As per the request of one of the DanceNet readers, here are copies of the past ramblings of the DanceNet Webmaster.
The original Ken's Place was the 1359 Jazz Club that closed its doors on November 18, 1997. This was a big band night which held a special place in Ken Williams' heart. Where swing music was playing, the dancers showed up to complement the music. During that last night at the 1359, Ken ran over to the First Baptist Church, also in Central Square, and found a new home for the club. Right after that Ken went into hospital and never made it to the new club but he did see pictures of and heard about the new place. It was in the hospital that Ken gave his blessing and approval for the club's new name, Ken's Place.
Throughout the years, regardless of the level of attendance, the team had several goals:
Now, Jim is in Norway most of the time, Chuck is in school in western Massachusetts, and Lisa about to start school so there no one to to run the place except for volunteers. As such it's difficult to arrange for volunteers and bands each week because that in itself is a full-time job. Jim was in Boston for this last dance, bringing Ken's Place to a final closure with the "three amigos" back together again.
Ken's Place certainly had an impact on the local dance scene by introducing many dancers to the Swing scene, some of whom are now teaching classes themselves. Many dance studios benefited because all of these new dancers wanted to learn how to dance. And, of course, it was *the* place to go dancing on Tuesday nights.
Jim, Lisa, and Chuck got their favorite band, The Love Dogs, to play at this one last dance and they wanted this to be a surprise so they didn't tell anyone who was playing. They also did not charge any cover. They did not announce that it was the last night of Ken's Place because they wanted to have this one last dance party with the people who had been supporting Ken's Place all these years (though they did invite a few friends who had been part of their swing lives all these years). They didn't want an event where they would have had to ask "where were you before tonight?". They wanted just a "private" party with the people that mattered the most (thanks for the invite!). Jim, Lisa, and Chuck are a class act.
Correction: Mark P. (confirmed by Jim) indicated that Ken Williams *did* get to go to the opening (bandless) night at the First Baptist Church, but it was before it was actually named "Ken's Place".
While I understand that the dance business is quite competitive, particularly with the current slowdown in dancing these days, and after all, business is business, I was both disappointed and amused that a few individuals didn't wait for the last song to end before they were looking into the possibility of using the First Baptist Church for their own swing dance or even the possibility using the name "Ken's Place" for their own Tuesday night swing dance with live music. That second one was probably an error in judgement resulting from dancing all weekend and not sleeping much (however, Lisa *is* annoyed with you. :-P ).
Lisa and Chuck had sat in the hospital beside their friend to ask his permission to name the place after him, even though he wouldn't live long enough to see the new venue that bore his name. It would be a shame to re-open Ken's Place without the spirit of Ken Williams behind it, or to open a "Ken's Place" that did not have the same purpose of "doing good" as the one that just closed.
Back in the late '80s, a bunch of local dance professionals got together and formed the Boston Swing Dance Society. I imagine that this seemed like a good thing to do. They held dance-type events and put out a newsletter for its members. This seemed to be a noble purpose.
At some point, some of the club's leadership left (I assume on good terms) and the remaining dance professionals continued to do interesting things like bring in Frankie Manning to teach workshops, organize practices, and hold dances like the Black & White event at the St. James Armenian Hall (I bought a tux for that one). The newsletter was produced by the business manager of one of the remaining teachers.
At some point, the other dance professionals showed less support and enthusiasm for the BSDS because quite a bit of activity was centered around the professionals' studios who were running the event. This made sense because holding a dance practice in your own studio was going to be cheaper than renting a hall every week.
However, it was the appearance of a conflict of interest that mattered the most to the amateur dancers and other teachers. The BSDS "appeared" to be the promotion arm of the professionals running the BSDS, even if it really wasn't. At that point, it stopped being "fun".
At the end of 1992, the organization was turned over to people who were completely amateur dancers to do with as they pleased. After a few months, other dance professionals started showing some interest in the club again after they realized that the people running the BSDS had no monetary interest in the club and could be viewed as being "neutral". That had started a surge in membership and interest in the BSDS.
