Then, while in Philadelphia earlier this month, I had the opportunity to discuss my thoughts on the scene – everything from its size to its community feeling. In the process of having to actually have an opinion, it got me thinking: what makes a good scene for beginners?
When teaching new students right before the dance: if you read ad liminem, I quite agree with the author’s post on teaching new students before a dance. In particular, I think that having fun should be the biggest emphasis of any beginner class – because if we’re not here to have fun, then why come out at all?
Within the basics, I think it is important to get the shape and the direction of the movement, but I don’t think it’s important to get all the technical details. Make sure they’re not inflicting pain, try to get them to understand triple steps, and then move on. After that, anything you can get beginners to learn is icing on the cake – and if they have fun, they’ll start taking beginner and intermediate series for lindy hop and east coast, where technique is much easier to emphasize.
Announcements of some sort: Beginners show up at dances for all different reasons – whether their friends dragged them out or they saw someone dancing in public. But have you ever thought about how hard it is to learn about everything which goes on in the dance scene? We’re used to it, but beginners aren’t.
I think simple announcements about other places to learn work really well right after a beginner’s lesson (for Atlanta, I like to talk about Down South Swing right after the lesson at Hot Jam). During the dance, it’s then easy to make the standard announcements about bigger events coming up. Presto: everyone knows everything.
Note: my pet peeve about announcements is unintelligible mumbling into a microphone. It encourages everyone to talk over you, and then no one gets the message. If this is an issue, then do something about it.
Create excitement about learning more: This is something I think Philly does extremely well. I heard more announcements about upcoming classes and workshops than I could count. And then, I think it helps that LaB has two simultaneous classes: one for the pure beginners, and one for the intermediate dancers. The more beginners learn, the more they want to learn; teaching technique becomes easier, and the students are happier as they come to understand the dance.
The more I think about this, the more I think that Atlanta could improve in this aspect. I see announcements about Down South Swing classes, and KSU has been putting on mini-workshops – but I don’t see a lot of beginners excited about these classes.
Host mini-workshops: There have been a couple attempts at this in Atlanta, I think – but they’ve all stuttered to a stop, one way or another. I think that very small, very localized workshops can create a feeling of accomplishment in beginners (where one learns a lot in a short period of time), with the added benefit of setting them up to attend larger workshops both locally and regionally.
I think the key is to keep it simple: use local instructors (there’s no need to bring someone from out of town for a small, local workshop), and keep the subject limited: “Charleston Crash-Course,” or “Starting to Swing Out.” Make it three to four hours on a Saturday, and make it super-affordable. Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a month-long series of classes – it’s hard to get the same day off every week of the month, especially when you’re beginning!
I don’t think these small workshops would make a lot of money (though if I’m wrong, it could just go back into the organization to fund more fantastic dances), but I do think they would generate excitement as a whole group of people suddenly learns to Charleston.
I understand every scene is different – especially when it comes to how beginners are both recruited and taught. However, I do think that scenes specifically interested in growing their scene, or improving it in general for beginners, should think seriously about how they approach 1) education and 2) creating excitement.
And of course, when all else fails, you can always fall back on one tried and true manner of creating a welcoming scene for beginners: talk to them, and ask them to dance. Personally invite them to the monthly dance or upcoming exchange. And have fun, because it inspires the same in those around you.
I’d love to hear other thoughts and opinions on this — I’m sure there’s oodles of advice on how to recruit and keep new dancers. So let me know!