Mainstream Teaching Order Design

Clark Baker, March 2006

In April 2004 I was asked to join a sub-committee of the Mainstream committee tasked with creating a new teaching order for the Mainstream dance program. Here are my thoughts on the subject.


Our current teaching order has several problems:

  1. It is mainly based on the chronological order in which the various calls were introduced into Modern Western dancing.

  2. It is based on the way the callers who created it have always taught and were taught themselves.

  3. Items are not listed in teachable units. For example:

  4. It wasn't designed using knowledge of various learning styles or of good teaching precepts.

Prerequsite knowledge

In order to design a teaching order, one should have an understanding of:

  1. How people learn and the different learning styles. This subject has been covered at least twice at Callerlab.

  2. How to teach, especially square dancing. This subject has also been covered at Callerlab. A teaching order is but one tool used in teaching. See Teaching Principles That Will Help Students Succeed by Don Beck.

Basic design principles

These are the basic principles for a teaching order (mostly based on talks and handouts from Don Beck). See Creating A Teaching Order That Will Help Students Succeed by Don Beck.
  1. Introduce basic formations and the calls that allow you to move among them very early.

  2. Teach harder calls as early as possible.

  3. Cover at most one hard call per session.

  4. Teach easier or infrequently used calls later.

  5. Separate calls that will be confused.
  6. Assure that each call has several preceding and following calls so as to avoid teaching patterns.

  7. Good teaching precepts say that, session by session, a call should
    1. be taught from scratch,
    2. be retaught from scratch,
    3. be quickly reviewed, and
    4. called without teach or review.

  8. The end of the teaching order should include 3 weeks of no new calls.

Required information

In order to develop a teaching order, one needs the following information:
  1. What is the starting point? In our case, new dancers.

  2. What is the destination? In our case, Mainstream.

  3. How many teaching sessions do we have? Callerlab recommends 56 hours which could be 28 two hour sessions.

  4. How does the teacher teach and how quickly do the dancers grasp the material?
In an ideal world, each caller would understand how to create the best teaching orders for his particular groups. The Mainstream committee is creating a teaching order to assist those callers who don't have the knowledge, interest, ability, or experience to create their own at this time.

Class-level dances

Q: What about class-level dances if we all use different teaching orders?

A: The ability to attend a halfway dance is much less important than having been taught well.

A: It is better for dancers to survive in the dance program for the long run, even if it means that they miss a few dances now, because they can transition from class to club better.

A: Callers in a local area could sponsor class-level balls if they first agree to synchronize at certain points and to structure their teaching accordingly.

Bottom line, don't let the "class level dance" tail wag the "teaching order" dog.

Teaching sessions

A teaching order only makes sense if it is divided into teaching sessions. We need to know what is expected to be taught at each session, and perhaps at each tip, in order to evaluate a teaching order.

Teachable units

While we normally think of a teaching order as a list of calls, it is really a list of "teachable units". Each unit is taught and practiced from certain positions, and continues to be used this way for the rest of the session. Here are several examples of a teachable unit:

  1. Less than the whole call: Wheel And Deal from normal lines back-to-back only. Square thru 1 only. Cast Off 3/4 from one-faced lines.

  2. The call, but from limited arrangements: Flutterwheel, normal couples only, from squared set, facing lines, and 8 chain formations.

  3. The call, from most (or all) arrangements: Flutterwheel from normal and sashayed couples.

  4. The call, from right- and left-handed formations. Couples Circulate (or Ferris Wheel) from right- and left-hand two-faced lines, all arrangements.

  5. The call and its Left or Reverse version: Swing Thru and Left Swing Thru taught at the same time. Square Thru and Left Square Thru taught together.
Taking the Mainstream calls and deciding what the teachable units are depends on the teacher, on the dancers being taught, and to a lesser extent, on the number of sessions. Because of these variables, there can be no "one size fits all" teaching order for Mainstream.

Formation awareness

A lot of our dancing is in a 2x4 grid in lines, waves, and columns. Formation awareness needs to be gradually developed, especially knowing that you are in both an ocean wave (think Swing Thru or Recycle) and in a box of 4 (think Scoot Back and Split Circulate).

Inexact & Precise

We can divide our calls into inexact calls and precise calls. The inexact calls include most singing call break choreography, stars, goal post choreography, and calls whose names are mostly English words (go forward two, first go left, next go right, separate and go around one dancer, come into the middle, make a right hand star to your corner, turn her by the left). Precise calls are those which dance well on a grid, facing one of the four walls, and have precise definitions. Think Star Thru, Bend The Line, Veer Left, Circulate, Walk And Dodge, Recycle, Trade, Hinge, Run.

Precise calls promote (require) formation awareness. Some number of these calls should appear early in the teaching order. The inexact calls do not support precise dancing, but are necessary and can be used a filler in a teaching order. While stars might be a workhorse at a ONS, the teacher and dancers may be best served by making them the last call in a well structured Mainstream teaching order!

How we teach effects teaching order

Consider the call Dive Thru. The ends finish with a California Twirl. Should California Twirl appear before Dive Thru in the teaching order? Those who believe in teaching the smaller, basic calls first would say "yes" but others are very successful teaching Dive Thru early on and then teaching California Twirl by attaching a name to an action they have been doing for weeks. One teaching order cannot accommodate both ways of teaching Dive Thru.

Teach these building block calls early: Hinge, Trade, Cast off 3/4, Circulates. These can help when teaching Scoot Back, Walk And Dodge, and Spin The Top.

The end goal

In decending order of priority your teaching (and teaching order) should support:

  1. Dancing comfortably, without embarrassment, in class
  2. Class to club transition -- being able to dance in the club
  3. Local dance scene
  4. National (or international) dance scene
I would mostly ignore #3 and #4 while teaching. Your priority must be to have fun dancing and learning in class, and teaching so they can dance successfully in their club.

What about the old "Basic"

A new Mainstream teaching order that teaches new dancers from nothing to Mainstream will not have the old Basic program as an intermediate destination. There will be reasons to move some non-Basic calls earlier in the order. There are also some Basic calls that should be deferred until much later.

Successful Teaching Orders

Revised: $Date: 2006/03/21 04:32:12 $