It's the new year - typically a popular time to reassess and take stock, but this year we're a little more weary, weathered, and wise.
During this pandemic, we've all learned a lot about what really hasn't been working and is due for an upgrade. We've also had time to think about what's really important to us so we can make better decisions going forward.
Or have we?
Have you actually taken stock of what you really want out of your West Coast Swing lately? Because now's a REALLY good time to do that - new year, new shutdown...
Consider this your opportunity to do a philosophical audit of your WCS, and "clean your closet" so you can dump some dead weight in your dance and focus on what you really want.
Ask yourself: What do you really want in West Coast Swing?
Here's a quick menu to choose from! Or maybe these will spark new ideas. Don't fall into the trap of saying, "All of them!". Read more below...
- More people asking me to dance
- A social network
- Public success
- Achievement (points)
- Self-expression through dance
- Kinesthetic/Sensory Satisfaction
- More people to dance with
- More opportunities to dance
- To feel needed
- To spread the love
- To affect change
Take a moment before answering: your first answer might be keeping you from being honest with yourself, which might be sabotaging your ability to have your needs met.
Many dancers approach us seeking advice, from all corners of the WCS scene: students, teachers, competitors, non-dancing spectators, social dancers, event directors. Our responses as coaches vary, depending not only on who’s asking, but on what their purpose is.
A common mistake dancers make is following advice intended for someone who has different needs/goals/reasons for dancing WCS.
Right now, check in with yourself: what goals or needs do you have NOW?
They are likely different from when you started. They're also likely different than two years ago.
Either way, if you have goals and/or needs that are not being satisfied, it’s time for an audit. Time to reassess and make some course-corrections if necessary.
This article is the LAST OF a 4-part series where I look at all the most common things dancers want out of their WCS, one category at a time, and explain how you can take action to get what you want starting now.
These are the kind of articles you want to read slowly and think. Read and consider all of these goals/needs – you may discover some less obvious ones that you can relate to. Or maybe this will spark some ideas that aren't listed.
All of these reasons/desires are valid: I’m not going to convince you to change any of them: But your (honest) reasons should dictate the path you choose and the decisions you make.
Said another way,
The advice you follow depends on what you really want from West Coast Swing.
So here's the LAST instalment in this series discussing the most common reasons people are attracted to WCS in the first place. At the end I also describe a few pitfalls to avoid...
What do you WANT? Part 4: Community
- More people to dance with
- More opportunities to dance
- To feel needed
- To spread the love
You might want all of these, but consider which ones are MOST important to you. Some of them might seem similar or redundant, but think deeper in order to clarify exactly which aspects of community are most important to you.
1. I want more people to dance with
If you have a small community, your priority might be on growth and exposure. Even if your role in your community is a volunteer, you're going to have to do a little leg work. Take some tips from business marketing, and start treating your Westie community as a product to be marketed.
Here is a short list of marketing tools you can use to get more exposure for WCS in your area to attract more people to the community:
- Westie Bombs
- Business cards with free dance party entry
- Flyers/banners at community events
- Professionally produced social media videos
- Cross-promoting with other styles or hobbies
- Bring-a-beginner nights
- Branded clothing
- Singles clubs' activity nights
- Community shows/demos
If any of these don't seem to work for you, it just means you need to learn more about the tool to use it better. So don't give up on it - choose another tools that have a shallower learning curve for you while you study how to use the more complex ones.
Communication & Marketing WCS is a course within the Swing Literacy Teacher Development Program.
The ideal WCS promotion shirt
When you dance in public, the goal is to pique the curiosity of public spectators to inspire them to ask you about how they can learn the dance.
Wearing your studio's shirt is not always the best idea because it can seem intimidating or exclusive to onlookers.
By wearing this shirt, potential dancers immediately can label the dance you're doing and are prompted to ask you about it. The shirt creates the conversation, then simply hand them your promo card!
2. I want more opportunities to dance
Wish your community had more than one social dance per week? Take the initiative and create more!
- You don’t have to do it alone: gather some friends and rent some space. At the end of this article, I provide a resource for how to scout for a venue.
- You could start a non-profit if you wanted to, but it’s not necessary when you are first getting started.
- You could facilitate offering lessons from a real teacher, but lessons aren’t necessary. At the end of this article, I provide a resource for organizing a peer practica.
- Also consider organizing field trips to nearby communities – make a day trip carpool for a weekend dance or workshop.
Think about it: on a scale of 1-10, how important is it to your happiness to have more opportunities to dance?
- 1 = you don't care and don't need it
- 10 = you are obsessed and are getting depressed with the minimal dancing you have.
If your answer is over a 3 or 4, it's time to take the initiative to create your own happiness by taking leadership! Chances are, there are many more people in your community who feel the same way and are willing to help.
Be sure to check out the bonus articles below for more guidance on taking leadership.
3. I want money
Hey, there’s no shame in needing income. There are a few aspects of WCS that can make you money, but none of them will make you wealthy, so be sure to manage your expectations:
- Hosting a dance party
- Teaching classes
- DJing dance parties
- Renting studio space or floor
- Winning prize money*
Whatever avenue you choose, do your homework first.
- Study the business: Don't waste your time reinventing the wheel: search for services and systems that have gone before you and study them first.
- Get trained: Learn the skills, accept the advice, respect the art. Your "clients" will respect you more and the services you provide will be more effective.
- Listen to your "customers" needs & concerns: being open to feedback doesn't mean you have to take it, but you can learn a lot about what people are willing to pay more for.
- Be transparent about your goal: don’t profess to be altruistically serving the dancers if your real goal is to turn a profit. People will see through it and distrust you.
*While winning prize money technically counts as income from dance, it is too inconsistent to be able to count on, so be sure to treat prize winnings as a bonus, not as a reliable revenue vehicle.
4. I want to feel needed
Some people enjoy helping others to the point that they crave it. If you are in a position to help, why not, right? No problem, as long as you know your help will be appreciated. For example:
- Unsolicited advice on the dance floor even if you are "just trying to help" = not appreciated. Want to know a better way? Check out the feedback article and the end of this article.
- Offering your non-dance business expertise to a struggling young instructor by helping them write a business plan over coffee: = appreciated.
The easiest and most reliable way to satisfy this need? Volunteer at events and socials. You will always be appreciated and feel a sense that you made a difference.
Teaching does provide this sense of helping people, but it requires professional training first in order to be effective and accountable – it's a job that you should do to serve others' needs, not a job you should only volunteer for just to satisfy your own needs. This training is not time-intensive, but it does make a significant difference in your effectiveness as a teacher, which impacts the quality of your community's skills, attitude, culture, etc.
So if you want to teach to serve your community and feel needed, make sure you are getting trained so you can deliver what they need. That's the perfect reason to start the Swing Literacy Teacher Development Program.
Do you know that your community needs you to step into a teaching role but you are feeling reluctant to teach?
I know the feeling! When I first started WCS, I was already a teacher and coach, so it would have been easy, but at the time I was searching for a selfish hobby I could save just for me. But inevitably, I surpassed the local teachers and knew that if I wanted more people to dance with, I was going to have to take the initiative. (See #2). So I didn't start teaching to feel needed, I started teaching because I was needed. If you can relate to this, this is a sign to step up and teach, because you might be the only thing standing in the way of having the community you crave.
5. I want to spread the love
Let's imagine you are chatting with a new friend who asks about your dancing.
You’ve gotten so much joy from WCS, you just want others to feel the same! So you start gushing about WCS...
But in order to be effective in your mission, it is essential to consider the perspective of your audience.
Figuratively rushing in and getting up in their face about how they should try this dance is only going to intimidate – they’re either going to think that WCS is only for crazed fanatics or that the dance has turned you into one.
Instead, when you are speaking about West Coast Swing, be sure to regulate your enthusiasm, and tailor it to the particular audience you are targeting.
On another note, if you are interested in taking community or global initiatives, great; but do your research and make sure your idea doesn’t exist already and either infringe on or compete with someone else who’s already done it.
