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T = 3t

by Orlo Hoadley - 2/27/96

The capital 'T' stands for Teaching.

The first small 't' is for telling. You explain the calls and the other terms used in square dancing by telling them in words and by demonstration. Most books and caller-coaches tell you that some people learn in different ways than others do, and it's important to use as many different approaches as you can. That includes different ways of telling them, and pointing out similarities to other movements that they already know.

Some people can easily visualize a movement from a verbal description only, while others need to be on the floor and directed step by step (literally) through the call. And it's important to remember that the person who learns better through eyes and muscles than through his ears alone tends to see each different use of the call (DBD) as a new problem, rather than a different way of applying the verbal definition of the call.

On the other hand, the ones who visualize easily are likely to enjoy the challenge of applying the verbal definition of a call in situations they haven't run into before. Both types find it easier to pick up the left-handed version of a call they already know well than to learn something that is entirely strange.

The second small 't' is for training. Training means supervised practice, and it takes practice, practice, practice to educate mind and body to execute a call promptly and easily. Never forget that there are skills involved in good square dancing beside just memorizing the movements. The primary skill is the ability to finish doing one call "on automatic" while listening to the caller to find out what call to do next, and deciding what action he's asking for.

Even more basic is the need for the dancers to listen continuously to the caller, because they don't know when nor what he is going to say that they need to hear. Early in the class, a teacher would do well to call cuing or prompting style, which means saying nothing more than just the calls and perhaps a few directionals, so the students know that everything he says is important to them. And he should be sure the dancers understand the difference between the call commands and the "directionals".

Once again, skills are developed only by practice, and the dancers who visualize easily may learn the calls quickly but they still need to train their bodies to do the movements that their brains understand. A dancer who is well-trained in the basic skills will find that learning new calls gets easier and easier with experience, because each new call is related to what he has already learned. One whose training has been short-changed in favor of more telling -- that is, more calls --will find that learning Spin Chain the Gears is just as difficult as Right & Left Thru was when he first heard it.

Of course, the practice should not be a strictly-regimented drill, but enjoyable dancing, teaching smooth and rhythmic movement as one of the basic skills of square dancing. Or, for that matter, most any kind of dancing.

The third small 't' stands for transmitting values. The new dancers get their values from the teacher, their angels, and other experienced dancers and callers they may dance with. A teacher can tell the class what he wants and expects from them -- what he approves and disapproves of in their performance -- but it won't stick if he doesn't follow through in his calling. While teaching he can tell the class to do a Forward & Back in 8 beats, but they won't do it that way very long if, when calling, he gives them only 4 beats to do it. The values that the dancers learn from the teacher are partly what he tells them; the values they pick up from their angels and other experienced dancers are gathered mostly from dancing with them, watching what they do, and hearing what they say that gives evidence about their own values.

And here's the rub: If the dancers find out that the values they are expected to adopt do not agree with their own values and the ones that were promised to them at the Open House, they disappear very quickly. It's great to have Fun, but not everybody likes Brussels sprouts, and different people have a lot of different ideas of just what Fun consists of. My idea of a good dance is not one that's "fun, Fun, FUN!", but an experience that sends the dancers out of the door with a warm glow of enjoyment and satisfaction. And I firmly believe that it is the callers who do this for their dancers who have healthy, growing clubs.

To me, one of the marks of a healthy club is one where the dancers stay until the end of the very last tip, and then go out grumbling because they have to wait until next week for more.


From the Western Square Dancing Web page. Copyright notice.
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