Sidmouth Folk Week 2009: Calculations of floor area and venue capacity for dancing.

This webpage gives guidance on the number of folk dancers that can comfortably be accommodated in dance halls or marquees. It is based on early experiences at Sidmouth FolkWeek when (sometimes) dancers were packed like sardines in overheated halls. The data agree broadly with those given on IVFDF websites. The calculations include income per square metre - showing why so many festivals prefer to use available space for concerts! Fire regulations often set a hall limit but this can be higher than the comfortable number for dancing. For persons seated, the limit can be lower - because chairs (and especially loose chairs) can get in the way of people rushing to fire exits.

As a rule of thumb for dancing - one square metre (1m2) per dancer is 'jam packed' (as in sardines in a tin), 1.5 m2 per dancer is reasonable but can be a bit tight if the shape of the hall is awkward for dancing, 2 m2 per dancer should give adequate space for all types of folk dance and 3 m2 per dancer is over-generous. These are actual dance areas - not the gross area of the hall before space for chairs, bands, loudspeakers etc are subtracted.

Income per square metre.

The Ham marquee provides a starting point for calculating how much income the festival could expect from a given floor area.

The overall size of the Ham marquee in 2009 was 25 by 50 metres or 1250 m2.  Seating capacity was 1050 and with a maximum ticket price of 18. Some people would have purchased reduced price tickets, so the likely maximum gross income per event would be 17,000. The actual seating area, including walkways, was 25 by 29 metres or 725 m2 - this was the area that could have been utilised for dancing had the marquee been designed for this purpose. If an allowance was made for chairs at the sides, this might reduce to 650 m2.

Many dance venues at Sidmouth FolkWeek and elsewhere are packed with too many people - so there is inadequate room to dance. A few calculations based on local halls are instructive.

The hall at Gittisham (near Sidmouth) has an available area of about 53 m2 and can accommodate up to 36 dancers comfortably and 42 at a maximum - so as a rule of thumb each dancer needs at least one square metre of floor space and preferably 1.5 m2. Calculations on known comfortable maximum numbers for other local halls give similar results. The best overall guidance for a small hall if you don't want dancers to feel at all crowded is perhaps 2 m2 per dancer - which at Gittisham would suggest 27/28 dancers. With this number, the hall is indeed comfortable.

The Blackmore dance floor in 2009 was 28 by 56 feet - or 146 m2, and that at the Bulverton was only slightly larger.

The Methodist Hall had an available dance area (excluding chairs at the sides and ends) of about 30 by 24 feet - or 67 m2 and St Teresa's Hall had an available area of about 18 by 42 feet - or 70 m2. On crowded days, both these halls accommodated about 70 people each - so the 1m2 per dancer rule is valid, at least for sardines. (Note added 2011: at the Irish Set dance workshops in St Teresa's hall the caller specified a maximum of 64 people (8 sets) and it felt quite full - and Irish Set Dance needs less space than do many other forms of dance, both because the dancers are generally more disciplined and because the sets are compact.)

Both the Blackmore Gardens marquee and the Bulverton regularly exceeded their 'capacity', often by a large margin. This explains why it can be so difficult to dance at these venues. Over 90% of local folk dancers avoid Sidmouth Folk Week completely, and some cite 'too crowded' as a reason. However, it would be interesting to discover if this was the prime reason.

As for the Ham marquee, whilst it could accommodate 650 tightly packed dancers the likely maximum gross income would be about a third that of holding a major concert. Even a top name ceilidh dance band would be unlikely to command more than a 10 ticket price (2009 prices). However, the band would cost far less than a top name concert act, so the economics are not as skewed in favour of concerts as might first appear - 17,000 ticket sales could easily reduce to 10,000 net income. The major issue however is that whilst you can reliably fill 1000 concert seats you would be unlikely to find 1000 people who would want to spend an evening at a ceilidh - and certainly you would have problems finding 1000 who could dance.

So the Ham is destined to stay as a concert venue!

Consideration needs to be given to providing larger venues for the social dance and (if anything) increasing the size of the Blackmore Gardens dance floor - maybe by providing a larger dance floor within the same size marquee and putting some of the the chairs outside - under cover if possible! This could be expensive and for little marginal benefit. Note added 2015 - this is indeed what has been done in recent years!


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