Here I present my write-up of the WCS survey I shared on Facebook in late March and early April of 2021. If you’d like a PDF of the survey to reference, I’ve made one available here.
None of this is perfect, and I’m sure you’ll find things I could have done better all over. Still, I hope this information can be helpful to people and, at least, should serve as an interesting snapshot of what our attitudes looked like during this specific pandemic period.
If you’re not statistically minded, you can always skim until the ‘Conclusions’ heading, though I caution you to take anything learned from this survey with a healthy grain of salt.
While this survey and its results are mostly relegated to the dust of history at this point, it is gratifying for me to note that many of the Event Directors I spoke to in 2021 and early 2022 who were able to run events found that running a Vaccine-Only event resulted in participation numbers that were around 75-80% of pre-pandemic numbers, which is consistent with what this survey suggested might be the case. That could be a happy coincidence, but my pride would like to think this survey was onto something. In addition, I know of at least four event directors who used data from this survey to make informed decisions about whether to run their event and how to structure it, which is gratifying as well. JT
In late March 2021, I helped create a survey seeking a limited understanding of the WCS community’s attitudes towards Vaccines, Social Dancing, and Competitions.
This survey, in cooperation with the Wild Wild Westie team, was blinded to understand some specific questions they had before announcing the return of their event later this year. Bringing back an event is a contentious subject in these times, and getting good information before making any public announcement seemed a prudent step.
My personal goal in the project was to share these results with community leaders across the country (and the world), as I felt there might be valuable insights that could help people understand how dancers felt.
Shortly after announcing the survey, some excellent concerns were raised about the format and content of the survey, especially given my position, privilege, and life experience. As it turned out, there were many dimensions of the WCS experience that the survey did not provide options for or did not ask about entirely. That left essential segments of our community feeling neglected or excluded. I take responsibility for not thinking through and seeing the potential for these consequences and have learned an important lesson from this experience. I humbly ask the community’s forgiveness for any pain caused. More on this a bit later.
Over seven days, 562 people participated in the survey, giving us a reasonably large sample of the WCS community. I had hoped for 50-100 responses, so this was nearly an order of magnitude more engagement than I expected! However, this sample may not represent the broader population of WCS dancers. This data is intended to be a jumping-off point for conversations, not a definitive guide to the community’s thoughts.
Besides, this survey represents only a snapshot of time, best thought of as the first week of April 2021, and should be treated with less and less regard as weeks and months roll on. Community opinion can and will change, which should be considered when drawing any inference from this survey.
The primary survey data is available to the community on this view-only spreadsheet. The free-response questions have been separated and randomized by row to provide the maximum anonymity possible to survey respondents. (Some responses could have been identified when paired with some of the demographic information.) The third sheet is a variables list for the conjoint analysis, explained later.
This survey was primarily interested in answering questions regarding the WCS Community’s feelings about:
- Requiring immunity at events
- How this intersects with social dancing and competition format.
We collected additional information about survey demographics to understand the makeup of the survey audience and their comfortability with attending events from a financial standpoint, something many event directors are concerned about, given the significant disruptions to specific industries over the past year.
To cast as wide a net as possible, I designed the survey to be anonymous and ask as few questions as felt reasonable. Since I did not collect any identifying information, it is theoretically possible that some respondents may have completed the survey more than once. This seems unlikely, and I will push forward assuming this has not happened, but I want to note the possibility here.
Additionally, to maximize the anonymity of the survey, free-response answers have been removed from their accompanying demographic information in the public dataset.
Time-Bounded Nature of Responses
As mentioned in the introduction, I should note that this survey represents a snapshot in time. We should expect public and personal opinion to shift an inestimable amount as vaccinations roll out across the country and perceptions about safety and health evolve. Many things could change public opinion, including a successful vaccination campaign that achieves herd immunity or a mutation of the virus that plunges us back into quarantine.
All of this is to say: we should take this data and any conclusions that we might draw from it with a sizable grain of salt, and as time goes on, the results of this survey will be less and less reflective of current moods.
This survey, like any survey, has bias. The survey was distributed primarily on Facebook, which some dancers don’t use or have access to. Also, there was no incentive to take the survey (no payment for the time taken, etc.). Hence, respondents were self-selecting into providing these opinions, which may cause a skew towards those with stronger opinions to be over-represented. What’s more, my Facebook friends list is, in some ways, a reflection of my history and personal demographics, so it is likely that those most likely to see and take the survey were probably young, disproportionately white, and may not represent the WCS community in other important ways. Without good demographic benchmarks of the community to compare this data to, it’s hard to say for sure, but this is my impression.
Additionally, my personal feelings about these issues tend to be pro-vaccine requirements, and in subtle ways, this may have shaped the way I am presenting these results. I’ve provided all of the data and methods—to the best of my ability—so that others can draw their conclusions.
Controversy and Mistakes in Survey Design
The survey would have better served the community with questions about safety, inclusion, and attitudes toward people with extreme or exclusionary views or statements. An option for people to say that they have a medical condition that prevents them from receiving the vaccine would also have been excellent. Failing to include these was a significant problem for some (as evidenced by some of the free-response answers and the discourse on social media) and should be considered for future surveys and when interpreting the survey results.
In short, the effect of this survey on some respondents reinforced racist and ableist notions, which was painful.
Again, I’d like to take responsibility for this. In retrospect, I certainly could have thought more deeply about the impact the survey would have had on its respondents, and my failure to do so caused some to feel ignored or not valued. I apologize for any harm caused and will bring this perspective into future efforts in the community.
The first section of the survey asked a series of demographic questions to get an idea of who was taking the survey and where they lived. What follows is a summary of those results.
82.7% of respondents stated that they lived within the USA, with a somewhat even distribution of locations across the South, West Coast, Midwest, and slightly less from the East Coast. This way of dividing the country was a rough estimate (at best) but seems not to have been too confusing for people. 11.2% of responses came from Europe.
A majority of respondents (66%) fell between the ages of 21 and 40, probably reflecting a bias in my Facebook friend preferences (where I posted the survey), or simply a technology barrier for those who are older and may not have seen the survey. My instinct is that this is a younger set of respondents than I would guess based on who I see at social dances and events, but without good community-wide data to compare this to, it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty.
Twenty-eight respondents (5%) preferred not to say. More interestingly, 46.2% of respondents said they’d already been vaccinated against Covid 19. I did not ask if it was ‘fully vaccinated,’ so we should assume these people have received some form of vaccination, even if only a first dose.
The fact that 85% of those surveyed say they either have already been vaccinated or plan to do so when available is quite interesting.
While we don’t have pre-pandemic benchmarks to compare this to, it seems encouraging that only <10% of respondents claimed that their financial situation would likely prevent them from attending events. Over 50% of respondents said they had ‘Some, but not a ton.’ On the whole, I’d say this is an encouraging result, though the 10% who are feeling strapped should not be ignored. The pandemic has disproportionately affected specific groups, and, likely, the most at-risk members of our community are also those who feel the financial burden the most acutely.
Seventeen people (3%) preferred not to answer this question. Of those who did respond, the most significant percentage of respondents were fine attending either kind of event. At the same time, just slightly fewer said they would only participate in an immunity event.
For our purposes, it’s probably helpful to look at it this way: ~75% of respondents would attend an Immunity-only event, while only ~50% would attend an event that did not ask about immunity. That’s probably helpful info for Event Directors to know.
It’s worth noting that, in the free-response section, some of those who said they would attend either type of event also said that they would feel sad about an event that excluded people who did not get vaccinated. They either believed it should be a personal choice or felt that those who could not get vaccinated due to health concerns were being discriminated against.
However, far more respondents said they would not attend any event that didn’t require vaccination, and many wanted masks to be mandatory as well.
