For almost ten years, CDSS has co-sponsored regional conferences for dance organizers throughout the U.S. (NW, SW, Midwest, SE, NE) and Eastern Canada. Three of these conferences have websites that provide archived materials from all workshops held at those events.

In the Resources tab below, you'll find a handy index to the available conference information along with CDSS resources. In the Additional Resources tab, you'll find links to CDSS "How-to" information specific to individual genres, as well as a link to the Make It Happen! Manual.





Crafting a Vision

If you organize something — a dance or music event, series, team, or group - you have the opportunity to develop a community around your activity, and to create something that will be deeply meaningful to those who participate. Your intention for the nature of that community plays an important part in its eventual form. Whether you are starting something new or have been at it for a long time, read through this article and put some thought into your vision for your event, series or group.


Here are some questions to help get you started:

  • What are your goals? Are there musical, social, financial, community, educational, or other aspects to these goals? What would success look like? Is recruiting new/young participants a goal of your event or series? Is developing new/young performers, leaders, or organizers a part of the purpose of your series?
  • Who do you want to participate? What kinds of people? What ages? What levels of experience? From an existing community (e.g. a campus or school), or from anywhere? From a broad or narrow geographic area?
  • What sort of experience do you want people to have when they attend? What will beginners/newcomers experience? What will it feel like for experienced participants?
  • How does your event/group fit in with others in your area? Are you competing with others, or filling a new niche?
  • Does your event or group cater to young children, or families with children? Is it open to these folks, even if the programming does not specifically target them?
  • What balance of teaching vs. "just dancing/playing" do you want? Is skill development an important goal?
  • If your event/group draws participants of diverse ages, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic class, politics, gender/sexual identities, religious beliefs, etc., how will you create a safe environment for everyone and facilitate interaction and integration?
  • Do you have an artistic vision? Do you want to feature certain styles of music or dance over others, or represent a wide range of styles? Do you have a preference for more traditional or more modern/innovative approaches?
  • Is your event a fundraiser or a benefit?

For a discussion of this process as it applies to leadership training events see Linda Henry's organizer's manual "Make it Happen", page 4.


Discuss these questions with your co-organizers or committee, or just bounce them around on your own. When you have a sense of what you want your event/group to be, consider how you can make that happen. As an organizer you have a wide range of tools at your disposal. Here are a few areas where you have an opportunity to put your ideas into practice:

  • Who you hire
  • What you communicate to performers
  • How you and other organizers act at the event
  • What you say or don't say in your publicity, as well as where you publicize
  • Communication to your audience through announcements, promotional materials, email lists, posted statements at events, etc.
  • What you plan and how you structure the program of events. For example, do you schedule beginners workshops? Do you plan mixers? Do you allow sit-ins with the band? Do you arrange guest caller slots? Special skill development workshops? Advanced events?

If people in your area have certain habits that run counter to your vision — failure to incorporate beginners for example — you may have a special challenge ahead of you. Express your vision in positive terms, such as "at this event, we graciously welcome new participants by asking them to dance."

How to Structure Your Organization

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.

Finding a Hall

Finding a space that is appropriate for your type of music or dance event or group can be a real challenge. A good space in a good location can contribute considerably towards making an event successful. Here are some tips on how to find the right hall, and how to make sure you can continue to use it for the long term.


Start by casting a wide net in your community. Survey all sorts of community organizations to see if their facilities include a dance hall or Rec room that might work. A good first place to start is the local Chamber of Commerce; they may have a list of all rentable spaces in town with information about rates and availability. Here are some ideas for groups or organizations that might have useful spaces available:

  • Fraternal organizations (VFW, Shriners, Elks, etc.)
  • YMCAs and YWCAs
  • Community centers, Senior centers, Recreation centers
  • Health clubs or Dance studios
  • Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Schools or colleges
  • Churches
  • Town Halls or municipal buildings
  • Granges

As you evaluate different spaces, keep in mind that no hall will meet all of your criteria. Decide on the most important criteria based on your vision for your event/group. Here are some things to consider when evaluating a hall:

