Marketing Segmentation for Swing Dancing

One of the biggest mistakes I read about, hear about, or personally witness is swing dance events and venues attempting to target the entire market of possible customers who would attend their business or even worse not having a target audience at all.

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I can confidently say that there is no organizer/venue/event in the swing dance community has the resources to supply the demand for the entire market. Even the events with massive amount of dancers such as Lindy Focus or Herräng targets a segment of the market.

What I define as the term market for the swing dance community is; every person who currently has swing dancing as a hobby/profession or is physically/mentally able to have swing dancing as a hobby/profession but does not. 

What this means for you as an organizer of an event is you need to segment your market or find a niche of target customers that you can provide value to as a business. For a more technical business world definition of market segmenting you can find it here. If you look online, talk to marketing professionals, talk to marketing professors, or read books on marketing there are a variety of ways to how to go about segmenting a market. What I am going to do here is give a simple layout that is applicable for an individual who is running a weekly venue or hosting a one time/yearly recurring swing dance event.

1. Decide A Target Geographic Location

The first thing is to decide upon target geographic location. If you are running a swing dance venue for a college town your potential customers are going to be considerably different then if you lived in a big city or a rural area. A recurring weekly dance is going to have a smaller target geographic location in comparison to an international camp such as Herräng where the entire world is fair game. Speaking of distance, the further away you attempt to attract dancers you will need to have match that with increased value such as; quality instructors, dancers, DJs or live bands.

2. Decide The Type Of Customer

The second thing is to decide upon the type of customer you are trying to attract to your business in terms of dance experience, dance background, and lifestyle.

Dance experience is simply how long have your target customers been dancing. This is important because a random person off the street who has never danced in their life has fairly different needs then a seasoned dancer who is a regular on the competition circuit. It is a reality that when you start to cater to one end of the spectrum you will likely alienate the other and it is a choice as an organizer you have to make.

Dance background is the dances your customer identifies with. For example when people press for specifics I say I dance Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Collegiate Shag. For every dance under the umbrella term of swing dancing there is a specific culture attached to each dance. These various cultures have values and preferences that are sometimes complimentary and other times conflict with other dance communities. It is essential as an organizer to aware of the specific values and preferences with a particular dance’s community in order to provide a high-value experience for your target audience.

Lifestyle covers a variety of things such as personal values or personality types. Essentially what it comes down to is; where is this person in their life and what preferences do they have because of it. As someone running an event or venue this is important because a college student who participates the usual Lindy/Blues dance exchange circuits is going to have different needs then a married full time professional who occasionally takes time off work a few times a year to compete at Balboa events.

3. Check Feasibility 

You now have your target market segment clearly written out and described. Now the thing to check is if you and any collaborators have the resources to make your business feasible for your target market. An excellent article written by Bill Speidel, an experienced event organizer is titled So You Want To Be A Lindy Hop Event Organizer and a great reality check/resource for any person intending to get into the business of running a swing dance event/venue.

What I define as the term resources for the swing dance community is; a commodity  service or other asset that is required to run a swing dance venue/event. This is not limited to physical assets such as money but can be; also trained staff, volunteers, an established reputation among traveling dancers, established in the network of neighboring dances/events, positive Yelp reviews, and et cetera.

Throughly checking if these resources are available is important responsibility as an organizer. You can organize an amazing event but if you neglect to check on the resource of availability of date and conflict with an established event in the region you are fighting and uphill battle.

In the case that your target segment is simply unfeasible within your current time frame you have the options of postponing until it is possible or choosing a new segment that is feasible.

4. Apply Your Market Segment

You have your detailed market segment and you have asked the questions and done the research to determine it is feasible, great! The only thing you have to do now is use that knowledge appropriately.

This can be done in a multitude of ways, a common one is advertising. If you are trying to attract customers who have never danced before Groupon and newspaper ads would be an effective marketing campaign compared to Facebook Events and fliers sent to dance venues which is traditionally used for established dancers.

Another one is the choice of staff such as instructors and DJs. Customers who have not danced before or have limited experience will be much less selective in comparison to dancers who have been dancing longer or are at a higher skill level.

In Summary

The thing to take from all of this the importance of having a clearly defined market segment. The most common mistake I see in newer events is often they try to cater to too large of a market segment. In result their resources get spread thin and they are unable to deliver a quality experience for any of the dancers that attend.

I plan to write a future post going into a few venues and events that I think are great examples businesses that properly segmented their market. However if you have any stories or opinions I would love to hear them in the comment box below!

Dealing In Absolutes

Welcome to Lindy Hop

When I was a newer dancer who frequently was in different dance scenes such as Irvine, California to Oberlin, Ohio, my biggest difficulty was probably dealing with instructors who would tell me different and sometimes outright contradictory things. When I brought up my frustration one day to a workshop teacher his response was, “Welcome to Lindy Hop”.

After dancing for a few years and teaching regionally for about 2+ years I have to take time and remind myself I was once this new lead who wanted clearly defined rules. I remember my mind being blown when 8-count moves and swingouts were introduced. At the time, in my mind the rule was everything is only 6-counts. It took about a month of solid dancing in California to break me out of a 6-count basic as my default movement.

I remember one of the big things that confused me as a newer lead was where to step on the 5 of a swingout. The fact that depending upon where a lead steps on 5 can create a different line/look/feeling was beyond me. I just wanted one place to step so I could do it “right”.

Most experienced dancers know how one dances is completely dependent on the song that is playing, who one is dancing with, and likely other miscellaneous factors. Bridging the gap between that and newer dancers who may be just trying to figure out where to find the beat or intermediate dancers trying to dance on phrase is a difficulty as an instructor.

Difficulty with “Right” Answers as a Teacher

What caused me to explore this topic is a post from Sam at dogpossum titled a bit of dance nerdery and in particular this quote,

I had to find a way to say ‘that idea of an absolute value for connection isn’t useful. We don’t look for a single muscle ‘tone’ or degree of hardness or softness in the arm. We look for varying muscle recruitment and use – we use what we need for the circumstances and no more.’ But that’s not a helpful response to a student who’s trying really hard to figure out how they and their partners should feel.  I can’t remember what I said. I’m fairly sure I said too much, which is my main failing as a teacher. Just. Stop. Talking. It was something I grappled with in tutoring as well.

It amuses me slightly because for myself I think I err on the side of talking too little because I am afraid of going on complete tangents of all the possibilities of what can happen when one tweakes little things with connection or movement. In addition it’s a personal bias that I am largely a visual learner and the instructors I have disliked classes have felt more like a lecture and less of a dance class.

I do like the direction that dogpossum takes in her classes though.  I wish I would see it more because I find many instructors on the regional level often settle for absolutes.


Like Obi-Wan, I believe dealing in absolutes is not an optimal choice. Yes as an instructor by giving students absolutes you satisfy their want for hard and fast rules, however this is at a cost. I’ve bet in a swing dance class you have had a fellow classmate raise their hand and say, “Well I learned it X way from Y instructor.” I’ve had it pulled on me as an instructor as well, frequently by individuals who have taken the local ballroom dance courses featured at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). This is because when you teach something as an absolute a student is likely to put a mental box around whatever the move/concept you taught and think “This is how it is done” and consider alternatives “wrong”.

rules

What this means for myself as an instructor is I try to encourage students once that they are the level that they have some experience under their belt to understand the importance of context for dancing. Often my favorite classes to teach are taking one movement such as a tuck turn and exploring how it can be altered to match different environments such as different types of songs or if you have a follow who can turn exceptionally well/a lead who pays good attention to their partner.

The difficulty again lies that understanding those different contexts for a move such as a tuck turn or even gaining the level of control over ones personal movement to explore all those possibilities takes practice, time, and patience.  I think the following quote sums up a lot of newer dancers including myself when I first started,

“Asked, in the 1980s, about new dancers, he responded: “They’re looking for too much too quick. They want everything like instant coffee. Nothing works like that, not your mind, not your body, nothing.” – Pepsi Bethel, American Jazz Dancer & Lindy Hopper

Typically newer dancers want a lot of moves and to do them “right”. On a slightly related note I was cleaning up my apartment today since I am moving out soon and came across my notes from some of my first Lindy Hop classes in Southern California. I was literally trying to write out every single detail of how to each move and variation on them that was taught to me.

My struggle as an instructor is I think improvisational and experimental nature of Lindy Hop is one of the things I need to teach and emphasize as a swing dance teacher, however I have to balance this out with understanding the mindset of new or even slightly experienced follows and leads. The importance for me is understanding what I am and am not willing to compromise on and teach accordingly.

Enjoying Live Music: A Guide for Swing Dancers

I originally wrote this article in 2010 for Atomic Ballroom out in Southern California. Recently I have modified it to be appropriate for my blog.

The Privilege of Live Music

Bands provide a great service by playing for dancers. However for dancers who are newer or from a different area where live music is not as prevalent, they may not know the preferred etiquette for a dance with live music. Below is a list of etiquette on a night with a live band for newer dancers, as well a friendly reminder to more experienced dancers.

This guide does not cover the situation of finding a live band and deciding to dance at a venue dancing is not advertised for. A detailed guide could be provided for that situation, but it is hoped that most people could use common sense to access if and how to dance at those venues is appropriate.

Jonathan Stout Orchestra

1. Applaud After A Song Is Finished

Just like a concert, when a band is finished playing a song it is good etiquette to give the band a round of applause. (Cheering after a particularly good song is also appropriate as well!) Once in awhile dancers get excited about a good dance and while thanking their partner accidentally forget this. So even when you are excited try to keep this tip in mind.

2. Try to Be Quiet When The Bandleader is Speaking

Sometimes before playing songs the bandleader will share a little bit of information about a song. While you may be eager to dance, if you are close to the band/on the dance floor try to keep your voice low to show respect for the person talking. In addition announcements are sometimes made that are relevant to all dancers on the floor such as car lights being left on to registration cutoff times for competitions.

3. Be Cautious if Dancing Near the Band (and Tip Jar)

At venues that the band plays on the dance floor, dancers get a treat by having the ability to dance right up next to the band. However with privilege comes responsibility. Therefore when dancing up close, right next to the band, be extra cautious and maintain a reasonable distance so there is no possibility of accidentally colliding into any of the band members.

If you are in a venue that the band uses a tip jar which is common practice in some areas like New Orleans, be extra cautious around that as well.

4. Thank The Band

If you see band members hanging out during their set breaks or after they are done playing, it is great etiquette to thank them for their performance. What I like to personally do is, if I hear a solo that I find particularly amazing during a dance I try to find that individual band member and thank them for it.

