Renting a Hall for a Vintage Dance
One of the big challenges in putting on a vintage dance event is finding the right hall. Here are a few thoughts on the topic from someone who has been doing it for a few decades.
First, make sure the hall fits within your budget. I would suggest putting together an excel spreadsheet with your known costs (band, hall, refreshments etc.), and do some calculations as to whether or not the hall is even realistic. A sample Excel spreadsheet can be found here:
Once you have determined it is something you can afford, here are a few other considerations:
- Does it have convenient and sufficient parking? This is at the top for a reason. It is vital and the first thing I look for.
- Is it easy to find or at the end of winding and confusing roads?
- Is it in a decent neighborhood, or do your guests have the option of scoring some crack across the street during intermission?
- Is it big enough for your expected turn out? For dancers, I would suggest taking the Fire Marshall capacity and subtracting about 15%. This is not a hard, fast rule, but more a rough estimate of the capacity of a hall.
- How does it look? Are its looks compatible with the theme of the event? A nice looking hall adds a lot to an event, and a cheesy modern one takes a lot away. Old buildings tend to have the best look and the best floors.
- Does it have a wooden dance floor? If I were doing ballroom dancing where people travel around the floor, I would walk away from any hall with a temporary dance floor. If the event were Swing, where people stay more or less in the same spot, you might be able to get by with a rented floor (be sure to determine any extra costs).
- Check the condition of the floor. Look for uneven spots and the sort of serious wear that can happen over many decades (one of the downsides to an old hall). Is the floor on a slab? Is it sprung? Also be sure it isn't waxed to the point of being dangerously slippery. You might want to consider wearing dancing shoes on your inspection.
- Do they require insurance? The most enlightened halls provide an optional insurance rider for an extra cost. If they don't then you will have to go to an insurance broker for event insurance and factor that into your overall cost--unless of course, you have incorporated and have group insurance (a topic for another day).
- Do they require security? Do they provide guards you can rent, and if so, how will that impact your budget?
- Does it have a stage or do you have to place the band on the dance floor and cut down on your usable space?
- Do they have a sound system or will you or your band have to provide it? Who will operate it, and how will that impact your budget?
- Do they have a kitchen where you can prepare and stage your refreshments?
- What sort of access do they provide for the band to load their stuff in?
- Do they have a piano? Is it in tune? This is important if your band uses a piano. Renting a piano is a less than desirable option.
- Do they have sufficient stage lighting?
- Are the restrooms clean and adequate?
- Is there a place for the ladies to change? A place for the gentlemen is nice, but since traveling in vintage or historical formal wear can be a challenge for a woman in a modern car, a changing facility is a good thing. You might also want to provide a coat rack if there isn't one present.
- Are your hall management contacts friendly, cooperative and responsive? Beware of those who do not return phone calls.
- Beware of halls that require you to pay for them to set up a bar and provide a guarantee and then charge your guests for drinks. This evil arrangement is often found in American Legion halls.
- Beware of halls that require you to use their caterer for even the most rudimentary of refreshments.
- Pay particular attention to cleaning requirements and cleaning deposits. If they say "You can clean the place yourself, or pay us an extra $X to clean it", you should probably take them up on their offer and, if you can afford it, pay the cleaning fee. Otherwise, you may find yourself at 1 in the morning, mopping a restroom, and being told you missed a spot.
- Try to do as little damage and leave as little mess as you possibly can.
- Pay very close attention to the rental terms, and make sure you fully understand and comply with requirements for signed contracts, supporting paperwork, deposits and prepayments. You do not want to get in a fight with the hall management on the night of the event or have someone scheduled over you because you missed a deadline. If you can afford it, pay in full, well before the deadline and get a receipt.
- If you don't have a long relationship with this hall, call a week or two before the event just to make sure everything is OK.
If you develop a good relationship with the management of a hall, do everything you can to preserve that good relationship.
That would be my hall check list.