Something to celebrate? A bush dance is a great way to involve all your guests. I teach all the dances, starting with no expectations that people will have any experience of this sort of social dancing. It works at school social nights and community events, 21sts and other birthday parties, weddings, end-of-year work functions, student orientation events - any time that you want people of all ages to mingle and get to meet each other, laugh and have fun.
Tips for running a successful bush dance
Venue - You will need shelter from sun and rain, lighting on the dance floor, a safe power supply for the band, some seating around the dance space.
Make sure you give clear directions to the band and provide drive-up access as close as possible to where they will be setting up their equipment. Remember they will need to start setting up long before they start to play, so you will need to provide access to the venue by arrangement.
MC - A caller will teach the dances and prompt each part of the dance as you go. Let them know what your program is other than dancing, so that you can serve supper, draw a raffle, have speeches, have your people perform items, etc, during the band's breaks. Plan the event in detail with the band's representative, so everyone knows what is expected.
Music - The presence of a live band turns the gathering into an Event. A live band is preferable to recorded music - they can alter the tempo to suit the dancers, stop and start again, and play for as long as the dancers want or need the dance to last. Altogether it is much easier for the caller to work with a band than with recordings. The band may tailor their repertoire to include your favourite tunes, songs and dances. They may invite audience members on stage to play or sing. They are much more attractive than an iPod.
Book the band well in advance, and expect to pay them even if you cancel at the last minute. The standard music industry contract considers "last minute" to be within a fortnight of the event. Many people find this a surprise. Most bands will have a written contract agreeing on each party's obligations, but a verbal contract is also binding.
If you think the band is overpriced, apply the plumber test: consider how much you would have to pay three or four plumbers to turn up for several hours.
The band will probably provide a sound system, unless the dance is part of a longer day of music, for example at a festival. Make sure everyone is working on the same assumptions here. A sound system is pretty-well-essential, expensive stuff that needs to be maintained, updated, and lugged around, so expect to see a charge for it included in the price.
Food and Drink - Provide water - dancing makes people thirsty. The best dances are alcohol-free, in my experience. Tea/coffee/soft drink is always welcome. If it is a BYO supper, have someone feed the band. (Check for vegetarians, etc.) It keeps them happy and they play better when they're happy. Also they may well have already done 3 - 4 hours travelling and setting up before the event starts.
The traditional bush dance has a supper break and everyone brings a plate to share, which is lovely, but you could do the caterers option. At any rate, food will be welcomed after a couple of hours of energetic dancing.
Decor - Unless the dance is in your own hayshed, avoid haybales. They have become almost compulsory, but kids will climb on them, and the bales will start to come apart. The loose hay and straw makes for a slippery and dangerous floor and a lot of allergenic dust, and the clean-up afterwards is tiresome.
A few gum tree branches give a great 'look' to an ordinary hall.
Time - For a children's dance, 1 to 2 hours is plenty. Adults 40+, a bit longer. Teens and twenty-somethings - up to 3 to 4 hours, given plenty of food.
A one-hour dance can work very well in a program of other activities, for example, as part of a week-end conference. Wedding receptions can also be enlivened by an hour or so of social dancing, and your band could also play songs and suitable music during dinner and while guests mingle before or after the ceremony.
Tickets - If it is a ticketed event, sell in advance. Have door prizes to reward pre-booking.
Fun things - Costumes, themes, spot prizes, songs and stories from guests, games, auction, silent auction, raffle, performances from kids to entertain parents (this also encourages parents to attend).
Fundraising - If it is a fundraising event and you have lots of volunteers, food and drink stalls are the go. Your team can also lobby local businesses for raffle prizes or items to auction. People love to help. Reward your donors with plenty of free publicity in all your advertising material. Afterwards send them a card or certificate to hang on their wall. Be lavish with your praise and gratitude to your volunteers. Plan the next one while enthusiasm is still running high. Be sparing in your requests to musicians to play for a reduced fee to assist your cause. Their regular fee should be a small part of your budget. Plan to make lots of money instead.