Do you wonder what it’s like to start and run cosplay groups? As an event organizer for cosplay events myself, and working with dance/photoshoot members, I can truly say cosplay groups are a wonderful thing in this community!
In short, cosplay groups are the best way to make your cosplay aspirations come true. Whether it’s setting up a Love Live! dance group singing and dancing to Happy Holiday – or getting your Fire Emblem Waifus and Husbandos together; cosplay groups are the way to do all this. They also provide great opportunities to meet new people with similar interests.
If this all sounds very appealing and exciting to you, then keep reading!
In this post, I’ll give you my 10 best tips for starting and running cosplay groups.
These strategies give you everything you need to know in order to be successful and have fun without the headaches. I have Breathelifeindeeply from Mahou Dreamers helping me out with this post; a veteran cosplayer and a full-time teacher, she has a lot of experience running a Love Live! dance group.
Without further ado, here are the 10 tips:
NOTE: Due to the pandemic, you shouldn’t attempt to do some of these things at the moment (e.g. meeting up with members). You can still recruit online and do research, but anything involving going outside, you should definitely wait until things are back to normal. But you can always do other stuff to get ready in the meantime.
1. Decide which type of cosplay group you’re looking to start from the get go!
I can say there are 3 types of cosplay groups:
- Cosplay photoshoot group. This is where you simply get a bunch of cosplayers from the same series (e.g. Fire Emblem, My Hero Academia) and take some photos together. It can be as simple as attending a convention and going to the scheduled photoshoot. Or you can book a permit at a park or a studio and plan it out meticulously (e.g. location, makeup, photo assistants). While it surely doesn’t have to be complicated, all photoshoot groups require a bit of planning for the best shots!
- Social gathering/Cosplay picnics for cosplayers. This is where you get together a bunch of cosplayers (or whoever is into the cosplay fandom) for a social gathering. You might ask, “If we have conventions, why bother having cosplay picnics or gatherings?” Well, these types of social gatherings provide an opportunity for cosplayers…to socialize! Conventions can be fast-paced and difficult to meet people, so having a casual gathering is a great way for your attendees to do this. Often there are large gaps in time between conventions, and we cosplayers need an excuse to cosplay more often! That is what social gathering cosplay groups are for.
- Cosplay dance group. This is where you get together with your group and perform dances from popular series such as Vocaloid and Love Live! I’ll be focusing mainly on these kinds of groups as they take the most coordination and planning of the three. An example of a cosplay dance group is none other than the Mahou Dreamers!
I want to distinguish these 3 types of cosplay groups because it’ll be different how you run each one; a Love Live! dance group won’t be the same as a social gathering cosplay group. You don’t want to try to be all 3 at once! So once you know which one you want to do, stick to it to keep things simple and organized.
2. Recruit both friends and strangers for cosplay groups.
“If you want a group where every cosplay is an accurate portrayal of the character series, you’re better off handpicking the group. (Because) if you’re inviting strangers there’s a higher chance of dealing with issues, such as: people cancelling last minute, not having their costumes done or showing up with things not ironed. But if you need to recruit strangers for cosplay groups, then be aware of this ahead of time when opening up to strangers so that you aren’t disappointed WHEN it happens.” ~Mahou Dreamers
Now you know which kind of cosplay group you want, let’s talk about recruiting next. Should you recruit your friends or strangers? Both! As a cosplay group, you’ll likely need a mix of friends and strangers.
Recruiting Friends for cosplay groups
We’ll start with the easier method to recruit cosplay group members – through your friends. Whether you’re looking for friends for your cosplay photoshoot, cosplay gathering or dance group, it’s always easier asking your friends because you know them already. All it takes is messaging them on Facebook or Instagram and seeing if they’re interested in your group or not.
I would recommend finding a friend who has already cosplayed from the same series to make things easier. But if they need to buy or make a new cosplay for your group, then that’s fine as long as you use the right materials (more on this later).
With that said, there are definitely advantages and disadvantages when recruiting friends. Because you know them already and how reliable they are, you’ll find it easier to recruit the right members for your group. And you can easily trust them because you have an established relationship already.
However, recruiting friends can be tricky if you’re not careful. It’ll be harder for you to kick them out if you have to, because they’re your friends. Not only will your friend(s) take it more personally, it could also strain your personal relationship with them as well. Also, you need to careful not to give preferential treatment to your friends. Otherwise, that would cause tension in the group for your non-friend members.
Recruiting Strangers for cosplay groups
What if your friends have never cosplayed from Vocaloid? Or they don’t want to dance or do any photoshoots? Well, that’s where recruiting strangers comes in!
