient and less proficient dancers could be an indication that the old square dance values are on the decline. This is one possible interpretation.

Another possible interpretation would be that the higher the expenses for learning something, the stronger the disappointment when weak dancers spoil one's own efforts, in other words if you can't dance, what you took pains to learn because a soft clientele, prevents the caller from calling sophisticated stuff or because you've landed in a "horror" square. The readiness to defend yourself somehow would therefore not be caused by changing values, but by a problem, which has always been there, but is getting more and more visible.

Thank you for your patience.

Translation: Marielle Gietl

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