From one organizer to another, I know how hard this job is. You work all year to plan something beautiful for your community. And, as an organizer, I know how important it is to you that attendees love (not like) your event. After all, the entire reason for having an event is to spread the joy of dance. It certainly isn’t for the fame or money.
I’m sure you hear me when I say that one of my nightmares is having an event where any of the attendees are unsafe or uncomfortable. But, it does happen. It happens across all genres and all continents. It happens at every size of event.
So, here’s the best practices we use to try to stop these things from happening. It’s not perfect, and I hope that other organizers (or attendees) will share best-practices for what to do when things go wrong at your event.
1. Hire Artists You Trust
You, your staff, and artists dictate the tone for your event. When you are picking who to bring, look at more than their dance skills. Look at the social value they add to your event.
- Do they refuse to dance with beginners?
- Do they have a habit of questionable or dangerous behavior?
- Do they respect codes of conduct and rules at an event?
- Are there people in your community that feel unsafe around this person?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you need to look at whether or not that person will positively contribute to the atmosphere you are trying to create. Remember that there is always a replacement for bad actors.
2. Set Ground Rules
If you set a code of conduct for your event, you are more likely to have people listen to the rules. Whether it’s a ban on outside alcohol, drunk behavior, or something else, your rules should be made clear to both your staff and attendees.
At a minimum, put it in your terms and conditions on the tickets. Or, even feature it on your website or at the registration desk. If you have artists you’re worried about, put it in their contracts that all or part of their fee is contingent on abiding by the event rules.
And, if you see behavior that is breaking or bending the rules, talk to the person immediately (and ideally privately). If the behavior is relatively ‘minor’, a quick chat will typically resolve many problems. You can even assign a volunteer that you trust to monitor the environment for possible issues.
3. Talk to Your Artists Before Things Go Wrong
Have a meeting. Talk about the environment that you’re trying to create. Say what is expected in terms of behavior, engagement, etc. Say what behavior is not OK. It doesn’t have to be a threat; it’s more of a setting of expectations.
For example, if you give your artists a private lounge with unlimited free alcohol, you’re setting a specific tone: it’s party time. If the artist space is a well-lit room with snacks and water, you’re setting a different precedent.
4. If Something Goes Wrong, Have a Policy
What happens if someone gets injured? Assaulted? Groped? Pre-plan your policies in advance, so that you’re not scrambling when the time comes.
For example, have a stocked first-aid kit at registration, and a first-aid certified volunteer ‘on call’. You never think you’ll need it, but you likely will.
You should also have a policy for dealing with inappropriate or unsafe behavior. If there’s an official policy, it makes it much easier to stick to your guns and resolve the situation than if you’re making it up on the fly. If necessary, make a script.
Here’s a sample of a policy:
- Step 1: Confirm details of the story with an affected party
- Step 2: Ask the accused to accompany you to a private space
- Step 3: Ask about the alleged incident
- Step 4a: If accused is dangerous in the context of the event, unwilling to listen, or unapologetic and it is a serious and credible incident, remove them from the venue
- Step 4b: If accused is likely not a continued danger, ask them to apologize and warn them of the implications in the event of future similar behavior
- Step 5: Follow up with the affected party
5. Give Attendees Somewhere to Report Bad Behavior
In addition to having a policy to deal with bad behavior, make sure people know when and to whom they can report a problem. Dedicate specific people or stations where attendees can go if they need help with an issue.
Whether it’s walking someone to a car, talking to an alleged offender, or more, create a structure that will let people know that these issues are taken very seriously.
6. Hold Yourself to Higher Standards
If you are an organizer, hold yourself to a higher standard than you expect from your artists or attendees. Lead by example. Represent the culture that you want for your event.
If you’re falling over drunk, people will probably do the same. If you fail to have contingency plans and an organizational structure, your artists and attendees will do whatever they want. If you don’t deal with bad situations, the behavior will be normalized.
7. Educate your Volunteers
Every event has volunteers. They need to be well-informed on the policies and procedures of the event. And, they need to be held responsible for doing their job.
This was something I needed to learn from my partner, who has years of management experience. If you do not make it crystal clear what is expected from a volunteer in a particular situation, they will use their judgment. Their judgment is not always in line with your vision, goals or policies. Doesn’t make them bad – but they’re not the organizer. You are.
8. Create a Survey
Sometimes, people don’t tell you about what went on unless you ask. Make a survey, and create an opportunity within the survey for people to share any negative experiences they encountered at your event. You can also provide them with an opportunity to leave their contact information, or be anonymous.
It’s also a valuable tool to learn what worked/didn’t work at your event that year, and to find out what artists people want to see returning or added to the roster.
9. Embrace the Problems
One of the hardest things to do is to hear and respond to negative things that happen – especially if you think it will jeopardize the reputation of your event. Things like assault or other very negative behaviors can feel like a ‘black mark’ on your event.
Let go of that feeling. Embrace them as a situation you now have the power to change. Dancers respond well to organizers who take their concerns and fears seriously. It gives them a sense of safety and security at the event.
If you hold individuals responsible for their behavior, you make it clear that the behavior is not your event. But, if you try to minimize the behavior, your event becomes the haven where those incidents can thrive.
This list is neither exhaustive nor perfect. I make mistakes, and there are many event organizers who have more experience than I do. But, it’s a start – especially for new or inexperienced organizers.
Please, if you are an event organizer, leave strategies that have worked for you. Or, if you simply attend events, what strategies have you seen that are effective for curbing bad behavior? What didn’t work? How do these things impact your experience?
The more we share, the healthier our scenes will be.