How to make dancers feel welcome - What about dance

Making dancers feel welcome – essential or not?

With the number of modern jive options available in many areas now, venues are having to work harder to retain their dancers as well as to get beginners in.  If beginners don’t get hooked that first visit, the likelihood is they may find something else to do instead of dancing.  And the better dancers become, the more promiscuous they’re likely to become – switching between other dance styles and venues.  A big part of keeping customers coming back has to be down to feeling welcome and the friendliness of the venue.

Ok, so there’s a whole list of other requirements people have at a venue (class nights or freestyles)

  • Good teaching
  • Music they enjoy dancing to
  • Value for money
  • Convenient location
  • Nice venue
  • Bar or availability of drinks
  • People they know
  • Good  number of dancers with a range of abilities
  • Generous taxi dancers

But if you feel like an outsider when you walk through the door at the start AND the end of the night, then that’s a problem.

How to make dancers feel welcome - What about dance

Some people have said they’ve felt it’s not modern jive that’s the issue. That they find it worse in salsa or west coast swing, with the more technical dancers they feel there’s an elitism divide and cliques.  My experience of salsa freestyles that was certainly the case, but with any dance style it’s all dependent on the venue and the individual dancer.

I’ve danced in quite a few different  modern jive venues in my time, across 7 different counties as well as weekenders –  ceroc, a few independent modern jive companies, plus a couple of west coast swing organisations.  And at each place the welcome is very different.

Some places are wonderfully welcoming from staff on the door to the teachers, to the crew and the dancers.  And there are other venues where it’s the opposite – where it feels they couldn’t care less if you turn up or not. Then you have those in the middle where they’re dependent on the crew on the day. Some may be great, others less enthusiastic.

If everything else on the criteria list is positive, then a poorer welcome will be forgotten.  But otherwise, dancers who feel unwelcome won’t return.  And worse, will likely tell other dancing friends about the bad (or the good).  So much of modern jive is the community, with everyone wanting good opportunities for dancing, that venues really shouldn’t be letting the welcome (or not) hold them back.

My call out for the friendliest venues I’ve been to are run by Ceroc Beds & Bucks.  Each of their venues I’ve been to sporadically has been a similar environment with friendly door staff who remember you from a visit 6 months later, they’re make good use of social media and newsletters to keep their customers up to date, they’ll get up and dance with everyone. And their approach and friendliness rubs off on the dancers at those venues.  I’m always asked to dance there while most venues I go to I have to do the asking, and most of the men introduce themselves or chatted afterwards, some even coming over to share information or find out more about where I dance.  Big tick for those venues in welcoming visitors and making them feel like they want to return.

In contrast, there’s one venue I’ve been to a couple of times and I’ve really not felt welcome there.  Admittedly I’ve only been for freestyle nights, class nights might be different.  But I’ve also gone along with a friend who dances there more regularly, and even with her I didn’t feel anyone made an effort to make a new person feel welcome.  The person on the door couldn’t be bothered to take my details as a new person (on both occasions – although bonus I got in free), the layout wasn’t explained (it was a 2 room venue).  The dancers also kept themselves to themselves, weren’t keen on being asked to dance, and the only people who were more friendly were other visitors or dancers who’d been away a while and wanted to compare notes.  Let’s just say, it’s not a venue I’ll be going back to without being with a group of friends.  Bizarrely I’ve danced with a couple of the crew elsewhere and they were much more friendly.  Maybe it’s just something about that venue that gives everyone an unfriendly vibe.

Here’s  what I think makes people feel more welcome at dance venues:

1, Have a friendly person on the door

There’s no point putting someone on the door who isn’t going to look at visitors, talk to them and tell them about the night if they’re new.  Being recognised from event to event is a bonus.  Also a miserable person on the door who doesn’t look like they want to be there makes visitors feel down even before they’ve got on the dance floor.

2, Work Facebook like a pro

Yes Twitter and Instagram are great but Facebook is where most dancers seem to chat.  It’s great to advertise your events, and be available to answer questions (or have a rep do it for you. It’s better if it’s you).  Facebook pages are fine to advertise on but aren’t seen by many people who follow them unless they interact regularly, but groups work so much better for everyone to be able to interact. You can also glean a lot of feedback from your own visitors and other dancers.

Twitter is good for getting your name out as part of local ‘hour’ twitter parties. But don’t expect tonnes of your customers to be on twitter as it’s hard to find local people.

Instagram is pretty but a lot of hard work for not many people actually turning up to class after seeing it.  Spend your time on Facebook!

3, Think about room set up

Encourage a friendly atmosphere by setting up the room so it’s good for people coming alone as well as groups of friends. Tables are great for putting drinks on and sitting round if you’re in a group, but single people find it harder to a) find somewhere to sit and b) approach groups to ask people to dance. Individual seating around a room helps with that.

4, Encourage dancers to ask visitors & beginners to dance

Be seen to do that yourself as the organiser if possible, or at least encourage your teachers to dance during the freestyle on a class night and look like they want to be there.

5, Encourage people to introduce themselves during class

Yes, we Brits get all embarrassed by that, and it can be awkward. Plus of course, we rarely remember people’s names. But it really helps people feel like someone wants to know and dance with them.

6, Ask for customer feedback

Whether it’s visitors directly as they leave (without putting them on the spot), or via social media or newsletter, the more feedback you get on your venues, the better you’ll be able to make them.  Whether it’s music, crew, venue etc, customers want to be listened to, and if you can solve their problems they’ll come back for more.

7, Have taxi dancers visible and doing their job

Taxi dancers work so well when their role is clear and they do what they’re meant to do.  They’re the main people you can rely on to big up your venue to new people. If they can’t make them feel part of a venue, something’s going wrong..

So 7 obvious, simple tips.  But unfortunately some venues can get it wrong.

Dancers want to come and dance, and with many areas having at least a couple of organisations to choose from, plus other dance styles, sometimes good customer service really helps.

What puts you off a venue? What’s the best way to make you feel welcome and want to return?

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