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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

IFDC Challenges
Declining Numbers

By Bev Sidney, 2016

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BACKGROUND

Information: In Toronto, the University of Toronto International Folk Dance Club (IFDC) had been experiencing sparse attendance over the fall and winter terms of 2014, to the extent that its viability came into question. So in April 2015, Judy Silver hosted a potluck brunch; ten people gathered around the table to brainstorm possible ways of increasing the number of dancers, and a list of strategies was considered, with hopes that at least some would prove to be a catalyst for growth.

One of the first ideas to be implemented was a Facebook page, created and maintained with frequent updates by Judith Cohen. Flyers were posted to publicize the activity in the nearby neighborhood, and a weather-proof poster was created to make our presence "visible" from the street when we're inside dancing. The poster at the front steps has rewarded us with the occasional ad lib drop-in – someone who was walking by, read the sign, and decided to see what was going on; and of those spontaneous visitors, there have been at least a couple who came back on subsequent occasions.

One of the well-known problems was the access to the locked building; we had gotten used to entering by a back door through a large parking lot behind the building – a route which can be daunting, if not scary for new people. Once at that back door, a remote switch had to be pressed to activate a light that could be seen by the people in the dance room, and that quirky process presented another level of complication, along with some waiting for response. In order to make entry a simpler affair, it was agreed that someone would stay by the front door for the first hour, when most of the newcomers would be expected; after that, a sign would direct anyone wanting to join us to phone a cell number and wait for someone to come to let them in. This strategy seems to be effective, and every once in a while, during a dance evening, the dedicated cell phone would ring, surprising us all with the knowledge that someone's at the front door.

Following Adam Kossowski's encouragement and timed for the beginning of the 2015 fall term, Helen Winkler created an IFDC Meetup Group & an online social networking site that advertises many different groups of diverse interests, and encourages people to join a group's activities. The Meetup group was intiated with a kickoff Open House and a four-class pass at a reduced price for beginners. The Open House was well attended and several people purchased a four-class pass. Since that time about 165 people have become members of the IFDC Meetup Group. Not all of them have shown up on a Friday night, but there is a constant trickle, and occasionally someone starts to come on an ongoing basis. There seem to be two streams of attendees: 1) people from various ethnic communities who are familiar with folk dancing, and 2) people who have never heard of international folk dancing as a recreational activity.

The result of our endeavours is tentative at this early stage, but since September 2015 the attendance has trended from what was averaging six to eight people per night in the previous winter and spring to upwards of twenty people as of the end of February this year, many of them new dancers of varying ages. It's been a very welcomed change, and fingers are crossed that the trend will continue.

The advice of Loui Tucker, a United States teacher who's had success in rehabilitating folk dance groups and who shares her experience freely, is to use a multi- pronged approach and keep the efforts ongoing. We intend to follow her advice.


Used with the permission of the author.
Reprinted from Folk Dancer Online, Volume 47, Number 2, April 2016.


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