DANCING AWAY FROM YOUR OWN CLUB
Thus far as new dancers you’ve only been exposed to dancing at your own clubs.Belonging to a local square dance, and supporting it with your attendance, is the meat and potatoes of today’s square dancing.But there are a lot more courses in the feast of square dancing. Let me take a few minutes to introduce you to some of them.
The next step for most dancers is to visit other clubs and dance to other callers. Depending on where you live this may be easier for some than others. If your club is a member of an association of square dance clubs you should review the local square dance newsletter for dance dates, times, and locations. In the Washington DC area the local association is the Washington Area Square Dance Cooperative Association (WASCA). In Central Maryland the association is the Mason Dixon Square Dance Federation (MDSDF). The WASCA schedules are available at Where's The Dance. MDSDF schedules are on this site at Calendar of Events and Where's The Dance.
You will be welcome at all the local clubs, but before you go visiting, consult with other club members or your club caller to be sure that you will be able to dance at the club you are thinking about. Even when clubs have the same dance program listed, e.g., Mainstream or Plus, some clubs or callers are noted for dancing harder or easier aspects of the program. By all means, initially, be on the lookout for dances labeled “Half-way,” “Student Friendly,” or “Class Level.” These will be dances that you should be able to dance at with few problems. At most clubs in this area the fee is about $6-10 per dancer, although some clubs waive the fee for new dancers at dances advertised for class members.
Frequently a club will get together and go visiting as a group. This is sometimes referred to as “Banner Stealing” or “Banner Raiding.” This is a very informal program where, if a club visits another with a full square or more of dancers, they are awarded a copy of the host club’s banner to take back to their own club with them. To get it back, the host club has to return the visit with a full square coming to the visiting club. I once visited a club that had more than a dozen ‘stolen’ banners hanging on the wall from clubs they had recently visited. It’s great fun, and promotes a lot of visiting back and forth, which I think is a very good thing.
Square dancers are active members of their communities. Every year there are numerous benefit square dances to support the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Tots for Tots, and many other local charities. Most benefit dances are held on Sunday afternoons so that they won’t conflict with any regular club dance. These dances feature multiple callers, all of who donate their time and skills. They are a worthy way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
The next level of dancing that will be available to you is the local square dance festival. Most square dance associations host some kind of annual festival. This type of dance is usually held at a local hotel, utilizing the hotel ballrooms and meeting rooms for dance areas. The fee to attend this type of festival is on the order of $40-$50 per dancer, and usually includes dancing on Thursday evening, all day Friday, and all day Saturday. The dance program at festivals almost always includes dancing from the Callerlab Mainstream, Plus, Advanced and Challenge programs of square dance. There is also “Round Dancing” a dance form based on ballroom style choreography. They may also include time and space for Teens, singles, contra, and/or clogging. Other activities at various festivals include fashion shows, variety shows, and occasionally education panels such as sewing or club leadership. Festivals also provide space for various retail vendors, especially one or more square dance stores, to set up and sell their products. If you are in an area where there are no retail square dance stores, this is a chance to go shopping to perk up your square dance wardrobe. Take the opportunity.
Festivals hire callers from out of the area to call the dance program. These men and women, sometimes called “Festival Callers” or “National Callers” are among the best talents in the square dance world. Dancing to them is a real treat. Attendance at local festivals varies, but crowds of 500 are quite common, and attendance of a thousand or more dancers is possible. You will have a chance to dance with dancers from all over the local area, plus dancers that come to visit from other, mostly nearby, states.
Much of the cost of putting on the festival is covered by dancers renting hotel rooms to stay for one, two, or all three nights or the festival. Even local dancers frequently stay at the hotel, simply to stay closer to the fun. More prosaically, it gives you a place to shower and change clothes after several hours of dancing.
In this area, WASCA hosts the annual “Spring Festival,” held each March. Most frequently it is referred to simply as the “WASCA Festival.” Its current location is at the Hilton Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia.
MDSDF hosts the “Star Spangled Banner Festival” in July, far more commonly called the “Hunt Valley Festival” for its location at the Hunt Valley Inn, north of Baltimore. Fliers for both of these festivals are available at your club.