At some point, you’ll need to do this. Like IRL, recruiting people you don’t know personally is more challenging than simply recruiting your friends, but it can lead to great experiences and new opportunities. In fact, it can be very exciting to recruit people you don’t know, because they’re into the same hobby and series as you are!
You’ll have no problems finding people online to be part of cosplay groups. There are so many cosplayers out there, so the sky is the limit.
One huge advantage with recruiting strangers is professionalism. With your friends, that wasn’t the reason you became friends. But with strangers, that’s one quality you’re looking for off the bat.
I remember when I was working with a cosplay group; we recruited someone off the street. This member didn’t have much dancing experience, nor was she really a big fan of the Anime. But her work ethic and professionalism was insane! By far she worked the hardest and practiced the most out of any of the members in that group. Her performance at the event was exceptional. Both the group leader and I loved this member for her work ethic and being amazing to work with. This shows that you don’t need to be friends to have great members.
However, recruiting strangers isn’t always perfect. Some people will join for the wrong reasons; they’re looking for a support group and not a cosplay group to be part of and contribute to (more on this in point #9). Unlike your friends who you’ve known for a while, you won’t truly know how a stranger is until you’ve worked with them for a period of time. So you might see their undesirable and problematic traits come out after you’ve already recruited them.
How do you avoid these problems? By doing this…
3. Screen out your members for your cosplay group; both friends and strangers.
“Recruiting is a challenge: not many are familiar with Love Live! and not many have dance experience. Our group has 18+ age requirements (but we prefer mid 20s). Being in a group is a fairly big commitment, both financially and in time because we attend many cons and desire a level of professionalism.” ~Mahou Dreamers
I highly recommend you go through an application process when recruiting members for cosplay groups, especially if it’s a dance group. For cosplay photoshoot and social gathering groups, you don’t need to do this unless you really are super nitpicky about your photos. But for dance groups, it’s absolutely essential. Otherwise, you might run into problems later on.
According to Breathelifeindeeply, making your prospective members jump through a few hurdles will ensure you have the right people in your cosplay group:
“Our members learn part of a dance and upload it to our audition page. We then interview them and vote to have them join (our group) on a probation period of about 3 months, before they become an official member.
We do all these steps so that we aren’t getting people who join then leave flippantly, or cause drama.
Each person needs to contribute to social media, planning, dance instruction etc. They also need reliable transportation. So finding someone who is reliable and has good teamwork is not always easy. However, so far everyone who has joined (Mahou Dreamers) becomes really passionate and ends up having a great time. So after passing those hurdles, it’s worth it!”
I’ve seen maid café and dance groups do these types of audition processes and it’s very effective to ensure your members are serious about being in a dance group!
4. Find an established place where your cosplay group can meet up.
“We practice in downtown Toronto because it is central. Sometimes we pay for a studio to practice with mirrors and (to) polish the choreography before a performance.” ~Mahou Dreamers
Whichever type of cosplay group you’re starting, you’ll need a place to do your event or practice (photoshoot, dance performance, social gathering).
I see a lot of cosplayers with their group meet up at semi-public areas such as malls, hallways of financial buildings and even on the sidewalk! While these areas are great because they’re free, they’re not the most reliable areas to congregate.
For one, you need permission to be in these areas and you can get kicked out if they don’t want you there.
Many places cost lots of money for a room. Being a cosplay social gathering organizer myself, I can empathize how hard it is finding a place to bring cosplayers together without breaking your wallet. Some places can cost hundreds of dollars an hour, which is way too much if you just want some cosplay photos or a place to practice your moves!
Do not fear however. Here are some affordable places I recommend that won’t destroy your bank account!
- Studio room or community centre (all kinds of cosplay groups). If you search around, you can find small and independent businesses who rent out their space for very affordable prices. For example, the Mint Room in Toronto has studio rooms for $80/hour (as of 2020), which is fairly reasonable if you have your members pitch in for the costs. You can also try community centres, as they have decent rates as well.
- Your home (cosplay dance groups and cosplay photoshoots). If someone has a decently-sized house or apartment, this is the best place to practice or get cosplay photos. It’s free and you can make as much noise as you want (relatively speaking). Be sure to pitch in for food or drinks for whoever is hosting at their house! This is wonderful for dance groups as you can practice as often as you want.
- Outdoor parks with a permit (cosplay social gatherings). Parks are a grey area when it comes to bringing any cosplay group for a gathering. You might be able to get away with a few cosplayers as a dance group (if you’re not blasting your music extremely loud), but I don’t recommend gathering at park unless you have a permit. Cities want to make money for using their parks, and they do so by charging photography and social gathering permits. I’ve had friends who’ve almost got fined when they tried to setting up their tripod. O when they had more than 25 people cosplayers in one park area without a permit. In Toronto the park social gathering permit is fairly cheap, around $80-$100 for the whole day. But the photography permit is way more expensive, reaching over $200 AN HOUR! So parks are great for cosplay social gatherings and maybe cosplay dance groups (if they’re okay with the noise). But for cosplay photography, I don’t recommend due to the high cost of a permit. You’re better off shooting in a private studio for much cheaper, or at the convention for free.
