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Ed is one of the leading square dance and square dance teacher in America and I intend, during the interview, to get some idea from Ed of how square dancing is organized in America.
The general format in US and Canada is SD clubs, social clubs, (???) neighbors and friends, actually, who get together even in the big city they become groups of neighbors and friends though they may come from quite widely scattered sections of the city, but its a social club, primarily, the successful groups, and this is the general operational method throughout the US and Canada, instead of an open dance program.
That means most of your clubs operate from a married couple point of view. Is this right?
Yes. You see, this, I don't have to tell you, the necessity for a regular partner is one of the requirements, in general, for square dancing and this, of course, to find people with regular partners is a married couple potential is the best method. We have, in fact, have refused to accept in our instruction classes, for many years, to accept singles unless they have made arrangements for partners because the problem of trying to pair off couples, and so forth, in classes, even for instruction, we found didn't work, we put the responsibility on them. And I would say that probably better than 90% of the people participating are married couples.
Getting right back to the fundamentals of square dancing, Ed, you do a lot of teaching that is for beginners, don't you?
Well, I have. I am unable now because of our continuous travels, to conduct beginner classes but my wife and I talk in our classes. Incidentally, introducing us you said we were in Hollywood, we are in Riverside, California which is about 50 miles from Hollywood, at the world famous Mission Inn. In this area, this city and in Redlands, which is not far from here, we taught over 4000 people to dance. Our largest class was in Redlands at 764 people in one class there. Here, in Riverside, just a block from this building we have 542 in one class. We've taught classes and called for clubs in S. Calif. in many years before the pressure of touring and teaching in other parts of the country and calling finally just made it imperative that we do one or the other so we are touring now throughout the US and Canada about 10 months of each year for the past 6 years.
There had been lot of controversy regarding the dancing over the last 2 years that with intricate calling and fast directional movements and I understand that you are more a perfectionist in square dancing. What is your attitude, generally, towards square dancing?
My opinions have not changed a great deal. I was one of the first, perhaps, to introduce hash, as such. We used it as a device then to simplify square dancing because when we began, at the time that I started calling and in my early experience in calling, the method used was to teach entire dances as memorized routines. These were visiting couple dances, this was about 15 years ago, and this was all over the country. They taught memorized routines. In other words, you learned and entire dance and you accidentally learned, in a routine, Right & Left Thrus and Chains but it was a part of the routine, the whole dance, and then the caller didn't change that call, he called it exactly the same every time - same introduction, same figures -- usually four changes of the same figure for each couple in the early dancing, the visiting couple dances. The problem arose that if someone was sick for a couple of weeks or went away for a while and came back, in the meantime the caller had taught several new routines and that person didn't know these routines and found it impossible to dance. So I broke the thing down into basic figures, primary basic figures, in the hope of simplifying if they would listen and do one figure at a time that they would not be required to do any memorizing and that would put the entire burden of memorizing on the callers shoulders. This worked beautifully because they could come and learn Right & Left Thru, Swing, Promenade, Dosaso and so forth. We had about 10 primary figures and about 14 or 15 miscellaneous or secondary figures that were not so frequently used. A total of 24 terms and figures to learn and then you could do any dance. All you had to do was listen, do one figure at a time, you could do any dance. If a miscellaneous figure came along in a dance, the caller gave a brief walk through on that miscellaneous figure then called the dance. This boomeranged, came back to me and knocked my pins out from under me because the first thing we knew it became important to see how intricate you could combine all of these figures and how fast you could call them with a competitive arrangement. This put each dancer in competition with the other 7 in the set, in a sense, instead of trying to cooperate with them to do a figure. It was who can get there first. It set up a competitive attitude between caller and dancer. The caller, "I dare you to do this one", and the dancer "You call it, we'll do it. Let the hammer down." So this is a thing that dancers go through and we've been struggling along with this for a good many years. A certain phase in the beginner's experience, of a certain place in his experience, some of the beginners get carried away with this quick timing. A test of physical and mental alertness. "How quick can I hear, translate, and execute these?" The quicker he can do this, he feels, the greater the achievement. But then he, and he's never more than 10% of the total - this eager dancer, the average person coming into square dancing to join a class will never get to this stage because he will never be that enthusiastic about square dancing. He'll be convinced to go once a week or twice a month, if people will let him, while the eager 10% that just can't wait until tomorrow night because there's another dance are going to get 5 to 10 times as much practice. So you are trying to serve both of these people in one group. We can't score them, or classify them. After a time, this eager person gets a little tired of the continuous go-go and try to keep up and try to learn more figures and try to do them faster. And he wants to slow down, and he will if someone will let him. If he can find a place where he can dance and just dance for fun. The basic problem, the fundamental problem underlying all of this is leadership training. The training of caller-teachers who in turn train dancers and develop dancers who understand these problems and recognize a few simple truths and here are those truths:
