How to scout for new dance venues

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This is Part 3 of a series to help you transition back to dance.
See the rest of the series:
Part 1: How to Survive the Awkward Phase as we Return to Dance

Part 2: How to Practice Smarter in Small Groups

Did your community lose a dance venue due to the pandemic?

Maybe they closed permanently, had to sell the building, or they just no longer are letting you use the space?

Or are you outgrowing the venue you're in or you're looking to expand into different neighbourhoods?

Either way, sounds like it's time to go on the hunt for a new dance venue!

Whether you are a teacher or community leader, this article will help with your hunt. 

I'm going to guide you how to search, what criteria to look for, and how to approach a new venue with a proposal.

Be sure to read till the end to get a free venue tracker & guide to make scouting new venues really easy!

What kind of venue do you need?


First, decide what you are going to be using the venue for - classes? Dance parties? This will dictate what features to look for in a venue.

Two common mistakes when selecting a venue is not prioritizing your criteria first, and forgetting to consider the user experience.

Just like in house-hunting, you need to have a list of your must-haves and your "negotiables". 

And in your list of must-haves, it is imperative to consider the needs of the participants - students, teachers, DJ's, etc


For example, just because you find a big open empty room, doesn't mean it will be ideal for dancing. If there is no A/C and the windows don't open, this is not a functional option for a dance party, but it might be ok for a class..

NEED-to-have vs NICE-to-have

Here's a handy table to show at a glance what your venue should ideally have for each type of activity, and what features are nice perks but not essential.

NEED to have

NICE to have

For classes

For a social dance party

For a workshop

Non-sticky floor: hardwood or laminate are ideal

Large rectangular floor space: minimum 700sq ft.

Avoid low ceilings with flourescent office lighting if possible.

Clean and safe: all the way from the entrance to the washroom.

Air quality: openable windows, or A/C, or high ceilings. Inquire about fans.

Ample, safe parking and/or transit access

Chairs

Plug-in access to sound system

Adjustable lighting

Mirrors

Cell

Lounge area on the side of the floor

Cell
Cell

Bar inside or adjacent

Cell
Cell

Small tables

Cell
Cell

Larger floor (1200sqft+)

Cell
Cell

Available for 3-4 hours on a weekend

Cell
Cell

The ideal venue to build your community (if you can find it)

If you're trying to replace a venue for classes just to serve your existing dancers, you can keep it simple (with any type of venue) because these dancers are already hooked on WCS and will follow WCS anywhere.

But if you are trying to attract more new dancers to build your community, it helps to choose a venue that is a little more enticing.

It would be easy to assume that this means a bar, and while that helps, let's consider another feature that can be just as compelling: the layout.

The pool vs the beach


Consider a community pool - nothing fancy, just a standard rectangle tank surrounded by a deck. In this environment, once you step out of the changerooms, there are only 2 choices: you are either in the pool or on the deck.

Many dance studios feature this type of layout - just a rectangle shape with maybe some chairs around the edge. You're either on the floor dancing or you're against the wall, which could be intimidating or stressful to new dancers.

But now visualize a beach: from the parking lot, you might have a grassy picnic area, maybe a playground, then the cycle path, then the sand, then the shallow water, then the deep water. People can choose which "depth" they play in.

This is the ideal layout for a dance party, whether it's in a studio, bar, or hotel ballroom. This might look like: hallway/foyer, then the bar if there is one, then booths or a lounge area, then tables, then the edge of floor, then the dance floor. There's a nice gradation of "depth" that allows for easy flow.

Why is this ideal? 

  • The "beach" layout allows people to choose the degree to which they want to be actively dancing and actively socializing, based on their mood, confidence level, or comfort level, which makes the space less intimidating.
  • This makes it really easy for dancers to socialize and hang out and chat, and have the conversations they need to feel connected.
  • This facilitates a feeling of community which keeps them engaged and supported so they keep coming back.

While this is great for any type of dancer, it's particularly good for attracting new people to discover and sample West Coast Swing.

