[Callers] Leadership (Was "Social engineering")

Greg McKenzie grekenzie at gmail.com
Sun Oct 9 09:04:48 PDT 2011

On the idea of callers as "social engineers" David Millstone wrote:

> C'mon, Greg. Really? Choosing an appropriate selection and logical sequence
> of dances? Is that social engineering? Teaching clearly, with enthusiasm and
> warmth? Working with the musicians?

Please accept my apologies for the misunderstanding.

I did not introduce the term “social engineering” here.  The term was
attributed to my alleged “negative feelings” about mixers—something which I
have *not* expressed here—and it was posited that I was concerned about
mixers being used as a form of “social engineering.”

The term “social engineering” has become a rather “loaded” one in the last
few decades.  Like the term “political correctness” it has been adopted by
conservatives as a slur against those advocating for social change.  I am
certainly not against social change and I would not assume that sentiment of
anyone on this list.  (Obviously, as callers we depend upon established
traditions, but they are, we trust, living traditions that change with the
times.  Otherwise we will condemn future dancers to mere “historical
re-enactments” rather than vital, living traditions that reflect the
communities we live in.)  I embraced the term here as an attempted way of
defusing the term while challenging folks to think outside the box about
what it is that callers actually do.  Perhaps that was not a good
communication strategy and I take responsibility for the confusion.  Hopefully
we can all get beyond an adversarial framing and attempt to achieve better
understanding.  The point is not to “choose sides” or to “win” but to
advance the art and science of dance calling.

For more information on the term “social engineering” check out the
Wikipedia article:

I see it as a central part of the caller's job to think strategically about
how their decisions, words, and actions affect the dancers, the dance
traditions, and the future of the dance form.  This is particularly true in
contra dancing because the caller's decisions and words can have a great
impact upon the process of partnering.  And that has a big influence over
the success of the “party”--to use David’s framing.  This could all be
handily condemned as "social engineering" by anyone opposing change in these
traditions.  The term has become a divisive one that has little meaning
beyond a divisive slur against any change the speaker wishes to oppose.  I
would prefer to use a term like “leadership” which is more positive.

- Greg McKenzie

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