  • A good floor: Bring your dance shoes and try doing your dance style on the floor. See how it feels. In some areas dancers are very picky about floors; elsewhere it may not matter as much. Look for a smooth surface, preferably wood with an even finish (unfinished wood can be great too), a reasonable amount of spring or give when you jump or balance, a manageable amount of dust, a good balance of stick vs. slide for your style, and relatively little slope.
  • Parking and/or proximity to public transportation
  • Reasonable rent
  • Availability, condition, location and usability of a piano in the hall
  • Adequate, clean restrooms
  • Availability of a kitchen and dining and social space, especially if you serve refreshments or hold a potluck with your event.
  • Receptive and friendly owners and/or building managers
  • Willingness to allow recurring reservations (e.g. every second Saturday)
  • Easy access for sound gear and performers' equipment
  • Handicapped accessibility
  • Good ventilation or air conditioning (especially for contra dancing)
  • Appropriate size (too big and your event will feel empty, too small and you'll be bouncing off the walls)
  • Good acoustics
  • Pleasant, welcoming atmosphere
  • Proximity to people you hope to attract
  • Low chance of getting struck by lightning (that actually happened to a dance hall in Brattleboro, but luckily we were able to continue dancing there. No, it didn't happen during the dance)

Here is a sample Dance Hall Checklist created by Joyce Crouch to evaluate possible halls for a single day English dance event with possible potluck or catered meal. You can create a similar form based on your particular needs. Joyce recommends the following when visiting halls:

Draw maps of the shape and layout of the hall. This helps to jog your memory later
Visit the hall with several people; one person can chat with the building manager, while others are exploring different parts of the hall. This also helps the manager or owner to get to know your group personally.


When you have found a good option, explain your event or group to the building owners. Emphasize that you are putting on an open community activity that will attract people to their facility and potentially give them more visibility in the community. Talk about the historical and traditional aspects of what you are doing. Tell them you're not making any money doing this, it's just really fun. Invite them to come check out what you do free of charge. Offer to hold one event and see how it goes before they book you for a series. If the building owner is rude or uninterested from the beginning, you're probably going to have a tough time in the long run; you might consider another venue.

Find out from the building owners or landlords if they require renters to have insurance, and if they need to be listed as a named insured on the policy. More information about CDSS group insurance is available here.


If you have a space that you are in danger of losing because of recalcitrant landlords, offer to bring your community in to help with clean up days or painting or light maintenance. This is a good way to give back, but more importantly, for the landlord to get to know your group.

Sometimes groups lose their halls and have to move. This can seem like a disaster, but it is not insurmountable. People come to your events because of the music, the dancing, community, the social scene, and the fun of the activities, not the hall. A series can transfer these things to a new hall and continue to thrive.

Some dance and music communities have invested tremendous energy in community-owned or community-maintained spaces, which ultimately strengthens the whole community. Some examples: the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA; Tapestry Folk Dance Center in Minneapolis, MN; the Capitol City Grange in Montpelier, VT. Consider rallying your community for a long-term project to create the space that would be perfect for you.

Finding and Hiring Callers and Musicians


It is likely that there are musicians and callers in your local community who would be excited to support your event. Here are some ideas for how to find them.

  • Search online for something like "[your town] Contra dance" or "[your state] English dance" and you'll probably find a fairly local dance group that runs regular events. They exist in every state. If you don't find them in a search engine, look at Ted Crane's Dance Database, or the Dance Gypsy, both of which have searchable lists of events, groups and performers.
  • Get in touch with the organizers of your local group and ask them if they know of musicians and callers who might be interested to help support a new event. Emphasize that you want people who are charismatic, fun, and good with beginners.
  • If you know musicians, callers, or organizers in other parts of the country, ask for their suggestions about people you should contact locally. The traditional dance and music scene is very well connected all over the country and in Canada.
  • If none of this works, get in touch with CDSS and we can help refer you to someone near you (a CDSS member or affiliate organization) who can probably help.
  • Once you have identified performers you want to hire, contact them and ask if they are interested to play or call for your event. Take a look at this general information on band/caller relations. If you expect to be able to pay performers, let them know. If you don't plan to or don't know what the pay will be as you start out, explain that and ask if the performers are willing to donate their services in support of getting more beginners and young folks involved in traditional dance and music.
  • If you are working on a college campus or in a school, it's great to work to develop student performers


Here are some guidelines for organizers about how to hire bands and callers for your event.

