Taking USA Dance into the Next Half Century?

Perhaps some of you have seen the list of promises the individuals who are running to unseat me, Bill Rose and Esther Freeman and take over USA Dance have made if they are elected, and which they say will take USA Dance into the next half century.  Let’s take a closer look at these promises and determine if there is something new here or if it is already being done by the current national volunteers.

1.  “Reinvigorate charitable mission of USA Dance to increase fundraising potential.”  Actually, USA Dance has been engaged in fundraising on a continuous basis, and such sponsorships as we have had with Sworovski Elements and the Borel Watch Company are but two examples.  We also periodically conduct fundraising campaigns via our own members.  “Reinvigorate” is a fine word, but the team that wants to take over the USA Dance corporate officer positions seems to be short on specifics.

2. “Engage in strategic planning to redefine USA Dance mission and vision.”  Why exactly does the “takeover team” believe USA Dance needs to redefine its mission and vision?  The USA Dance mission is to improve the quality and quantity of ballroom dancing in the U.S.  USA Dance has been doing so locally through the work of its chapters in their efforts to promote dancing in local communities, and nationally by increasing the number and quality of DanceSport competitions.  Most recently USA Dance has successfully worked with the WDSF to bring those international competitions back to America, and in fact to make them part of a new Pan American circuit.  “Strategic planning” is another excellent word which simply means defining an organization’s direction and how it will get there.  This is an on-going process for USA Dance, not something new that the “takeover team” has just come up with.

3.  “Review and revise the bylaws for better, more democratic governance.”  The bylaws are reviewed on a regular basis and amended as required.  This year they are also being brought to the membership for approval, which most certainly is a part of democratic governance.  It would seem that the very thing the “takeover team” wants to do is already being done.

4.  “Employ  modern technology to facilitate operations and improve the flow of communication with chapters and members.”  USA Dance communicates with its members via the American Dancer Magazine and frequent notices to chapters and members via Constant Contact.  USA Dance has developed an upgraded national website and has provided a means for chapters to improve their websites as well to help drive members of the community to USA Dance events.  USA Dance also maintains an active presence on Facebook and Youtube, and this year employed live streaming of its National Championships, allowing not only its members but all members of the public in this country and around the world to see this event live.  Additionally, USA Dance has employed an upgraded membership system which has a social media component that can be used by individuals and chapters to connect with one another.  All of this is being done under the current Governing Council.

5.  “Continue chapter conference and explore ways to provide training and sharing of knowledge and best practices beyond the conference.”  It is gratifying to know that the “takeover team” finds value in the chapter conference, but I wonder why the challenger running for National President has never attended a chapter conference himself?  In fact, the chapter conferences have been running for a number of years.  The current GC works to upgrade the conference every year and provides opportunities for an increasing number of chapters to participate.

6.  “Collaborate with regional and chapter leaders to continue and expand efforts to promote physical, social and health benefits of social dancing.”  Again, this is being done in USA Dance already.  Most recently, we have encouraged chapters to tie their promotional dance activities into the annual Olympic Day celebration, which promotes physical fitness throughout a person’s life.  By tying in to the larger Olympic Movement, USA Dance can better promote its own activities to an ever increasing audience.  Additionally, USA Dance continues its work to expand ballroom dancing into the schools via its K-12 Student Program.

7.  “Support research and education initiatives on health benefits of ballroom dancing as a social and competitive activity.”  This is certainly a noble effort, but the truth is that it is an on-going activity engaged in by a world-wide dance community, not just USA Dance.  The “takeover team” again seems to lack specificity in its goal.  How will research and education initiatives be supported?  With USA Dance funds, with volunteer time?  How will this be accomplished?

8.  “Continue USOC training camps for junior DanceSport athletes while exploring ways to expand or replicate concept to include other DanceSport athletes.”  I usually prefer giving credit to others when a new initiative is started, but in this case I must say that the USOC Olympic Training Camp for our Junior World Team athletes would never have come into being had I not advocated for it and recommended it to the Governing Council and initiated discussions with the USOC to make the first Camp this year a reality.  This is probably the program of which I am most proud in my four years as National President of USA Dance.  Discussions are already occurring regarding future Olympic camps, including available mechanisms for expanding them.  While I appreciate the “takeover team” wanting to continue this effort should they succeed in defeating the current corporate officers, the fact remains that the individuals who know how to organize this camp and have established an excellent relationship with the USOC are already in office.

