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Round Dance Tips by Tim Eum—

Programming a State "Beginner's Dance"

A State, Regional, National, or other large dance is a cooperative affair. It takes the cooperation of many people to make a successful dance, and programming is only one issue. But it is an oft-discussed issue.

If there are dancers and or teachers who believe a program is too hard, too easy, too boring, too fast, too slow, too long, too short, too old, too many new or unknown, too this, too that -- the problem may not be the actual program itself but simply the tolerance of those involved.

I believe that when you teach round dancing, you should not only teach the steps and techniques, but almost as important is to teach dancers "how to enjoy" round dancing. I teach being "playful" and to dance with a smile in your heart.

When new dancers go to their first "big" dance they are a little apprehensive and self-conscious. Inside, there is always the question of "will I be accepted by everyone," which some interpret as "am I good enough" or "can I dance what is on the program"? For a new dancer to sit out because they are unable to dance is a blow to their egos. However, for dancers who feel accepted, no matter how they dance, this is less of a factor. Experienced dancers/teachers can help new dancers feel accepted with just a little effort.

Of course, most everyone, even the new dancer, accepts that they can't dance them all, but there is a point at which, if they have to sit out too many, they will begin to question the appropriateness of their being at that dance, and they will become uncomfortable, and if the experience is too negative they will perhaps be soured from round dancing or at least from these big dances. This feeling even occurs for experienced dancers going to "big" dances. I know of couples who refuse ever to go back to a DRDC weekend (which I think are great) because their first experience at one was that the program was too high-level. Even now that those couples can dance high-level, they refuse to go to DRDC because of that first negative experience. This probably happens to some couples going to URDC/'ICBDA, too.

The problem is not so much the program, but how dancers are prepared for the program so that can enjoy it, no matter if they can only dance half of it.

In programming a "new" dancers' dance, the state organizer should be aware of who the "new" dancers are and what they have been taught. This takes some work in contacting the teachers with beginner's classes and getting a list of recommended student-level dances. One thing done in the Washington DC Area that was really nice was that for several years one of the "new" dancer coordinators for the annual WASCA Festival new-dancer two-hour dance, physically went to every round dance beginner class in the area and gave out personal written invitations to every student (they got the names from the teacher ahead of time). The program was compiled from what was being taught by whatever teachers in the area. Of course, there was a mixture of several rhythms, and "new" was expanded to include two years --- not just one year. Oh, by the way, the "Student Invitational" dance (two hours) at the WASCA Festival is free to the students, and they can attend these hours for free even if they haven't paid for and are not otherwise attending the WASCA Festival. This was designed to give students a taste of what square and round dancing can really be. The "Student Invitational" has always been full and well attended.

No attempt is made by the area teachers to standardize a set order of figures or rhythms in beginner's classes. Success is achieved simply by getting students to the big dance with enough knowledge to dance at least half the program and by teaching them what to expect. They know that it is normal to expect second-year students to know more than first-year students, that some first-year students know cha and rumba but not two step, that some first year students know two step and not cha nor rumba, that if they want to really get excited about what round dancing is all about, to go into the "advanced" round dance hall and watch (they can do this also for free) or go into the 2x2's to see the multitudes dance dances that are not much different than what they are doing now.

With a little cooperation among the leadership, and management of dancer expectations, a fun and fulfilling experience can be had by all.

These tips were first published on the Weavers discussion list in 2009; reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, February 2013.


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