With clear communication and an understanding of performers' and organizers' perspectives, booking can be a straightforward process which lays the groundwork for a successful event. On the other hand, poor communication and divergent expectations can leave a bitter taste in everyone's mouth. To put it another way, performers who feel respected, appreciated, and at ease will do a better job playing, calling, or leading your event, which makes everyone more happy.

Editorial Note: Ethan Hazzard-Watkins wrote this article with input from various people who are both performers and organizers. He has tried to provide some general information that will be widely applicable, as well as my his own opinions about which models he prefesr. The aim is to provide thoughts about what benefits and pitfalls you might encounter with different approaches.


When you are looking to hire someone to play, call, or teach for your event, first you need to identify who you'd like to ask. Information about finding performers in your area is available here, and suggestions about matching performer talents to your needs are below. Assemble a list of performers who fit your needs and then call or email them to get the ball rolling. In your initial contact introduce yourself, explain your role in your group, include a basic description of your event or group and what you are asking performers to do, list the date(s) and times of the event(s) in question, and provide some information about financial arrangements. The rest of this page describes in more detail how to sort all this stuff out.


There are several different models for booking performers:

  1. Broadcast: Email all the performers you know with the available date(s), find out who is available when, and then piece it all together. This works best for a series, such as a weekly dance, where different combinations of people play together each week. It creates a lot of work for the organizer to put everything together, and assumes that 1) anyone in your performer group is pretty much happy working with anyone else, and 2) the organizer knows a good deal about each performer's strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. I don't recommend this approach for a single event, because only one of the many people you contact is actually going to get the gig, and the others will feel like you offered it to them and then took it away.
  2. Go down the list: Identify your top choices for performers, and ask them one at a time if they are available and willing to do the gig for what you are paying.
  3. Sub-contract: Ask one performer to put together a combination for a given event. Tell them the budget they have to work with and any other pertinent info, and give them the freedom to assemble a group they will enjoy.

For most situations option 2 or 3 is best. These methods make performers feel like you are excited about their specific skills and artistic vision, rather than simply looking for whoever can get the job done cheapest or whoever responds first. Whatever your approach, make clear in your intial contact whether you are approaching several bands to find out about availability or talking with one band at a time. Make clear whether you are definitely offering the gig, or just getting information about availability and cost. It's frustrating to think you're being offered a gig (and turning down other work for that same date) and then finding out someone else was hired.

For a dance event, give some consideration to whether bands and callers match in order to allow both to do their best. Don't pair a caller who always does singing squares with a band that's never heard of them; don't pair an old time band with a caller who does a lot of New England Chestnuts; don't pair a caller who does a lot of southern squares with a band that only plays only northern tunes. If you have a caller or band already booked, solicit their input about their favorite people to work with.

If your event is run by committee designate one person to be in contact with the performers, and if possible empower that person to make decisions about pay ranges and hiring. Before you make contact with performers discuss as a committee what you are planning to pay, whether you can pay more if performers ask for it, what performers you want to hire, etc. It is awfully confusing to deal with several different people from an event, or to have one person who really wants your band contact you before being authorized to do so by the group. Performers usually don't want to be involved in internal Committee politics.

However you do it, don't take too long. If performers are holding dates for you it may cost them other potential work, or if they accept other engagements they may no longer be available by the time you figure everything out.


Here are two approaches to negotiating pay:

  1. offer what you know you can afford
  2. ask performers what they usually charge

With option 1, performers can say "yes" and you're all set; they can say "no" and you can try someone else; or they can say "that's not enough, how about $X?" and you can negotiate from there.

