Category Archives: Scene Leading

Taking Spaces for Granted

Last December proved to be the last Wednesday Night Hop at The Arvada Tavern. A dancer we hadn’t seen attend our dances in many months professed they were sad we were closing down since it’s so close to their place.

A monthly swing night at Dry Dock Brewing’s South Dock proved unsustainable after a huge kickoff night was followed by a 50% attendance drop the following two months. We discovered that special events spaced out were much more successful.

Several years ago when I was teaching in Europe, I saw the extraordinary news on Facebook – Marilyn was giving Denver’s largest swing night (Tuesday) to the blues dancers. Thursday nights, the secondary night, hadn’t been doing well, so the hope was that consolidation would make more business sense.

These examples all show that we can’t take our venues for granted. We can’t even take the apparent indefatigability of venue showrunners for granted. Colorado Swing Dance Club has been asking for new board members for a few weeks. Will someone new step in, perhaps someone that loves that Friday night dance option and wants to see it continue?

If you like something for whatever reason close to your heart, support it. Support can come in a variety of ways – sharing ways the venue can attract more people, giving encouragement to the new DJ that had to step in, inviting your friends to the dance or class even though you can’t attend, et cetera.

Being Noticed

An anecdote from our Speakeasy Soiree: As one of the main hosts for the evening, I walk around the room greeting people, welcoming them, troubleshooting any problems. To one couple, I welcomed them, thanked them for coming, asked them how they found out about our event, and we made some small talk.

I came back around again and they pulled me aside. They wanted to know if I did what I did for marketing purposes or why? I told them that I genuinely wanted to know how they were doing and if they were enjoying themselves. In response, they said they appreciated being singled out because it’s rare to have that happen at a big event. I can’t do that with everyone, but those moments count.

Asking for Resources

The other night, a local teacher decided to text Kenny with several thought-provoking questions in regards to our Pro-Social Behavior Workshop. They declined the opportunity for a meeting, but from the tone of their message, it sounded like they wanted to know why we’re doing this workshop and how they could be at the forefront of taking care of their students and dancers.

First, the very reason we’re hiring The Blue Bench is to educate ourselves and provide an opportunity for others to be educated and feel empowered. Our swing scene needs this. Local and national dancers have taken note of what we’re doing. We’re also doing this so we can train our staff in this very important topic. That includes our regular staff, performers, and volunteers.

Regarding how to be at the forefront, part of it is watching your local peers and paying attention to national swing scene discussions. I found The Blue Bench when I discovered Krister Shalm at Boulder Swing Dance arranged staff training through MESA, the Boulder-equivalent to The Blue Bench. From our staff training and knowing about a town hall discussion that happened in Atlanta, providing something for our local scene has been on the forefront of our mind. Only until I asked Chelsea Rothschild to take lead did this workshop materialize. I wasn’t going to make it happen on my own.

That leads into another topic – asking for help. We don’t hold all the answers. For example, we have to get many more volunteers for our new dance nights. From paying attention to social media, I know Fort Collins Swing Dance, especially Angela Huxel, so I asked for help and advice. Ask for help. With topics as important as sexual assault, safe spaces, and consent, I like to think we’re there for each other.

The Strawman, Confrontation and Meetings

The same day that I announced our Pro-Social Behavior Workshop, I also happened to notice the image of someone accused of a serious Code of Conduct violating prominently displayed on someone’s Facebook page. I asked the two people I knew with editing abilities to remove that image.

I had no expectations, but thought I would ask. The first person did remove the image once they realized they had those abilities. The second person responded with confusion (“what are you talking about?”) because it had already been removed after they checked. I informed them of this fact, happy something positive had been done.

