square and round dance in eastern ontario

Lessons Learned

Basic and Minstream levels are the Most Important levels in square dancing!

2016 05 12
Many of you attend outside dances and maybe watch dancers in the Plus or Advanced halls. I bet you thought that they were all better dancers than you are. Wrong!

A good dancer is one who knows their dance level very well – this means that if you are a Plus dancer you know your Basic and Mainstream and Plus levels very well. A Mainstream dancer should know their Basic and Mainstream levels very well. Unfortunately, this is not happening.

The Basic level is the foundation upon which all the other levels are built. If your foundation is weak, anything you add onto that is also going to be weak.

To quote from an article written by an American caller, Ken Ritucci, “If I had a dollar for every time I saw dancers break down on Basic and Mainsteam calls, but can 'Relay the Deucy' (a Plus call) with the best of them, I would be running for president”. His whole article is about dancers who are not spending enough time getting Basic moves mastered.

At dances we attend, we see Plus and Advanced dancers who can’t circulate without error, can’t do all the trade family of calls, can’t run/cross run properly and then we see dancers turning around when they shouldn’t, etc.! These are all moves in the Basic program and dancers should not be moving on until they can do these moves flawlessly. So many other calls are built on these calls.

In his article “How Good is Good”, Barry Clasper (Vice Chairman of Callerlab) wrote the following. (This article was written in a magazine for Advanced and Challenge dancers so his percentages may be a bit on the high side for newer Basic dancers. However, the principles remain the same).

"We need to acknowledge that when we present ourselves on a dance floor at any given level, we have an obligation to the other dancers. That obligation is to dance our fair share of the material [successfully].

1. Phase 1 - When you first attempt a level, your fair share will be relatively low, perhaps 75% to 80%. Other dancers have a right to expect you to know all the calls on the list, but it is not reasonable to expect a novice at the level to be able to flawlessly execute all possible contortions of the material.

2. Phase 2 - After gaining some experience at the level, your fair share increases to 100%. That is, other dancers have a right to expect you to dance your own part without error. True, everybody makes mistakes from time to time. But they should be in the nature of transient aberrations caused by momentary inattention, miss-hearing a call, or because your shoe is untied. They should happen very seldom.

3. Phase 3 - After gaining a great deal of experience at the level, your fair share again increases to something beyond 100%. It is now your responsibility to help those who are novices at the level and compensate for their errors."

So what he is saying is that it is not good enough just to reach Phase 1 and then move to the next dance level.

Unfortunately, we are not good at self-assessment. I hear people say “I get along fine if I am in a strong square”. What they are meaning is that they need other people to get them through a tip; everyone gets along better when the 7 other people in the square are very good dancers and know their moves well. Your objective should be to be one of those 7 other people! In other words, reach Phase 3.

Club executives and callers are part of the problem, so we cannot put all the blame on the dancers. Basic and Mainstream clubs teach new dancers every year so the Phase 2 and 3 dancers get bored. Also the caller is not really able to get into more varied choreography because he is frequently having to workshop the new calls. So dancers move onto the next level because they are bored!

We need to sit down and discuss how we can keep dancers happy dancing the level they are at. Some of the most fun dances I have been to are mainstream level dances. It does not have to be a higher level to be interesting, varied and fun! Ken Ritucci has something to say on this too: “To be honest, most callers in the U.S. cannot do a good job of calling a well-balanced and entertaining Basic dance. They don’t want to do the work necessary to actually learn their craft. To call a very good Basic takes time and effort, and in this day and age, those two components are in short supply”.

Our club has tried to offer the Mainstream dancers an opportunity to “just dance” at our monthly Sunday afternoon dances. But are we giving our basic dancers a chance to just dance? Maybe if we did there would not be the rush to move onto Mainstream.

Ottawa caller, Wendy VanderMeulen recently wrote an article on this topic in “Square Time” (Eastern Ontario square dance magazine). To quote: “If we could offer a place for dancers to dance Full Basics or Mainstream for a long as they wish, without constantly reviewing, wouldn’t they enjoy it more and become better dancers for it.”

I am not saying you should never move onto the next level but what is the rush. Be a Phase 3 dancer first -- and then think of learning the next level.

Our objective is to have fun. To me, having fun at dancing means having a sense of achievement of getting it right. Yes, we laugh and make the best of it when our square breaks down but I bet you all feel great when you get through a sequence correctly and get home with the same partner you started with and in the correct order

So ask yourself - are you a Phase 1, a Phase 2 or a Phase 3 dancer?

Jean Lander
Otonabee Squares