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    May 11
    Dark. No dance.

    May 25
    Terry Halley, caller
    Ken Prattt, cuer

    The Checkerboard Squares dance at the Rockwood Grange, located at 183rd and Southeast Stark Street between the Taco Time restaurant and the Motel 6 in Gresham, Ore. Admission: $5 for non-members.

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Subtle Touches Can Carry off a Dance Theme

Attendance was good at the Checkerboard Squares recent “dog days of summer” dance. The club carried off the “dog days” theme by serving hot dogs. But a special dessert wins first prize for creativity: A club member made peanut butter cookies, and cut them out with a dog bone-shaped cookie cutter. She served the cookies in a new blue dog dish she bought at Dollar Tree. (She assured us she washed the bowl.)

At first, diners shyed away from the dog dish. But when club members started munching the tasty treats, visitors began emptying the bowl. 

Folks seemed to have a great time at the dance. But I’m guessing that what they will still remember a year from now will be that dog dish full of bone-shaped cookies. 

A little creativity is most important for carrying off a successful dance theme.

‘Follow the Star’ Pageant in Gladstone, Ore., Worth Attending

This square dancer has lived in Portland, Ore., more than 20 years but had never heard of “Follow the Star” until this Christmas season. I attended tonight and highly recommend this free family event in Gladstone, Ore., to all square dancers and non-square dancers alike.

Unlike drive-through nativity scenes, this 45-minute pilgrimage to Jesus’ manger winds along outdoor torch-lit pathways filled with surly Roman soldiers, musical surprises and high-quality pageantry. The genius of the event is that it is interactive. Participants not only view the Christmas story, as told in the Bible, but also take part in the unfolding of the events. And you learn a bit about the history of the era–think “The Nativity Story” movie from a few years ago. 

I don’t want to give away the surprises–throughout the evening the emcee urged returning guests to avoid telling newcomers about the upcoming scenes. But if you go, be prepared for a memorable experience, not a cheesy bathrobe Sunday school play or Hollywood glitz. Participants begin building the elaborate sets in August. Actors memorize extensive dialogue. Their hard work is evident. 

Three more showings remain: Dec. 9, 10, 11. Saturday is usually packed, so try the Friday or Sunday showings. Gates open on Friday at 5:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday gates open at 4:30 p.m. Arrive early, stand in line for a free ticket (no reserved seating is available), and then relax in the auditorium where local musicians entertain with Christmas music. Tonight’s performers included an ensemble (singer, pianist, bass player and glockenspiel player), a pianist, and a vocalist. (Hint: Some people go home or out to eat rather than waiting in the auditorium.) Audience carol-singing and announcements fall between performers…about every half hour.

When your group’s number is projected on the big screen, you gather at the side of the auditorium, don your hats and gloves, and follow a guide to the first stop. Six more follow. Free refreshments come at the end. Dress warmly. I was happy to have thick socks and boots, gloves and a hooded coat.

Address: 19800 Oatfield Rd., Gladstone, Oregon. Take the Gladstone/DMV exit off Interstate 205. Turn right onto 82nd Ave; turn right onto Oatfield Road. (The Gladstone Park Conference Center is on the west side of the freeway. The entrance is well-marked.)

The Seventh-day Adventists sponsor the event. I’m not an Adventist, but hats off to the Adventist Church for reminding us of what Christmas is all about…and for doing it with style.

The Target Age for Square Dance Recruits

Square dance club lessons should be targeting 50- to 55-year-olds, according to CallerLab’s latest research, as reported by Don Taylor and Tom Rudbock at the national convention in Louisville.

The reason? These are “empty nesters” wanting to reconnect with a spouse after years of going their separate ways as they raised their kids.

To attract these potential dancers, the speakers said to promote square dancing’s benefits: fun, laughter, new friends, a chance to socialize, an opportunity to find a partner (for the singles), and health through exercise.

Don’t exclude other age groups, Taylor and Rudbock advised. Just realize that age 50 to 55 is prime.

New Brochure Helps Clubs Advertise Lessons, Dances

The brochure cover features a simple design and a play on words.

