10 things I wish I did to budget for dance

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Relatively speaking, dance is a pretty financially accessible hobby. Most nights of dancing that include classes and a dance still cost less than a night at the movies.

But it's "pay to play": if you want to dance more, train more, compete more, travel more, the costs will add up..

So it would be smart for dancers to make a budget for their dancing, right? So you can dance within your means, avoid frivolous spending, and pursue dance training and experiences that give you high returns on your investments, right?

Of course! But does that mean that in my 20 years of dancing I was successful in following this advice? Hell no! 

I wasted my share of time and money over the years. And by "wasted", I mean "lost opportunities to use my money in ways that would be most impactful to my dance goals"

I'm sure you would be able to relate to most of my dance goals. No matter what your level of ambition, for most dancers it boils down to "get better and have more fun."

So here's a list of 10 things I wish I could go back and tell my pre-Novice self so I could set myself up to make the most of the money I had to maximize my dancing.

I hope you get inspired by these to review your own budgeting for dance so you can maximize your dance progress and fun too!

1. Have a designated "Dance" bank account

To pay for dance stuff, don't pull directly from the same account that you pay for rent and groceries. I did this and regretted it. This is dangerous. 

Open a designated bank account. Call it your "Dance Fund" and let it be accessible with a debit card and ideally a budgeting app.

When you get a paycheque, decide on a regular percentage that will be allocated to your dance account every month. Consider your percentage carefully and be prepared to be flexible: if you are too frugal or restricted, you might be limiting your enjoyment and start to resent it. I have seen friends do this and basically self-sabotage their own fun and lead to burnout.

Optional: consider having a dance credit card - a card designated only for dance stuff. This can make it easier to keep track of your dance spending, but also give you the flexibility to pay for high-priced opportunities when they come up.

2. Allocate your dance spending

Not all activities in dance should be weighed equally. It depends on what your goal and needs are. If you are a serious competitor travelling the Rising Star circuit, you should be allocating a larger percentage of your dance funds to choreo, coaching, and costumes than someone who is a social dancer who attends 4 events a year.

But, no matter what level you are at in terms of dedication or skill, it's important to designate funds for training. Why? Because getting coaching helps you enjoy this hobby more. Private lessons are a critical part of a healthy dance diet: they provide the feedback you need to make sure you are dance safely, practicing correctly, and being supported as you grow your skills. 

In retrospect, I wish I had prioritized taking more private lessons during my formative years. I think I would have spent years less time correcting bad habits.

Of course, training can come in other forms, too, so you'll want to bolster your dance fund to prepare for invaluable learning experiences such as intensives at events, weekend workshops, and the Swing Literacy Dancer Development Program Bootcamp. Remember that some of these are only available once a year, so if you're thinking "ah, I'll just catch it next time", you have to consider if you want (or can afford) to wait a whole year to get its benefits.

Investing in your training = investing in making your dance more fun.

3. #TrainWCSsmarter to maximize your investment

Yes, investing in private lessons, workshop weekends, etc is definitely recommended. But here are three things to avoid so you don't waste that investment:

  1. Only ever taking private lessons from one teacher. That's like learning to cook only Italian food. Diversification is worth it. Try to save up for a gourmet lesson from different top pros once in a while. 
  2. Not taking notes or reflecting on each private lesson or workshop. You know as soon as you walk out the door, you will forget 90% of what you "learned" in that hour, so guess what? You didn't really "learn" it. You can drastically improve your chances of retention if you take notes (not just video) and reflect on them immediately, then after 24 hours and 72 hours.
  3. Taking a workshop weekend and not following up with what you learned. This means beyond just "trying it in the social dance that night". Ideally, you should use the material from the weekend to practice for the next few weeks, or take any questions you have about it to your private lesson teacher.

4. Don't travel to comps if you haven't been training

Dance events are fun! They can be exhausting, but there's no doubt they are fun! And you should try to support as many events as you can afford within driving distance.

But if you are an ambitious competitor and spend all your money flying to one dance event per month in hopes of climbing the ranks, there is one thing to watch out for that could be sabotaging your efforts:

Training needs time to take effect. If you are training properly between events, you can expect to feel improvement each event (even if the results are variable). But if you don't attend classes and haven't taken a private lesson in 6 months, you can't really expect your results to improve 4 weeks later.

In this case, you would be wiser to skip a travel event where you spend $1000 on passes, flight, and hotel and instead, use that money to invest in your training so you can improve for the next comp.

You have to ask yourself, what do I want more: producing proof of permanent progress? Or 3 days of exhausting fun?

