The Biggest Threat to Swing Dancing Today

Some people have said that swing dancers are “cheap” because we don’t buy drinks when we go out. But that is not exactly true. It would be more accurate to say that swing dancers don’t require alcohol to have fun (unlike the general population which does require alcohol to have good time when they go out, haha, or at least, they feel obligated to drink in social situations). So, kudos to us. We know how to have fun without killing brain cells!

But, could the fact that we don’t spend money at swing venues be one of the biggest threats to swing dancing today?

Some Incredible Mainstream Venues with No Cover

We currently have a number of amazing venues in Los Angeles and Orange County hosting some awesome swing bands… with no cover charge being collected!  Let me list a few:

  • Downtown Disney features Swing bands every week, at no charge except for parking.
  • Two ridiculously expensive hotels in Santa Monica (Casa Del Mar and The Miramar) are booking Swing bands on a regular basis, without charging cover!
  • The Edison, one of the most amazing bars in L.A., occasionally hosts swing bands, always with no cover.
  • The Barkley has a great dancer turnout for bands like the Big Butter Jazz Band, but it charges no cover.
  • The Onyx Lounge in Downtown L.A. hosts the California Feetwarmers once a week.  No cover.
  • Joe’s Bar has some amazing bands every week. There is a $6 (or two-drink) bar minimum plus a donation requested for the band.

None of these venues charge admission, but to call these events “free” would be a huge mistake. Bands don’t play for free, and venues can’t stay open for free. These places are counting on visitors (yes, including swing dancers) to buy food and drink when they go. The bands are there to increase revenue, not just for our enjoyment.

The Problem

I’ve been going to a lot of these new venues and have observed some swing dancers not spending any money at the establishment.  Just because we can have a good time without spending money doesn’t mean we should have a good time without spending any money.

I’m afraid that the owners of these awesome venues will do the math and determine that Swing dancers just don’t pay the bills. They’ll realize that Swing bands just attract a bunch of freeloaders who clog up the aisles. They’ll be better off having party bands or house DJs which at least attract beer-drinking frat boys. We’ve already lost numerous Swing nights because it didn’t make business sense to keep Swing there!

Why Should We Care?

Some might argue, so what? Let these venues cancel Swing. We still have our gyms and Masonic lodges to dance at.

While I appreciate our core swing venues tremendously, it would be a shame to lose these elegant, charming, and frankly amazing spaces to dance at.

But more importantly, these places are critical to expose the general public to swing dancing and grow the swing scene (or at least, replace those who leave it). When we lost the Derby, we lost an important way for the public to get introduced to Swing dancing. One of the few ways that the general public are getting exposed to Swing is at these mainstream venues.

A Gentle Reminder

If you are one of the Swing dancers who goes to these establishments and doesn’t spend a dime (parking doesn’t count) on food or drink, I hope this is a wakeup call. You don’t need to get an alcoholic drink. Instead, get a soft drink or orange juice, or buy dinner. A bottled water is better than nothing.

If you dance at Downtown Disney, buy dinner or a snack at a restaurant. If you go to a fancy hotel to dance, buy food or a bottled water at their lounge. If you don’t, you’re just taking up valuable space and displacing paying customers in the eyes of management.  Don’t be surprised when Swing dancing is gone.

Now, let me say that I have also observed Swing dancers who buy full dinner and drinks at these establishments. They need to be commended! I have noticed that the vast majority are women, by the way. Kudos to you! Men, time to step it up!!

Yes, I know that there are folks who truly can’t afford an expensive drink or food at some of the ultra-posh establishments I’ve listed. Please still come! It’s better to show up than not! Just buy something when you can. Or, save some up money by skipping Starbucks, or by carpooling, or by bringing your lunch to work.. (Here are some more ideas!)

I think most of us just need a gentle reminder that Swing bands and nice venues cost money, and these things are not really free.

By the way, I’m not just preaching to you; I’m preaching to myself, because I have been delinquent on occasion! This is a reminder and wake-up call to myself as much as anyone else.

I am pledging to purchase something whenever I go to a venue that hosts a swing band and doesn’t have cover. In addition, I’m going to stop describing events on LA Lindy Hop as being “free” and instead urge people to purchase a drink or food when there is no cover.

Who’s with me?  Who wants to continue to see incredible swing bands at amazing venues where the general public can be introduced to our great dance?  Or, is this just annoying preaching?  Please leave a comment with your views. – Brian

UPDATE 6/27/2013

I have been blown away at the response to this article! In less than 24 hours, it got almost 1000 pageviews and lots of Likes and shares on Facebook.  A couple days later, got almost 1500 page views in a single day, making this the most viral article I’ve written on LA Lindy Hop. I’ve received feedback from around the world, mostly very supportive!  Thank you all!

Some people have suggested that it would be better for these venues to charge cover rather than rely on people buying drinks and food. Actually, I agree with you that that would be more convenient for us dancers in many cases. However, it’s just not a viable option in many of the venues I’ve talked about.

Take Downtown Disney for example.  That is an outdoor shopping mall.  Does it make sense to charge admission to a shopping mall?  I suppose you could rope off an dance area and charge for that, but that would detract from the open atmosphere.  And how would you stop people from dancing outside of the dance area?

Casa del Mar is a hotel lobby.  It’s not feasible to charge people simply for entering the lobby!

The Edison and Gorbals are high-end restaurants.  Handing out drink and meal tickets is just something you just don’t see in nice restaurants (in a cafeteria, maybe).

The Bungalow has mostly non-Swing dancers, even on nights with a Swing band.  Do we expect management to change their business model and charge everyone cover, just so to make sure that a dozen Swing dancers pay their fair share?

The list goes on.  In many cases it doesn’t make financial or logistical sense to charge cover. What we want venues to do doesn’t really matter. They’re not going to read this article and suddenly say “well, OK, I’ll start charging cover now!”

The question is, what do you do then? It’s up to you. If we go, dance, and not buy anything, don’t be surprised if management doesn’t ask those Swing bands to return.

Again, thank you all for your comments on this topic which is so important to us Swing dancers! – Brian

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2 years ago

If places offered fresh juices, smoothies, fancy lemonades, or even vintage sodas on tap, desserts (fresh baked cookies and brownies, ice cream sundaes) we wouldnt have a problem supporting. You cant really be swinging out when your head is swingin’ out.

9 years ago

This is an astutely written article, but the swing dancers in my area of PA are indeed cheap individuals, and very entitled and unappreciative of a eatery that just so happens to offer dancing.

A local pizzeria, for years, had weekly Sunday dances, and the waitresses (who were supposedly “bitchy,” but ALWAYS nice to me) would tell me, weekly, that I was one of only a few who ordered anything other than water. Then they started charging for the water, and the poor lil’ younglings had hissy fits. Excuse me, manners? Can’t even buy a freaking soda or slice of pizza to say thank you to the restaurant for offering a Sunday dance. So awesome in their 698 Lindy and blues moves, but lacking common courtesy. I was actually glad when the restaurant stopped offering dances so that these puling little cheap-ass twits were denied a place to dance, since it wasn’t financially feasible to do so any longer, and the venues’ kindness had been abused.

Yeah, so for all the friendliness of dancers–not really. Cliquey, cloddish, effite, and clueless fools.

10 years ago

A lot of these establishments origionally pick a day they think is going to be dead in the hopes that theyll get some business on a bad business day so they try it and they pay for extra staff and the staff are under paid because for the most part they are getting their wages based on pouring drinks and bringing food. So if the wait staff isnt getting paid out with tips they are annoyed and if the bar isnt making any additional money hosting the event why is it worth it to them? I think it might be better to speak with management when arranging this event and say listen eating while dancing gets you nauscious and drinking when dancing messes up your foot work but guests love to see real dancing and try to dance. So lets anticipate this perhaps request that they have different sized bottled waters to its easy on the staff and there is something to sell instead if asking for water which is free. A lot of places just pour you some filtered water in a glass…and dancers are simply dehydrated and want water…but you better believe if I have the option of tap water or figi…im buying the fru fru water…encourage tipping and patronage with little always tip and tip well signs or help them keep this night available with your patronage signs if you are the organizer. And encourage the band to remind the dancers to tip the bartenders. It really adds up and really makes a difference. Id even go so far to offer management to distribute flyers for them or other kinds of social marketing to boost business on other nights even if water doesnt make a lot of money Positive word of mouth does. Have part if the donation being like they pay 5 dollars and they tell 5 new people positive things about this bar/restaraunt each time they dance here…even give them a little promotons to hand out so management ycan see it coming back to them on different days. Jusy some thoughts. Comunication is key. Im not sure esting greasy potsto skins is even if I agree 100% with supporting the establishment

john harriott
john harriott
10 years ago

yep, same here in Australia, the land of milk and hunny…I can recall a few venues lost due to lack of people spending a few bucks.We , my partner and I, ALWAYS buy at least a bottle of wine and more often than not, a meal at the venue….nothing is for nothing, and someone has to pay the band….here the clubs pay the entertainment bill, and most is free to the people, but I have heard at more than one venue that the dance crowd are not spenders …well, no one wants to get sloshed and then drive home….but there are non alco drinks…not just water.

Icono Clast
10 years ago

So, what’s new?

Venues Found and Lost, April 30, 2002!msg/

Two Drink Minimum, September 29, 2005
Just received a report that:
Until this week, a bar was having West Coast Swing dancing on a
week-night. “Was” is the key word as management thought too little money
was being spent by the dancers.

We’ve discussed this before as it’s been a problem for dancers all over
the country. The problem is caused by our niggardliness. It doesn’t
matter what you drink; soda, juice, beer, booze, etc. All that matters
is that you make that little cash register bell ring.
A San Franciscan who never says “No!” to an invitation to dance!

10 years ago

Brian, juts read this from the post of a fellow lindy-hopper/swing dancer. We lost two of the best places to dance at here in Phoenix (the wriggly masion (what a view) and very great hotel (down town) due to the not paying anything group. Sure we’d pay for the dance but never get the drinks…or at least the majority. I would at least buy a soda and tip a buck. A 3 dollar soda makes more money than some drinks do. And I understand drinking and swing really don’t mix too well. So get your beer and or fancy drink to start so you get a little happy have some more fun and please the establishment and drink tons of water the rest of the time buy the end of the night the booze effect should have worn off. As for waiting for that beer or drink to be made up and served and then cashed out…well you could get it before the band plays and or when the break for a bit. We have a Great Rockabilyl sceen that takes lindy and east swing and does original jive dance its a free night on thursday at a great bar! No cover,Live Band, Small floor. Band works for tips. I tryto tip at least a buck to the band buy a soda and tip the bartender a dollar. 5 dollars spent. cheaper than some of the lindy hop swing venues round here. But do to my cercomestances i cant buy all the time or tip all the time. but i make it a point to when i can letting the owner know thanks for having this venuew an making sure he seas me with my drink and maybe buying some band stuff. Any how STOP BEING SO CHEAP PEOPLE IF YOU CAN AFFORD THE EXCHANGE WEEKENDS YOU CAN SHELL OUT FOR THE LOCAL WEEKLYS!!! Even if it is just a couple bucks..goes a long way! ;)
One more thing bring your friend who doesnt dance but like to watch bands and drink…;)you can still chat on breaks or bad songs or when you get tired or when the conversation is so good you dont want to dance.

LaurieAnn Lepoff
10 years ago

About 10 years ago the bay area was full of live bands playing swing at lots of venues. It was all the rage and local clubs were trying out a swing night to see if they could make any money by jumping on the swing bandwagon. I was teaching at a club that had salsa on most nights and thought they’d give swing a try. Sounds like it may not be true in LA, but around here Salsa dancers are drinkers. The club complained that the lindy hoppers didn’t buy drinks. I pointed out that while most of us don’t drink alcohol, we will support the club by buying fancy overpriced non alcoholic drinks like smoothies. The problem was, they were set in their ways and didn’t want to change, so they finally cancelled swing night. It does go both ways.

10 years ago

hello. great post Brian. I run a venue in Perth, Australia. I love swing music I play in a band that loves to perform for a swing dance audience. we have the same issues here. I think that the main reason venues don’t choose to run with a cover charge is that they don’t want to put off other customers that are curious about the event but may think twice about attending if there is a cover charge. venues have to appear attractive as possible to customers new and old and anything that detracts from that initial impulse to “go to” has to be seriously considered. all customers are looking for a bargain, freebie or a cheap deal thats the way of the industry. if venues aren’t charging cover doesnt necessarily mean they can afford not to, its normally the opposite, they dont want the event to fail before it starts or gets established. keep on supporting live music and venues that host live music by spending some money when you are there, cover or no cover. thanks
Lindy Hop til ya drop!

J Patrick Platter
10 years ago

Seriously I don’t understand why people try to cheat the system. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and businesses aren’t in business to give away free stuff to the public.
Even if you’re “Broke” you can still spare a few dollars, and if you can’t, why do you put the financial strain back onto the “other guy”?

10 years ago

There have already been many posts suggesting to charge a cover for a few drink coupons, so everyone pays and those who do buy drinks don’t have to pay twice.

There have been nearly as many posts wondering why people prefer to pay a cover rather than just buy a drink.

For me, it comes down to time. To buy a drink, you have to wait at the bar for the bartender to get around to you. You then have to make your order. Wait for them to fill your order. Pay. And then wait for them to make change. If things are efficient, the whole transaction may take about 2 minutes. Other times it can take 10-15. Meanwhile, 5 minutes into the process the band may start playing your favorite song and you can’t just up and walk off.

This is why I’d much rather pay a $10 cover than buy a $3 drink.

The ideal situation would be, I think, something like $10 cover for two $5 drink/food tickets. If you end up not wanting a drink/food, great, your cover is paid and you don’t have to do any more waiting around to pay it. If you do end up wanting a drink, it’s an easy transaction: give the ticket, get the drink, the remaining value of the ticket covers tip.

(Adjust the numbers above to whatever makes business sense. This is just outlining the model.)

As the age-old business adage goes: first, make it easy for people to pay you and they will. Make it hard, and they won’t.