If you go with option 2, be clear whether you are considering other bands, and, if so, whether price is an issue in your decision. I don't enjoy being put in this position, but if you are asking performers to bid against each other tell them that up front. Then they can respond accordingly.

If your offer is really all you can afford, that gives the performer the opportunity to accept or decline. If you can be flexible, work with the performer to find a fee that everyone feels happy with. It is in everyone's best interest to arrive at a price that makes the performer feel appreciated and adequately compensated, while staying within the budget for the event and making the organizers feel like they are getting a good deal for their money. Some performers have a set fee for a certain kind of event, and in that case the negotiation can be cut and dried. Either you can offer that or you can't. Others don't have a set fee for events, and the decision about whether to accept the gig for a certain amount of pay includes issues like: will we sell a lot of CDs? how easy/difficult is it to get there? will the event provide exposure for us in a new area, or an area where we are likely to get other gigs in the future? is there the potential for a bonus in the event of good attendance? can we plan some other gigs on the same trip to make more money? how fun will the event be? does it look really good on our resume?

Keep in mind that performers will be thinking in terms of pay per person, rather than the overall cost for the entire group. If you are an event with a smaller budget, look for two- or three-piece combos, or ask if a larger band can appear in a scaled down version.


There are lots of ways to structure the way that performers get paid for your event or series. Here are several common methods:

  • Shares: The proceeds at the door on a given evening are split evenly amongst the performers after covering basic expenses like rent, sound, publicity, etc. A simple formula would look like: (Gross receipts - fixed expenses) / # of performers = 1 share This means performers benefit from large attendance, and share the risk of a small attendance.
  • Fixed Pay: The pay is the same per performer regardless of attendance and is set ahead of time. This is common for special events like parties or weddings, events at schools, and some dance series. It makes the finances predictable, and puts the risk of small attendance entirely on the organizers. It doesn't allow performers to benefit if they draw a large crowd. 
  • Something complicated: If your event has a lot of overhead that is not connected to a specific event (insurance costs, publicity, sound system purchase, etc.), if you keep a reserve of funds that you contribute to or draw from depending on the attendance on a given night, or if you have other financial issues to account for, your payment formula might get much more complicated. See below for a sample formula.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Guarantee: Most events offer a minimum guaranteed pay per person for performers. This respects the fact that performers do the same amount of work regardless of how many people show up. This is especially important if the performers are traveling a long way. Make sure if you offer a guarantee that you know where the money is coming from in the event of a very small attendance - either you have a reserve of funds to cover it, or the organizer(s) will have to foot the bill.
  • Travel: Some one night events offer additional travel compensation as a flat rate per vehicle or based on distance traveled.
  • Equal or unequal shares: Most events offer equal shares to all performers. Some events pay callers a bit more if the band is large (five or more people). Very rarely there are other arrangements about unequal shares.
  • Communicate! Whatever your arrangement, be very clear ahead of time about how the proceeds will be split. When you contact performers, let them know 1) your guarantee, if any, and 2) your average share for recent dances. This gives them information both about the minimum they can expect and a more likely scenario given average attendance. If you have a cap on performer pay, if you take a substantial cut for the organizers or for the rainy day fund, if you allocate pay unequally, or have any other unusual arrangement, be very clear about that in your communication with performers. You don't need to have a contract, but if you choose to write one for your event make sure all of this information is clearly stated.

Here is the formula for a large contra dance as described in the performer contract:

"Effective April 27, 2007, admission fees go up to $9. For bands with 4 members or fewer, the caller and musicians equally split $3.69 per paid admission and are guaranteed a minimum of $100 each. When the band has 5 or more members, the caller receives 1/5 of $3.69 per paid admission and is guaranteed a minimum of $100; the band members split the remaining 4/5 of $3.69 per paid admission and the band as a whole is guaranteed a minimum of $400. Lately our dances have been averaging about 200-250 dancers."