  • Random people will drop in to this venue for a drink and discover all the dancing happening. 
  • Regular Westies can bring their non-dancing friends and still have them feel like they are not out of place.
  • New Westie-curious dancers who heard about the intro class feel comfortable doing a new scary thing when the environment is so familiar and less intimidating.

This layout can commonly be found in bars, restaurants, veterans' halls, and sports clubs.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with studios, and many studios have worked wonders with their decor to create a more warm and welcoming atmosphere. But if you're looking to expand your outreach with additional venues, this type of venue layout is one to keep an eye out for because it would work well to attract new dancers, then once they're hooked you can redirect them to your studio to feed your classes.

How to approach venues to inquire

Ok, now you might have a better idea of what you're looking for, but how can you go about approaching these venues to make arrangements?

Well, it's easier than you think, as long as you know:

  • what questions to ask
  • what their expectations will be 
  • what you can negotiate

...and understand how to approach a rental venue (like a hall) differently than a public venue (like a restaurant).

How do I know? Because I've done it in Vancouver over the course of 20 years, and been around the world a few times observing all the fabulous creative ways that dancers can turn any space into a dance space (and I've seen a full range of successes and mistakes)!

I want to help you avoid common mistakes and succeed in scouting a new dance venue for your community, so I've taken out the guesswork and created this free guide for you!

Want a free step-by-step guide on how to scout a new dance venue?

Step-by-Step Guide to Scouting for New Dance Venues

includes:

  • How to inquire about venue rental
  • How to inquire about using a public venue
  • PLUS: A spreadsheet template with 18 criteria to help you keep track of the venues in your search!

Get your FREE
Step-by-Step Guide to 
Scouting a New Dance Venue

Sign up here to get your Step-by-Step Guide as well as occasional tips and resources from our Teacher Development Insiders' Club.

Did you do it? Did you find a new venue recently? We’d love to hear your story! Post in the comments below.

Like this article? Pass it on, leave a comment, or like our Facebook page where we post this content regularly!

Do you live in a community where there’s not a lot of dance resources? (dancers/dance parties/instructors)

Are you afraid of losing your improvement momentum because of it?

Are you starving for feedback to know that you are on the right track?

You don’t need to wait for the next big convention, or think that you can’t grow your WCS until a high-level dancer moves near you. You have the resources right in your backyard to improve your dance and grow the level of dancers in your community.

A Peer Practica – if organized efficiently – can give you the feedback, practice, and momentum you are craving, in your own hometown.

In this article, I’m going to explain how feedback from peers is essential and peer practice can be quite valuable, if guided properly. I’ll also provide some personal stories from our own experiences and some pitfalls to avoid.

Be sure to read till the end to get a free, thorough, specific, how-to guide on setting up and running a Peer Practica.

 

Your solution: The Peer Practica

Peer Practica are group practice sessions that are not instructed by a teacher. A small group of 3-20 local dancers assembles to work on “homework” they received previously from their teachers.

In the absence of a teacher, one or two people need to act as Practica Leaders, which usually tends to default to the most advanced dancer in the group, but it doesn’t have to. The Practica Leader could be simply the most enthusiastic dancer. 

The dancers participate in a variety of activities, drills, exercises, and social dance practice while exchanging feedback in a safe environment.

It’s an extremely effective tool to focus your practice and get the feedback you need, only IF that feedback is accurate and appropriate. Peer Practica can serve to fill in the gaps between your private lessons or conventions, and maintain your momentum of growth.

We have taken advantage of Peer Practica at several stages in our dance development. As we were coming up through the ranks, we had a group of peers from all over the US that would gather at conventions, usually during the midnight breakfast buffet. We learned a ton by exchanging ideas from dancers at our own level but from different backgrounds and regions. This was great for us, because we never had peers at our level in our city to practice with.

We took this idea home and started hosting “Peer Jams” in Vancouver. The local dancers loved it, as there was no outlet for this kind of discussion and exchange. The only obstruction to its continuation was the planning and organization end of things. One memorable activity we did was brainstorm a wish list for followers by leaders and vice versa. It was a very enlightening experience for both sides, building both empathy and self-awareness.