On the whole, people do seem quite divided and polarized. As a note for those wishing to interpret this data, remember that respondents from this survey were from all over (see demographics). If you want a more specific look at what people in your geographical area feel, you might do well to subset the data by region and then look at the breakdown for that subset. I have not done that for these data, though perhaps if you badger me enough, I can pull something together for you.
RESULTS – Rankings
After understanding how people felt about requiring immunity/vaccination, the main goal of this survey was to see what preferences people would have regarding social style and comp format.
As an aside, some reviewers of this write-up noted that segmenting the dataset by those who said they would only attend an immunity-only event might provide instructive context here, as people likely answered this question differently based on what kind of an event they believed they were attending. For example, I might rank these choices differently at an Immunity-only event vs. an event that doesn’t ask about Immunity. In the interest of time and getting these results out into the world sooner rather than later, I have not done this. I believe this would be an excellent direction to dig further into this data, and if anyone feels inspired to do so, you have my full support!
The raw bar graphs above give a pretty good indication of how people felt. However, I also explored this data with a conjoint analysis to understand how these preferences interacted.
The essential inference to draw attention to in the bar graph is that things are somewhat sharply divided. We can think of “Full, WSDC” at one end of the spectrum and “Limited, Strictly” at the other. If we look at these two options, more people preferred “Full, WSDC” for their first place, but both had their highest bars at 1st and 6th place. This might be an effect of, again, them being somewhat at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, and there were plenty of people who rated both 2nd-5th. Still, I also think this divide points to some of the polarization that is going on in the world more broadly.
I won’t take the time to fully explain the idea of conjoint analysis, both because I am by no means an expert and because it would take up more time than is reasonable for this summary.
It is a statistical method that investigates the partial utilities (how valid a variable is for predicting consumer behavior) of different attribute combinations when presented to potential consumers. If you’d like to learn more about it, check out the Wikipedia article.
Also, it’s been a while since I had to make pretty graphs in ggplot2, so please excuse the drabness of these bar plots. I dusted off many rusty R skills for this, and not everything came back quickly! Speaking of R, if you’d like the code used to create and clean these datasets, I’ve put that on GitHub so you can use that and not re-do all of the work I did to get there.
The conjoint analysis didn’t reveal much that can’t be intuited from the bar plots above, but it does present it in a way that is somewhat easier to interpret.
First, the relative importance between the two variables (Social style vs Comp style) was pretty evenly split, with about 50% importance assigned to each one. I’m not convinced this is not an artifact of the survey design, however, as there were only two variables to choose from, and all of the rankings were evenly spaced (I didn’t ask people to score the options, just rank them). I ran a conjoint analysis on some subsets of the data, and there were some minor fluctuations in the relative importance, but for the most part, it stayed pretty near 50/50.
More importantly, overall, there was a preference for a Full Social over a Limited Social. Since there are only two variables, their utilities will necessarily sum to zero. If the idea of ‘Utility’ is new to you, it means how useful the attribute is in predicting where somebody will rank a specific option on average. A positive utility means that options with this attribute (e.g. ‘Full’ below) are associated with a better rank.
It would seem that there is an average preference for a full social as opposed to a limited one.
This seems like a good moment to remind everyone that just because people say it’s something they might prefer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go with that. Also, just because they might prefer a Full Social doesn’t mean they wouldn’t attend an event with a Limited Social. In the free response, many people said they just wanted to get dancing again and that the format didn’t matter to them as much as the dancing.
Most interesting for me, there was a clear preference for Jack and Jills over Strictlies. This went against my natural inclination, though it’s not wholly unexpected. See the graph below.
Strictlies were associated with a negative utility, while both Fun Jack and Jills and WSDC Jack and Jills were preferred, on average. It’s helpful to note that, in the one subsetting experiment I did (analyzing data from those who responded that they resided in the ‘South’ part of the United States), the utility for the ‘Fun’ Jack and Jill was essentially Zero. Instead, there was a strong preference for WSDC JnJ’s over Fun and Strictly.
In either case, it’s interesting to note that WSDC Jack and Jills appear to, on average, still be a preference for many people.
