It's awesome if you can get a bunch of people involved, which will help with the time commitment issue above, but it brings its own issues along as well. Often, one or two people will start taking on more and more responsibility and driving things forward. As everybody else started feeling less connected, they put their priorities elsewhere and disconnect from the dance, leaving the two people with all the responsibilities and feeling completely abandoned. See paragraph 1.
Basically, you never want to run a dance that you don't want to go to (see paragraph 1). If you don't want to go, your marketing sucks because you're lying to people about how much fun it is. You also quickly get burnt out because organizing feels like work and you don't like the thing you're working towards. The problem is that the typical dance launch scenario weekly attendance over time goes something like 50, 35, 20, 10, 5, 5, 6, 5, 3, 1, 5, 4, 7, 5, 7, 10, etc until you eventually pull out of the hole. Sounds crazy, but I speak from both direct experience and lots of observation and conversations with organizers. Yes even in towns with lots of interest in blues. And when you're in the middle of the weeks of 3-8 attendees range, it's really, really depressing.
I've been trying to figure out how to get around this problem, and the basic theory I've come up with I call bootstrapping (with lots of inspiration from the theories around the "lean" and "agile" buzzwords). Basically, you never take steps larger than you need to, and you always start from 0. If you ever move to a larger venue, it's because you're literally turning people away because there's no room for many weeks in a row. You're always pushing to grow and trying to fine tune the marketing and vibe, and you only add complexity (process, organization, monetary) when you absolutely have to.
How to make this happen?
Boston's blues dance (Blues Union) largely grew out of the excellent house party scene that already existed (plus several metric tons of work by Gui, Jenn, Amanda, Ogden and Shawn among others). It is absolutely possible to create a fantastic blues dance scene from a house party scene. It just depends how frequently you throw house parties, how much organization goes into them, what kind of vibe you establish, etc. The Boston parties were highly organized affairs including food, drinks, pre-scheduled hour-long DJ slots with DJs advertised in advance and relatively little in the way of crazy debauchery. Props to John Brooks, Lyzz Lake , Beckie Bray, Heather Griffith and others I'm sure I'm forgetting for showing how it's done.
There are a couple fantastic advantages to building a scene through regular house parties. First, and most importantly, the venue is free and has zero travel costs for the organizer. Second, it gives a very low cost way to fine tune the organizational structure and processes (finding DJs etc) before you launch. Finally, you get to practice your marketing and sales in a low stress environment—and you get to fine tune the aesthetic details (decorations, how you run announcements, etc) to create a really cohesive and attractive vibe for the dance. Not to mention giving your DJs and MC some directed practice.
Bam—You've started from zero and only added structure, organization, etc, as you need it. You figure out how to make it a really fun party/event and start moving it towards the vibe of a dance. Once your house is literally overflowing with people week to week, you announce that we're moving the party to a real venue with a real floor for $3-$5. There's definitely going to be a dip in attendance, but assuming the venue isn't any further away than your house for a majority of attendees, it's on the same night, and the vibe doesn't change, it won't be anything like the dip when you kick off a dance from scratch.
TL;DR – Throw a house party. Make it a regular affair and start advertising it a bunch. Try to make it feel like it's a real dance (with scheduled, advertised DJs), regular hours, a regular time and place, and a great vibe. Once the house is overflowing with people every week, move it to a bar/dance studio and you have a dance. Yay!
by Paul Mandel