Organizing Outdoor Dances

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Thinking about taking your dance scene into the open air? I highly recommend it!
Let me take you through some of the benefits of hosting dances outside as well as a few steps to creating a wonderful experience for your dancers.

Let’s Take This Outside

There are plenty of advantages to hosting one or more outdoor dances in the summer.

1. Follow the Crowd

When the weather is nice, people like to get out in the sun and fresh air. Attendance to studio events usually drops as they compete with all the many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. This is especially true in parts of the world with very short summers (or those with summers that get unbearably hot and/or humid).

2. Keep Cool

If you live in the majority of the world where dance venues are not air-conditioned, dancing outside offers far more air flow. Not only does that help your dancers feel cooler, it also helps sweat evaporate. Maybe that’s a little gross to think about, but on the whole people prefer not to dance when they’re drenched in sweat.

3. Market to Passersby

Dancing outside can be a perfect opportunity to attract new students. People passing by are interested to know what exactly is going on. Especially if you have flyers to hand out or a QR code to scan, you will get some who come later to learn more. Advertising a free lesson in the park can draw people in as well. It’s even better if you designate a few people to work as an outreach team, going up to people who stop to watch and giving them more information or maybe even give them a 10-minute basic introduction to the dance.

4. Bring out the Newbies

Outdoor dances are often less intimidating to people who don’t have any experience with social dancing. It’s easy to just sit down and enjoy the beautiful weather, rather than feeling trapped or anxious in a place where only dancing is happening. It’s an ideal opportunity for bringing a significant other, friend, or colleague out for a first try!

5. Cut Costs

If you don’t have your own studio, dancing outside can be a very cheap way of running socials and even drop-in classes. Depending on your chosen venue, it may be free or require only a nominal rental or license fee. Of course, people don’t much like to pay for outdoor dances, so you can’t expect to get much immediate return on the effort you put into organizing.

6. Build Community

Everyone loves an outing! This is a great way not only to increase your numbers, but also to build community among the dancers you already have. With plenty of space to hang out and the volume low enough to allow for conversation, it makes for a nice chance for dancers to talk, snack, make music, or whatever as they get to know each other beyond their dance skills.

Get It Right

I’m going to assume if you’re still reading by now, you’re convinced that having an outdoor dance will be of benefit to your scene. As great as these open air dances are, there are a few key points to keep in mind if you want to have a successful social.

1. Location, Location, Location

It’s essential to pick a place that’s easy to find and get to. Have a walk near your studio or popular dance venues. Check out parks near public transportation or that have free parking. If people need to go way out of their way or might even get lost trying to find your perfect spot, it’s likely not going to feel worth it to them.

2. Cut the Rug

Ideally you want a place that’s got some kind of regular surface to dance on. That could include lots of possibilities: a tiled pavilion, a beach with packed sand, a paved walkway, or a close-mown lawn. The more momentum in your dance style, the more important it will be to find something smooth. The last thing you want is someone’s spin to turn into a sprained ankle. The more impact in your style, the more important it is to have some give to the surface. It only took me a year of dancing Lindy hop outside on concrete to understand just how much damage it could to do my joints!

3. Coming Through!

You also need to be sure the place doesn’t have too much through-traffic around the day and time you’ll use it. Of course if you’re doing it to draw in new people you’ll want a place that people wander past, but not somewhere they’ll be forced to weave through dancers to continue on their way. I can say from experience, it’s not fun to run into a baby stroller! Not to mention the risk if you’re in an area that cyclists may use as well.

4. Reservation for … 100?

If you’re using a pavilion, picnic shelter, or dock area, be sure to check whether it’s a space that can be (or must be) reserved. Not only will this avoid any trouble with the authorities, it will also prevent your showing up only to find someone else has a prior claim to the space. On a related note, if there is no reservation possible, have someone arrive at your desired location early to hold a large enough space for your dancers. Even in a public park that’s free for everyone to use, it can be difficult to situate a large group on short notice.

