We all come to ceroc or modern jive via different routes. Some have danced forever but want to try something new, or a friend has asked them to come along for moral support. Others have never danced but have been inspired by a tv show, or theatre performance or have even seen a display at a fete or in a shopping area. Encouraging people new to dance is what modern jive is great at – convincing nervous beginners that they really can dance.
But over the last few years, despite the increase in dance shows on tv, the numerous dance tours across towns all over the country, and people being encouraged to try exercise, numbers attending dance classes I’ve been to have dwindled. With venues closing all over the place.
Some are because the suitable venues just aren’t available – in my area alone, 1 large successful freestyle venue closed. The freestyle has been replaced with another venue, but it’s not the same and not as successful. Some nights recently have had much lower numbers than in previous months. And another long standing venue was closed for refurbishment about 3 years ago, and the replacement venue (a school) wasn’t liked by many people so the few who did still attend couldn’t keep it open. The refurbishment still hasn’t taken place so that previous busy ceroc class night has now gone.
I must be the person jinxing these venues though – since I started dancing, virtually every ceroc/modern jive venue I’ve regularly attended has closed – 9 of them in one county over a 9 year period! Whether it’s down to newbies not being attracted to dancing, changing venues, or big clumps of dancers leaving in one go – having kids, moving house, politics or moving on to other dance styles. That’s a lot of venues to close when there are still dancers wanting to dance anywhere from 1 to 5 times a week.
With reduced numbers and fewer new beginners coming through the doors, it means some owners have had to restructure class nights. Some are moving to predominantly freestyle and maybe only offering fun or advanced classes with a freestyle, rather than the traditional beginner and intermediate levels followed by freestyle. This does then mean that you end up catering for those who would go to class whatever the situation but that you’re not filling the dance funnel – you’re not bringing in the beginners who’ll be the future of classes. We’re also seeing a lot more tea dances popping up alongside themed workshops. Modern jive is constantly changing.
Some venues are still getting the people through the doors, and successfully bringing in new beginners. Some are long term venues, others are opening new additional venues. They must be doing something right to retain and bring in new blood.
How are they filling the dance funnel?
My theory is social media. And there’s still much to go after in this area. I do a lot on social media and have learnt a lot over the last 6 years of blogging, mostly that social media is always changing. Traditional methods of advertising still needs to continue.
But before organisations start advertising, they obviously need to deliver what they set out to do
Successful dance classes need:
Strong and consistent teaching – not all dancers can be good teachers and vice versa, experience and personality count for a lot, and being able to judge the level of needs and interest in a class. Some technique teaching is good, but able to get buy in from dancers who just want to socialise, that some technique will help people improve.
Regularity of classes – start on time, finish on time, start the freestyle on time, keep closures to a minimum or ensure attendees know before turning up that a class night has had to be called off.
Friendly faces – a good experienced crew, who do what they’re meant to, easily accessible and approachable, and are people that others want to dance with. The door staff should also be friendly (and learn people’s names). It gives me great satisfaction to still see some of the people who were beginners in my taxi beginner review sessions who’re still dancing 6 years later.
Teachers who will dance in the freestyle after classes. Many dancers come to class and hope for the opportunity to dance with the teacher and ask questions or go over the moves if they had problems. It makes a difference
A good mix of music and a dj who can recognise what is liked by the clientele but who will also push the boundaries for some of the more advanced dancers. The music should be proactive and reactive, and not too samey.
Action on feedback. Good customer service and happy dancers means listening to feedback and taking action to respond to that feedback.
A feeling of community. While some don’t move across venues, but most dancers move around and aren’t necessarily loyal to one venue or company. But there’s a great dance community and there’s always chat amongst dancers at different venues. So if a venue or organiser can create a good community amongst its dancers there’s more chance of retaining them, and encouraging new beginners to feel part of that. Dancing isn’t a cult, but the feeling of belonging can be a strong one. And of course we want to convert people to love dance.
A fair pricing structure. Regions and venue costs can vary, as does staff costs, but for most people over £10 is make or break for attendance. If you have a pro teaching technical small classes where you can answer individual questions, then you might be able to get away with a higher price, but if people want to start dancing more than once a week, need to pay babysitters, pay for travel and go as a couple, it starts getting expensive.
Then it’s a case of getting new feet through the door. My theory is that keeping dancers coming to class and freestyles is like a classic sales funnel. You get lots of drop off so you need to go wide to capture people to try and retain a good proportion of those.
How to attract new dancers:
Show them what modern jive is
Until they see it most people have no idea what modern jive is. Unlike salsa or ballroom, it’s an unknown entity, so getting videos or live dancing in front of people is key to getting them to give it a go.
