By Marshall Cates
The Folk Dance Federation of California, South is in trouble. Although currently guided by Marshall Cates, he can't continue forever, nor can some of the other officers, many who have carried the burden far too long. Right now, they are looking to fill the positions of vice president and director of membership (see the Federation Bylaws for duties of these offices). We hope this article inspires further discussions in Scene and that at least two people step up and volunteer to serve in the Federation.
This article appeared in the March 2016 issue of Folk Dance Scene.
Following the article are comments by Loui Tucker, Past President of the Folk Dance Federation of California (North).
In preparation for upcoming elections for officers for the Folk Dance Federation of California, South I was asked "Why do we need a federation?" Rather than give a quick answer, I decided to put out a survey to about 30 people associated with the Federation and another 10 not associated. I posed 10 reasons why we should support the Federation followed by a reason for and a reason against. I then asked recipients to respond with comments. I append the survey with comments, but let me first convey the most responded reason.
We need the Federation because it provides an umbrella under which we can all come together to share our interest in folk dancing, to enjoy each other's company, and to learn from each other.
We provide insurance and tax exempt status so that our members can more easily find places to dance, we co-sponsor festivals to bring us together in dance, we publish Folk Dance Scene to keep us informed, and we run a camp each year to give us new dances. We do know that the Federation is not for all folk dancers. We do little or nothing to support the coffee house dancer who doesn't like choreographed dances done to recorded music. However, for club dancers, we provide many services.
Here is my survey in bold, followed by my own rebuttal, also in bold, followed by some of the responses, which are in italics.
WHY THE FEDERATION?
Because it gives us an umbrella to stand under, united in at least a few ways.
We are many folk dancing groups. Without the Federation, we are just friends. Under the same Federation, we are siblings in a family.
My first answers to many of these statements is "And if the Federation goes away, how would this improve/change the situation?"
1) We provide insurance.
We could buy insurance someplace else, or just have an insurance person and nothing else.
Insurance is necessary for the Cerritos Folk Dancers to rent a venue for all the past festivals and probably for all the future festivals. "We could buy someplace else." But, where? At what price?
I doubt you could get a group rate if you were not a group.... There is plenty of more expensive insurance.
2) We give camp scholarships.
These are not widely applied for and only help a few.
This may be a matter of publicity and might be solved by putting out an email blast, extending the deadline, and reminding applicants that the scholarships are for ANY dance camp, not just the Stockton Folk Dance Camp.
3) We run Camp Hess Kramer.
This could operate independently like Stockton.
True, but would it be run at all?
4) We produce the Folk Dance Scene.
This could operate independently or join the northern federation.
True, but would it continue to represent Southern California if Northern California ran it or combined it with Let's Dance!?
5) We coordinate a calendar to avoid conflicting festival events.
This isn't working now as people just put their ad in the Scene without Federation approval or knowledge.
After the date is set for an event, one should report to the webmaster. Before setting the date, one should check the calendar on our website. We don't need Federation approval, as it may take long time to get it. But it may be nice to have an officer, such as the secretary or V.P., to be the information center to check the conflicting events. The information passes faster this way.
(Note that Federation approval is needed if the club wants to apply for the Federation festival subsidy. M.C.)
6) We help clubs support festivals with a subsidy.
Fewer than 200 dancers come to festivals.
I think the festivals always did allow the many groups to get together and, without that, each group is isolated.
Lots of folk dancers today never go outside their own groups but lots of us do go elsewhere for special events, master teachers and regional festivals. We learn new things, get new ideas, and make new friends. We take renewed enthusiasm to our clubs. Festivals are worth having because they raise the energy level and Federation support has been important in recent years.
Actually, this isn't such a low number unless you remember the Good Old Days when 1000 dancers attended dance events and there was often an audience of non-dancers that came to watch the festival and performances. We used to have many, many more workshops and dance camps. So what? That was then and this is now. And if the Federation disappeared this lower attendance trend would hardly reverse itself, would it?
7) We used to put on institutes and bring in master teachers.
The key word is used to.Sure, and that can be reversed if somebody wants to be in charge.