Part of the charter that we developed for the BSDS in 1993 was that the leadership of the BSDS should be strictly amateurs. This was to help us avoid the potential or appearance of a conflict of interest. We would make no decisions for the club based on what it would do for our own personal preferences or biases.
Those of you who are in the dance business should take this into consideration if you decide to run what is suppose to be an member-oriented organization. If you run such an organization and you provide services either on the side or for your club such that you profit off it (teaching, for example), you should be aware that this will appear to be a conflict of interest. Outside vendors will see themselves at an economic disadvantage and I can certainly see their point, regardless of the best intentions of the people running the club. The BSDS lost a lot of members and community support because of such an appearance of a conflict of interest.
To quote (or misquote) a famous saying, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."
What surprises me is that these dance promoters waited so long.
For quite a long time, in the dance community and on this website, I've promoted the idea that the beginners are the life blood of our social dance scene. I've also complained that a lot of these beginners come into the dance scene with a lot of enthusiasm, only to be snubbed by more advanced dancers because they weren't "good enough".
As each "class" of dancers progresses through the social dance ladder, some dancers will find their equilibrium and stop taking any more classes or attending additional new dances. (See the Soapbox from April 23, 2000.) Some will find other activities to fill their time, like getting married and having kids. Others just get bored and stop dancing. And, of course, some dancers don't make it through their beginner phase because they get ignored at dances, get discouraged and leave the scene. As time goes on, each "class" of dancers thins out until there is left only a die-hard core of really good or really fanatic dancers. What we end up with is a group of dancers who know each other well and dance with each other all the time.
Like it or not, these regular dancers are our ambassadors to the dance scene and the general public. These are the ones that the beginners see as the "cool people" and the ones that everyone wants to dance with. It is their examples that their peers will follow. For example, a friend of mine who is a very good dancer got snubbed by a beginner dancer who wanted to dance with only good dancers (she didn't know who he was); I have to wonder where she picked up that attitude.
The problem of retaining beginners has long plagued the West Coast Swing scene for years and now the ECS/Lindy crowd has finally noticed the problem. I think that it's laudable that these people have finally figured out the problem and are trying to fix it. I just wish they hadn't waited until the current "swing recession" to do something about it. A few dance venues have closed recently because of a decline in dancers, including venues that were deemed "beginner-friendly".
Of course, I don't think that the current effort is enough. I think that the dance community should go beyond the beginner dancers who filter into the scene. I think that an outreach should be made to people who haven't even considered swing dancing yet. Anne Atheling used to do that for the Ballroom scene. There should be some organization that promotes dancing to non-dancers. I also think that this organization should not be a dance studio or promoter. Dance professionals doing promotion just appear to be trying to draw business to their venues while a non-profit or member-run club can be seen as trying to get more people involved in something fun.
The Boston Swing Dance Society was once such an organization, but it has been dormant for several years, especially throughout the swing craze, because there was no one (a non-professional) who was willing to come in and run that club, and the swing craze that started in 1997 made such a group redundant. Now is the time to consider reviving that group or forming a new one that is venue-neutral and will promote the dance scene independently (and fairly).
One more thing: when someone brings in an outside dance teacher (someone who has no vested interest in our community's well-being), ask the dance promoter to include workshops that offers "fundamentals" or beginner-level training. If these visiting teachers are good enough for advanced dancers, I would hope that they would also have valuable information for beginners or for people who want to go back to the basics.
P.S.: Finally!!! Someone brave enough (besides Dorry, that is) who's willing to writing in with a comment that's not necessarily glowing. Great! However, the comment focused on the "tone" of the Soapbox and not the "content". Am I negative in my Soapboxes? Perhaps. I've been in the local dance scene now for (oh, my God!) ten years now and I've seen the cycles of dancing on the rise and on the wane. It's not fun to see dancers leave and venues close.
