My Thoughts · square dance

Measure the Success of a New Festival

Gary Shoemake, Jerry Gilbreath & Ken Bower at April Showers Festival
Gary Shoemake, Jerry Gilbreath & Ken Bower at April Showers Festival

How do you measure the success of a festival? I just attended a new square and round dance festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico—April Showers, and I know beyond any doubt it was a success. Why?

My feet ache, my face hurts from laughing so much and my heart sings! All these signs indicated a smashing success. In a post-COVID world, numbers of dancers are smaller. Some people are still wary about coming out to dance. The Albuquerque Square Dance Center requires dancers to be vaccinated, so that kept some at home. But many came out to forget the worries of this world and dance!

We found out this morning during some story telling, Ken Bower, Gary Shoemake and Bob and Sally Nolen started their calling and cuing careers in Albuquerque in the early 70s at Summer Sounds, a successful square and round dance festival that continued for nearly twenty years and was the predecessors to Hot August Nights, a festival I help run that is still going today. So, Jerry and Mary Beth Gilbreath thought up the idea of a new festival and the other four agreed wholeheartedly; thus April Showers was born.

During the weeks before the event, I wondered if we’d get enough dancers to have it. The registrations trickled in, but I continued to promote it and other upcoming festivals on Facebook, hoping to stir up interest.

Finally, Friday came, and it was a go—our first festival in over two years. After showering, I blew my hair dry and put on my makeup, which has become quite a chore after not doing it for two years. I donned my beautiful square dance outfit, dressing in matching outfits to promote our next festival. I added matching pettipants and a fluffy slip that makes my dress stand out! Square dance outfits overflow with energy in their beauty, swirling with every movement.

The event began. When we arrived Friday night, I looked around the hall and choked up—I knew so many of the dancers from other events, especially Fun Valley RV Resort in Colorado and felt blessed to be back doing what I love—dancing.

Immediately, I noticed the high energy level—no sour faces, no negative words, just an amiable group celebrating life after two years of no festivals. Yes, the size of the crowd wasn’t as big as before the pandemic, but the dancers’ commitment to having a good time enlarged the size.

We danced Friday night away to our three favorite callers and two dear cuers. The evening was over before I knew it!

Here’s a video of dancing Friday night:

When Lin and I got home, we reviewed the night, laughing at the fun parts. I had trouble sleeping because of the heightened adrenaline level.

Saturday, we started again at 10:30 am although we missed the round dance workshop at 9:00 am. We live about twenty miles from Albuquerque and had to decide just how much of the weekend we could do, so we gave up the round dance workshop. We did the mainstream workshop and enjoyed the fun the callers did by workshopping some different moves.

For lunch, we joined two other couples and enjoyed the one-on-one conversation and exchange. I realized this is what we missed so much during the pandemic—the sharing of our lives and the laughter. These times over meals over the years have solidified relationships with so many friends from all over the country. After two years’ absence, I felt connected again.

Then we missed the Introduction to Round dancing but took part in the Plus workshop. Afterwards we drove home, enjoyed a brief nap and dressed and returned for the evening dance.

Again, I dressed in matching outfits to promote another square dance event coming up in Albuquerque. I had the surprise of my life when I walked in the dance hall and the cuer and his wife who taught me to round dance had come down to the hall for the evening with a square dance legend from years ago. What a joy to see these three precious friends from the past.

The Saturday night dance overflowed with laughter and energy again, yet more revved up than Friday night. Square dance dresses swirled around the floor. I saw so many smiles, so many people relaxed and enjoying themselves. Some square dance shenanigans happened like scatter promenades and one wild square where the original square was joined by many others walking through the square and joining in. I never laughed so hard. We ended the evening with ice cream sundaes and two-stepping to Jerry Gilbreath’s gorgeous renditions of some of my favorite country music standards.

As if that’s not enough, we returned this morning (Sunday) at 10:00 am for two more hours of dancing fun. Sunday mornings traditionally in Albuquerque are filled with a lot of insane scatter promenades and “Air Raids.” This morning continued the traditions.

So what is the measure of a successful festival? Does the number of squares determine it? We had seven to eight—small compared to pre-COVID standards. How about the smiles, the laughter, the total release from any cares or concerns? I measure the success by those things too, especially in today’s world.

Thank you Gary, Ken, Jerry, Bob and Sally for a successful first April Showers festival. I look forward to next year’s continuation of this wonderful tradition.

Finally, here’s a quote by Bell Hooks that caught my eye: “The choice to love is the choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.” I felt so connected this weekend and that’s another measure of success!

How do you measure the success of a festival, pre-COVID? I’d be interested!

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