The following "rules" have been garnered from 16 years of hosting ballroom dances at Community Centers and in Ballroom Dance Studios (in California and Arizona) and are in order of importance. There has been a lot of trail and error over the years. I have tried just about everything, believe me, and if it isn't on this list it is probably because it didn't work. So if you want to start your own Ballroom Dance or you want to improve your dances, I hope this helps.
BALLROOM DANCE HOST(s)
First let me say that it is difficult for one person to do this very important job by themselves. It takes a lot of energy, work and dedication. Sometimes this particular item is the most neglected of all but little things can make your dance a fun place for people.
1. Enthusiastic Attitude
- Your attitude needs to be: "I want to be doing what I am doing; I want to be where I am at this time. Everyone who comes to "my party" should have a good time.
- Your motivation as a good host is not that you only want to dance and have fun but that you want everyone else to have a great time. This doesn't mean you can't have fun because your having fun is what can bring the energy level up at the dances. It does mean that sometimes you need to sacrifice your own dancing for the "good" of the dance.
- As a host one of your jobs is to meet new people and make sure that they feel welcome to the dance. This is why a couple works so well because one can be handling the music while the other makes their fellow dancers feel welcome.
- It is important, if you want to grow your dances, that all of your guests feel welcome but this is especially true of newcomers. We have had a lot of people tell us that ours are the friendliest dances that they have ever attended.
- One of the host's "job" is to DJ the dance. There is more to hosting a dance than just putting the music on and walking away. You are the focal point of the dance or otherwise why not just have a jukebox.
- To keep the energy level and enthusiasm of your dancers up, you need to add to the ambiance of your dance. You can do so by announcing what dance is coming up, making jokes, etc. I find saying simple things like "give that great partner a hand" can bring up the energy level because most people don't applaud CD music but they will applaud a partner. I also believe this adds to the fun of the dance and makes your partner feel special. This an important part of why dances work or don't work and if you don't believe that than ask your dancers.
- Some people don't like to use a microphone but you should learn to do so because it assists in communicating with your dancers. It also adds to the idea that you are a host who not only loves what you are doing but you also know what you are doing. It makes you look like a professional.
4. Dancer Participation
- We encourage our dancers to dance with different people throughout the evening. This can be done by the host acting as DJ through the microphone or the other host by talking to people or even simply by example. This makes for a more social evening for everyone.
- In my opinion the use of mixers and "waterfalls" can actually adversely impact your dances. If these dances are long than they cut down the time your dancers get to really dance and slows down the rhythm of your dance. I know that the reasoning behind them is that you meet more people but unless you have a large ballroom, how much time can you really spend with a person during a Waltz down the floor. We find that we are better off mixing and introducing people to each other.
This is the mood that you set to enhance people's Ballroom Dance experience. You can make people believe they have stepped into a beautiful ballroom where the lady can be the princess and the man can be prince charming. And, yes it can happen during a regular dance night. If you have an environment that feels like a cafeteria, a high school gym or too much like a "dance studio", then you can make some subtle changes to deflect that feeling and not cost you a thing.
1. The Lighting
- If it is possible you should turn the lights down low on the dance floor so that the dancers feel like they are floating and can imagine they are someplace else.
- The lighting in the seating area needs to be low also but not so low that you can't see to pick your next dance partner.
- Under no circumstance, unless you can't avoid it, should the lights be up full.
- Remember you are to adding to the illusion.
2. The Seating Area Layout
- Tables should be set up to look like a "night club" not a cafeteria or bingo hall. In my opinion setting up single tables (2-4 people) gives the feeling of a dance.
- This also makes an impact on new people walking in to your dance. Most first dance attendees, even experienced dancers, feel self conscious or awkward the first time they attend a dance party. Now they can pick a table in a corner or in the back of the room and meet new people at their own pace. If there are just long tables set up, then they will probably need to share and this may make they feel uncomfortable so they won't stay.
- We have had different politicians, shoe salesman, etc. ask to come to our dances to talk to our dancers and our response is always no. Your dancers come to dance.
- In my opinion, you should have a no solicitation policy. This should include those above along with dance instructors (or someone else) handing out flyers. You might want to give them a place to put those flyers depending on your particular situation.
- Remember your dancers come to dance not to be sold something. You should always remember why people dance when you agree to let someone "invade" your dances for any reason.
As you can see this is down the list a bit because although great music is very important the others set the tone for the dance. You can have great music and still have a "lousy" dance if the atmosphere is off because it brings down the energy level. It will help you tremendously to have a Laptop to use if you don't already. This gives you much more flexibility in what you can play. We have been known to carry our own 100 watt speakers (4), a receiver and a mixer all so that our music would be great.