Square Dancing is a group activity. You must have a group to have a square dance. You can't do it with one couple. Alright, then what will I have if I have a group of people? If I go out and gather up a group to start, in any neighborhood, a beginning group? I will have every degree of ability and metal and physical alertness in that group. And every degree of enthusiasm in that group -- from the least enthusiastic to the most enthusiastic so there will be a big spread -- I'll have all of this in the same group of people. I'll have people who will continue but just, well the fella just doesn't much care whether he ever goes back again but he comes, his wife drags him. Then I'll have in that same group, the couple that wants to go five nights this week and they just put everything else aside, even family, they become complete square dance hobbiest. Here they are in the same group. The one looking for another class, another place to dance at every opportunity - the one skipping every other week maybe or every third week, even more than that. Yet here they are, in one group for the caller to serve. Now you can't score them, you can't classify them, you can't test them, you can't say you're smart, you're dumb, you're enthusiastic, you don't care, you don't give a darn so we'll put you in separate groups. This has been tried. I have called all over the US for select handpicked groups of dancers, "we're going to have a high-level club" and they go around the community like a bunch of horse traders visiting all of the clubs and looking and watching and selecting this couple and that couple. Then they get this little hand picked group together and what do they have? They still have every degree of mental and physical alertness. From the slowest one in "that" group to the most alert one in "that" group and the contest begins again. Now who do the callers serve? Who do they call for? If we continue this thing far enough, you see, on the basis of how quick can you hear, translate and do. How many miscellaneous terms can you remember, how good is your retention, your memory retention? If this is the test we must wind up with one couple to dance with anybody. No one man or one lady too good to even dance with their husband or wife as, let's face it, there's a big difference in each family usually. He may be quicker, more alert. She may have a better memory for terms. So if we go on this choreography kick, this close order drill with girls, which involves grabbing everybody you can by one hand or the other and devious ways to get to the corner for a Left Allemande. If this is the "end" of square dancing it can only be a process of eliminatation. And that is what it has become throughout our country. We have struggled with this problem. I think there is a great trend now, it's been indicated in my experience, away from competitive type dancing. There's more emphasis being placed on fun. More emphasis on good dancing from the stand point of movement to music and rhythm, timing, flow, natural sequences/figures. Less importance on which hands do you grab but how smoothly can you turn, swing? How well do you time? Are you ready at the proper time? Do you give the right number of steps to each figure and arrive at your corner at the correct time? This is the essence of good dancing, graceful carriage. These are the things that never grow old because dancing, from the beginning of man's history, has been one of the important ways for him to express emotions. It is not just physical exercise. If the emotion to be expressed is competitive feelings then it is directly opposed to whole idea of SQUARE DANCING which is complete cooperation. The proof of this is that whenever a set dances a square and it just falls together -- everyone's where they are supposed to be at the right time and it flows and it's smooth and there's no stumbling or waiting for each anybody and they finish with the music and time with the caller (sometimes even in spite of him) and they finish at the right time -- everyone applauds like crazy. And they are applauding themselves because they did the dance. But if that same set hassles and has trouble and turmoil, and they get snarled up and get then straightened out and dance again and tangle again and then straightening out -- they don't applaud very much when they finish that square. It may have been called well but they didn't know how to dance well and some didn't know how to time properly because they were too busy learning terms and new figures (which is a rule new names - confusing names - for old figures) they were too busy learning figures, you see. They didn't have time to learn to dance. Now this is our problem. This is no one's fault. We don't blame this on the callers because every caller does what he knows how to do. Every caller who takes the microphone and gets up and calls will call what he "thinks" what will make the crowd love him. What he "thinks" will make the people happy. He never intentionally gets up and does