The message said "I think people need to be "stroked" sometimes to get motivated and build on a positive." I don't agree with this. The people who are panicking are the ones who see their favorite venues close and see their remaining dance places threatened with extinction. It has finally hit home and now they're worried, as if the issues I brought up in this Soapbox long ago were not important when business was booming. A bunch of us volunteered years ago to put countless hours into supporting the Boston Swing Dance Society to help the dance community. We didn't need to get "stroked" to be motivated to help the dance community.
The message remains the same and is still important: The Beginner dancers are pretty damn important to the future of any dance scene. A steady flow of newcomers (aka, "customers") is important to keeping the scene fresh and exciting. Denying that the beginners are important just dooms the dance scene to a slow death.
What's positive? How about this website? Someone puts in a lot of work every week to make *a lot* of information available so that *a lot* of people will have the information they need and want to make their dancing plans. Alex always likes to tell me and others that I'm his "social director" because of the weekly newsletter and this website. If the Soapbox is "negative", it merely serves as as a balance *and* a reminder that I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses where the local dance community is concerned.
Want to hear something good about the local dance scene? Here's one: The Boston Swing Dance Network has been providing the best swing dance in Boston for over 13 years, bringing live music consistently and introducing new dancers to the local swing scene and *retaining* them. (and I say that without them being a sponsor). I've seen dance venues come and go, but the BSDN's "IC Dances" have always been there. I would imagine that they must have the highest overhead (per event) of all the local venues and they're still packing them in. And they keep coming back. Roger and Claire are doing something right. Before everyone goes off to fix things on their own, perhaps we should look at what's working at the IC and ask if everyone else shouldn't be doing more of the same?
One reader indicated that I was "negative" in the Soapbox. Of course, I was. The conditions that led up to the current situation has been going on for years. even before the swing craze. It gets depressing after a while listening to these stories. Even experienced dancers who have been out of dancing for a while tell me these same stories. Even longtime *experienced*, but not well known, dancers tell me these stories. :^)
Another reader said that I had an "I told you so" attitude. Yup. Guilty. That's because I did say these things already, starting with my dance ettiquette piece in 1997 and it included a piece about how to treat novice dancers. There were, of course, other items written for this Soapbox. The ones who care will remember them.
There is certainly a group of experienced dancers (and teachers, too!) who are trying to do as much good as they can and I applaud their effort. (Tony Tye once wanted to print out my dance ettiquette article as required reading for his beginner students). However, there are some who need to change their long-term attitude towards the novice dancer. Every good dancer was once a beginner. Each experienced dancer should try to be generous with their dance time as someone else was when they were beginners. While there are clearly many who have been doing the right thing all of this time, it does not hurt for each person to take a moment to reflect on whether or not they've made a novice dancer smile lately.
Oh yes, one young lady said that I was guilty of the same things that I wrote about. Hardly. There's a big difference between "not dancing with beginners" and just "not dancing at all". I don't dance much these days; I spent more time on this website in one week than I do *going* dancing in two or three months. Actual dance time? Quite sad. :-( I very rarely turn down a dance with anyone (the music has got to really suck or I'm very tired). I also spend most of my time at dances talking to people, enjoying the "social" aspects of the evening. Gee, I must really be burned out! :-)
However, I'm confused as to why anyone would have had an issue with last week's Soapbox (before I added the postscript, that is). Were they afraid of my *opinion*? Frankly, just how much influence do these people think I really really have with the Soapbox? Well, let's take a look at some of the numbers.
