Mainstream Teaching Order Design
Clark Baker, March 2006
In April 2004 I was asked to join a sub-committee of the
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:
- It is mainly based on the chronological order in which the various
calls were introduced into Modern Western dancing.
- It is based on the way the callers who created it have always
taught and were taught themselves.
- Items are not listed in teachable units. For example:
- Wheel And Deal is one entry even though it may be better to teach
it from teach one-faced lines first and from two-faced lines later.
- The Half Sashay family lists three calls as #14. It would be
confusing to teach even two of them at once. They need to be
separated in a teaching order even though they are members of the same
- While italicized calls may be deferred until later, the list
doesn't say when they should be taught.
- It wasn't designed using knowledge of various learning styles or
of good teaching precepts.
In order to design a teaching order, one should have an understanding
- How people learn and the different learning styles. This subject
has been covered at least twice at Callerlab.
- How to teach, especially square dancing. This subject has also
been covered at Callerlab. A teaching order is but one tool used in
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.
- Introduce basic formations and the calls that allow you to move among them very early.
- Teach harder calls as early as possible.
- Cover at most one hard call per session.
- Teach easier or infrequently used calls later.
- Separate calls that will be confused.
- similar names
- same starting formations
- similar dance actions
- Assure that each call has several preceding and following calls
so as to avoid teaching patterns.
- Good teaching precepts say that, session by session, a call should
- be taught from scratch,
- be retaught from scratch,
- be quickly reviewed, and
- called without teach or review.
- The end of the teaching order should include 3 weeks of no new
In order to develop a teaching order, one needs the following
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
- What is the starting point? In our case, new dancers.
- What is the destination? In our case, Mainstream.
- How many teaching sessions do we have? Callerlab recommends 56
hours which could be 28 two hour sessions.
- How does the teacher teach and how quickly do the dancers grasp
Q: What about class-level dances if we all use different teaching
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
Bottom line, don't let the "class level dance" tail wag the "teaching
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
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:
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.
- 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
- The call, but from limited arrangements: Flutterwheel, normal
couples only, from squared set, facing lines, and 8 chain formations.
- The call, from most (or all) arrangements: Flutterwheel from
normal and sashayed couples.
- The call, from right- and left-handed formations. Couples
Circulate (or Ferris Wheel) from right- and left-hand two-faced lines,
- 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
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)
I would mostly ignore #3 and #4 while teaching. Your priority most be
to have fun dancing and learning in class, and teaching so they can
dance successfully in their club.
- Dancing comfortably, without embarrassment, in class
- Class to club transition -- being able to dance in the club
- Local dance scene
- National (or international) dance scene
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 $