The Soapbox Archives:
Back in the old days when all the swing dance venues actually worked together and supported each other, a guest list was established for each dance venue to acknowledge the support of the other dance promoters. Back then, a dance promoter would stop the music to make announcements and go down the list of who was holding a dance and who was starting new classes. In those days, teachers who were running the dance would actually introduce his competitors to his customers. In those days, everyone got along and it was automatically assumed that if you were a dance teacher or dance promoter, you got into the dances for free. It was also assumed that every dance teacher would tell their students about the other venues where they could go dancing, even if it was their competition.
I remember being annoyed (about 16 years ago) as all these competing dance teachers and promoters got into dances for free while I was promoting all the dance classes and dances with my weekly email newsletters and still paying my way for the events. It has always been my policy never to ask for free admission to a dance. If a dance promoter refused to accept my money, then that satisfied my honor because I wasn't promoting the dance studios in exchange for free admission. Free admission to dance events is *never* a condition for a listing on this website (unlike a certain person who sends out email about a dance event if he gets in for free). I probably wanted to be acknowledged as a promoter of the dance community without looking like I was promoting *myself*.
These days I think some of the newer dance organizers don't quite understand the need and obligation to get their "guest list" right. The dance organizers should make it as easy as possible for the other dance promoters to attend their events and without fanfare. These dance promoters are in a position to advertise others' dance events to a crowd that is unreachable to others. As such, if dance promoters have to do anything other than mentioning their name to get into a dance, it's a *disincentive* for them to attend that dance. It would also be a disincentive for those dance promoters to advertise other organizers' dance events.
Everyone wants to be acknowledged and appreciated. If I were a dance teacher and I told all my students to go dancing at your venue, then I would want to be acknowledged as a supporter of your event and expect to just walk through the door. If you make it harder for me as a dance teacher to attend your event, I'm going to stop showing up and I'm probably not going to mention your dances in my classes anymore.
As for me (the DanceNet webmaster), it doesn't matter what my guest list status is; I have no problems paying for getting into a venue that I like. I assume that I'm paying unless told otherwise. Free admission is *never* a prerequisite for getting listed on this website. I don't ask if I'm on a guest list because I don't want to know if a dance promoter thinks I *shouldn't* be on the list.
Years ago, at the swing camp at Pinewoods in Plymouth, MA, I had to stay in outdoor cabins. We always got the last weekend of the summer so it was always cold. I prefer a real room for the privacy, yet I don't like hotel events because it doesn't encourage people to do non-dancing activities together, like breakfast, lunch and dinner. I'm not all that big on communal outdoor showers...particularly at the tail end of summer.
I like that at Beantown we can have air-conditioned rooms and real bathrooms. Everyone eats in the same place so you get to meet and talk to new people at every meal; cliques aren't quite as obvious there. Having to walk to the next class gets people out and about to mingle. The teachers who show up are all world-class and have good information to share.
I always leave the camp looking forward to the next year. I hope to see you there this year.
Because of this website, I get to talk to a lot of different people, both dancers and dance organizers. After a while I get clearer picture on the state of the local swing dance community. After a little bit longer, I get enough information to have an opinion about it. Sometimes I have to take things with a grain of salt, especially when I hear more than one point of view. Sometimes I don't want to be involved. Occasionally one or more dance promoter will ask me to take a stand where someone or some venue was acting somewhat antisocial. On many of those issues, I've been reluctant to do so because I'm not sure I had an opinion worth sharing with you. I'm not sure whether or not I should be taking sides; I'm not sure there's any side to take. In the real world, many of these things are just business as usual and people have more important things to worry about. I *do* offer to let people write in here and vent their frustrations, but they usually defer because if I let them write as they want to, they'll probably appear angry, whiney, or just stupid, and thus defeating their purpose and hurting their own businesses.
I've been around the local dance scene for...(OMG!) 19 years. The fact that I still have all my hair and it's still the original color might make some people think that I've only been around a much shorter time. (gotta love those Chinese genes!) I've had the opportunity to watch the trends and I've watched dance businesses come and go and I've watched the community evolve.
I still remember around 1994 when West Coast Swing erupted on the scene and threatened to wipe out Lindy Hop. We survived that and Lindy Hop is certainly thriving. Things change. Things remain the same. Deal with it.
One thing I'd like to point out: those of us who have been around the local dance scene a LONG time have a pretty good idea about what the term "community" means. It means all the different dance venues working together to improve the dance environment for all the dancers and dance promoters. It means *everyone* gets along. It's not about taking advantage of the other venues and drawing all the customers to your own venue, thus forming your own "community". Those who have been running swing dance events for only the last 5 or 10 years need to figure that out.
Here's my take on the current swing dance scene:
The two dances I faithfully attend are the Boston Swing Dance Network and Uptown Swing. I've known the organizers of these events for most of the time I've been dancing and they are good people. I appreciate their dances because they're the most beginner-friendly swing dances in Boston. They also make a point of thinking carefully about the bands they hire. Roger Weiss of the BSDN won't hire a band that he hasn't heard and like. Tony & Aurelie are Lindy Hoppers and they'll hire bands for that genre. Of course, they sometimes hire bands I don't like but I'll still attend their dances regularly. I appreciate the fact that they talk to each other, attend each other's dances and refuse to schedule conflicting events. The BSDN has been around for 26+ years and they've survived the ups and downs of the dance community. Tony & Aurelie have been around a long time...I should know because we used to take classes at the same places.
Dance2Swing on Sundays in Leominster is a weekly venue run by Alan and Luan, a couple of nice people. They almost always have live music and they were nice/smart enough to pick a night when nothing else was happening so they wouldn't conflict with anyone else. They're extremely community-oriented. I sometimes make the drive out there.
Some people thought I didn't go to the monthly Blues Café because of the previous management. That's not true. I didn't go because I didn't like the *music* though I'm sure a lot of people will have differing opinions. Word has it that the new management had changed the venue a bit to put their own stamp on it and I need to check it out again.
I know nothing of the Thursday night Blues Union so I have no opinion. However, they should be lauded for holding it on a night when no other (ECS/Lindy) swing venue is happening.
Wednesdays allegedly belongs to the MIT Lindy Hop Society. In the past, I've never been able to pin them down for a consistent listing (and location) in the calendar, though they seem to have fixed that problem. They still don't send me any information, though. The one time I showed up they kept getting kicked out of whatever space they were trying to use. As a free venue (and probably free space so no expenses), they should be able to weather any competition on that night. There's one guy over there, who may or may not be associated with the MIT group, who seemed to run dances without any regard for any other event being held in the Boston area. Hopefully that guy is gone now.
The Monday night Five Guys Named Mike (actually, it's two Mikes) started out as a "practice", but has morphed into a dance; I've never seen anyone actually "practicing" there. On the other hand, it's been a long time since I've been there from start to finish so maybe they do practice earlier. They have their crowd of loyal followers. It's clear that Mike #1 and Mike #2 love what they do. They're certainly not doing it for the money. I should go there more often.
There's some controversy surrounding a new Tuesday Night Practice Session at the Crosby Whistle Stop (or is it the Tuesday Night Jump Session? I seem to get a different copy of the email than other people). It's causing some stress because it's on the night following the Monday night "practice", is priced cheaper to lure in customers, and isn't all that far away. I have no opinion on this since I do believe that competition is good for the community and it forces people to work harder to attract customers. However, since I remember the good old days when all the different dance promoters tried to work together, I don't see why they couldn't have put that Tuesday practice on *Wednesday*. In theory, they didn't want to conflict with the MIT Lindy Hop Society but the purpose and fee structure of the two venues are different and theoretically shouldn't conflict. It's no different than someone holding classes on the same night as someone else's dance. On the other hand, if the "practice" is going to be two and a half hours long, it's gonna turn into a "dance".
