I was at a Denny’s last night, when a fellow dancer mentioned a point that brought up the idea of dance venues fostering a culture of creating life long dancers (or dancers that will for a long period of time return to that same venue) and that it doesn’t always correlate with creating better dancers.
However a struggle occurs when instructors are stuck in that environment which the creation of better dancers is not a priority. Some instructors (including myself) experience frustration when dealing with a local community that the end goal for most dancers is not dance improvement but other aims.
Business is Business
From a business point of view, creating life long dancers as a priority makes sense. You can read many articles/blog posts about catering to newbies or some older posts of the decline of the NY/California bar venues from the 90s due to people not buying drinks at bars. Dancers on the advanced side of the bell curve tend to invest much less money then a newer dancer. They will tend to skip lessons, bring in their own drinks, and et cetera. I personally know some dancers that will purposely show up to venues late to avoid paying cover.
Dancers on the advanced end of the bell curve are simply not that profitable with current business models. In addition advanced dancers are a small subset of the entire population of swing dancers, why would it be worth the time of a business to restructure their model to make profit from them when they have a large portion of the population (i.e. beginners) that they already make money from?
What This Means For Teachers & Students
As an individual who has taught several “Intro to Swing” classes, I am no stranger to seeing people in these newbie classes that improvement is the farthest thing from their mind and instead meeting others or having something to do that night are their priorities. If one is uncomfortable with that idea, then they are better off running a performance troupe or not teaching to be candid.
If ones’ reason for teaching though is simply recruiting as many new dancers as possible into a scene, then there is no issue with the model of just only trying to create life long dancers. However I would say many instructors (including myself) feel a sense of responsibility to not just do that but in addition provide guidance to allow our students to make tangible progress at becoming better dancers in our classes.
What is frustrating is when one is in an environment that creating better dancers isn’t a priority even close compared to retaining newer dancers. That results in having “intermediate” or “advanced” classes that people show up to feel like they are in those categories and make little to no tangible progress over several months. As an individual who has taken classes and prepared to “bring it” to improve, frustration sets in when one realizes most people treat it as a hangout session. As a teacher it is frustrating dealing with those classes because often you have to teach to the middle of the bell curve, which is significantly lowered when this attitude is the norm. Personally I hate holding back the students who were ready for the material or actual speed of progression I planned for a course.
Differences Within A Community
Yes, I understand focusing on newer dancers and creating life long dancers is important for scenes. Especially for non-college scenes that operate as a business to stay afloat. The trouble I have is personally accepting the mainstream pedagogy most swing dance scenes have compared to other institutions of learning in my life.
A convenient example is getting a college degree. There is a set list of classes, with many meant to be followed in a progression to make life easier for the student because taking a course such as Calculus III might be difficult if one had a poor grasp of algebra. Taking difficult classes that one does not meet the pre-requisites for possibly comes off as arrogant and likely sets one up for failure. I’ve said this as a warning to my students before a footwork variations class, “Taking a swingout footwork variations class without a solid swingout is like decorating a cake that tastes like garbage.”
I could list more examples in different communities but I will spare you from me potentially rambling. What I would like to hear is your opinions. Do you think scenes should take more responsibility into ensuring their students have learning opportunities to making tangible results? Anything regarding your local scene or scenes you have visited in respect to this entire post?