5. At Venues Without Cover Charges Tip The Band/Buy Food or Drink From the Venue

When bands are playing at venues such as bars with no cover charge, often the deciding factor of if they get hired again is how much revenue the place collects by the end of the night. Or in some cases such as busking outdoors, the money the band makes for their performance is mainly based on how much they collect in tips. So when one goes out dance at places that don’t charge cover, it is considered good form to buy food or drinks from a venue and/or tip the band depending upon what type of venue or event you are at.

Ending Notes

Like many of the professional dancers in the swing dance community, musicians that play for us often sink countless time and energy in their artistic endeavor. So try to keep this list in mind and everyone can have an amazing night.

If there is any advice that you would give for dancers who are attending a live band please list that in the comments section, thanks!

How To Put On A Swing Dance Contest

While I am not a top-tier traveling international instructor, I would say I have done my fair share of competitions in my last few years of dancing. One thing I have noticed is the diversity of the types of competitions in the swing dance community in terms of organization and advertisement.

 

An example in respect to advertising would be the contrast in these two contest descriptions from ILHC and Lindy 500:

The Second Annual Amateur Champions Invitational Jack & Jill.  from Lindy 500 (2012)

The Second Annual Amateur Champions Invitational Jack & Jill. By invitation or request only. If you think you should be in this contest, contact michael@mobtownballroom.com. You cannot be a regular instructor or international teacher or any such shit. If you teach some locally, that’s okay. Skye Humphries is specifically barred from entering this contest. $5 entry fee.

Invitational J&J from ILHC (2012)

This will be an Invitational social dance competition open to dancers determined by the organizers. Leaders and followers will be randomly drawn to dance together to several songs of varying styles and tempos and judged as a couple as they compete in spotlight format.

Competitors are not allowed to dance with “regular” partner (one that they dance and/or have competed with in a choreographed routine in the last 4 years, Team routines do not count) Social dance partners are accepted and will be considered “luck of the draw”.

Competition Blueprint 

Below is my recommended blueprint or guidelines to setting up a competition:

  1. Developing an appropriate vision.
  2. Write appropriate contest rules and descriptions.
  3. Fill necessary roles.
  4. Figure out and write down logistics.
  5. Last minute checkup.

1. Developing an Appropriate Vision

Your have decided to have a competition, great! Now the question is how many swing dance events have you run in the past? If the answer is little to none, having a ULHS or ILHC sized competition is probably a bit too lofty of  a goal for your first competition to be organizing. The first part of developing an appropriate vision is:

  • Realizing what experience you and potential co-organizers who are putting on the competition have and the resources you have to work with.

Another thing to consider is the context of this competition being organized. Is it part of a workshop weekend with a live band? Is it part of a weekly dance with attendance of less then one-hundred people? Is your scene near a lot of big cities with sizable scenes or are you in the middle of no-where and rarely get out of town visitors? Will other local organizers support your event or openly antagonize you and conflict with your event in spite of advance notice? Some of these things are not pleasant truths to deal with but are the reality of organizing any event, let alone a competition. The second part of developing an appropriate vision is:

  • Realizing what kind of attendance your event is likely to get.
  • Considering if you have local swing dance scenes that will support you.
  • Deciding if your event targets out-of-town dancers and if you have the resources to attract them to support you?

Lastly the intent of the competition is something that is important to think about. Is this a competition that is created for new competitors to get their feet wet and has more of a fun community feeling or is this more of a serious competition where it is going to be on youtube later and the prizes are nothing to scoff at? The context of the contest decides everything from entrance fees, if you use in-house judges or hire professional instructors to judge, if the finals are an all-skate versus phrase-battle, and et cetera. The last part of developing an appropriate vision is:

  • Realizing the purpose of why you and your co-organizers are putting on the competition and the context you want it to have.

2. Write Appropriate Contest Rules and Descriptions

You now have a vision or outline for what type of event you and your co-organizers want. This can be anything from a small Amateur Jack & Jill that is part of a weekly dance to a competition with a Jack & Jill, Strictly Lindy, and Solo Charleston contest that is part of a workshop weekend with a live band.  The next part is to come up with contest rules and descriptions that are appropriate for your event.

I listed the Lindy 500 contest description for their Jack & Jill above because I wanted to illustrate the point that “appropriate” is relative to the dancers which the contest is trying to appeal to. Baltimore’s scene addresses a different audience for their workshop weekend event in comparison to ILHC which is an international competition weekend.  With their description one can infer that having fun and taking oneself not too seriously is something the contest organizers are trying to advocate. My general advice is unless if you know your target audience fairly well, err on the side of being too professional versus potentially confusing or alienating potential competitors. This means assume everyone reading your descriptions are first time competitors and do not know the definitions of phrases such as “Strictly Lindy”, “Jack & Jill”, or “Phrase Battle”. The first part of writing contest rules and descriptions is:

  • Write rules that are appropriate for the atmosphere of the contest you are trying to create. When in doubt, err on the side of being too explicit and professional.

Another thing important to note is no matter how relaxed and carefree the competition you are about to host is, addressing safety is a highly recommended idea. The last thing you want is the newer dancer who is entering his first competition trying to throw an aerial he or she learned off of youtube in the middle of an amateur Jack & Jill. If you want to reinforce the seriousness of ignoring the rules, listing the penalty of it such as disqualification from the contest is a good idea as well.  The second part of writing contest rules and descriptions is:

  • Especially for safety, if you don’t want something happening in a competition explicitly write what is not allowed.