In this scenario, the organizing committee takes $5.31 per paid admission, which covers their costs for rent, sound, publicity, etc. and pays the remainder as equal shares to the performers, unless the band is large, in which case the caller gets a little extra.

If you are unsure about what arrangements are common in your area, ask performers and organizers what they commonly expect. Ask to see samples of contracts from other events, and then decide what will work best for you.


As a guideline, think about $500 or more per person plus full travel reimbursement (airfare, mileage to and from the airport, parking, and pickup/drop off on your end) for top performers for a dance weekend. If you are not paying everyone the same amount for a similar amount of work at an event, have a good reason for doing so (famous out of town band vs. up-and-coming local band), and be up front about it. No one likes to find out later that they are making a lot less money for equal work. You can also have different gradations of staff positions for people doing more or less work, or people with less experience or name recognition. Some options include full-staff (full pay), half-staff (less pay), or scholarship (free or reduced admission).

Consider including a profit sharing clause in the contract which stipulates if/when you might pay performers a bonus. If your event fills up and you have a surplus of funds, it's nice to share that with performers.

Some weekends or festivals encourage performers to seek other gigs in the area during the same trip, and others forbid this in their contracts. Performers may consider the possibility of other income during the same trip when deciding about the gig. If you have a preference one way or the other, state this up front. If you discourage other work in the area, make sure you are paying enough that the weekend itself is worth it.

If you offer other forms of compensation (a discounted rate for performer's spouse/guest/significant other, daily massages, free beer, whatever) let the performers know about it in your negotiations and include that in your contract.


Read about crafting a vision for your event. Hiring the right performers is one of the tools at your disposal to help make your vision a reality. Make sure that you identify performers with appropriate skills to do the things that are important to you, and with an artistic approach that matches your ideas for the event. For example, if welcoming beginners is important to you, make sure you hire callers or teachers who are sensitive to that and willing to adjust their programming accordingly.

It is important to communicate your vision for an event to performers early on, preferably in your initial contact. Describe your goals and tastes, and ask if performers will feel good about being involved. Then you can collaborate to plan an event that will both highlight performers talents and fulfill your goals.


Communicating with performers about sound system needs and sound procedures is an important part of a successful event. More info here.


  • How to write a contract (from David Casserly)
  • Lisa Greenleaf's article "Hiring Dance Camp Staff - Guidelines for Organizers" (from CDSS News, Sep/Oct 08)
  • Carol Ormand's article "Gigs from Heaven" (from CDSS News, Sep/Oct 08)


This guide about how to write write contracts for performers comes from David Casserly, Oberlin alum and Harvard Law School student. It focuses on college groups, but can also apply to other groups writing contracts. This guide is not meant to constitute legal advice from CDSS or from David; if you want that, consult a real lawyer.

A contract is a legally binding promise. I personally think it's a good idea to write a contract for every performer that comes to campus. Here are a few things that need to be included in contracts. Keep in mind that each school might have particular requirements for any contract that an agent of that school will sign; Oberlin's student union had to OK every contract by a student organization, and I would imagine most schools have similar processes. Anyways, contracts should have:

  • Write "Contract" at the top
  • Name and address of the performer, including social security number. If it's a band that has a federal tax ID#, then you can put that number in, along with where the band is incorporated. Make sure it's the legal name of the performer-- in Massachusetts, it doesn't really matter, but in some states, it might
  • The date and time of the engagement, including a load-in time and sound-check time
  • The description and location of the venue
  • A statement of the compensation offered, including a specific mention of whether or not that compensation includes travel. Be sure to mention any non-monetary compensation (e.g., University Contra Dance will provide lunch on the afternoon of the engagement).
  • Who will provide sound reinforcement
  • A liability statement (check with your college about this-- usually the college will want a statement making it clear that it's the boss of any of its premises, and that it is liable for any damages in premises, etc.. One of the nice things about having a dance in a college is that the college can assume liability, so you don't have to worry about insurance if your school lets you put a statement like this in).
  • Signatures and dates of all parties (it wouldn't hurt to have both you, and a representative of the college sign it)
  • Be sure to remember that, if you sign a contract, you are legally obligated to make good on that promise. In other words, you have to pay the performer. Only write a contract if you're sure that those are the terms that you want. If you aren't sure about any of the terms, make it absolutely clear in the contract that those terms are up for future negotiation and will be written and signed separately.

If you have any questions about a contract, or want me to take a look at it, I would be happy to (I've written several performer contracts, and currently am involved with a law student organization that does advocacy work for musicians with music business legal problems). Get in touch with CDSS and we can put you in touch with David.

Doing Sound

Amplified sound may not be appropriate for all events or occasions. When it is necessary, having an adequate and well-run sound system can be as important to the success of an event as the music or the calling. This article discusses how to get started with sound gear for your event.


Before you begin thinking about a sound system, ask yourself if you need amplification for your type of dance or music and in your location. At a contra dance the noise of the dancers almost always makes a sound system necessary. At an English dance you might not need amplification, or you might need only a slight boost for the caller. For other types of events, consider the likely noise of the crowd, the participants, the volume of the performers, and the need for clarity of any teaching or prompting. Will you be amplifying a whole band plus caller? Just a caller? How many instruments? How big is the space? How many participants/attendees/dancers do you expect? This information will help anyone you talk with figure out what gear you might need. When in doubt, ask performers, teachers or leaders what they think they need, and respect their requests. Try to find a balance point where you meet your needs for amplification with the minimal amount of sound gear and the simplest setup. It never hurts to familiarize yourself with a bit of terminology (see Bob Mills' All Mixed Up) so you know what to ask for.


If you do need sound gear, don't start by running out and buying a really expensive system. Here are a few ideas for cheaper options.

Ask around with musicians and callers in your area. See if anyone has a sound system they are willing to let you borrow or rent. Go to a music store, a guitar center, or an electronics store and look around to see what they have. This will help you get an idea about the different components and the different sizes that are available. Contact a professional sound operator in your area and ask if they can make suggestions about finding gear to rent or borrow. If you are looking to buy something, you can often find used equipment available at a reasonable price. Check online, ask performers, check with professional sound people about any old gear they are looking to sell. Some organizations own sound systems, and some buildings include built-in systems that you may be able to rent or use. If you are on a campus the school probably owns some gear that you can check out or rent.


If you decide a sound system is necessary, it is important to have a qualified person to operate the equipment and to have good communication with the performers about sound arrangements. There are a lot of approaches to how to make this work:

  • Cultivate a team of sound volunteers in your community. Help them get training, starting with Bob Mills' All Mixed Up and give them time to try things out without an audience around. Encourage them to solicit suggestions from performers, who may know more than they do about sound systems. Organize a sound operators workshop, or send your sound volunteers to a CDSS summer camp Sound Operators Course. Over time you can develop a competent group to take care of the sound for your event. (This sort of arrangement works best for weekly, monthly or occasional events with one band and simple needs)
  • Ask performers to provide sound. many performers have a lot of experience doing sound, some of them own their own gear, and some prefer to operate their own systems. Be prepared to pay them extra for doing this. Budget $50 at a minimum for sound. (Works well for occasional events or regular events with only one band and simple to moderate needs)
  • Hire a professional sound person with their own gear, or one who can operate your gear, or some combination of the two (the best option for weekends, camps, difficult spaces, events with more than one band)


Whatever you choose to do about sound, be sure of several things:

  • Communicate with the performers ahead of time about their sound requirements. Ask them to send you (or the sound person) a stage plot or a list of the channels, cables, mics, DIs, monitors, monitor mixes, etc. that they require.
  • Be clear whether you are providing any instruments (esp. piano or keyboard, bass, bass amps, etc.) or whether you are expecting the performers to bring them
  • Leave enough time before the start of the event for setup and a sound check, and tell the performers what time they need to be there


The best basic text for learning to operate sound gear in a folk or traditional music or dance setting is "All Mixed Up" by Bob Mills, available online or in print from the CDSS Catalog.


