The International Square Dance Magazine

Mike Hogan

The Square Dance Product – A Lesson from Ford

Perhaps you’ve heard about CALLERLAB’s program policy initiative, where callers are encouraged to experiment with new formats of square dancing and share their experiences. Those new formats could include a different set of calls as a new dancer program. They could include different teaching formats, different music, who knows? I wondered why, until I visited the showroom of one of my client’s auto dealerships.

I went to my favorite Ford dealership last weekend. As usual, the salesman met me in the parking lot with a big smile and a firm handshake. “Welcome! How can I put you into a brand new Ford today?” We went into the showroom where just inside the all-new Ford 500 was. It was black, with charcoal gray seats, a V-8 engine, and chrome wheel covers. The showroom held a total of 12 vehicles. All were black Ford 500s with grey interiors, V-8 engines, and chrome wheel covers. When we went out to the lot, I found another 342 black Ford 500; you got it; with gray interior, V-8 engine and chrome wheels. So, I asked the salesman if I had any other choices. His reply: “Well, we can order one for you in brown, but it will take two months to get here.”

Okay, I made this story up. The Ford Motor Company would have gone out of business decades ago if they only offered one product. To compete, they have to have a variety of vehicles that appeal to women and men of many ages, incomes, and stages in their lives. This is why they offer the Focus, the 500, and the all-new Fusion. They have the Freestar Mini Van, a variety of SUVs and of course, the Mustang. Then there’s their truck line, including the F-150, the best selling truck of all times!

Now let’s talk about the square dance products that we offer folks who don’t square dance. We have new dancer dances and exhibitions, but for the most part we offer Mainstream square dance lessons. Generally they are done on a different night and time, and at a different location than our club dance. We make the beginners commit to 20, 30 or even more lessons. We let them dress in jeans and t-shirts, only to require them to wear long sleeve shirts, dress pants or a square dance dress complete with a crinoline petticoat and petty pants after they graduate.

Research tells us that only 20% of the public has experienced modern western square dancing as an adult, so the public’s perception of our product was derived from one of a few sources; what they were shown in grade school, what they’ve seen in the movies or media, or from seeing square dancers at a restaurant or some other public location. Few, and I suspect very few, have ever actually attended a dance. From a product standpoint, according to StarWorks (a national research firm), they see square dancing as “out of date, country oriented, for hicks and hillbillies, using old-fashioned music and patronized by senior citizens in fluffy dresses with big hair, big belts and RV”. They don’t see themselves participating in the activity. It’s for these reasons that we need more options for non-dancers. If we want to appeal to different demographic groups, we need to consider offering a variety of square dance products.

One of the most difficult obstacles to us creating these products is that we are our own customer. WE LIKE SQUARE DANCING AS IT IS! For the most part, we are senior citizens. We like the music we use, we don’t mind dancing in church basements, we accept that it takes a long time to learn, and we like dressing up like a cowboy or wearing puffy skirts. Unfortunately, the two clearest objections about square dancing that came out of the focus group research from StarWorks were the long commitment to learn the dance and requirement to conform to our dress code.
So why should we experiment with new music or new lesson formats? Why consider different programs or changing our rules? Why consider new locations to dance or club structures? It’s simple, just as Ford will be out of business in short order if they don’t continue to change their products, we too will be out of business if we don’t have a product for the next generation of square dancers.

Mike Hogan began calling in 1976 as a teenager. Today, Mike has a home club and teaches year round using the Multi-Cycle Program. Mike calls and travels primarily on the weekends for club dances, weekends, and festivals. During the week, Mike works as a Senior Account Manager for a local radio broadcasting company. Mike’s home is in La Vista, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Denise, stay very busy raising two teenage children.

This article was written by Mike and run as a CALLERLAB Viewpoints article ten years ago in September 2006. We have seen several variations and different ways of teaching and bringing people into our activity in the last ten years too. Square dancing has evolved a tremendous amount over the last 100 years. Let’s not be resistant to changing our ways and doing things differently if what we’re doing is not successful. We must allow this evolution to continue so that we can flourish.

Let’s all take a long look at what we are currently doing to bring our dance to more people and preserve this amazing form of recreation for future generations. Let’s be welcome to new ideas and forms of our activity that allows more people to join more times during the year. Our dance is just too much fun not to share! 

Fun set to music!