Lastly make sure to address the essential questions about a contest in your description such as,

Who is allowed in each division? Where are the competitions being held? What time are the competitions? What kind of competitions are they? How are the competitions being judged? What tempos are going to be played in the competition? Who is judging the competitions? How is preliminary rounds being held? How are finals being held?

It is the prerogative of an event organizer of some of these details if they are publicly listed, perhaps the final format being secret is part of the atmosphere of the event. It is a nice touch though to let people know where and when they should be. On a positive note if you actually post contest rules and descriptions you are already ahead of the game. I have participated in many contests where I simply knew there was going to be a contest at that event and that was the only information I was provided. The last part of writing contest rules and descriptions is:

  • Make sure it is written out what type of competitions you are having, where they are, when they are, and other essential information relevant to potential competitors.

3. Fill Necessary Roles

Now that you have the rules and descriptions for your contest, you now need individuals to run your contest under those guidelines. Depending upon the scope of the competition you are attempting to put on you may need a few people to an entire team of people to help you run a competition.  If this is just a casual local competition you can probably use volunteers/compensated individuals from your local scene, whereas if you are trying to make it a serious competition you will probably have to hire people experienced at their respective roles.

Below is a short list of roles that should be filled at a minimum.

  • Competition DJ or Live Band: For either a DJ or a live band this should preferably be people who have experience doing this or at very least been educated and briefed on what playing for a competition entails. 
  • Judges: Depending upon the seriousness of your competition this can be randomly chosen people to professional dancers who are regularly hired to judge at events.
  • Master of Ceremonies (MC): The job of this individual is to host the contest and this entails introducing competitors, announcing what is happening, making sure the judges are ready before a contest begins, and other miscellaneous activities. 

Here are optional roles that may or may not be necessary depending upon the scope of your competition.

  • Wrangler/Phrase Battle Counter: The job of this individual is to count people off when they are supposed to enter in a phrase battle. If you are having finals where couples go out one at a time, it is advised to have someone do this.
  • Contest Tabulator: If you are having multiple competitions it is advised to have an experienced individual handle contest tabulation. For a smaller event with only one to two competitions, often the head judge can be responsible for this.
  • Contest Coordinators: This is only necessary if you are having a competition with a massive amount of dancers. I’m talking like ILHC, Frankie 95, Camp Hollywood, and et cetera sized. The job of this person is to make sure people do things like rotate during Jack & Jills properly and are lined up while waiting to go on the floor.
  • Sound Guy: This is only necessary if you are having a large and professional competition and are renting/using a massive room for your event. The job of this person is to make sure your band/DJ’s music is clearly audible to the competitors and the crowd.

Below is the Invitational Strictly Lindy finals from ILHC 2012, notice Falty doing the job of Wrangler/Phrase Battle Counter.

4. Figure Out and Write Down Logistics

At this point you should now have a mission statement or vision for your contest, contest rules and descriptions decided upon, and know which individuals need to be hired/delegated to fill in the necessary roles for your event. Now that you have all the puzzle pieces, you need to fit them all together.

You can have the coolest event in the world with the best instructors, a beautiful venue, and a killer live band… but if nobody knows that your event exists all your efforts are for naught.  Advertising is key to having not just a competition but any successful event and the earlier you start the better. An important thing to note is how you advertise your event can also set the tone for it:

With high production value Lindustrial Revolution 2012’s youtube advertisement sets the tone that the organizers are professional. In addition the youtube clip emphases that their steampunk theme is something to dress up for. The ways you can advertise for your event are limited by you own creativity; word of mouth, fliers, free-shirts for traveling dancers to wear with your event logo & date on it, youtube advertisements, and paid advertisements on yehoodi are some of the few different ways I have seen organizers advertise their events.  The first part of figuring out and writing down logistics is:

  • Develop an effective advertising strategy that sets the tone for your event. 

Now that there is a system in place for people to find out about your contest the next thing that needs to be accomplished is how is it actually being set-up, run, then taken down. In simple terms, “Who does what? and where?”. My advice is to create a  detailed schedule of events that what individual, is doing what particular task, and at what time. An example is below:

8:00 PM – Jim Jones – Unlock the doors to the venue and set thermostat to coldest possible temperature.

8:10 PM – Kendra Robbins/Robert Jones/Sarah Smith – Start setting up tables and chairs according to the floor diagram.

The important thing this covers is who is responsible for every task. The reason I put emphasis on writing this all down is when you say things verbally it is not as binding and people have a tendency to forget. When things are on paper (and/or google documents) it makes it easy for people to know what they are responsible for and when they need to do it. The second part of figuring out and writing down logistics is:

  • Create a schedule of events that lists of tasks need to be completed, what time they need to be completed by, and the individuals responsible for working on them.

Lastly an important detail to cover is what prizes you are providing for the competition. This can be anything from cash, trophies, passes to other events, passes to vintage shops/shoe shops, and et cetera. A piece of an advice though big events like Lindy Focus/Camp Hollywood and such have a billion organizer barking up those respective trees for free passes for competitions, a better and more realistic idea is to probably offer to other organizers you know to trade passes for events. Also it is your choice as an organizer if you want to advertise the prizes for your event beforehand. I have noticed the larger events tend to, whereas smaller events don’t. The last part of  figuring out and writing down logistics is:

  • Decide upon what prizes will be provided for your event and if needed network to obtain them. 

On an aside I have not noted the process to renting a venue, how to hire instructors, and things in a similar vein because those are basics to organizing an event. In the scope of this article I am focusing on mainly how to organize a competition.

