Outreach – Challenges to Attracting New Members and Retention

This report summarizes my own thoughts, information from the wider square dance community, and comments made at the board meeting on January 7th 2003. Although some alternatives are expressed here, my primary purpose is to promote discussion of the issues within our community.
-Danny Lee

Decline in New Members
There has been a steady decline in new dancers at straight clubs over the last ten years. In the last few years, a similar decline seems to be occurring in the Gay Square Dance community. These issues are by no means unique to the Wilde Bunch. Nationally, callers and square dance organizations are concerned to find ways that this trend can be reversed.

Gay square dance clubs have some advantages over traditional straight clubs:

- - - No dress code
a continuous pressure to retain a strict dress code hampers the straight dance community when recruiting. Although they have reduced those requirements in certain types of event, there is still a general expectation that traditional square dance attire be worn.

- - - Partners not required
most straight clubs also require dancers to dance with a predefined partner (and as their biological gender), limiting interactions.

But other factors affect all clubs:

there is a significant stereotype of square dancing that is set by early experience, and this is difficult to overcome. The image suggests strict (and old-fashioned) dress code, country & western “twangy” music, and “couples”/gender-based dancing.

Age of dancers – generally, younger people are not joining the activity. As the current dancing community ages, existing dancers tend to attract people in their own age group and a perceived generational gap opens between young and old. It becomes increasingly difficult to get younger people to join established clubs (“I don’t want to dance/spend an evening with those old people”).

Dance Programs
most people join a dance organization to socialize with others, and to dance. Before the codification of the current programs by CallerLab, dance evenings were generally less formal, and the dancing simple to learn. Callers were able to introduce non-dancers to some basic steps, and build a fun evening around those concepts. A dance was simply an evening’s