Dance Troupes – What I’ve Learned Teaching Them

First thing – ahhh Montréal Bagel and Blues is over. Wow what an event! If you missed it this year… well I can’t really describe how awesome it was in words but I know this year’s iteration will be very hard to top. Well done, Javiera, well done *golf clap*! My liver is hurtin’ right now but all in all, it’s worth it.

Now to what this blog post is about – dance troupes. Even though you wouldn’t know it from the blues community, this city really is the city of dance troupes. It’s overwhelming thinking about the number of dance troupes there are in the city (or if you were like me before you moved to Montréal, extremely jealous), but it ‘s why the scene is so strong and consistently growing year after year. What makes it work well is that each of these troupes has their own personality, each one has that little spark that makes them special. There are troupes for all types of interest levels – from competitive to performance-based and all the way down to a “for funsies” group. So you can join a super gung-ho performance based group and join a more casual one to fill your quotas for both technique and silly fun-times.

I dunno how I really got myself in this but I’ve tossed my hat in the craziness of being a troupe organizer (along with the talented Myriam Baril of course). I’ve always been in a troupe myself as soon as I moved to Montréal but this is the first time I’ve really tried to do my own thing here. When I started, I honestly didn’t realize just how much of a commitment it would take just to get things off the ground. Finding members, keeping members, interpersonal balancing, finances (or lack thereof), booking studio space, answering  inquiries, resolving quarrels within potential dance members, were just a few of the issues that I found that I had to deal with at the start. And this is all before even doing any of the actual dance part. With the steep learning curve in getting things on the right foot, I think I’ve learned a few things that might be beneficial for anyone wanting to start one themselves in the city. Obviously your mileage may vary but here are some things I’ve found quite useful to write about… Read More…

Wining and dining wit’ a bit o’Jass

Fun Organizer tip: Organizing is tough, wine and dine with your guest instructor and everything will be fine. :)

In the last little bit, I have been working to inject my ideas into to the scene. Joining Dance 4U (Salsa dance company), instructing Blues/Partnering classes with Dance 4U (with the amazing Tamara Cohen) and Diane Garceau of Night and Day Dance. My latest foray: mini-workshops with out-of-towners.

You know, putting stuff together can be tough, with all the planning and organization, emails, IMs, chats, pigeon routes (I’m looking at you Tyson), etc. I’m kinda lazy and may seem all relaxed and care-free most of the time, I’m not; I’m a giant mass of tension and anxiety, especially when organizing. While I just want to yell on the sidelines at the scene to get better, it’s not going to happen if there are no shakers and makers in the scene.

For our 3 readers, you may recognize my pal Joanna Kassoulides from Toronto, who came in and brought some Sugar Shakers choreography (RE: SASS) to Vancity. Everyone was fantastic, the turnout was unprecedented, and the grin on Joanna’s face throughout the class was completely worth the sweat (no tears) for all the organization, and anxiousness throughout.

I just wanted to thank, Angie Weddell from Jump Session (Vancouver) and Joanna for working with me to get this all organized. You guys are fantastic. Erin June for being awesome and hospitable. And of course all the Vancouver dancers that came out and joined in on the workshop.

Ladies: Alison, Mariee, Rosea, Tanya, Katie, Lisa, Lindsey, Luciane, and the girl with the dragon tattoo (Sorry! I never got your name, and I don’t think it’s a Dragon tattoo either), Erin, Becca
Men: Warren, Chris, Barney, Simon, Tristan, Robert, Vincent, Evan

I do hope I have everyone’s names correct!

Check out what you missed :) Read More…

The Essentials

Every two to three weeks, my life transforms into a TLC reality show episode – if I had to pick, probably most like DC Cupcakes. There is usually a seemingly easy enough challenge that I tackle head on with enthusiasm, the moment of anticipated shock when that challenge is… well a challenge, the crisis that usually involves some sort of comedic mishap and eventually a resolution with a bow of a life lesson learned to top it off.