Also consider the big picture: your initiative might serve the needs of a small group, but will it be counterproductive in the progress of the larger community? These are questions you need to ask for help and mentorship on.
Got an idea you would like a mentor or sounding board for? Feel free to contact me to discuss and I will be happy to point you in the right direction: firstname.lastname@example.org
6. I want to affect change
Over the past few years there has been a movement to shine a light on dark areas of our dance that are dysfunctional, such as racism, gender/role equality, and exclusion.
If you recognize social issues like these in your community and want to see change, great! Change starts with YOU. Not only changing your own behaviour, but taking the initiative to inspire others.
These changes can be as small as changing signage, or as big as creating a new comp division at an event. Don't fall into the trap of thinking your ideas are too small or insignificant.
You don't need to be in a leadership position to instigate the conversation. In fact, your community leaders likely have enough on their plate and would appreciate others taking up the torch.
You also don't need to do it alone. Reach out in your local WCS social media groups to post a poll, start a discussion, or announce a brainstorm session. Be sure to connect with local teachers and organizers so you can get support and unify the community around common goals.
We are proud to support Swing Diversity, a non-profit organization that serves to raise awareness, educate, and provide opportunities to make Swing dance more accessible to marginalized populations.
This is one great example of dancers taking initiative on a grand scale to initiate change in our global WCS community.
Which of the competitive goals/needs mentioned in this article resonate with you?
Don't see some of your goals/needs listed? Don't forget there are 3 more articles in this series! In the meantime, check out the recommended articles below.
Pitfalls to avoid
Now, let's address some pitfalls you might encounter as you strive for these goals/needs:
Taking dance for granted
Remember you are not just a consumer - you are part of a community. This means you co-create it with others in order to make it sustainable. Don't just sit back and eat - get in the kitchen and have a turn at cooking, or at least help with the dishes. Because if everyone eats and nobody helps, the kitchen closes. Helping can be as simple as sharing an event on social media, or asking a newcomer to dance, or volunteering to set up chairs, or it could be a little more commitment but with a bigger return on your investment, such as offering to host an out-of-town dancer, or coordinating a movie night, or sponsoring a teacher training.
Whining about what you want rather than taking action
Just complaining with no solutions? Keep it to yourself. The negativity isn't helping anyone. If you don't like it, help improve it. This means speaking up, but not just to complain - be prepared to offer solutions or at least have an open mind to discuss others' ideas.
Thinking that your ideas are not significant enough to make a difference
Every little bit helps. You have no way of estimating how big of an impact a small thing might have. So speak your mind and make that suggestion. There are often others who will be glad you did because they couldn't.
Ok so now what?
Once you have identified what your most important goals/needs are in the "community" department, you can use this to help guide some decisions you make about:
- How much time you dedicate to all the non-dancing dance stuff
- How much money you invest in travel, social events, dance parties, etc.
- How you prioritize activities that are going to contribute to your community experience
Then use some of the tips mentioned here as a starting point to take action to get more of what you really want.
Below are a few articles that provide more detail.
This is Part 2 of a series to help you transition back to dance. Click here to go to Part 1: How to Survive the Awkward Phase as we Return to Dance Many places in the world still have COVID restrictions preventing large classes, but we’re hearing from many dancers right now that they would prefer
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 DancePart 2: How to Practice Smarter in Small Groups Did your community lose a dance venue due to the pandemic? Maybe they closed permanently, had
You may or may not be a dance teacher, but you might be someone who people look up to in your local dance community. Someone who rallies the troops, who encourages the newbies, who stays late to help out, who’s full of ideas and desire to build and grow their community so they have more
Dance feedback is like hugs. Everybody can benefit from them, but no one will admit to it, and it can get awkward to ask.An no one likes an unwanted hug.This article is your go-to source on how to gracefully GET and GIVE feedback. Read on to discover:The 3 conditions required for feedback to be appropriate:
Ever had a mentor? I’m not talking just about somebody you admire and look up to. Let’s be specific: ever had someone who took you under their wing for free and made your goals their goals? Who stuck with you and guided you through rough waters? The rich development experience of a mentorship is one
Etiquette is a part of the culture of social dancing that is often taken for granted. We all assume that since we feel like we are doing fine, that others will perceive us the same. Everyone assumes the advice applies to everyone but themselves. You may have heard some of these tips before, but some
And now for a little practical philosophy.