- Bar lounges or eSports venues (cosplay social gatherings). Bar lounges or geek lounges are superb venues to get cosplayers together for an evening. I used to hold events for my cosplay social gathering group at venues like See-Scape. What made these places great; the awesome and generous owners and the fun atmosphere!
You’ll have to look around and look for a venue that isn’t crazy expensive. You want to avoid large and popular places that ask you to put an enormous monetary deposit (like $500 or $1000) to hold an event. Try to go for the smaller venues that let you hold an event for free, or only require people entering to buy food or drinks at the bar (which is very reasonable).
5. With cosplay groups, Communication is KEY.
“I’d say the #1 most important thing when it comes to running the group is making sure all the members have a voice. Communication is so important with any group. When you’re learning group dances, preforming, and coordinating together it’s super important that everyone is comfortable with each other. If someone in a group feels they’re not being listened to, that’s when problems come up and groups can fall apart.”~Soleil Stars
I won’t spend too much time on this point, but it goes without saying that you need to communicate with your cosplay group members consistently.
- Listening to concerns that your members have
- Being open to suggestions
- Accepting criticism (remember we’re human and we all make mistakes)
What’s also important is finding a method to communicate with each other. I recommend using Facebook to coordinate cosplay meetups and to message your members. In my experience, most cosplayers are on Facebook, so it’s the best social media platform.
6. If your cosplay group is cosplaying from the same series, then it’s very important where you get your costumes.
“I’d say to all agree to purchase from the same store so everyone matches properly.” ~1,2 Shine
If you’re a cosplay dance group, you want everyone’s outfit to match exactly the same. It’s better to order from the same website or manufacturer. Because that Vocaloid outfit you ordered from one website can look totally different from the outfit that one of your members got from another website.
I remember hosting a maid café where this became a minor issue. While most of the maids had the standard black-and-white dress, one of them only had a pink-coloured outfit. While it certainly didn’t ruin the event, seeing a different-coloured outfit in a sea of black-and-white outfits was interesting to say the least. Still, it was an awesome event. But in any case, this is something to definitely consider.
7. Cosplay groups will cost money, so make sure your members contribute!
“If a photoshoot is important to you then recruit a photographer early on and have the other group members do a down payment, even nonrefundable, to reduce last minute drop outs.” ~Mahou Dreamers
At some point, you’ll have to spend money on your cosplay group. This can range from buying permits, renting out studios, paying your photographer, to purchasing all the costumes in bulk. Make sure you’re not the only one paying for everything! Get your members to pitch in for these kinds of things.
Here’s a guide on finding a cosplay photographer and how to get the best photoshoot possible!
As Breathelifeindeeply mentioned, you can enforce a down payment before you commit to financial things like paying for costumes or booking a photoshoot. Most people will happily pitch in for stuff that’s cheap anyway. Whether it’s buying costumes, or booking a studio or photographer, it shouldn’t be more than $100 in total. That would mean if you have 5-10 members contributing, that would be close to $5-$10 per person.
P.S. Also a friendly reminder that if you’re in debt, cosplay groups should be the last thing on your mind!
8. Be affirmative about the rules you make for your cosplay group, and be sure to uphold them.
Another important part of running cosplay groups is having a clear set of rules and making sure people follow them.
For a cosplay photoshoot group, you don’t really need too many rules other than making sure people show on time and not letting anyone interrupt your photographer. Seriously, getting interrupted during a photoshoot is a huge pet peeve for cosplayers!
For a cosplay social gathering group, it may not seem like you need a lot of rules; just bring some cosplayers together at a park or bar and you’re good to go, right? Not quite.
Because your cosplay event may be open to the public, you will get all sorts of people. While I can tell you that MOST people at cosplay social events are great and abide by the rules, you’re going to have to deal with a few troublemakers at some point.
Here are a few that I had to deal with in the past:
- A group of attendees sneaking in their own alcohol in the venue and leaving it on the table after they left (not sure who did this but my event almost got shut down because of these idiots)
- One of the attendees purposely dropping the karaoke microphone on the floor (I banned this individual from our events after doing this)
- Giving alcohol to someone who was underage (bar owners can get into a LOT of trouble, so don’t let this happen!)
Again, most attendees are good people and won’t cause you any problems. But for the ones that do, you need to either warn them or kick them out of the event because ultimately you are liable for anything that happens.