8) We put on a Statewide festival.
This could be a function of the North which could alternate north/south.
Sure, we could alternate locations, appoint dancers from the South to run Statewide every other year, but the work would still have to be done, so having the Federation South makes it easier to organize.
9) The non-profit status of the Federation, South can usually be used to qualify for lower rates for rentals.
Clubs can get their own non-profit status.
Clubs can get their own 501(c)(3) tax exemption but it is a lot harder now than it used to be. Our club has had one for years and it has been important in getting venues in particular. That is something many clubs can get from the Federation.
"Clubs can get their own non-profit status." It is very difficult to have the non-profit status materialized. I know that there is at least one of our member groups which has considered applying for the non-profit status and gave up after learning that it is very troublesome to apply and also costs a lot to do so. The non-profit status may not only qualify for lower price for rentals. Sometimes it is necessary to have that status before the renting application is accepted.
Whoa! Getting non-profit status is a lengthy process and A LOT of work, not something that most clubs will be capable of doing on their own. Don't even think of this as an out!
10) We maintain a very good website in support of dancers, syllabi, videos, photos, contact info and much more.
The website is a marvelous resource. Dick Oakes has given us a priceless gift. That alone justifies the Federation.
Yes, indeed, websites are vital.
WHY NOT THE FEDERATION?
1) Nobody wants to be an officer.
We brought in two new people last year and we can just keep asking.
The problem of how to recruit people to the Southern California board has some solutions.
Being VP is easy, but being president is far more work. It has its benefits in that the president has the position to put forth some ideas from his or her own personal agenda. However, it is difficult to recruit anyone who is still actively employed. A position on the Federation board means that someone is supposed to dedicate large amounts of time and responsibility to see to it that programs run smoothly, and that new services are put in place to support local folk dancing. However, I believe these board members are not properly appreciated or compensated. This is why recruiting and retaining them can be difficult at times. I suggest that there be some tangible reimbursement for all those who serve on board positions (not the committee chairs). At very least, allowing free entrance to Federation-sponsored events would make a great difference in recruiting and retaining active board members. No one person wants to work long hours, receive phone calls late at night, handle emergency situations and do endless tasks without receiving some sort of appreciation and compensation.
2) Just ask the north to take us over. After all they have the name already.
California is so large that wherever the new officers of the Federation of California come from, dancers in half the state are unlikely to know them, especially since we don't have a great deal of north-south overlap at festivals.
I argue that it would be better to keep both North and South Federations separate. I think merging the two Federations would mean that large areas of the state would suffer. This is because the areas that would naturally receive the most attention would be the groups served by the wherever the board is located. For example, if we were to merge the South and the North and the North would remain, I believe events and coordination of groups in the South would suffer.
Meetings will become all but impossible unless we ... do them by Skype or something similar. We also have very different populations and needs.
3) Insurance is all that we offer, so why not line up a source (the north?) and leave the clubs alone.
Loss of festivals limits our exposure to each other and isolates us.
There are lots of reasons to look at the Federation as more than just an insurance provider. The clubs need a reason to coordinate, talk to each other, support each other, etc.
4) Federation council is burdensome.
We only meet 4 times a year.
Sure, council meetings are a hassle. Any meeting can be a hassle.... Develop some small perk for being an officer or board member (I recently discovered that Ethnic Express provides access to the club's Costco membership to officers which they can use for their personal shopping). And the fact remains that organizations cannot exist without meetings. Put on your Big-Boy/Girl-Pants and deal with it!
5) Should we join the North?
Given the distance it is likely that we would always be regional and we should deal with local issues with people we know.
This should be far down the list of things to do. Plenty of work can be done before taking this step.
Loui Tucker, Past President of the Folk Dance Federation of California (North) sent a long reply and included the following advice.
There are two big differences between the Federations. One is how we handle Let's Dance! magazine versus how you handle Folk Dance Scene. The other is your membership base.
We allow, even encourage, individual members. We have a tad over 400 members right now, amazingly holding steady over the last 10 years despite members dying and dropping membership because they age out and stop dancing. I think this is where our strength lies. We have many, many more dancers from whom to draw for leadership positions.
