Many people go to dance events week in and week out. Whether it’s a dance night at a bar, a social at a studio or a congress in a hotel, few people think about what goes on behind-the-scenes at a dance event.
Putting on any type of event, whether it’s a dinner party at your house or an international Salsa congress, takes an investment of time, energy and money.
If you’re interested in hosting your own dance event, here are some things to think about as you get started. These tips are for a social or special dance party for 15-150 people and are based on my personal experience of putting on dozens of dance events over the last three-and-a-half years. I’ve had lots of fun and plenty of flops and I wanted to share a little bit of what I’ve learned along the way.
If you’re an attendee and are curious about what goes into putting on the events you go to, check this out. And if you’re an organizer who’s already doing it, a big THANK YOU for your efforts and dedication. Go relax and do something else besides read this post, you’ve been working hard enough already.
Location, Location, Location!
If you already have access to a dance space that has a good floor for social dancing and you can afford to use it, excellent. If you don’t, you have to find a space that will accommodate dancers, has a decent floor and is in your price range. When you’re searching for spaces keep an eye out for other amenities. Does the spot have an amazing dance floor but is located somewhere that has a history of knife fights in the parking lot? Are you expecting 150 people in the middle of summer but the AC has been out for months and the management is in the process of “fixing” it? Is it a hip venue that’s so out-of-the-box it doesn’t show up on Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze?
Once you have the right venue, make sure you are clear about the terms of using the space. Do you have to put down a deposit? Are you paying a flat rental fee that covers set-up time, the event itself and break down time? If not, what’s the rate for set-up and breakdown versus actual event time? Do you have to pay a cleaning fee? Do you need to have your own liability or event insurance? Can you control the temperature? Does the space have a sound system you can use or do you need to bring one? Do you have access to the Wifi? Is there a bar or can you or your of-age attendees bring alcohol?
If you’re doing a door split or profit share, be clear about what percentage you get, who is in charge of taking money, who absorbs credit card processing fees if you take cards and how and when the split will be paid out.
Know Your Costs
Before you set a ticket price for your event, know how much it’s going to run you to put on the event. Make a budget! I know, budget is not a sexy dance buzzword. But unless you are putting on an event out of the goodness of your own heart and your own wallet, you have to cover your costs.
List out everything you will spend money on for this event. Here are some potential costs depending on the type of event: Venue rental, marketing and advertising (more on that in a minute), equipment (rental or purchase), DJ or band, insurance, food and/or drink plus utensils, credit card processing or ticket fees, instructors or performers, lighting, décor, etc.
The more elaborate the event, the more you will probably spend. However, you don’t have to throw oodles of money at an event to make it good. If you’re just starting out, start small.
Whatever the scale of the event though, know how much you will spend on it so that you can work backward from there to price it and figure out how many people you need to make it work.
For example, if you’re renting out a venue for $125 for the night, have a potluck theme and BYOB, are going to DJ it yourself and advertise organically, you could charge a $10 cover and make a goal to have 20 people there so that you can cover your costs to host, pay applicable taxes and make a profit.
Tell people about your event
This seems obvious, but nobody is going to come to an event they don’t know about. If you just make a Facebook event and invite all of your friends, you probably will not have a great crowd. People have short attention spans and receive dozens, if not hundreds, of notifications every day so they need to see or hear about your event several times for it to stick.
Make your Facebook event, invite your friends, direct message people (don’t just share the event in a DM, that’s lazy and tacky—if you’re going to message someone, make it personal) and post about your event several times in your local or regional dance groups. If you have social media accounts for your event or business, be consistent with your posting on those.
Run Facebook or Instagram ads if you have the budget for it and list your event in local event calendars if you want to reach a new crowd. Most newspapers, tv stations and city CVBs have public event calendars that accept submissions. If you have an email newsletter, send invites and reminders. Go out social dancing and talk to people there about your event. Even if you’re promoting your event organically (without spending money on advertising), figure out how much time you’re spending to promote your event and factor that into your overall event budget.
Ask other organizers if you can announce your event at their event, pass out fliers or even have a table or booth set up to promote your event. See if you can find a way to make this a mutually beneficial arrangement. Offer to promote their event at your party as well.
Speaking of other organizers…be familiar with your scene and the events. Talk to other organizers if you can and see what they have scheduled so that you can put your event on a different day and not compete. I live in a smaller city and we don’t have enough people to really support multiple events in one night.
I have seen people put on an event entirely by themselves, but the better and bigger events are a group effort. Recruit volunteers to help you promote, set up and break down, work the door and to make sure the event is running smoothly. You can’t keep your eyes on everything and everybody the whole night!
It’s helpful to line up your staff in advance and assign shifts or responsibilities so that you don’t have to try to direct everyone in the middle of the event. I find it helpful to write out event itineraries. They cover prep for the days/weeks before the event as well the schedule for the day of the event and let the people working know exactly when and where they are needed.
Have fun and be a gracious host or hostess
The organizer’s vibe sets the tone for the event. If you’re relaxed, excited, warm and welcoming, your attendees will pick up on that energy. If you’ve spent time on the details and prepared well, you get to enjoy the event alongside your guests. For me, there’s no greater feeling than seeing a room full of smiling dancers.
If you like to dance, you like other dancers and you want to create a space for them to hang out, then put on a dance event. Come at hosting from a place of service and problem solving– you’re serving your dance community and creating more opportunities to dance! If you have the right attitude and some business basics to go with it, you can succeed.
Different cities, states and countries have different requirements for liability insurance, event insurance, business licenses, incorporation, alcohol permits, music licenses (i.e. ASCAP, BMI, SESAC), taxes, etc., so I didn’t go too far into that, but I would recommend doing your research on your area’s requirements. I’ve never put on a large scale event like a festival or congress, but if you are interested in hearing more about the behind-the-scenes for those I can interview people who have done it!