Several callers asked me to provide a follow-up report on the new callers seminar held just prior to the Illinois State Square Dance Convention. Here it is!
For the past few years Barry Johnson and I hosted a 1 hour or 90 minute session/chat “So You Think You Might Want to Become a Caller” as part of the Illinois State Convention. We had a dream of expanding it in to a seminar that included microphone time as well as just talking about what it takes to become a caller and opportunities for caller schools. It is our belief that for the activity to continue we not only need new dancers, we need new callers as well. This year that dream became a reality.
We had absolutely no budget for the event. The room(s) were included in the convention committee’s negotiations. Other than that, the panelists donated their time and I donated the cost of reproducing a packet of information for the participants. The packet included a list of “full-fledged caller schools coming up in the next couple of months, information on formation and arrangements, basic information on CRAMS, how to find and purchase square dance music, and the usual materials found in a beginner’s packet.
Presenters were all Illinois callers who donated their time: Bob Asp, Curt Braffet, Barry Johnson and Ozzie Pearl. Our goal was to reach out to really new callers and talented dancers that we tho ugh might make good callers. Janice Cha and Bobby Poyner helped a great deal with publicity. Word of mouth and personal invitation were al so tactics in attracting attendees. I had hoped for 6 potential new callers – maybe 8. By the time convention rolled around we had 18 participants and about 75% of them had never picked up a microphone before. Exactly the audience we had hoped for and larger than I imagined in my wildest dreams.
In the morning and, for a short time after lunch, there were presentations on software and technology, music, showmanship and an introduction to choreography and resolving a square from a corner box. The bulk of the afternoon provided each participant with the opportunity to pick up a microphone, move dancers around and resolve a square. About 10 days prior to convention I received a phone call from the convention chair asking me if I was open to the idea of a “new callers open mic” from 10 until 11 am on Sunday morning. I eagerly agreed to promote the concept at the seminar. I had hoped that 5 or 6 of the attendees would sign up for a slot and I made the assumption that the presenters and I could fill in any holes in the schedule. Eleven freshly minted callers signed up to call on Sunday morning and they called to a packed room. As a matter of fact, other rooms on the same floor of the hotel came to the open mic room to steal dancers for their floor. Passers by would hear the joy and enthusiasm and poke their heads in to see what was happening. Most of them stayed to dance a bit.
Even though the information packet had some short, easy sequences for the new callers to use, they all wrote their own choreography and used it with a high success rate. Some chose to track me down to read through their choreography but most of them did not. AND they were amazing!
I could not have been more pleased with the outcome of this one-day seminar. It did exactly what we hoped it would do: Give potential new callers a taste of what it’s like to call. The workshop also attracted exactly the type of person we were hoping to reach. OK, 1 or 2 were a more seasoned but most of them were truly first time callers.
At the Illinois Callers’ Association meeting on Sunday morning, the group began a discussion of “where do we go from here” and “how do we build on this success.” Several callers agreed to mentor the attendees in their area. We are also looking at expanding this concept in 2018. More on that as it unfolds!