Review of the workshop on 26th February 2023 via Zoom, attended by 33 participants and speakers.
“Our four speakers covered all aspects of the problems of finding new members, ranging from old traditional means to the new-fangled mystery of the various social media platforms. I hope to cover all the salient points raised. Some of the following points will be obvious to us all, but worth mentioning in case they bring a flash of inspiration!
It was agreed that the issue of membership should be the responsibility of everyone in the side, whether dancing out or with friends and colleagues. Everyone should always have business cards available, and at local dance outs everyone should interact with the crowd and have flyers / programmes / post cards to hand out. It’s also a good idea to have a suitable dance in your repertoire and some spare sticks to be able to invite the crowd to join in a dance. At the end of the set don’t pack up and head for home at once but hang around a while to chat and answer any questions to any member of the public who were unwary enough to look interested.
Various means of finding those elusive dancers can be divided into four main areas, namely – interacting with audiences during dance-outs, local publicity, Workshop/Have a go event, and finally the dark arts of social media.
Dance-outs: Go where you are most appreciated and inspire your audience – ensure you’re the centre of attention!
Organise your own Day of Dance to amaze the locals. You can amaze the audience at festivals and another side’s day of dance, but you won’t find members local to you. Make sure your programme includes stands at all your local community events, and interact with your audience, get them laughing, have them enthralled at your dancing prowess, and get them up for a dance. Involve the kids, and you might get the parents.
Make sure you chose stands at pubs, where you will be most appreciated, in front of a hopefully large crowd, ideally a Friday. Dancing to one man and his dog is a waste of your talents.
Always get the email address of anyone showing an interest to allow a follow up later.
Postcards are becoming a good means of imparting information, with an impressive photo on one side, and all the information a prospective member needs to get in contact on the other. Don’t include any information that would go out of date, so you can use them till they run out.
Local Publicity – a good photo tells a thousand words
You may submit a fantastic press release to your local paper, but there is no guarantee they will publish it, either in time for your event, or at all. Invite a reporter to a dance-out, buy them a drink and get them up to dance. It will be a contact worth having. With any press handout, always include an inspiring photo, and stress the benefits of joining, which should include the fact that we are a social group that dance, you make new friends, and get fitter.
Contact local likeminded social groups and institutions within a 30 minutes’ drive for permission to drop off flyers etc. for the benefit of their members. These could include Community Centres, Art groups, Sports Clubs, UA3 groups, Women’s institutes, Rotary, Allotment Associations, Beer Festivals, Breweries, Young Farmers groups, and other dance clubs, like Samba, Le Rock and even Belly Dancing! Also, get your side invited to a Folk Music event that doesn’t usually include Morris Dancing.
Many local groups are involved in raising money for charity. Offer to teach a group some dances over a six-week period to let them get sponsorship to dance at the village fete. With luck, a few will stay on and join up.
Promote your side as an evening’s entertainment for local clubs, with a talk about Morris and a couple of demonstration dances. You could charge £50 and maybe get some interest. Apparently, some councils have a Locality Budget to help social / community groups with essential equipment like a projector.
Workshop / Have a go / Come and try sessions
We’ve all tried these, with varying success. A few interesting comments were put forward.
Get organised well in advance and use all means to publicise the event.
Put at least two events in your calendar, ideally in September or October.
Run them on a weekend during the day when more people will be around, in a central location, not a scout hut up a dirt road!
Teach at least three dances, all with sticks. They’re more dramatic than hankies and will make a better impression!
Don’t be disheartened if no-one turns up. Just drink the tea and eat the biscuits. You’ve advertised the fact that you exist, sowing seeds for the future.
There were discussions about how to find younger members, and how to integrate them with our senior membership. Some sides have taken the step to include youngsters, sixth form and university students in the side.
Youngsters. Any youngster under the age of eighteen must bring their parents along. Quite often, the parents join as well. Visits to scouts and guides are always popular, especially when they are handed sticks! Any experience of Morris at a young age will sow seeds for the future.
Here’s something we all learnt regarding your local school’s sixth form students. Apparently one of the accepted activities in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is Morris Dancing! Contact your local Headmaster, see if the school supports the Award, and get permission to put a flyer / poster in the sixth form common room.
Some Morris sides are affiliated to a local University using a suitably bribed sibling as an introduction. That gives access to attending a Freshers Fair to advertise Morris Dancing. This could provide a fluctuating membership who eventually leave University and take their Morris enthusiasm to all corners of the UK.
Social Media is a very useful tool in the membership toolbox, but it’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not a quick fix, can take a long while and a lot of time and effort to produce interest and a following, but it can spread the word far and wide. Once up and running, it should be the job of a team to run it, taking up to an hour a week to maintain it. Overall, it demonstrates that you can ably expose the energy of Morris to new audiences and inspire some to give it a try! But it does require continuous effort to maintain.
The use of Facebook Business Suite was highly recommended, useful to create posts and videos and schedule them for different times of day, up to 1 months in advance. It also gives you good analytics (they call it “insights”) which of your posts worked well and which didn’t so you can learn what type of content or media works well for your audience and whether it’s better to schedule them for a different time of day or day of the week.
It’s best to post little information, but often. Use it to advertise a coming event and follow it up with a good photo and brief report. Plan and make the best of a special event, i.e., an evocative photo of sunrise on May Day Morning. Even better, post a video for your followers and the world to watch over their breakfast. You can also post it live. Always ask friends, followers, and everyone else to share your posts and spread the word. Post to the pubs you dance at and ask them to share your posts.
Make a 30 second to a minute video and have some simple text on an interesting background. It can be downloaded and shared across other platforms, so you get multiple posts for little effort. You can add special effects to make the post more visual and add any type of music to grab attention. But be aware that you may need to do multiple posts before you build a community that follows you. Like Facebook, you can get data about your posts.
You’ll need someone who is good at taking and editing videos, with an artistic eye and a knowledge of what’s in favour now. You could employ a professional, but why not contact your local college and ask if they have an art / IT group who would like a project?
Use quick videos for instant impact.
If you are short of musicians, borrow a few to make a Morris Music Video to entice a few musicians to join you.
Visit the YouTube studio website and try to understand how it works!
What you should be doing NOW is to post the Boss Morris video from the BRITS. If that doesn’t inspire youngsters to think about Morris, nothing will.
What happens if you find someone?? (yes, it does happen!)
Apart of making a fuss of them, give them a Buddy to help them integrate with the other members, especially if they are shy and retiring to give them encouragement, and a name they can remember. Ask them why they joined and give them a clear target to aim at that includes why they are interested. Their target could include being taught three simple dances that would give them to confidence to dance out in full kit. Ask them if they’ve got a friend!
Take them down the pub after each practice to chat and don’t forget to buy the Squire and Foreman a drink. Organise some non-dancing social events to make life more interesting and enjoyable!
Ant Veal of Beltane Border Morris, a member of Open Morris
Michael Stimpson of Phoenix Morris, a member of all 3 morris organisations
Dan de la Bedoyere of Glastonbury Border Morris, a member of the Morris Federation
Ollie Simons of Peterborough Morris, a member of the Morris Ring
Summary Notes: See JMO Recruitment Workshop – summary notes
Video Recording: The video recording is now publicly available on the MF YouTube channel at: