As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have moved across the world to a far bigger and more chaotic city than my hometown. Despite it being bigger, I still haven’t found a job, or a decent place to live. Which means that I haven’t had the finances or proximity to town to get out and dance as much as I would like to. Shame really, given the size of and number of places I can dance within this lindy scene, but I’ll find a job soon enough and will probably be able to write a more in depth post than what I am about to ramble now. Given that I am in a new city, with a greater ability to travel, I would like to be able to write more about my dancing experiences here.
So, despite being somewhat restricted by finances and location, I have made it several times to a couple of the regular dance events here. As I expected, whilst there are some people that regularly attend both, each of these schools that run the events seem to be able to exist as separate ‘scenes’ as such. Which is different to what I am used to. Where I come from; yes most of the schools, as well as the swing dance society, run their own events, but you will find a large majority of people at all the events. And they are most often acknowledged as being a part of the scene, no matter whos event they are at. Maybe it is like that here and I just haven’t been around long enough to witness it. I have no doubt that those who have been around long enough, and are skilled enough will stand out no matter whose event they dance at. But as usual, I have kind of digressed from my point. I was highlighting the fact that many of the dance schools here seem big enough to operate as their own separate scene in order to offer it as a potential explanation as to why I get very different vibes from these two nights. Yes, this could be explained by the fact that each venue has a different atmosphere, and is organised by different people. But again, I am coming from the smallish isolated city perspective, where (despite politics and pettiness) all the events have a similar vibe to them, which ultimately reflects the scene as a whole.
Back to my point. So, as I said, I have been to two of the regular social dance nights. One during the week, and one on a weekend night. One of them, I found to be very noisy, crowded and dark. Good if you want to just grab people to dance the night away (if you don’t get trodden on an injured). Not so good if you want to hold a conversation with someone. And even worse if you actually want to be able to meet new people and talk to them for longer than the 10 seconds following a dance together. But it’s not all negative, the dancing there is awesome, and I am yet to have a ‘bad dance’. The other venue is crowded, but it’s much easier to get outside for fresh air. The lighting is better, so you can actually see, from across the room. There is more space around the dance floor so it is possible to move around more easily. People seem to come up and talk to you before asking you to dance. And not because I’m ‘new’, because most people aren’t even aware that I am still new to the city and this scene. And possibly the thing I like most about this event, is that newcomers and visitors to the scene are welcomed, there are often birthday dances and dances for those who are leaving, and there is some form of announcements. To me, it’s little things like that that make those at the event feel like they are part of a community, and one of the things that makes a dance venue good.
I’ve deliberately left out some of the bad, and a few of the good things in my description of these venues. Mostly because I don’t want to piss anyone off in the event that they find this blog and realise I wrote it. What I want to do instead, is use my experiences so far, as well as my experiences back home to write a list of things that I feel make a good dance venue good. I guess this is my opinion of what my opinion of ‘good’ is, which is partly shaped by the notion that being part of a dance scene is not purely about going out and dancing until you are exhausted. So some of you may dispute my list or deem it incomplete. I’ve written previously about my reservations about blogging; so please just take this as my opinion, and not a well articulated argument that is being put out there for circulation and debate! Having said that, feel free to comment or add to the list if you wish
1. A welcoming front desk.
Assuming it is an event where payment is required, the way the front desk is set up can be important, particularly for making newcomers feel welcome. Decent lighting so people can find their money and/or club cards is definitely a plus. As is having the desk slightly away from the dancing area, so that people can stand around it and ask questions if they wish. A friendly person on the front desk is essential, and whilst this might not be feasible in larger scenes, it is nice if the person on the front desk is able to keep an eye out for people who look new (they often look a little lost, so they stand out quite easily), ask their names, and introduce themselves. Time permitting, it is also nice to make an effort to inform the new people of the regular events, and encourage them to sign up for newsletters or membership.
