Your Scene Needs You! (Part One)
Are you a swing dancer? Do you dance in a local ‘scene’? Want to know what you can do to help your promoters make their events as successful as possible? Then read on to hear what promoters from around the world would love their scene members to do to help them!
I’m from Birmingham, UK and dance Balboa in the city and, when possible, around the rest of the UK and the world. I started dancing in 2007 and since 2009 I have been co-organising successful dance events across Birmingham and the wider region.
Over the years I have seen a number of issues, upsets and schisms that have caused difficulties with these events. Many errors have been our own, and we’ve learned those lessons the hard way! However, sometimes things that our customers have done fundamentally changed how successful our events were. In discussion with organisers from scenes across the UK and around the world, I’ve noted a few patterns. There are many blogs* that talk about how to build a scene from an organiser’s perspective so I figured it was time to focus on what dancers could do to help build their scene, support their promoters and make the pool of dancers in their area grow into a real community.
This three-part blog is intended to be taken in good humour and is not intended to be an exhaustive list, or to be dictatorial: pick and choose what works for you! The suggestions in this blog series have come out of discussions with other promoters to find out what things have affected their scene.
Part One: Ritual Habitual
Let’s start by looking at the small changes that could make a big difference to your local scene. These can become habits and good practices that you can adopt to ensure that the events you attend are enjoyable for everyone of all ability levels, and that your local scene can prosper in the future!
1: Classes: first things first…
If you’re attending classes or workshops, make sure you turn up ready to start at the advertised time. Plan ahead, check journey routes for problems, allow time to park and get yourself ready for class. Turning up late is disrespectful to your fellow students and can make lesson planning very difficult. Also, if you miss important information at the start of a class, you could take an entire lesson in the wrong context.
2: Listen and learn
This is a difficult subject to broach, but it’s an important one: in lessons it’s vital that the teachers are leading the class and can be heard. A number of teachers and scene leaders have mentioned the difficulty of dealing with disruptive pupils in classes and workshops.
Clearly no-one is advocating absolute silence in classes, and everyone is there to have fun, but it can be very frustrating for a teacher when there are people in class who are disruptive. Disruption can take a number of forms: talking noisily, giving unsolicited advice to partners, or ‘back teaching’ – that is, students who may have done similar classes before who tell their partners what they think should be doing. This last point can be particularly egregious as it can cause all sorts of problems: contradictory information, harmful technique and injuring the partner’s confidence (or just plain p*ssing them off).
If you’re in a class, listen to the teacher and follow their guidance. They have a fully planned curriculum to work through, have usually studied hard and overcome a lot of hurdles to become teachers and will also have all of the relevant experience and insurance to provide a safe dancing environment.
3: Nobody puts baby in the corner
If you’re a beginner, going to a social event can be nerve-wracking. If you’re a more experienced dancer, make sure you dance with people of all levels in your scene, especially new people. An experienced dancer can learn as much from a beginner as from a professional. This goes for events of all scales, from the low-key weekly social, to the big annual ball.
One of the hardest things I ever did in dancing was to get up on the social dance floor for the first time. I was nervous, self-conscious and genuinely crap, but without the more experienced people to help me get up and practice the two moves I’d only just learned, I’d probably never have got up at all.
4: Buy drinks at venues that rely on it for income, don't bring bottled water to a bar
I can’t emphasise this enough. Most promoters work tirelessly to find suitable venues and will strike deals with venue owners for a guaranteed bar take. If you find yourself in a venue with a bar, chances are the venue (and thus the promoter) are relying on a certain amount of bar spend to make the event worth their while – if minimum bar spends aren’t reached, promoters will sometimes have to top up the guaranteed bar spend from their budget, leaving them with less to invest in future events.
I’ve lost two venues in the past because we weren’t able to make enough on the bar for the owner. I’ve organised dances at bars and have seen people turn up with bottled water. You wouldn’t take your own food to a restaurant, so why bring your own drinks to a bar? You don’t need to spend a fortune on a bottle of Chateau Lafite (though don’t let me stop you!), but some small change on a soft drink or beer goes a long way.
5: Good morning, good morning! It’s great to stay up late…
Although it’s important to turn up to classes on time, if you are attending an evening dance it’s common to be fashionably late. Promoters are extremely unlikely have the venue ready for you before the advertised opening time. There are lots of things to organise before doors open and things usually go down to the wire: setting up the venue with decorations, lighting, tables and chairs, preparing refreshments or a bar, sound-checking the band or DJs, briefing the door staff, and finally, having to dress up to make themselves look like Fred or Ginger are all things promoters have to complete before opening to the public.
Try to embrace the polar opposite of arriving early – staying late. I’ve seen a number of events lose half of their patrons an hour or two before the advertised finishing time. This often coincides with the end of the band’s final set. Of course, there are lots of good reasons why people have to leave early – limited public transport at night, an early start the next day, cars that turn into pumpkins at midnight – but there are always things worth staying for later in the evening. Promoters work tirelessly to ensure a full programme of entertainment. They will have prepped DJs and may have planned performances or cabaret. DJs will have worked hard to plan a full schedule of music. Stick around so you can be there for those late-night moments that inevitably go down in the scene’s history!
So, stay up late, enjoy the feeling of deep muscle fatigue creeping into your calves at 2am, order a foam roller from Amazon on the way home, then sleep in late the next day knowing you’ve achieved…something? It’ll all be worth it.
6: Start a practice group
Finally, if you really want to improve your dancing, and your peers’ dancing, one of the quickest way to do this is by practicing together. You can learn lots in lessons, but without regular practice between classes you’ll only improve so much. Get together, grab some food and practise, practise, practise. You’ll improve en masse, make new friends and form a solid core of dancers who can then go out to do all of the above to make your scene bigger and better!
In the second part of this three part blog, we look at what dancers in a local scene can do to help promoters with the events they’re organising.
*Blogs about promoting and running events:
No discussion of swing dance blogs should be without a link to Bobby White’s amazing Swungover* blog.
I’d like to thank a number of people who have helped me compile this blog.
First of all Kerstin Treder (m’wife and m’colleague), who is awesome.
The initial idea came out of one of those late night conversations at a dance event, so thanks to those who have stayed up late with me for not falling asleep whilst I pitched the idea.
Huge thanks to Lauren Anderson (Wellington, New Zealand) who did an amazing job editing and proofreading my original stream of consciousness into something with a much better structure. Also thanks to Lynelle Howson (London, UK) and July ‘Likethemonth’ (Boston, USA) for help with edit suggestions and proofreading.
Any finally thanks to those who had a small part in inspiring the idea, whether they know it or not: Lynn Maslen (Reading, UK), Jean Harper and Shirley Strickland (Reading, UK), Martyn Nelson (Birmingham, UK), Amy Lu (Geneva, Switzerland), Matt Mitchell (Austin, USA) and Joe ‘The Flame’ Pangburn (Huntsville, USA).