For a cosplay dance group, having rules and regulations not only keeps the group running smoothly and drama-free, but allows your members to ensure they are practicing and getting better with the performance.
This isn’t really my expertise, so I’ll let the Mahou Dreamers speak for me on this one…
The system we’ve developed over time is a “strike system.” As mentioned before, we create a contract for each member to sign which includes rules such as:
- Uploading a practice video to our private Facebook page once a week (to show they’re practicing)
- Showing up to performances on time
- Attending the monthly mandatory group practice
- Contributing to the group (e.g. social media, making props, planning cons)
- Being professional and respectful to other members
We made the guidelines very thorough; when (the guidelines are) broken, members get a strike. At 3 strikes, the group either votes to have the member removed. Or to give one more chance (e.g. terms of things the member has to do to stay in the group).
Right now this system is working very well. Every member is clear on the expectations, and our group is very strong with no drama and running quite smoothly. These rules meant we could focus on creating something as a group and having fun.
Without these clear contract expectations, it would be difficult getting people to commit. Now the difficulty is more around recruiting. But once we do recruit (someone) we find they’re committed, with everyone having the same vision and passion.
9. Remember that you’re a cosplay group and not a social support group.
“A lot of people who join these groups are looking for a friendship group or circle of support. They often have mental health needs, so sometimes practice turned into more of a “counseling” session. So we had to be stricter with recruiting; as a group we decided to prioritize “being a Love Live! group” over “being a friend group” because we were getting nothing done. ~Mahou Dreamers
Now I’m not saying to be cold-hearted and not care about your members and their well-being. It’s okay to be a shoulder to lean on for your members. But at the same time, you must remember the purpose of your cosplay group isn’t to be a therapist! Unless you have a PhD in that field, you are not qualified to give the proper advice anyways. Being too socially supportive is very mentally draining, and ultimately takes away the focus of your cosplay group.
You can still be helpful and giving them resources to deal with their mental health or give them advice. But know your boundaries between helping out sporadically and deferring them to someone professional to help them out. Yes, some might get offended. But you got to put your group first.
10. Practice makes perfect!
“The easiest way to learn a new dance is by copying a good PV (performance video) that’s already been mirrored and uploaded to YouTube. After you learn the basic moves, as a group you tweak certain parts to your tasting. For example, ‘instead of stepping our left foot back at this part, let’s turn to the side because it will look better.’”
This mainly applies to cosplay dance and photoshoot groups. The more you practice with each other, the better the group will be at cosplay modelling and dancing. There are a lot of ways to improve your craft! Here are a few ideas:
- Uploading videos of you practicing the dance moves
- Helping each other with things such as cosplay makeup
- Compiling reference photos for your character
- Watching other dance groups perform and seeing how they move
- Getting feedback and suggestions from your members
- Watching YouTube tutorial videos
- Practicing taking selfies and doing self photoshoots on your own time
Here is some practical advice from Mahou Dreamers for learning your favourite dance:
“For the most part, Love Live! and Vocaloid dances are easy to learn; you don’t need dance experience, just a general sense of rhythm. It’s not like K-pop or hip-hop where you need fluid body control.
Love Live! is more like:
a) Pose 1. Step over here now
b) Pose 2. Step back and forth now
c) Pose 3. I learn by taking screen shots of each “pose,” practicing them, then following the video at day 70% speed until it becomes more fluid.”
To summarize again, here are the 10 tips for starting and running your own cosplay group:
- Decide which type of cosplay groups you’re looking to start from the get go!
- Recruit both friends and strangers for cosplay groups
- Screen out your members, both friends and strangers
- Find an established place where you can meet up.
- Communication is KEY.
- If your group is cosplaying from the same series, then it’s very important where you get your costumes.
- Cosplay groups will cost money, so make sure your members contribute!
- Be affirmative about the rules you make for your cosplay group, and be sure to uphold them.
- Remember that you’re a cosplay group and not a social support group.
- Practice makes perfect!
What’s most important is having fun of course.
Cosplay groups might sound all tedious and maybe nerve-wracking. But in fact, cosplay groups are hell of a lot of fun! We all work interesting jobs and careers, and cosplay groups are a great hobby to get away from it all. You get to meet awesome cosplayers and people who are into the hobby. And the best reason is that it gives you an excuse to cosplay more often!
“It really important to remember that as a cosplay idol or casual dance group member, you’re not a professional. Things don’t have to be 100% perfect, and they almost never will be. It should be more about having fun and enjoying what you’re doing than getting everything right. Performances with a group that’s having fun are almost always more engaging and entertaining for the audience anyway.” ~Soleil Stars
There you have it; 10 best tips for starting and running cosplay groups.
I hope this guide will be everything you need to start your dream cosplay group that you’ve been thinking about all this time. And as always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will answer them!