Planner Spotlight: It's Hip to Be Square

A profile of meeting planners David and Sherry Hubbard, who organized the 2008 National Square Dance Convention in Wichita, Kan.

Swing your partner, 'round and 'round / Now promenade, but don't fall down!"

If that little ditty dredges up dreary memories of phys ed class, you obviously weren't one of the thousands who came to Wichita, KS, last summer for the National Square Dance Convention. If you'd been there, you'd have noticed right away that this wasn't your grandpa's hootenanny.

For one thing, the ladies and gents twirling in calico skirts and Texas string ties weren't just tapping their toes to "Turkey in the Straw." Sure, there were plenty of country and western tunes, but today's dancers get down to anything, from Chuck Berry to Andrew Lloyd Webber . . . to hip-hop.

"We dance to any music with a good, strong beat," says David Hubbard who, together with his wife, Sherry, planned the 2008 event. Back in 1951, when the convention launched, the dance form was in its heyday, and while today's gatherings can't boast the 40,000-plus attendance of decades past, that doesn't make them easy to plan.

Swingers

For starters, the convention has a unique business model. Each yearly gathering is a franchised operation—a separate corporation responsible for covering all of its expenses. "We start with no funding, and during the four years we're planning we hold benefit dances and other fundraisers to get things going," David says.

Then there's another peculiarity: The event must be planned by a married couple. The Hubbards aren't sure why—they think that it has to do with having to serve on the national executive committee, which they say is "just easier if you're married"—but it makes for some, uh, challenges.

"We disagreed, like, every day," Sherry says. "But it wasn't anything that couldn't be talked out."

"She likes to do things by committee, whereas I like to do things on my own," David notes. "It's just my background—I'm a retired U.S. Army command sergeant major."

Free labor is the convention's lifeblood—thousands of volunteers handle everything from hospitality rooms to sewing outfits to give away as door prizes. It was when dealing with these folks, David says, that his military experience sometimes got in the way.

"I couldn't just direct that things be done," he says. "I had to convince people that they needed to do this."

There were a few snafus, like a caller who couldn't show up at the last minute, but it as all worth it.

"Being able to walk through the facility when the convention is going on and actually see it happen—that's our favorite moment."

Originally published Feb. 1, 2009

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