Ask yourself: What do you really want in West Coast Swing? Take a moment before answering: your readily available answer might be keeping you from being honest with yourself, which might be sabotaging your ability to have your needs met.
Many dancers approach us seeking advice, from all corners of the WCS scene: students, event directors, teachers, competitors, non-dancing spectators, social dancers. Our responses vary, depending not only on who’s asking, but on what their purpose is. A common mistake dancers make is following advice intended for someone with different needs/goals/reasons for dancing WCS.
Before discovering WCS, you had a set of personality traits and life experiences that led you to it. Do you remember what your original reasons for taking up WCS were? Many people cite social goals such as “meeting new people” or skill goals such as “feeling competent social dancing”. Others cite needs that needed fulfilling, such as “feeling included”, or “artistic self-expression”. Right now, check in with yourself: what goals or needs do you have NOW? They are likely different from when you started. Either way, if you have goals and/or needs that are not being satisfied, it’s time for an audit. Time to reassess and make some course-corrections if necessary.
Let’s look at all the most common reasons people have for dancing WCS. Read and consider all of them – you may discover some less obvious ones that you can relate to. All of these reasons are valid: I’m not going to convince you to change them: But your (honest) reasons should dictate the path you choose and the decisions you make. Said another way, the advice you follow depends on what you really want from West Coast Swing.
I want more people asking me to dance
It’s nice to be wanted. It’s boring to sit on the sidelines. Everyone needs to accept their responsibility for asking other people to dance and not just pouting and waiting to be asked. But, if you are doing your share of asking and no one ever asks you, there might be a reason. Take a private lesson to get some honest feedback on your dancing – you might be doing something that is offending or deterring partners. The instructor can help guide you to more desirable dance methods and social behaviour.
I want confidence
Dancing is a great confidence-booster. It is often linked to other needs, such as competence or acceptance. Your confidence will improve the more you tackle and succeed at miniature “wins”, such as not needing to count your steps anymore, or finally unlocking that move/trick you have been trying to master, or having a Pro ask you to dance. Be sure to acknowledge and accumulate the little wins.
I want a social network
Being new in town or having an isolating job are examples of reasons you might need to develop a social network. Be sure to tune in to all of the WCS activities available, both local and global, live and online. Don’t just stick to your group classes and your studio’s Facebook group. Explore outside and discover different events and resources: diversify! Think beyond the dance floor: take advantage of social outings and quality time with dancers outside of the studio to enrich the quality of your network relationships.
I want acceptance/inclusion
Keeping in mind the harsh reality that high school politics exist throughout our lives, there are some things you can do to ensure you are accepted or included. Showing up is half the battle – you have to be present in people’s minds for them to invite you to things. Engaging in meaningful conversation and asking questions shows that you are interested, and people love to feel interesting. Humility and respect goes a long way – if you are accepting and inclusive, you will gain and retain more fans.
I want attractiveness/dating
It’s inevitable: dance changes people: almost always for the better. This is your chance to evolve and upgrade! If attractiveness/dating is a goal for you, look around. Study the dancers you admire and what they all have in common: how they dress, dance, treat each other, talk to others, make jokes, wear their hair/makeup. I’m not saying you need to be a carbon copy, just use others for inspiration. Put a little more conscious effort into your appearance and manners and intentionally seek out learning opportunities.
I want admiration
You might admit to yourself that you like to be admired: crowds cheering, likes on Facebook, compliments in person and comments on YouTube, etc. But be honest: if you didn’t get any of these things, would you suffer? Would you still want to dance? Deep down you might actually *need* admiration. I’m not judging, but this could be a slippery slope, so it’s important to stay balanced. Be sure you are deriving enjoyment from your other needs/goals too so that you don’t rely too much on what other people think.
