There are many models for how to organize dance and music events and how to structure sponsoring organizations. This page discusses some possibilities, especially those most feasible for people starting new events.
- Individual: Many successful events are organized by individuals, either working entirely by themselves or along with a group of volunteers. If you are psyched about having an event but no one else where you live has even heard of what you're trying to organize, consider starting something on your own. If it goes well and other people start to get excited, harness their enthusiasm by drawing them into some sort of volunteer or organizational role. Keep in mind that organizing recurring (monthly, weekly) events all by yourself can be a recipe for burnout. Think about developing a sustainable organization that will still be around 5, 10, 20 years down the road.
- Band/Musician/Caller: In some areas it is common for an event to be run by a caller, musician, or a band who also performs regularly (or always) for the event. A house band or caller can give a nice consistency to an event, and the income from the regular gig is a good incentive for the organizers/performers to put in the logistical work. Sometimes one musician runs a series, inviting other guests to join them in rotating combinations each week/month. This can be the best of both worlds — consistency and variation. If your event is the only one of its type in the area, you might consider opening up the schedule to other performers as a way to draw more people — friends, fans, admirers — into the scene. If you are a performer who lives in an area with lots of famous bands and callers, consider starting your own event as a way to establish yourself in the community and get your name out there.
- Committee: The majority of traditional dance and music events in the US and Canada are organized by committees that may include some combination of dancers, teachers, callers, musicians, sound technicians, etc. Some such groups are CDSS affiliates and/or not-for-profit entities (see below). Organizing committees may range in size from 2 to 20 or more people, depending on the scope of the group, the range of types of events it sponsors, and the specific roles that need to be filled. Many committees divide up tasks, assigning jobs such as band booking, caller booking, publicity, finances, web design, coordinating volunteers, etc. to different people. If a group puts on several types of events (e.g. an English dance, a Morris ale, and a contra dance weekend) there may be sub-committees for each event.
If you are looking to create a committee, think about asking people who have demonstrated an interest in being involved in your group or event - people who have volunteered regularly, performers, avid participants, etc. Ask a small number of them to join you as organizers. If you are looking to expand a committee, come up with a policy about how you ask people to become committee members and how you will decide who to ask. An involved discussion of committee decision-making models is beyond the scope of this document (thank goodness). A quick tip: the larger the committee, the more cumbersome decision making becomes. Consider keeping your organizational committee on the smaller side, and recruiting volunteers to help with specific tasks - especially those that occur at the event itself - as necessary. Also, consider creating a simple agreement or set of bylaws that describe how you will make decisions together, and then stick to it.
Volunteers: Volunteers can be absolutely invaluable in running an event regardless of how your organization is structured. I consider volunteers to be different from organizers. Organizers are the ultimate decision makers - they craft the vision and direction for events and groups and they handle the ongoing work that is needed to make things happen; volunteers help out with specific tasks, such as setup and cleanup, sitting at the door taking money, distributing posters, sweeping the floor, etc. I strongly encourage every dance or music organization to develop a group of volunteers to help out with these sorts of tasks. An event can feel like it runs itself with enough volunteers handling specific jobs. Volunteers feel a sense of ownership of the event. Involving young people or new people as volunteers is a good way to get them invested in the community and vet them for eventual involvement as organizers. If your event is searching for ways to get more young people involved, consider recruiting a few younger people who already attend and making them publicity volunteers in charge of getting more people their age to come to the event. At the events I organize volunteers are usually compensated with free or reduced admission. This is a great way to allow people with low or fixed incomes to attend regularly.
Organizational politics: It is important for all the organizers to be more or less on the same page (or at least to speak with one voice) about the identity of the event or series. A lot of dance and music organizations and committees struggle with conflicting ideas about the goals for the events they organize. That's sort of the nature of collaboration and group decision making, but it is important not to allow the politics within your committee to seep out into the broader community. As a performer it can be very frustrating to get mixed messages from an organizing committee. A sense of organizational conflict can be a deterrent to participation in your community, especially to newcomers. Do what you need to do to work things out within your committee, and then do your best to convey a sense of joy and excitement to your audience.
Vision: It is important for organizers to have a vision for their event and put that vision into practice by informing performers, attendees and the general public about their goals. A detailed discussion of creating a vision for your group can be found here.