Which brings up the issue that everyone wants me to talk about: Fridays
For years, I refused to dance at the old Swing City because of the dance promoter. I almost quit dancing completely in 1993 because of him. However, I eventually separated the promoter from the dance itself. The dance was only a 15-minute walk away so I started attending; being on the guest list didn't hurt. Eventually hell froze over and I made Swing City a sponsor of this website (temporarily) because they had a competitor that I liked even less. Imagine that.
Now there's a new owner and a new location...and a new competitor: Boston Swing Central. Both venues are on Fridays. Since both have rent and expenses to pay, they're going to want every single dance dollar out on the street on Friday nights. What they're actually doing is spliting the Friday night crowd. Any talk of supporting each other and being friendly to each other is a complete load of crap...and a large one at that. C'mon, we're not *that* stupid. At one point, someone tried get us to believe that the two venues complemented each other. I didn't know if the guy was deliberately lying or if he was just stupid. Let's face it: these venues are *at war*. At the same time, however, they're forcing each other to take moves that will hopefully improve their business; that can only be good news for the dancers.
Here's my current take on the two venues. Boston Swing Central has more of the better dancers and more of the younger dancers. Swing City hires much better bands and is more likely to have live music. To be honest, I tend to hang out at Swing City. The Corner Booth typically hangs out there and I do prefer the bands that show up at Swing City over those that play at Boston Swing Central. Please note, though, I neither approve of nor do I endorse any actions by either venue. I think both sides are acting childish, though I'm pretty sure neither side sees it from my point of view.
Olaf Bleck of Swing City needs to get more into swing dancing (as much as he is into salsa dancing) because it can only help him run Swing City better. He needs to be a hardcore swing dancer so he can have a clearer understanding of how some bands are better than others for dancing (and why Racky Thomas should play shorter songs and why Roger Ceresi needs to add more swing music to his repertoire). He also needs to go after the potential customers who aren't dancing at either Friday night venue (he knows where to find them because I told him where they are). He doesn't need to go after the *same* crowd as Boston Swing Central. He's an agressive businessman and pretty stubborn so he'll take action to improve his venue and address the complaints. Swing City will be at the old VFW location twice a month. Hopefully, he'll move there for good (again, a 15-minute walk for me!) because more people will show up and the two competing venues can co-exist peacefully, if not amicably.
I've attended a few dances at Boston Swing Central so my recall of their venue might be outdated. They've moved several times and hosted at least one big event in a hall that was bad for bands. The location at St. Mary's in Cambridge was a nice place for dancing but they lost that. One thing that impressed me was that they had "angels" going around and asking newcomers to dance. I remember the (dj) music leaned towards the older jazzy (and scratchy) recordings that don't offer me the good backbeat rhythm I need to be inspired, like the more modern and energized sound of The Love Dogs, Eight To The Bar, or Racky Thomas. For a dj, I would have preferred the selections of the DJ-formerly-known-as-Slick-Mike on Mondays. There were clearly a lot of good/decent dancers there. When they bring in live music, they've tended to hire bands that *I* didn't know or didn't care for (and wouldn't hire for a swing dance).
Any business person would tell you that moving their location to within 100 yards of the current location of Swing City is a declaration of war. It's like opening a Burger King next door to a MacDonald's. It's done in the business world, but it's wrong and it's not suppose to be done in the dance community. This would never have happened in the "old days". Plus, if they had asked us (the rest of the community), we would have shared with them all the complaints we had heard about Swing City being "too far". Hopefully, Swing City will move back to Cambridge and this issue will go away.
Ron Gursky of Rugcutters once told me a story about how Neal Klein wanted to teach for Ron's studio. Ron recommended that Neal open a studio far, far away so they wouldn't compete for the same customer base (the actual story is way better than that, but I'm not going repeat that part). Neal opened his Dancin' Feats in Newton, about 10-15 miles away, and both ended up being very successful.
I do have a current personal issue with Swing Central that has nothing to do with their dancing venue: they require the people on their "guest list" to ask (interpretted to read "beg") for a "pass" for specific dances and sometimes no passes will be accepted on certain evenings. All the other dance venues just wave me through, even if it's sold out or if it's a special event. I think other venues will figure that even if they can't afford to give free admission to certain people, those people are probably the same people who can promote the event and get *more* people to show up. In any case, since it's against my policy to "ask" for free admission to a dance, I'll be paying my own way if and when I ever go to Boston Swing Central.
I haven't mentioned West Coast Swing here. In general, I don't do West Coast Swing much and don't know the venues well. In recent years, the music has moved from the rhythmic R&B I love (think of Marvin Gaye's "Gotta Give It Up") to hip hop, funk, and some "weird stuff" to which I wouldn't even know where to start. (I actually heard *John Denver* music once at a WCS dance...so weird). The West Coast Swing community is a bit more organized and there's no scheduling conflicts over there. Club JoEllen is one of my sponsors; Jon Schimmel keeps asking me to stop by Dance Boston; and I should say hello to Heidi & Larry one of these days. There's also Robert & Deborah on Mondays in Waltham and Anne Fleming in Lexington on Thursdays. Any nights not covered? I'm on the guest list at most of these venues so I should show up sometime. However, I'll never step through the doors of Dancing Feats ever again and I refuse to attend Swingin' New England.
This column probably wasn't what some people had wanted me to write. Oh well.
A couple of people mentioned the following to me and at least one person asked me to comment on it. I don't think it's that big an issue, but then, I don't run a dance venue.
Someone referred to Boston Swing Central as a "dance run by dancers". I've heard it enough times so it might be part of their official motto by now. While this statement is technically true, it also implies that the other dances are not being run by dancers. That, of course, is definitely not true. The people who run other dancing venues, such as the Boston Swing Dance Network, Uptown Swing, Five Guys Named Mike, and *many* others, have been dancers long before they started their venues. Many of them have been dancing long before any members of the Boston Swing Central team arrived on the scene. (Yes, Olaf Bleck is really a Salsa dancer but he also counts, sort of). This statement (about a dance being run by dancers) serves no useful purpose other than to offend all the other dance promoters (while also trying to make them look bad or evil). The guy who taught me how to dance was running dances before any of the Boston Swing Central staff were *alive*. I'm so glad he was able to make a living off dancing so he could be around to teach me how to dance.
There's no point in making such statements when it's obvious that it's going to hurt someone, not if you're trying to be a respected member of the dance community. I wonder how the ballroom, West Coast Swing, or Salsa communities would have taken that statement. This is also neither the first nor last time that amateur or non-profit dancers try to impose a stigma on "professional" dancers (I've been around long enough to see it happen before). Let's face it, all of the dance venues are run by "dancers", people who love to dance. If they didn't care about dancing, they could certainly find a more profitable way to make a living. If people run a dance in order to pay their rent or to put food on the table, then I know they'll work really hard to make sure their dance is successful and they'll be around for a while. Better that than someone who can walk away when he's not having fun anymore. Making money from dancing does not disqualify someone from being a dancer but it does give them the motivation to keep their customers happy. Perhaps Boston Swing Central can be called the "dance run by dancers so they can pay the rent on their new studio".
Say wonderful things about your own venue; leave the others out of it.
As a final note, I hope the one or two (or three or more) people to whom this is directed will recognize themselves and think about it, though everyone would do well to consider this.
For those of you who run dances, if you know the other dance organizers well and if you ever sneak a look at their guest list, you're probably going to find the names of people they really don't like. That's the way the game is played in the real world. They're on your guest list and they promote your event to their customers. You don't have to like them; you just have to get along with them. Otherwise, you end up looking immature and the other dance organizers won't want to work with you.