9.  “Build collegiate program to make it a more vibrant and integral part of USA Dance, such as by creating a national circuit of collegiate competitions that culminate in the National Collegiate Championships.”  Nothing has precluded the individual on the “takeover team” who presently serves as the collegiate competition chair on the DanceSport Council and previously served on the GC for a number of years as the Vice President of the Youth College Network from accomplishing this activity, as he has had plenty of time to meet  this goal.  Unfortunately, little if any progress has been made, although many ideas were floated, never to materialize.

So what do we have with this 9-point plan?  It seems there are a lot of promises to do what the current members of the Governing Council are already doing.  Is this why the “takeover team” is running for office – to replace current corporate officers just so that they can do the same thing?  It would seem to me that our membership would be better off keeping the same national officers in place who are doing the necessary work already.

Our members need to decide this important issue, and I encourage all voting members to vote to retain the incumbents.

A Serious Concern Regarding the USA Dance National Election

On this, my personal blog, I have attempted to keep posts positive as I discuss my views on USA Dance’s past and present activities and the individuals who have played a significant role in the development of our organization.  But today I want to discuss a serious issue facing USA Dance as it conducts its national election for the coming Governing Council term of office.

Specifically I want to address the issue of a group of individuals who have banded together in an effort to remove three of the four current corporate officers – the National President, National Senior Vice President and National Treasurer, and put themselves into office in their place.

This “team” is attempting what is in effect a takeover of USA Dance, and some of their supporters have gone to the USA Dance Facebook Candidates Page and alleged that the incumbents have engaged in all manner of misdeeds in an effort to discredit them.  Additionally, this “team” has used official USA Dance chapter publications and sites to endorse their candidacies without offering an equal opportunity to opposing candidates as required and as fairness and common sense would dictate.

Yes, elections can be heated affairs, and probing questions should be asked of all the candidates about their past achievements, views and goals.  But it should be remembered that the USA Dance national election is being run for the purpose of electing unpaid national volunteers, whose only goal in running for office should be to serve the membership.

The fact remains that several members of this “team” that is attempting a takeover have no national Governing Council experience, have not attended national meetings and have declined previous offers to serve on national committees, yet they aspire not just to be on the Governing Council, but to hold its highest offices.

I believe that all USA Dance members who wish to volunteer their services to the organization are worthy of respect, and that includes all individuals running for office, challengers and incumbents alike.  But if the goal of the “team” attempting to take over all the corporate positions of USA Dance is indeed to serve the membership, how much better it would have been if they had let us know of their interest in national volunteer service and volunteered for national committees when opportunities were afforded them as a way of gaining experience.

It is a good thing, from the standpoint of succession planning, when qualified and experienced individuals stand ready to take on higher level duties as positions become available on the Governing Council.  Yet the individuals on the takeover “team” apparently believe they are qualified to immediately step into the top three positions in USA Dance without having first gained the necessary experience through prior extensive and varied assignments on the Governing Council or its committees.

But there is something the members of USA Dance can do to let these individuals know that their tactics will not succeed – our members can vote for the incumbents!  The incumbents are already part of a team – a larger team that comprises the entire Governing Council and not just a small clique.

Please do not be taken in by the promises and platitudes of those who speak in generalities of being more transparent, of reviewing the bylaws and policies of USA Dance, of listening to the members, harnessing the benefits of social media and doing more surveys.   All of these things sound wonderful, but the fact is that they are already being done in the normal course of business by the national volunteers who comprise the Governing Council.

Managing USA Dance takes hard work and a great many volunteer hours.  The incumbent corporate officers have devoted years to managing USA Dance at the chapter, regional and national level, and they are prepared to continue their service to the organization.  They have the experience and are worthy of receiving the support of the members.

The national election is upon us and the ballots will be in members’ hands shortly.  Please vote to re-elect the incumbents.

Its Time to Vote

USA Dance is conducting a national election for a number of positions on the Governing Council for the 2014-2016 term of office.  I urge all voting members of USA Dance to vote in this election as soon as they receive their ballots in the September/October issue of the American Dancer Magazine.

How Did USA Dance’s First DanceSport Rulebook Come Into Being?

Believe it or not, USA Dance held dance competitions for many years before there was even an official DanceSport Rulebook to govern those competitions.  But what led to the development of the first Rulebook and how did it come about?