In this episode, my partner in crime, Kevin Sue, went to some random event called “Boston Tea Party” (heh) leaving me to run the blues dance solo. Sounds easy enough right, I’ve run this event a bunch of times now that it’s pretty self sufficient… bzzzzt wrong. No cashbox, no cooler, no water, no car, and no emergency engineer to fix things that break. I found out that I had an alarming lack of knowledge of how audio equipment actually works (I’m good at plugging in my iphone to DJ, that’s about it) and I’m pretty sure that the Hobos outside of Habeebas Dance Studio were multiplying in real time as they smelled my stress level increasing.

Unfortunately, that’s just my personality – I sweat the big stuff, the small stuff, and even the non-stuff stuff (don’t ask). Fortunately, my girl Genevieve (who also taught the lesson last night with me) kept me sane behind the scenes by basically running around town with me doing errands hours before the event and reminding me to chill the eff out. This definitely rings true to me one day after the event as I reckon that even if all the big/small/non-stuff stuff didn’t work out, most likely people would still had had a kick-ass time dancing and partying.

I didn’t need an awesome check-in system form (google docs does rock though) that time stamps when dancers arrive, a piece of scrap paper and pen was more than adequate. Ditto for the cashbox (replacement: plastic tupperware), drinks to sell (replacement: “here’s a cup and a pen to write your name on it”), basic knowledge of audio tech (replacement: “plug in everything until it works”) or even drop-in teachers (replacement: me). Those are just nice to have features at a dance but sometimes you gotta just head back to the essentials. And sometimes, you just need a good old TLC episode to bring it back to what’s important.

Read More…

So What Else is New?

I’m a big fan of statistics. It allows me to accurate gauge how many people we will have turn out for our blues dances in Toronto (2nd and 4th fridays of the month) as well as provide a good base when deciding on what to focus on next. Some key milestones in the past six months include actually hiring musicians to play for us, expanding to twice a month dances instead of once a month, and having out-of-town instructors to come and teach workshops. Without accurate record keeping for making decisions, I might have been tempted to attempt to grow too fast and too soon. Nobody likes an poorly attended dance.

There are a number of important stats that have pretty much shaped our blues scene to what is today but none more than the image above. 61% of our dancers in the blues scene are females. 47% percent are females between the ages of 18-34. My goal for this upcoming few months is to make whole wack-load of new dance friends. Male dance friends. A daunting task even for myself, but when there is a will (and the dollars and cents), there is a way.

The Best Ideas…

are always best when stolen.

So I have been driving down to Seattle the past two Tuesdays to their weekly blues event, Burn Blue ( and have been taking notes. The ideas? Having official hosts for the dance and unofficial taxi dancers. [Side note, if you do not know, I’m currently out in the west coast doing some what I am calling dance training but it can be more accurately described as an honest butt wuppin’.]

Dance Hosts – Burn Blue has rotating official hosts that are in charge of answering questions, making announcements, and generally being the go-to person for the dance and the organization. Wow. This is a great idea because so far there are numerous people in the Toronto blues dance scene who are a lot more charismatic than me yet default to directing to me. This is probably my fault, truth be told. Having official hosts for the dance hopefully will remove the idea that the scene is run by a single person. I also have a fear of public speaking, so having someone do announcements would be better for everyone involved.

Unofficial Taxi Dancers – at the entrance of the venue, you can grab yourself a glow stick that designates you as a “taxi dancer”. What this specifically means is that you are open and willing to dance with people who asks you. So simple, but from what I can gather, seems to put a little bit more friendless to the entire dance. You also encourage everyone/anyone to be a taxi dancer instead of pre-selecting people like our swing dance association. The costs would probably be under $5 CND but the awesomeness of knowing who to ask to dance when you are new to the dance or the scene is priceless.

So yup, there you have it. Two ideas i’m gonna “borrow” for when I get back to Toronto ;-)

How do you encourage solo dancing in your scene?

A genuine question. I’m always being introduced to really great dancers in my various dance worlds here in Toronto – from lindy to mambo to hip hop. However, in the actual social dance scenes (not including hip hop), rarely do I see much solo dancing or even group solo dancing (does that make sense?). We started having “solo dance jams” as part of our events but right now it’s a bit of novelty than an actual part of the dance. I want to advocate solo dancing because as the old saying goes, “you have to dance by yourself before you can dance with another person”. Suggestions or ideas?