5. Hey, DJ!

Obviously music is a key component to an outdoor dance. Be sure to bring speakers that can handle an open area. Test them out in advance, and walk away from them in multiple directions to be sure 1. your dancers will be able to hear the music and 2. the volume doesn’t go so high that it would be disturbing to people in nearby buildings. In fact, you should check to see if there are any noise regulations for your chosen spot. These can sometimes be arbitrary; for example, Florian Tep and I were warned off by a pair of cops when we played a kizomba song softly over a speaker while recording a video – even though a nearby group playing guitar and singing was easily ten times louder. Why? Electronic amplification is not allowed in Washington Square Park. Also, some places require you to purchase a permit to use speakers for a set date and time. If you can’t find a good spot where electronic amplification is allowed, small groups can get away with natural amplification: just place your laptop or phone so that the speaker goes into a large bowl. Large groups can try synced headphones (silent DJ) although that can be expensive. Unless it’s a publicity stunt, it’s probably best to just find a spot with less stringent rules.

6. Show You Care

It makes such a difference to people’s experience if you’ve anticipated their needs. You definitely want to have some shade available. If there’s no roof or nearby trees, find some beach umbrellas to set up. Offer sunscreen and encourage people to use it! Tell people to bring water, provide cups and water pitchers, or at least sell drinks cheaply out of a cooler. Bring a first aid kit to take care of any minor accidents. Also, have a plan B ready in case the weather suddenly changes – even if that’s just heading to a nearby restaurant for ice cream.

That’s all my advice, but I’d love to hear from you. What do you keep in mind when planning your outdoor dances? What bad experience would you like us all to learn from? What was the best open air social you’ve ever been to and why?

Oh, and when you’re ready to advertise your dance, share this article by Sarah Liz Vuong that gives great reasons to “Go Outside and Dance!

4 Comments

  • Dave says:

    One answer to outdoor noise regulations would be to get a small FM transmitter to broadcast the music and have people bring old or inexpensive personal FM radios with earbuds to listen. This would enable a silent dance to take place. These transmitters allow you to broadcast CD music to your car radio as one use. Check your local cultural music events, there may be parks that have music allowed with a permit which the local orchestras will have found for free events.

    We have a good number of out door events in Pittsburgh, just last week we had the Jose Alberto Salsa Orchestra as a part of the busy much larger International Jazz Live weekend. This was free city run cultural event, intended for listening but allowing salsa dancing in front of the stage on asphalt, in the sun, and was much fun despite the heat. I’m still not recovered!
    Our local For the Love of Bachata instructor plans and holds wonderful evening dances in Pittsburgh Parks and on the concrete overlooks of the city! These are much loved and well attended, she started them as dance flash mobs before getting into serious park permits and the equipment needed.

    One of the best outdoor dance places is the dance is in the Avonworth Park Pavilion next weekend which has a good roof and great tropical hardwood floor. Its a gorgeous elevated pavilion that hosts several dances each year. Since it rents by the day, one local dance enthusiast rents it for the day and then calls in several dance organizations to fill out the day and contribute to the costs. This gives us a full day of dance with twelve hours of social dancing. Because these sites are also perfect places to hold weddings, you may need to rent them as much as a year ahead of the dance event date.
    The local USA Dance Chapter holds Friday dances in a downtown square each June. Originally this was done as a flash mob. When all the businesses noted that people came in after the dancing to eat, they called them and offered to support the event and pay for the City permit each year!

    If you attend, the surfaces are not ideal, take sturdy shoes perhaps with some cushioning. New dancers will have the most trouble with high friction surfaces and less ready for dancing knees. You might try adding some sand on concrete surfaces as a lubricant. Good surfaces would be close packed wood planks, polished concrete. and portable floors if you can afford one.

    • Oh I hadn’t even thought about FM radios! I know that some phones even have FM built in, so it wouldn’t necessarily require hunting down old Walkman radios for everyone.
      I love the idea of finding ways to bring down rental costs, like splitting costs with other dance groups, or getting restaurants to sponsor events.

  • Dave says:

    In some of the Dollar stores you can even find very low cost simple radios that would work.

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