Before I start, let me tell you, this is not a pretty picture. And this will expose the methods used by the schools who are now becoming generic 20’s dances schools.
Then vs now.
Roll back 10 years ago, and the schools were primarily doing Lindy Hop, Charleston and Jazz Step classes, and when I say primarily, for the vast majority of schools, What we called at the time, Swing, was 90%+ of the classes taught in those schools.
Today, most schools see a major drop in Swing related classes, in most schools in North America, the ratio of swing taught is about 55% – 60%, more than a third of the schools that were doing swing as a primary business are closed. That mean that the number of available spots to learn swing has dropped to about 40% of what was available and filled ten years ago.
In NYC, after searching for about 20 minutes, which is a long time clicking, no dedicated Swing School was found, may I remind you, New York City is the second largest city in the world, and the birth place of the Lindy Hop Dance. Nowadays, swing lesson are taught in ballroom schools, and community centers.
But when you go at events, plenty of peoples. It seem healthy enough, but without access to any numbers, from the event organizers, who know? but if the data from the school is any indication, it is probably in decline. And if we could look at the numbers of people who only know swing, the number could be about 40%.
Also, the cost/benefit of these event, when put in relation with the swing movement, are dropping like a rock. Those events need to be bigger, one hall will not cut it anymore, we need several halls, for several style of music, we need more DJ’s, sound equipment, and in some case, more video equipment, more MCs, it is becoming more and more expensive to fill the needs of the 20’s to 60’s style dancers. All of this is expensive and create an additional barrier for new dancers, because the price of the events are going up, it would be a waste of money for a newcomers who is not even already integrated in the community.
The events are becoming less and less satisfying for new comers.
Events in order to survive, have to diversify, at my last event, I made a little social experiment, in an event with one big dance room, and a smaller one. I told myself that for one day in the event, I would only dance Swing, that experiment was important, because I wanted to experiment the event has a newcomer, with only one trick up his sleeve.
In the dedicated Jazz theme room, I was often frustrated by balboa songs, too fast for beginner, myself, I could lead most of them, but only with great follows. And others where blues songs, and I looked over my shoulder, and I saw one newcomer daring to dance, and it was awkward. It was too slow for his skill level.
All in all, half of the song, a newcomer couldn’t dance on it. I know, week-end event are made for good dancers, so I stayed a little longer, and I went to a local one night event. And it was worst, the ratio drop to 1 in 3, mind you, this is only a sample of one, but I remember 10 years ago, that ratio was about a 100%.
Problem of retention.
I’ve talk with fellow teacher about the problem of retention, keeping are students and have them become engaged in the community, more and more it feel like student are taking classes not to learn the dance, but as a social activity. They are the basic ballroom school clients, the class is the event. I know, because I was part of the ballroom community when I was young, and let me just tell you, what killed ballroom for me, was all the outfits, the mannerism, the booty shaking, and the total lack of ANY EVENTS.
When you think about it, these day, a barrier of entry has been erected for the newcomers, the price of learning enough skill to be welcome in the community has gone up. Now, a dancer need to be better before they can feel like they belong. And to truly be one of the gang, they need to do more than swing dancing, they need to learn another dance, like blues, ballboy, shag and others, they need to be more.
Gone is the time where three classes made you an interesting enough dancer that people will ask you for your name.
Most lead are men, and therefore there is a gender disparity. Leads need to not only be good, but be great. Good leads could still be integrated, but it will take a longer time, and they will have to endure frustration for a longer time. The newcomers leads I’ve talked to felt like they didn’t belong, they felt like they weren’t good enough, things only get better for leads, when they can become part of a team. That is what I mean by great.
But this is not the only thing, nowadays, new men, not leads, men, are now met with suspicion, the word “creepy” has definitely become an important part of the swing community, and men are deemed suspicious unless proven otherwise, the new code of conduct are specially directed at men’s behaviour.
So all those factors, could greatly explain two phenomena I saw in the Swing community, the first one, being a lack of new competitors, and the great lead, follow imbalance.
If you don’t grow, you are dying.
This is a well know economic principle, and I do agree, the community isn’t a business… or is it.
The vast majority of the events are organized by Swing Schools, or dance schools. If their number fall, and are force to close, the event go with it, down the drain.
Right now, the business is good in Europe, not so much in North America. We already started to see some dancer just become immigrants in Europe, choosing to continue their activity over there.
We can already see the state of Lindy Hop in New York City, the city that should be an important center of Lindy Hop, but isn’t anymore.
From my vantage point, it doesn’t look good, schools are either diversifying or dying. Less newcomers, less new blood, less innovation is coming from North America.
And by finding the solution why, here and now, we could probably save the North America swing community, and save other world community of this decline.
In my own opinion, the gender imbalance could be one of the reason. Lindy Hop is still a social dance, many of you found the love of their life in the community. And with retention problem of the leads, the community is becoming, less and less interesting for newcomers follows, therefore creating the retention problem of the follows.
It is not everyone who enter the Swing dancing community for their burning passion for dance, a lot enter the community looking for something, someone, and fell in love with the dance.