Building bridges, not fences - 10 tips on how to grow your dance community

Brazilian zouk. A mix of emotions and memories run through my brain every time I think of those two words. Never in my life have I had such an intensive hobby. Among the zoukers I know this seems to be more the rule than an exception. I constantly hear from new dancers that "my life has completely changed since I started zouk". What is it about zouk that consumes the mind? I bet it's different for everyone -  maybe part of it is the infectious zouk music that beats into our hearts; the telepathic connection you have with your dance partner; the intricate details that keeps you on your toes even after years of dancing, wanting to learn more; and perhaps the warm, welcoming dance community?.

Being so hooked into zouk, year after year, it makes me wonder: Why is it so hard to make the zouk scene grow? Why are many of the zouk communities quite small?

Yes, Brazilian zouk is still a rather new phenomenon among the wide spectrum of dance styles around the world. In the past couple years, the number of zouk dancers and big events have increased substantially and there are some major global zouk projects ongoing, such as the International Zouk Day. But none of these have so far brought zouk real international fame or a big boom in the number of zouk dancers.

There's no shame in being small. But in order for zouk to thrive we do need more people - the more the merrier!  What can the zouk communities & the leaders in the community do to help it grow?

While it would be obviously a bit easier if we all could just throw a big pile of money at this, create a massive marketing campaign and try to get as many news stories as possible with crazy stunts, that's probably not possible. So I'm here looking at this from another angle -  a more realistic, down-to-earth angle - focusing a smaller, free, grass-root things that pretty much everyone can do. 

If you're working with other dance styles than zouk, I'm sure you can find also plenty of good tips here. And no matter your style of dance or type community, I'd be happy to hear your tips too! Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.

 

 
 

 

1. Foster a positive community

Positive attitude creates more positivity. Your local dance community should offer a positive, uplifting environment and every member of the community can contribute to that. Remember that the reason why many people dance (or have basically any hobby) is to free their minds of their daily chores. It might be their only "my own moment" during the day, or the only thing they look forward to. To get the ball rolling on positivity, it’s important that the leading members of the community set an example with their positive attitude.
 

2. Build bridges, not fences

In a scene as small as ours, it’s important to be open. If you’re scared of losing students and start building fences, for example by telling people “The other teachers are no good”, “The way I dance is the only right way”, “If you go to the other classes/parties, you’re not welcome in mine”, instead of locking people in, you’ll most certainly leave people outside your fence. How to build more bridges? Work together with the other dance schools and organizers in your local area, whether they’re involved with zouk or some other dance style. They can help you in organizing parties, inviting guest teachers from abroad or just spreading the word. You’ll notice it will benefit everybody!
 

3. Share responsibilities

While it’s good that there are certain people that take the lead - such as the local dance teachers - there’s only so much a small group of people can do. In every community there are a number of dance addicts that go to every class and every party, and travel to every possible event. The more experienced dancers and any active members of the community can just as well work as ‘dance ambassadors’, spreading the word wherever they go and offering their help getting things organised.
 

4. Be active

Keep the dance community active! Plan ahead a regular flow of classes, socials and parties. I know it takes a lot of work in the beginning - if you don’t have time to do everything by yourself then team up, like I mention above. You can also make an occasion out of anything; somebody's birthday, you have new music to play in the party, a dancer from abroad is coming for a visit or there’s a big event happening somewhere in the vicinity… An active scene engages more people.
 

5. Don’t forget life outside dancing

Every now and then it's also good to break from the norm. Ask people to join you for a day on the beach, to dinner, to the movies, make a trip to some interesting place closeby - whatever you like to do. It’s good to get people acquainted outside the dance studio.
 

6. Be visible

It’s sometimes (read: often) easy to get in a rut. You may do a lot of work inside your studio and the normal dance events you visit. But you may have not noticed that there’s a lot of other dance related activities in your city! If you see a public dance event, ask if you can do a zouk demo there. There might be also public places in your city where people organise aerobics, zumba, joga or dance classes - see if you can organise a class there. Try to take part in activities, expos and any public get togethers, wherever there are people doing partner dancing. It’s always good to get out a little. Of course, if there are some world-class dancers around, then perhaps it's not a bad idea to try to use any press connections anyone may have. Some people have also had some success from signing up for a national "talent" or dance TV show. It's worth to look into! Just make an effort to be visible somewhere outside your normal circles every now and then.
 

7. Make it easy to take the first step

Starting a new thing is not easy for everyone - so make it as easy as possible for people to join in. Keep the barrier to the first try as low as possible. You can have “open doors” days a couple times a year. It’s also a good idea to let people bring first-timers for free in the socials you organize. These are also good things to promote about. Then remember to have something for the excited newbies to return to that doesn’t require a long term commitment right away, such as drop-in classes.


Read also my post about overcoming those first hurdles when starting out:
11 things I wish I knew when I started dancing zouk
 


8. Work cross borders

One of the best ways to activate people and to get attention is to invite guest teachers from abroad. As this may require some resources make sure you know what teachers your local dancers are interested in and which of them offer high quality workshops, have a good work ethic and a positive attitude. You can also work cross borders with the nearby countries by e.g. making an excursion to a dance event with your local dancers. Another good boost is the annual International Zouk Day, don’t forget to take part in that! (And soon more about this here in Zouk The World!!)
 

9. Offer information

While this is obvious, this seem to be one the biggest problems: finding information. There are so many activities and events in the dance scene that our social media feeds fill with event invitations. There's no simple solution to this - just try to make sure you keep a good list of your dance events, classes and socials in an easy-to-find place. Share those to any local event website, dance directories and calendars.
 

10. Listen to your community

Do you feel like you get so sucked in to what you do that you sometimes forget who you’re doing it for? Are you doing it just to please yourself or are you doing it for the whole community? Get everybody involved and give people a chance to take part in creating the dance scene. Find out what is it that people want to do - don’t just expect that they will come tell you if they have an idea, a problem or a solution you haven’t thought about. Be present and willing to offer your time. You might be surprised what people have in their minds and how they can help you!

 



Share your thoughts

What are your best tips for getting new people to try zouk?
What inspired you to start zouk in the first place?
Were you a part of the zouk scene from the very beginning - how has the road been from there to now?
What have you found have worked best in growing the dance community?

 

P.S.

This is also a topic I discussed in my recent interview with Brazilian zouk star from Rio de Janeiro, Val Clemente - the full interview coming soon in Zouk The World!