You’ve heard of the “reality” television shows Hotel Impossible and Restaurant Impossible…those shows are designed to help improve businesses not living up to their potential. Well this article will attempt to help congresses (ie…promoters) who are searching for ideas on how improve the festival experience for dancers, or who are unaware that their customers are probably complaining behind their back.
Latin dance congresses (as they exist in their present form) are fairly new phenomena. The first salsa congress was in Puerto Rico in 1997. The first bachata congress was in 2008 in Australia. Kizomba congresses began even more recently than that.
Today, the market has been over-saturated with latin dance festivals as well as individuals claiming to be competent dance instructors. Many congresses are in danger of pricing out their audience simply because they’re charging to much for an inferior product, and making bad business decisions.
We here at Dance Planet Daily have attended our fair share of latin dance congresses, and this article is written from the perspective of the customer. Even the worst congresses have great flyers….so we know it can be difficult to determine where to spend your hard earned money. We love to attend congresses and share in the excitement, and community atmosphere that a great festival can foster over the course of a weekend. We hope in some small way to improve everyone’s experience.
There are some promoters out there who get it and they have a great feel for what their customers want. They have good business sense and they take care of their staff and instructors, and pay them on time. However, I’ve heard too many stories from friends and patrons at events to know that the quality at latin dance congresses is declining across the board.
So…What’s Wrong With Latin Dance Congresses?
Let’s take a look at a few key characteristics.
Good organization is the heart beat of any good dance congress. If the organizer sucks, then the event will suck. Period. If the shows are too long, the ticket/wrist band distribution is unorganized, and the workshops are running behind then its a sign that the congress is being run by a bad promoter. Either that, or the people helping the promoter aren’t competent. Either way, the success or failure of a congress falls squarely on the organizer.
A couple warning signs for bad festival organization are (A) their website is terrible and/or uninformative, and (B) when you arrive at the festival you can’t find a schedule of events and it isn’t being distributed. Danger. Danger!
EXAMPLE OF BAD ORGANIZATION: We attended a congress in which there were five shows on Friday…and the cost for the Friday night pass was $30. That is unacceptable. Two of the shows were awesome! One was, ‘meh’. The other two were amateurs who gave a good effort, but certainly weren’t worth the $30 price tag. So, basically, the pricetag was $15 per quality performance. Again, unacceptable. We don’t blame the dancers…this falls squarely on the promoter. At the end of the performances everyone was looking around as if to say, “That’s it? I paid $30 for that?”. The Friday audience attendance was very sparse, so it seems the promoter made the decision to save other performances for Saturday…which (as it turned out) was well worth $35. However, the Friday audience who paid shouldn’t have been short changed simply because of the bad turnout.
If organization is the heart beat of a congress, then workshops are the spine. It is the backbone with which the entire congress is built. Your patrons are there paying pretty good money to be taught by qualified instructors who are friendly, accessible and good communicators.
In many ways the instructors are the ‘stars’ of the congress and a lot times are why dancers attend in the first place. If your headline instructors are late for class or don’t want to associate with your attendees during social dancing…then you have a problem. The instructors shouldn’t been divas. We won’t mention any names, but we certainly have examples of ‘professional’ dancers acting unprofessionally.
EXAMPLE OF A BAD WORKSHOP: If the instructor doesn’t know their own material then I’d definitely complain to the organizer. Yes, we’ve seen an example of an instructor who obviously wasn’t prepared for the lesson and was making it up on the fly. He would start a piece of the footwork, mess up, then have to count it off to make sure he was doing it right. It seemed like only minutes before the class that he decided what to teach. Not acceptable.
Scheduling top notch performances/shows is an important part of a congress. Shows are the “feet” of the congress because they get everyone’s toes tapping and ready to dance later.
EXAMPLE OF A BAD SHOW: We’ve attended a festival in which there were 26 performances on Friday and Saturday night! That’s right. Two. Six. 26?!? Not combined. On EACH night. Unless the performances include the reanimated body of Sammy Davis Jr., or the ghost of Fred Astaire I don’t want to sit through almost 30 shows. No one does.
The ungodly amount of performances led to the social dancing beginning after 1am. There was a healthy amount of complaining going on from people who paid $35 basically to watch their friends perform instead of dance. Some of the professional and amateur performers were outstanding, but there were many who were sub-par and (as we found out later) had paid to perform. That’s another issue altogether. In addition to the shows, the organizer talked forever between each performance instead of quickly moving through them. It was torture. She was a terrible emcee and it would’ve been well worth the money to hire someone who is entertaining and keeps the show moving.
An ideal amount of QUALITY performances is roughly between 10-15. An ideal amount of talking between performances is 10-15 words. If you have less than 5 performances then you are drastically short changing your audience, and they’ll ask why the heck they paid the $25-$35. If you schedule over 15 performances then you are in danger of losing your audience to boredom and impatience. There is a fine line.
We’ve found the best run shows at Tango festivals. The organizer/speaker says a few words. The instructors give excellent performances with minimal introduction. They do a group performance together. Show over! The dancing starts and the festival keeps the momentum going. It’s wonderfully done.
The socials are the “hands” of the congress because they are the dancer “grabbers”. Even if someone isn’t attending the workshops at all they may still hear from their friends about a huge social going on at “So and So” Festival. The complaint that we’ve heard the most from fellow dancers is that the surface of the dance floor is bad, or that it simply isn’t big enough.
EXAMPLE OF A BAD SOCIAL: We attended a congress where portable dance floors where brought to the ball rooms in the hotels. Not always ideal, but ok. The problem was that they weren’t big enough to accommodate the number of dancers. The sections of the floor were surrounded by carpet, so you had customers (often shoe less) dancing on carpet. This shouldn’t happen. I can dance on carpet at home for free, and I shouldn’t have to pay $35 for it.
The venue is the wild card. A really good congress can take place almost anywhere as long as the above attributes are high. The venue doesn’t have to be a palace, but it does need the basic necessities such as plenty of dance space, an acceptable dance floor (not carpet!!), and be safe and clean.
That’s our opinion. We’d love to hear what you think!