 

Of course, you could name it whatever you like: Peer Practica, Peer Jam, Group Practica, Practice Group, etc.

 

Why we recommend a Peer Practica

You can take all the lessons you want, but they don’t produce results until you can practice them with a partner “out in the wild”.

You can watch all the You Tube clips you want, but they won’t teach you connection and technique.

In both cases, the missing link is feedback: the simple knowledge of the results of your efforts, no matter how small. Getting feedback is seeing where on the target the arrow landed, watching someone’s facial reaction as you tell them news, or pain when you twist your arm too far behind your back. You know you need feedback to grow. Feedback can be visual, verbal, or physical. Without feedback, you’re sailing in the dark.

You can get feedback from instructors, of course, but group lessons can get busy and private lessons, while ideal, might be too expensive to take on a regular basis.

You can definitely get feedback from your social dance partners, but the quality of that feedback will depend on how skilled they are at analyzing your movement, or how good you are at asking the right questions.

What you need is a safe, structured environment where you can exchange quality feedback regularly with peers who are as equally invested as you are in their own dance progress.

Participating in a Peer Practica requires an understanding of equality and mutual respect. In the interest of learning, we need to take advantage of this closed environment to be vulnerable and open to feedback. While it is socially unacceptable to offer feedback on the social dance floor, the Peer Practica is designed to be a safe place to exchange feedback, so long as we follow some guidelines, as shown here:  How to Request, Give, and Receive Feedback

But peer feedback has its limitations, so how can you avoid pitfalls and increase the effectiveness of the Peer Practica?

 

One time, the Peer Jam was an epic fail. We were tired, hungry, and cranky and neglected to designate a moderator. As you could probably predict – too many cooks in the kitchen made for confusion and drama. We learned our lesson after wasting most of the time on tangential arguments, people got their backs up about silly misinterpretations and there was no one there to take leadership to keep us on course. Always designate a Practica Leader! And consider offering snacks… Learn more key tips to running a successful Peer Practica in our free guide. Read on!

 

2 quick tips to make your Peer Practica effective

Avoid “the blind leading the blind”

Myles “judging” in a post-intensive blindfolded Pro-Am contest

It is risky to depend on uneducated feedback exclusively.

There are so many teachers out there teaching various techniques, tactics, and strategies, that most dancers are confused about which pieces of advice are correct/incorrect.

There is a lot of great advice out there, but not all of it is a good fit for you. Here’s why:

Skills are learned in stages.

Let’s take pirouettes (one-footed spins) as an example.

You may be currently at stage 2 of this 10-stage pirouette skill.

Your peer (who is doing this skill at stage 7) probably has loads of tips to share, but he doesn’t know which tips you need to get from stage 2 to stage 7.  So he offers you great feedback and tips from stage 5, but you still can’t get it to work properly and now you are even more confused and frustrated.

The advice he gave you wasn’t bad, but since you weren’t ready for it, it was useless or even counterproductive.

You need filtered and curated feedback designed for your needs and goals. (That’s what we train teachers to do with the Swing Literacy Teacher Development Program.)

So how do you improve the quality of the feedback you and your partners are sharing with each other?

 

2. Use Guided Practice to stay on track

In elementary school, one of the most effective ways of developing literacy is an activity called Guided Reading. This involves splitting the class into groups based on reading skill level. Then each group gets a turn with the teacher, to work on a variety of drills, activities, and discussions appropriate for their skill level, with the teacher guiding the process to keep them on track.

Myles coaching students to help each other using tools to provide unbiased feedback

This is an ideal format for learning that also applies to adult dance training. Unfortunately, this is not a common product offered by teachers and studios, but good teachers are open to it. If you wrangle a group of interested dancers and request a small group private lesson (2-5 couples) with your preferred teacher, they usually will be happy to accommodate you.

