The first point is something which should be covered at a Beginners' Workshop — but people often ask me to mention it. You join a longways set at the bottom; you don't push in at the top. Yes, I have done it myself on occasions, and on one of them the man said “In our club we go to the bottom of the set”, and I felt very small. The temptation is worse if you're sitting at the top of the hall and the set is starting just in front of you: by the time you've walked round the top couple there are already five or six couples below them. Try to do the right thing. I remember saying to my partner: “Why is it that we always squash together when we make a longways set, and then all spread down when we take hands four?”, and she immediately replied: “It's to stop people pushing in” — and half a minute later that was exactly what happened.
A similar offence is to push into a square which is already complete, and pretend you got there first. Very few people will actually complain if you do this — it's not the British reaction — but they won't have a very high opinion of you. If you don't care what people think of you I suppose you'll carry on as you are — but I wouldn't want to be known as the fellow who pushes into sets.
Another big failing in English dancers (and others) is a tendency to be cliquey. We have our own little groups, and we exclude the rest of the world. It can happen even without knowing the other people. I was at an American Square dance at Eastbourne Festival once, and because there were four couples sitting near the caller we tended to get up and form the same square each time. We could see that we all knew what we were doing (which was not at all true further down the hall) so we felt no inclination to spread our talents about. But at least we weren't actually excluding other couples — if someone else came up to talk to one of us they might well end up in the square, and one of the regular couples would go somewhere else. I heard of a square of dancers who used to stand up with hands already joined to prevent any intruders getting in. Yes, I know the temptation — I've walked past a set who were looking for a couple because I knew perfectly well that they wouldn't have a hope of getting through the dance. I understand the attitude — but it's damaging to English Folk Dancing in the long run.
Even worse is when you get an entire club like this. The club that doesn't want to know you unless you're already an expert. And what happens? New people come once, they're looked down upon (“We don't really need to walk through Newcastle, do we?”), they're made to feel unwelcome, or stupid… they don't come back. The club goes on, getting older and older — people leave or die — eventually the club just folds up. I knew an entire EFDSS District like this. I went to a club in this District a couple of times — and I wasn't a beginner; I was better than most of them — but the attitude was: “Come back in ten years time when you know something, sonny”. How many new members do you think they attract per year?
Good clubs try to encourage newcomers. They recognise that an influx of beginners means that the standard will drop for a while; then some will stop coming, and some will learn and improve. Some of us have forgotten the obvious — we were all beginners once! I hope I've always got time for the new dancer, provided he's doing his best. If he's playing the fool and not listening, I'm afraid I'm not very tolerant — and the same goes for people who've been going to dancer for twenty years and still can't tell their right hand from their left foot. But I think we must realise that unless we all do our best to encourage new dancers, there won't be much dancing left in another twenty years. Think about it!
One final thing that I've experienced in the States: a contra which ends with long lines forward and back, then actives swing. As the lines go forward, the man above me grabs his partner from my hand so that he can have a longer swing. I'm surprised how angry it makes me — and the man probably writes me off as a weirdo. To me, if you're doing English or American dancing you're dancing as part of a set — not just for yourself or your partner.