I would like to write a post about anti-semitism, and why it’s important to address it, but I have a big event on in 3 weeks and I’m fucking crazy insane busy. And this is the sort of post that needs thought and care.
Why am I still harping on about this?
Because every day I’m moderating comments that get the lines about how this was just a joke, and we should get over it.
A most recent comment:
They probably took the ILHC as a friendly gathering, in where you could be irreverent and everyone takes a healthy laugh and ignores it.
That shit is scary. Scary scary scary.
I get onto the 422 to Newtown at 5pm, and take a seat next to this skinny little hipster guy. He had a bad case of massive-balls, so his legs were spread pretty wide, but I figured my big, wide feminist load practicing land-and-expand would ensure an equal distribution of seat. So I pull out my book and start reading.
But skinny hipster bro was resisting land-and-expand, and my wide load was falling into the aisle. So part of the way down King Street, I say (politely, because it’s never a good idea to pick a fight on public transport), “Would you mind moving over a bit please? I can’t quite fit on the seat.”
Now hipster bro had obviously been boiling away in silent rage all that time, and I hadn’t noticed. He says “No! I can’t move over any further!”
I smile and wait.
He leaps to his feet and shouts “Well, alright, if you’re going to TAKE OVER anyway!” and he waits for me to move so he can leave the seat.
This is where I allow myself a little smile. Poor little hipster bro, frothing in impotent rage, thwarted by my wide load, trapped against the bus window. And then I get up and out of his way, and sit back down.
He’s still boiling, because, as he backs away, he yells something about there being “Lots of other seats!” and as he lowers his (skinny) arse into one “See? Here’s one!” and I smile, because my wide load and me now have a seat to ourselves.
I did think to myself, as I walked up King street later, that he’d missed a prime opportunity to throw a fat-shaming “Your arse is too big for this seat and I!” comment. And I was also surprised by just how unthreatening or undisturbing I’d found him. He was too little, too skinny, too fashionable to frighten me. I knew I could probably take him in a fight if it came to it, and I definitely knew I could bring the verbal smack down. But I’d just used my most politest request, and my least threatening smile.
If you think I’m up in the crank states, I assure you: you ain’t seen nothing yet.
I’m going to address an issue which is sufficiently abstract and pedantic that it may be too persnickety even for the pages of CRANK: the energy economy of pretty much every popular science fiction TV series or film makes no sense at all.
I think Suzanne Nguyen and Daniel Reeders’ piece Defining and Responding to Everyday Racism is useful to the discussion about race, ethnicity, and anti-semitism in lindy hop happening at the moment. It gives me some tools for figuring out just why these recent events get right up my bum.
I am heartily tired of people insisting that such and such is a ‘really nice guy’ (oh, i’ve known him for a million years, he’s my bff, he’s so nice!) or ‘just made a mistake (yet again)’ (she’s russian! we don’t know about black face!), or ‘he’s harmless’ (he’s just being a dick. Again. He’s harmless), and so they can’t have been engaging in racist/anti-semitic behaviour.
There seem to be an awful lot of privileged white guys who are ‘just joking’ when they wear black face or black face or a fat suit or make an anti-semitic gesture in high profile dance competitions. Just once, and I’d think aberration. But so many times, and I’m thinking pattern.
I don’t even think these are as simple as the ‘micro-aggressions’ described in Suzanne and Daniel’s piece: this is a straight up pattern of bullshit which reminds the lindy hop community that straight white folk have power in our community. And if we question the dodgy things people do, we are just ‘not getting the joke’. Apparently ‘the joke’ is that it’s ok for white guys to pull offensive bullshit that effectively normalises racism, anti-semitism… and all that other nasty stuff.
I have a minute (when I really should be working):
(via yehoodi on faceplant)
Deary me, this one is a mess.
My first comment is: if someone has to be dared to do something, surely they’ve figured out that it’s not a great idea? Or that there’s some sort of risk?
