[Callers] dance in transition

Dave Casserly David.Casserly at oberlin.edu
Wed Mar 5 17:42:43 PST 2008


Alan, Gale and all,

I'm replying to both the organizers and callers lists, since I think 
Alan's comments are quite keen and hope those of you on the organizers' 
list who missed them can look at them (he sent them only to the callers 
list).

I have a somewhat unique perspective on passing on leadership roles in 
dance communities.  I've been one of the primary organizers for the 
contra dance here at Oberlin College for three years, now, as well as 
the primary organizer for our dance weekend, the Dandelion Romp, last 
year, and one of the organizers this year.  Our dance has existed for 
five or six years, now, and our dance weekend has been an annual event 
for the past eight years.  As our dances are student run, nobody has run 
any part of the dance for more than three years at a time, which means 
we have to find creative ways to pass it on.  Many of our dancers, too, 
are students, and so we have to constantly advertize and find new ways 
to attract people to dances, since few of our dancers have been 
attending for more than three and a half years.

In the past, we've relied on one or two people to do most of the 
organizing at dances, and particularly for the Romp.  Things have slowly 
changed, however.  As Alan suggested, having meetings about the 
direction of the dance community and splitting up tasks into manageable 
commitments has been vital for us.  There is more you can do for your 
community, though.  We have somewhat regular potluck dinners, where the 
dance organizers and interested dancers can socialize and talk about our 
contra dance scene.  These can help create a sense of stewardship; 
dancers will start to feel like the dance is a part of their community 
that's worth investing time in, rather than just a service that some 
people provide for many others.  Also, for us, our dances became more of 
a group effort when we officially chartered them as student 
organizations with Oberlin College.  I really think that making an 
organization, and writing bylaws, can help keep the dance going when the 
people who started the dance no longer wish to organize it.  I don't 
mean that you should necessarily immediately incorporate your dance 
community as a nonprofit and start declaring all your income and 
expenses, of course, but even a short document explaining the purpose of 
the dance and perhaps outlining some distinct jobs that people can do to 
keep the dance running might help a lot.

-Dave

Alan Winston - SSRL Central Computing wrote:

>Gale wrote:
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>>Dance venue in transition Qs?
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>>Just curious as to longevity of dance series.
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>>How do you handle organizer burnout?
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>>I know an organizer who has been at it for 12 years and wishes to turn
>>the series
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>>over to a new 'generation'.
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>>How do you generate support and bring new people in to the organization
>>of dances?
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>> (dancers scatter when there is mention of organizing!)
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>>There is a small loyal group of dancers. The problem is no one wishes to
>>take up the duties of organizer. This is compounded by the fact that the
>>main organizer needs to
>>be a resident of the town where the dance is held. (I do what I can. I
>>organized a dance and found it was not my calling. esp. as the sole
>>organizer, dancers want to dance not organize!)
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>Reframe.  
>
>You're not looking for an individual to whom the organizer can hand the robe
>and sceptre; you're looking to (a) get a certain minimum set of duties done and
>(b) develop a broader sense of ownership of the dance so that people feel
>motivated to help get the duties done (and possibly expand the stuff that gets
>done).
>
>One of those duties is to be the resident interface to the town, but that
>person probably doesn't actually have to be the person who books the staff,
>sweeps the floor, and bakes the cookies (if any).
>
>People are wary of open-ended commitments, so "could you be the organizer of a
>dance series" is a scary question.  "Could you bring refreshments in
>even-numbered months?" is a much less scary kind of question.
>
>I'd suggest that you announce at a dance (maybe two dances) that at date X in
>the future, so-and-so plans to retire from running the dance, and that at
>(well-defined date and location well before that time) there'll be a meeting
>for those interested in having the dance continue to discuss what to do about
>it.
>
>You do need somebody to host that meeting and somebody to facilitate/lead it
>and it would be helpful if the organizer could, beforehand,  make a list of the
>stuff that he or she does for the series.
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>If there's nobody willing to even come to a meeting, then the dance series
>doesn't have enough dancer commitment to function, and it'll have to die when
>the organizer retires.  If you get some people, you can start discussing what
>needs to happen and who can do it, and possibly extract commitments either to
>do those things or to recruit people to do those things.  If nobody's willing
>to make even the commitments necessary to keep the dance functioning, then it
>has to shut down.  Maybe they'll miss it enough when it's gone to start it up
>again.
>
>I don't have an answer if you've got enough volunteers to keep it going and
>nobody fulfills the residency requirement, except to ask the current organizer
>to keep functioning in the reduced-obligation role of resident interface to the
>town.
>
>-- Alan
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