We love that lindy hop is a bit of a niche hobby, a little too geeky and involved to appeal to the mainstream perhaps and that suits us just fine BUT we also love having new people to dance with. So how can we make sure that those that do work up the courage to venture into our little subculture stick around long enough to become excellent dance partners? How do we make sure that our dance communities continue to grow? Here are a few things that anyone can do to help keep new dancers coming back for more.
- Be seen. Try to find a way to hold at least a few events in public spaces; outdoor dances, a social dance held in a space that is also open to the public, a charity event in a public space. All of these give people an opportunity to see what you do and how fun it looks. Make sure you’ve got some fliers for local classes for anyone who’s interested.
- Keep on top of Social Media Make sure you’ve got information about your classes online at least with a simple website and facebook page and keep the information up to date so that potential new dancers can find out where and when classes are held and how to get in touch.
- Make the first move. This is one that everyone can help with. Keep an eye out for new people that you don’t recognize at a social dance and make a point of asking them to dance or at least say hello and introduce yourself. Will you intimidate them? Possibly (more on that in a moment) but more importantly you’ll make them feel welcome and included.
- Be Gentle. Dancing with newbies can take a bit of skill but here are a few tips that can help. Whether you’re a follower or a leader try to have a really clear bounce to help your partner find the beat. Keep it simple, avoid crazy variations or tricky moves. Be ready take it slow, new leaders may spend ages just stepping before they attempt to lead a move, new followers may need time to recover between moves.
- Be Reassuring If you’re dancing with a beginner dancer chances are that they’ll be worried that they’re doing everything wrong and ruining the dance for you. Let them know that they are doing a great job, they’ll learn faster by getting out there and social dancing. Even if you’re just having a chat with a newbie on the sidelines you can reassure them that everyone on the dance floor was once a beginner, encourage them to ask someone to dance, maybe even point out dancers that you know are good at dancing with newbies.
- Avoid unsolicited feedback Whether you’re having a social dance with a beginner dancer or dancing with them in a class, the one thing to avoid is giving them feedback or tips on their dancing. It might sound a bit counter-intuitive because you know they just want to get it right. However getting lots of unsolicited feedback can be overwhelming for any dancer and can make them feel very unwelcome. When you already feel like a clumsy octopus surrounded by graceful swans, and you’re desperately trying to keep up with what’s going on, the last thing you need is for every partner you dance with to let you know just how terrible you are. The most welcoming and effective way to help new dancers in a class is to be reassuring, make sure they are able to listen to what the teacher is saying, and help them practice by doing only what is being taught in a consistent way.
- Play music they can dance to. If you’re DJing a dance that has newer dancers in attendance make sure to periodically play some music that they can dance to–this might mean playing some slower tempo music or playing tracks that you know they’ve heard in class. If the event starts with a taster make sure the first few tracks at the start of the social dance are are the right style and tempo for whatever style was taught in the taster.
- Invite them along. Getting invited to go along with a group of dancers to the pub after a dance or for lunch between classes can easily be THE THING that tips the scale for a new dancer and makes them feel like they want to invest their time in becoming part of our community. Even though it was more than 15 years ago now, I’ll never forget the first workshop I went to and the dancers who invited me to join them for lunch that day and told me about a dance happening in the evening–that, more than anything else, is what made me want to keep going.
- Give them the inside scoop. Another great way to help beginner dancers is by letting them know about other classes, events and social dances that they can go to. Let them know where to find information about what’s going on in the local area, if there is a facebook group they can join or a website or community calendar to check.