 

In this setting, the format would look like:

  • This is a deck of 52 cards, each with a vetted drill you can use to work on your WCS without needing a partner. This is a great tool to use in a Peer Practica.

    the group would present their common goals to the teacher in advance (maybe based on notes collected in prior practica)

  • the teacher would prepare drills and activities to address these goals
  • while each partnership is working independently on the exercises, the teacher circulates, giving feedback to each couple at a time and moving to the next topic when the group is ready
  • the feedback from the teacher can be immediately practiced and verified by partners who heard the same message.

 

Benefits:

  • You get more one on one attention than you would in a group class.
  • You get to hear advice that is appropriate and tailored for the stage you are at.
  • You get feedback from multiple partners who are working on the same skills at the same time.
  • The feedback is more accurate, since it is inline with the teacher’s advice in the moment.
  • You get time to practice immediately without the pressure of a group class agenda.
  • The pace and flow is dictated by the group, not by the teacher, which allows for more flexibility and natural skill progressions, which is both effective and relaxing.
Once we ended up having a Peer Jam in Cheesecake Factory – why not be productive while you’re waiting for your table? We ended up coming up with a crazy awesome pattern combo that was just challenging enough that we placed a wager on who could execute it the best that night in the comps. The winner got the cheesecake dessert we bought before we left. (Guess who won? 😉 )

 

Of course, there are several more tips to help ensure your Peer Practica is fun, successful, and inspiring….

 


Want our free step-by-step guide on how to organize a successful Peer Practica?

This project might seem overwhelming… it’s important to set it up correctly right from the start, so you can maintain momentum, commitment, and enthusiasm.

We want to help you avoid common mistakes and succeed in setting up your Peer Practica, so we have taken out the guesswork and created this free guide for you!

Peer Practica Step-by-Step Guide

includes:

Step-by-step
instructions

We’ve outlined 17 steps to show you exactly what to do to set up and manage a Peer Practica so even if you have no organizing experience, you can take this initiative and start today.

Practice Activities
Menu

Wondering what you would do without a teacher to guide you? This menu gives you loads of drills, games, and activities to keep the group busy and engaged and working toward their goals.

Expectations & Agreements

The Peer Practica is an unusual environment that can get confusing if ground rules and expectations are not set from the beginning. Use this list to create your own group agreement. 

Enter your email to get a free Peer Practica Step-by-Step Guide:
everything you need to start and run a successful Peer Practica

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Final Thoughts

Don’t forget to check in with a coach

While Peer Practica are great on their own, the occasional guided group private lesson with a high-level coach would help keep everyone from infecting each other with confusion and bad habits.

For example, you might organize a group that practices every other week. Every other month, you bring in a coach to give you feedback and assign more “homework”. If there is an international pro visiting, take advantage of the opportunity to book them while they are in town.

This would also be a great way to initiate your first Peer Practica: have an instructor come in to give structure to the sessions, as a model to follow when they are not there. This could be live, or done via Skype. Inquire about hiring us to coach your group, live or online

 

Make it a part of your balanced WCS diet

Caveat: Peer Practica should not become your sole source of training and practice!

We observed a community that tried to run a Peer Practica, and it was successful for a while, but  it ultimately failed for 2 reasons: 1. There were too many cooks in the kitchen: they rotated Practice Leaders too often, and egos got involved. 2. They never once hired in a high-level coach to guide them. Their practices were disorganized and lacking direction. They argued over conflicting advice they collected from various workshops and videos, but had no mentor to turn to to help mediate issues or clarify questions. These are critical mistakes that caused a cycle of apathy in their community instead of growth. Get the guide so you can avoid mistakes like this!

The Peer Practica is an excellent way to augment your learning, inside of a balanced diet of instruction that includes:

  • Group Classes
  • Workshop Weekends
  • Private Lessons
  • Instructional Videos (NOT You Tube clips!)
  • Convention Workshops
  • Social Dancing

All of these resources work together to train every aspect of improving your social dancing, regardless of your skill level or competition level.

So what are you waiting for? Wrangle the troops and start a Peer Practica in your community!

 

Did you do it? Did you start a Peer Practica? We’d love to hear your story! Post in the comments below.

Like this article? Pass it on, leave a comment, or like our Facebook page where we post this content regularly!

 

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