I suppose this will be the second in a series of rants about Triangle communities and this love letter goes out to the swing dance community. On any given Saturday night that the Triangle Swing Dance Society is hosting a dance, there will be between 100 and 200 dancers at one of these dances, which people will drive sometimes greater distances to attend (i.e. the very rural Murphey School, located between Durham and Hillsborough). There are 760 members of the Triangle Swing Dance Society Facebook group, which allows members to post updates about swing dance events going on in the Triangle. There’s a weekly newsletter that goes out to the TSDS email list, which probably numbers in the hundreds as well. All of this would seem to indicate that we have a thriving swing dance community that supports swing dancing to live music in the Triangle.
This past May, the Mint Julep Jazz Band performed a concert in Durham that was targeted at the swing dance community. Three dancers attended. Last year the Atomic Rhythm All-Stars played Motorco, a pretty significant concert venue in Durham. 30 dancers showed up and it wasn’t enough to pay the band. RDU Rent Party hosted a dance in Raleigh at the Velvet Cloak Inn, which is a historic hotel with beautiful ballroom, and around 30 dancers showed up and left the band and the event promoter short.
I have several theories about why dancer attendance fails to reach the potential of the community at live music events, but none of them really seem to encompass the issue. Is it apathy? Laziness? Money? Is it that dancers are not seeking live music opportunities other than TSDS? Do dancers only have time for one dance per month in their busy schedules?
Ultimately, the result is grim. Without dancer support for swing music in the Triangle, there will be no swing bands. If you only support the bands at TSDS events, those bands are only getting booked a maximum of 3 times per year. If the bands are only playing 3 times per year, where is the incentive to exist? How will we continue to build a fan base? How will we get gigs outside of TSDS without a fan base to support the bands? Where is the incentive for venues to continue to book these bands? How will bands grow musically and technically if they never play outside of TSDS events?
I am not saying that dancers should go to every live swing band event in the Triangle, but I am asking dancers to open their eyes and look around. There are other events in the Triangle with live swing music. TSDS even posts about them in their weekly email newsletter. Admission is usually $10.00 or less. It’s just that easy.
The number of bands on the TSDS roster is on the decline and if we don’t continue to support live music at other venues, we will lose the opportunity to swing dance to live swing music in the Triangle.
P.S. I would like to thank TSDS for their continued support in giving local bands the opportunity to perform and for paying the musicians a fair wage. I hope that the swing dance community will continue to support or even increase their support for TSDS. If there are 700+ people in the TSDS Facebook group, there is no reason why dancer attendance should not be 300 or 400 people for TSDS dances.
P.S.S. 7/25/12 – I’d also like to add Jason Sager‘s comment from the discussion thread about this post in the Triangle Swing Dance Society Facebook group – he says so eloquently what I have not been able to convey:
“Based on what I’ve seen in this thread, I think those of you who are arguing for advertising might want to consider the possibility that you’re not the target audience of Laura’s post. This, to me, is not so much a post about quantitative differences of how to get people out. It’s a post about the qualitative differences of stepping outside the box and the potential rewards that can bring both to your dancing experience and to the scene as a whole.
I recognize that the large majority of the dance scene is primarily looking for a known quantity when they go dancing. Most people here pick one or two venues they frequent and rarely stray from those. They’re a necessary part of a healthy scene, but if you tend to fall into that category, I don’t think Laura’s post was particularly written for your segment of the dance scene.
Our goal both with Rent Parties and with Lindy bombs has not been to provide a known quantity. It has been to provide and foster inspiration. I think one of the reasons we have been able to get some really great performances is because we treat the musicians and friends and as a show rather than as a backdrop for our dancing. And this, to me, is what Laura’s post is suggesting.
The simple fact is that none of these musicians are going to survive on swing gigs. Does that make it my sole responsibility to support them at other venues, of course not. But it also means that if I don’t go see a band anywhere other than at TSDS, I don’t have much room to complain if that band I like isn’t able to get enough gigs to survive.
From my perspective, the point that seems to be being missed in the arguing is that there are a lot of potential benefits to going outside of officially sanctioned swing events. For one, I get to have a different experience when I go somewhere that serves food or booze or whatever else. The “social” dance become social on a whole new level that it often doesn’t at your standard chairs along the wall dance. I also get to be an ambassador for the dance every time I go to a non-dance venue, both with the musicians and with the general “muggle” public who almost inherently view anyone who can dance as magical. And for those of us who are interested in this sort of thing, it can be a lot easier to actually talk to and meet the musicians at a small venue.
In essence, I think the things to take away from this are that most of us have more power than we think to support bands that we love and there are a lot of benefits (not just risks) to going out to a non-dance-specific gig once in a while.
And for those of you who actually took the time to read this whole post, thank you for your time and attention.”
If I may. Inertia is a deadly force. I see this in my music community, which is New York City and California jazz, clubs and festivals. Many people have never gotten out of their own self-absorption sufficiently to realize that their regular paid attendance is the life-force necessary to sustain the enterprises they will miss loudly when they vanish. When the musicians outnumber the audience, that is so sad (I saw this last Thursday at the second set!) yet the people at home will accuse everyone else of not supporting the venue. I know all the reasons people can choose to stay at home, and they are all valid in their own place (money, time, energy, inconvenience) but when I hear purported fans say, “Oh, I’ll get there someday,” my response is always “I hope ‘there’ still exists when you decide to move your legs out of the door. Thank you, Laura, and know that — as men of my father’s generation used to say, “Things are tough all over.”
You may, of course. 🙂 If there’s one thing you and I don’t suffer from, it’s inertia – how can we make this contagious? I’m already promoting and planning on attending two shows I have absolutely no involvement in this coming weekend because I want to infect my community with the potential for two exciting evenings of music and dancing.
A really good question. I think we have to make people’s rooms and apartments and houses a little less comfortable, so they will willingly leave their phones and computers and get the hell out to see and hear and dance . . . . keep on keeping on!