For almost everyone in the LDS community, the idea of having to attend a Stake Dance for the YM/YW is often one of nightmarish proportions. I'm not saying every stake in the world has these issues, but from what I've witnessed in at least 30 different US stakes, it's a general problem.
For the youth - less than 5% are the outgoing type that thrive on social interactions and are good at getting the party started. The percentage of those who are willing to risk embarrassment to try and have a little fun is barely any higher. You either go because you WANT to have fun (which is the case for most) or because your parents/callings make you. Often, aside from large special functions like conferences, youth leave these events disappointed.
For adults - You're there for your calling or your kids. You watch the undead-like atmosphere jump to life during the line dances and occasional slow/swing song, then resume zombie business as usual when the song changes. You attempt to talk to the youth you know to encourage they interact a little with new people. If you're really dedicated, you even dance yourself or ask the DJ to (or as the DJ) start a snowball or other game to get things moving. Usually, this meets a lot of sour looks and disappearing teenagers. Man, you sure know how to clear a room, don't ya?
Fret no longer, friends. This Part the First of a series of posts to appear over time is chock-full of ways to pump life back into the heart of your Stake Youth's dance activities. Before I left my home ward to go back to school this year, I had the opportunity to "spin" for the youth of the Weatherford, Texas Stake for the last few dances of the year, and both youth and adult have been coaxing me to return for the summer dances to step up to the stage again. What set the dances I turned for apart from the others? I'll tell you, and I will tell you more every few weeks.
STEP ONE: DO YOUR RESEARCH.
I cannot stress enough how much a difference it makes when you stay up-to-date on Top40 music trends and the response the youth have to certain tracks. Different regions will have different trends, as well, so you have to go to the best source to figure out what drives the beat. The best thing you can do is talk to your youth. Make a suggestion box, facebook page or blog, or hand out your contact information to the youth and ask them what they like and dislike about the way dances are now. Granted, there are bound to be some contradicting results. If there is no majority one way or the other, my advice is to do what you yourself like, as you have to listen to the music you're playing, too.
Use bilboard.com to stay current. A week before each dance go through the Top40 general list along with the top few of any genre that's particularly popular in your area or that fits the theme of the dance (ie: Top10 country songs for a Barn Dance) and review 2 things before adding them to the playlist. FIRST - Lyrics. They have to meet For The Strength Of Youth standards. SECOND - Rhythm. Don't bother with songs that have a mild beat. If it's too slow to be a fast song and too fast to be a slow dance, no one will know how to dance to it, so they wont. Remember to incorporate the new tracks with the tried-and-true tracks you already play that the youth still like to dance to.
USE I-TUNES. You can use iTunes to transition from track to track without a gap in between songs. Silence is not golden at these things. It's awkward in a bad way. Also, iTunes lets you keep track of songs by amount of plays, rating (I'll tell you more about that in a moment), decade, playlist, recently added/played, genre, and by using GENIUS you can create playlists based on a single track. Keep your songs rated yourself by paying attention to how many people dance to them. 5 stars is the best rating, and 0/1 is the worst. If not even a few kids dance for a little while to a track - it's safe to say that's a 1-star song. If more than 80% of the youth dance to it, go ahead and rate it 5 stars. This way you can clear out the poorly rated songs every few months to make room for new music. You can add comments to a song's information, too, so labeling them as a fast/slow/group/step song makes it easier to keep track of what you're playing. Time to slow things down? Find a 5 star song you labeled SLOW. Ready to raise the roof? 4-5 star FAST should do the trick. Need to encourage more people out onto the floor? A well-rated GROUP or STEP song (these are the ones people linedance to) will turn up the funk.
A tip about researching lyrics and rhythm: Sometimes, a really really popular song will have just one cussword in it. If you don't find it against your better judgement, you could try finding an edited version of the song with that lyric changed or deleted. If the rhythm isn't dance worthy to your teens, but you know they love to listen to it, usually you can find a faster/slower (Always try slower first) cover version or remix of it somewhere on the internet. The youth will really appreciate you taking this extra step.
Any LDS DJs (actual career DJs or just called to serve) feel free to comment any input you like! It's a forever-learning process, I know. We'll progressively get more in-depth as we go along, but for now the above advice should make a very sizable difference. I know it takes time and effort, but you WILL see results from this.