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Ideas For a 10+10 Program
by Nasser Shukayr, Shreveport, Louisiana

The "10+10" plan is alive and well. We've been using this plan in Shreveport LA since September 1995. Our plan teaches all of Mainstream, using three levels of eight weeks each. Keep in mind that "10+10" refers to a generic type of plan for offering beginner lessons all year round. Whether you use a cycle time of 10 weeks, or 12, or 8, all these variations are still referred to as a "10+10" plan.

Many articles have been written praising the benefits of the "10+10" plan. I can't speak for everyone else, but can only tell you "more than you want to know" :-) about our own "10+10" program. Instead of trying to convince you to try the plan, I'd like to share some things I wish someone had told us BEFORE we started our own plan.

In retrospect, the things we learned about how to run a "10+10" SHOULD have been obvious, but for some unknown reason, they weren't.

We looked at several options:
     A 12-week cycle gives 4 starts per year and 4 non-dancing dates
     A 10-week cycle gives 5 starts per year with 2 dates off
     An 8-week cycle gives 6 starts per year with 4 dates off

We felt that a 10-week cycle would not meet our requirements, because we needed to adjust the schedule (for holidays or whatever) more than two weeks per year. We also felt that always starting lessons on the "First Thursday" of certain months would be easier for people to deal with, compared to having lessons sometimes start on a 1st and sometimes on a 3rd Thursday. So, given the choice between an 8-week or a 12-week cycle, we chose 8 weeks.

We had a "false start" about a year and a half ago, when we made the mistake of making too big of a deal out of the new lesson plan. To gain acceptance, we found you have to go off on your own and work the program. After several months of the program's success, THEN we went back to the club and said "Looky here what YOU have going for YOU". The club members were then very willing to pitch in and help with a project which already had a successful history.

Any type of change in routine is usually met by resistance. The resistance to change was especially pronounced in our club, because the old system was working. Our club has grown during each of the last several years. "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"

Sometimes you have to play your "Ace in the Hole". I convinced the club that if they did NOT go along with this plan, I was gonna do it anyway, with or without their sponsorship. In the game of life, the winner is sometimes the one who makes the most outrageous threats. :-)

We thought it would be a great idea to invite brand-new dancers (from Thursday) to attend a regular club dance (on Tuesday), as our guest. WRONG!! This was a MAJOR mistake. I can provide more details if anyone wants to know "why?", but let's just say that we no longer try to convince new dancers to visit the sponsoring club.

The short story is: let the beginners know they do NOT have to go somewhere else to finally be able to do "real" square dancing. While you're at it, indoctrinate all your regular club members with the same philosophy. Dancing in lessons IS "real" square dancing. When the beginners finish their lessons and ASK about further dancing opportunities, we are quick to answer their questions. But not until THEY ask.

Because s/d lessons are now available year-round, dancers talk to their friends about square dancing, year-round. EVERY night of our "10+10" program we have had SOMEONE show up who has never square danced before. At first, we were so glad to see 'em that we did quick review tips to bring 'em up to the class level. MISTAKE!! What we do now is thank 'em profusely for comin' by, and hand 'em a flyer for the next scheduled start of lessons.

These people do indeed come back. If I sense the slightest hesitation about their willingness to come back, I use a little "technique" to make SURE they come back. I personally hand 'em a flyer, and then take the flyer out of their hand and scribble "COMPLIMENTARY ADMISSION, MAY 2, 1996" across it, and then give 'em their flyer back. :-) "Be sure to bring this flyer with you when you come back on May 2nd, because it gets YOU in for FREE!"

We thought it would be wise to give new dancers, early on, a Basic/Mainstream booklet and/or a complete 34-page handout of everything they'll ever need to know, as we had been doing for our traditional lessons. MISTAKE!! This ended up scaring off many folks. All they (and you) need to worry about is getting through the current 8-week cycle, and talking to everyone you know about joining in on the next 8-week cycle.