5. Last Minute Checkup

You now have everything to set up to run your own competition and haven’t pulled out your hair or killed someone yet, congratulations! The last thing to do is just to oversee your competition, create contingency plans for any possible problems and handle any situations that come up. The last responsibility can often be prevented by effective planning, but sometimes things come up that no one could foresee.

As an organizer what I mean by oversee the competition is just making sure things are at where they should be and people are doing their jobs. Some examples of this could be checking to make sure safety-pins and numbers are available at the registration table or making sure the judges are present a few minutes before the competition starts.  The first part of doing a last minute checkup is:

  • Making sure everything in your schedule of events is running smoothly.

If you are planning to have a competition outdoors sometimes rain happens or perhaps a ton of people signed up for your competition, but not as many people showed up as you planned for. Contingency plans should be created for factors that are out of your control, especially if you are dealing with as something as fickle as weather.  The second part of doing a last minute checkup is:

  • Creating contingency plans for conditions that are out of your control. 

Lastly no matter how much you prepare, stuff just happens. One event I know literally had one of their headlining instructors stranded because a volcano grounded his flight. Another event I know had their headliner band literally get snowed in so they couldn’t travel to their event. The important thing for you to do as an organizer is not to freak out and instead explore your option and choose the best possible one to deal with the situation. At times unfortunately this may consist of choosing the lesser of two evils. The last part of doing a last minute checkup is:

  • Being prepared to make difficult on the spot decisions if something out of your hands goes awry. 

Concluding Remarks

While I tried to cover the full scope of how to run a competition, I did not literally cover everything. To do so would be a document far lengthier then this already long blog post. My advice is if you have any doubts or concerns, seek out an organizer who is experienced in running competitions or even season competitors and consult them for their experience. My personal advice on someone who has been in multiple competitions and have helped to run a few myself is:

  1. Never underestimate the ability for dancers in a Jack & Jill to mess up rotation. Assume they are sheep that need to be herded.
  2. Safety wavers, have them. If I run an event this is a non-negotiable because it prevents liability issues from occurring.
  3. Have a strict time schedule and stick to it. My biggest pet peeve as a dancer at a competition that I am not a participant in is competitions taking forever.

If you have any particular advice for individuals putting on competitions or any questions yourself feel free to post in the comments section!

Musicality Teaching Experiment

About a week and a half ago Rebecca Brightly on her weekly newsletter “The Pulse” wrote about musicality. One idea she touched in particular is listening to a song a couple of times (only listening to the song and doing nothing else) and then utilizing what you recognized from the song for dancing.

After reading this newletter I thought, “This is a great idea, I think it would also make a great class.” So a few days before I had to teach my weekly Lindy Hop class I instructed my students to listen several times to the song Black Coffee by The Careless Lovers featured below.

How The Class Worked

I started off by first playing the song to refresh the song in their minds (also to cover anyone who decided to skip the homework). I followed that by asking the class, “What did you recognize from listening to the song multiple times?” To encourage responses I also mentioned there were no really wrong answers to this question. Some answers I received were:

  • Contrast between different parts of the song.
  • Song had energy to it versus being a relaxed/chill song.

After collecting responses I took a few of those answers and to the song Black Coffee asked them to represent those ideas in their dancing as leads and follows.  Once that was done I gave a few answers I had to the same question and showed examples of how as a lead or follow I would touch on elements I recognized within in the music. I repeated the same exercise as before except with them using my suggestions.

At this point in my class is where I added my own personal twist to this class using one of Bobby White’s blog posts titled “The Old Timer (Part 4: “The Only Count I Know is Basie”)“.  I asked my students using the ideas they learned from dancing to Black Coffee by the Carless Lovers to the version of Black Coffee by Nat Gonnella and his Georgians. Which while sharing a lot of similarities also had some differences as well.  To quote Bobby’s article,

Imagine you’re a dancer in the 1930s. Dancing for you means going out at several nights a week, and every night to a different big band, each one using different arrangements. When the leader announces he’s going to play “Flying Home,” you don’t know anything about how the song is going to sound except that the melody will roughly go “Bad-da-daaa, da-da-dadadum…Bad-da-daaa, da-da-dadadum…etc.

For my class I wanted to bring to the table of the macro-musical concept of knowing a melody of a song and being able to use that to be musical. After a few rotations of the class we brought up similarities of both versions of the songs, then again I had them dance to the second version of the song with those ideas in mind.

After this we wrapped up the class by listing the ideas that we went over during the course of the class and I encouraged my students to keep listening to music and explore other ideas of how to express musicality on their own.

In Retrospect

It was a fun and different class for myself that I think my students enjoyed and learned valuable skills from.  If you try this class format yourself or have any fun musicality class ideas you use in your classes, please feel free to post them below.

Keep it Casual or Bring the Fire? Teaching A Higher Level Class

ILHC describes it as,

You have been dancing long enough with a sufficient level and quality of dancing that you are actually hoping every class will be devoted to taking your swing-out, tearing it apart, and putting it back together again. “Tricks, schmicks, teach me how to dance.”

Jammin’ on the James describes it as,

Dancers taking these workshops should be comfortable picking up new moves and steps fairly quickly, understand how swing music is structured and the concept of creating your dance to the changes in the music. In addition, dancers in the advanced workshop should incorporate good frame and connection in their everyday dancing.