Here are a few ideas about how to get started with publicity:



Most newspapers publish events calendars and most local radio stations broadcast listings of events in their listening area. Inclusion in these listings is usually free, provided the event is open to the public and put on by a not-for-profit entity (most participatory dance and music events fall into this category). To have your event included, you need to write a press release and send it to the station or paper in time to meet their publication deadlines. This can be a great way to reach a wide audience with an announcement of your event. Here's how to do it.

Develop a mailing list of media outlets

Newspapers and Magazines: Look for publications in your area, including arts/culture weeklies, the local newspaper, smaller independent papers, and local or regional cultural magazines. Find an email address for each where you can submit calendar listings. Usually an email address will be listed somewhere on the publications' web site, but you may need to call and ask specifically for their guidelines on submission. Find out the deadline for submissions, how far in advance they like to receive them, and whether they accept photos as email attachments.

Radio and TV Stations: Look for radio stations in your area, especially public radio, college radio, and community radio stations. Find an email address on the station's web site for submitting Public Service Announcements (PSAs) or calendar listings. If the station has a folk music, world music, or other relevant show, contact the host of that show to ask if s/he has an event calendar. Again, you may need to call the station to ask about submission deadlines.

Compile the email addresses into a list so you can easily send your press release to all of them at once.

Writing the press release

A press release should be short and to the point while conveying relevant information about the event. The first one or two sentences should answer the very basic questions: what, where, when, who. Additional sentences can describe the event in more detail, provide brief directions, and encourage beginners to attend. The last sentence should tell people what to do to learn more, with email, web and phone contact information. Two paragraphs is a good target length for a regular (monthly/weekly) event; longer may be appropriate for a special event (ball, weekend, etc.) You can also include media contact information (who the paper/station should get in touch with if they have any questions) at the end of the email.

This sample shows how to write a press release for radio or newspapers.

Date: May 1, 2008
Subject: Announcing: Contra Dance in Walpole Saturday May 17


WALPOLE, NH; On Saturday May 17 the Walpole Contra Dance will feature music by Van Kaynor and Ethan Hazzard-Watkins on fiddles, with Ann Percival on piano, guitar and ukelele. Ralph Sweet will call contras and squares for the dance. The dance will take place at the Walpole Town Hall, located next to the common in Walpole, NH. Ralph Sweet will teach a beginners' dance workshop at 7:30 p.m., and the dance will run from 8:00 to 11:30 p.m.

Contra dancing is an easy, fun, accessible social activity that is open to anyone; no experience is necessary and all dances will be taught. For more information or directions, please visit the Walpole Dance website at, call 123-456-7890 or email

Print quality photos of the band are available at:
Print quality photos of the caller are available at:

Media Contact:
Ethan Hazzard-Watkins

Newspapers may publish photos of the performers or of the dance style if they are available, but DON'T EMAIL ATTACHMENTS unless you have confirmed that they can and will receive them. You can opt to provide links to a location online where high resolution print quality photos can be downloaded. Feel free to include flowery prose about the wonderful performers if you want, but be aware that most of it may be edited out by the paper or radio station.

Putting it All Together - Timing and Followup

Once you have your mailing list assembled and your press release written, figure out the most appropriate time frame for sending publicity emails depending on everyone's deadlines. You may need to do several batches, for example radio stations and monthly publications one month ahead, weekly or daily publications two weeks ahead. Send it all off, and double check that the papers actually publish your listing. If they don't, follow up with a phone call to see what went wrong.


One very effective way to publicize an event is with a good email list. With an email list, people who have shown an interest in your event can be reminded about when and where it is happening (is it the Third Saturday already!?), who is performing, and anything special that might be happening this time around. This is a good way to ensure the regulars have all the necessary information, and also to encourage beginners to return for their second and third times. 