When our program first started, if I had to be out of town on a Thursday and we used a substitute caller, by the next week the class had all but disappeared! Let's just say that many elements of the Traditional approach do not seem to work well under the "10+10" plan.

We finally solved this problem through the magic of "Mentoring". There is a new caller in town who has made the mistake of choosing me for his mentor. No problem, I'll tell him everything he wants to know. And all I ask in return is for him to be at our beginner lessons each week, so he'll know what's going on and can readily fill in for me when I'm calling out of town. And I'll even give him some of the money. :-)

I've broken up the entire list into exactly what will be taught each week of each session. On the surface, you'd think it's hard to cover all the planned material each week. We've found the opposite to be true. Usually we cover everything in the lesson plan, and have time left over for a review during the last tip.

In the Traditional teaching approach, I had been making sure that new dancers received at least four teaches (on four different nights) for every call. In our 8+8 plan, they only get two teaches: the first night it's introduced, and next week when it's reviewed. In addition, they get two more teaches eight weeks from now, during the next cycle.

I almost hesitated to post the above paragraph, because it has the potential to be "dangerous". You'll have to admit it's a different approach. We have NOT had a lot of dropouts by people who "can't keep up". Each week the new dancers are reminded that they will find the calls much easier to do during the next eight-week cycle, when they are angels for the next group.

Every Thursday night, we provide three tips for each of the three segments. When you're calling nine tips in 2-1/2 hours, you don't have time to take a break. We provide an intense learning experience.

Each segment is only 50 minutes long. The first thing we threw away was the idea of a "warm-up" tip. We start teachin' (or at least reviewing last week's material) during the very first tip. We believe that in a 50-minute session, the new dancers want to learn something during ALL of those 50 minutes.

When the students take a rest break between tips, we get out various teaching objects (flip charts, checkers, dolls, live dancers for demo purposes, skillets, oven mitts, etc) and lecture 'em while they're "resting". Again, they get 50 (or at least 45) full minutes of teachin'.

I draw diagrams of the moves, let the students observe experienced dancers doing the calls, and ask the students to occasionally push checkers thru the moves. We often demonstrate a move using strange objects. When you've seen Slide Thru taught with a Broom and a Mop, you tend to remember it better. A picture is worth a thousand words. Of course, with me, you get BOTH the picture AND the thousand words. Gee, I wish I could send every one of you a picture. :-)

An integral component of this plan is the new dancers will be exposed to the exact same material again, eight weeks from now. We ask the new dancers to bring their friends to the next scheduled start of lessons and to act as "angels" for their friends. Because the material will be repeated eight weeks from now, the students do not have to learn each new call to perfection. They have already seen "pictures" of the call, and may have even pushed checkers thru the call. They'll learn each call again, and much better, eight weeks from now, when they are angels for the subsequent group.

If experienced dancers are helping out at lessons for the right reasons, they do not require a club-level tip "just for them". We informally refer to our 8+8 plan as the "New Dancer Farm". At our regular club, we invite people to come out "to the farm" and help us grow new dancers.

On the third (final) tip of each segment, we review what they've learned during the evening, then call a singing call they are certain to be successful with. We avoid teaching a lot a brand-new material during the last tip of each segment.

We found that having new dancers pay for every lesson, even the very first one, helps us retain them. We think the lure of "the first 'X' lessons are free" actually turns people away, because nowadays folks figure if something is free, then there must be strings attached. When talking one-on-one with someone, if the issue of cost comes up, every club member is authorized to give out a "free pass" for the first night of lessons. So far, this option has yet to be exercised.

On each night of lessons, we point out how we are covering different material every night, so it's important to attend every session. It's still difficult to convince people to attend ALL the lessons. We are now considering offering a 25% discount if they pay for all eight lessons in advance. We are hoping this tactic will make them want to attend all eight lessons, since they're already paid for. Still, even if someone misses a lesson or two, we tell 'em not to worry too much about it, because the exact same material will be covered again in eight weeks.

