Setting Up a Dance Seminar and Ball

by Mistress Rosanore of Redthorn, OL

[ This article appeared in volume 1 of the Letter of Dance. ]

I admit it! I'm a dancing fool! I've always wanted to wear holes in my shoes by dancing the night away. But there never seems to be enough time at events for dancing. What to do? Have a ball! And, to be sure that everyone knows enough of the dances, hold a seminar, too.

On a clear March Saturday in A.S. XXII, I got my wish! We held a Dance Seminar and Ball in Jaravellir which was attended by about 125 people. Everybody had a good time, I'm told. So, it's been suggested that I share with you some of what goes into putting together a specialized event like this. This is not meant to be a complete guide. I'm assuming that the reader knows about such things as event announcements, seneschals' flyers, and reserving the date with the Kingdom Chronicler.

  1. Setting Your Goals
    This should be what you do first.
    Define Your Audience:
    Is your seminar for beginners, intermediates, or advanced dancers, or is it for some combination of these?
    Choose What Type of Dance Will Be Taught:
    This decision should be governed by the need to provide variety (so that neither student or teacher gets bored!) and by the skill level of your students. Generally speaking, bransles are easy, galliards are hard and Italian Renaissance dance is harder than French Renaissance dance, while English Country dances come in all difficulty levels.
  2. The Teachers

    Your teachers should not be beginners at teaching. Many problems may come up during the seminar which cannot be predicted in advance. For instance, you may not be able to predict how many students will attend or what their skill levels will be. Time pressures may cause a class to be deleted or force a teacher to drop a dance from a class. Experience will help your teachers deal with these pressures. Also, it is very important that each teacher is very comfortable with the dances they will be required to teach.

  3. The Schedule

    Please Note: It is possible to teach too many dances. This can cause confusion and prevent people from remembering what they've been taught.

    Having Two or More Classes Happening Simultaneously
    This will allow more dances to be covered in the time allotted. However, you'll need to have enough teachers. You'll also need to schedule your teachers carefully so that the contents of each class coordinate with what your teachers know how to teach.

    This setup also means that your classes will be competing with each other for students. At the March seminar, I dealt with this problem by scheduling advanced classes against the beginning ones and by not scheduling any competition against a class that contained very popular dances.

    Sequence of Classes
    Starting with the easiest classes and moving on to harder ones as the day progresses seems to work well.

    Within a class, the easy to hard sequence can also be used. Or, you could alternate slow and fast danes which could make life easier on you and your students!

    Length of Classes
    For most purposes, an hour seems to be about right. How many classes can be taught in an hour? If they're really easy and short, like basic bransles, four to six. If they're really hard, like Nonesuch, two dances per hour is sufficient. For ordinary, run#of#the#mill dances, though, three per hour is just right.
    We found it to be helpful to begin the day with an hour for registration. At this time, each student received a dance card and his or her class schedule. It was also a time when people could socialize and buy their dance manuals.
    Lunch was not provided since classes were held in a university's student union and many alternatives were available for eating.

    What to do about dinner is another problem. Doing a seminar, a feast, and a ball all on one day just seemed like too much to us! We also felt that the students needed some time off to change and rest before the ball in the evening. So, instead of having a feast, we scheduled a large gap between the end of the seminar and the beginning of the ball.

    Running Late
    A seminar with tightly scheduled classes won't work on SCA time. Try to make this clear from the start. (This won't be as much of a problem it your seminar is more informal.)

    The only way to deal with this problem is to have a cushion of time somewhere in your schedule. In our case, our "cushion" was the large chunk of time between the seminar and ball.

  4. The Site
    The seminar will need a small to medium sized room for each class while the ball needs a large room, preferably a ballroom. It is important to be sure that you have lots of room for the ball!
    If you can't find a site that provides both inds of space, you may need to have a day site and an evening site.
    Other Considerations:
    It worked for us to hold two classes simultaneously in the ballroom.

    Are the floors of the rooms made for dance? A dance floor should have "give". If the floor has a cement foundation, it will not give and it could be hard on your dancers.

  5. Handouts
    Good handouts will keep the memory of the dances alive long after the seminar is over and the students won't have to worry about the logistics of note taking. At the March seminar, a dance manual containing all of the dances taught plus an accompanying tape of dance music was available for purchase. The manual and tape were not included in the admission fee, but were sold separately.
  6. The Ball
    Live music is most preferable. It is more authentic, of course, and live musicians are far more flexible than tape! For more on this topic, see "The Dancer and the Live Musician" [elsewhere in this book].
    Sets seem to work best if they are short, three or four dances long. It helps to alternate fast and slow dances. You'll need small breaks (5-10 minutes) between sets and at least one long break (half hour) during the evening.
    Setting up the Dances
    Your ball will run more smoothly if you have someone to place groups of dancers on the floor when needed and to serve as a liaison between the musicians and dancers.
    Dance Cards
    The surprise hit of the March event was the dance card! This was simply a list of all of the dance sets with space to write the name of a partner after each dance. It was small enough to be tied to the wrist and a cord was provided for this purpose. The dance cards were handed out at the beginning of the day so that partners could be signed up all day.
    Food and Refreshment
    Dancers get hot and dry and they'll drink up a river! Simple is best here. We served water with lemon slices floating in it, and apple cider. Several kinds of cookies were served. They were devoured! Even a good dinner doesn't seem to last through a whole evening of dancing. I strongly recommend having little meat pies or something like that in addition to the dessert items.
  7. Staff
    In addition to your teachers, you'll need people to run the registration table. If you decide to decorate the ballroom, you'll need people for that. You'll also need a setup and cleanup crew, and, if you have one site for both the seminar and the ball, you'll need someone to stay behind and watch the place while people are at dinner.
    I strongly recommend that there be one person in charge of the dance seminar and ball (setting up the curriculum, scheduling, getting the teachers and musicians, getting the site and date, handling the event announcements and flyers) while another person be in charge of the physical nitty-gritty (registration, setup and cleanup, security, ballroom decoration, refreshments at ball, troll and crash space).
I hope this helps you have a successful, enjoyable dance event!