Selecting DJs and Music
Booking a fandom convention dance is an extremely tough job - no matter what, it's going to be impossible to make everyone happy. The best option in the case of these sorts of events is to shoot for the middle ground, and find music that is agreeable on some level to everyone at the convention. While it's nice to cater to the people who show up dressed like they're headed to a club, it's important to not alienate the rest of the convention, who will most likely drop by once and then leave if they don't like what they see.
House, techno and trance are perfect for most convention dances, and since they hover around 120-130bpm, they are easy to dance to even for people who don't otherwise attend dance events. DJs who can play remixed versions of more popular tracks are always convention dance winners because they can easily straddle the line between the EDM fans and the general convention population. Dubstep, drum and bass, variations of hardcore and hard techno and hardstyle will scare off people who aren't really devoted to spending the night at the dance, so while there's room for them, it's best to stack them towards the end of the night and keep it at a minimum so in general you're not losing people who would otherwise be enjoying the evening. While it's hard to find the right balance (and impress it upon the attendees as well as the DJs,) con dances are not raves. If you want to target your dance towards a very specific niche you can tend towards more underground or fast music, but if you want to get the most out of the event and keep the vast majority of the convention happy, leaning towards pop is a good idea.
While it may be an easy solution to simply hire an entertainment company to play your convention, in general it's a better idea to hire DJs from your particular fandom (there's always someone - promise.) This can either be done on the merit system (i.e. you've seen them play other conventions/events and perform well) or through open auditions which will give you a large selection of sounds to choose from. The benefits of picking someone from inside your community are twofold: one, they are more likely than not willing to play on volunteer terms, saving your con valuable money, and two, they are aware enough of the community to play a set targeted towards them.
Though it's not everything, environment is extremely important to the success of a dance. Clear sound, adequate bass and mood/effect lighting are important for drawing people into the room and keeping them there. Some hotels won't allow the lights in ballrooms to be turned down all the way while occupied - this always kills the mood of the event. Try and avoid this at all costs and clarify in your contract that you will be able to turn off the lights - some hotels have a habit of changing their minds. In general you don't need a terrible amount of equipment to kit out a room for a fun dance - for a small enough event, a subwoofer, two PA speakers on stands and a truss with a couple scanners and LED effects will be more than enough to provide the bare minimum ambiance, and can easily be rented for around $6-700 for a weekend.
Foggers can also do a huge amount to create a fun vibe in the room, but are not always an option. Many hotels will not allow the use of foggers in convention space so be sure to check in with management before attempting to use one. Foggers leave a sticky residue on surfaces after they've been run for a long time, so if the hotel has a policy prohibiting them and you use one, chances are good you'll be charged for the cleaning of the room.
While fog and darkness are fun, you also have to keep in mind that for convention dances there is also a situational 'floor' to which the light level can be lowered. Events where people will be costuming require more light than events where the bulk of your attendees are going to be in plain clothes. While easily-available water is important in general, at dances where convention attendees might be in costume it's an absolute necessity. The water should be placed in an obvious location, possibly close to the exit, and kept restocked as religiously as possible.
Obviously dances are an event that should be scheduled at the end of the day, but be careful with scheduling them too tightly with other big draw events. At many cons, the ballroom is used for major, high-attendance events at night, followed shortly thereafter by the dance - this never works and is a really hard schedule to stick to. Save yourself some stress over slippage on the schedule and give yourself adequate time to set up. Bear in mind that all the chairs may need to be moved out of the room, a dance floor may need to be set down, you will need to lower the lights, hook up the DJs, sound check and otherwise prepare the room for this shift in function. It takes time, and something always goes wrong, particularly if you're setting up with a ragtag staff of convention volunteers (as is often the case.)
Security and Safety
For dance security, the more hands-off you can be, the better. Again, the event is all about mood, and heavy-handed security will kill this fast. There are a few things worth keeping in mind for this sort of event:
- Nobody is going to know what rules you put in place for it, so don't bother fretting about them too much.
- Everything should be based on situation and not policy. This is a fun event. Don't try and box it in.
- Only step in strongly when attempts to resolve issues in a friendly manner have not worked.
While policies banning glowstringing, etc. are theoretically useful, they're not easily enforceable, and effort is much better spent trying to get the people swinging glowsticks around to move to a safer part of the room where they don't risk hitting other people. The same goes with PDA issues (if you choose to enforce that sort of thing) - threats won't work nearly as well as a friendly reminder that they're not quite in the right place to do what they're doing.
At a larger event, you're going to have a hard time controlling illicit substances. Once the number of people at the event reaches critical mass, you're not going to be able to prevent that kind of behavior. While paying to have local law enforcement on property can help as a deterrent for people who don't normally engage in that kind of behavior, it's not a catch all, as a loud, dark room is an easy environment to get away with things in. In this case, a pound of cure is worth an ounce of prevention. If you are dealing with a community where there are legitimate concerns about recreational drugs or people drinking more than they can handle, it will behoove you greatly to have some sort of trained medical staff on-call stationed near the event at all times. While there's a good chance they'll never need to respond to an overdose/alcohol poisoning situation, in the event it ever happens their assistance will be absolutely invaluable and may be the difference between a convention ban and a tragedy.