5. Consider prize money "bonus", not "income"

Your income is something that you can plan on. But there's no guarantee with competition results, and prize money can be extremely variable. So never count on prize money as income or allocate it as though it was income - consider it a bonus, like getting cash in a birthday card, and deposit it directly into your Dance Fund. Of course, it would be a good idea to do the same with your actual birthday cash.

6. Create a more sustainable schedule

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you can dance every night of the week, consider if you really need to dance every night.

It's awesome that you are supporting all the weekly events! But if you are only social dancing and not taking any private lessons, your diet is out of balance and you are more likely to develop bad habits. Also, you might be tiring yourself out going straight from work to dance without enough time to absorb, process, and relax in between. This can be hard to sustain and can lead to burnout. 

It would be smarter to remove 1-2 dance activities that give you fewer benefits than the others, then save that money in your Dance Fund.

7. Buy event tickets as early in advance as possible

It's easy to think of the expenses for that September event should be coming out of your September budget. But consider the money you will save by purchasing early bird tickets ($10-50), registering for comps online in advance ($5-20), and booking flights earlier ($50-300).

So instead, pay for as much as you can as early as possible to get the best deal. This means your September event registration might come out of your May budget. This is fine, because May's event fees came out of your February budget already.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, either with your schedule or your finances, consider skipping the next event, but put the money you would have spent on it into your dance fund so it's there for the next one.

8. Volunteer and use your discount wisely

Many events offer discounts on event passes for those who volunteer - either before or during the event for a few hours. This is worth looking into, since it's usually very easy and very appreciated.

Now, let's say you save $50. It's tempting to view this as "fun money" to add to your alcohol fund for the weekend. But if you were planning on drinking anyway even without this bonus cash, your drinking money should already be budgeted for. Which means you would be smarter to put this bonus cash toward your Dance Fund so you can afford more training that will help you progress your dance. 

9. Ease up on dining out

This is a sneaky one because it is connected to socializing, which is an important part of your life balance. But trust me - as I do my taxes each year and go through my restaurant receipts, I feel a little guilty about the money I spent on "convenience dining" or "going along with the crowd".

Eat at home as much as possible and save the restaurant meals for special occasions. This is easy to manage with a little planning. If you pack a snack or meal to eat after dancing, when everyone goes out to eat after the party, you will be happy just ordering a drink and having a much lower bill!

For events, you might assume that you should calculate food into your "dance weekend budget", but you might find you have more leftover if you remove your groceries from that calculation. You're going to need to eat no matter where you are, right? So only dining and drinking needs to be paid by your Dance Fund.

We always made a habit of making a grocery shopping trip or order at the beginning of the weekend to stock our hotel room. Then we allowed ourselves to splurge on Sunday Dance Family dinner.

10. Sign up for loyalty programs

Choose a credit card that either gives you travel rewards or cash back that you can designate as your "dance event fund". Sign up for the loyalty program of event hotels you go to. Don't just book whatever airline offers the best flight deal - choose one airline loyalty program that has both a regional and international network so you get points everywhere you travel. The status you will accumulate will be worth it, so start early.

Consider your accumulated points part of your "dance fund", but don't use them immediately - save them for a time when you know you might need a little boost to afford a flight.

Want more specifics?

Here's an article that details how much dance things cost and how to create a budget for your dance fund

Know some people in your dance community who could use this? Pass it on!

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How to balance Social Dancing and Socializing

Post-pandemic, as you have been reassessing your priorities in dance, you may have noticed you have had a bit of an imbalance. Focusing too much on training and not having enough fun, or the reverse – focusing so much on the party aspect of our dance that your skills are suffering…   Regardless of your

Got any suggestions of things to say that worked for you? Leave a comment below!

As a leader, do you wish playful followers would let you lead more? Or wonder why more followers don’t play with you they way they do when they dance with other leaders?

As a follower, do you wonder how you can “be a good follower” when you have so many ideas of your own during a song? Or wish you had more playful repertoire? It’s all about balancing role and self-expression.

West Coast Swing attracts both men and women because of the music and the easy cool factor of the movement. But it attracts the women a bit more for a different reason: the freedom.


This article describes historical events and their influence on modern-day West Coast Swing, and therefore refers to the traditional roles of male leaders and female followers. It is not a commentary on the evolution of gender neutrality in leader/follower roles. Binary terms are used for simplicity, but we assume that any gender can dance either role.


The unique conversation balance

WCS is the most liberating partner dance available. While there is structure, there exists far more of a conversation in WCS than in other dance styles. The very nature of improvisation lends itself to both partners participating – it would be pretty boring to go to a dinner party just to talk to yourself. 