Come to find out, the second person wasn’t done with me. They must have thought my request was an attack on them because they immediately texted me back with a personal complaint against me. I deleted our message thread, but thought better of it, texting back with “You’re welcome to set up a meeting with me to address your concerns, [name removed]. Email is preferred. Thanks”

Then they chose to escalate the matters, accusing me of a position I don’t hold. According to this article, “In the straw man fallacy, someone attacks a position the opponent doesn’t really hold. Instead of contending with the actual argument, he or she instead attacks the equivalent of a lifeless bundle of straw, an easily defeated effigy, which the opponent never intended upon defending anyway.”

The strange thing that I struggle with is that an actual argument didn’t exist. Not only did this scene leader manufacture an argument, but they conjured a strawman when I offered a one-on-one meeting to work things out. They then asked me to stop contacting them and blocked me on Facebook later that evening. Not only did they create a false position for me to try defending, they removed any agency I had for reaching out to them.

Here’s my takeaway. From my experience, if you want to get something done, call the person or arrange a meeting. Be willing to speak with the person and listen to their experience because it is unique to them. Their truth may not be your truth, but it doesn’t make invalidate their opinion. You might have to work harder to understand them. When you begin answering their questions or concerns, be patient and thorough. Know that rarely does a person want to be confronted with an ugly truth including you.

I believe personal is better. Tones can get muddied on other electronic forms and sometimes we forget that this person is real and not their online avatar.

Be Awkward

Don’t be awkward. Don’t make a scene. How many times have you allowed your physical boundaries to be violated to avoid an awkward aftermath? Not saying “no” to a dance you don’t want to have now, with this person, at the moment. Playing off someone’s unwanted physical touch as “oh, that’s just our broken step. We ignore it and step over it.”

This Atlantic article resonated with me as I reflected on situations I’ve been in and on our swing scene, locally and internationally. I feel that sometimes we are too polite, too unwilling to make a disturbance. But what if we told someone that their touch was unwanted instead of suffering it? What if repeated our “no” even when the person brushed it off with an “oh, that’s just who I am” statement? What if your friends stepped in to reinforce your boundaries?

Make things weird and uncomfortable, folks.

Bash or Organize

Raise your hands if you have the means to run your own event. It takes time, energy, financial resources, a dependable crew of people, a website, and more. It’s exhausting, stressful, and the payoff is much like climbing Long’s Peak.

Now it’s time to descend

Someone recently wrote: “If you want to see something better, then organize an event of your own and focus on bringing something great to the community rather than bashing someone else’s efforts.”

I think challenging people to create an event rather than complaining about one is a rather high bar to set for people speaking negatively about an event. It can take away these people’s voices especially when this opinion and plea comes from someone well-regarded within the dance community. One way to interpret this is that they’re trying to silence people that speak out when they might have good cause to and no other platform. This viewpoint also diminishes the thought that perhaps the people complaining have due cause.

Just because someone is providing something apparently good to the community, doesn’t mean they get a free pass from critique. Neither should people get a pass for showing effort.

As an organizer, you should be open to critique and strive to make improvements. Some ways we strive to receive feedback here is through surveys, inquiries via personal email or private conversation, and by keeping our ear to the ground. We want to do a great job and compare ourselves to great organizers outside our city and niche scene.


On The Outside Looking In

Here are stories of three people I noticed at dances and spoke with recently.

The first was a gentleman that arrived late to our Stanley Marketplace lesson. I could see him looking at us and so I greeted him from inside the circle. He asked if this was the Meetup and I said sure. He didn’t have a partner immediately, so my co-teacher partnered with him. Later we chatted a bit, I showed him a Charleston step, and he even did some social dancing.

The second occurred while I was packing up to leave the Stanley Swing Night. A woman was watching intently near the band’s merch suitcase. Once I had all my gear, I walked along the edge headed to my car. She was on the opposite side facing the band now. I hesitated and decided “why not, let’s strike up a conversation,” and asked if this was her first time to the Stanley Marketplace. It was and we chatted a bit. Hopefully, she’ll return to the next one or to one of our classes.