I want identity
Once you get really embedded in WCS, you can’t imagine your life without it! It’s comforting and invigorating to have a hobby you are passionate about. Think: Who are you in WCS? To deepen your engagement and serve the dance that has brought you so much joy, consider getting involved in leadership activities, such as volunteering, hosting, DJing, or even teaching. However, be sure to keep some balance in your life: imagine if WCS was suddenly extracted from your life: what would you have left? Who are you outside of dance? Be sure to maintain your non-dance priorities.
I want competence
You might have started WCS enthusiastically thinking, “I need to learn this dance!”, but it was more likely “I need to figure this thing out”. Either way, you see a discrepancy between what you can do and what you see others can do, and you feel motivated to close the gap. The pursuit of competence drives you – let it. While in pursuit, keep your eyes open for the next new goal. The key is to not succumb to complacency. Just because you learned a skill once, doesn’t mean you are competent at it. Don’t convince yourself that you have “learned enough” – your dance will get really boring to both you and your partners. Time for a private lesson. #neverstoplearning
I want mastery
It might not be enough for you to feel competent at something – you feel the need to conquer it. Mastery is an admirable pursuit in any field, and the prescription is the same: coaching and practice. Practice is useless without feedback. Masters provide feedback. Feedback is useless without practice. If your goal is mastery, you need to find all the coaching you can afford. Shop around, find a sensei you respect and who respects you. Be particular: just because someone is a good dancer, doesn’t make them a good coach. Diversify: train under multiple coaches to hear a variety of perspectives and approaches, and cross-train in other dance styles to gain mastery over your body.
I want challenge
If you are bored in group classes, and bored with your dancing, it might mean that you need to be challenged. It might seem like the answer is to “move up” a class level, but that’s not an appropriate solution. Your skills are separate from your boredom. You don’t need harder skills you aren’t ready for – you need to find a more entertaining way to work on your existing skills. If you are bored with your dancing, stop dancing boringly! Take a private lesson to get a custom-tailored plan on how to improve your skills and find ways to challenge yourself in your classes, social dancing, and competitions.
I want self-expression through dance
There is a plateau point in your WCS development where your basic mechanics have stabilized, but you might not feel like you are “dancing” yet. This is the time to go to a teacher for a private lesson and figure out how you can discover your personal groove and insert your own personality into the dance. Do some homework first – study dancers better than you and identify which ones you admire and why, your teacher can understand what inspires you. This might also be the point where you decide you would like to try choreography. Consider joining a team, doing a Pro-Am, or even a Rising Star routine.
I want kinesthetic/sensory satisfaction
This dance is supposed to FEEL good. Reeaallly good. If it doesn’t, don’t give up, keep searching. And it shouldn’t be hard. Try different instruction sources: workshops, intensives, instructional videos, private lessons. Take a practice partner with you so you can get feedback on your efforts.
I want more people to dance with
If you have a small community, your priority might be on growth and exposure. Even if your role in your community is a volunteer, take some tips from business marketing, and start treating your Westie community as a product to be marketed. Westie Bombs, business cards, flyers, viral videos, cross-branding, bring-a-beginner nights, crossover events, branded clothing, community shows…the list goes on.
I want more opportunities to dance
Wish your community had more than one social dance per week? Take the initiative and create more! You don’t have to do it alone: gather some friends and rent some space. You could start a non-profit if you wanted to, but it’s not necessary. You could offer lessons from a real teacher, but lessons aren’t necessary. Also consider organizing field trips to nearby communities – make a day trip carpool for a weekend dance or workshop.
I want money
Hey there’s no shame in needing income. There are several aspects of WCS that can make you money, but none of them will make you wealthy. Whatever avenue you choose, do your homework first. Study the business, learn the skills, take the training, accept the advice, respect the art. Be transparent about your goal: don’t profess to be altruistically serving the dancers if your real goal is to turn a profit. People will see through it and distrust you.
