Greetings from Minneapolis/St. Paul!
We are in our fourth year of a once-a-month family dance immediately
preceding the regular Saturday evening contra. We run 6:30pm - 8:00 pm with
a break for a snack in the middle. The contra dance runs 8:00pm - 11:00pm.
We charge $10/family of any size (and any definition), plus we tell family
dancers that they are welcome to come to the first hour of the contra for
free. That's plenty late enough for most families with small kids. Most
families that stay just watch, but some kids do try it out.
We have a somewhat unusual arrangement because we have two dance halls, a
small one and a larger one. We run the family dance in the smaller hall,
meaning that we can run right up to the start of the contra without
interfering with sound setup, teaching session, etc. A lot of
early-arriving contra dancers will stop to watch the family dance on their
way in. Having the two spaces also means that we can have kids with extra
energy to burn racing around in the small hall while the contra is starting
in the big hall.
We have a separate band/caller for the family dance and the main dance. We
run the family dance on a shoestring budget -- everyone who calls or plays
knows they'll probably get gas money and that's it. So far, we've been able
to find callers and musicians willing to do it primarily for the fun and
We've found that we have almost no 'core' family dancers who are there
every time. But we have several families that come 4-5 times a year. (We
gave up on June-July-August dances this year, so we're doing 9 per year.)
As with contra, word-of-mouth is the most important way we've gotten folks
in the door. We did get some people through an interview my daughter and I
did on a local bluegrass radio show -- you can find it at
(click play next to
"family dance on the radio").
One thing you didn't ask about that I think has been important is the
continuity of programming. Our three regular callers have an overlapping
repertoire of dances, so kids will usually see some of the same dances that
they did the last time. And kids that come frequently begin to know dances
and can request specific ones. My daughter has called dances occasionally
since we started (she's 12 now), and hopefully we'll get one or two other
kids up to calling a particular favorite dance themselves.
Another important point you didn't mention is safety. No dancing with small
kids on dad's shoulders. No whirling kids round and round with feet off the
ground. No kids wandering off by themselves to explore other parts of the
building. NEVER have a situation where a kid is alone with an adult that is
not a parent or other caregiver. And make sure that there are ingredients
available for all food provided so that parents can check for allergy
issues or other dietary restrictions.
That's what we have going on here. It's working pretty well, except that we
need some new blood on the organizing committee so that people can step
aside before they burn out. But that's a common need for all sorts of
community projects, isn't it?