The International Square Dance Magazine

Lisa Schreiber

Voices of Fledging Callers

I belong to a group of square dancers I refer to as “CIT’s”, Callers in training. We are that pesky bunch that dreams of calling effortlessly like the national callers we enjoy dancing to. We work at learning our timing, learning to resolve the square, and learning to be entertaining. Whether we have dreams of being popular or just knowing how it’s done, one crucial key to easing the journey is the mentoring factor…

Experts say that if you stop learning new things, your brain will lose its ability to be a learner or it will, at least, become harder to learn something new. I’ve chosen learning to call as a challenging new venture designed to keep that part of my brain activate. New callers have a variety of reasons why they want to be callers. I’m not so sure I want to be a caller and book gigs every weekend (in fact, I’m sure I don’t), but I do want to learn how to call. As a student of calling, I am finding in our Southern California community, a multitude of resources and opportunities to gain knowledge. Besides the many caller schools that are being offered across the country, we have our Orange County Callers Association that provides support in a variety of ways. In addition to bi-monthly meetings that often include guest speakers and a short practice tip, the association sponsors a “New Dancer Hoedown” which programs primarily the new caller members. Each year this event attracts about 25 squares. We share a tip each and, fortunately, find mentors nearby for support as we gaze with trepidation out over a sea of dancers.

In addition to a yearly dance which can be quite intimidating for some newer callers, we have a monthly 4-hour practice session. One of our members volunteers his home on a Saturday each month so that new callers can practice with a live square. Equipment, refreshments, and a patio are provided by our hosts, Robert and Vickie Morris. In contrast to the hoedown, this intimate setting offers constructive feedback by veteran callers. It’s such a labor of love from these two to open up their home each month as well as the coaches who volunteer their time. Anyone is welcome to participate and many drive long distances for this opportunity. The gathering includes dancers from our community who just want to help out by being “checkers.” Sometimes we are given “homework” and expected to demonstrate that we have put forth some effort to improve.

The camaraderie is another benefit that we reap from these practice sessions. Just having friends to share the growing pains with is comforting and helps us all grow. Something I really appreciate about these get-togethers is how it promotes a sense of community whereby new callers gain the important experience of working with live dancers rather than inanimate checkers or computer models. Among the aspiring callers is Karla Westphal who comments: “It’s really great to get feedback and advice from experienced callers, so I’m grateful to these callers who come/have come to these practice sessions, whether that’s their regular habit or they are just stopping by occasionally. I’ve found that one of the hardest things to do as a new caller is find times to practice with real dancers, so the caller practice at Robert and Vicki’s place has been great.”

Karla also shares: “I also angel the Advanced class at Bloomin Squares and we meet early once a month so that some of the new callers in the class can get in some practice. I bring pizza as an incentive for the dancers. Because that class meets on Sunday afternoons, it’s practical for people to get there early. This wouldn’t be true for most evening classes during the week. I definitely want to give a shout out to the Bloomin’ Squares for being so supportive of new callers.”

I find it hard to imagine that there was once a time in square dancing where new callers struggled to find mentors. Perhaps, in some regions, the experienced callers are few, leaving the newer ones to their own devices. However, these days a fledgling caller can actually turn to the internet for virtual support. I think all the emerging resources and opportunities available to new callers are exciting. Like Karla, I’m grateful for all the support the community offers to us CITs. I look forward to the time when we are all in a position to give back to a newer generation of up and coming callers.

Special thanks to Robert and Vickie Morris for offering their home and a big thank you to our Mentor Callers too. Thanks as well to Karla Westphal for her contribution to the article.

Fun set to music!