Thank You Richard for this topic.
You did a great job of describing the situation. Word of mouth is key. All
of the other methods of "getting the word out" are ancillary at best and
should be regarded as serving to support the word of mouth effort. Flyers,
for example, are there to remind folks of what they heard from someone else
and substantiate the reference they have heard. This is one reason I think
flyers should be limited to only the vital information needed to
participate. Flyers work better when they do *not *attempt to persuade
anyone or tell them *why *they should attend. In a similar vein flyers
should also not attempt to describe or define the dance. Assume that the
reader has already heard about the dance from a friend or an acquaintance.
Using some reverse psychology is important. If the reader thinks the flyer
is "begging" for new participants it can be a turn off. In this respect
small dances might consider setting an exclusive tone in the sense that it
is a "best kept secret" rather than a poorly attended dance. I have seen
this work for small dances in our area. When dancers "discover" a small
dance and view it as a private secret other dancers become very interested.
Some dancers will keep the secret for fear that lots of new people will
destroy the "charm" of the small dance. This also works for newcomers.
You are absolutely correct about the role of young people. Here in Santa
Cruz, CA the area dance society has welcomed young people to become key
players in the dance community. Several are on the Board of Directors,
several are musicians at dances, and at least one is a caller.
I don't, by the way, view this process as one of "recruiting" new dancers.
I view it as a way of opening the dance events to the wider community. That
is a different perspective. If we view the dance as a community social
event the goal shifts from one of attempting to convert newcomers into dance
enthusiasts to one of simply opening the dance to a more diverse and
interesting community of participants. An effort to "convert" people or
"get them hooked" requires too much energy and is not consistent with the
explicit message that "all are welcome" and "no experience is
- Greg McKenzie
On Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 8:21 PM, Richard Hart <rich(a)harts.mv.com> wrote:
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
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
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,
Luke Donev remarked on 4/29/2010 1:47 PM:
The post on walk-throughs for new dancers got me
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.
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