And I don’t buy the ‘living outside France, didn’t really know what was up with the quenelle argument.’ I live outside France, I’m not French, and even I’ve learnt about the quenelle.
My second comment is: you made a neo-nazi, anti-semitic gesture at an international dance competition. Not once, but several times. Your friends (high profile, international level lindy hop teachers) dared you to do it.
So you and your friends made a gesture which is associated with groups who advocate (and perpetrate) violence against jews in a public forum, in front of an audience of hundreds (thousands if you include the internet). You meant to make the gesture – it wasn’t an accident.
At the very least, all of them have (or _should_ have) jeopardised future teaching contracts around the world, and at the worst, you’ve presented the ILCH and lindy hop as a community that is not only ok with anti-semitism, but advocates violence. More to the point, even if you all were blissfully unaware of the real meaning of the gesture (and I call bullshit on that point), you have all made it clear that you have very poor judgement, and are likely to do very stupid things just on a dare. Not exactly great qualities in a teacher who’ll be flown around the world at great expense to teach dance and work as a role model and mentor to lindy hoppers in many different scenes.
The part that bothers me most about all of this, is that event organisers will probably still hire you to mentor and work with dancers in their scenes, even though you’ve made it clear that you are capable of fairly serious failures of common sense.
To my mind, even the very best apology you can possibly make will not in any way wipe this slate clean.
“Oh, it’s ok, he’s a nice guy who just wants to have fun. So his anti-semitism was just a joke.”
“It’s awful we can’t watch their routine any more, because my pleasure in their dancing is more important than their anti-semitism.”
Lindy hoppers, get a fucking reality check. We’re talking about two French dancers knowingly including an anti-semitic gesture in a dance routine at an international lindy hop competition. There is no way they would not known what quenelle is – the gesture is freaking illegal in France. And to argue that this gesture is ‘just anti-authoritarian’ rather than anti-semitic is one fucked up argument. Your government has made anti-semitic gestures illegal, so your making that gesture is ok because you’re just ‘fighting the man’, and can’t possibly be contributing to, or normalising, anti-semitic sentiment? PUHLEESE.
I hadn’t heard anything about this issue until it had mostly passed, because I was running an event that weekend, and have been very busy since, but when a friend commented about it on facebook, I commented with:
Wowsers. That’s really full on. I didn’t know anything about quenelle before this, so I didn’t recognise it in the routine. I did go and look it up, though, and it’s clearly a fairly offensive gesture. On the one hand it’s a hitlerian salute – an inverted ‘heil hitler’ gesture’ with clear anti-semitic overtones. On other hand, the meaning of the gesture has changed a bit in France to more ‘anti-establishment’. HOWEVER, the gesture is banned in France, and is so well-known, and so hotly debated, that you’d have to be living under a rock in France if you didn’t know that it is considered anti-semitic, and is used by scary arse neo-nazis in France.
I don’t think many australians (or perhaps americans?) realise just how scary the new right (neo-nazi) movement is in Europe at the moment, and it seems ridiculous that people would make a ‘hitlerian’ gesture at all. But Irene and William made a very poor judgement using that gesture. While they may have been riffing on the ‘momma, you treat your daughter mean’ theme in the dance, it was a bad thing to do. And it was correct for ILHC to immediately distance themselves from that – they do _not_ want that sort of gesture associated with their event. No matter what the intent.
I’d double check the facts on this, though, as Rick’s made some factual errors on the yehoodi site lately.
William’s response to this issue:
William Mauvais: Hey guys, im sorry if i have hurt anybody with the routine it was not our intention and i think this is really crazy!!!!!
My mom and i worked so hard from far away, i leave in France she lives in Canada and she worked pretty hard by herself to make this routine fun. Anyway all of those things are going so far… We are dancers and not politicians!!!!!!
Anyway i think that this is really sad. Take off a video from youtube especially when its a swing routine with no political thoughts behind except the joy of sharing our passion.
