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.