Saturday, July 24, 2010

Trust, Growth, Contribution & Meaning - the 4 Things Dancers Need From Scene Leaders

I am frequently approached by dance organizers seeking advice about creating a successful dance scene. While, at first, many of their questions sound like they're about logistics or marketing, very often they're basic business management questions that boil down to either, "How do I play nice with others to create something appealing?" or "How do I compete with someone who doesn't play nice with others without becoming that way myself?"

While most realize building a dance scene is a business, very few scene leaders actually consider sound business management principles when looking to build a vibrant, sustainable dance scene. It's important for leaders to realize what they are offering - they're not selling food, shelter or any other necessity that people need to survive... they are selling a dream... I want to be "a dancer."

How do you sell something as unsellable as a dream? To quote George Ross, "To be successful, you have to be able to relate to people; they have to be satisfied with your personality to be able to do business with you and to build a relationship built on mutual trust." This is particularly true in the world of dancing, which is all about communicating with others, and taking the risk of expressing oneself creatively in a public setting. In short, make people happy and inspired.

Why do you want to make dancers happy? Because the big secret to creating a successful dance scene, which in turn leads to successful events, is merely to make people happy. Merely sell the happy dream of "I want to be a dancer."

Traditional business management says to workers, 'I'm the leader – you're the follower; I have something you need (money) and you have something I need (labor). Let's make an exchange.' At its basic level, this is like the dance organizer who says, “I don’t need input on how I run things. I just need your money from registering for my events so I can keep telling you where to put your feet.”

Successful leaders understand there is something bigger at work. An article by Dr. Cleve Stevens in the Harvard Business Review lays out the "Four Things Employees Need From Leaders"; not surprisingly, they are also applicable to building a vibrant dance scene with happy dancers.

The 4 key things dancers need to be happy:

1. The need to love and be loved

People need to feel focused concern and action directed at them for their personal good - this means personal loyalty and ethical behavior that shows respect, the ability to listen and critique fairly and appropriately, and ability to create an environment where a person feels safe from injury or ridicule. If newer dancers are getting injured during your lessons or dropping out because your scene feels elitist or creepy, the problem lies not with the potential new dancers, but with you for not providing a safe, welcoming environment.

These basic concepts are vital to building a reputation that encourages people to come out, and then continue coming out, to support you. Sadly, they are all too often overlooked when someone decides people will think they're cool if they're the one with their name on an event or teaching how to do a swingout.

Additionally, organizers don't become successful or host packed events by merely pointing out where other events fall short; rather, they put their energies into competing positively against THEMSELVES and besting their own track record of making clients (dancers) feel loved. Be the positive change you want to see in the dance world.

2. The need to grow

Nobody wants to keep doing the same thing over and over or merely show up hoping to maintain their current skill level enough to avoid decay. People want to be inspired to learn new things. Some will want a stiff challenge, others not as challenging, but people thrive on novelty.

Not the strongest instructor with the most solid footwork? That's okay, organizers aren't perfect at everything. Resist the urge to teach anyway and share the spotlight by recruiting a skilled, engaging instructor that inspires people and you'll score big points in people's books... besides maybe you'll even learn a couple things yourself and reignite your own passion.

3. The need to contribute

Feeling that somehow we're not contributing to a community can lead to a gnawing worry about our own adequacy or value. But when we make a contribution to it in a significant way and receive positive validation from the group, it brings an inexplicable peace of mind -- we feel we belong to something and our opinions are valued. Life works best when we are able to forget ourselves and contribute to others. In the corporate realm, to feel fulfilled and empowered, employees must know they are contributing to the whole.

I was recently at a dance where the organizer promoted himself extensively during announcements and concluded with "well, if nobody has anything else, let's get back to dancing." When one of the locals chimed in with "something else", the organizer's body language and audible sigh made it clear, her contribution was not welcome. Something as simple as being a good listener and allowing someone to feel like their ideas matter is an easy way to create happy dancers.

4. The need for meaning

We are meaning-seeking creatures. If our lives lack a clear sense of meaning, if we are not engaged in some larger purpose, we will not be fully satisfied. People need to know how a specific task fits into the bigger picture. 'Step, step, triple step' gets pretty darned repetitive and discouraging in a tiny sealed room with 20 people in it each week if they do not know about the existence of a world wide lindy hop community. Share inspiring moments and ideas from exchanges, workshops and competition to inspire your dancers to experiment, question, dream and to travel.

In conclusion, like a successful business (which a dance scene is), organizers need to embrace concepts that demonstrate a clear commitment and respect for local dancers, not merely see them as a replaceable revenue source to keep dance parties going or let you be the dance star you aspire to be. In other words, build a dance scene that is an endless series of relationships built on mutual trust.

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