- I always set my playlist up so that I play (or try to at least) a Smooth/Standard dance (Foxtrot, Waltz, etc) followed by a Latin/Rhythm dance (Rumba, Cha Cha, etc.). Some dancers only dance Smooth/Standard or only Latin/Rhythm. If too many of one style is played in succession, they tend to get bored.
- I play more of the six basic dances (Foxtrot, Waltz, Tango, Rumba, Cha Cha, East Coast Swing) with the more advanced (or less known) dances (Bolero, Samba, Quickstep, Viennese Waltz, West Coast Swing, etc) sprinkled amongst them. This helps your beginner dancers get on the floor more often, getting more experience, and wanting to return.
- I also try not to play two fast numbers in a row or two very slow numbers in a row. It's all about setting the rhythm for your dances. I also add 10 second silences (which I have recorded) between the songs, allowing people to get off the floor and find a new partner before the next song.
- Another thing to consider is whether you have a dance lesson right before your dance. It helps the people in the class to retain what they learned if you play at least one additional song for the class. We always started our dances with a song for the class to give them immediate satisfaction.
2. Song Selection
- Although you might be tempted to add lots of new songs all the time, it is best to stick with the favorites and add new songs intermittently. The ladies will want new music because they listen to it more but the guys like the old standards so they have one less thing to think about. I have actually had guys tell me that they wouldn't mind having the same songs for every dance!
- Also when thinking about your selection, think about the length of the introduction (some popular songs have 2+ minutes of intro before dancing can begin), also think about any changes of tempo or stops in middle of the song. These items could change your mind about using a piece of music unless you have the ability and software to change the song.
- As a DJ, I always tried to pay attention to dancer's favorite songs or artist because this makes the dancers feel a part of your dance. The more that people know you care; the more they will return and tell their friends.
- I also limited my number of requests because you can get too many of one dance (i.e. Swing) but if you play dancers favorites than the requests are limited. This is a personal judgment of the DJ.
- Some people put out playlists on the tables or on the door but this means you can't change up the dance based on what people are dancing and this can be important to the energy of the dance. It also means you can't take requests because people are depending on your playlist.
- Most important remember your job as the DJ is to keep the dance energized and fun for everyone.
3. Song Length
- Your songs should be 2 to 3 minutes long (shorter for faster songs like Viennese Waltz) but almost never over 3 minutes. The reason for this is again the rhythm of your dances. If you play songs that are 5 to 10 minutes long, the dancers change partners less and people feel less involved in the dance.
- According to some of our dancers, the longer the song the more sweaty they get and who wants to dance with someone who is sweating.
- More importantly the less involved or entertained they are, the less likely they will return. The ladies won't return if they get only a few dances because of the length of your songs and if they don't return neither will the guys.
4. Song Tempo
- Each dance (Foxtrot, Waltz, Rumba, etc.) has its own tempo, which is also known as measure per minute (mpm) or beats per minutes (bpm). These should be adhered to because all the patterns that are taught are based on these tempos. This is more important to beginning dancers than the more advanced dancers but is still very important.
- A song that is too "fast" for a Foxtrot but too "slow" for a Quickstep can be annoying for most dancers who actually dance to the tempo of the music.
- To be a good Ballroom Dance DJ, you need to be able to count the music or work with someone who can.
- Not every song that is billed as Ballroom music is actually danceable no matter the source. If you listen to a song and it sounds danceable, sometimes this isn't true when you actually dance to it so we always danced to each new song before it went on the list. The rule of thumb should always be "can I dance to this song or will my dancers even want to dance to this song". I always tell people, if you look out on the dance floor and no one is dancing, scratch that song off your list.
Refreshments will be important to some people and others won't care. You need to decide based on your dancers and your funds.
1. Liquid Refreshment
- I always try to have lots of liquids on hand. We always had a non-alcoholic punch. It is even more important to have lots of ice water.
- Make sure that you have cups on hand (we ordered ours on the internet by the gross because it is cheaper).
- It is important to check the water often to make sure there is plenty. Dancers need lots of water when they dance and, surprisingly, they don't always bring it along.
- In my opinion, this isn't very important but if your dancers like snacks while they dance then you might want to consider something.
- It is important to think about you what have because while cookies or cut vegetables are nice, barbecue chicken wings are messy.
- It is important that you at least have napkins available. There is othing worse than dancing with someone who has just eaten something sticky, etc and couldn't wipe it off.
- We always found it special to have a birthday cake once a quarter for our dancers who celebrated their birthdays that quarter. Again this makes them feel special.
Last but certainly not least is you need the support of the organization who owns the dance floor and the support of the local dancers. And when it gets to be work instead of fun, it is time to stop!
I hope that whether you use everything listed, take those that suit your situation or just learn from what I have written that this helps you in your adventure of hosting ballroom dances. Of course, if you currently attend a great Ballroom Dance maybe this will just let you know how much work your host puts in each and every time.