Recruitment is an on-going process. We've found it helps tremendously to constantly remind both club and class members to ASK their friends to try square dancing. The campaign we've been running successfully is "ASK TEN PEOPLE". We ask 'em to keep track of how many people they've actually personally ASKED to come to square dance lessons, and to keep askin' people until they've asked ten people.

Further, we get the club and class members to write down the names of the (hopefully ten) people they've asked. Then we make a master list of these names and circulate the list among the class and club members. We've found that oftentimes, several different dancers know the very same prospect. This lets us double and triple-team the prospects. We think if a non-dancer is asked to square dance by several different acquaintances, it improves the likelihood of them showing up for a beginners class.

When our program first started, we referred to the three segments each night as the "A", "B", and "C" groups. MISTAKE!! We found that many times people did not know which group they were in, and they would often square up in a tip for which they were not yet ready. We solved this problem by using a color-dot sticker on their name badge:

  • Red = 1st 8 weeks
  • Green = 2nd 8 weeks
  • Purple = 3rd 8 weeks

Before "awarding" a green dot, we ask each new dancer if THEY feel ready for a green dot. We encourage them to repeat the Red session if they want to. So far, a few people have wanted to, usually due to having missed several classes. We remind folks that even though they have a green dot, they are still expected to dance in the Red sessions, to complete their learning experience. Besides, it doesn't cost 'em any extra to dance in both. Similarly, the Purple group is reminded that they are expected to dance in the Green tips, and are also welcome to dance in the Red tips.

Since we are not aware of any hard-and-fast rules about how a program of this nature should be conducted, we often take the liberty of trying out new ideas. Sometimes the new ideas actually work. :-)

Since classes are available all year round, we have started to buy some low-key advertisements. These are small ads designed to increase general awareness. This type of ad may take months to produce results, but they are very inexpensive. So far, our largest source of new students (other than word-of-mouth) has been from announcements printed in church bulletins.

Creating a brand-new "10+10" beginner plan, when one does not already exist, is not the easiest thing in the world to do. First you need a hall, and a caller with a free night. On the very first cycle, there is only one session, not three. We started by teaching four weeks of "Session A", two hours per week. After four weeks, we started a new session "A" and invited the current "A" people to become "B" people. (If we knew then what we know now, we would NOT have done this: we would have given the "Red-Dot" people a "Green Dot", if they wanted one).

In the 2nd cycle, we taught "A" and "B" for six weeks, an hour and fifteen minutes per session. On the 3rd cycle (after ten total weeks of elapsed time) we were able to finally start teaching three sessions per night.

So far, we have put eleven new dancers into the sponsoring club, and have over 40 dancers in various phases of lessons. Our statistics would have been even better, except that the mistakes we made during our learning process ran off over 30 people. Maybe by learning from our mistakes, YOU can undertake a similar plan, not lose ANY people, and have 70 student dancers within 6 to 8 months!

Our retention figures are not very reliable at present, because three of the new dancers are my own children. They don't have the option of dropping out! In truth, they have brought in a few of their own friends. Children are only a small percentage of our new dancers. Most new dancers are the same age as our experienced dancers: old. But perhaps we are finally starting to reach the younger set. Now all I need is a NEW hobby, where my wife and I can get AWAY from the kidz! :-)

Our plan has evolved considerably since we first started. It is likely to undergo further changes in the future. We do think we have finally created a stable situation, after a somewhat rocky start. It's possible that some of our success is due to the fact that we already had a healthy and growing club when we started, rather than a club willing to try ANYTHING out of desperation.

The magic of the plan occurs by allowing beginners to start square dancing when THEY are ready, instead of only once per year. So far, our results have exceeded everyone's lofty expectations. We don't think we will EVER go back to the "traditional" approach for beginner lessons.

I earnestly seek any and all input, as we are constantly striving to improve this plan.

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