The third happened last night at the Mercury Cafe. While I was dancing, I noticed a man standing in the front of the water. He was looking intently at the dance floor. I noticed his Mobtown Ballroom shirt, figured he was from Baltimore (confirmed), and didn’t know anyone. With a lead-in like Baltimore and Mobtown, I figured I’d have an easier time starting a conversation and was right.

I offered to introduce him to any followers or leaders. He shared that he was a bit shy and that he’d like for me to point out some leaders to danc with since he prefers to follow. He mentioned that Denver appeared much different than Baltimore’s scene where anything goes. Hopefully, he had a fun evening.

What do you do when you notice a stranger with a clear desire to try swing dancing or find out more? For me, it’s easy to feel empowered when I’m running the dance or have a leadership position. It gives me more of a reason to say “welcome” or “have you been here before?” Other times, like the Merc example, I feel more confident when I have a starter conversation planned. Other times, if I can guess someones leader/follower preferences and I don’t fit the bill, I’ll suggest to a friend they ask that person to dance because they appear new.

We each have our ways. Regardless, I’d like to encourage more people to go out of their comfort zone to welcome strangers.

A Banning in KC

kenny-at-frankie-manningBack in the early 2000s, I (Kenny) was banned from Kansas City’s only all-ages swing dance venue. I was banned for soliciting attending dancers to come to my swing bomb events held across the Kansas City metro.

There was an understanding among ballroom studios that you never offered flyers for events that you were not directly participating in. Studios were insular and very protective of their students. They didn’t want to risk them going elsewhere.

I had become disillusioned with this studio, quit their team, and stopped teaching there. I had discovered the great shining light called lindy hop. In my naivety, I thought I could skirt the studio understanding by inviting dancers outside the studio space to pass out flyers on the sidewalk. That didn’t fly with the studio owner who physically accosted me and banned me.

It was a badge of honor to be banned there. It came with notoriety that felt pretty cool back then. My friends supported me, said they had my back, fluffed my ego. Even 5 years after that event, newer dancers knew I was that “banned guy.” Yeah, that was me.

Looking back, I realize I was foolish. I could have accomplished so much more if I worked with them, somehow communicating my needs and passions. In a way, I became those lindy hoppers I used to intensely dislike as they looked down upon as east coast swing dancers. Well, there I was looking down on the venue holding the only all-ages swing dance that allowed me to dance before I turned 21.

I could have probably used some friends that didn’t enjoy fanning my flames so much either. At the very least, some introspection. Banning is a harsh step and typically not taken very lightly. I wish someone close to me had said the studio owner had just cause. This was my dance mentor that kicked me out.

Banning is tough from all angles. Yours, the person doing the banning, the person making the accusation that results in a banning, the friends who are confused that perhaps pick sides to bolster you, their friend, that one that was just banned.

In the end, I know I was wrong. I don’t hold animosity toward the one that banned me or the person that perhaps told them what I was doing. It takes courage to step up and do the right thing like apologize, empathize, and to ask your friends to do the same thing.

Anti-Scarcity Model

I’m still surprised how often I have to explain what Swingin’ Denver is about. One recent example is when I was communicating with another teacher who believes in the scarcity model. This is where there is a limited amount of the whole pie and it’s in the best interest of each swing school to grab as much as possible because their fate is tied to getting more of that pie.
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2017 Change Up

change-up-pitchUp until September, Swingin’ Denver venues were pretty homogeneous. Students were nearly guaranteed that they would see the same teachers teaching every single class at a particular venue. Then I got injured, Wiley took a job in Nevada, and we were suddenly adding different teachers.

Well, guess what? We have many more teachers on our 2017 teaching staff. You’ll see a lot of new teacher combinations across our 2 venues and 5 classes. This teacher and class variety means a few things:
– more specialty series
– students will hear more individual takes on technique and core patterns
– refreshed teachers
– students will hopefully adapt to different instructor’s teaching styles which will help them learn better at workshops, other local schools, and national events.

We’re excited about this and hope you are too!