2. Access to water.
At the regular event I helped to run back home, we sold bottled water. People also had access to free water via the bathroom taps and water fountains (the event takes place in a primary school hall). I acknowledge that many dance venues are not able to sell their own cheap bottled water, as they are bars or what not, but access to free water should be obligatory at every venue. I’ve been to a venue, where not only do you have to pay for bottled water, but all the cold water taps in the bathrooms have been disabled. With the exception of one single bathroom, but people tend to use that for up to 10 minutes at a time to get changed and god knows what else, so it’s not really a viable option. When I asked about this, I was told that the venue does this so that a) More people buy bottled water (for much more than it is worth, might I add!) and b) To keep their water bills down. So it’s not the fault of the dance organisers, but it does highlight the need for such organisers to liase properly with the venue organisers to ensure that water is available. Where I come from, you are pretty much legally obligated to ensure access to free drinking water anywhere alcohol is served.
3. Announce yourself.
The vast majority of people that attend a social dance event will know at least who runs it and may have a vague idea of what it is about. But for those who don’t, and as a nice gesture, I think it is nice to have some form of announcements during the night. At a bare minimum, announce the night and introduce/thank the DJs. If it is an new/unfamiliar/larger venue, some basing housekeeping announcements never go astry either. Let people know where the bathrooms are, if/where they can buy drinks at the venue, and if there are any other important issues (eg parking) they should be aware of. I also it is nice to throw in something a little more social every now and then, like circle/steal dances for peoples birthdays and for those leaving the city. An occasional performance is nice too. Perhaps I was indulged to have all of these in my hometown, but I do feel that it really makes a difference in terms of making the place feel like a real community as opposed to somewhere to just dance.
4. Breathing room.
Any dancer will tell you that crowded dancefloors are often part of the package. Fair enough; many venues, awesome as they may be, just don’t have enough dance floor space for everyone to do massive swing outs at the same time. And whilst that isn’t awesome, it’s ok. What’s not ok is when, in addition to a small dancefloor space, there is minimal space for people to sit down/talk/change their shoes and any of the other things people do when they aren’t dancing. It’s really important that there is some non dance floor space, where people can chill out, without getting kicked or knocked over by dancers 2 inches away from them. At a bare minimum, some chairs around the perimeter of the dance floor is a good start. What is even nicer is (and this applies more so to venues that aren’t also bars etc open to the general public), some space outside, that is easy to access, where people can get some fresh air, and have a conversation without shouting over the music.
There is a lot I could write here, but for now I will stick to the basics. Lighting is important. No dancer enjoys social dancing in a brightly lit venue; but a venue that is so dark you can’t see who is on the other side of the room is not cool either. Pair a lack of adequate lighting with a lack of adequate floor space and you pretty much have yourself a night club dance floor with less drunkeness. Unfortunately, many venues are not designed as dancing halls, so their lighting is not designed to function as such. Often there are only 2 options: all of the lights, or none of the lights. In these instances, it seems that venues choose to go for the no lights option. A lack of lighting in these circumstances can be easily solved with a couple of lamps or strings of IKEA lights. Affordable, easy to set up, and they can make all the difference.
6. Add a little novelty.
When the same social dance is held at the same time every week/fortnight/month, at the same venue, it’s easy for it to get a little monotonous, awesome dancing aside. Mix it up a little with a bit of a theme every now and then. Doesn’t have to be anything large scale; an occasional dress up for Halloween/Christmas; a silly hat night; a fundraiser night; a ‘bring a plate’ night (if the venue permits). If possible, throw in some decorations to compliment the theme. If the dancing group running the event has a performance team, throw in a performance every now and then. Examples I have experienced are: Christmas parties, Halloween themes, ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ where everyone brought a plate of food, ‘Frocktober’ – (An Australian based charity for womens cancers) where everyone was encouraged to wear a dress (including the guys), and prizes were given. None of these required huge amounts of preparation in terms of decorations etc, but they were all fun, and the majority of those who attended got in to the theme and spirit of things.
As usual, I have started this blog with more ideas in my head than I am now able to recall. I might add them later. Or I might leave it. Feel free to add to the list!