In any civilized conversation, there are two roles to be played: speaker and listener. One can not function without the other. In most partner dances, the dancers stick to their designated roles: the (traditionally male) leader only speaks and the (traditionally female) follower only listens, creating a lecture.  But in a conversation, the roles get exchanged: they transfer fluidly between the participants – when one stops speaking, the other takes over, and the original speaker yields to become the listener. In most circumstances, assuming you were raised well, this is done effortlessly and without a struggle. WCS is this conversation. There is an intriguing exchange of speaking that is unique to WCS. 


The women’s chance to speak

Clearly not a “lady of the evening”, but gotta love this sailor’s pose

Historically, there is a version that tells of “ladies of the evening” trying their best to dance flirtatiously with the drunken sailors on shore leave who couldn’t quite manage to lead them. The women have kept this self-expression through the decades, and the leaders have enjoyed the entertainment even when sober. Let’s face it – it’s a relief to let someone else drive for a spell.

But sober leaders had ideas. They valued patterns and spins – the more the better. There was hardly any room for play. A good follower was determined by her ability to keep up with the most amount of crazy s**t leaders could throw at her. This kept her so busy there was no time for self-expression unless the leader showed rare mercy on her and granted her a few beats at the end of a pattern to fill time, or “throwing her the scraps”. Dancers from this era became masters of fast spins and pre-set, rhythmic patterns.


The pendulum swings

The conversation had become such a dictatorship that the followers were rebelling, insisting on expressing themselves. When I first started WCS in 2000, it was at the height of a trend called “hijacking”. This trend influence many, but not all – enough to see common behaviour patterns emerge:


The experienced followers of this era became extremely adept at stealing the lead, but they did so with no regard for the flow of the dance, regardless of the leader’s intentions or positioning. Phrasing was often sacrificed, because neither dancer was in control of the team hitting the break. This turned the conversation into a battle of interruption.

It got so brutal that it was disempowering the men. It was common to see leaders sullenly abandoning their footwork and resorting to just acting as the jungle gym as the follower had their way with the slot. The musicality belonged to the follower. The leader was just there to provide the framework, which the follower might decide to change anyway. Over time the leaders became so complacent, their progress as dancers suffered.

Let’s be clear: hijacking is bad news, just as hijacking a bus or a plane. Nobody joins dancing for the battle. In the traditional roles of partner dancing, the men might like the idea that they get to be the boss for 3 minutes and the ladies are supposed to follow them. The followers might like the idea of letting the man sweep her off her feet and take her for a ride. There was no battle – it was an agreement both could benefit from. I’m not saying WCS doesn’t still deliver in that department, but the priorities are different. 

Also, to be clear: self-leading is also bad news. Initiating a movement before the leader has a chance to lead it sabotages the partnership much like hijacking does. Backleading, on the other hand, is an advanced skill that is productive and cooperative: the follower notices that the mechanics required for the move to function are not happening, so she produces them herself without changing roles or the original intention of the movement. This requires an advanced skillset and involves a keen awareness of both roles.  


The pendulum swings back

The hijacking trend passed (or evolved) as leaders started stepping up and being more proactive. They started leading more musically – adapting and tailoring their patterns to suit the slower, more interpretive music. The followers were so entertained and occupied by the variable patterns they couldn’t predict, they were not able to hijack as much. They found the leaders had more interesting things to say that were worth listening to. So they started listening again.

For some, listening is already in their comfort zone, so they don’t bother speaking up. Which is fine because it’s their choice. But for others who found and fell in love with this dance because of the self-expression opportunities, it’s the conversation; the banter; the game that they’re after. 

When the leaders weren’t being hijacked incessantly, they became more willing to offer opportunities for the follower to play – after all, it’s a relief to let someone else drive for a while, remember? But now the game has changed. The patterns are different, the music is slower and more interpretive. The leaders have started getting better at improvising: good leaders are not as attached to their choreographed patterns as they used to be – there are more open-ended questions. They invite the followers to play (when it is convenient for them), because there is no rush to get to the next move. When the leaders invite the followers to speak for a while, they themselves assume the listener role. 


How to use turn-taking principles in the conversation of a dance


WCS has always been a dance of action-reaction. But this concept is vague, and not always well-explained. There is the obvious biomechanics application of Newtonian laws. But in terms of the conversation, there is a easy, effortless, respectful, back-and-forth agreement between partners. They exchange roles agreeably and fluidly: the primary leader guiding most of the structure of the dance, the follower decorating it whenever possible.

But as anyone would hope in a balanced conversation, at some point the speaker pauses to ask questions, hear feedback, or yield a turn: allow the listener to speak for a while, then builds off of what they said to progress the conversation forward.

