(or “I smell what you’re offering to exchange and I don’t want to step in it”)
For about the last year I’ve been making the argument that the poor economy has led to a massive influx of novice organizers, who haven't been able to find fledgling careers to commit to, to try their hand at throwing dance events. Similarly, it seems every small scene with 4 or 5 dancers and some nook or cranny to dance in is throwing a full blown exchange. Sadly, what's resulted is an over-saturation of poorly planned and/or executed events that leave me wondering where is the value for the price they’re charging and what they are hyping?
One thing I remain absolutely adamant about,
- Words have specific meanings and create specific expectations –
Phrases like, “nationally known DJ’s”, “live swing bands”, “hosting available”, “free”… even the terms “lindy” or “blues exchange” themselves. Truthfully, I believe, if your home lindy or blues scene can fit in one or two vehicles, you can’t throw an actual exchange, you can merely throw a party. That doesn't mean it can't be an awesome dance party, it's just lacks the resources to be a full exchange.
Also, a list of recommended hotel accommodations is not "offering housing." Lindy bombing a street festival where the local municipality has hired an Elvis impersonator is not “4 hours of continuous lindy dancing”, neglecting to point out someone has to pay a $7 parking or entrance fee to a 3rd party means that event is no longer “Free." Letting someone play music off their laptop doesn't make them a swing DJ.
In the last month I’ve been invited to a couple “exchanges” that have me particularly shaking my head and wondering where things are headed.
The first incident was a trio of new organizers who were completely forthright (although misinformed) in their advertising of their new blues event, which, they said, would bring blues to the southeast, where there's never been any blues scenes or events before. They explained blues has gotten too prissy with its ballroom's and instruction & their event was a dirty, raw, blues bomb to bar bands w/ plenty of drunken grinding & beer. They mentioned the local swing club had told them they weren’t cool enough to hang out with them since they didn’t care about technical partnered dancing, just blues and enough beer to enjoy the dirty thrill of it. To drive their point home, they’ve added a soul, modern tango, and fusion pajama party late night.”
This event offended me on many levels. First, it discounted and ignored the efforts of Mike the Girl Legett and her "Enter the Blues" team and other blues dancers in Atlanta, as well as the organizers of I Dance Blues in Durham. Secondly, I found the marketing to be divisive and disrespectful of the lindy hoppers in that city. Lastly, and most importantly, it further reinforced the stereotype that in the mid-Atlantic states while female organizers want to run events stressing the quality of the dance, for male blues dancers its all about the bump and grind in dark rooms. This was a real step backwards from all the hard work that people like Mike Marcotte in DC and many, many others have put in to bring blues dancing to a level of respectability.
The other event that took a wonderful idea and crushed it was a lindy exchange tacked onto an annual Winter Festival at a national historic site. Unfortunately, it was organized single handedly by an instructor whose scene is mostly 14-16 year old children and a handful of ballroom couples in their 60's. She contacted me to asking, although she had no budget to hire me, other DJs or bands, would I help recruit her a team of DJ's willing to play for free?
Within a one month period the event was publicly billed as costing $60, refunded and reduced to $30, further reduced to $10, raised back up to $30, then slashed to $11 plus the event went from no bands, to 2, then 3, then 5, then a couple got cancelled, replaced, and the schedule reworked from scratch almost daily within the last 2 weeks. The final lineup was a couple Sinatra crooner bands, a bluegrass/hot trio, the local college jazz band, and even a fife and drum procession. Meanwhile "Hosting" for the event was billed as any available hotel space not booked by visiting holiday tourists in town for the event. This is simply just not a lindy exchange... nor even a professionally marketed dance event that truthfully has any chance of attracting outside dancers.
Honestly, I love fun as much as the next person, but seriously, this recent explosion of every single collection of 2 or more blues or lindy dancers feeling they need “to throw their own exchange in order to be taken seriously, feel loved and respected, or make a name for themselves” is a load of crap. If that's your motivation buy a puppy or see a shrink, do not ask people to travel hours and hours and give you money for a poorly thought out, poorly executed product that will underwhelm and actually diminish the opinion of your area in the dance community.
When I first started DJ’ing, one of the top DJ’s on the east coast approached me after a set to say, “I owe you an apology. I’ve heard your name for a while but never took you seriously because I heard you were from Virginia Beach and automatically assumed you sucked.” Trust me, sometimes there are worse things in life than not having made a name for yourself or putting your scene on the map.
Before deciding you need to have your name on the marquee, why not consider helping established organizers run respected events and find out why they don’t embellish their marketing or short change their musicians, teachers or DJ’s? Also, learn why they confirm their logistical arrangements and are aware of what others are doing in scenes around them BEFORE adding theirs to an already crowded weekend. The reason why organizers network and share their experiences as to what has worked or not worked for them and come up with some loose "best practices" about how to plan events is because these lessons have been sometimes hard learned and they work.
I’m sorry to wrap myself in my “blanket of elitism” but we’re at the point where we don’t need any more half-baked, poorly planned, over-hyped events that underwhelm but overcharge. They do everyone a disservice and just provide unnecessary noise and distraction that cloud the water for those looking to spend their money most effectively.
If you don't have a burning passion for dance that goes beyond your own ego and an attention to details that most can find boring as mud or too tedious to care about, please leave event planning to those who do. The dance community deserves that much respect.