Croakers Square

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a “square” aficionado. Square dancing has plenty of true believers, and they tend to be a loyal bunch. Having said that … square dancing still falls far from the center in terms of the most popular culture.

Here’s an article on the hobbies of successful entrepreneurs: you’ll see music, you’ll see exercise–you’ll even see jousting. Square dancing, however, doesn’t make the list. Here’s another one, this time on the favorite songs of entrepreneurs: see anything on there you could call to? Did you expect to? In fact, of the top fifty hobbies in the U.S., you’ll still see only a generic “dancing” response. Online dating–ONLINE DATING!–is a more popular hobby in this country than square dancing.

We know firsthand the benefits of square dancing. But how well do we convey that to others?

Square Dancing for Love

Jazz musician Dave Goldberg wrote a logical, clearly presented, and pretty funny treatise to LA club owners that was featured in DIY Musician. In the article, Goldberg makes the case that it’s counterproductive for clubs or other venues to book bands on a “pay-to-play” basis. In other words, telling a band “we’d love you to play our club … no money but it’s great exposure” may sound like a great way to save money, but in the end, it does more harm than good for the band and the venue.

How so? Well, Goldberg offers several arguments but one in particular seems to apply: there is a perceived value that comes with price. Everyone knows that buying the most expensive product is no guarantee you’ll get the best product … but you’d also find few people who would argue that buying the cheapest is usually a good idea. It’s human nature: we’ve been taught from kindergarten on that “you get what you pay for.”

So why do so many square dance clubs have limited or no dues? Why do so many offer free lessons and a free venue? Do squares really believe what we do is so insignificant that we have to pay people to pretend they’re interested?

Price Vs. Value

Square dancers do what they do because they love it; no question there. But there is also this often-unspoken belief that others would love it too –if they would just try it. So we offer it up for free.

It’s a good idea on paper, but when we give away something of value, we actually undercut that value; by saying “you can have this for nothing,” we send the subtle message that “nothing” is all it’s worth.

Because square dancing–while it is hardly the most expensive hobby one can get into–involves certain costs: venue space, music rights, advertising, and so on. Too many clubs suck up all the expenses themselves, then turn around and offer free membership, free dance lessons, free participation all around … and then seem surprised that the new recruits start losing interest if asked to contribute.

Square dancing is wonderful. We’ve all invested time, money, and energy into our respective clubs. It’s time we stopped apologizing for what we do, and start looking for people who believe that being part of this great community has an intrinsic value … not hangers-on who just want something for nothing.

For square dancing to survive, we need people who are as “all in” as we are.

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