People come to social dances for all kinds of reasons, but there are some key points that help them stay. You don’t have to be a teacher or an organizer to be a part of making your local weekly, biweekly, or monthly social a success. Check out these eight tips for making your regular social awesome!
1. Attend regularly
If you want the scene to flourish, try to attend three out of four occasions to dance. It makes such a difference for organizers to be able to plan for at least a core group of attendees. Without reliable attendance, the offerings will remain limited. Most organizers would agree: it’s better to have a regular attendance of 25 people than to have 50 people sometimes and other times only 5. Other people will also tend to return if they know that they can count on dancing with you and the other loyal supporters. That might sometimes mean coming out for a social that isn’t all that exciting. Have some patience and continue showing up – it will pay off!
2. Ask people to dance
Everyone likes to be asked for a dance! Ask shy people, ask those without a lot of confidence in the dance, ask newcomers, ask teachers, ask the dancers who never leave the floor and might not get to you otherwise… An invitation is an opportunity, and most people will say yes. (And it doesn’t have to be a big deal when they say no.)
In some scenes, who should do the asking is very dependent on gender or dance role. But hey, it only takes one person to start changing that norm! Go ahead and be the one to ask – and even better, ask which role they’d prefer for that song. “Would you like to dance? Cool. Would you like to lead or follow?”
3. Welcome everyone
A quick smile and “hello” is a good start, but it makes such a difference if you actually talk to people – not just your friends, but also people outside your clique, newcomers or people who haven’t really plugged in yet. Ask people how they found the social, why they started dancing or what they enjoy about the style. Answer beginners’ questions or reassure them on points you struggled with as a new dancer. Introduce newcomers to other dancers in the community. For a larger scene, it’s worth having an actual welcome team who focuses on this kind of thing, so you don’t let people fall through the cracks (attending only once or twice before giving up). There’s no need to wait for the organizer to set it up, though – grab a couple of friends and take turns making people feel welcome.
Of course, you might not be the type who finds speaking with strangers comfortable. That’s okay, you can still help create a welcoming environment. Ask a variety of people to dance: dancers with different skill levels, from different social backgrounds, or of different heights. Be warm, friendly, and positive regardless of gender presentation, ability, or whether they are dressed according to your scene’s current fashions. Smile and thank people after a dance. Showing interest in and appreciation for your fellow dancers goes a long way in creating a positive atmosphere.
4. Dance considerately
This might seem obvious, but it’s a huge factor in how much people enjoy attending a particular social dance. Have a thought for the people around you! Use good floorcraft: keep an eye out for people near you and keep your steps or movements at an appropriate size. Practice good technique: don’t sacrifice it regardless of your partner’s possible shortcomings. Not only is this better for your body, it also gives the best kind of feedback to your partner (regardless of whether they’re leading or following!) If you do bump into someone, give them more than a fleeting “sorry” – apologize sincerely. Stick around to see if you can provide a supporting shoulder as they adjust their shoe, or if you should maybe grab some ice. Don’t instruct your partner or use the dance floor for teaching, but definitely speak up if someone is hurting you. Find something to appreciate in every partner, irrespective of their level. We could call this the dancer’s golden rule: dance with others as you’d like others to dance with you!
Show you appreciate what your organizers and teachers work so hard to put on. That can take a variety of forms. The simplest is to attend and pay. If there’s just a jar for money, ask what the suggested contribution is. If you’re going to a free social in a bar or restaurant, be sure to buy at least one drink or dish. Regular income makes a huge difference in the longevity of any social.
You can also volunteer to handle one the many tasks that need doing at a social. Offer to work the door, welcoming people as they come in and taking their entry fee. Empty the trash when you notice it fill up. Refill water pitchers or jugs when they are running low. Pitching in without being asked is incredibly helpful.
If your social is happening in a studio or other private space, you can also contribute items that make it more comfortable. If water isn’t on offer, bring a pitcher or even just a couple of large bottles from home. Place cushions or a rug on the floor for people to sit on and talk while they aren’t dancing. Set up a fan (when have there ever been too many fans at a dance?) Plug in a floor lamp or two so you can switch off the overhead fluorescent lighting. Why not offer a plant, a mirror, or some dance-related art for the walls? We want our dance community to be an enjoyable space, after all, so think about what you might have to give.
6. Support the music
Music is among the top excuses people have for giving up on their regular social dance. Don’t complain – do something about it! Most local socials can’t afford a professional DJ, but just about anyone can do the work required to put together a good playlist. Research the music associated with your dance style. Follow significant artists and popular DJs. Provide a good basis of tried-and-true songs, but mix in some new hits and obscure tunes to keep things interesting. Attend DJ workshops if possible. Host informal sessions to help others in your scene learn more about the music, and encourage others to try their hand at creating a playlist. There’s bound to be some misses at first, but people learn quickly which songs get people out on the floor and which send them off for a drink. Plus, sharing the job of playing music gives everyone more time to invest in creating their next playlist.
Don’t forget about live music, either. Depending on your dance style, there may be some awesome musicians not too far away. Check out a show, invite other dancers to come dance at their venues, and maybe eventually you can work with your organizers to bring the musicians out to play for your social. Dancing is an art form that depends music and always used to include musicians’ performances. Supporting local artists isn’t just to their benefit – it also encourages creativity and improvisation in your dancing.
7. Grow the scene
The perennial problem of keeping a dance scene growing can seem daunting; it’s certainly easier just to leave that work to the organizers. However, you can do a lot to make their efforts more effective. Tell your friends (you still have a few that don’t dance, right?) about events that may appeal to them: taster lessons, live music nights, or socials that happen in settings like bars that are also well suited to just hanging out. Share Facebook events on your wall and invite people from other dance styles as well. Go to venues hosting musicians that play your style or similar styles and show off with a friend – then hand out flyers for your social. You’d be amazed how many people love the music but never thought they could learn to dance to it!
Growth should also happen within the scene. Stay committed to improving your dancing and encourage others to do so as well. Attend classes and local workshops. Check out festivals and get a group from your scene to travel together. Visiting larger scenes and seeing more advanced or professional dancers can inspire you all to improve further!
8. Build community
Beyond our actions at the social, there’s a lot we can do to build connections among dancers. After all, any activity is more fun when you do it with friends. Attending a social should be about more than testing your abilities and looking for the most exciting dances. Get to know people. Live the values you want to see take root in your scene. Invite dancers to do something together away from dancing, which can be as simple as meeting for an ice cream, going for a walk somewhere pretty, or playing board games. When the weather is nice, have an informal dance meetup outside at a park. The best dance socials are spaces of true community, and that requires engagement from all of us.