Social Media and Growing a Dance Community
I remember a time before the ever present Facebook, Websites, Blogs, and Instagram when I taught classes and students came through word of mouth. If I was lucky I got an article in a newspaper but mostly, it was based on my merits as a teacher not my "look" as a teacher.
Now, a person can take pictures and post it with hashtags and make it "look" like it was the best time ever had and it is your loss that you weren't there. With the right angles and the right music, a video can make an event "look" like more people were there than actually were. Or maybe lots of people really were there so , in comparison, your small event was not as successful. Low attended events are perceived as less successful, even though people left happy and looking forward to the next one, which is a story that rarely gets told.
In this day of video and pictures and posting on social media, it seems that the legitimacy of a dance school is measured by the number of people in attendance and how much fun it "looks" like they are having. The number of likes and comments received. I have felt the pressure to have classes with large attendance and to make sure I post as much proof of my "success" as possible. What this approach doesn't take into account is the beauty of community building and the fact that small groups are the norm when starting out. It doesn't take into account commitment fatigue and that life happens and students stop coming.
I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love it because it helps me to stay connected to my friends across the globe. I hate it because it has become THE WAY to promote classes and events. I find myself on the computer far too often and too long. I have decided that if I am going to spend this much time online I want my journey in community building to be authentic, gritty and real, small classes and all.
An example of social media and the different "stories" that can be interpreted:
Story Interpretation 1:
I was encouraged by a close friend and fellow instructor to post videos of my beginner classes and classes where returning students are learning new material. So I took a video of a class that was learning something new, I was impressed by how quickly they caught on and posted it. I included with the post that the students were learning the material for the first time. The purpose being that prospective students may think, "I can do that. Those people are learning and it doesn't look so scary."
Story Interpretation 2:
I was messaged by a dear friend , that I respect so much for doing this by the way, to tell me that the video was bad and to post something more polished for the good of my reputation as an instructor. Other people had seen it and were commenting on how my students didn't look good dancing which reflected poorly on me as an instructor. One of the comments was that the ladies weren't styling and that they should be at the stage we are at. So despite giving a "background" to my post, people still chose their own interpretation and applied their approach to instruction as the standard.
I have so much respect for the person who contacted me because as a result we got to talk and they came to understand the backstory and my approach to teaching. This rarely, if ever, has happened over the past two years.
Social media makes us vulnerable to such scrutiny and without the desire of other parties to understand and not pass judgement, it undermines the sacredness of the dance space. That space where people can make mistakes, where inhibitions are lowered in order to learn something new, the space where courage resides, the space where I am respected as an instructor who knows my students, sees them, and knows where I want to take them.
I am not naive. I know I live in a vastly different dance world than the one I entered into over 10 years ago. Social media is a powerful tool for connecting people, building community , and bringing people together. I get to figure out how to tell my story with authenticity. I am not flashy. I am not a performer. I am a teacher. At the end of the day my students are testimony to my skills as an instructor. The only way that shows up is in the atmosphere created through positive community building and on the dance floor.
Lessons I have learned....
Placing sponsored ads on social media, if done right, can bring you new students and increase a dance school's visibility. In the past I didn't do such a great job at this but I recently tried a sponsored ad again and I did see an increase in people who came to an event because of seeing it on Facebook. Social media, is great for announcing things, posting videos and pictures from socials, and encouraging dialogue.
At the end of the day though, the best and most powerful way to grow any community is through friends bringing friends, spouses enjoying dancing together, people inviting co-workers, parents bringing children-at the root of all of these is the in person, human connection that social media cannot replace. The majority of my new students have come through word of mouth. Being as busy as I am I get to decide where I put most of my energy and if word of mouth is the channel that is working well, I get to see how to encourage more of it.
One way to encourage word of mouth is to have socials that allow students to practice but also the public to attend. They may get a teaser lesson and then get to dance with my students who make them feel welcome. At the end of a social new comers will not remember what we did or what we said but rather how they felt in that space. So what I also do is remind my students to welcome new people, dance with them, and as the instructor, I make sure to dance with everyone.
The role of video becomes interesting. Videos for promotional purposes are different from videos for instructional purposes. A suggestion I got from an instructor friend who doesn't post classes at all is to record students in class with the purpose of them watching it to see where they can improve or where they have improved. To create a private YouTube playlist where students can learn from one another as they progress. This idea resonated with me and I will be adding it as an integral part of my instructional strategy. Videos of socials and events are perfect for promotion because you are showing the outcome of learning in class, applying new skills in public spaces, and the social aspect of Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba and Slide dances.
And we get to frame the story we tell on social media. I don't have expertise in this but I know people who do and I am in consultations with them. To frame my story I had to step fully into my purpose and completely own my educational philosophy. The hard part is done. Now on to using the words, capturing the images, taking the steps that will tell the story I want to tell with authenticity and truthfulness.