Imagine there were no more dance halls in your town.

A million things could happen.

Space gets too expensive.
The scene fractures.
Dancers lose interest.
Organizers tire of the work.
Your genre of dance loses popularity.
Dance hall burns down, gets sold, or just doesn’t work out.
Dancing is restricted by the authorities.

This is no post-apocalyptic fantasy. Dancing has been banned in various places around the world. What if the unthinkable happens, and you suddenly lose the ability to gather and connect with your community?

Washington Hall, Seattle, historically home to acts such as Duke Ellington and Billie Holliday, now in need of much renovation.

All your weekly dances, gone. The space you loved to hang out at, no longer available to you. An outlet for your dance addiction, taken from your life.

Go ahead and sob a little. I’ll wait for you.

Oh, the horror!

The idea of losing what you hold dear is terrifying. Recently, I connected with lindy hopper David Trinh of Waterloo, Ontario. David’s at the other end of the spectrum—he’s creating a new space for dancers to fall in love with.

And by “creating a new space,” I mean he’s started a business, signed a commercial lease, hired contractors, put in a spanking-new floor, all with the help of his group, Hep Cat Hoppers.

The Hep Cat’s new dance hall during the construction phase.

A real dance hall like this requires a huge up front investment. More than just time and money, they’ve invested their faith, pride, and dreams into their vision of swing dancing in Waterloo.

Dance scenes change naturally over time. David and I have both experienced the sense of loss that comes with these changes. In my pre-Seattle days, I was a local organizer full of big, semi-impractical ideas (okay, I’m still full of such ideas). Many of them fell through. I watched our scene grow and stumble. I witnessed a number of venue changes.

Having a dance space you can depend on is hugely important to developing a scene. Losing a great space is anywhere from disheartening to gut-wrenching.

It can be almost like losing a loved one. You think, “I should have spent more time with them. I should have called more. I should have told them how I feel.”

Respect for Spaces

David has spent a decade studying Kung Fu. I was not surprised that he sees parallels between learning Kung Fu and dance. But one ritual seemed curious to me. “We had to bow in and bow out [before and after class]. First to the school, and then to the past and current masters. There’s a lot of bowing.”

I’m a little unfamiliar with bowing to inanimate objects and dead people. So I asked my husband Paul about this. He’s taken plenty of martial arts classed as both child and adult.

“Yeah, as a kid I had to bow to the classroom before going in. And in Muay Thai we had to bow to the punching bag. If we didn’t bow, we had to do pushups.”

Whoa… Why did you have to bow to the punching bag?

He thought for a moment. “It was to show respect. It’s not an anything-goes, all-out brawl. There are boundaries.”

Or in David’s words, “We had to pay respect to the school because the school has a spirit. The spirit protected us and gave us a safe place to practice our art. We are constantly paying respect to everyone and everything.”

Boundaries? Spirit?

Isn’t space just a a place, a building just an inanimate object?

No, it is so much more! Our dance space is a holder of memories, history, and possibilites. We don’t all dance the same way, but we all dance on the same floor.

You don’t need to believe in spirits to understand the symbolism here.

When you enter a space, you contribute in some way. You choose how to add (or subtract) to its character. At the least, you recognize you’re not there for an anything-goes, all-out drunken orgy.

What are the boundaries? How do you express respect?

The mere act of pondering this idea has already changed your approach, even if only subtly. It’s unlikely that you’ll bow to your dance space next time before entering. But perhaps you can pick up your trash, smile at the person taking your money, or get to know the history of the building.

And then there’s the people.

I see a lot of practical benefits to treating our shared spaces with respect. First and foremost, it reinvigorates your organizers.

You know, the people who run your venue, the workaholics who are often too tired to dance? They’re not in it for the money and glory. Even if you have less-than-perfect organizers in your scene, the space is still there for you to practice your art. The more you take care of it, the more the space and its people will support you.

Simple Ideas

Even small gestures can go a long way. Choose any of these, and watch the goodwill spread.

Take care of the space. Pick up your belongings, pick up trash. Put chairs and tables where they go. Tidy up the literature table or even the restroom.

Explore the space. Discover something new about it. Research the building’s history. Learn about the people who created and take care of the space.

Be kind to the staff. Smile at volunteers, learn their names. Observe the rules. Turn complaints into constructive feedback, even if only venting to a friend.

Take ownership. Volunteer. Promote the idea of respect. Tell others what you’ve learned about the building’s history, or how you helped paint the walls or installed the dance floor.

If we lose our dance spaces, in a way we lose everything. Be thankful every day you have a place to dance.

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