You – yes, you – can be the difference between a fledgeling dance scene thriving or dying.
If you’re fed up of having to travel to classes and events, desperate for your next dance buzz but left totting up the costs and lost hours, or feeling dejected by the realisation that you’re not improving as quickly as you want because you can’t practise as often, then this article is for you.
But I’m Not The Teacher… So Why Should I Bother?
It’s true: you’re not the organiser. You won’t financially profit – or lose – from the events and classes. You haven’t agreed to put time and effort into a venture that, right now, you’re not getting anything from. So, you might wonder why you should bother supporting something that, frankly, isn’t always that fun. After all, a fledgeling dance scene is normally characterised by lots of beginners and quiet nights.
Let’s make one thing clear: you don’t have to follow any of this advice. If you’re content with your local dance scene, or would prefer to not invest time in something when you could travel further afield for better nights (or just enjoy more time with your family and friends), that is a legitimate choice. But if do want a better local dance scene, and are willing to put in a little effort to support it – and I really do mean “little” – then following these steps might be the answer.
Because one person can’t create a dance scene on their own. It takes a community.
So, here’s what you can do to support it.
In a fledgeling dance scene, not every night will be busy. However, that’s all the more reason why you should go. You could be the difference between people having one person to dance with or two. You could be the difference between the organisers breaking even for the night or making a loss. You could be the dancer that encourages everyone else to come again next time.
Hayley Newton (full disclosure: she’s related to me) has been running dance classes and parties under the brand Salsa Bonita in St. Austell, Cornwall, UK for the last eight months. St. Austell has plenty of dancers, but many of them travel to other towns to dance – often driving 45 minutes or more each way. “You hear it so often. People say that they don’t go to a night because there’s nobody there,” she says. “We’ve had plenty of people try to start up salsa in St. Austell over the last decade, but most of them give up after a few months because they can’t get people to come.
“Our dance classes are growing but mostly through beginners. It’s the more established dancers who are least likely to turn up. But if everyone came, and just stuck it out, then there would be a really good crowd.”
Don’t go once and then give up. Keep on attending so that the night, or event, or classes will grow.
After-class social at Salsa Bonita: it takes time to grow a fledgling dance scene. Credit: Salsa Bonita
Perhaps your class was made up of five followers and only one lead, or you turned up for what you thought would be a night of dancing to discover only two other couples on the floor. At times like this, paying the standard fee may seem like poor value for money – in fact, the dance organisers may even offer the night for free or at a reduced rate.
Yet the venue still needs to be paid for, and those organisers have still put their precious time into planning lessons, creating music playlists or DJing, promoting the night, and more. Now, more than ever, supporting the local dance scene means paying.
Because the more organisers have to run events and classes out of their own pocket, the more likely they are to stop doing them.
And yes, if you quibble, you may get a £2, €5, or even $10 discount – but when a dance scene is new, you’re not paying just for a class or a night of dancing. You’re investing in the chance of a thriving dance culture in just a few months’ time. And isn’t that worth a lot more than just one night of dances?
So instead of asking for, or accepting, a discount, insist on paying your way. And if it’s quiet? Take advantage of it. Hayley tells me that one of the keys to getting people to return is “focusing the class around them and what they want to learn. I have a reputation for being a bit strict and teaching a lot of technique and I won’t stop doing that, but my regulars know that they can ask to learn specific moves or practise specific skills and I’ll make a class around that.”
Use the extra one-on-one time to ask all those questions you’ve got, monopolise the music request list, and practise those moves you’re struggling with in a venue with a good floor. After all, it’s not often you get so much dancefloor space to practise in.
3. Welcome Beginners
What’s a successful dance night? One with lots of dancers, a good mix of levels, great music, a decent floor… Unless you’re a beginner. For (most) beginners, a successful night is simply one in which they get to dance without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable.
Unai Beitia Alvarez recently began teaching kizomba in Santander, Spain, where there isn’t a large kizomba community compared to neighbouring cities. He also started a social salsa and bachata night. (Both projects are currently paused while he completes the final semester of his studies at university.) He tells me that the most important thing, once some students have started to attend classes, is to keep this going by making them feel welcome. He emphasises the importance of being kind, friendly, and familiar.
You can only develop a new dance scene if you have beginners. And while a dance with someone who’s had just one or two lessons may not be as satisfying as one with someone of your own level, if you want to see this dance scene take off in your area, you need to make those beginners feel welcome – and I mean really welcomed, not just politely acknowledged.
Say hello. Greet them with a big smile and strike up a conversation. Ask them to dance – and not just for one courtesy song that just so happens to be really short. Encourage them; tell them what they do well and remind them that everyone was a beginner once. If you have a dance social, invite them along. If there’s a dance WhatsApp group (which is a great idea), add them to it.
Show them that they are a part of this new community, because that’s how you make them stay.
Group moments after salsa classes: it’s important to make everyone feel like part of the community. Credit: Salsa Bonita
4. Tell Others About It – And Stay Positive!
John Djee runs kizomba, swing, salsa, and bachata classes in Bilbao, Spain under the brand Estrella Dance Academy and is also working to build up a weekly kizomba social night. He also previously started social nights and dance classes in France. He tells me that the one thing people can do to support new ventures is spread news about the classes and events. He sees it as creating “passion” – and, as we all know, passion can be contagious. “Just try to speak a lot about classes, events… just in order to develop it,” he says.
Yet not all communication is good.
Picture this: you’re considering attending a dance event, perhaps for the first ever time, but then you check Facebook and read posts complaining that it’s not worth going to because no-one attends (written either by students or the organisers themselves). Chances are, you’d make other plans.
This doesn’t mean you should lie or try to hide the fact that a new dance scene can be quiet. But you can acknowledge this while still emphasising the positive aspects, whether that’s great teachers, more one-on-one time, a friendly atmosphere, the dancefloor, or simply the fact that it has promise for the future.
Complaining that no-one attends is always a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe a dance night or class has potential, then focus on the positives – and let other people know about them too.
5. Encourage & Support Organisers
Creating a new dance culture is never easy and, for organisers, there will always come a moment when they consider quitting. Persevering, even when few people turn up, even when they run nights at a loss, and even when they spend hours organising it, can feel pointless.
As Unai explains, succeeding requires time, effort, and the self-will to overcome these challenges. Building a new dance night has an economic and emotional toll.
Sometimes, the most valuable support we can give is an encouraging word. It won’t pay the room hire or the marketing costs (and definitely doesn’t replace paying for the night!) but emotional support can have a strong and long-lasting impact. Hayley says, “It definitely makes a difference, just hearing someone say that they enjoyed the night or felt that they learned a lot. When you’re feeling like you’re not succeeding, it’s encouraging to hear positive feedback.”
Take care of your teachers and event organisers: without them, your dance scene will never take off. And a little gratitude is a small price to pay for the hope of a vibrant local dance scene.
Salsa Bonita’s Christmas party: group events make everyone feel involved. Credit: Salsa Bonita
Living in an area with a fledgeling dance scene can be frustrating at times, especially when you come back from events further afield. Yet the fact that you have this young dance culture is something to be celebrated: it could be the beginning of something wonderful. All it needs is a little support.