things intentionally that will drive people out of the activity. The fact remains, that we have grown so tremendously in the US in the past 10 years - and especially the last 5 or 6 - that thousands of new callers have started with no training. Absolutely no training. The majority didn't even know how to dance well. They didn't even know how to do (feeders????) well when they started calling. Yet they are trying to teach other people to dance, and to call for them. The dancer coming into this sort of activity is the victim of a circumstance which is no ones fault but nevertheless leaves him in the position of Square Dancing for a short time and dropping out. We have had, in this country, a year or so ago we did a spot survey to determine as near as we could, and it ran around 85% turnover in 2 years. The callers are recognizing this. This I know because I have been doing a great deal of leadership training and the number of invitations, requests from caller's associations, callers groups for institutes (we usually do three day weekend - Friday, Saturday Sunday) -- the invitations to do this type of thing for callers assoc. around the country has grown tremendously. In this season, I have done twenty 3-day weekends for callers assoc. - area and even statewide assoc. They are recognizing that something is wrong. We are not keeping people. There must be a better way and they are seeking help. Basically, the problem is this, callers get interested in first their dancers, and they're very enthusiastic, and then they get into calling and they get carried away with and intrigued with the game of maneuvering people from here to there with various methods. They get carried away with choreography. They are of the opinion that the dancers are carried away with choreography. The dancers are not. We can prove this very easily. You can take any dancer who's just done a figure, in the middle of the dance, he's done a right and left through and then a pass thru and then you stop him and ask him what 2 figures did you just do? He can't tell you. He does one figure at a time. So if a caller uses a real cleaver combination to get dancers from point a to point b they don't notice the clever combination. Only the caller knows it's clever. But the caller gets carried away, and actually the callers are doing a very natural thing, I did it when I began. They're calling for callers, they're calling for themselves. And they find it pretty difficult to believe how little it takes in the way of choreography to keep the AVERAGE dancer happy. Now, there's that small group, and unfortunately they are usually the caller's best friends, a very enthusiastic, over enthusiastic people who want to go 3, 4 or 5 nights a week. The caller sees these people every time he calls a dance. They go with him for coffee and they go with him to festivals in other cities and they go to the conventions with him. They are always present and these people think almost like callers and they tell the caller what they like. But the average person, who comes in, and they constitute 80% or more if we go from the beginning class on, the average person never says "boo". He dances until he's embarrassed by his inability to dance. Until he's embarrassed too often by not being able to do what the caller has said or not being able to get there in time. Without ever knowing why, he loses interest, drops out. Says "ack, square dancing". And then, if his neighbor says we're going to join a class he says "Oh, I tried that." So we lose two couples. Every time we lose a couple, we lose two. Because another couple will mention "I'm going to go to a square dance class" to him, eventually. He'll wrinkle his nose and said "I've tried that, it's no good. They tie you in knots. You need a Ph.D. to do it." We've heard this from so many people.
What we're trying to do is instigate a training program in every area, conducted by the older more capable leaders. The ones that have gone through all of these phases. They've tried speed and complexity and intricate choreography and novelty and mob hysteria and showmanship and telling jokes and everything else. They tried all these things and they've come to the conclusion that the only thing that can be sustained year in and year out is good, comfortable, rhythmical movement to music and GOOD sociability. Tremendous emphasis on the sociability. The enjoying the company of other people. These men are qualified to pass on information to the newer man but the newer man is feeling of insecurity and cannot wait until the day that he can feel that he has risen to a level on the par with the older leader. So it is quite difficult to get him to accept the fact that he can learn from someone around who he thinks is an old foggy that the activity has passed by.
Our problems here are probably very similar to what they are in Australia. I don't know if you have problems, we'll discuss this. We have found this to be true, in each community that I have visited for the past 11 years, I'm almost always told by the callers and dancers in the community, "Well, Ed you don't know our town. This is different. We've got a situation here. We have this problem or we have that problem.." They recite the same problem that every other community has, everywhere. Because in essence, this is the problem, we are dealing with people. And the problems that we have in square dancing is people acting just like people. They are going to act just like people. Callers are people and they are going to act just like people. If we throw up our hands in despair and say all is lost because somebody is acting like people then the best thing to do is get out of it and try to find that perfect activity. I don't know what that is. But if we recognize this then we do the best we can with what we have.
