Children Dancing with the Twin Cities Branch: Future Directions

At our annual general meeting (AGM) last May, we asked for feedback from Branch members on various issues that the board could potentially tackle as priorities this year.  First and foremost among the issues that were identified as needing attention were those concerning the role and status of children in our group.  Based as they are upon the RSCDS constitution as it read up until 2009, our bylaws currently limit membership in the Branch to individuals at least 16 years old, and our classes and other activities have historically been focused on an adult audience.  Over the years the implications of this membership rule on occasional participation by children in classes and performances has been interpreted differently by different boards and teachers.  This inconsistency has created confusion and frustration among many members.

In 2007, the Branch created the Young Dancers Mentorship Program (http://www.rscds-twincities.org/youngdancers.html).  This program was intended to establish a clear mechanism whereby children under the age of 16, and thus not eligible for membership in the Branch, could participate in Branch classes.  While the program was a helpful first step, it has proved to be an inadequate solution in a number of aspects, e.g. a) it requires a program director, which we have not had in place for several years now; b) it does not address the participation of children in branch performances.

An additional factor generating some pressure to reconsider this issue in our branch has come from the RSCDS headquarters. Observing the aging membership in most branches (ours is, thankfully, a bit of an exception) and recognizing the need to foster enthusiasm for Scottish country dancing in the next generation, the RSCDS has been placing increasing emphasis on teaching children.  In recent years they have developed instructional materials and videos for teachers of children, organized dance weekends for youth, begun publishing an e-zine for youth, and launched a youth development project with funding from the Scottish Arts Council (see http://www.rscds.org/about-us/young-dancer-project.html for more information).  In 2009, the worldwide membership voted to change the constitution to lower the age of membership in RSCDS to 12 years old.

Following the AGM last May, the board appointed a committee, chaired by board secretary Angie McCracken, charged with making recommendations for future directions the Branch should take vis-à-vis participation by children.  In addition to Angie, committee members included Jamie Berg, Bill Brown, Eric Salo, and Ed Stern.   The committee met twice since October 2010 and also corresponded by email.  Announcements of its December meeting were made via the Yahoo Group and at Monday night classes, and Branch members were invited to attend or send their thoughts.  The committee presented its recommendations and guidelines for young dancers, printed below, at the joint board/teachers meeting on January 9th.

The recommendations and guidelines were positively received by both the board members and teachers present.  The next steps will be to seek feedback from the membership.  Recommendation 1, since it involves a bylaws change, would need to be  approved by the membership at our AGM in May.  Recommendations 2-6, however, do not require such a formal process, and could also be adopted independently of recommendation 1. We are also anxious to keep the AGM as short and efficient as possible.  Therefore, the board plans to discuss and vote on recommendations 2-6 at the open board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, 8 February, 7pm at the home of Angie McCracken.  Members are encouraged to  provide feedback in one or more of the following ways:
1) Comment on this article using the link you will find at the end
2) Send email to chair [at] rsds-twincities.org or secretary [at] rscds-twincities.org
3) Come to the open board meeting mentioned above

In presenting their recommendations, the committee emphasized that they focused the guidelines around behavior and maturity-level, rather than on age.  As many of us can attest, age is no guarantee of maturity-level, and there are many adults who have been involved in the Branch who are less physically able, less mature, and/or more disruptive than the children who have periodically joined us.  They pointed out that should the Branch adopt these recommendations, we will actually be holding children to a higher standard than we hold adults.  In addition, they noted that while the proposed changes would technically open the door to children as more regular participants in our classes, it is highly unlikely we will see a sudden deluge of kids on Monday nights.  the scheduling of our classes on a weeknight from 7:30 to 9:30pm makes it impractical for most younger children to attend.  Therefore we don’t anticipate the adoption of these recommendations would radically change the atmosphere of our regular weekly classes.

Thanks go to all the committee members for the time and thoughtful effort they have invested in helping the Branch to sort out what has been a thorny issue.  They and the board look forward to the feedback from the membership.

Recommendations About Children in the Branch

  1. Follow RSCDS official guidelines about membership.  From the RSCDS constitution and rules:
    Section 9
    (a) Membership of the Society shall be open to all persons worldwide aged 12 years or over interested in the purposes of the Society upon payment of the appropriate subscription.
    (b) Only those members who are aged 18 or over may take part in any activity relating to the governance of the Society
  2. Young dancer non-members will pay $3 per class*
  3. The committee recommends that the board reserve the right to allow any dancer who is not a member of the Branch to participate in performances at the board’s discretion (The intent here is to foster non-exclusivity, allowing visiting Scottish dancers and ridiculously talented children under age 12 to perform).
  4. Classes specifically designed for children will be encouraged and supported, as consistent with the Purposes section of the Branch Bylaws; the Branch may provide or help to locate resources such as recorded music, a location for holding classes, descriptions of suitable dances and teaching techniques for children, teachers with with experience in running children’s dance classes (need not be RSCDS certificated teachers), and help in any other way the resources of the Branch permit.
  5. Once there are enough young dancers to form a set, encourage performances of young dancers for young audiences.
  6. See “Guidelines for Young Dancers” (below).

*Though children under 12 would not be considered Branch members, the board anticipates that children under 12 could be covered by a household membership if the parents are members

Young Dancer Guidelines

The Young Dancer Guidelines have been established for children who have shown a keen interest in learning Scottish country dancing.  The Branch recognizes that its vitality and future growth depend upon fostering the interests of youthful dancers.

Goal
To provide a safe and non-disruptive structure allowing children interested in Scottish country dancing to participate in Branch activities.

Dancer Qualifications
Young Dancers Must:

  • Be willing participants and sufficiently motivated
  • Be able to meet a minimum level of physical competencies to safely dance
  • Be able to comprehend and follow verbal instructions
  • Be able to accept feedback and recommended improvements as part of group instruction
  • Have an attention span sufficient for the period of instruction
  • Understand that they are subject to adult(s) responsible for them
  • Understand the guidelines for young dancers

Expectations

  • Everyone must understand that this is fundamentally an adult activity.
  • Participants and teachers will not be expected to behave any differently than they would if young dancers were not present
  • Accommodation for young dancers will be made in the same way as for any other beginning dancers
  • All people in class need to behave in an appropriate and respectful fashion

Performances

  • Young dancers who are qualified to perform are treated as equals to all other qualified dancers.

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