The International Square Dance Magazine

Barry Clasper

For a number of years now, CALLERLAB has been actively encouraging callers and clubs to experiment with new approaches to teaching, recruiting, and retaining dancers. A wide consensus has developed that we need to come up with new ways of doing things if our activity is to thrive again.

In the last few years a number of new experimental approaches have surfaced and become more widely used. Likewise, more people are showing interest in understanding these new approaches in order to determine what might work in their local circumstances.

This increasing proliferation of trials and experiments is causing some to wonder where CALLERLAB sits in all of this activity. Many just assume that any new experiment they hear about is sponsored by CALLERLAB. The truth is more complicated. Some of these new methods were, in fact, created by CALLERLAB committees.  Others were created by CALLERLAB members acting on their own. Many were created by people with no connection to CALLERLAB at all.

Regardless of their origins, we are interested in all of them. We are interested in the circumstances under which they evolved, what was done, who was involved, what kind of success was achieved, and what was learned. We often publish articles about them and encourage people to learn more about them. We have had a number of sessions at our Convention reporting on one or more of these experiments. We view it as part of our community responsibility to communicate what we know about such efforts.

If they hear about something new from a CALLERLAB publication or member, many assume the initiative must be endorsed or sponsored by CALLERLAB. If the experiment involves altering teaching orders or call lists, they assume CALLERLAB is publishing a new call list, creating a new program, or altering an existing program. Given that our processes, policies, and procedures do not make the most exciting reading in the world, this is hardly surprising. But it is definitely mistaken.

When CALLERLAB makes an official change to a program list or call definition, that change is voted upon and approved by the appropriate program committee and published by the Home Office as an official CALLERLAB Press Release. The Press Release will explicitly state that a list or definition has been changed. Anything short of that does not represent an official change to a list or definition.

However, descriptions of experimental activities that do not rise to the level of a program change may be published as an article in DIRECTION, or possibly even a separate document. Such reports are merely advisories of activities in the community and do not necessarily imply formal CALLERLAB sponsorship, endorsement, or support.

Currently there are four ongoing experiments that either have been reported in CALLERLAB publications or presented in a session at a Convention:

  • • Condensed Teaching Order

  • • Sustainable Square Dancing

  • • The NEST

  • • Multi-Cycle

The Condensed Teaching Order was created by a CALLERLAB ad hoc committee and announced in a Press Release in April, 2013. It is aimed at initially teaching new dancers a subset of full Mainstream that allows them to more quickly dance with their club and then later pick up less frequently used calls. It involves no changes to existing lists or programs. In late 2014, an additional document was published with a wealth of supporting material including teaching tips and how to leverage the concept.

Sustainable Square Dancing is the rubric Jerry Story is using for the effort he is leading to change the most prevalent approach to recruiting, teaching, and retaining new dancers. It is based on Jerry’s experience in Iowa showing that teaching fewer calls more thoroughly, retaining new dancers in the entry level for a longer period, and exposing them to a broader range of call applications provides greater success. Jerry’s design contains a number of parts. There is a modified entry list that he calls “Club 50”. There is also a document that details recommended Extended Applications and how to teach them. CALLERLAB has created an ad hoc committee charged with the task of creating the Extended Applications document.  Once ready, it will be presented to the Mainstream Committee to seek approval for publication as a CALLERLAB document. Our feeling is that the document represents a valuable contribution in and of itself, regardless of how well accepted the overall Sustainable Square Dance initiative turns out to be.

The NEST is a radically different approach to recruiting and teaching dancers proposed by Dale Bennett. It allows each student to proceed at their own pace, and can start a new recruit at any time without impacting others who are farther along in lessons. Bear Miller has been using it with some success in Denver.

Multi-Cycle intake programs have been promoted by CALLERLAB for a number of years. The essence is to design a teaching program that can be repeated more than once a year. Some of them have design points as frequent as once a month. Over the years a variety of approaches to this have been tried and documented in several “Winning Ways” stories.

You can find much more information on these and other experimental lesson systems by visiting

If you are aware of other experiments being tried, we are very interested in hearing about them. Please notify the Home Office ( ) with details. 

Barry Clasper is the Immediate Past Chairman of the Board of CALLERLAB and the Chairman of the Past Chairman’s Committee. He serves on the current Executive Committee of CALLERLAB. 

Fun set to music!