I can make certain recommendations, and I do, and doing this on a large scale in the United States at callers institutes. To the leaders I am making some basic recommendations. First you have to recognize that every activity is just as strong or just as weak as it's leadership. and I don't think anyone can argue with that so we must develop strong leaders. The principle leader in the square dance activity is the caller. He must be the principle leader. He must develop good dancers and good dance leaders who will lead dancers insofar as leading them through the necessary steps to make the dance function, make the club function. Minimum organization, minimum rules of order and so forth. Sociability is the important thing. Minimum decisions by the group as a whole. Every time you ask the group to vote you're having a contest. If you ask a group to vote "shall we have refreshments next week or shall we not have refreshments" maybe 80 people in the group vote yes and four vote no. Those 4 will have indigestion next week. "They shouldn't have refreshments. I voted against it." They've lost and that's important. But if somebody just says "we're going to have refreshments next week" they will say "oh?" and no one will have indigestion. So you see, avoid anything competitive in square dancing and it has a better chance for success.
Extend the training period. We used to be able teach people about all there was to do in square dancing in a relatively short time. Ten years ago when we had a very small amount to teach in the way of features and terms I took 30 weeks to do it. We used 30 weeks instruction on a once a week basis. We turned out some pretty fair dancers. They were not dancers until they danced at year because none of them knew anything at the end of 30 weeks. Simple reason, they had not had practice time. You don't learn the piano by going and taking a lesson. You take a lesson and the teacher assigns you your homework and you go home and practice these exercises 15 times a day for 6 days and then you come back. You have played at this same thing a tremendous amount of time. the same with square dancing. You don't know anything until you've practiced it. With the number of things required for a dancer to participate in a club activity today, he needs a couple of years, at least, to learn. One year, minimum, before he's ready to come into the average club that's been going for two years or more. So we advocate avoiding class. The word "class" even. Form beginning clubs. The word class doesn't suggest fun, it suggests work. Almost every beginner that I've ever taught in a class, the question that was uppermost in his mind when he walked in the door was, "when do I graduate? when is the class over?" And what he was saying, literally, was 'When does the fun begin?" someone had convinced him that square dancing was fun. If I bring him into a "class" he thinks this a period that he's got to get through because this is not fun, this is work and after I've gotten through with this work then I can have fun. So he's squeezed through 10 weeks, graduated, and clutches his diploma in his little hot fist and goes out to some square dance club and the caller just beats him to death. Stuff he's never heard of, things so fast that he can't possibly hear and translate and do because he hasn't had any practice. He's probably home watching television the next week. A great number of our people never get beyond the graduation night. That's the end for them. They go out and try a club and are horribly embarrassed and give up in disgust and say, "I'll never learn."
We recommend beginning clubs. Let a group of people come together and
stay together because they feel secure with the people they started with.
They know as much as anyone there. They all started from scratch, they
are equal. The caller, of course, must make it fun and teach slow. Teach
very slow as to the amount of material and dance the socks out of every
figure that he does. It's great fun, if you are new in the activity, to
do a Right & Left Thru. You just thoroughly enjoy this great mystery figure,
the Right & Left Thru. The caller doesn't have to replace it in 15 minutes with
a Square Thru. They can do the Right & Left Thru over, over and over and not
wear it out. To get the leadership to teach people, and teach them slowly,
and while teaching them teach them to dance round dances, couple dances,
contra dances, quadrilles, progressive circles, progressive lines, even
progressive squares. We've kind of cooked up a few new ones for callers.
Variety and formation, great emphasis on music, great variety in music.
These things, I can guarantee, will never lose their charm. Variety through
miscellaneous terminology is a crutch. I know, I tried it. Variety through speed
and complexity is a crutch, and I know, I tried it. I used to call at 150
-160 metronome beats and throw the book at them, use mob hysteria, and
get real soft and then scream out a command. This is mob psychology and
it will make people scream. Then one day I looked up and said "where did
everybody go?" I began to think a little bit about "why do people come?"
They come for relaxation and enjoyment. If they find relaxation, sociability,
good people, good fun, they will stay with it. If they find competition,
faction, friction, embarrassment they'll quit. These problems will always
be with us as long as there are new callers but as callers mature, everywhere,
and learn these things they will patiently develop dancers and clubs that
will survive. We have many clubs that are 10 or 15 years old and I think
we will have more.