Lindy Focus,

Well to be honest Lindy Focus had so many people acting all uppity about auditions and there is a ton of people at that event. In result they have Levels 3-9 which represent experienced dancers. (Probably the smartest way of handling it to be honest)

It’s the track that everyone tries to get in then complains about anything possible related to it if they don’t make it in, the Higher Level/Advanced class!

We’ve all met and/or have been this guy.

How Fierce Are You To Your Advanced Class?

I was pondering over how in the past I witnessed instructors teach differently or in some cases the same upon changing conditions such as; class size, class level, type of event, and et cetera. One thing that came to mind was the idea of how do instructors change their approach for a class that is advertised to higher level dancers. My search on Yehoodi first rewarded me with this thread from 2004 “How fierce are you to your advanced class?”

The original poster Holiday writes,

I was told by one of my students last week that I’m really scary in my advanced class and she was surprised because I’m so friendly and easy going in my lower level classes. I told her I meant to do that because I really mean business when it comes to who gets into my advanced class. I won’t throw people out, but I won’t make it easy for them to stay either. I don’t teach particularly hard stuff and mostly just mechanics that makes sense. This doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a cake walk or a “just wing it” course either.

Another poster Wexie writes,

I agree with you: Beginner and intermediate classes are supposed to be fun. However, once you get to the advanced level, you can begin to expect more from your students and push them a little bit.

There is a difference between a fun hobby, and a craft. As you begin to get to an advanced level, you are starting to approach what you are doing as a craft. It requires a tad more seriousness, hard work, and discipline to start to take things to the next level. People will never improve unless they are open to criticism. Also, I think it is smart that you are encouraging peer criticism. And there is nothing wrong with saying: When you come to my class, you better bring your game. If you don’t, I’m going to call you out on it.

Lastly Beckto comments,

BUT, having taught dance classes and privates, I have to say there is a difference. Most people who take dance classes (especially beginners) are not pre professional or aspiring professional. They just want to have a little fun and learn something new — a new hobby. I think in that case, it’s good not to take the class or yourself too seriously. Fun is the 1 goal, and dancing is the 2 goal when I teach. As the level of dancer increases, I get more serious. With that said though, I always leave the drive to get better up to the student. So, I don’t demand they practice, for instance (although I will notice if they have and compliment them). With advanced dancers, (I haven’t had the privilege of teaching many truly advanced dancers), I’m very much to the point, and fun is not part of the focus. The fun is more innate.

The common theme I noticed in nearly every post in the thread was the idea of for classes targeted toward newer dancers fun and entertainment should be more of a priority. Whereas in a more advanced class the idea of students should be expected and prepared to be pushed hard in terms of seriousness of the class.

How to have a good Advanced Class …?

Another thread from 2004 titled Spinoff Class Thread: How to have a good Advanced Class…? by a local NYC organizer proposed the question what is an effective way to conduct an advanced class, in which the event the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival advanced class was quoted a few times.

Gardenia writes on the second page,

Basically I reiterate what I’ve said earlier: if you want to improve the advanced dancers in a scene, they have to interact with each other, grow together, and create, invent, and share information in a non-hierarchical way. Information would not be disseminated from one all-knowing source, but shared.

Yehoodi user karaboo writes,

How did the HJDF class go last year? I’ve no idea since I was running around like a maniac the whole time. Is there a way we could make a model like that work for us? With a few pairs of “instructors” guiding the process. They would come in with a few ideas for things to work on and let things evolve from there. It wouldn’t be so much a class about moving fast but about refining and helping one another and asking questions. This might end up being more like a guided practice session and might not require such selectivity as long as it was made clear it was supposed to be for advanced dancers.

Gardenia on the third page writes,

I think it’s way too complicated. Advanced classes should simply be for people who aren’t afraid of getting shredded to pieces. If you’re that serious about the dance, you have to be prepared and accepting of some ego-bruising. I think that may be the mark of a truly advanced dancer. One who can take real criticism and still be standing afterwards.

One of the things that happened in Jenn and Justin’s Master class in Ithaca (which happened almost 2 years ago) was they had people dance, one couple at a time, in front of everyone, and then they criticized what they were doing. There was no sugar-coating. It was brutal at times, but the students took it in stride. And I think, at some point, instructors should be able to be free to take the kid gloves off and say what they really think without getting into trouble. I think at some point, a dancer needs this kind of honesty in order to grow. But we have to give them permission to be so honest, and not punish them when we don’t like what they say.

Lastly Marcelo with some noteworthy insights on the fourth page,

What you need to ensure this is a decent selection process. I like having a preliminary “sorting round” to determine placement. Run the class for a few minutes with everyone, and pay attention to see who’s cutting it and who isn’t. Then just make a cut. The people who don’t get cut are free to sit around and keep watching if they really want to, but you’re going to have to ask them not to rotate. And you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of that decision.

This, I think, may be the crux of your dilemma. You want to have a rigorous selection process, but you don’t want people to hate you or call you an elitist because you didn’t pick them. Unfortunately, you can’t control whether people will hate you. If they do, that’s their problem.

People are ultimately responsible for their own feelings and actions, and if they’re going to get in a tizzy because Nicole didn’t validate their dancing skill and put them in the top class, that’s their damn fault. You didn’t do anything to them – you’re just trying to construct an advanced class – hell, if you let them watch but not rotate you’re not denying them ANYTHING – they still have access, but now the responsibility is on THEM to grok it and keep up, not on YOU to make sure that they’re keeping up.

