Before organizing a hoop dance retreat, I thought it was as simple as imagining a really cool event, and then asking everybody to show up.
I had no idea how much work was involved.
From space issues, to pouring rain, to a lack of workshop space, and peeping onlookers, my first event had a lot of….character.
Now, having just arrived back from the 2nd Annual Michigan Hoop Dance Retreat, I have learned quite a bit about what it takes to host a smooth hoop dance retreat...and it’s so much more than a kickin’ party.
Learn from my mistakes! Check out the top 13 things I accidentally learned from organizing a hoop retreat.
- Show up Before Everybody Else
Not only do you have to come up with the idea, plan it in your head, figure out a way to make it work, contact all the people who will help, reserve the spot, send out the invites, and ask people to trust that what you're making is amazing, you have to literally show up before everybody else.
The first year I hosted the Michigan Hoop Dance Retreat I didn’t realize people might want to show up early. I arrived on location five to six hours before other people were scheduled to get there, and an attendee had shown up the night before. This person wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was just excited to be part of the event. What happened was, I had to organize the entire event around her, which was a challenge due to some space concerns I was already dealing with.
I learned that you have to show up before everybody else in order to set up in the way that works best for the event. That means arranging to be there the night before the retreat starts or very early in the morning depending on what parameters you set out for arrival. This controls the event so that you are able to present in the way you have promised.
- Have a Registration Table
My first event was a small gathering with less than 50 attendees. Since there weren’t many people, I didn’t realize we would need a registration table. What happened was, there was no one at the event who was prepared to answer questions, have people sign liability forms, pass out paperwork and let them know what was expected of them. Everyone showed up and it was a free-for-all where everybody just shared with everybody what they already heard from somebody else. It worked, but it was chaotic and confusing.
I learned that it’s a lot smoother to have everyone check-in at one common location and sign forms up front, so that everybody is ready to go when the workshops start. The added bonus of having a registration table is that it doubles as a common meeting area, first aid, or lost and found.
- You'll Work Harder Than Anybody Else
Hosting an event is hard work. You get there before everybody else, leave after, and work in between and during all of the workshops. Pre-event prep takes months. And even after it’s over, you spend more time going over how you can make next year better.
It's not that the work is bad or that you won't learn something or that it's not an excellent experience. It’'s all of those things and more. But you will be working harder than everyone else, and that’s why you have to be doing it for you.
People will be incredibly grateful for the experience you gave them and still never understand what it means to you. So you have to be doing it not just so that people can have a good experience but because you love it.
- Plan One Day Before and After for Prep and Pick Up
There are lots of last-minute details that have to be finished in the days and hours before the event starts. You should have a checklist ready of all of the things that need to be done and have mentally gone through the entire program from beginning to end out loud so that you can figure out whether or not you actually have all of the supplies that you need. It's helpful to do this with someone else so that they can stop you and say, “Okay, wait, how are you going to do that? Do you have pens? Do you have paper? Where's the projector?”. It takes a lot more time than you expect, mentally and physically, in order to get it all done. Make sure that you have the day before the event blocked off for planning and preparation.
After the event you will be mentally exhausted. It takes a lot of energy to serve other people's needs, take care of problems, attend workshops, and answer questions all weekend. That means after the event you need to take time for yourself. Everyone else may have just had a super relaxing or fun-filled learning weekend, but you're the person who made all of that happen.
Take a day of self-reflection and relaxation in order to regroup and come back even better than before. Trying to go back to work the next day, or do a family event, or any number of other things you tell yourself *must be done* because you've been ‘off having fun all weekend’ completely devalues the work it took to pull off such an amazing event. Not only do you deserve this time, you need it in order to be your best.
- Have Instructor Applications
The first year I hosted the Michigan hoop dance Retreat I did not have instructor applications. The second year I did. The first year all of the instructors were amazing, They brought the classes expected and everyone was impressed.
My goal for the second year was to ensure we had a broad range of skills and teaching styles, and that my own biases and friendships didn't influence who instructed at the event.
There are many ways to review instructor applications, but my favorite process for making any hard decision is to use this decision-making matrix. So, you choose the criteria that is important to you and your event, and then let the matrix figure out who is the best fit. This removes you from the picture so that you only get the very best instructors. After using this matrix for MHDR2017, this is what one attendee had to say.
I was mostly concerned with skill levels of the instructors but I was happily surprised that everyone was so on top of their game, that I have little doubts of that happening now in the future. Honestly, you couldn’t have chosen better staff and that helps so many people walk out with so many more skills!
Instructor applications also makes sure that the people who are applying actually want to be at the event. Anyone who doesn't submit an application is not that committed to teaching. It’'s like a first-level check to see who's really serious.
- Be Willing to Boss People Around
Okay, so it's not quite ‘bossing,’ but you do have to be willing to take charge when you see something that needs to happen and then tell other people to go do it. At first it might feel like you are ordering people around, but remember, that's what they came for!
The more willing you are to let people know what it is that you want them to do and when you want them to do it, the more likely it is that your hoop dance retreat will run smoothly...and this includes going to the workshops!
