The Soapbox Archives:
We immediately started publishing a (paper) monthly newsletter featuring a list of local dance studios and teachers as well as places to dance. We had a monthly calendar along with announcements. One interesting thing I started was the monthly interview with a local band or dance teacher (Laura Sohval did all the legwork and Roberta Tovey editted it). This was a way to generate interest in the local bands and teachers. I still remember the monthly mailing parties where we folded and stamped several hundred newsletters. We had members who trusted us to do good things for them.
The biggest impact of this take-over, though, was that we started getting the support of local dance teachers and organizers. Before we took over, the organization looked like it was being run for the benefit for the only dance professionals left (it was started originally by local dance teachers). When we took over, we immediately decided that we wouldn't do anything to compete with the dance professionals or do anything that would interfere with their ability to make a living and feed their kids. Our mandate was to support the dance venues and keep the dancers informed of everything going on. At the time we were very proud of being "dance amateurs" and it never occurred to us to derive any personal benefit out of our activities, in effect, to keep ourselves "pure".
Fast forward to 2008. After the closing of the original Swing City was announced, but the day before we heard about the new Swing City, a bunch of us local swing dance people met with the newly-formed Boston Swing Cooperative, a non-profit (is it 501c or is it just "not-for-profit"?) organization created to fill the void left by the closing of Swing City.
It's been a couple of months since their appearance on the swing dance scene and I thought it might be useful to offer some suggestions to this new group so they'd get off to a good start. I think I have some for that group seeing as I used to run an organization like that.
A suggested solution would be to move the (Co-op) dance to a night when nothing else is happening. Right now Thursdays are open. How many dancers remember swing dancing at the Veronique every Thursday night? The local dance scene was much smaller then so a Thursday venue these days would be even better attended and I would imagine that the rental costs and bands' fees might be lower during the week. Thursdays used to be a good prep for the weekend or a substitute if you were going to be busy on the weekend. A good model to follow might be the weekly Five Guys Named Mike venue.
As long as a "non-profit" organizaton competes for the same time slot as a for-profit venue, none of the dance organizers will trust the organization and its motives, regardless of any stated intentions. We arrived at that conclusion many years ago and the Boston Swing Cooperative should take note of that hard-earned lesson.
The community starts with the people who have been running classes and dances all these years, especially those tenacious enough to stick with it during the bad times. They hung in and kept the dance going when people had other distractions in their lives. These same dance organizers have rules and guidelines about how they interact with other dance vendors. Note that for the past 10 years, no one else ran a dance up against Swing City. We don't have a formal written document but we've been a cooperative community for a long time already. Our problems usually have to do with newcomers who didn't know the community standards or decided the rules didn't apply to them or that the "old-timers" weren't important.
Personally, I think it's great that the Co-op currently pulls in people who aren't as likely to go to the other venues, but I think that the Co-op should also make it their mission statement to encourage all swing dancers to mix and mingle at all the local dance venues. No one owns swing dancing and Lindy Hop in Boston. I think the Co-op's advertising campaign needs a little bit of an adjustment.
What about what I said about going to all three Friday dances and getting them to compete against each other? That would be fine except that one of them is a not-for-profit venue with the stated goal of doing good things for the community and "uniting" the swing community. By holding a Friday night dance and competing with *two* other local swing dances, they're dividing the swing dance community. You can do one or the other, but not both.
I think the Swing Co-op has the potential to do a lot of good but I think they need to re-evaluate their stated goal and what they're actually doing. I hope they'll get more involved with the other venues so the dance promoters feel that their concerns are being considered and that the Co-op is not just another local dance business hiding under a non-profit facade.
Suggestion #2: (to all dance organizers)
I try to avoid using superlatives on this website, such as "best" or "greatest" or even "premier", particularly when event descriptions are provided by the dance organizers themselves. I hardly think that individual dance organizers and/or teachers could possibly be objective about their own venue. Any time I get an announcement with those words, I edit the announcement to remove those words. While it's common usage in the business world to toot one's own horn, it's best not to refer to one's own venue with words such as "best" because it opens the door to discussion by knowledgeable people and I can't imagine such discussion to be in one's favor.
Suggestion #3: (to all dance organizers)
If you run a dance calendar on your website and you put out your flyers at someone else's dance, it's probably a good idea to add that venue to your calendar. That creates a mutually-beneficial supportive community-oriented environment. Don't give people an excuse to speculate that you're leaving them out on purpose. If you were just being careless or forgetful, don't. And listing other people's dances on your website is a good way to generate goodwill in the community.
Suggestion #4: (to all dance organizers)
I don't want press releases or long essays, but organizers who send me postings for the calendars really should consider the people who might be attending from non-local areas. It took four emails from one guy before I got an address for his dance. Some people are lazy (I meant my readers, actually) so the lack of a street address might enough of a deterrent to going to a dance instead of taking the time to look for it on Map Quest or GoogleMaps.
Somewhere on the dance businesses page is a link to an online business that sells vintage-style hats that you might see at a swing dance. This website uses Google Ads, most likely so they'd have some side income or to pay for the website.