For those who see something im very sorry but thats not the meaning we wanted to have….
Its just sad that my mom cannot share this video with our family cause that’s why we did it, because we are leaving far from each other and all our family wants to see what a son and a mom can do and the complicity that we can have together!!!!
Anyway after 7600 views on our video in 2 days and only good comments on the video, our family is devastated about the situation!!!!
Just to finish with, if people are offended about the video please don’t hesitate to contact me and talk about it.
I’m not gonna talk about this again cause i think its a waste of time!!!
Thank you and keep on swingin’ (source
Frankly, this response is even worse than the ignorance of including the original gesture. “I’m not gonna talk about this again cause i think its a waste of time!!!” Are you fucking KIDDING ME?
You think a discussion about anti-semitism is a waste of time?! You didn’t notice that anti-semitism in Europe is on the rise, and also PEOPLE ARE DYING?!
As I said on the facey, “I reckon William just didn’t think it through, and perhaps just doesn’t think that anti-semitism gestures are that bad. Which implies he’s ok with anti-semitism. Which scares me.” It’s also terrifying that Eruopeans might be so ‘used’ to anti-semitism, and have so internalised anti-semitism that they just don’t see it as worth their time. This is some scary arse shit. And it’s really serious and important.
James William McGraw commented on the Yehoodi FB page:
I’m not satisfied with William’s response. Did he know A) That this gesture was in the piece before it was performed and B) Did he and Irene know what it meant before they performed it. If it is the case they both knew and did it anyways, they should have their placement stripped and be banned from the event for at least a year.
28 August at 17:09
And I agree. I’m just not satisfied by this ridiculous answer.
Honestly, so many people were ‘ok’ with blackface routines, and others are ‘ok’ with sexual harassment and misogyny at a national competition night, and now we think questioning anti-semitism is a waste of time?
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, LINDY HOP.
EDIT: William posted this 20 hours ago:
To the lindy hop community,
In regards to my pro am with my mom this year at ilhc:
In the dancing there was a gesture that has become a huge misunderstanding. This was intended to be harmless, but regardless of that, it offended people in my life and community that I care about very much.
For that, I would like to express my apologies to the ILHC team and anybody that was offended by the gesture.
For the video removal: we completely understand the decision and are very grateful that we were not disqualified. Thank you for your understanding.
We love the lindy hop and our community, we didn’t mean to hurt anyone. This is a dance and community that is based on fun and having a good time. We wish only to do that, and once again apologize to anyone that was offended.
Keep on Swingin’ and hope to see you all soon!!!
20 hrs · Like · 8
Don’t read the whole of that thread. The stupid: it burns.[/edit]
EDIT 2: I was going to keep updating this post, because it’s an interesting (and ongoing) issue. But I just don’t have the time at to do it justice at the moment. So I’ll have to leave this here, I’m afraid. And I’m sorry I had to leave it on such a fierce note. Perhaps the best thing about this issue, is that there’s been ongoing public discussion about it, and that the ILHC has been publicly engaged with the discussion, and William and his mother Irene have also returned to the discussion. I’m not entirely happy with the way this is being resolved, but I am happy that we are having an open, public discussion.
I recommend keeping an eye on the ILHC facebook page, rather than the yehoodi page, because I’m finding the yehoodi page is a beat behind and tends to not quite have the facts straight.
It’s super late and I shouldn’t be fiddling about on the internet, but I am.
Last week was my second week back teaching properly after about a month off on holiday, doing non-teaching dance things. It was really wonderful to have a good, solid break after teaching every week all year. I came back refreshed and inspired, and having given my own dancing a good kick up the bum. It took me a while to get back into the groove, and to remember that as the teacher it was my job to manage the class (not just coast along with the group as a participant), but I figured it out eventually.
Some important points:
1) I want a weekly rhythm tap class here in Sydney really badly. I went along to a class taught by the only ‘rhythm tap’ teacher in my area and it was AWFUL. Worst teaching ever. Shitty dancing, too. I really enjoyed being a beginner tap dance student at Herrang, and I want that hardcore learning again. But I am very strict about decent teaching.
