Teaching an SSD Class

Article Type Submitter Date Story Abstract
Winning Ways Story Joni Micals (c3bdancer@gmail.com) 2018-11-29

Joni Micals is a newer caller who decided to use the Sustainable Square Dance (SSD) framework to teach a new group of seniors. Click on the button below to see her report of how it worked out. The second button shows a report by a dancer from Australia who happened to be visiting one of the lesson nights. It shows a third-party perspective on what was going on.

My First Attempt at Teaching a Class, by Joni Micals

I attended two GCA sponsored caller schools, my first with Betsy Gotta in St. Louis, 2015, and my second with Randy Dougherty in Palm Springs, 2017. The first time my goal was to just do one-night stands at RV parks across the USA as I was living in my RV and each park had empty recreational halls just waiting for someone to do something in them. The second time my goal was to take eight non-square dancers and teach them to square dance while I learned how to use my equipment, acquire stage presence, figure out how to actually use my words to teach the calls, and most importantly, make it fun while trying to get everyone home.

Be careful what you wish for.

I had moved into a 55+ gated community with a very large auditorium and many club rooms. I immediately petitioned to start a new club—square dancing. It took over six months of attending the recreational board meetings, writing requests, and explaining myself during open forum before two board members decided they would join a class if offered. They finally convinced the board to give me the auditorium, starting January 2018. I had six months now to recruit.

This community has a bi-monthly newsletter and a Facebook group of which I took total advantage. I posted blurbs about how square dancing was good as physical and mental exercise, wards off dementia, get to know your fellow community members, have fun, and learn something new. I posted pictures and videos of dancers smiling, memes of square dance sayings and images, and each time I left my name, number, and email, encouraging those that wanted inclusion to contact me. Without knowing the actual day and time (the Rec Board would let me know late in December!), my list of new dancers grew to 48.

Then our local area club, which did not have a class that year, started telling people that I was starting a class in January, and handed them my contact info. Dancers from that club, wanting to be angels, also contacted me. My numbers grew again.

I started to feel panicky. A group of eight to play with was now approaching five squares. I reached out to callers and dancers who all told me I would be fine, I could do this, I was a teacher for 38 years before retirement and this would be a piece of cake.

End of December and I was given a room (auditorium), a day (Tuesdays), and a time (10-12). I called back everyone to give them this info personally. Three squares could do it at that time and day. The rest had other obligations but wanted on my list for the next class if offered any day but Tuesday, in the afternoon, in the early evening, etc.

Class #1
Three squares of dancers age range 70-94. Everyone was given a name badge (Hobby Lobby, 12 plastic pin-on buttons for $4.99). Everyone initialing by their name on a sign-in page. Following the SSD (Sustainable Square Dance) 12 Week Program they learned 20 calls (parsing out the Circle Left and Circle Right as two different calls). In the first tip we learned most of the calls in a big circle. Here they could dosado, allemande left, right arm turn, promenade, and do a really grand Right and Left Grand until they got back to their partner again. In the second tip we reviewed all that we learned and then did a scatter promenade. Two became a circle of four, four became a circle of eight, and bingo! Three squares. Now they learned their new labels, Heads and Sides, and numbers, evens and odds. As they now saw the calls in the context of these squares, with each additional call (2 and 4 Ladies Chain) I realized I could get them back to their partners, and if they got out of order, I told them to grab their original partners and go home.

Class #2 and #3
Since the first three weeks were open to anyone else wanting to join, the first lesson was repeated. Some people came down with the flu, some dropped out because they had obligations (but please put me on your next list) and new people joined, so my number of squares hovered around two. At one point someone had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment, leaving one square with a hole. I put down the mic, took up the boy’s position, and called from the square. I called this “Trial by Fire.”

I should mention here that I have everyone’s email and phone numbers. For the first three classes I called everyone each week to encourage them to come, warning others that if they missed three lessons in a row they would have to discontinue their lessons and reenroll the next class offered.

Class #4
On to Lesson 2 in the SSD Program. The class learned four new calls, but were having problems with the patter that I was using from the SSD manual. Nobody was getting home. There were a few calls incorporated that they hadn’t learned yet. The sequences were too long for some dancers. I was getting frustrated. When class was over I complained on the Facebook site “Newbie Callers” only to find out I had an original copy, not the latest up-to-date version (look for the XX on the bottom of the page). I copied off the latest version (looks like they fixed Lesson 2), and I was a happy camper again.

Class #5
No new lessons. All we did was dance all of the calls we had learned. They were reacting quicker to the calls, dancing smoother, and really looked like square dancers. They were smiling, laughing, and told me how much fun this is. Only one sour puss in the group—an angel. Having been president for many years of the local club, he commented on how slow this class was moving through the calls. I said that I did not have a club over me demanding I reach Plus in 36 weeks, that I could take two years, if I wanted to, to just get them through Mainstream. Even though the SSD Program is a 12 Lesson program, it does not necessarily have to be done in 12 weeks. I wanted to make sure my class could dance, that everyone could execute the calls properly, that nobody felt stressed, and that everyone was having fun. That was my purpose.

The weekend before Class #6 I emailed everyone a copy of all the calls learned and encouraged them to print them out, highlight the ones they could do automatically, and mark the ones they wanted me to review more. Since I was being dropped off very early for the next class, I offered extra help to anyone showing up early.

Class #6
Six class members showed up early. We reviewed Star Thru and Slide Thru. Those women acting as men put their name badges on their left side, and by touching that badge they knew which way to turn on a Slide Thru. I answered questions, such as hand holds, and practiced swinging your partner. They also got a preview of one of the new calls, California Twirl.

A new lesson, four calls. Two squares (and another square’s worth absent with colds, coughs, doctor appointments) dancing everything. Bend the Line was a challenge for some. California Twirl, not so much. But when we learned Dive Thru, I introduced it as a swimming pool. Do you dive into or out of a pool? Who are my outside people? You are going to dive into the pool. You are going to dive under the arch that the people in the pool are now going to make with their inside hands raised. When those on the inside go to the outside of the pool, use that raised hand to do a California Twirl. Oh my! They actually had to remember to do something more on the outside that was different from the inside people! They felt very accomplished.

All too soon I decided to do a singing call that I planned to do at my next caller school (teaching us how to do one-night stands with Rick Hampton). I realized that the song had two calls not yet learned so they were taught Right and Left Thru and Grand Square. Then we attempted the singer several times. It was decided that no matter how slow I played the music, they hesitated too much to execute the moves in the amount of time allotted. I should mention that up to this point in the lessons I have not sung a song, just did patter. I am not a singer, having been told all of my life that I cannot sing (my parents switched me from piano to violin so that I would not sing with the tune!). In any case, I turned off the music and sang the song with the calls and slowed down for them to catch up, left song words out so they could catch up without being confused, and lo and behold! They got through the singer! Even better, I got through the singer feeling pretty good about my singing voice.

This is all I have for now. By the time this goes to publication I will have the rest of February through April under my belt. Who knows, we might have even finished the SSD 12 Week Program!

Doona Young, Australian guest

I attended one 2 hour session of Friendly Valley Twirlers in late Nov., 2018. The caller and teacher was Joni Micals.
The class was a mixture of two experienced angels, two elderly retreads, one lady taking classes both here and elsewhere (totally new a few months ago), one lady who had tried square dancing in the past, but not graduated, and two ladies who were totally new to square dancing this year. On the sign in sheet there were eight more dancers who couldn’t attend this lesson for all the usual reasons.

The class starts again from scratch (Circle Left) every 3-4 months, to allow beginners to join and others to review.
They are all elderly dancers – some with memory or movement problems. Some were quite tired after the two hours. All enjoyed square dancing for its exercise/movement benefits and fun. One mentioned the mental benefits.
The class started with only seven dancers, so Joni called while dancing for half a tip, when the eighth dancer arrived. Dancers tended to stayed paired with the same partner and same position in the square for the class duration. Dancers and caller benefitted from this consistency of home, partner, corner and opposite.

Joni turned the music down and her voice up when she was calling AND dancing. Otherwise, she used a microphone clearly. She had previously tested music and microphone levels before the class started.
There were two men and two ladies who immediately volunteered to be left side dancers. The ladies wore wrist bands for identification. The other four ladies were right side dancers.

We spent about 45 mins reviewing previously learnt calls, which were displayed on a whiteboard prominently. The calls were colour coded:

  • Black for calls already taught and reviewed.
  • Green for calls taught last week.
  • Red for the five calls to be taught in this lesson.

I was impressed with the review tips where many moves were taught and practised from both normal and half sashay positions. These moves included Flutterwheel, all 8 circulates and Grand Square. Joni moved the dancers quickly and easily to new positions.

At no stage were circulates taught as “Follow someone else.” The first circulate for the session was from ends facing out – “Ends Circulate”. – ie a facing circulate!

The most interesting was Grand Square. With a simple command “All join hands, circle left a quarter” “Sides face, grand square” can now be repeated with new sides. “Everybody half sashay” – and a warning to “be careful, this will feel different” – and we were all doing grand square half sashayed.
And this is week 8 of a beginner class.

After the review tips, we spent about 45 minutes teaching the new moves.
All of the tips in this 90 min period were used with hoedown music.
Joni constantly praised the dancers as they achieved new calls, remembered old calls, danced from new positions. She fixed muddles quietly. She asked the square to move close to her and microphone lead, so she could help people.

The last 30 minutes were used practicing and dancing two singing calls.
For one record, Joni knew how and when to leave out or shorten some calls, so we could complete the choreo in the required 64 beats. Joni knew how to add extra words for clarity, if needed. “full turn, all the way around” or “swing your NEW corner”.

The class also had a visitor – a gentleman from a neighbouring retirement village – interested in the suitability of square dance for himself and friends. Joni invited him to try – he declined – but watched with interest – and videoed our dance, and teaching, for his friends. I hope he joins the class when the next class commences in February. Maybe, if invited, he will join the class for the Christmas party in two weeks.

Effect of my presence –

  • “Are the calls the same in Australia?” = discussion about international hobby and use of English.
  • “Where are you staying?” = discussion about friends and travel.
  • “I’m coming to Melbourne next October”= email addresses exchanged; chance for this lady to dance in Australia; square dance hospitality demonstrated.
  • Another experienced dancer in square = group achieved so much.
  • I was the one who chatted to the visitor and prospective new dancer (as well as Joni, of course).

Continuing fitness and health are always continuing problems for elderly groups. Health, family and travel means many absences. Continual intake and frequent new classes mean that new dancers are welcomed and included quickly. Old dancers, who miss too many classes, can re-join in a few months.
This class has no time constraint for completion – no need to meet anyone’s expectation. They meet for fun and exercise. Well done, Joni.