My (Dance) Community is Broken

This is for anyone who is part of a community that means a lot to them and who feels something is wrong or about to go wrong in that community. While my perspective is from a social dance community, I suspect this has as much relevance to any community of shared interest.

Often, I hear expressions by members of dance communities about how their community is broken. The concerns seem to fall into a few main buckets:

  • Lacking: the community is too small or has too few “good” dancers or “good” teachers or “good” events etc. etc.
  • Toxic: the community is being damaged by a person or people or a group or a business that is “bad for” the community’s health and growth.
  • Stagnant: the community is stuck, it’s not growing, it’s in a rut, it’s dying.

Whatever the concern, I know the solution. The solution is very easy to state and very difficult to do, because it requires the toughest work of all.

The solution is to show your community an alternative.

  • Too small/not enough good dancers? >> Become a great dancer, show up, and dance with everyone.
  • Toxic forces ruining the good vibes? >> Create a larger number and higher frequency of good vibes.
  • Things stuck in a rut? >> Get creative, offer something new, rally the troops.

In coaching others about community development, I always offer this: You get the community that you model.

This is what that means to me personally:

  1. If there’s something happening in my community that I don’t like, I need to look to myself and identify where that thing lives in me. For example, to build the kind of inclusive, accessible, inspiring, and welcoming social dance community that I wanted, I had to change my relationship with competition. That meant letting go of a concrete marker of status. Even tougher than that was realizing I would likely lose people who felt important to me. The good news is that by modelling a non-competitive community, my world expanded with people, opportunities, and joyful experiences that had not previously been accessible to me. It was also hard on my ego and I still work on the internal stuff related to that. *
  2. Putting blind, stubborn trust in the belief that joy will always overcome fear, that an abundance mindset is more powerful than the scarcity mindset. The most frustrating thing about the human mind is a trick it plays known as negativity bias. Even while I witnessed my community dramatically expand once I began making a concerted effort to model joy and abundance, more than half the time I felt like I was faking joy and abundance. (I did say “blind, stubborn trust”). I faked it until I made it. And I didn’t do it alone, which is where this connects back to #1. As my community expanded with more people who wanted to be part of something inclusive, accessible, inspiring, and welcoming, I had more people around me who could show me how to do it.

You get the community that you model is for any and all individual community members, not only its leaders. Certainly, those in leadership positions play a big role in setting the tone because others look to them for cues about how the community works and how to behave within it. But guess what? People are also looking to their peers—to other members they see in the community that they identify with in some way. Those are the people that I learned the most from as a community leader.

So yes, BE the change—someone’s watching YOU!

* For a long time, competition was great for me. It brought me growth and experiences, interactions, lessons, opportunities, and personal milestones. Every difficult moment along the way brought me to a better sense of self and greater strength. Pursuing that path required sacrificing other things and a point came where I wanted to change the balance. Having both gained from and been strained by it, I feel great about witnessing and supporting others exploring that journey.