[Callers] Recruiting new dancers

Richard Hart rich at harts.mv.com
Wed Sep 21 20:21:45 PDT 2011


While looking through old email messages, I found your query about new dancers and the thread of responses. I'd never read them until now (think I was away then), so forgive me my considerable delay in responding. I attend and call a number of dances in New Hampshire, and a few in Mass. and VT, as well. Some are fairly small, while others are much larger. Here are a few of my observations on this subject of attracting new dancers.

1. I have often asked new dancers how they heard about the dance and came to try it out. At least 95% of the time, the new dancers say that they came with a friend who recommended it to them. Most of the rest were existing dancers visiting or recently moved here from out of state, where they had danced before.

2. I don't know if I have ever head a new dancer say they came because of an ad in a newspaper, a poster in a store or library, or an announcement on the radio.  A positive TV report, or front page newspaper report may bring a few, but those reports are usually few and far between. Word of mouth from existing satisfied dancers is really the primary way that new dancers arrive at out dances.

3. Because word of mouth is so important, small dances are already at a disadvantage because there are fewer dancers there who might bring friends. Children (and grandchildren) of existing dancers are sometimes the key to developing a group of younger dancers at a dance.  This has often been the case here.

4. The biggest dances here are those that have attracted a lot of younger dancers (high school, college age, 20-somethings). Younger dancers almost always come with friends, or plan to meet them at the dance.  Kids who are too young to drive will usually bring their parents or older siblings. Finally younger dancers always add a lot of energy to a dance. They almost always make a dance livelier and more attractive to other and older dances. It seems to be almost always the case that if you can get the younger dancer to come to a dance, others will follow.

5. So, how do you get the younger dancer to come to a dance, and keep them coming back? I think that one key is to help them think that the dance is THEIR dance. Let them join the band and play some of the music. Teach them to call, if they want to do that. Email them flyers to post at school or to give to friends. Ask them to design a flyer for the dance. Lower the price for students and kids, or make it free for those who bring a friend for the first time. Ask them what dances and tunes they prefer, and do those dances.

6. I think that some of our contra dances here are the first place where many teens speak with adults on an equal basis.  It's a social situation where they have some control over what they do and what happens, perhaps the first in their lives. That is if the dance organizers allow them that control and also ask for their help in making the dance fun, and a success.  If the caller or dance organizers appear more like a teacher or disciplinarian, they may not come back.

7. That said, we must also remind dancers, both young and old to keep things safe for all. Keep time with the music, and watch out for dancers who might be out of place, or a little slower , such as a young child, someone with an injury, or an older dancer. Don't talk down to the younger dances or single them out; simply remind everyone that we are there to have fun, and we must also watch out for the safety of others. That's all that's necessary 99% of the time.

Finally, we hope to show how this has happened a number of times at one dance here as part of the retrospective at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend in January.  Watch for a new website for the weekend shortly.

Enough for now,
Rich Hart.

Luke Donev remarked on 4/29/2010 1:47 PM:
> The post on walk-throughs for new dancers got me thinking about
> recruiting new dancers. This straddles dance caller and dance
> organizer, but I'd like to hear people's responses.
> I'm curious about people's experiences recruiting new dancers. I've
> seen several dances that do a lower cost for first time dancers to try
> to lower the barrier for entry. Has any group tried doing a coupon for
> a discount when they come back a second time?
> I feel like the venues for dances are usually such that folks don't
> randomly wander in. If folks show up for a first time, they've decided
> to come (or were brought). Does knowing there is a discount for first
> timers help make them come? When there is a discount, how often do the
> first timers know that coming in? I'm pondering the scenario where you
> charge full price for the first time, when they've committed to coming
> out, and then give them a coupon to come back at a discount price
> their second time.
> I know a lot of people who tried contra once and were hooked, and I've
> seen people who try for a little bit and then never come back. Is it
> worth trying to up the likelihood of a second experience, at what
> fractional cost for the first? Or should the focus be on that first
> experience, and making the barriers for entry as low as possible?
> If a group has the resources, then it can just say that the first two
> dances are cheaper, but I feel like giving someone a reminder,
> business card sized, with the website to check for more information,
> is a nice way of having them think about the dance at least once more.
> Do callers doing one night gigs announce local dance options if they
> know them? Or do you only talk about it with the folks who come up and
> ask? Presumably if a caller has been brought in, the organizer of the
> party knows the folks at the party and the local dance scene. Is it on
> the caller or the organizer to spread information about other chances
> to dance? And do you broadcast wide, or focus on the folks who seem
> really in to it. I think culturally, at a societal level, we've lost
> the sense that we can dance after our 20s at things besides weddings,
> which is a real shame.
> --
> Luke Donev
> http://www.lukedonev.com
> Luke.Donev at gmail.com
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