In WCS, this is called an “invitation lead”. If a leader invites the follower to play, he should allow her to finish her idea and give the lead back to him. With few exceptions, interrupting her before she’s “done” would make him guilty of hijacking.

Sometimes the listener can prompt the speaker to pause so that she may have an opportunity to contribute. In WCS, this is called a “request”, which involves the follower giving a physical signal with a change in connection or grip that indicates to the leader that she has an idea to contribute. This is welcome occasionally if it does not interrupt the flow of what the leader was leading, but if it causes an interruption in momentum that is too challenging for the leader to react and adapt to, it will be annoying. If it is a convenient moment, the leader should grant her request and yield to or support her idea by pausing to listen (reciprocating her connection or pausing his movement).

If the speaker does not respond, this might be because he is unaware, he does not have these advanced conversation skills yet, or he is not in a good position to stop and attend to her. In this case, the follower must make her following role take priority and save her idea for a later opportunity – prepared to abandon her idea in a split second to salvage the flow of the dance. Just as in a conversation, if the follower insists, it would be considered interrupting/hijacking, and might sacrifice both partners’ safety. You may have heard the advice, “Follow first, play second”. Now you have the details you needed to really understand that phrase.


Both partners’ responsibilities

It is crucial for both partners to understand how to listen and how to speak. This does not change the primary roles, however. Part of the primary speaker’s role is to be sensitive and responsive to the primary listener. And part of the primary follower’s role is to be aware of the general game plan and detect and take advantage of convenient opportunities to direct and contribute to the conversation.

This is particularly evident these days as dancers are struggling to recapture the neglected art of phrasing. This element of our dance was second nature to dancers 20 years ago in the era when pre-set rhythmic patterns were the commodity. But with so much interpretive shaping and conversation-ing going on over the last 10 years or so, many dancers have come up through the ranks not understanding how to count phrases and dance appropriately to music math. The degeneration of this dominant aspect of musicality is not only calling the leaders to task, but also the followers in their responsibility to be aware of the phrasing game and their role in it.

Teachers also have a responsibility to explain the nature of this unique aspect of WCS to students as they progress. Around the world, we see eager dancers eating YouTube clips for breakfast, trying to copy moves they admire without understanding the mechanics and rules involved. When these “learners” start teaching, rather than getting appropriate training they make up their own rules about how followers should express themselves, and pass these misunderstandings on to their students. I have heard reports from overseas students that a few teachers advise the followers, “If you want to play, you have to ‘surprise’ your leader so he’s thrown off guard and he has no choice”…  This isn’t martial arts.

As for getting training, yes, this is a topic that is included in the Swing Literacy Teacher Development Program. Of course, you can’t expect to learn the technical intricacies of invitation lead or musical phrasing from reading a article! And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can visually lead “signals” for it to work.  There is a ton of technique involved in the connection skills required for this type of conversation, which is beyond the scope of this article. Where can you get it? Well, private lessons of course (live or online), and tailored Intensives. We also have some damn good video resources at the bottom of this page.  


What good listening gets you 

Followers love leaders who listen. Even if the follower has nothing to contribute, the leader needs to pay attention to the effect his efforts are having on the follower. In other words, check to see if you (leader) are being heard.

Leaders love followers who listen. It’s annoying when a follower self-leads before the leader has had a chance to do it himself. In other words, just because you (follower) can predict what the leader will say, doesn’t mean you should say it simultaneously.  Stay behind.

This ease of exchanging turns speaking has lent itself to many dancers’ curiosity in exploring the opposite role. This has nothing to do with sexuality – simply dancers looking for a challenge and enjoying learning a new “language”. Dancers are also experimenting with role-switching, which involves trading roles completely for only a few measures or phrases at a time, assuming each partner is skilled at the opposite role. This trading is still an easy, effortless conversation: the game is to create smooth transitions – to disturb the flow as little as possible. Learning the opposite role trains you to empathize and appreciate the needs of your partner. Learning to role-switch trains you to observe and analyze flow in order to manipulate it.

Today, hijacking is considered as rude as interrupting in a conversation. The leaders should be trained to offer opportunities for play to the follower regularly during any social dance. If the followers are offered sufficient opportunities to express themselves, they don’t feel the need to “steal” them. Followers should be trained to detect invitation leads and armed with an arsenal of dance movements they can choose from to contribute in the moment.

In order to have a good time social dancing today, WCS dancers need to respect their responsibilities as good communicators. No one likes an argument, and everyone likes to be listened to. 


Further Study






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Of course, this is just a quick sample, a fraction, of the type of technical detail that you deserve and we supply in the Swing Literacy Dancer Development Program. For more information about how you can get the whole program:


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