CDSS Affiliate Status: Whatever your group structure, you can become an affiliate organization of CDSS. Affiliate membership in CDSS connects you with groups and individuals all over the continent who sponsor and participate in similar events, and offers a number of other benefits. CDSS also offers insurance for groups for individual or recurring events. For more info see the CDSS Become a Group Affiliate page.
Non-profit organization: Many groups become non-profit entities (a state level designation) or tax-exempt entities (a federal designation) for financial reasons. To learn more about these two designations, contact CDSS, visit your state government web site, or the IRS web site. In most cases you will need to have some legal status for your group (such as non-profit designation) in order to have a bank account for the organization.
Running a dance or music event or group can involve a bit of budgeting and keeping track of money.
If you are running a smaller event or group, an event that is free to the public, one where performers are offering their services for free, or where you can find a space to use for free, you may not need to worry about money at all. Fantastic! If you are charging for the event, paying rent, and/or paying performers, you'll need to do some simple budgeting, accounting and record keeping. Here is a bit of information about types of expenses to plan for and potential sources of income to help cover expenses.
- Rent: rents for halls vary widely by region, urban vs. rural area, the type of building, how supportive the owners are of the event, the length of the rental, the size of the event, etc. In rural New England rents vary from free or by donation for small community buildings or Granges rented to members, to the $100-200 range for medium sized halls, to $300-$400 for large halls and extra-picky landlords. Urban rents are often higher.
- Sound: are you paying performers to bring and operate sound gear? Are you renting the gear and running it yourself? Are you hiring a professional sound person with their own gear? More information about sound costs and procedures is here.
- Performers: more information about different systems for paying performers is included in the band and caller relations page.
- Publicity: do you have printing or other publicity costs to reimburse?
- CDSS Membership dues: consider making your group or series a CDSS Affiliate, and put aside a small amount of money from each event to cover the cost.
- Insurance: does your event or group carry insurance (through CDSS or some other kind) that you need to pay for on a per-event or yearly basis?
- Other: snacks, drinks, misc. supplies, etc.
- Admission at the door: consider your pricing structure in comparison to other traditional dance/music events in the area, the price of other live music or artistic events, the price of a movie, the cost of a double caramel pumpkin spiced cappuccino, etc. Will you offer a student price and/or a senior price (highly recommended)? A youth price? A low/fixed income price? Some events have a fixed admission price and someone sitting at the door collecting money; others request a contribution in a certain range and allow people to drop money in a fiddle case. Both approaches work in certain situations; you just need to decide what will be best for your situation. It is helpful for a new event to keep track of how many people attend and which price they pay so you can start to develop a sense of average attendance and predict how much money you are going to take in. At the very least record your gross receipts for each event.
- Organizations: If admission at the door is not enough to cover your expenses, consider seeking out co-sponsoring organizations who might be able to help out. You'll probably need to figure out what you can offer them in return, such as free or reduced admission for their constituents/members. Some possibilities include: schools, town/state arts programs, town/county recreation departments, established dance studios or groups, etc.
- Grants from CDSS: CDSS has outreach grants available to help support new events, new groups, new ideas, youth outreach, leadership development, and other initiatives. Learn more about our grants.
- Grants from other groups: Some other regional/national traditional dance and music organizations — such as the New England Folk Festival Association (MA), the Old Farmers Ball (NC), or your local CDSS Affiliate - might offer grants or non-financial assistance (sound gear, advice, volunteers, etc.). Just make sure when you approach groups such as these that your event doesn't conflict or compete with something they already organize.
- Barter: See if you can get free or reduced rent in exchange for sweat equity or a free dance you run for your landlord's group.
- Individual sponsors: some groups or series that aren't able to meet their expenses receive generous sponsorship from individuals in the community who are dedicated to seeing the event continue. This can be a wonderful way for someone to support something they love and ensure that others are able to share that activity, and it doesn't have to amount to a tremendous amount of money. In order to make donations such as these tax deductible, you can become a non-profit entity through CDSS.
Make yourself a simple budget incorporating these expenses and sources of funds to help in figuring out how much you can afford to pay performers and for sound. If you have a surplus at any given event, consider keeping a portion as a rainy day fund (or more accurately, a fund for snowy days when everyone but the band stays home). It's also great to share your profits with the performers to the extent that you are able.
It is important that your financial practices are transparent and accountable, whether you are an individual running a small event or a large committee with a treasurer and a large budget. You may have legal obligations to report your payments to performers and to file 1099s. For more information, contact CDSS.