Adapted from a post in which someone argued that a dance series should stick to contra dances and not bother with other formations.
> The concern here is to attract and retain beginner dancers.
We're in agreement on this. Well [I equivocate], maybe not total. My concern is to make the dance one where beginners will have a great time, and where the regular mixed-ability dancers and the hard-core hot-shot dancers and the elegant excellent dancers all have fun as well. If the beginners and the other dancers have a great time and don't come back, I still feel I've done my job. (If they don't have fun, then I share a large part of the blame.)
[I went to a Red Sox game. Once. I had a great time. I haven't been back to Fenway Park in the years since then, even though I only live a few hours away. Should someone on the team feel bad because I haven't become a baseball devotee? There are many reasons why people decide to pursue a leisure time activity.]
Others have eloquently made the point that varied formations—rather than contra contra contra—are certainly accessible to beginners. That's also been my experience. Presenting such a program does help "attract and retain dancers."
Our band started out playing its first year (in 1980) for crowds of a few dozen dancers, including several families with young children. We feature contras, but every evening includes plenty of variety: old contras, new contras, triple minor contras, double (and triple and quadruple) progression contras, proper and improper and Becket formation contras, plus squares [including those "dumb singing squares" that some have mentioned!], triplets, mixers, Sicilian circles, circle dances, couple dances, five-person or 9-person or 5-couple dances, odd things like that. All of those each night? Certainly not! All contras all the time? Certainly not! That sort of varied program is what we've been presenting month after month, year after year.
Over the years, we've lost many dancers, as all series do over time. I remember one fellow in particular who criticized me for "catering too much to the beginners" by not offering what he felt were enough challenging dances in the first hour of the program. He now goes elsewhere to dance—with that attitude, I can't say that we miss his presence—and in his stead are many who seem to appreciate variety and who like dancing with the beginners in our midst.
At our hall, dancers range from early elementary school age (there to dance, not to be baby-sat) through folks in their 70s. We take our break about 2/3 of the way through the evening, and many of the first-timers stay on for the rest of the evening. Will they all come back? Probably not. Did they have fun? You betcha. Will some join us regularly? I suspect so. That's what we've seen happen over the decades.