[Callers] The Beginners' Lesson Tips?

Greg McKenzie grekenzie at gmail.com
Tue Oct 4 22:28:05 PDT 2011

On Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 8:55 PM, Martha Edwards <meedwards at westendweb.com>wrote:

> Here's a funny little oddity concerning the care and keeping of new
> dancers:
> Although we've done a good job here of developing a fairly large group of
> accomplished dancers who like to make sure newcomers have good partners,
> our
> efforts occasionally backfire. One of our callers believes that newcomers
> always insist on dancing together, and therefore calls dances early in the
> evening that have lots of neighbor, and not much partner, interaction.
> So there you are, having asked a newcomer to dance, and you watch somewhat
> helplessly as they dance with other newcomers while you dance with their
> experienced partner!
> And no, asking for a change in this plan has not worked...
> M
> E

I see what you mean.  The choice, however, is never a clear one.  Personally
I prefer to offer lots of neighbor interaction in the first few dances
because it lowers what I call the "partnering pressure," which i define as
the feeling that you need to find the "right" partner or any partner
quickly.  Partnering pressure encourages center set syndrome and discourages
the integration of newcomers.  A program that starts with a few short slots
of easy dances that have a lot of neighbor interaction tends, I think, to
encourage a more generous attitude about partnering with first-timers.

I would also point out that, even with a low degree of partner interaction
you will still have ample opportunities to lead your first-time partner.
What happens with their neighbor interaction is a crap shoot and will vary
constantly.  If they do interact with another newcomer as a neighbor the
interaction is only for a few seconds for each neighbor.  Who they are
partnered with will still have a much greater influence.

Your caller friend, however, should reconsider his/her framing.  S/he is
assuming that s/he has little or no influence over the partnering process.
In reality a good caller will make dancing with newcomers more fun than
dancing with known regulars.  With concise and effective calling the
regulars will "get" the idea that they are missing out by not dancing with
first-timers during the first few dances of the evening.  Your caller friend
is setting up an adversarial relationship with the dancers because of the
assumptions s/he is making.  A clear explicit instruction to the newcomers
that they should partner with the regulars, building the confidence of all
of the dancers, and a lot of strong, implicit messages to the regulars that
they have a role as "hosts" will encourage integration.

This is a good example of how implicit messages can override explicit ones.
By assuming that all or most first-timers will insist on dancing with other
newcomers the caller is selecting a strategy that discourages the regulars
from putting out the effort to partner with newcomers.  It becomes a
self-fulfilling prophesy.  This is how bad choices become traditions.

It is almost always better to address the core attitudes and beliefs than to
attempt to "trick" the dancers into doing the right thing.

- Greg McKenzie



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