Busking has been done a lot in the past, but it can be hit and miss how much conversion you actually get from handing out hundreds of flyers. You can also put on demos at fetes or events, or why not approach local companies to offer a class as part of health and wellbeing programmes or for team building programmes. People can be embarrassed about dancing with work colleagues, but quite often someone comes out of hiding who’s done ceroc before, and it’s gets it on people’s radars.
Have classes for universities. Larger cities especially university towns tend to have younger demographics, and universities often have dance societies, so why not try and link up with these. Ok, it’s not easy to get people to teach during the day when they have day jobs, but worth looking at. Getting people in young, and getting them to try with friends to make it more of a social thing, encourages people to stick at dance for longer.
Videos are huge at the moment, with YouTube and Facebook Live or Instagram Stories. If you compare the number of videos you see for west coast swing or salsa vs modern jive, there’s a handful of decent videos for our dance. Of course, modern jive doesn’t necessarily have the pros and competitions promotions like WCS does, but if more normal punters were able to video themselves, then more people would see what it’s really like. (I’ve been trying to get a video of me dancing for a couple of people asking at work for the past year, but it’s not easy in semi darkness, having to ask random people to take videos).
Word of mouth
Use the passion of existing dancers. They love to dance, they travel around, they have friends, hobbies and they usually have work colleagues. So ask them to encourage other people along, to put up class posters at work.
Do a ‘Bring a friend’ offer. Some independents do this where the friend gets the first session free, or you can do a stamp card for dancers and each time they bring a friend along they get a stamp. Fill the card and get a free night dancing.
Stalk your competitors or other franchisees to find out what works for them
You can always learn from your competition. Where are they getting their dancers from, what do they offer than you don’t, how can you better what they do.
Try something new
Try running a competition. If you target your competition it could be successful. Have a competition to win a number of dance classes and promote on your social media page, ask people to enter and then tag a friend. Social media do have strict rules on how you can and can’t run competitions so make sure you check those out, but you can get good reach by people sharing. Target it to local people, offer all entrants a discount code for their first class, and you may find you have lots of new people.
Have a buddy system for new beginners. Yes, use taxi dancers, but sometimes it’s not the dancing part but the sitting on their own that makes people feel uncomfortable. So make sure they have people to talk to when they’re not up dancing.
Have music request nights where people can bring along their playlists of 3 tracks or a 15 minute slot, talk it through with the dj to ensure they’re all danceable and let them loose. You could have 1 slot a month or 1 a week. You might find some interesting tracks, you might find some that no-one likes, but you might spark an interest in people to encourage them to come back and hear more.
Use social media effectively
Yes social media is hard to crack. Mostly because Facebook make it hard to reach the people you used to be able to. And Instagram has gone the same way since Facebook took it over. But it can be done if you tailor your advertising and don’t make it all about the hard sell.
Tips on social media:
1, Facebook – good for reaching local audiences. Share in general dance groups, local advertising pages, local what’s on pages, as well as looking at targeting local audiences through ads. It doesn’t cost much to boost a few posts – although watch out for terminology that Facebook doesn’t like (eg free, offer, sale, ads need to be more about helping people). For instance you can target people who watch Strictly Come Dancing, are interested in fitness, Zumba and live in a certain area etc.
2, Instagram – there are dancers on Instagram but they’re hard to find. Use relevant hashtags, tag a location in your pictures, and show behind the scenes look at dance as well as sharing moves or freestyle video clips.
3, Twitter – I’m always amazed by how few people are on twitter in the dance community. It’s easy to pop in and chat, hold a twitter party when you get a reasonable number of followers, give updates, share news from around the dance community, and make use of local business chats to get the name out there and find similar niche businesses to help target your audiences. For example, why not speak to local chiropractors, massage therapists or doctors to put up flyers.
The better modern jive and ceroc organisations out there are always active on their page. Whether it’s advertising their freestyles and classes, talking about offers, asking questions to encourage interaction, commenting on other people’s pages, and thanking people afterwards for coming, asking people for feedback at the same time. Get people to interact a couple of times, and you’ll be seen in their Facebook feeds. But don’t stalk people’s personal profiles unless you actually know them.
Have a blog or regularly updated news area on your websites
And learn about SEO to ensure you are at the top of search engines when people are searching for things to do in the local area.
Traditional advertising through print
Flyers still work if you reach targeted audiences in the right places. Obviously alongside a busk is a good option, but why not look at local arts centres and small theatres for advertising. Our local arts centre attracts lots of people who love dance, so getting your flyers into places like that and tourist information centres are also options.
There must be more ways we can keep encouraging more people to start dancing, get them hooked and continue to have new people to dance with on our own dance journey.
- I want to ensure that dance venues have the people there to dance with.
- I want venues to stay open and organisers to have the interest asking them to open more new venues.
- And I want more people to enjoy modern jive and ceroc.
How did you come to modern jive? How would you like to be talked to by venue organisers? And do you have any ideas for encouraging new dancers in?