The two things argued in this thread were if the class should be more of a guided practice session versus a traditional teacher/teachers and students setting and if the class should be auditioned/people should be cut. I noticed a trend however of individuals noting that being able to take harsh criticism was a skill people should have if they want to start taking lessons at an advanced level. Contrasting that were posters who were concerned about not coming off as elitist and bruising egos.

Perspective from Teachers

I had the opportunity to ask some individuals who regularly teach in the swing dance community about this topic and posed this exact question to them,

When teaching advanced classes or classes targeted toward higher level dancers do you change your attitude/methods compared to a beginner level class and if so, how?

Daniel Repsch Lindy/Blues Instructor & DJ,

It’s hard to say exactly because each group is different and so teaching changes from class to class. But I think there is a general difference between the levels.

With beginners most of them aren’t addicted to the dance yet and so I emphasize the fun in the dance and not taking things seriously. With advanced dancers I feel free to push them a little harder and give them things that they’ll struggle more with. This is because I expect them to practice it on the dance floor and eventually be rewarded for the effort.

In terms of methods, I like to make all levels try whatever we’re teaching before I talk about it. I like exercising students’ visual learning and a lot of times they figure out more stuff on their own than I thought they would. In result that cuts down on unnecessary explanation

But for advanced dancers I have a hope that they’ll have a grasp on important modular pieces of the dance. For example; a good tuck, or how to kick step through a turn, or a forward rock, or even different kinds of stretching. I think at the beginner level the goal is more about teaching things that mostly exemplify those modular pieces (and are fun to do besides), rather than the advanced level of applying them in unexpected ways. Otherwise methods of explaining in as few words as possible while hitting visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners is the same.

James Bianco Lindy Hop instructor,

My approach, overall, I try to keep it fun, yet focused. I leave room for rabbit trails, but won’t go down them too far, unless the path is a really good one. That allows for a lively and interactive class. But as far as what I actually teach it’s more like this:

  • Beginner – Here is a cake, and this is how might consider eating it.
  • Intermediate – This is chocolate cake, and there is a cherry on top,  So it might be rich.
  • Advanced – This is, in fact, a chocolate cheesecake, with a toffee – chocolate wafer crust. On top is a light mousse, shavings of dark chocolate, and indeed, a cherry. It will be rich, so you’ll definitely want to consider how you will be eating it and the company you choose to eat it with.

My Two Cents

I’ve mentioned before one of the things I like about the Lindy Hop community is for the most part accepting and welcoming to people. I would argue that it is a major strength of our community. However I would argue one of the problems our community has is we fall into the fallacy this article lists as number one, ostracisers are evil.

Many tests I have been involved with as a participant or even one time as one of the teachers/organizers in charge I have run into comments like this:

  • Those people got in because they were friends with X.
  • I didn’t get in because I danced with X and Y, they made me look bad.

There are countless weekly classes and workshops that cater to beginner and intermediate level dancers. In result I think advanced classes should be for individuals who meet criteria determined by the organizer of the class and it should be a far more serious environment when compared to lower level classes. I actually agree with the sentiment Marcelo posted on the second Yehoodi thread listed above,

Your goal is to teach a -real- advanced class where you have some sort of control over who participates. Your goal is not to make everyone happy and comfortable with themselves. While that’s certainly a good thing to want to do, it is literally a tradeoff. You can’t preserve the integrity of an “advanced” class unless you break some hearts.

There is no real “right” answer to this question over all, each choice will definitely have some ramifications good and bad. While the way I suggest might be great for a bigger scene with a decent portion of solid dancers… for a small scene just starting out this could cause some serious problems.

What are your experiences with good or bad advanced level classes? If you could make an ideal advanced level class how would you have it run? What are some apprehensions of the social ramifications of having an auditioned or invitational only advanced level class? Feel free to leave anything related to this in the comment sections below.

Necessity as a Teacher

Floorcraft, a word that teachers often drop in their intro level lessons and dancers all around the world wish many dancers practiced.

“World of Floorcraft, a mandatory remedial course for those who run into other dancers more then twice in one night due to their own carelessness.”

As a teacher you can explain to leads the “look before you leap” analogy, explain to follows how if they see an incoming collision back-lead the lead to stop, and explain to everybody the social ramifications of being the one lead that throws their follow everywhere/the one follow that throws herself everywhere. Once you are past that, you can make slight suggestions but it is usually up to each person to figure out for themselves how to be polite social dancers and not run themselves or their partners into objects/other people.

The interesting thing I have noticed though is in scenes where dance space is a premium such as New Orleans; floorcraft is much higher on average (among dancers, not muggles non dancing people).

In a post titled “Back in New Orleans” written by Peter Loggins in his blog the Jassdancer he writes about the excitement or peril (depending upon your perspective) of dancing in an average venue on Frenchman St. in NOLA.

“however, the Spotted Cat or DBA , now those are places to learn! Cramped, all tempo’s, mixed rhythms, obnoxious people in the way…yeah! Now we talking!” – Peter Loggins

While I recommend you give the entire post a read, this quote really drills home the point of floorcraft being a necessity this particular scene,

“If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that’s good for you, but don’t be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentaly kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio’s and festivals but in the real world all bets are off….” – Peter Loggins

At an average dance if you have bad floorcraft someone the worst that usually ever happens is someone bad mouths you that night and most people forget it quickly, unless if you make it a habit. On Frenchmen Street the potential costs of bad floorcraft can range from; accidentally kicking a drunk tourist, hitting the trombonist’s slide and likely injuring him, to knocking over the tip jar of a band. These can earn one the penalties of getting the shit beat out of them to being thrown out and/or banned from a venue. A tad more dangerous then the average Lindy Hop event.