CallerLab’s slick four-color brochure is a valuable aid for clubs wishing to advertise square dancing, dance lessons or club information. High-quality photos of square dancing fill the panels. The pictures depict dancers of all ages.

The copy describes what modern square dancing is, the friendships it promotes, square dancing’s heritage, and the health benefits. The brochure emphasizes that square dancing is fun. The copy is well-written…and winsome. The wording should appeal to most anyone who is open to a new hobby.

I was impressed with the brochure. I would like to see my club use it to promote our lessons and square dancing in general. The back panel is blank so clubs can imprint their own information.

Brochures cost $10 for 100 brochures. This is a great price for full-color brochures on glossy stock. To order, call 785-783-3665. Or e-mail: CALLERLAB@aol.com. Or write to Callerlab Foundation, 200 S.W. 30th St., Suite 104, Topeka, KS 66611

These inside panels give an idea of the brochure's friendly tone and clean design.

Making New Dancers Feel at Home is Key to Retention

Retention and growing clubs are topics on most club members’ minds. Here are hospitality tips for clubs with new dancers. The ideas come from the 59th national square dance convention in Louisville.

1. Don’t let people sit alone at a dance. They will be unhappy. This is especially true of new dancers who often don’t know anyone well. They will go home unsure why they are unhappy, but the reason is because they didn’t connect with anyone at the dance.

2. Invite new dancers to join your square. Work especially hard the first two months to include them. After about two months, they will feel as if they are part of the “family.”

3. Pick up students and take them home rather than expect them to drive on their own.

4. Wait two or three years before making a new dancer into an officer.

5. Close the kitchen so the club doesn’t hang out there instead of dancing and mixing with guests and new dancers. Doing this may require having a frank talk at a club meeting.

6. Include new dancers in activities outside of dancing such as a sports event or concert.

7. Square new dancers with experienced dancers, not with other new dancers. When a square forms, however, make no changes in members. People feel stupid when someone points out they are having problems. Then they will feel like quitting. Don’t split up couples unless they’re having special problems.

8. Keep new dancers close to the front of the room. Using dance cards can force new dancers to dance upfront.

9. Old-timers should avoid discussing club problems at dances. Save those negative discussions for club meetings.

(These ideas are from the seminar, “Fun Dances are Successful Dances” by Tom Davis, Jerry Junck and Nick Hartley. Jerry Junck and Nick Hartley are both callers who teach calling. Hartley has been a full-time traveling caller since 1986.)

The Best Time for a Food Break May Be at the End of the Dance

Open breaks where dancers can graze throughout the evening of square dancing are popular. A stop halfway during a dance to eat and then resume the dance is also popular. Some clubs serve food at the end of the dance. Which break option is best?

Presenters at the 59th national square dance convention in Louisville urged clubs to consider serving food at the end of a dance. “Food halfway through is a death knell,” they said. A square dance begins with momentum. If the dance pauses for eating, that momentum is lost, and the caller and cuer have to start it all up again.

Food is paramount to a dance, the experts said. People are likely to stay until the end of the dance if the club serves food at the end. The dancers sit and eat and visit.

On the other hand, with their tummies full halfway through the dance, people often feel uncomfortable dancing and are tempted to go home.

When dancers go home early, momentum is further lost and the sense of excitement gone with fewer people participating.

(These ideas come from Tom Davis, Jerry Junck and Nick Hartley in their seminar, “Fun Dances are Successful Dances.”

Try a Junk Night Theme for Fun Square Dance

Local thrift stores will love this theme. So will church rummage sale operators and folks holding garage sales. The idea is that everyone at the dance wears the tackiest clothes he or she can find (or buy).

The caller and cuer sing and play down-and-out songs about unpaid bills, lost love, and human misery.

The club serves junk food at the break. Decorations consist of items such as a dead tree and garbage cans.

This unique idea comes from the 59th national square dance festival in Louisville. A seminar, “Fun dances are successful dances” by Tom Davis, Jerry Junck and Nick Hartley presented ideas to make square dances fun. The club that tried the junk night theme found that people loved the dance and really got into the theme.