For the week ending January 21, 2000, this website had 86744 "hits" and 4048 unique IP addresses (or computers) that visited this website. 4048 unique visitors is probably a good estimate of real people visiting the website, balancing the random IPs from dialup modems with the multiple users on the same computer. Most of those hits were graphic or images being downloaded...probably about 90% of the hits. There were 2944 visits to the actual front page, the only access to the Soapbox. After that there were 493 visits to the Boston Calendar page. The Tap Dancing page had 419 visits (huh?!?!?). The Boston Studios and Places to Dance had 334 and 287 hits, respectively. Two more Tap Dancing pages accounted for another 565 hits. The Massachusetts page had 246 visits while the Argentine Tango page had 245 hits. Continuing on, Connecticut had 178 visitors while Clubs and Organizations had 158. Rhode Island had 143 visits. Finally, the What's New page (with the Soapbox) had 140 visits, the same number as Bill Cameron's DancePros page. Rugcutters had 138 visits and they're not even open! The California and New York pages had 91 and 89 visits each. 37 other pages had between 47 and 138 visits each. Pages under 47 visits didn't show up in the count.
Take a look at the math. The number of people who read the Soapbox last week was a *tiny* portion of the total readership of the website. With the weekly newsletters sent out by Ken Mercik and Jane Dumont in Connecticut, many readers bypass the front page and jump directly to specific pages on this website. The tango people probably never go to the front page. If the front page is the only way to the Soapbox, how many miss the Soapbox every week? Of the 2944 visits to the front page, only 140 bothered to see what was new (and what was in the Soapbox). Most people just wanted their information and get on with their lives.
How much influence could I have with the Soapbox if only 140 readers out of all of those 4000+ visitors looked at it?
So why do I bother writing? Here are some reasons:
Because I'm really waiting for other people to write.
I would love to have other people write for the weekly editorial or for a longer length article. It's been years since Dear Grace wrote for this website. Roger Weiss should write because he always has an opinion, has been around longer than me, and is not in it for the money. Dorry could write an interesting editorial, but I'd have to keep him away from caffeine and sugar for a week. Ogden is quite the eloquent writer and should share some of his calm wisdom. Tim had something that he cared about to write, but his "friends" razzed him into keeping quiet. Wanna bet that Leanne could write something fun? Of course, I really want Ron Gursky to write, but I don't think I have enough disk space. :^)
I think I deserve that space
I spend a lot of time each week working on this website, adding new material, removing expired information, and trying very hard to make it easier to navigate the pages. Most people will never notice the work that I put into this website; some of them want even more work. That little space for my opinion is the only thing I get out of this. Note that I also host pages for a lot of bands, studios, and other venues *for free*, and that I even maintain this website when I travel for business.
It's a great way to relieve stress
Writing beats screaming and breaking things, and it's a way for a nerd to express some creativity. I get to "verbalize" some of the things that dancers tell me. I pass their stress onto you.
Writing the Soapbox is fun, just as much as it was building my 98/NT and 95/Linux computers and my home network (Yes, I be a nerd) or renovating my house. At this time, it's more fun than dancing, though not as much fun as playing Diablo II and Team Fortress.
People read it.
I can reach many more people this way than if I were to go to individual dancers with my views. People who might not give me the time of day in person might pause if they see something in writing that will go out to hundreds of readers, including many who don't live in New England.
Some people read this website because I write about things that are important to them. The editorial might concern some issue that is bothering them and this editorial is the only voice they have. They want to hear a sympathetic voice that understands their plight. They're the ones who tend to write in with a kind word.
A number of people want to know if I'm writing about them. They couldn't possibly have a guilty conscience, could they? :-) I want these people (and everyone else) to wonder, "Is he writing about *me*?" Maybe they *will* ask that novice for a dance this weekend.
It's entertainment. Chris actually gets his dance information from Total Swing but he always drops by to read the Soapbox each week. That-woman-who-looks-like-Rene-Russo pops in here once in a while from California to laugh at us. Some people read the Soapbox just to see what havok or confusion I'm going to cause that week; they don't necessarily care *what* I write about.
To my fans, thanks for your kind words and your support. I hope I made you feel better. To the ones I annoy, thank you for taking the time to read the Soapbox each week and forming an opinion. I hope that I made you think about what you do, even if you're doing the right thing. To those that I merely entertain each week, I'm glad that I am able to give you something to look forward to each week. Thanks to all my readers,...all 140 of you. :^) Whoops. 10 more readers this week. 150. :-)