Since the ads are geared towards displaying relevant ads to visitors, these ads promoted competing hat businesses! Now, how stupid is that? By being too cheap to just pay for an advertisement-free website, they're advertising for their competitors.
You can easily find ISP's that charge less than $50 a year to get a domain, webspace, and email accounts that make your dance business look successful and legitimate. You're not saving yourself much by using free websites to pay for your web presence; however, you are losing credibility.
I got the following from a follower the other week:
In west coast swing, is there ever any reason for the leader to push the follower's stomach? I'm new to west coast and I guess my hands are not always accessible to my partner, but I'd like to know the rule about touching my stomach and avoid it. Thanks.I wish my writer "Grace" of the Dancing Graces was still writing for me. This is more up her alley.
Name withheld, just because.
However, since the question was asked, I figured I'd make a stab at it. The comments below aren't exactly what I had emailed back because I've had time to rethink my wording; however, the sentiments are still the same.
For me as a guy, the whole point of social dancing is to spend time with the person you're dancing with, to enjoy their company and to get to know them a little better. In other words, it's a "date", albeit a short one. While there's probably a little more contact involved during a dance than on a regular date, pretty much all the same rules still apply. The whole point is to get the partner to have a good time so they'll want to have another dance with you (i.e., another "date"). You're not suppose to do anything that will make them run away as fast as they can. You definitely shouldn't do anything that will give yourself a bad reputation.
As a follower, when you agree to dance with a guy, you are giving him permission to touch your hands and your back (in a closed position), maybe even your arms in some moves. That's the default unless the follower agrees ahead of time.
Perhaps in more advanced dancing, when the two dancers know each other well and the moves require a bit more contact, certain touching might be permitted. For a beginner, the leader has to be very careful about what moves they try because the follower might not know some of those moves and some moves might make them feel uneasy. At no point should a follower be made so uncomfortable that they decide to stop dancing completely.
I would imagine that your stomach is your personal space and I can't see why anyone would have any reason to touch you there. I know women who dance while pregnant and I'm pretty sure they won't want someone pushing them in the stomach! If it looks like it's going to happen again, get your arm down there so he'll have to push your arm and keep his hands off your stomach. It's the same thing when a guy "accidentally" brushes his hand across your chest. This is called "defensive dancing". I would pay attention to what actually happens: when he's pushing your stomach, is he using his hand or is he using his forearm? If he's using his forearm to catch you and prevent you from moving forward, that sounds legit; if he's using his hand, he needs to relearn that move.
The whole point of social dancing is for the two partners to enjoy each other's company for the duration of a song.
If you dance with this guy again, tell him he's not allowed to touch you on your stomach and if he insists on doing so, don't dance with him again. If he has problems reaching your hands during dancing WCS, then *he* needs to figure out how to fix it without touching you inappropriately.
Oh, if you're interested, I wrote an article on this subject back in 1998.
Meanwhile, many of the people who were interviewed told the writer that this website's sister tango webpages, TangoNet, was *the* Boston tango website to use. The writer had heard this so many times she had come to the incorrect conclusion that the Tango Society managed that website. I'd like to thank all my tango friends who said all the nice things about my website.
For me it's always been something along the lines of being good enough to be invited to and getting paid to travel (far) to teach workshops or attend a major event. An easy example of that might be Frankie Manning or Sylvia Sykes getting invited to teach at Herräng. There are people like Ben & Sheri of San Diego who look really young but I'd compare their teaching and dancing skills to anyone in the world (they just got back from teaching in Germany and will be at Beantown Lindy Hop Camp).
However, I haven't been keeping up with the "stars" lately so I don't know who's considered on the A-List...or B-List or C-List or D-List. I would imagine that a lot of local teachers probably don't get the credit they deserve, but I know a few who are big names...as long as they're teaching somewhere else. Someone said that if you wanted to be appreciated as a dance teacher, you have to travel and teach workshops in other cities because locally, you're just another teacher. I remembered when Atlas Griffith taught workshops here and he was a big deal. When I attended a dance in Phoenix years ago and he was teaching the beginner lesson there, people acted as if he was just another normal random local teacher.
One person that I remember being on the A-List was Maxwell Ho, but he was a big name before he moved to Boston. As a visiting instructor, he was treated very well; some dance organizers treated him rather poorly once he became a "local teacher". Our own Kate Ford was a pretty big star around the country but probably never got the appreciation that she deserved in her home town. Likewise with Tony & Aurelie who have taught abroad and hold one of the best Lindy Hop dance camps, but they're just "local" people to most of us. Robert Cordoba & Deborah Szekely just moved into the area so it'll be interesting to see how people see them now that they're "local".
I was just thinking about this because I'm so used to seeing dance teachers and dance venues describe themselves as being the "best" or having "world-class" status and I don't see it that way. I'm just wondering if I'm missing something.
If you sent me stuff this past week for the website, well, I won't have had a lot of time at the laptop and I don't seem to have FTP capability on the campus. Dancing until 2:30 am and getting up for breakfast at 7:30 am doesn't seem to improve the situation either. Told you to get your stuff to me early. :-P