What To Do?

At least for myself it seems an obvious conclusion that when there are more costs at hand for making a poor decision, it is something people will be more aware of and spend additional time developing the skills to avoid those penalties.  However to cultivate a good swing dance scene, threatening ones’ students with violence for bad floorcraft is probably not the best idea for retention rates.

As an organizer I attempted to deal with the problem of poor floorcraft mainly when it mattered the most; before our dances with live bands and workshop weekends where we would have large attendance. I would do this by in my own lessons choosing moves that required good floorcraft to pull them off or teaching moves that required minimal room and worked great with little room to dance. I’d also put a notice in announcements that good floorcraft was a good way to be polite to our out-of-town guests.

If your local scene has any particular ways they teach or deal with floorcraft, feel free to post it here!

Creating Life Long Dancers and/or Better Dancers

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?

Teaching with a Pianist: Intro to Swing at the Spotted Cat

A few weeks ago I read reading Glenn Crytzer’s blog post about being bombarded with music in which one of the things he mentions is a challenge for instructors to hire a pianist to play for their lessons.

Lo and behold two days ago I walked into The Spotted Cat in New Orleans to find Giselle Anguizola teaching a beginner swing dance lesson with Brett Richardson on Piano and Paul Tenderloin on Washtub Bass playing music for her students to practice to.

One thing I found interesting is half-way through the class they took a break to grab a drink from the bar or practice what they learned to live music. For a newbie lesson this is great because it lets them socialize with other students and apply what they learned in a realistic environment.

Dancing at The Spotted Cat to Meschiya Lake and Her Little Big Horns.

Anyways below is a short summary of what I perceived as advantages and disadvantages of teaching this way:

Advantages:

  • Adds energy to the class and makes students excited.
  • Great marketing tool. Intro swing dance class with live music, sounds a bit more enticing then just intro swing dance class.
  • Prepares students for dancing to live music. (In New Orleans, if you dance downtown this is the norm 7 days a week. So it is especially relevant for their scene.)

Disadvantages:

  • For instructors it can be difficult to give feedback because you are essentially trying to talk over an instrument/instruments several feet away.
  • For most dance instructors hiring musicians consistently for lessons is not an affordable expense.
If you have taken one of these type of lessons at The Spotted Cat or perhaps have taught/taken lessons with live music, please post in the comment section about it.

Improving Atmosphere by Organizing Room Space

As mentioned in a previous post Dorry Segev said a quote that I believe anyone who is getting into the position of running an event or weekly dance should hear which was,

“A beginners worst fear is being in an empty room and everyone is watching.” – Dorry Segev

Lately a problem I have been noticing mainly at college events is you get to a Friday/Saturday night dance and it is in a rather large hall or gymnasium, yet attendance is barely enough to fill maybe at best 1/3th of the venue. There are a multitude of negative effects that result because of this, a few are listed below:

  • Newer dancers get apprehensive about dancing because there is not a large crowd for them to blend into.
  • Energy levels in the room tend to remain slow affecting dancers regardless if they are experienced/new.
  • The DJ has the trouble of dealing with a likely low energy room.
  • For people passing by, event does not look  impressive and for scenes that advertise with their dances this is a large negative.

There are several ways to deal with this problem, each requiring a different use of resources.

1. Get Better Attendance

While the most obvious answer, this isn’t always the easiest one. The one thing a lot of scenes don’t have is a good habit of consistently advertising for their weekly venues/events. It is one of those habits that you don’t notice how much it hurts you until you neglect it for awhile.

Things you should be checking for if you are trying to advertise to fill up a large room:

  • Are you advertising early enough? (1 month beforehand minimum)
  • Is your organization website/facebook group/et cetera updated with information about the event?
  • Are there fliers posted at relevant places (locally and regionally) advertising your event?
  • Is there a well-designed facebook event online?
Sadly, in spite of your best efforts sometimes this may not work. You could be a college town trying to compete with after-parties of a football game. Or you could be in the East coast where no matter what weekend you try to schedule your event, there are literally two other dance events happening the same weekend.

2. Schedule A Different Room

Especially if you are paying to rent your dance space, there is no reason to spend the funds on a giant room if you are consistently getting not enough attendance to create a good atmosphere for your attendees.

But many organizations have limited options for where to hold their dances based on availability and other factors, so scheduling a different room is not an option and instead have to work with what they have.

3. Section off the Room

I remember originally seeing this done in Oberlin, Ohio and I occasionally see organizers who value the atmosphere of a room doing this as well. How this works is using chairs and whatever else you have at your disposal, you organize the room so the dance floor is sectioned off.

So here is a sample floor plan of a ballroom before the room is sectioned off.

Here is a hastily made MS Paint diagram of the floor plan after the ballroom is sectioned off.
The squares are chairs/potted plants/whatever one has at their disposal.

Overall my recommendation is combining suggestions 1 & 3 together. Because suggestion 1 is full of things that should be habits if one is attempting to foster a thriving scene or a memorable event. However it is understandable that one may not always have the time/resources to do so.

If you have any suggestions or tales of how your scene handles the situation of having an event in a large room with problems of low attendance in the past feel free to post in the comment section.