We (dancers) are a community. There are good and bad things that go with this.

For example, everyone knows everyone else’s business and history. Did you go on two dates back with that one guy from two years ago? Yup, we know about it. Did you and this other person get into a fight? Yes, we know about that, too.

Or, maybe you just got engaged. We’ll celebrate with you. Did you just lose someone? We’ll empathize with you. Are you hurt? We’re here with love, warmth, and affection. Feeling off? We’ll support you… even if it means you have to miss the big party.

In that way, we’re kinda like a big extended family. Nothing escapes us, but we put up with all the drama and gossip and emotions because in the end, underneath it all, we really do like each other and want to stay together. Within that big, giant family are smaller nuclear dance families: individual schools or groups. These groups travel, eat, and arguably sleep over after dancing together almost habitually. Together, these smaller groups band together to create a city or region’s dance scene.

In healthy scenes that grow and thrive, everyone from school organizers to social dancers work together to create vibrancy and joy. It’s a structure of inclusion, support, and promotion. No human being (or dance scene) can survive in a vacuum. Unlike some competitive industries, even organizers rely on each other to help grow the scene and community to sustainable levels. One group can only grow a dance so far – but it takes everyone working together to really create something special.

Think about it.

All it takes to save a slow social from closing? A few strong rallying voices to call all the dancers to the floor every week.
All it takes to grow the reputation of your favourite pro? A couple reviews of their skills or spreading the word of their work.
All it takes to spread your favourite dance? Telling and inviting newcomers to try it.
All it takes to make someone’s night? Give them your all in all of your dances.

Any dancer can do any of these things.

Individually, these contributions are small. But, if every dancer of every scene practiced the love of their dance and community outwardly, imagine the explosion. Your dance community is your dance family – and it’s not just the people you train with. It’s the new guy in the corner who is so freakin’ nervous to dance for the first time that you have to drag him on the dance floor. It’s the person who is going through something rough, and is coming out to dance and forget it all. It’s the person who is genuinely happy to be there. It’s the addict who drives 2.5 hours just for 1.5 hours of dance time.

If you want to help grow your dance community, don’t abandon these people, support them. Support every organizer, teacher, performer, and social dancer that you admire for any reason. We aren’t in an exclusive world – we’re in an inclusive one.  We are polyamorous. You’re *allowed* to have more than one favourite, one idol. We are multifaceted. We are allowed to learn more than one style, or one dance, or one technique. With a few exceptions (dangerous dancers either physically or behaviorally), every member of a community is of value.

And this responsibility for building community doesn’t stop at individual dancers. In fact, it starts with the community leaders.

Banding together gives each dance school or organizer a chance to both survive and thrive. Dancers from various schools enrich socials, and give variety. Half the thrill is meeting and encouraging new people, as well as being inspired by dancers you look up to. How boring a dance world would we have if everyone was only allowed to look up to *one* person in their dance? Only hang around the same people? To me, it would remove much of the joy of social dance.

In Toronto and the surrounding area, the West Coast Swing scene has created perhaps one of the most exemplary demonstrations of the power of co-operation. Julie, Shelley, Joanna, and Mary of Toronto all work together to create a beautiful, integrated community. They attend each other’s socials, promote each other’s events and workshops, organize and cover for one another, and create a model of beautiful and inspiring friendships. Even further, this network extends outwards to Larry in the Hamilton area, Elaine in Ancaster, and Sean in Waterloo, among others. This co-operation has enabled a steady and healthy growth of West Coast Swing in the local area.

These teachers and organizers could decide to work against each other, and decide that they need to keep their schools to themselves. Instead, they have opened the community and created a great family. Many scenes can learn from this, and see that this is a workable model for not only surviving, but thriving. Instead of defining and dividing their community by school, they have defined their community by everyone being part of a whole. What are the benefits of this?

  • Dancers learn more by being exposed to more styles and teaching methodologies
  • Dancers can find which approach works best for them
  • Community speaks to the scene as a whole, not to a person or school
  • Organizers and teachers can support and promote each other
  • and… Happiness as a whole.

Without this, you run into…

  • Competition instead of co-operation
  • Anxiety and bitter feelings among members of different “groups” or “schools”
  • No united way to promote and support each other
  • Weakened socials and parties
  • Poor variety at any given event
  • Stunted growth in dancers who are not accustomed to adapting to different styles and feels
  • An “Us against Them” mentality

There will always be drama, but drama among friends is usually forgotten and forgiven with time. This should be the type of drama in the dance scene: the light, non-harmful day-to-day drama that follows families and close social circles. The Drama of friends, not adversaries. It’s hard enough to grow a dance scene. It’s almost impossible to grow a scene in the face of a fractured community.

Photo: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios