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

70 thoughts on “The Biggest Threat to Swing Dancing Today

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

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