The Trials & Tribulations
of Dance Camp Organizers
In 1987 I decided to run two weekend-long dance camps in one summer. I needed to know if my facilities (Northwestern Michigan College dormitories, dance rooms, cafeteria) were appropriate, adequate. I decided to run two dance weekends because I felt that one run-through would not be enough. I was absolutely right. The first dance weekend was moderately successful. Not enough people showed up so I lost money, but nothing went wrong, nothing unexpected happened.
About three weeks before the second event I went to check something with the cafeteria and found out they were not planning to cater my event. They never told me! I only found out because I happened to ask them a question. It seems that they lost money on my first event and they refused to serve my second group, unless I was willing to pay something like three times the amount they initially quoted. Since my college is located right next to countless fast food restaurants, I decided to refund some of the money to my campers, and I let them know that meals were on their own. People, correctly, complained that not having meals in common detracted from the camaraderie of a dance weekend. But this glitch was a minor glitch. a very minor glitch compared with what was yet to happen.
There is a wonderful Irish band in my town, but they are not dance musicians. I thought my dance camp would be a terrific opportunity to introduce them to bands that are dance bands. Two days before the start of my weekend, I made the mistake of phoning my headline band and telling them I was counting on them to help me tutor this band. I was, perhaps, tactless; I was, perhaps, upstaging them. The reaction was enormous. The main member of the band blew up. He was insulted. He was furious. His e-mail ended with the words I hope you have a nice weekend. The words were ominous. Didnt he plan to be there? I phoned him. No, he was not going to be there.
I was devastated. I could not run the dance camp with only one band. I frantically phoned around thirty bands in Michigan & Ohio. None was available for that weekend. I phoned the original band & pleaded. He was adamant. I insulted him. No one appreciated him. He was not going to come. After much pleading & groveling on my part, he relented. Tragedy was averted, but not before I grew a few gray hairs.
The Friday morning of the dance camp weekend I was puzzled because the piano was not delivered to the gymnasium. I phoned the facilities at my college and they explained that between my last dance weekend and this weekend they changed policies: no more piano rentals. Of course no one had bothered to tell me. Ten frantic phone calls later I managed to have them reverse the policy for this weekend.
Obviously I am detailing only the very major things that went wrong. Every event has minor snafus, but the preceding two -- the loss of one out of two dance bands, the absence of a piano -- can destroy a dance camp.
I was shell shocked and not sure I wanted to repeat the experience, so when I ran into some nastiness from fellow organizers in downstate Michigan I simply canceled all plans for my dance camp the following summer. A full year after these events I recovered enough to lay plans for a week long dance camp in the summer of 1999. That camp was successful, so I planned one for the summer of 2000.
As is often the case at a big institution like Northwestern Michigan College, no one can give me an iron-clad guarantee a full year ahead of time. The lady in charge of facilities said she saw no problem with renting me the gymnasium because at this point no college-related activity was scheduled in the gymnasium the week of my dance camp. The dormitory supervisor was reluctant to guarantee me dorm rooms because they had trouble the previous summer cleaning the rooms thoroughly before the arrival of students for the fall semester. Before I sent out my first advertisement, before I signed a contract with my performers, I phoned the dorm supervisor and said I need a guarantee from him that he would rent me the rooms. He said he guaranteed it, but I was a fool: I did not get his guarantee in writing.
In the middle of March, a week before my schools Easter break, I was sent a note that unfortunately I did not read until April 2nd, after I came back from Easter break. At that point I had signed contracts with all my performers, paid for plane tickets for about ten of them, placed three ads in CDSS & one in Dance Gypsy, accepted fifty deposits, printed and distributed about 1,500 flyers. The note, from an assistant to the President whom I had never run across, said that after careful consideration and much internal discussion they had decided to not to make the gymnasium available for my dance camp.
I was frantic. Who is this woman? No one at my College knew she was in charge of facilities. How come she never spoke to me? Why was the decision made so late? I phoned her office on Monday & I was told she would be out of town until Thursday. I phoned the dormitory supervisor and the facilities lady both of whom were very sympathetic but they didnt make the decision. Finally I phoned Skip, the groundskeeper in charge of refinishing the gymnasium floor.
At the end of my 1999 dance camp Skip approached me & told me he was very sorry but my dancers did major damage to the floor. He would have to charge me for refinishing the floor. (He ended up charging me for parts only -- not labor -- and a voluntary collection among those who attended my dance camp & overheard the conversation between Skip & me covered 75% of the cost). He was very nice about it. He said that the following summer he would wait to do the floor until the week after my dance camp. In fact, my dancers would save him the trouble of sanding the floor. When I saw him in early March I asked if he still planned to finish the floor after my dance camp. He smiled & said yes.
When Skip heard that I was never consulted about the decision, that I received the decision in a three line e-mail, he was astonished. He said the woman owed me a face to face to meeting. He said that I should demand a meeting of all the parties involved. On Thursday I phoned the assistant and asked for a meeting.
The days dragged on interminably and I was sick with worry. When two weeks went by with no word I phoned her and she said she was very busy because our College was in the midst of a review for accreditation. I waited another week and finally walked into her office. She kept me waiting for more than an hour and when I was finally let in she told me a meeting was scheduled for tomorrow -- but I was not going to be asked to the meeting.
I realized I was not going to get to explain my side of the story so I explained right then. I told her that before I committed myself to performers & ads I telephoned the dorm supervisor & he promised me the rooms (she didnt know that). I told her Skip told me -- only a few weeks before her note -- that he planned to finish the gym floor after my dance camp (she didnt know that). There was much she didnt know and I was lucky I had a chance to explain. The next day she phoned and reversed her decision. However, everything is up-in-the-air for the year after this because one of the two dormitories is being demolished.
I tell you all this because you cannot begin to imagine -- I did not begin to imagine -- how difficult it is to run a dance camp. So much can go wrong -- and I have not even mentioned the constant worry of will enough people sign up. All organizers know that people wait until the last minute to sign up, but that doesnt stop us from worrying, from being sure that this year we will lose a ton of money.
So be sure to thank the many people who took the time & effort to organize the event you attended, enjoyed, had no part in creating. The money you paid is nowhere near a fair measure of the pain & planning involved in organizing so complicated an event. These people sweated blood to make sure you had a good time.
Copyright © 2001 Henry Morgenstein