2) I can’t get enough lindy hop.
Just now, reading back through my blog, I came across the post Student centred teaching – some rough ideas from back in May.
Since I’ve been back in Sydney, I’ve taught with four different teachers, all women, teaching at three different venues, and six different classes. Wowsers, that’s HEAPS! Anyway, it gave me a chance to revisit some of my ideas about teaching, and as per usual, I learnt a lot from comparing and learning from different teachers.
The thing that really struck me, in teaching with all these people, that this is perhaps the most useful thing I know about teaching: make people laugh. And laugh yourself. The next most important thing:
Talk One Thing, Do That Thing.
After answering a student’s question, or offering one tip, we dance on it immediately. Only give one tip at a time.
If you wait, they forget. I usually answer a question, then say “Ok, let’s test it out” and we all dance on the issue to figure it out.
(From that post above)
This rule keeps me from talking too much, and it keeps us all dancing more. I really like the ‘lets test it out’ approach, as it’s a nice way of saying “Let’s see if this thing I just said really is true.” And it’s a good way for people to see if they understand what we just talked about.
But I love this: say one thing, do that one thing. It really does stop you bullshitting on.
One thing I’ve learnt over the past few weeks as we approach the Winter Ball: teaching routines by drilling is fucking boring. One of the women I taught with told me they’d been teaching routines by devoting the last 15 minutes of their weekly class to the routine. I reckon that’s a great idea. I’ll try it. But god, drilling routines is boring. I really am a social dancer at heart.
Our routine is looking quite fabulous, though, and I’ve been super mega excited by the students’ whole heartedly embracing styling and improvisation. We ask them to put their own flavour into various sections, and they Bring it with massive enthusiasm. It’s very exciting to see. Especially as they maintain good, solid rhythms while they do all this playing.
We are combining our solo and lindy hop classes, and had originally intended for the two groups to dance two separate parts, but they all want to do everything! Except the hardcore solo people who are all ‘solo before everything else and also yolo!’ who do not want to lindy hop. This brings me even more pleasure. I am very happy with the routine (good song, simple moves, but with nice transitions and some very good, strong rhythmic work), and the students are just the best. We have all enjoyed the process, which is important, and hopefully we’ll have a ball performing. Good times!
Something else: it’s time to do some hard work in our solo class. Time for the Big Apple again, I reckon.
I love lindy hop.
When I was in Herräng, I bought a bunch of CDs. Which is a bit ridiculous, as DJing at Herräng taught me I need to ease off on the new music, and remind myself of the old school win in swing era recordings. But I am weak. And I bought these CDs.
I saw them in the lindy hop shop when I was following Black Swans Pond around as she assessed the vintage wear and tried things on. I looked at them when I dropped in my event postcards to pimp Jazz BANG. I touched them and turned them over when I went in to get a couple of postcards.
I convinced myself it was a bad deal. I could buy all these online, for a fraction of the price. I’d probably pick some up later in the year from the musicians themselves. I might even be given copies to review.
But then BSP and I went back in to touch some nice trousers, and I bought them. I bought all the CDs. Then I took them back to the Igloo’s little garden and uploaded them all into itunes. It wasn’t entirely fair to listen to them all in one block, as they range from burnt-CD-and-photocopied-liner-notes to professionally (and gorgeously) packaged albums by big name New York artists. But that is how jazz works: no album is an island.
So here are my opinions.
1) Baby Soda – Baby Soda Live at Radegast
Yes, you can buy this on CDBaby for a fraction of the price I paid in the lindy hop shop. Yolo, right? This album was in the LHS because one of the band members, Adrian Cunningham, was playing with Naomi Uyama’s band that week in camp, and had dropped off some CDs to flog in the shop. As musicians do at dance events (and so they should). Paying the added cost sucked for me, but it covered the LHS’s expenses, it plopped a bit of cash directly into the musicians’ pockets, and it fed my GET IT NOW hunger.
2) I picked up the band’s album Jazz Roots Elixir as well
Both these CDs have gorgeous packaging, so it was worthy buying them in hard copy.
And they are great albums. This is a cracking band. I’ve actually hired Adrian for dance gigs when he’s been in town:
He’s a Sydney boy who lives in New York now. He did a bloody good job wrangling local musicians for that gig – I’ve never heard those diggers play as well as they did that night. Adrian is a very good band leader.
You’ll have heard him playing on Gordon Webster’s albums, and he’s in Naomi Uyama’s Handsome Devils.
I’d heard of Baby Soda years ago, when Evan recommended them. But I figured they were just another NOLA style street band, and I just wasn’t interested in any more of that at the time. But they’re not. They are a New York jazz band, influenced by NOLA street jazz, and that’s an important distinction. The NY jazz scene has a more ‘indoors’ feel than the NOLA bands, and the bands’ style is a little less… rough and ready.
Anyways, these albums are great. Really great. I especially like their version of ‘Diga Diga Doo’ on Jazz Roots Elixir, and ‘Glory Glory’ on the same album. I usually play local Sydney band the Finer Cuts’ version of ‘Glory Glory’ when I’m DJing, but this version is pretty darn good. My total favourite song, though, is ‘Palm Court Strut’, from Live at Radegast. It’s not a lindy hopping song, but it is the best dancing song ever. Buy these CDs, they are great.
3) Hot Toddy and his Fully Dressed Po’ Boys (Todd Yannacone, Adam Arrendondo, Chris Johnson, Todd Burdock, Robin Rapuzzi) – self titled
4) and The Hot Club Of Mazant (Todd Yannacone, Guillaume Corral, Georgi Petrov, Ben Fox) – self titled
I definitely paid too much for these CDs. But then, I think it’s worth overpaying for music that musicians create, package and sell to you directly – that way you’re saying to them directly, “Hey, doods, keep doing this!”
It’s unfortunate that I bought these at the same time as those Baby Soda CDs and the other albums I bought that week, as these aren’t hugely awesome recordings. The musicianship is pretty weak in spots, and I’m not hugely keen on their treatment of the songs. You can buy them both on Todd’s site.
Todd, is of course, Todd Yannacone, a high profile lindy hopper from America. He was teaching (and playing music) the weeks I was in Herräng, and dropped these CDs into the LHS.
It’s perhaps a little unfair to compare these CDs with the other albums I bought at the same time. They’re definitely in the ‘home made’ category: rough and ready home made ‘covers’ (bits of A4 paper with black photocopy/printed art), burnt CDs, obviously made at home. The music carries the same aesthetic: home made, lo-fi, DIY. There’s something to be admired in this, but then I need the music to measure up to this deliberately understated approach to packaging, and it’s not quite there. You might like it, though – so give them a listen when you can.
The interesting part, though, is that each of these albums is clearly occupying a different niche in the jazz world: the Po Boys are in that NOLA street jazz style, and the Hot Club is more manouche. It’s clever, and it demonstrates a clear understanding (both in terms of packaging and musical style) the difference between the two. I’d expect nothing less of Todd, whose dancing has always demonstrated a very nuanced understanding of jazz music structure and style.
If I had to, I’d say I preferred the Hot Club album more than the Po Boys, but that’s a very crowded and competitive scene, so it doesn’t quite measure up. Modern manouche is home to some of the very best string musicians in the world, and it’s brave to dive right on it. But, really, that’s what you have to do: give it a go. I’m not sure this band would rate much of a mention in a non-dancing scene (there are a couple of really bad moments in some of the songs), but it is the product of a dance scene (at least in part), and I bought in in a lindy hop shop, soo…
Anyway, it’s interesting, and worth listening. Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye out for this stuff, and trying to support it when I can. But you have to ask yourself: where are the women in all these modern dancer-populated bands? There are a few out there, but let’s be serious: what are the gender politics at work here?
Which is my segue to the next album I bought.
5) Naomi and Her Handsome Devils‘ (Naomi Uyama, Adrian Cunningham, Matt Musselman, Jake Sanders, Dalton Ridenhour, Jared Engel, Jeremy Noller) self titled debut album
This band were playing in Herräng for three nights in week 2, when I was staff DJ. Naomi is another lindy hopper, and another high profile American dancer. The band is made up of some very, very good musicians – most of whom are in (or have recorded with) Gordon Webster. Webster is of course the darling of the international lindy hop scene at the moment. The Devils’ guitarist is Jake Sanders, who led the Cangelosi Cards (!!) and has been involved with the Fat Babies. Both top shelf dance bands. Adrian Cunningham is involved with all sorts of projects, as I’ve mentioned me before. Matt Musselman has played with Gordon Webster, Vince Giordano (!!), Sly Blue… and so on. He is the business. I recommend reading about the rest of the band on the website.
This is, without a doubt, Naomi’s band. She is the boss, the leader, the front woman. And it shows. The musicians are a pretty scrabbly lot, and it takes some iron will to get their shit together.
I DJed after the band one night (the first or second, somewhere in the middle of the week – it’s kind of a blur for me now), and got to see the band in action from behind the scenes.
Naomi is, unsurprisingly, if you’ve ever met her or done dance classes with her, one seriously arsekicking chick. She is organised, professional, capable, and hardcore. I’m not, however, a fan of her voice. I just don’t like it very much. This is a matter of taste, of course, and as we all know, getting shit done in the live music business is about more than voice. In fact, your voice is much less important than absolute determination, and arse-kicking fierceness. I actually really enjoyed her work with the Cangelosi Cards on the little Three Diamonds* e.p. which was discussed in a lovely story on Jazz Lives a few years ago.
What I think Naomi does, and which is much more important, is lead a very good dance band. She has an ear for great dancing songs, and the album is a combination of old dancing favourites, currently popular dancing songs, and jazz standards. The treatment is just right for dancing: the tempos are just right (a little quicker than was popular a few years ago, but this where Naomi’s choices are, again, right on the button), the band swings like a gate, and the music has a hot, exciting energy that borrows the fun from NOLA, but marries it with a NY sophistication. It is, at heart, popular music, and it probably wouldn’t excite a hardcore jazz nerd, but it’s just right for dancers.
Naomi’s packaging of the band is just right – the branding combines that idea of the ‘tweety’ (an attractive woman fronting a band) with the actual physical presence of a capable, professional woman. Naomi herself tends to perform in gorgeous shiny, or spangly gowns, and her dance experience shows in her stage presence. She’s great to watch on stage, something that a lot of jazz bands don’t quite get: you have to entertain when you get up on stage. Particularly if you’re playing standards.
Most interestingly I think Naomi’s managed to take what is essentially the same band as Gordon Webster records and works with, and repackage it to suit her own particular image and vision. When you watch the band perform, it’s really clear that this woman has planned out the set list carefully, is the boss on-stage, and is firmly in control of this performance. As I said, that’s a real art considering just who’s in this band.
Buy this one, especially if you’re a dancer just beginning to build a music collection.
A note about purchasing and online presence: Naomi’s band has done a brilliant job of providing just what we need. It’s easy to buy this album – you can get it in hardcopy from CDbaby, or download it from bandcamp for immediate gratification. The website isn’t the prettiest thing on earth, but is FABULOUS if you’re a reviewer looking for useful information, nice photos, and good links. Many (most?) of the modern bands working with (or wanting to work with) dancers should pay more attention to this sort of thing.
6) To conclude, I have to add a note about the Stockholm Swing All Stars.
