So: CALLERLAB 2023 in Reno. Let's get the bad out of the way first. I am never going to a convention in a casino again. Even on Thursday morning as we were in Reno killing time before the Amtrak home, we started down casino row and Charlene said "sorry, we've gotta turn around, I can't take the smell any more". And, I mean, flickering lights in a smoky haze, the screams of the damned, how is this not a literal hell?
So add to the whole casino experience the fact that the newest tower in The Nugget has at least two and a half decades of accumulated sadness, and the place is situated 2 miles from most actual dining options, and what I had hoped was going to be a pleasant relaxing week became an endurance test.
Also, I have no idea WTF is up with the geometry of the toilets, but I kept... uh... dangling... in the one in the room, and that water is cold (and, yes, I know that sounds like a humblebrag, deal), and the ones in the public restrooms didn't flush everything.
That latter point may have had something to do with the in-casino dining, which was pretty awful. I had the least enticing biscuits and gravy I have ever encountered at Rosie's Café, and although by the last day we did find romaine with a few doodads at a pizza joint a few blocks from the complex, for the most part it was a 2 mile, 25 minute, bus ride to anything edible. Which meant going out to eat added an hour of travel to the "further from convention conversations" problem.
On that front, Kwok's Bistro was a really nice place to sit outdoors, the staff was super attentive, the vegetables very tasty, and someone is obviously trying to turn it into fine dining: on one of the plate deliveries the server said "oh, I forgot to tell you what this is" when... it was the green beans. But the staff was working on the sense of ceremony of the presentation, and the water glasses were always full. In the off-chance that I ever end up in Reno again, heavens forbid, that place will be revisited. 5 stars.
And since we're talking about the good now, as you might have seen from my pictures on the socials, the train trip up was fantastic, we're gonna find places to go on Amtrak again. The train trip back was slightly less fantastic, but that may have been that we were worn down by then.
On to the convention itself!
We arrived on Friday evening, expecting that a few unscheduled days away from home would give us a nice break, and maybe time to get together with a non-square dance friend, which didn't happen, but we ran into folks we knew, and then more folks we knew, and it started to feel familiar.
We ducked for a short time into the Community Dance Seminar and also into the CDS dance on Sunday afternoon, which seemed good, but also reinforced my feeling that I should probably go take the caller training the next time Dare To Be Square West is held.
Sunday evening there was an opening reception. At this point people had started to recognize me, but there was also a "fill out a card with first time attendees" activity that was kind-of overwhelming, especially since it created an incentive for fleeting interactions. I walked in, was starting to have conversations, and suddenly there was this quick distraction of all of these people wanting my name, and then zoom, they were off to the next person, and I was back to trying to have the conversation I'd started, or find another one because that one was now interrupted. Gamifying relationship building rarely works, and I think this was a good example of why.
Opening dance was fun, I was *so* grateful that they were using QSC speakers, even though there was the Hilton clipping and hiss. Afterwards Mike Pogue and I were up into the early morning talking with folks about SquareDesk, and for some reason I didn't sleep well.
The sessions that I went to felt largely like the same people talking about the same things that I've listened to in previous conference recordings. Which is great, that was all good information the first time I heard it, but I want more ways to hear from the rank-and-file of what they're doing individually, so the best parts of convention for me were when I got someone to just sit and chat in the lobby while the sessions were going on. And the dances (I realize there are music licensing issues with distributing recordings from those, but I'd love to go back and steal some of that choreo...).
And, please, for future SSD mechanics sessions: let's not have the first half of the session be re-hashing all of the rationale for SSD. If we're gonna talk about *how* to make it a destination level, let's talk about *that*, and not rehash why.
By Monday evening's dinner I was pretty convinced that I'd learned what I'd come to learn, that the negative brand value of Modern Western Square Dancing, and existing square dance community, was too much to overcome if I was going to use square dancing as a tool for community building, and I should just walk away from it.
By Tuesday evening, between Buddy Weaver's presentation on SSD modules, chatting with Stephen Cole at dinner, and the dance, I was more enthused.
And then Charlene had the "aha".
For non-square dancers: Modern Western Square Dancing has increasingly become a game of Simon Says for grown-ups. CALLERLAB has become an organization specifically managing the definitions of the calls, and phrases like "Do the first two parts of Spin Chain Thru, and then finish with..." have specific meaning.
There are "Programs" (don't call them "levels", but yeah, they're "levels"), and there's a huge rush to push people up the levels. Many of us feel that the dancing has been lost. And one could stay at the lowest level that people can get to, "Mainstream", except that it almost always ends up being remedial shuffling, rather than dancing.
There's a new program, "SSD". There have been evolving backronyms, but the notion was 50 calls that can be learned in 12 weeks, and then focus on dancing.
Except that what has happened is that existing clubs have had an SSD class, and then said "Hey, only a few more calls to Mainstream", and then "only a few more calls to Plus", and then anyone interested in dancing has dropped, and we're left with the puzzle solvers. I mean, over-simplification, I really like *dancing* at Advanced, with the right floor, but then it becomes a lifestyle, not an occasional hobby.
So the people having luck with SSD are the ones in green-field development. Once again, square dancers are a liability.
Charlene's brilliance was: Rather than starting yet another class in our area, with the same results we had pre-COVID except with all of the COVID social struggles, what if we focused on giving the SSD dancers a freakin' place to dance?
So that's gonna be our focus: Grab the people who go through SSD in the various regional clubs, and don't wanna turn square dancing into their full lifestyle, and give them a venue in which to dance. And, by creating a space for casual dancers who have other friends, maybe do some marketing for the activity.
Anyway, the CALLERLAB convention met my expectations in that Charlene and I came out of it with ideas for a path forward for our own involvement in calling and promoting square dancing, and even to do those things focused on MWSD, but we're not inspired to come back because we think there are venues more focused on meeting and interacting with the people who are going to be our allies and inspirations in that effort.
And now we're bummed that we're not gonna make it to the IAGSDC convention in Ottawa this year.