Hot Notes

Notions bout hot jazz performance, approach, venues, musicians and future.


Dancers, Front & Center!

Dancers are the untapped answer for increasing attendance at many traditional jazz festivals? Why? Because dancing as a couple has become popular again across the USA, with teens, twenty and thirty-something’s leading the charge. Unfortunately, they aren't yet finding their way to our weekend celebrations in sufficient numbers. One reason may be that this new generation of dancers simply doesn’t know that the “Trad Jazz” community is out there and inclusive.

HotNotes last edition, Positioning the Traditional Jazz Spotlight, spoke about the importance of a defined and focused strategy that zeroes in on the paying customer. The premise is that the customer must be engaged in the event if we expect them to: 1) keep coming back, and 2) appreciate and demand more traditional jazz music and its offshoots.

To simplify this discussion, let's focus on smaller festivals: those under 2000 ticket holders and featuring between eight and twelve bands. These arts organizations only have enough resources to focus on satisfying one or two key constituencies, whereas their larger cousins may have to satisfy many, diverse interests.

Clearly each event is unique in some manner, and the choice of strategy should reflect those differences. However, the reality is that many – perhaps even most – of the folks that attend small festivals want to dance, not just listen. We already have a terrific start, but the notable missed opportunity is in not capitalizing on the legions of other hoofers that are missing out on the fun. Both festival organizers and traditional jazz musicians need to tap into this resurging interest in couples dancing to drive vitality into future events.

So let's unabashedly bring these dancers front and center! Let's cater to this demographic, first by demonstrating that we want to make the feet of our faithful happy, and then by tapping into and converting new clientele that frequent swing clubs, polka parties, ballrooms, salons, salsa slams or even Gilley's Texas Cafe. Many of these dancers’ current steps will work fine with hot jazz music. My bet is that more than a few will be excited by the experience of dancing to traditional jazz and keep coming back…with their friends.

Heading down this path requires more than lip service and sending out a few mailers, however. A shift from focusing primarily on the jazz music and musicians to focusing primarily on the dancers is in order. That shift will then drive specific marketing and outreach activities, special events, floor and seating requirements, and much more.

Branding should also be a key consideration. Event names and slogans should shout out to the public that dancing is the featured attraction and the event is designed to cater to their needs. Possibilities are unlimited, but here are a few unpolished, back-of-the-napkin examples that might help get your own creative juices flowing on how to change the message and perk up interest in the dancing community:

  • Roaring 20's Hot Dance Jubilee
  • Rug Cutter's Ball
  • Hoofer's Extravaganza
  • Jumpin' Jamboree
  • Spring Swing
  • Leg Shaker's Holiday

Fortunately the music we play doesn't need to change, at least not significantly. Bands may be well-served to throw in the occasional waltz, Latin or early swing selection, but the core programming can easily remain "Trad". The music and musicians won’t suffer from the changes in focus either, as increasing audiences will likely increase demand for the art form. And lest we forget, this is nothing more than going back to our roots. Traditional jazz is dance music at its heart!

As a performer I am lifted by the sight of couples showing off their best moves on the dance floor in time to the music. They ooze energy, whether derived from the well-oiled synchronization of long-time partners or the athletic zeal and wild abandon of younger Lindy Hoppers. The vigor and enthusiasm is infectious! It spreads quickly to the performers and other members of the audience, even those who don't elect to "hit the floor" themselves.

That’s the spirit we need.

Keying in on dancers is certainly not the only way to increase numbers in the traditional jazz world, but it is an obvious possibility that should not be overlooked. So, let’s publicly ‘open our arms’ to those who want to ‘kick up their heels’. We’ll be glad we did.

Kit Johnson


December 06, 2010

Dancers, Front & Center
Positioning the Traditional Jazz Spotlight