Many clubs sponsor their own weekend dances. The most common format is to offer a package of dancing and hotel room at a hotel some distance away from their own area. The dance program is usually provided by the Club Caller plus one or two other callers. The attraction of this type program is that you get a lot of good dancing in a less hectic environment that sometimes is the mark of a major festival. With a smaller crowd, usually only a hundred or so dancers, you get a chance to make new friends from other clubs. Club weekends are advertised by flyers spread around by club members, and sometimes advertisements placed in the local square dance newsletter.
Some callers also sponsor their own weekend square dance packages.
In each area of the country there are one or more camping clubs. Their dances are held at various campgrounds that they travel to. The dancers that belong to these clubs camp in everything from pup tents to 50’ land yachts. The days are given to camping kind of activities, like nature trails and the like, but the evenings are given to dancing.
National Square Dance Convention
Each year in June, there is a National Square Dance Convention. It changes location each year. Many square dancers build their summer vacation plans each year around Nationals. Mere words fail to convey the terrific experience of a National Square Dance Convention. There is dancing, perhaps a dozen or more venues each hour. There are educational panels, displays, vendors, sight seeing tours, dance demonstrations, meetings, parties, after parties, dancing at after parties, and much more. The callers at Nationals represent nearly every state and a number of callers from other countries such as Germany, England, Japan, and others.
Every square dancer should attend Nationals at least once. Some get hooked. I know many dancers who have attended a dozen or more. One caller friend of mine has attended Nationals more than forty consecutive years. In 2009 the National Square Dance Convention will be in Long Beach, CA.
Registration forms are available at your club, or from your caller.
WASCA Festival for Newer Dancers
The members of Virgil’s classes (all of them) can register for the WASCA festival this March, signing up as ‘Mainstream’ dancers. The festival schedule includes more hours of Mainstream dancing than you are likely to want to attempt.
If you don’t wish to attend the entire festival, there is a special Saturday-only program for members of this year’s beginning square dance classes. It starts with the “Student Invitational” a free, two hour dance at noon, featuring two of the festival callers, calling the choreography that the local square dance classes have already been taught. You will dance with members of all of the local square dance classes, their angels, and most probably their teachers. You will also be introduced to the WASCA Presidents and other officers, and to the Festival Directors.
In the evening there is another dance, for which there is a small fee. (Last year it was $5, but that is subject to change.) The tickets for this dance may only be purchased at the Invitation in the afternoon.
In between the two dances, you will be able to visit all of the dance rooms to watch the various programs of dance, catch the Fashion Show, visit the vendor area, and make lots of new friends. Don’t miss the opportunity.
Star Spangled Banner Festival for New Graduates
This year new square dance graduates in the area are, once again, offered the opportunity to attend the Star Spangled Banner Festival on pre-paid registrations. The registrations are paid by the 33rd NSDC Trusteeship. (Don’t ask. It’s a very long story, dating back more than twenty years). All that you need to do is fill out the festival registration form are give it to your caller or Class Coordinator.
The payment covers only the festival registration. Hotel and food expenses are not included.
Calls & Cues:
The local newsletter for the Washington Area Square Dance Cooperative Association (WASCA), covering an area centered on Washington DC, including Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. Subscription is $15 for ten issues per year. Monthly issues September through May, and a combined Summer issue for June, July and August.
On the web:
The biggest square dance web site is www.dosado.com. It contains everything a square dancer might want to know, including, but not limited to, general information, links to virtually every square dance site known, including many caller and cuers, local square dance clubs, local square dance festivals, the National Square Dance Festival, other major festivals and conventions, square dance retailers, and other things that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Every square dancer should explore this website, and then bookmark it for future reference.
The MSDSF web site is: www.marylandsquaredancing.com. Information for MDSDF activities, clubs and festival.
The WASCA web site is: www.wascaclubs.com. Information for WASCA activities, clubs and festival.
Another useful address is: www.callerlab.org. This is the website for Callerlab, the International Association of Professional Square Dance Callers. Of most interest to square dancers are the authoritative program listings, definitions, and diagrams for all of the Callerlab Square Dance Programs, including Mainstream, Plus, Advanced, and Challenge.