A few weeks back at ILHC they had as an alternative to traditional workshop classes featured at most swing dance events. These were LED talks, short lectures that were entertaining and educational about swing dancing. (If you are unfamilar with the background format of the ILHC LED talks, you can find a description at this link.) One talk I want to go into detail about was Dorry Segev’s talk on building a scene and his experiences as one of the main organizers for the Baltimore scene.
Dorry first started by going into how Baltimore was several years back when there were only mainly three serious dancers in the area and they drove to D.C. to dance. Five people, three years prior to when Charm City Swing was founded attempts to start a swing dance scene failed because they tried to start a scene for dancers.
Charm City Swing & Baltimore
He then explained the idea Charm City Swing had when it was founded was to focus on non dancers instead of dancers and to have a framework designed on keeping new dancers happy. One quote in particular that is vital knowledge to anyone who is an organizer for any dance scene or event from this part of the talk was,
“A beginners worst fear is being in an empty room and everyone is watching.” – Dorry Segev
Several things Dorry mentioned that Charm City Swing did to grow their scene were:
- Took full-page ads in the newspaper with such promotional messages as: “Swing dance – Fuck Yeah”, “Hot Girls Swing Dance”, or “Your wife wants you to do it. Charm City Swing”.
- Be approachable as possible and the organizers made a serious effort at some point of the night to dance with beginners.
- Have Lindy Hop demos because they give beginners context of what Lindy Hop is like and where their dancing could go down the row.
- Have jams because they congregate energy, bring people in and make them feel like they are part of the dance culture, exposes the dance to people, and inspires people to dance better/raises the bar of dancing across the scene. Dorry had a phrase for scenes that don’t have jams, “future ex-scenes”.
- Have booze because it attracts newbies, makes people feel less apprehensive about dance, and it creates a social atmosphere.
- Keeping the floor full, its important so newbies do not feel self-conscious.
Creating an inclusive social environment is the main theme I got from Dorry’s talk. The method the Baltimore scene seemed to employ was get people in the door and get them to feel like they are part of the community and part of the swing dance culture as fast as possible. Why I think their strategy works so well it touches on the fact that most people join swing dancing mainly for social reasons and they stick around because they feel like they belong to something.
I am reminded myself every time I take a lesson in a new dance style is that it is intimidating being a new dancer. The more of those barriers of apprehension a scene can remove, the more likely a scene is to gain a dedicated new dancer. Often it is the little details as well that help do this: having a late meal with other dancers after a dance, an instructor going up and asking a newbie to dance or just chatting with them, being put in the middle of a jam for a birthday celebration, and et cetera.
If you have stories about things that helped a scene grow or revitalize itself, please feel free to share in the comment section. I’ve shared Baltimore’s strategies with you today, because it has clearly worked for them: http://swingkicksass.com/