Alan, Gale and all,
I'm replying to both the organizers and callers lists, since I think
Alan's comments are quite keen and hope those of you on the organizers'
list who missed them can look at them (he sent them only to the callers
I have a somewhat unique perspective on passing on leadership roles in
dance communities. I've been one of the primary organizers for the
contra dance here at Oberlin College for three years, now, as well as
the primary organizer for our dance weekend, the Dandelion Romp, last
year, and one of the organizers this year. Our dance has existed for
five or six years, now, and our dance weekend has been an annual event
for the past eight years. As our dances are student run, nobody has run
any part of the dance for more than three years at a time, which means
we have to find creative ways to pass it on. Many of our dancers, too,
are students, and so we have to constantly advertize and find new ways
to attract people to dances, since few of our dancers have been
attending for more than three and a half years.
In the past, we've relied on one or two people to do most of the
organizing at dances, and particularly for the Romp. Things have slowly
changed, however. As Alan suggested, having meetings about the
direction of the dance community and splitting up tasks into manageable
commitments has been vital for us. There is more you can do for your
community, though. We have somewhat regular potluck dinners, where the
dance organizers and interested dancers can socialize and talk about our
contra dance scene. These can help create a sense of stewardship;
dancers will start to feel like the dance is a part of their community
that's worth investing time in, rather than just a service that some
people provide for many others. Also, for us, our dances became more of
a group effort when we officially chartered them as student
organizations with Oberlin College. I really think that making an
organization, and writing bylaws, can help keep the dance going when the
people who started the dance no longer wish to organize it. I don't
mean that you should necessarily immediately incorporate your dance
community as a nonprofit and start declaring all your income and
expenses, of course, but even a short document explaining the purpose of
the dance and perhaps outlining some distinct jobs that people can do to
keep the dance running might help a lot.
Alan Winston - SSRL Central Computing wrote:
Dance venue in transition Qs?
Just curious as to longevity of dance series.
How do you handle organizer burnout?
I know an organizer who has been at it for 12
years and wishes to turn
over to a new 'generation'.
How do you generate support and bring new people
in to the organization
(dancers scatter when there is mention of
There is a small loyal group of dancers. The
problem is no one wishes to
take up the duties of organizer. This is compounded by the fact that the
main organizer needs to
be a resident of the town where the dance is held. (I do what I can. I
organized a dance and found it was not my calling. esp. as the sole
organizer, dancers want to dance not organize!)
You're not looking for an individual to whom the organizer can hand the robe
and sceptre; you're looking to (a) get a certain minimum set of duties done and
(b) develop a broader sense of ownership of the dance so that people feel
motivated to help get the duties done (and possibly expand the stuff that gets
One of those duties is to be the resident interface to the town, but that
person probably doesn't actually have to be the person who books the staff,
sweeps the floor, and bakes the cookies (if any).
People are wary of open-ended commitments, so "could you be the organizer of a
dance series" is a scary question. "Could you bring refreshments in
even-numbered months?" is a much less scary kind of question.
I'd suggest that you announce at a dance (maybe two dances) that at date X in
the future, so-and-so plans to retire from running the dance, and that at
(well-defined date and location well before that time) there'll be a meeting
for those interested in having the dance continue to discuss what to do about
You do need somebody to host that meeting and somebody to facilitate/lead it
and it would be helpful if the organizer could, beforehand, make a list of the
stuff that he or she does for the series.
If there's nobody willing to even come to a meeting, then the dance series
doesn't have enough dancer commitment to function, and it'll have to die when
the organizer retires. If you get some people, you can start discussing what
needs to happen and who can do it, and possibly extract commitments either to
do those things or to recruit people to do those things. If nobody's willing
to make even the commitments necessary to keep the dance functioning, then it
has to shut down. Maybe they'll miss it enough when it's gone to start it up
I don't have an answer if you've got enough volunteers to keep it going and
nobody fulfills the residency requirement, except to ask the current organizer
to keep functioning in the reduced-obligation role of resident interface to the