The last two nights, I taught a pre-concert beginner lesson for Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra which was playing for a 2-night series of Duke Performances shows. The band was fabulous, both nights were a packed house, and both nights the new dancers were enthusiastic, creative, and happily socializing with each other. But a curious effect emerged the second night. Where the floor had almost always had at least 2 or 3 couples on it Friday night, it ended up being completely empty of dancers for most of the Saturday show.
It got me thinking about the TED talk below from Derek Sivers. One of the things I have been working on with beginners is how to present getting on the floor in a way that makes it easier to make that leap. Particularly in a hall full of seated non-dancers, people can feel awfully intimidated stepping into the space between and audience and a band. The Friday night dance had enough experienced dancers on hand that usually at least one or two couples were willing to brave the floor and others would follow.
On Saturday night, there were few experienced dancers on hand. With the lack of experienced dancers to get the floor started, it never seemed to really build momentum. It got me wondering if there are better ways to help new dancers feel comfortable enough to be the first on the floor. I haven’t had a chance to try all of these ideas out yet, but I have a rare free morning, so I figured I’d write them down and see what people think. I’d also be interested to hear other’s experience with getting dancers to brave the floor at not-exclusively-dance events.
Use the Buddy System
One thought that I haven’t tried yet is to suggest that several couples take to the floor at once. It seems to me that being that it isn’t really until you’ve got 3 couples out on the floor that it gets easier for more people to go out. So what if rather than trying to go out as a solo dancer or couple, one gathered a few people off the floor to go out at once. Imagine it as the difference between someone trying to start a solo Charleston jam on their own versus putting on a T’aint What You Do and having multiple dancers descend on the floor at once for a Shim Sham.
Have the Band Invite People to Dance
Jazz musicians as a whole don’t always have the best reputation for liking dancers. I’ve been a shows before where it wasn’t clear if a band was open to dancers or not and it definitely has opened the door when someone in the band says something like “the dance floor is open”. My experience has been that lots of people are just waiting to be given permission to be creative, try something new, or just get on the floor. I try to make this explicit in the beginner lessons, but I think permission from the band might carry more weight once the show starts.
Get Them Chair Dancing First
Perhaps another thing that keeps people off the floor is the way that they sit and watch a band. I find most jazz concerts people sit very quietly as if listening to a lecture. For me, if I’m feeling intimidated about getting out there or I’m not feeling terribly creative, sometimes it helps to just take a song or two first to bounce in my chair, let myself connect with the music, and let it draw me in more as I start to move in bits and pieces. I haven’t tried this with a beginner class yet, but maybe it could help to have them sit and chair dance for a little bit before getting up to find a partner.
Ultimately, Let Whatever Happens Happen
In the end, I’m not going to try and force dancers on the floor. I do think it is interesting though how people can be having a great time in a lesson and then never make it out for a dance that night. I tend to think it is less an issue of desire and more one of confidence and the more I can lower that barrier for my students, the more they can enjoy the night and add something special that only that combination of music and dance can provide. I’d love to hear about it if anyone tries any of the ideas above and I’d be grateful to hear anyone else’s thoughts on things they’ve tried to help new dancers get on the floor more easily at concerts like this.