Another of the bands on the ‘official’ live music program at Herräng, this band just blew my brains. They were easily the best band I saw at the camp, and one of the very best bands I’ve ever seen. They were solid, swinging hot combo gold. Just so, so wonderful for lindy hop. A fantastic lindy hop band. None of this flirting with NOLA influences or wooing manouche. Four on the floor, solid swinging goodness. I had the best dances of the two weeks I was in Herräng to this band. Wonderful stuff.
So of course I bought a CD. I bought ‘Stockholm Swing All Stars Play Ellington’, which is really good, but isn’t perfect for dancing. Some of it is really great – ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ rocks. But it’s 5 and a half minutes long. Some of the other stuff is a bit rambly and ‘modern’, etc etc. It’s a fab recording, but it’s not what you need for DJing for dancers. Hells, just hire the band. They’re worth it.
*Naomi Uyama and Tamar Korn were joined by Mimi Terris on that recording, and she has some very pretty music for sale.
An issue has come up over on Wandering and Pondering. I did write a comment there, but it got too long. The post there is responding to a post on Authentic Jazz Dance by Harri Heinila, which has managed to shit off an awful lot of people. I don’t have a whole lot to say about that particular post of Harri’s, mostly because I find the written expression so clunky it obscures his point. I just can’t figure out exactly what he’s trying to say. So I don’t really want to engage with it one way or another. But I do have some things to say (of course I do).
Here is the huge comment I deleted from the Wandering and Pondering page:
If I was marking this essay [Harri's blog post], I’d give the comments: “There are some problems with your written expression, which at times confuse your argument” and “I would recommend closer critical engagement with your own approach to ideas about dance, power, the uses of language and ideology in dance.”
There are some really confusing bits of writing, that I think perhaps might be a product of having English as a second language? And I also suspect that some of the points of conflict (eg the use of the word ‘vernacular’) might be a product of confusion about language use, rather than a real disagreement. From my perspective, I find the use of historical methods problematic: as a feminist cultural media studies person, I want more engagement with ideology, and less emphasis on ‘sources’ and ‘facts’. But then, I’m not a historian.
Having said that, I’ve noticed that the further we get from Frankie the man (ie the more time passes after he passed away), the less critical engagement with his life and work we have, and a more uncritical, adulatory tone we take in describing him and his work. This actually came up in the Frankie Stream discussion session at Herrang, where one of the newer dancers actually said something like (and I paraphrase) “You [the teachers and everyone] say many good things about Frankie, but was he this perfect? What were his faults?”
It was interesting to see that none of the teachers or participants were willing to discuss Frankie’s faults as a dancer or person. You can understand why – we are reluctant to speak ill of the dead, and particularly reluctant to disrespect someone so important to the modern lindy hop scene, who was also a dear friend and respected mentor and teacher. But I think the questioner (and I) were left wondering if perhaps we are losing a wholer picture of the man by taking such an adulatory tone.
Similarly, I think we are doing ourselves a disservice when we take an uncritical approach to the ‘lindy hop revival’ narrative: we should be asking questions like “Who benefits from this revival?” and “What are our limits when it comes to ‘growing the scene’?”
….at any rate, I think that one of the things that Harri makes (and which I think is lost in his writing style), is that the history we tell of the ‘dying out’ and ‘revival’ of lindy hop tends to lack context, critical engagement, and complexity. It’s easy to tell the story like this:
“Jazz stopped being popular, so people stopped lindy hopping. Then in the 1980s some people (mostly white, mostly European, but also American) found the old time dancers and then they revived it.”
This story is very popular for a number of reasons, and I think that Harri approaches a convincing point when he suggests that money is at the heart of this. I don’t think money is actually the reason these stories dominate (though, contrary to public mythology, you can actually make a living from lindy hop, most of us actually don’t). I think that the ‘myth of the rediscovered lindy hop’ actually reinforces and cements existing power structures in modern day lindy hop. And we should be very sceptical of these.