It sounds obvious, like you shouldn’t have to tell people to go to the workshops. But, everyone is hanging out and having fun, and it can be tempting to hang back and chill at the campsite. I offset this at the welcome meeting, where I ask everyone to make a commitment to go to the workshops, and offer a reminder that everyone is there to learn and play together, and the instructors are ready and motivated to share their skills. This keeps the focus on the reason everyone is there, instead of the party that of course is going to happen around you.
- See the Site Before you Reserve It
You might be inclined not to visit the site where you plan to host your event. If you can’t see it in person, and you can’t send someone in your place, ask for video footage of the location. People outside of the hooping world don’t understand our needs or how much space hooping uses, and even when you explain, it’s a hard thing to grasp.
I did not visit the site location of my first hoop dance retreat beforehand. After speaking with the host several times, and confirming on the phone that we needed space for 50 people, plus *at least* a 2500 sq ft workshop zone, I showed up to six regular-size campsites and the event area covered in goose poop. There was no shade and it was completely on display for everyone in the entire campground to come and watch what we were doing. In short it was a disaster.
I don't think the host purposely misled us. They just did not understand what our needs were, and it was my responsibility to have confirmed up front, either with more detailed pictures or to actually go and see the site in person. You know best what your needs are, and asking someone who's not a hooper to inspect a space for a hoop-worthiness, is a recipe for failure.
- Have a Backup Plan
In the event something goes wrong (and it will), you need to have a backup plan ready to go. It's hard to think of a back-up plan in the moment, when you’re panicking about the lack of space and fecal-covered workshop floor.
I had to count on the attendees to ‘make it work’. Fortunately, they were experts in this area, but that’s not the experience I promised, and it left me scrambling, with hours before workshops started, looking for a space that could accommodate 40 hoopers.
- Give Everyone an Agenda
You will be asked the same question a thousand times. You can reduce that number by quite a bit, by handing out an agenda to everyone who arrives on site. This includes things like what time and where workshops and meetings start. This keeps you freed up to do anything that you need to do without answering the same thing over and over again and being pulled off task by something as simple as a schedule.
From setting up registration, sleeping areas, workshop zones, hanging signs, and all the other details that go into pre-event set-up, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to host a great hoop dance retreat. If you try to hold everything in and do it all yourself you will feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and something will fall through.
Use the incredible support staff around you to delegate as much as you can. They are your best resource for making sure everything goes off without a hitch, and are more than willing to help.
- What People Say They Want and What they Actually Want are Different
People will tell you they want all kinds of things, and you have to decipher which they need right now, what would be nice in the future, and what just isn’t right for this event.
The first year I hosted the Michigan Hoop Dance Retreat, I thought it needed to be at a scenic location...somewhere ‘retreaty’. But, the scenic area I envisioned turned out to be an extra nicety we didn’t really need. It was much too cold to swim, and the grassy ‘view’ was covered in bird droppings. The second year we didn’t have the beautiful lake view, but we did have a secluded private area, and that’s what people cared about most. They wanted to be able to kick back and relax (and hoop!) without having to leave to get to the workshops, and without onlookers peeping on everything we had going all weekend.
- Money Matters
I know, I know, no one wants to talk about the M word. As hoop instructors, there is a ton of pressure to love everybody and bring them into the fold of hoop dance, even if you have to give away your last hoop, your last dollar, or your last hour so they can experience the love you have been blessed with through flow arts. But you’re not going to bring the love to any event if you’re stressed out, starving, and freaking out about how to pay your massive facility rental invoice.
You need to get money smart and that means you need to calculate all of your proposed costs up front, and then account for some buffer room. This can include things like facility rental, insurance, instructor fees, camping/hotel necessities, registration and check-in tables, flyers, paperwork (liability waivers, agendas, etc), signage, incidentals (extension cords, hoses, etc), entry bands, fire bands, PayPal fees, and more.
Plus, you need to pay yourself a fee for organizing the whole event. This might be scary...especially when we’re met with the ‘hoopers should never charge for their skill’ comments. But usually, the people making those comments aren’t hoop teachers or event organizers, and they have no idea how much effort, energy, knowledge, and skill it takes to pull off an event that goes perfectly from beginning to end. You’ll be working for several months (or years) in advance of your event, and for several weeks after. You will work through the entire thing to make sure all of the paid attendees are enjoying themselves. This is a job, and you should treat it as such, including getting paid.
- Don't be Afraid to Say No
You will receive many suggestions about things you can do for the event in the future. You’ll also get many requests. Sometimes these ideas are helpful, but other times they’re ‘neutral’ or would have a detrimental effect on the event as a whole. You have to be willing to listen to everyone’s ideas, and then throw out what doesn’t work for you...even if this hurts someone’s feelings in the process.
This can be as simple as setting limits on who can arrive early (and when), or as difficult as telling a friend you will not give them a free ticket to the event. This is your event, and you made a promise to others about what it would entail. That means, even when it’s hard, you have to hold steady to that plan so that you can deliver on your promise. The people who love what you’re doing will support your goal and will understand. Anyone else doesn’t matter.