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In 1984, I wrote an article in Shop Talk, my monthly column in the New England Caller magazine, called “Motherhood and Apple Pie,” that questioned whether we are using the right terms when we present ourselves to non-dancers. Now, 23 years later, things are slowly starting to change in some areas, but old ways die slowly. Read the article and see what you think.
Shop Talk, November 1984


The terms "motherhood and apple pie" bring warm, homey, sort of patriotic feelings to mind, a little goody-goody maybe, but never-the-less nice. Can you imagine, however, the connotations that an Italian would get if the words were translated literally into his language, without any explanation of the American idiom? He would probably think the author or speaker was quite strange! Think of the typical American snicker to the literal translation the Swede uses when he calls, "Throw your father down the stairs, the newspaper."
When things are understood by the listener (or reader) the same way that they were intended by the speaker (or author), we have good communications. When the words mean one thing to someone and another thing to someone else, the result is frequently poor communications. The sender doesn't understand why he/she is not getting through when to him/her the message makes perfectly good sense.
I am sometimes reminded of this problem when I try to teach something at a workshop and wonder why the dancers can't understand the simple instructions I am giving them. I then realize that they are responding to my words and not to my meaning. It becomes easier for them when I finally find the right words to explain what I am thinking.
Recently, as I passed a sign on the town green that advertised a FREE "FUN NIGHT," I wondered whether this same dual meaning problem could be present here also. We try so hard to introduce our friends and neighbors to square dancing. After all, if we enjoy it as much as we do, they are bound to enjoy it also, if only they would try it once. Then we try to talk them into a free sample, but they don't bite. They say, "It's not for me."
Have your ever stopped to think that these non-dancers are just ordinary people, and that maybe they are not ready to associate with a bunch of people whom they perceive as goody-goods who have "FUN NIGHTS!" Does this term really mean the same to them as it does to us? And how are they going to feel about a group that claims to be nonreligious and claims to provide a healthy activity that prolongs life through gentle exercise and sociabilities, and yet its clubs are full of "ANGELS." Can you imaging Joe Strong going to work the next day and telling all the guys he works with that his wife and neighbors dragged him to a "fun night," and he danced with "angels!"
If we want to share our fun with others, we have to provide an activity that will allow outsiders to sample it. We know from experience, that once they sample it, many really will have fun, and join us, but we also know that it is difficult to get them to sample it. The fact is, that it would be easier for people to try something new if they could picture themselves doing it; if they could relate to the people who were doing it. If "fun night" and "angel" are hard terms for people to relate to, and I feel that they are, maybe we should refrain from using them!
Maybe there are other things that we do or say that make it hard for outsiders to picture themselves doing also. Be honest with yourself when you answer these questions. How many of you women joined a square dance class because you thought that it would be fun to wear a petticoat? How many of you men just couldn't wait to hang a washcloth from your belt? Yes, getting dressed up is fun, once you get into it, but it is not the instant fun that the dancing is. It is also not the important thing. I would much rather have some of the people come to my dances in non-square dance attire than for them to get all dressed up and stay home! We rarely have class people get dressed up right away, yet many of us remember our class days as being the most fun. Could there be at least a little correlation here?
I have many friends and acquaintances who do not do modern western square dancing, yet they square dance once or twice a week, and have for years. They dance contras and traditional (or eastern style) squares. These are people who definitely enjoy square dancing and are willing to go dancing on a regular basis, but more often than not, when the subject of "club dancing" (as they refer to our activity) comes up, they say they just can't picture themselves in a petticoat, or with a towel hanging from their belts. It is not uncommon to hear comments about "older women dressing up like little girls, with petticoats, whose hem lines are way above their knees."
I'm not against motherhood and apple pie, but they are not terms that I would use when I was in Italy! Let's try to make it easier for our friends and neighbors to picture themselves as dancers when we try to talk them into trying a free sample of our hobby.
Last updated on 14 July 2007