One of the biggest downfalls of dance events – particularly Lindy Hop ones – is the effort to make an event something it is not.
If you host your event in a hotel it is unlikely it is going to ever feel like an intimate gathering or a street-style event.
If you host your event in bars and speakeasy’s it is unlikely that it will feel very family friendly or unified.
If your dance venue is a gymnasium it’s not going to feel vintage like an old ballroom.
Those aren’t necessarily bad things. But they are things you have to take into consideration when you are planning an event.
If you want a studio environment where the atmosphere fosters collaboration and learning then you will want to plan your schedule and spaces accordingly. The same goes if you want a vintage dance night – holding it in a dance studio with mirrors isn’t likely to evoke the atmosphere you are looking for, while a classic bar with a dance floor or a proper historic ballroom will.
Three examples of events that play to their authentic atmosphere:
CSC is held far outside of Montreal at a secluded resort hotel. Participants are almost guaranteed to be staying at the resort, eating on site and wandering the halls at all hours. CSC prides itself on being a competition event but even more so on being a party event. You can’t beat the resort atmosphere for a closed party event.
There is plenty of time for social dancing divided between the main ballroom and a smaller (usually west coast swing) room and DJs are booked purposefully till the breaking hours of the morning so that attendees can filter in and out throughout the wee hours. Two party rooms are provided with open bars (bartenders work on tips only) each with their own unique atmosphere which run every night until people pass out or filter back to their rooms.
The enclosed nature of the resort, the late hours for dancing, and the easy flow of attendees between the dance spaces, hotel rooms, and party rooms makes for an incredibly welcoming party atmosphere. CSC doesn’t try to be the “hot live music” event or the “friendly and intensive learning environment” or even the “carnival of swing” because that’s not what it is about. It’s about the party and the competition and those are clearly prioritized.
ULHS changed its game this year when it moved to New Orleans. Previously it was just the most badass competition event in the world, now it’s one of the most unique events out there. It is an event that is part of the city of New Orleans and the culture of jazz music.
Attendees are scattered primarily throughout the French Quarter or close to downtown where jazz is on nearly every corner and in every bar. Events are located at prime jazz clubs and bars giving an intimate connection with the musicians, on a Riverboat and on the very streets of New Orleans. The dancing is tied directly to the musicians rather than to a DJ. This gives a unique live music experience which most competition events lack.
Competitions are structured without levels – meaning there is only one playing field and you better step up if you’re going to be out there. ULHS prides itself on a no-rules kind of environment, if you can rock it and convince the judges, then you’ve got it. The live music requirement also drastically changes the Show division from other events, forcing dancers to work very closely with the band and putting them up against all types of showcase pieces.
The city-wide nature of the events, the no-rules no-level competitions, and the deliberate relationship to live music set up ULHS as an event that has carved out its own niche among so many standard-format events. ULHS isn’t an “enclosed hotel” event or a “highly structured competition” event. It would fail at these things and those who expect tons of space, DJed music or the best dance floors in the world are sure to find fault with it. But ULHS has its niche – and you damn well better be prepared for it.
MWLF isn’t on most peoples dance event maps but it should be. Especially if you are an amateur looking to make a name for yourself, interested in great classes, or a friendly and inviting social atmosphere. MWLF is a weekend of workshops, a friday night show, and two very specific competitions.
The friday night show kicks off the whole weekend similar to the Jump Session show of Camp Jitterbug (on a smaller level albeit). Choreographies and dance pieces are presented by instructors and attendees. The show sets the tone for the entire weekend giving it a professional yet approachable feeling – inviting participation and viewing of non-competition choreography.
The competitions are geared only towards amateurs. Unlike most competition events where the biggest and best names are out there trying to rock their names, the competitors at MWLF are the aspiring dancers looking to try their hand at some real competition. They are the main event and have a chance to shine with all the support of the crowd.
With the lack of excessive competitions, social dancing is a high priority with excellent local bands and national DJs providing the music. Dancing runs relatively late and people can either be out dancing or socializing in the side room. Spontaneous jams that are welcoming and for fun instead of for showing off spring up within the friendly atmosphere of the event.
MWLF is an amateur showdown prefaced with a mood setting show, full of excellent classes and instruction and packaged in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. It’s not your “typical workshop weekend” focusing only on classes, nor is it a “full blown competition” event. It’s about showcasing the up-and-coming dancers and providing a rounded dance event experience – not too much of any one thing and all things in excellent taste.
In conclusion – event organizers need to determine the atmosphere that they want their event to project and them make them remarkable.
Ask yourself these questions when you start planning an event.
What kind of words would you want used to describe the event?
What is the principle focus of your event, i.e. what does it showcase?
What kind of dancers do you want to attract to your event?
Write a mission statement for your event around the answers to those questions.
You can’t make everyone happy so you might as well appeal to the people you really want at your event and make it the best kind of event by making it remarkable in a niche.
Flickr photo courtesy of Adjustafresh.