Compile Your List

Ask people who attend your event if they want to sign up to be notified by email about upcoming events. Some organizers walk through the crowd at the break and sign people up; others specifically approach newcomers and ask if they'd like to know about the next event. Make plugging the email list a part of your announcements. Ask people as they pay at the door to sign up on the email list. Some communities maintain listservs (such as a Yahoo Groups email list); if you do this, be clear about the purpose of the list and your policies for Off-topic posts, email conversation vs. announcements, etc. I recommend keeping discussion lists separate from announcement lists, so people don't tune out your important info.

The Announcement

Send one email per event with the pertinent details. Your email can be less formal than a press release, with a personal touch or a bit of humor, but as with a press release, be brief and concise and include all the necessary information, including a link to a web site with directions as well as who to contact for more information.

This sample shows how to write a publicity email for your email list.

Date: May 1, 2008
Bcc: [your recipients list]
Subject: Announcing: Contra Dance in Walpole Saturday May 17

Hello Walpole Dancers,

It's time again for the Walpole contra dance, this Saturday May 17. We are excited to have Ralph Sweet calling contras and classic singing squares this month, with a great band to back him up. Here are the details:

Saturday May 17
Contra Dance in Walpole, NH
8:00 - 11:30 PM dancing
7:30 PM Beginners' workshop

Ralph Sweet, calling
Ethan Hazzard-Watkins, fiddle
Van Kaynor, fiddle
Ann Percival, piano/guitar/ukelele/harmony vocals

Admission: $8, or $6 for students, seniors and first time dancers
At the Town Hall, next to the Common in Walpole, NH
For directions and more information visit, email or call 123-456-7890.
I hope you can make it!

This email was sent to [email address] from [your name] ( because you requested to receive information about the Walpole Contra Dance series. If you would like to be removed from this list please reply and let me know.

WARNING: you can get in a lot of trouble by sending out anonymous, unsolicited or bulk email to people who don't want it. If your recipients repeatedly mark your messages as SPAM, you can lose your email account or cause your internet service provider to be blacklisted. Be very careful only to send announcements to people who have requested to receive them or to those you know personally. Do not share your email list with other people or organizations. Do not forward other people's announcements to your list. Take people off your list if they request to be removed. Do not put all the email addresses in the To: or Cc: field; this will allow their addresses to be visible to everyone who receives the email. Instead, use the Bcc: field (blind carbon copy). This will protect the identity of the list members. Alternatively, use a bulk emailer software such as Direct Mail (for Macs) to maintain your email list and write messages. Finally, make sure to include a statement about how to request to be removed from the list.


There are countless ways to use the web to promote your events, and new tools are being invented every day. You don't need to be a programmer to take advantage of these services; there are many tools that allow anyone to create a web site, or contribute to a calendar of events.

Building Your Own Website

Building your own website can be simple — use WordPress or Squarespace or Weebly — or, if you have volunteer web designer/developers in your group, make your own. Keep the Home Page minimalist: Who, Where, When, plus a great picture of people having fun dancing (or singing, or playing music!). You'll need a What to Expect if You've Never Done This Before section somewhere. And don't forget contact information.

Places to List Events Online

Facebook and other social networking sites have tools for inviting friends and people in certain groups and networks to relevant events. You can set up a Facebook Group (for conversation and sharing) or a Facebook Page (for telling about your group and announcing upcoming events.)

Meetup has been an extremely useful tool for groups who are just starting out, or who wish to attract new dancers. You may get a revolving influx of new, inexperienced dancers using Meetup, so make sure your callers know how to handle a community-style dance, and that your experienced dancers are skilled at welcoming and assisting new people.

Ted Crane's Dance Database the Dance Gypsy and each list regular dances and performers; local and regional folk music societies and dance organizations maintain lists of regular and special events. Search online to find the most relevant sites in your area. 

Public radio stations have online events calendars; there are town, city, state, and region-focused listings.

Craigslist has events postings.



Here are some great ideas for posters:

  • Bryn Mawr Folk Club: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
  • Brown Contra Dance: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
  • Wesleyan Contra Dance: 1 | 2 | 3

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