One of the things I did as president was repeatedly (ad nauseum, some would say) make a pitch for individuals to join the Federation because it was akin to having a 'membership' in Mothers Against Drunk Driving or Doctors Without Borders or the Humane Society or the ACLU. At every dance event where I was allowed the microphone for five minutes, I reminded dancers that:
".... the Federation was the ONLY organization actively working to promote folk dancing in our entire area. You should be a member and contribute to the cause the same way you donate to Mothers Against Drunk Driving or Doctors Without Borders or the Humane Society or the ACLU. You don't even expect anything in return for membership in MADD, etc. you just send them money. At least with the Federation you get a pretty amazing magazine, Let's Dance! Do you look at folkdance.com for information from time to time? Well, the Federation maintains that website. Do you enjoy attending the occasional festival or workshop? The Federation makes sure those happen. Do you want a source of funds if you have a great idea for a dance event but need seed money or some other form of financial assistance to pull it off? The Federation has the money to do that and all you have to do is ask. Have you ever needed a scholarship or might you need one in the future in order to attend Stockton Folk Dance Camp or Mendocino Camp or Balkan Camp? The Federation offers scholarships, and without those scholarships a lot of people would not be able to attend dance events."
My understanding is that the Southern Federation has only group membership or at least there is no incentive for individuals to join. ... There is no tangible benefit to membership, but it's the right thing to do. Having benefits attached to membership can be a selling point.
When I became President, ... I made an effort to make a few things each year for Federation members only or at a reduced price for Federation members. I had those "I ♥ FOLK DANCE" tote bags made and Federation members got them for free at Statewide when we held it in Sonoma a few years ago. We had six dancers join the Federation on the spot just to get a tote bag! Another time we held a workshop for couples with Richard Powers and a local Hungarian teacher and the prices was $10 for Federation members and $30 for non-members. Four people joined the Federation that day. Some people need a reason to join beyond the "it's the right thing to do" and "the Federation is doing work that needs to be done" and member benefits are a good motivator.
About 35 years or so ago (1978? I'd have to go back and figure it out) Let's Dance! magazine was a separate entity and you could subscribe to it without being a Federation member. I think that's the way your Federation runs right now. When we made the move to make Let's Dance! magazine a benefit of membership, that really changed the membership of the Federation. Individuals and couples suddenly had a significant reason to join the Federation. This is something you might want to consider. Having looked at back issues of Let's Dance! I knew that it had once been used to air lively debates whether to keep square dancing under the folk dance umbrella, whether we should include 'choreographed' dances or insist on 'authentic' dances, how many dances per year should be added, how to train new teachers, etc. Then in the 1990s and early 2000s, ... It became just a big calendar of events, with page after page of advertisements, a few photos of people smiling into the camera, and reports on events that had happened.
So I began using Let's Dance! to discuss issues facing folk dancing partner versus non-partner dances, live music versus recorded music, pre-planned dance program versus requests, how to attract dancers particularly younger dancers how to use social media, why we need more classes for beginners, etc. Folk dancers are smart people; they can and should be engaged and enlightened and cajoled and provoked. It's not just the dancing that brings us together it's the social interaction and community building. Sure, individual classes and clubs can do this, but the Federation is the only vehicle around that can make that happen on a large scale. The question cannot be "Should the Federation exist?" It should be "How can the Federation be changed so it can further our goals?"
I also told many people that I had once said that I didn't need to join the Federation myself because my class was doing just fine, I had plenty of dancing in my life, and I didn't need the Federation. And I finally came to the conclusion that (1) it's not what I could GET from the Federation it was what I could GIVE to the Federation; and (2) if I wanted folk dancing to exist after I stopped teaching and dancing, and I didn't want folk dancing to die on my watch then I, Loui Tucker, had to pitch in and help row the boat NOW. I still say it: "The folk dancing and the Federation are NOT going to die on my watch!"
I WANT you to succeed, and I want the Federation South to not just survive, but thrive.