So You Want to Grow Your Blues Community (or How to Help your City Catch the Blues)
By Pavel Tsinberg, San Diego-ish.
I live in a city that is better known for its fish tacos and draconian beach rules than for being a stronghold of blues dancing. We don’t suffer from a lack of blues bands, just haven’t really developed a thriving blues dance community. A little while ago, our only consistent blues (dance) venue ended its run and, coincidentally, some of the stronger dancers left town or sashayed into semi-retirement. My dance world developed a void, and I got involved to spread to word. Below are some thoughts on aiding and boosting the local blues scene.
Form a committee (yep, shades of Parks and Recs)
While the committee is not the end goal, it is a cornerstone to forming and executing successful growth strategy. A couple of like-minded individuals got together and contacted fellow dancers based on experience, reputation, willingness to put in the effort (thus including some newer, hungrier dancers), and ability to work within a group. Naturally, there were growing pains; our group went through a number of format and personnel permutations before settling on a formula that worked.
Create promotional/informational material (do people still use the internet?)
We live in the information age, so creating a web presence is paramount. Luckily, there is no shortage of people willing to be web masters, and, at the very least, Facebook is a very easy to use tool for promotion and organization purposes. And while it’s nice to have a beautiful, all encompassing page that includes history of dance and the like, the priority should be given to information pertaining to local dances: calendar of events, links to instructors, etc. As a final piece of self promotion, we printed out simple business cards with links to the web and Facebook pages, and the usual anonymous email address for questions.
Patronize a venue (well aren’t you a cute little dance floor)
The original idea of creating a brand new blues venue was eventually shelved as not being feasible in the short term. There just weren’t enough dancers to pay for space rental, and bars wouldn’t work since very few of the local dancers pay for drinks. We settled on setting up blues rooms at regular lindy venues, where we teach basic classes, and promote and demonstrate blues. I find that lindy hoppers are the lowest hanging fruit for seeding a blues scene (but that’s probably a topic for a separate article).
Follow up on the interest with blues bombs (social dancing to live music!)
This started out really small; just a few people getting together to dance for local blues acts. The main point was to create a sense of community and fun. Eventually, two couples became three, then…, some kind of numerical progression. We now organize well attended blues bombs almost every week. And so the joy spreads through live music.
Further solidify through practicas and house parties (all work and all fun)
Since we currently don’t have a consistent source of blues classes, we made an effort to increasing the overall blues skill through monthly practicas. At first, we kept them small, limited mostly to committee members and a few select friends. Once the format and location were worked out, practicas were opened up to general public. This proved to be a good platform for beginner dancers to get comfortable with the style without the pressure of actual social dancing, and of course, a place for more experienced dancers to exchange ideas and hone their moves.
When a critical mass of dancers was reached, it was time for regular house parties. I find these to be most successful in spreading the joy of blues dancing: they are intimate, fun, comfortable and safe.
Bring in instructors (invasion of dance gypsies)
There are always great out of town instructors available for workshops, however, there needs to be enough people attending to make classes financially feasible. During the early stages of our efforts, there wasn’t enough confidence that the scene could support a solid workshop. Eventually, we were ready to host a pair of traveling instructors. And while there were plenty of learning pains involved in figuring out the workshop format and pricing that would work for the local scene, in the end it proved to be a resounding success (and fun). Now, I have the confidence that we could hold smaller, cheaper, more focused day long workshops and that the scene would support it.
Conclusion (hey, I’m a scientist)
Growing your local dance scene is basically all about elbow grease, promotion and friends. It’s hard work, but at the end of the day, you get carried off the floor by a gaggle of follows (and that one lead who photobombs it)