It’s also worth noting that just because people say they might like something doesn’t necessarily mean it is the safest or most effective option for an event to provide. Just because someone might prefer a WSDC JnJ doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t participate in or enjoy a Fun JnJ or Strictly.
The coefficients and significance for each of these variables are listed below. The intercept is, naturally, 3.5 because the average of 1+…6 is 3.5.
Everything except ‘Fun JnJ’ was significant at a <0.001 P level, while ‘Fun JnJ’ achieved significance only at the 0.1 level. I’m not overly concerned about the significance of the ‘Fun JnJ’ as the more exciting result involves comparing WSDC JnJ’s to Strictly, in my opinion.
Lastly, here are the part-worth utilities tied to each variable:
FREE RESPONSE ANSWERS
With over 480 respondents filling out these questions, reading all the answers and trying to code them or rigorously collate them would be a significant undertaking. I was not expecting this number of people to take the survey, quite frankly.
Because carefully reading 33,000+ words and coding all of the responses is beyond my pay grade, I haven’t done that. If some intrepid volunteer wants to attack this part of the dataset, I’d love to hear from you!
All that said, having read through most of the responses at least cursorily, some common threads have emerged:
- A primary concern of some respondents was not supporting event directors or event staff who have espoused racist, sexist, etc., discriminatory viewpoints — Basically, those who don’t share their values. This was also a large issue in the discourse that developed on social media surrounding the survey.
- A smaller number also said they didn’t want to see any event target pros for “exercising free speech” and things like this.
- People are anxious about the risk of community transmission and turning events into large-spread epicenters.
- Many say they do not tolerate those unwilling to wear masks or get vaccines.
- On the other hand, a very vocal minority feels that any effort to require masks, vaccinations, etc., would be discriminatory and, according to some, illegal.
- People with health conditions preventing them from getting vaccinated feel concerned about becoming pariahs or unable to do a thing they love because they are ineligible for vaccination.
- Many requests for community education programs on consent, respectful behavior, how to say and accept ‘no’ as an answer for a social dance invitation, etc.
- Some said things along the lines of ‘We don’t have enough info to be making any decisions yet, so why are you broaching this subject?’
If you’d like the entire dataset (with demographics tied to free responses) to comb through this part of the survey, I’m happy to provide it upon request, after discussing how to make sure all responses stay anonymized, etc.
At the end of the day, what can we say?
The big takeaways from this are, for me, as follows:
- 75% of people say they would attend an immunity-only event. 50% say they would attend one that doesn’t ask.
- People are concerned about many social issues, especially perceived safety and not supporting people with bigoted views.
- #1 preference was for Full Social, WSDC J&J. However, just because people want it doesn’t mean a safer option would not be better in the long run. Events must take into consideration all of their constituents and their safety.
- ~90% of people have some money for events this year, while 10% are feeling financially strapped.
- A vocal minority will not get vaccinated and think that any attempt to incentivize or coerce them to do so is an affront to their rights.
- Most importantly, survey data alone should not be the basis for any decisions. Leaders should consider what choices keep community members safe, not just majority-rules preferences.
Again, I’d like to encourage anybody reading this to take everything presented here with several grains of salt.
First, this survey is not necessarily a representative sample of the WCS community in general; neither is it necessarily a good proxy for your local area. My bias may have also influenced the way I presented this.
Also, to reiterate, just because, on average, people may prefer something doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy an alternative. Everyone should think critically about which choices keep community members the safest, not just the ones that are the most popular.
Finally, the results of this survey are time-bounded and likely not worth much as the landscape continues to change. I’d hesitate to put much stock in this analysis after June, at the latest. Opinions could change much more quickly than that, even.
Thank you for reading this, and I hope to see everyone someday!
– Joel T
P.s. Thank you to Tracy, Connie, Sarah, Melissa, Danny, Raphie, Jen, D’Leene, John, Jeff, Paul, Ryan, and others for lending me their considerable intellect for improving this write-up prior to publication! I appreciate your help. Thank you again!