Perception VS Reality

Perception vs. Reality

In the business world, how a company is perceived can be more crucial than its own performance. A strong positive perception can drive customer loyalty and attract new customers, while a negative perception can have the opposite effect, even if the company is fundamentally solid. Perception, the way we understand the world around us based on our experiences, beliefs, and emotions versus reality, which is the objective state of things as
they actually exist. Perception motivates our behavior and decision-making more strongly than reality itself.

What greatly shapes our perception is biases. Confirmation bias leads individuals to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs. Anchoring bias causes people to rely heavily on initial information when making decisions. Hindsight bias, which causes people to think past events are predictive and unavoidable. Finally, a mental shortcut where people rely on immediate examples that come to mind when evaluating a topic; the more recent or emotionally charged these examples are, the more reliable an indicator of their actual probability.

In the square dance world, our biases impact how we feel about other clubs, other callers, even other dancers. It is reflected in how we accept SSD or Plus or Round dancing along with how welcoming we are of the dancers who participate in the various forms.

One example:

You get into a square with a couple that you think are far less experienced than you. “They always break squares down”. Sure enough, the square is broken almost all of the time and you find yourself getting more and more frustrated. When the tip ends, you just turn and walk away from the square without saying a word.

On another call, you pushed or “guided” one of the new dancers in the wrong direction which broke the square again. The new-comers are now scared to death because they see you scowling and hear your disgusted groaning so they are just going in every direction they were pushed.

Evidence shows it wasn’t the new dancer who broke the square down, it was the experienced dancer, but that is not to be believed and therefore dismissed. In fact, your perception is now stronger than ever so you’ll be sure to complain to the club caller and officers. Those new dancers would probably have been terrific club officers after some time, but they left square dancing because of experiences like this.

Another example, one which I’ve heard a few times:

Mainstream or Plus dancers say SSD – Social Square Dancing doesn’t work and is no good at all. They will point to clubs which started SSD classes only to find nobody showed up for the first night or in some cases, the new dancers who went through SSD, didn’t stay on to learn Plus.

The same group that got nobody to show up for SSD class, got nobody to show up for their Plus classes in the past four years. It wasn’t a failure of SSD as a program, it was a failure to connect the location, the night, the advertising with a receptive audience. In the case of the group where no-one would continue on to Plus from SSD, well, that wasn’t an SSD class at all; it was a Plus class. The facts show that SSD has reinvigorated square dancing many areas around the country.

Have you heard this one?

Square dancing is on its way out. Look at all the clubs that have folded, look at all the classes that can’t get anybody to join. Even the club that “tried” SSD is going to fold. “I knew it wouldn’t work”.

Many clubs who have embraced changes like making the club level SSD or dressy attire that incorporates something other than traditional, are experiencing growth. Right now, in one area with a population of 900,000 people, there is one square dance club that has grown 40% larger since resuming dancing after the pandemic lockdown. Out of six clubs, they are the only one to adopt some of these changes. The clubs that kept to the “way we’ve always done it” are experiencing declining numbers of members.

I believe that some of our existing dancers, club leaders, and callers struggle with embracing changes. Something as simple as celebrating the success of other groups that have decided to do something different. Whatever your choice of attire or whether you prefer SSD or Mainstream or Plus, square dancing is all one family. There is room enough for everybody.

Outside of our square dance world – the no-dancing public which is full of potential new dancers – what kind of perceptions do they have of us?

Square dancers only wear “silly-looking” clothes and every time you’ve seen a demonstration or went to an open house to try square dancing – sure enough, silly clothes.

Square dancing is old-fashioned with old-sounding music and out-of-date calling. Sure enough, I just saw a caller using vinyl records, barking out “big pig rootin’ out a little tater row” and yodeling.

Learning to square dance is hard. The last class went from September through July and that was way too long. My spouse had to miss a couple of lessons so they have to start again next September.

The reality for many square dance groups is far different from these perceptions, but every time one video gets circulated on Facebook or an article on the news shares a tidbit of this, then a negative bias is reinforced. For our activity to grow our activity must cultivate a positive perception with intentional effort that challenges negative stereotypes of square dancing. Here are some thoughts on this:

  • People are more likely to join and stay in square dancing if they perceive it as fun, social, and accessible. Start with a welcoming acceptance of all dancers at the dance and nurturing an environment where everyone feels safe.
  • Embrace attire that is evolved from traditional square dance clothing as it presents square dancing in a modern, vibrant, and diverse context from the very first interaction potential dancers have with it.
  • Use positive media coverage (see Mike Hogan on Marketing this month). When square dancing is perceived to be inclusive and contemporary, more people will be inclined to give it a try.
  • Presenting square dancing with modern music that communicates the days of dancing to solely traditional tunes is gone. Fusing classic calls with modern beats creates an exciting and engaging atmosphere for dancers of all ages.
  • Modernizing the traditional attire associated with square dancing makes it more attractive. Dancers now wear comfortable, stylish clothing that maintains some traditional elements while bridging the gap between old and new, making the dance visually appealing
  • Make the perception of square dancing as a joyful and stress- relieving activity. Mentioning square dancing as a fun way to exercise and improve mental well-being can attract those looking for enjoyable ways to stay active and reduce stress.
  • Create social events where people can experience square dancing first-hand. This will correct misconceptions and highlight that square dancing is a vibrant social and community-building activity.
  • Leverage digital advancements to make square dancing more accessible. Social media platforms play a crucial role in sharing performances and instructional content, reaching a broader and younger audience.


Everyone – dancer, caller, club officers, everyone who is a part of square dancing is important to the perception and reality of our activity. Lets understand the decision to join a square dance class if you are a potential dancers or to join a club if you are an existing dancer is often influenced by perceived benefits. Highlighting the fun and health benefits to a perspective dancer, emphasize the community and social benefits to perspective club members, and most important – make the reality match the perception.