To be blunt, I think that this story is inaccurate: lindy hop did not ‘die out’. At the very least, it changed form a bit (because it was a vernacular dance), and it moved out of the public eye. I haven’t done enough research on this stuff, so I can’t comment on who was doing what dancing where, or what its standard was, or whether it counted as ‘lindy hop’.
I’m actually increasingly suspicious of the mantra that we should ‘grow the scene’ or convert more people to lindy hop at the cost of all else. There is a loud discourse in lindy hop that we should sacrifice all (income, time, relationships, health) to bring more people to lindy hop – to continue the revivalist project. I have an intense dislike of this martyred approach to running events, teaching, or working in the lindy hop scene. It normalises exploitation, it encourages working for free, rather than economic sustainability, and we see the same sorts of people being exploited, while the same sorts of people benefit from this exploitation. This system (and ideology) of ‘sacrifice’ ultimately attributes power and status to the people who take organisational roles in this project.
[A brief interjection: when I run events I am 100% keen on NOT exploiting anyone. I am STRICT about good working conditions, about breaks, about reasonable workloads, about people being paid, about punters paying for things. This shit is part of the music and entertainment industry, not some bloody religious movement. So nobody gets screwed over if I can help it, and I have NO PATIENCE with martyrs.]
If we were to realise that lindy hop didn’t actually die out, and if we were to realise that the world won’t actually explode without lindy hop, then all that revivalist sacrifice and work will be for nothing, and all that power and status will just trickle away. So there are bodies and people with vested interests in maintaining an uncritical support of a revivalist project, and revivalist mythology.
Me, I think that we’d do just fine without lindy hop. I’d be pretty darn sad, but life would go on. I think there are some really big problems with the way power and status work in our various communities, and I think that Harri is quite brave for raising the issue. I do not, however, agree with the core of his arguments, nor do I like his approach.
I think that we should be more critical of adulatory and ‘sacrifice’ narratives about the revival (and Frankie), but we should also be respectful of elders, respectful of each other, and supportive of projects which are, at their heart, about a philosophy of dance which encourages tolerance, mutual respect, peace, and harmony.
I think that one thing the modern day ‘revivalist’ project has brought us (largely through Frankie Manning’s personal example) is an ideology of dance which prioritises: interpersonal connection and respect (‘you are in love with this person for three minutes’); creativity and self-expression, from all dancers (the swing out has built-in improvisation time, and solo dance is a key part of lindy hop); and an open, welcoming social dancing culture, where anyone is welcome, and where peace and goodwill are valued.
At the same time, though, I like to remember that lindy hop itself has a built-in capacity for critical engagement, for resistance, and political commentary. Imitation, impersonation, competition, ‘step stealing’, and so on are all elements of lindy hop that make it a great vehicle for ideological and political resistance. And if we forget that – if we forget the importance of constructive criticism – then we’re forgetting the most powerful part of lindy hop.
[Another addd comment: Yes, the Savoy was a wonderful place for overcoming segregation. But you're fooling yourself if you think that racial tensions, issues of power and privilege and sexism and class weren't a part of that community space as well. We should be deeply, deeply suspicious of bullshit claims that lindy hop dissolves all differences. Because the corollary to that point is that if you are speaking up about wrong doing or about racism or sexism or bullshit in the scene, that idyllic view of the past makes you a trouble maker.
Relatedly, a Swedish friend noted in Herrang that the idea that Herrang is this wonderful, hedonistic place where everyone is happy and wonderful and joined by a love of dance is actually a problem. If Herrang is this wonderful a place, what do you do if something bad actually happens to you? Where do you go if you are assaulted or threatened or bullied? And you're fooling yourself if you think that these things don't go on.
When we insist on this idealised idea of lindy hop, we ignore the difficult stuff, and we make it impossible for people to raise challenging issues. Yes, this is a very happy dance. But we are still humans, and we can do pretty awful things to each other. So we should be actively vigilant and critically engaged, not just telling each other to shoosh up and be happy.]