I want to feel needed
Some people enjoy helping others to the point that they crave it. If you are in a position to help, why not, right? No problem, as long as you know your help will be appreciated. Unsolicited advice on the dance floor: not appreciated. Offering your expertise to a young instructor by helping them write a business plan over coffee: appreciated. The easiest way to satisfy this need? Volunteer at events and socials. Teaching does provide this sense of helping people, but it requires a ton of training first in order to be effective and accountable – not a job you should volunteer for just to satisfy your need.
I want to spread the love
You’ve gotten so much joy from WCS, you just want others to feel the same. In order to be effective in your mission, it is essential to consider the perspective of your audience. Figuratively rushing in and getting up in their face about how they should try this dance is only going to intimidate – they’re either going to think that WCS is only for crazed fanatics or that the dance has turned you into one. Monitor your enthusiasm, and tailor it to the particular audience you are targeting. On another note, if you are interested in taking community or global initiatives, great; but do your research and make sure your idea doesn’t exist already and either infringe on or compete with someone else who’s already done it. Also consider the big picture: your initiative might serve the needs of a small group, but will it be counterproductive in the progress of the larger community? These are questions you need to ask for help on.
I want public success
The first thing I ask students when they admit this is, “why?” Are you just wanting to compete because your friends are? Do you think you’re less worthy of a dancer if you don’t? Do you need the external validation? Why do you need people to see you succeed? No judgement – just prompting you to be honest with yourself so you can make accurate decisions. Attaching your self-worth to your competition success is very dangerous.
I want improvement
If you honestly want to engage in competitions in order to push yourself to improve, awesome. But this involves actually following through with activities that cause improvement, such as training. You can’t expect improvement or competitive advancement if you do nothing to work on your dance between competitions. If you want to improve, if you want to advance, you have to put in the work: this means investing in private lessons, getting your a$$ into workshops, and submitting to an intensive. No, self-practice is not enough. Step up, show up, level up.
I want trophies
Trophies are symbols of achievement. They are physical representations of a memory of glory. In 30 years, will you remember the trophy, the moment you were awarded the trophy, or the dance that earned it? Which do you think history will remember? Thanks to YouTube, dance records are now more valued than trophies. A memorable 4th place dance often earns as many if not more hits than the generic winning dance in that contest. If you focus on having an amazing dance with your partner in the moment, your personal satisfaction will be more rewarding than a trophy for an empty dance.
I want fame/status
Up-and-coming professionals trying to build their career often have this as a priority, and so they should. But the activities that build fame and status are often misunderstood. Fame and status are earned and given, not taken. You can earn it positively or negatively depending on your behaviour, so for every competitive success be sure to regulate your sportsmanship, humility, respect, gratitude, reinvestment in learning, and community contribution.
I want achievement (points)
There is no system currently set up to recognize achievement of skills; the only system of recognition in WCS is competition points. Out in the big wide world, you have to admit that points mean nothing. You can’t list your points on a resume. Points are also really arbitrary. Super dangerous to measure your self-worth on the opinion of 7 questionably-trained judges all prioritizing different things! But if it’s recognition of improvement you are looking for, you don’t need competitions to do that. Your instructor, fellow social dancers/competitors, and personal video records provide proof of improvement. Weigh these more heavily than your competition results.
Pitfalls to avoid
Satisfying one of your needs/goals disproportionately may be counterproductive
If one of your goals is to increase your dating pool, if you start sleeping around with many dancers, you could be damaging your local reputation, depleting your dating pool rather than increasing it.
Pursuit of your needs/goals could turn unhealthy
This dance can be addictive, but consider the costs. If you are struggling to pay your rent, you really should be reconsidering those flights and hotels and event passes. West Coast Swing will still be here when your bank account recovers.
Focus your efforts on activities that satisfy your actual needs, not the popular choices
Just because all your friends are competing in Jack&Jills, doesn’t mean you have to. If you’ve tried to get into it and it really doesn’t inspire you and doesn’t fill your bucket, don’t force yourself to do something that will lead to resentment.
Of course, the tips in this article just scratch the surface of the ocean of coaching that is available to you. For more information, and custom-tailored advice for your situation, seek out private lessons.