Teen Dance Story

I coordinate and call a monthly teen dance in Philadelphia. It started in 2016 when a 13 year-old regular at our family dance said "I want to do harder dances with people my own age." We started in her living room, with a few of her friends and other teens we knew. The first year we sometimes had just a single square including me and her Mom. Or as many as 12, which is plenty for a short evening of longways dances.

The second year was tough, asking people every month so we'd have enough to dance. Our core group had very little luck talking their friends into coming — it seems that to most teens it just doesn't sound appealing. But we kept at it, and in our third year found a great inexpensive small room at a church and were thrilled to be averaging 19 dancers a month. There was a great feeling in the room, more teens were becoming regulars and bringing their friends, and our email list grew.

Our committee of four teens and two adults had a fun team vibe, all of us excited to be growing the dance together. We kept track of who came, and the teens sent six or so personal emails each month to invite people back who had come before. We tried various avenues of publicity, but I think everyone who came had some kind of direct personal contact.

It's funny, but 20 dancers feels plenty big and exciting. And it can be good to grow slowly so we build skills as a group without mobs of eager but unskilled newcomers. Once 4-5 teens went to our Saturday contra dance and had a good time. By luck a couple other teens also came, and were excited to learn about our teen dance.

I love calling this dance! The teens are enthusiastic, energetic, friendly, and open (they don't care if a dance has 2, 1, or 0 swings), and really enjoy being together and dancing. I call from the floor with a headset, to music from my phone and a micro amp. (At $5 per person we can afford live music every 3-4 months. I call for free.) We dance from 7:30-9:30 on a weekend evening, with a 15 minute snack break in the middle and another at the end. The socializing is an important part, with groups of teens sitting on the floor talking and snacking.

I call a mix of easy contras and select barn dances, mostly role-free but a few with positional calling or larks/robins.

A teen dance can be fabulous! If you're considering starting one, find some teens for your committee and keep at it. Feel free to contact me to talk things over. Just like with adults, a few teens will emerge who think this is just the best thing in the world and want to put energy into keeping it going and growing. In Philly some who started as teens have become regulars in our wider dance communities.