Every West Coast Swing teacher, studio owner, or event organizer must have asked himself more than once (on the last week alone) how to make his community bigger (or great again ;)).
I have discussed this issue many times with pros, community leaders, and event directors in the past year or so, and last weekend at Winter White 2019 I attended, for the first time, a session that addressed this topic specifically. This session was led by no others than Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay, one of the top champion couples in the WCS scene.
Hugo and Stacy have their own dance school, District Dance Academy, and have been building their community in Clearwater, Florida for the last couple of years. They decided to give something back to the community from their own experience, and share what worked for them and what didn’t. They started with only 5 people attending their classes, and now they have between 80-100 students in their weekly classes. In this article, I’ll share with you what I learned from them during this session.
The basis for building your West Coast Swing community
The first question a community leader needs to ask himself is: Who is my ideal student?
In other words, what are his characteristics: age? Interests? economical status? (can he pay for classes?)
Every community is different, and not every method fits everywhere. For example, some are more focused on learning, others have a competitive motive, and some are based on socializing and meeting new people.
If you want to get to the right people, you have to specify your advertisement to fit your customers. You have to make sure you are going to give them what they want, and not what you think they need.
Marketing your new West Coast Swing school
How can you spread the word that a new dance or a new school is in town?
- Use ALL social media platforms. “Plann” is a great app for managing your Instagram posts. Use Facebook ads as well.
- Post on Facebook groups where you can find your potential students, like singles and dating groups, or other dance styles.
- Take pictures of your students while dancing and post the pictures on social media. Tag them so their friends can see it, and make sure to put your logo in the picture.
- Create a video montage for your themed nights. You can use the app “Magisto”.
- Go and “Westie bomb” a festival.
- Publish on meetup.com.
- Post on your local “Craigslist” website.
- Conduct free beginner boot-camps (not longer than two hours).
- Put your flyers everywhere you can think of.
- Give away discounts through Groupon, but specify them for beginner classes or beginner private lessons. Otherwise, all of your existing students will use them, and you’ll only lose income.
Making people want to be part of your West Coast Swing community
Manged to bring people to your classes? Great! The next question would be: What will make them stick around?
One thing you need to remember is: know your numbers! How many students have you lost, and how many have you gained?
It’s not enough to know the total number of students you currently have. You must be aware of all the processes which take place within your community.
Why do people leave?
They don’t feel successful enough fast enough
They need to progress through courses and get the feeling they accomplished something by finishing a course. That’s why beginner courses should be shorter than the more advanced ones. For example, one class for a free beginner “crash course”, level 1 can last 2.5 weeks (with two classes per week, 5 in total), level 2 lasts 12 classes (6-12 weeks), etc.
In addition, in order to cater to the needs of different kinds of students, it’s possible to create a separate social track, that is available after finishing level 1. The social track is an open level course made for students who want to focus on variety and patterns, and are more interested in having fun on the social floor than improving their technique, partnering, and musicality.
They’re not having enough fun
That’s why you should have outlets every once in a while. Take everyone and go bowling or grab a drink somewhere. Activities like “Secret Santa” can be a lot of fun as well.
They don’t feel part of the family
You must give your students a feeling of inclusion. Tell the instructors to wait for them at the entrance before the class and greet everyone. You should remember personal details about your students, and in general, show them you care.
As for keeping newcomers in building, Hugo and Stacy structure their evening program in a way that’ll give them a reason to stay:
At the end of every beginner class, each experienced student approaches a newcomer, introduces himself, and escorts his new friend to the main ballroom, where everyone gathers for a group picture. Afterward, there’s an inspiring teacher’s demonstration. There’s an MC who takes the students through the whole evening program and motivates them to get excited about the dances they’re watching. In the end, everyone partner up in a circle, and switch partners within the circle during the song (what’s called a “mixer”). The last partner during the mixer is the first partner for the party that starts right after.
How can you deal with the common problem of “snobbism” among your students?
First of all, say it out loud and write it on the walls: “We love beginners!”
Second, you can’t make all experienced dancers dance with beginners. They’re entitled to choosing their dance partners. What you can do is approach some of them, who are interested in helping and welcoming newcomers, and ask them to invite a beginner for a dance.
In case of an extreme situation, like an experienced dancer hurting a beginner’s feelings, have a talk with this “advanced” dancer, and make him realize he did something wrong.
Keeping the interest in your West Coast Swing community
A good routine program is not enough. You need to renew all the time to keep people entertained. Here are some ideas for it:
- BYOB night: Bring Your Own Beginner, and get free entrance for both you and your friend.
- Spotlight night: 10 couples are allowed to register for the competition. They can dance a choreography they prepared in advance or just improvise as if they were social dancing.
- Throwback night: Play music from the past. It’ll make the older generation happy, and get the younger dancers acquainted with this kind of music.
- J&J night: Participants pay a symbolic price of $1 and the winners get free passes to some event. Event directors would love to give you passes when you promote their event within your community. If the winners attend the event, they can surely bring their friends with them, which will make the event director very happy.
- Dancer’s choice night: For the first hour of the party, the music played is chosen by the students. In the next hour, the DJ chooses the songs according to students’ feedback.
As you can see, there are many ways to grow your community and push it forward. You should definitely try everything, and eventually, something will work. It takes time, so be patient. As long as you have the passion within you, it will happen. Feel free to comment and share your own experience of building a community. I hope you will find Hugo and Stacy’s ideas useful.
For more advice regarding building and growing your community, watch my interview with Chuck Brown.
Now go out there, and may the force be with you!