“This was a super successful event! I vote for a repeat next summer!” K.O. (event attendee)
I won’t forget the August 2023 Open Band Contra Dance in Central Park, Burnaby, anytime soon. Looking out at the dancers from my position at the front of the open band, seeing their joy and exuberance, and speaking with a diversity of community members who were discovering this fun, low-barrier social dance for the first time was empowering – I felt that I was making a valuable contribution to my community.

In organizing this event, I had aspirations that it would engage diverse community members who are new to contra dancing and create an opportunity for older, established dancers and younger, new dancers to share a rare in-person opportunity to make personal connections. I planned the coordination of this event over 4.5 months–breaking down the work into the different components of confirming dates and applying for licenses, convening and supporting the open band, engaging volunteers and partners, securing equipment and supplies, event promotion, and logistics and event-day preparations. I didn’t organize this event alone–I had the support of volunteers: open band co-leaders, a sound technician, a photographer, a dance caller, as well as the additional financial support of a Metro Vancouver dance society. Throughout the months leading up to the event, the open band co-leaders and I coordinated band rehearsals, created music charts, and finalized the French Canadian, Cape Breton, and other Canadian jigs and reels that we would play. About 20 folks musicians of varying skill and performance experience levels participated in the open band–sharing knowledge, experience and expertise and coalescing over the 6 rehearsals. As the coordinator, one of my key activities was tackling the shortfall of funding. I reached out to the Vancouver Country Dance Society, a BC registered non-profit, to supplement the Neighbourhood Small Grant with some supplemental funding. In engaging their Board of Directors, I learned how to present my proposal in a way that aligned with their mandate and values and to establish trust and rapport, given that they were stepping outside of their comfort zone in contributing to an event organized by someone they did not have a relationship with. I also secured a generous, in-kind donation of sound equipment and technical support from a local musician, which meant that most of the open band musicians could be amplified and heard by the audience, a meaningful first for many of them. It also meant that our music would be rich and feature the sound of many different instruments.

On the day of the event, despite many competing events occurring in Burnaby that day, we were delighted to see a strong turnout–approximately 80 people in total, including dancers, musicians, and those who strolled by and stayed to watch and listen. We had a diverse mix of experienced dancers, new dancers, gender-diverse young people, racialized community members, and families. Our photographer was able to capture much of the action. Going into the event, one of my apprehensions was the use of heteronormative gender terms by the older, professional dance caller. To address this challenge, I worked with her to introduce gender-inclusive role terms throughout the dance so that instead of the traditional terms of “Ladies” and “Gents,” she was able to successfully adopt the gender-inclusive terms of “Larks” and “Robins,” her first time doing so throughout a dance! As a result, we were able to create a safe space for our gender-diverse attendees! I am so proud of her!

In the aftermath of the event, it is clear that there is an appetite for this type of event to happen again. Attendees signed up for an email list to be notified of future events, and musicians and dancers alike expressed their gratitude and support. I now realize more clearly the magnitude of the work involved in organizing a successful outdoor event–it takes contributions from so many people. In the future, I’d like to fully compensate all those involved for their time and expertise. As well, I’d like to ensure I have adequate funding to cover many of the unexpected costs I incurred this time. I also realize the importance of nurturing a relationship with funders such as the Vancouver Foundation and The Vancouver Country Dance Society. I hope to continue to find opportunities to introduce contra dance to young and diverse community members. Thank you again for your support!

Photo Credit: Gloria Rogers
Video Credit: Effie Pow

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