The last thing I expected when I learned to square dance was that some day I would be a caller's wife. It was a love story best left to the romance novels and the next thing I knew I was thrown into the business side of square dancing. It's about as surprising as being thrown into a pool with all your clothes on. Not necessarily unpleasant because you are surrounded by all your friends and it's all in good fun -- just a shock to the senses.
It's a strange job because while it is everyone else's hobby (just like it was a hobby for me) it now became a business. The dancers are now customers, your husband is the entertainer or the employee, and somewhere in this you need to find your place in this activity. Probably the hardest thing about this business is that it is a pure service business. Your customers walk away with nothing more than a good time or a bad time.
Wives of callers vary greatly. We are all just as individual as each of you. Some are shy, some outgoing, some like to dance a lot while others prefer not to dance as often. Some wives are highly involved in their husband's calling activity, some wives have other interests that keep them from being involved at all, and there is every aspect of involvement inbetween.
Each wife has to find the niche for herself that makes her comfortable and fits in with balancing family life and her own personal interests. Due to the nurturing nature of females, more than one wife has found herself lost in the activity before she knew what hit her. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find that perfect spot and it becomes apparent that this is not necessarily an easy task as you look around at the divorce rate, especially among those callers that travel more.
There was a time when calling was a living for a number of the popular callers. Now more and more callers are also having to seek additional employment. It's not easy finding the right job that will let you take off Fridays so that you can fly out and call on weekends, or a job where you never work overtime because you are always calling in the evening, or arrange to have time off needed to attend festivals, Callerlab, demonstrations or other things that are expected of callers. I feel sorry for those with small children. How do they manage to attend parents nights, or time for softball or soccer games or all the other obligations that come along with having children and spending quality time with the family?
It's a balancing act that can take considerable work before we get it right. Sometimes people understand, sometimes they don't. You simply make the decisions you feel are right for you and then you go with it. There are some great benefits being a caller's wife -- once you get used to talking to hundreds of strangers and being announced at dances.
One of my favorite things about square dancing is the new dancers. There's nothing like seeing folks come in the first day nervous, prepared to not like it, dragging their husbands along, or standing off in the corner because they are shy. As the weeks pass you see the changes. The confidence that comes with learning the calls, chatting with friends that were once strangers, and taking their first bold step out to their first real dance.
One of the least favorite things I like about square dancing is watching some new dancers drop out because they are learning slower than the rest of the group, they've had to miss some nights and can't catch up, or the single that can't get a regular partner and is sitting out too often.
Another odd aspect of being a caller's wife is you are no longer just another dancer nor are you a caller. While we often get the advantage of seeing both sides of a given subject, neither caller or dancer truly believes us because they each think we are too biased to the other side. We do have a slight advantage with our husbands since they know us much better than the dancers do and we get much more quality time with them to discuss some of the more delicate matters.
The caller's wife can often be an important tool for the club that has a regular caller once a week. Sometimes, over the course of years, a club's makeup changes. With the entrance of new dancers and the leaving of some of the older dancers, a club's personality can change. It can be important that the caller change too and sometimes it is difficult for the club to communicate their needs to the caller. The caller's wife can be extremely helpful in such situations. She can help you define your needs and help you understand what her husband is capable and not capable of doing.
The hardest part for me is when attending an out of town dance that my husband is calling for. Where once a member of the hosting club would always inquire about my desire to dance, now I am more often left to my own devices. Since there is often single women around I do not feel comfortable about asking any of the available men as I would be taking away from them. In my own area I would be aware if I could take one of those ladies and square up together but in a strange area I know that this is not always welcomed.
The passing of the garter or badge, or some other device is always welcomed with one caveat. Some of us like to sit out a tip or two during the evening but we often worry about offending the person who's job it is next to see that we dance. My best advice is a dance card. Offer a blank dance card to the caller's wife at the beginning of the evening and then have the club members ask for a tip during the beginning of the dance evening. This way not only will the caller's wife be able to schedule her own breaks, but it will give forewarning to the partner that will be sitting out that tip.
While personalities may vary and the dances may vary, the best part about square dancing is that everyone has the same goal in mind -- to have fun!
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