The International Square Dance Magazine
AMERICAN CALLERS' ASSOC. VIEWPOINTS

By
By Patrick Demerath

The Westonka Whirlers

The American Callers’ Association in its attempt to be of service to all callers, dancers, and associations has provided current, timely, and effective information on new dancer recruitment, winning ways to retain club dancers, and pitfalls that drive square dancers away from 2000 to 2015. ACA really appreciates the positive comments, encouragement to continue, and contributions from callers and dancers all over North America and abroad to continue these initiatives. ACA will continue to provide information that will help the square dance community recruit, retain and retrieve square dancers as well as encourage the dancers to speak out on the cumbersome dance programs.

The American Callers’ Association and other associations have published items on recruiting and how to treat newcomers. To this end, this month’s ACA Viewpoint is about another club totally dedicated to student dancers: the Westonka Whirlers in Mound, Minnesota, near Minneapolis, Minnesota. I received a call from one of the members of the Westonka Whirlers, Sharon Lee Chapelle, who having read one of the ACA Viewpoints, called to ask me to help her find information on clubs throughout the U.S. that reported success with one or more of the ways that they recruit, retain and retrieve square dancers so that their successful programs could possibly be incorporated by her club and perhaps by other clubs throughout the Minnesota region. In inquiring what was done in her own area, I discovered some successful principles, attitudes, and programs that I want to share.

The Westonka Whirlers is an enthusiastic mainstream club that hosts a regular dance once a month, plus a weekend festival and a special Memorial Day weekend dance. The club’s caller/teacher is Dick Reuter. All the other dance activities are focused on recruiting and retaining newcomers for all, not just the Whirlers.

The club sponsors 3 to 5 classes per year, usually motivated by “demand.” To attract newcomers they host their version of the ABC dances; it may be one dance, it may be 4 to 5 dances. Whirlers invite all seasoned dancers in Minnesota, NOT just Whirlers, to bring newcomers to the ABC dances, which could be labeled as “beginner classes.” They are called and structured as “walk-in, no-experience-needed” dances.

At the recent ABC dances, 16 newcomers came to the first dance; 21 (including returnees) came to the second dance, 18 to the third dance and 5 to the fourth dance. 49 Angels from 6 clubs recruited and danced with the newcomers. Come Square Dance, Inc., a Minnesota non-profit, provided funding when proceeds did not equal expenses. A discount was given if a newcomer brought an additional newcomer.

After the ABCs, the club often sponsors a “basic” BLAST Saturday where Dick teaches 51 basic calls from 9:00am to 4:00pm. During the next three weeks, “basic” workshop dances/classes are held for the newcomers. Here they can practice, review, and ask questions. A second BLAST on Saturday is offered to teach the remaining 18 “mainstream” calls, followed by 2 or 3 more workshop dances/classes.

The Westonka Whirlers utilize potluck lunches for these blast classes. Everyone brings food for all to share. They also reach out to other area clubs and help new graduates find a club closest to their homes rather than drive to the western outskirts of Minneapolis.

Some of the important ingredients that make this format work are cooperation, Angels, enthusiasm, paperwork, emails, and, definitely, food and fun. Clubs are encouraged and invited to work together. Angels need to be there to create the fun and provide help and encouragement. Paperwork starts with having newcomers provide name, address, phone number and email addresses. Then Whirlers email notes with pictures after every dance, workshop, and class, always remembering that invitations and thank you notes are very important.

When a newcomer misses a dance, the club follows-up and expresses concern. They make sure the newcomers know they were missed. At every step of the way, they involve them. It could be an invitation to bring a “treat” for the treat table or a “dish” for the potluck lunches at BLASTS. Newcomers enjoy being “part of the group.” Advertising the ABC dances as well as the BLASTS is extremely important so they try to get on every website available. They send emails statewide inviting everyone to participate. Get this: a couple from Virginia found the information and flew to Minneapolis for a Westonka Whirlers BLAST!

A book of “free tickets” to Square Dance Minnesota clubs is given to every newcomer who learns the 69 calls. Thanks to the dedicated, enthusiastic Angels from all clubs, approximately 90% of the newcomers join square dancing with the club “they” choose. The Angels stay in contact with them, encouraging them to attend dances as often as their schedule allows. If schedules allow, Angels meet them and dance with them at club dances everywhere. If the newcomers don’t join the Whirlers, they always come back and dance with them – that’s the important part! The Virginia couple who flew in for the Christmas dance was cordially invited to attend and have more fun.

Everyone wants to feel welcomed, needed, important and acknowledged. It seems that the Westonka Whirlers know, live, breathe and encourage all their members to work and cooperate with all the clubs as best they can. Their goals seem to be, that instead of focusing on what’s “wrong” and changing that, they instead focus on WHAT IS “RIGHT” WITH SQUARE DANCING IN TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT FILLED WITH BUSY PEOPLE WHO HAVE A MINIMUM OF FREE TIME. One of the dancers told me that the club members really take a personal interest in all the newcomers and get to know them. I received copy of a “thank-you email” to the Angels for helping at a recent BLAST as well as a congratulatory note to the newcomers. There were 49 solos and couples who were thanked for their gracious help. Clubs can also use more members like Curtis Frederickson, a very active challenge dancer, who shows up at every Westonka function to dance with and help newcomers.

In summary, the Westonka Whirlers spend lots of energy recruiting and welcoming newcomer dancers to square dancing. It seems that every action they take has in mind the welfare and benefit of the newcomers as well as the big picture, which is to bring more people to square dancing and not necessarily to their own club. Their version of the ABC program is the mechanism, but their goodwill and good intentions are the example of the life blood of any club.

The American Callers’ Association salutes and wishes to thank Sharon Lee Chapelle for sharing the details about this unique and caring program. The Westonka Whirlers personify that square dancing is filled with fun, friendship, fellowship, and, of course, as Sharon Lee keeps insisting, “If not a lot of good chocolate, at least a lot of good potluck food.”

Sharon Lee has asked me to ask other clubs that if your club has a successful program or event, recruiting, retaining and retrieving square dancers, please share it with them at westonkawhirlers.com. “There is always a better way!”

As a personal aside: I learned to square dance in Lubbock, Texas, in 1968 with a club named the Merry Mixers. They were much like the Westonka Whirlers in the way they supported and cared for the newcomers. I always have fond memories of the Merry Mixers Square Dance club.

Any individual, club, caller, or association who wishes to communicate his/her opinions on this subject is encouraged to contact the American Callers’ Association at Loulet@aol.com or Dr. Patrick Demerath at pdemerath@hotmail.com. Please visit our website and newsletters at www.AmericanCallers.com/news. I hope the Westonka Whirlers will communicate more of their gracious hospitality activities so ACA can publish it for other square dancers.

Until next time, happy dancing. 

Fun set to music!