A lot of the history revolves around my own local chapter, the Nor Cal Chapter #4004.  Back in the 1980’s, USA Dance competitors were largely unaware of many of the rules governing their sport, which in my local chapter were affectionately known as the “stealth rules” because they were provided to chapters by our national organization in loose-leaf form only for information and not for enforcement.  For example, competitors generally followed the practice of moving up to the next level of competition once they had won a lower level division three times and/or had placed in the finals of a higher level division, or any combination of the two.  Because this unofficial format was not provided in writing to all competitors, enforcement did not exist and as expected some competitors did not adhere to this policy.  The Nor Cal Chapter had a DanceSport member, Mr. Jose Mandawe, who made a point of remembering and compiling results from a number of competitions and expressing concern when any competitive couple tried to stay in a lower proficiency level for too long. Yet there were no teeth to compel a couple to move up, creating discord and misunderstandings among competitors.

Two Nor Cal Chapter members, Art Lashbrook, then the chapter Secretary, and my husband, Mark Scardina, then the Assistant Regional Vice President for the Southwest Region, went to National President Peter Pover and offered to write a DanceSport Rulebook that could be approved by the Governing Council and sent to all competitors.  Peter agreed to let them try to develop that first rulebook, but told me some time later that he did so never thinking that they would actually succeed, given what a complicated task it was.

But Art and Mark threw themselves into the task, reviewing everything in writing they could find on DanceSport competitions, nationally and internationally, as well as provisions in the rulebooks of other artistic sports.  Mark and I met Art for lunch one day while they were in the midst of their project, and they engaged in one of the most free-flowing brain storming sessions I had ever seen, and led me to conclude as Peter Pover had, that nothing cogent could come out of this overloaded flurry of ideas.  But soon, these ideas would be put on paper, and over the course of several months a DanceSport Rulebook began to emerge that was logical, consistent and included technical rules of competition, rules for competitors, rules for organizers and rules for competition officials.

This proposed Rulebook was taken to the Governing Council in 1993 and was approved.  Copies were then printed and mailed to every competitor member of USA Dance.  Shortly afterward, Mark was appointed as the first Chairman of the DanceSport Council and Art as Chair of the Rules Committee.  They continued to develop and expand the Rulebook for the next five years, and it was during those years that the USA Dance bylaws were entirely re-written by the Executive Committee in order to comply with the USOC Constitution and the Amateur Sports Act, the position of Chairman of the DSC became Vice President of DanceSport, and the first group of DanceSport Delegates were elected by the athlete members of USA Dance.

After Art and Mark left the DanceSport Council in 1999, the revision and expansion of the Rulebook fell to the next Vice President of DanceSport, Gary Stroick, and remained his responsibility through the end of 2006, after which Ken Richards assumed that role, one he holds to this day.

And what are Art and Mark doing today?  Art, who moved to the San Diego area not long after his work on that first Rulebook, helped to revitalize the San Diego Chapter of USA Dance and served for many years as its president, and remains a very active chapter volunteer to this day.  And Mark has continued to do national and chapter projects for USA Dance as needed, and has recently accepted a vacant position on the Nor Cal Chapter Board.  Which just goes to show that for both of them, once a USA Dance volunteer, always a USA Dance volunteer.

One final note on that first DanceSport Rulebook that Art and Mark developed so many years ago – it was only about fifty pages, and in the intervening years has grown to over twice that size today.  But many of the key provisions from that original Rulebook still remain, and serve as a testament to the hard work and dedication of the two volunteers who took on a project no one else wanted to tackle and brought it to fruition.

Postscript:

I have received these comments from Art Lashbrook regarding my post above:

“What a wonderful tribute to our effort! Ahh yes.. the Stealth Rules! I didn’t realize that Peter didn’t think we would do it. I never had any doubt.

What was missing from your account was the hostile environment at the time which fueled the deep passion for amateur rights and protection which drove me. The rulebook was very much of a “Declaration of Independence” in my mind and the Rules Committee’s work was like the “First Amendments to the Constitution” for Amateur Competitors.

It is so gratifying that our efforts helped to provide a level of legitimacy which was part of creating the USA Dance of today. Also gratifying was when the Pros copied some sections of our rulebook into theirs.”

And this further comment from Art:  “…the rulebook didn’t happen because someone thought it was a good idea… there was deep passion to create a dream!”

I thank Art for his comments, and for all he has done for USA Dance.