At one point, Rugcutters *owned* the dance class market in Boston. It was so popular that you had to start calling at a certain time on a certain date in order to get on the signup list. Those who had a Redial button on their phone certainly had the advantage (not all of us had that feature back then). People would grab random dancers and sign up as a couple (they got priority); that's how I met the person I consider my best friend. Quite a few of the good dancers *and* teachers came out of Rugcutters. Ron Gursky has been teaching dancing to the Boston masses longer than most of the current dancers have been alive and I think he probably knows more about dancing than anyone else I know. There hasn't been a dance at Rugcutters since they left the former Joy of Movement Center location in Watertown Square many years ago so I hope everyone comes out to take advantage of it.
The teachers at Rugcutters taught *me* how to dance so I'll be there.
I forgot some of the more recent history of the local dance scene.
Stomp has been offering a monthly free lindy hop dance/practice on the first Thursday of the month in Arlington for many years. At some point, Blues Union or some incarnation thereof came by and started offering dancing on the other Thursdays of the month. Eventually Blues Union decided to have dancing every week, thus competing head-to-head against Stomp.
I take back whatever praise I had for Blues Union for not stepping on local swing dance venues.
I wasn't going to write more this weekend but I got a couple of emails that made me think some more (a dangerous thing to encourage).
If you're a dance promoter and you run a dance event, there are many details that you have to consider regarding your business that may not directly involve the dancing itself. One of these things is who you have running the door. As the event organizer, you're going to be busy running around making sure everything is okay so you're going to have to entrust the entrance (and the money) to someone else. Most of the time, this will be someone you know. Since most dances will give free admission to the people who take shifts collecting the money, some of those people might not be people with whom you are very familiar.
The dance organizer will probably be primarily most interested in making sure the people at the door won't steal money. They'll take care of that by using people they've known for a while and whom they trust. They might also have multiple people managing the money and not have the same two people at the door at the same time. Secondly, the organizer will want intelligent people who will do the right thing without immediate guidance. This may involve setting down rules that hopefully cover all possibilities or it may require selecting individuals who are undeniably honorable and will guard your front door like Horatio at the bridge.
Of something that is usually of less consideration but of equal importance, the dance organizer will want people who are honest enough to not just let their friends in for free. There are two obvious reasons for this:
Yes, there's a reason why I wrote about this.
Having been on the local dance scene for a long time, I've seen dance venues come and go. I've seen fads take over the scene and quietly disappear. (Is "Hollywood-style" lindy still around?) I've seen new people and new venues appear suddenly on the scene and equally suddenly go away.
Every time a new venue shows up, there is new energy as they (probably) will attract a crowd of new dancers. This can only be good for the community.
What also usually happens, though, is that the new venues (and new promoters) in their enthusiam sometimes rush ahead and come up with new ideas that directly or indirectly impact those who came before them. Sometimes it's a direct slap in the face. Other times, it's an indirect or subliminal slam. Most of the time, though, it's unintentional and that people are just being stupid.
Every so many (3-5) years, some new people show up with the intent "to save the swing community" (from us old-timers). These people seem to be under the (ignorant) idea that swing dancing didn't exist before them. Most of the current swing community wasn't around when West Coast Swing almost killed the Lindy Hop scene in 1994. The "old-timers" are the ones who persevered through low attendance and low income to bring in new blood and new customers to keep the community alive so that it's thriving today. The new people should not ignore nor discount the experience and contributions of the ones who came before them. Those "old-timers" are still around after many of these "saviours" have disappeared from the local scene.
As such, the newer dancers should consider all the possibilities when starting out their new ventures. I hope the newer dancers take the time and effort to talk to the "old-timers" and use their experience and wisdom. Sometimes, a minor change will make everyone happy. To build and sustain a community, the new venues should encourage their dance customers to also go dancing at the other local venues. That just encourages support from the other venues.
Yeah, there's a reason why I wrote this too.