Thoughts on dancing, one word at a time…

Hiring Swing Dance Instructors: From a College Organizer Perspective

For this post I am addressing a different crowd then I usually do, this post is mainly geared is those who consider themselves swing dance instructors or those who are trying to become them. However, it will still be an entertaining read for those who are interested what goes in behind the curtain of how a college scene hires instructors.

To give you my background I’ve played a part of the contacting and hiring of instructors for five different workshops over the last two years at Penn State.  Two of them were a Lindy/Blues workshop, one was a Lindy/Balboa workshop, one was a Balboa workshop, and the last one was a Collegiate Shag workshop. Choosing one couple out of the myriad of potential instructors across the United States is never a simple task and I wanted to give some transparency to the reasons behind the choices myself and other officers in the organization I participated in made.

Background Information

The funding committee Penn State in the past funded 80% of total operating costs (upgraded to 90% this upcoming semester) of approved events. However here is the kicker, we only are allowed honorarium for four different individuals an academic year. We deal with this by having one instructor and one band for each semester. We don’t hire instructors who live outside of the United States simply because the funding committee will not cover travel outside of the United States and it is a nightmare of paperwork to deal with international honorarium.

What this means is are limited in how many instructors we can hire, but we have the ability to financially afford top-notch instructors who live anywhere in the United States. In addition we can offer these workshops at prices that make most national events look like a kings ransom.

First Half: Convincing Groups of People

The most annoying part of the process for myself is I have to convince two groups of people that a set of instructors is worth hiring. First is the whole council of Penn State Swing Dance Club officers, second is the allocations committee who votes to allocate us funds.

The council of officers for the Penn State Swing Dance Club consists of variety of dancers: seasoned dancers who attend events all over the East coast and keep in touch with the national community, dancers who travel once in a blue moon but generally only stick in state college, and dancers who are self-isolated and never dance outside of state college. All of them have different perspectives of who is a good dancer, what dances should be taught at a workshop, who would be a good fit for our club, and who would draw in the most out of town dancers. For instructors it has to be a set of them that all parties including myself can compromise on. Unfortunately the side effect of this is quality instructors who may be more old-school or just great instructors in general that are not in the national competition circuit may get passed over, this is especially true the further away they are from Pennsylvania.

The allocations committee is comprised of 8-12 people who for the most part have no dance experience whatsoever. Jerry Almonte’s post Your Bio Sucks though is something to take in account, last thing I need is something that looks ridiculous when I am trying to convince a group of people that two individuals are professional dance instructors worthy of tuition money. Having; a website, quotes in professional media such as newspaper reviews about performances/workshops taught by instructors, examples of your dancing on youtube, and a list of awards/honors received are all things that make things easier on our end to get funding.  I mentioned to Mike Roberts and Laura Glaess at the Lindy & Blues workshop they taught at Penn State this past fall, the easiest request hearing I had was with them. This was because I was able to show the committee the Broadway Melody performance they did at Lindy Focus which many of them were able to relate to and found impressive due to having seen “Singin’ In The Rain”.

Second Half: Criteria for the Choices Made

Now that you have the background for the resources my college scene has for hiring instructors and the different sets of people that have to approve the selection of instructors made, I want to go in why personally as an organizer have chosen instructors to present to the council of officers and eventually to the allocations committee.

First off my biggest rule is I do not hire somebody I have not taken classes from personally or at a bare minimum had several respected peers give me the seal of approval. I often contact friends in other colleges/scenes who have had those instructors and ask them to give me the inside scoop of; what it was like working with them, quality of instruction, and how they interacted with the community during their stay. Instructors talk about their experiences with organizers, it goes the other way around as well.

The two biggest criteria for hiring instructors comes down to teaching ability and how good they are at fostering an enthusiastic spirit for dance.

While dancing ability is a factor, what is more important for my community is the ability for the instructors to translate that to the students. This is often tricky at Penn State because of the unique nature of it being a college workshop, yet having ridiculously cheap prices you get people ranging from a typical newbie college student dancer to an advanced out of town dancer who just came into town for a rare chance to get a private lesson from a high quality instructor. This means I particularly look for instructors who thrive in a mixed-level classes environment.

The majority of the Penn State Swing Dance club college students are beginner to beginner-intermediate dancers who often self-isolate themselves to only dancing in Central Pennsylvania at best or only at the college at worst. This means the majority of our crowd has no idea what the national swing dance community is like and has a very narrow view on what is considered “good dancing”. When we hire instructors, whether they know it or not also carry the weight of being ambassadors of the swing dance community and a source of inspiration. We can show our neophytes all the youtube clips we want but, nothing beats the actual thing in flesh and blood. Often for many of our students these events inspire them to make their first trip to an event outside the state of Pennsylvania. Their experience at our workshops are often the difference between if they just remain state-college only dancer or get motivated to join our core of traveling dancers on the East coast.

The last reason which I consider a minor one would be national reputation within and outside the swing dance community.

For our events we like getting as many out-of-town dancers as possible, however unfortunately for the majority of dancers they only want to travel for people who are popular on youtube and/or well known in the national competition circuit. Having a good reputation in the swing dance community besides attracting out of town dancers also makes it easier to convince the council of officers of why a set of instructors is qualified.

Having a good reputation outside of the swing dance community makes is easier to convince the allocations committee of why a set of instructors are qualified as professional instructors. Commercials, appearances in music videos, and appearances in television shoes make an you easy shoe-in for an easy approval during an allocations hearing. In addition for our newbie friendly lessons during a workshop, it becomes easier for a dancer to drag convince their friend who has never danced before to come along.

Summary: 

I hope this gave a good overview of the process of how the selection of instructors for my college scene workshop works, in addition to the many factors that come into play during the process. I’d like to comment that most colleges have the ability to get a similar set-up due to their student activity fees and in some cases can get their entire events free under anti-drinking/alcohol-free programs run by their schools.

If you have any questions I encourage you to ask me in public on this blog or privately at my email address apache.danse@gmail.com.

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