Jazz fandom in Australia failing again

I’m part of the AUSTRALIAN JAZZ LOVERS fb page, all-caps because ok boomer. It’s generally a pretty unpleasant place to be, because it’s sexist, racist, homophobic, and generally full of shit.

I did notice recently that members of the group’s community had booked two women from the Shake em Up Jazz Band for the Australian Jazz Convention (an event that was first held in my own suburb of Ashfield, Sydney in 1948). But even that couldn’t convince me to go to this whitest of white man events.

I was really surprised to see this on their page today:

The logo for the 2019 Australian Jazz Convention shows a line drawing outline of seven musicians. It seems wrong that, especially when two women musicians from New Orleans were special guests, all the musos shown in the official logo are men – no women in the band. I didn’t notice on the badge – too small – but it was obvious to me on the large posters in the Albury Club on New Year’s Eve.

(link)

There was nothing but shitposting for this comment. And because I am bed-ridden and bored in the Swedish winter, I responded. Of course.

Ken Farmer wrote at one point in the thread:

Ken Farmer But it IS gender specific. I’m sure the artist didn’t think, ‘I’ll be gender specific: men only’, but has done this without thinking. This is culturally imbedded prejudice, stuff that happens without thought and is usually not noticed. It takes time to change, and we must all try to notice, and remark on it when we do.

And I agreed. And I pulled out this reply:

Agree.

To do an old school textual analysis of why the figures in this image ‘read’ masculine:

  • The figures’ ‘hair’, even in silhouette looks ‘short’. This isn’t _always_ a masculine trait, but it is _commonly_ associated with men and masculinity in white Australian culture;
  • The musculature of the figures, particularly around the shoulders, reads ‘masculine’ (broader than a woman’s), another characteristic which isn’t _always_ masculine, but is often used to denote or depict masculinity in white Australia;
  • One of the figures is wearing a brimmed hat, more particularly, the type of hat that men wore in the ‘jazz’ and ‘swing’ eras, and is preferred by fans of this type of music. It’s also coded ‘masculine’ by white Australian culture, but also be a wealth of images depicting ‘jazz’ culture and masculinity;
  • There are no vocalists or singers in the image. In the modern jazz world most women participate in jazz as singers. Again, a gendered and not particularly great trend (because women and girls are discouraged from playing instruments by various social factors). But it does suggest that because there are no ‘vocalists’ in this image, singers and vocalists (women) are not important enough to draw in a logo.

As someone points out elsewhere in this thread, it’s a common trend for an (inexperienced) designer to use iconic photos as source material for a simplified human image. The repetition of this theme – that we can use iconic photos of humans playing instruments, all of whom are men – repeats the idea that ‘all humans who play jazz are men’. It’s not said explicitly, but it’s implied through this repetition. The point that no one has commented on this before, and that so few people are supporting Ken’s original observations suggests that the primary audience for this image accept this normalised idea of jazz = masculine.

It might not seem important to not have figures clearly identified as ‘women’ or ‘girls’ or even anyone who is not an adult man. But a logo is, literally, an abstracted image designed to represent a whole brand. In this case, the logo is intended to be a quick way to identify a flyer or picture or film or website or facebook group as ‘about the australian jazz convention’.

We can make further observations about the logo and what it means by where we see it in context.
The Australian jazz scene (particularly this part of the jazz scene) is predominantly older, white, and dominated by men. If you keep an eye on the feeds from various Australian jazz fan pages on fb, you’ll see that 99.9% of photos of musicians, comments by fans, and fb posts are by men or featuring women. There are only very occasionally pictures of women. A recent post about ‘banjo women’ was notable because it was so unusual to see women – _older_ women! – featured on the page, let alone playing instruments together in a group!

I was actually stunned to see the women from the Shake em Up Jazz Band featured in ads for the event. They are a hardcore feminist jazz band, who also have serious jazz chops. They are incredible musicians and hardcore professional arse kickers. Frankly, I was surprised to see them associated with an event like this. I last saw them in the Swedish countryside at a huge jazz dance event, where they spoke directly about dealing with sexist old white men in the jazz world.

But. These two rare images of women in jazz on this page, and associated with this event made me consider this event as something I might like to go to.

However, the responses (all of whom are by men, but three) in this thread have reinforced the event’s image as not only male dominated, but also actively sexist.

This particular comment was openly sexist and derogatory to women and girls, and the lack of condemnation for this comment by other posters further suggests that this place (this event) not only devalues women, but supports and endorses sexist and sexualised derision of women.

At a later point in the discussion, a woman noted:

I’m not sure who Shaye or Marla are/were but presenting an image of Jazz as all male certainly perpetuates the myth that only men can play it.

And I replied:

For your listening and viewing pleasure, these two artists are part of the Shake Em Up Jazz Band: https://www.shakeemupjazzband.com/

This band draws on some of the best and most influential modern new orleans jazz bands for its membership. All of whom are women. They are truly incredible live – see them if you can.
They are also openly feminist, and engage with issues of race and ethnicity, motherhood and professional musicianship. Their album ‘A woman’s place’ makes this very clear: https://shakeemup.bandcamp.com/album/a-womans-place

They write in the notes to that album (source):
With A Woman’s Place, New Orleans-based Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band pays tribute to women composers and lyricists. We put this album together with the intention to celebrate these artists and their contributions to the music we love and play daily. The album title, an abbreviation of bassist Vivien Garry’s composition “A Woman’s Place is in the Groove” suggests a more inclusive history of jazz, reminding us that as progenitors of early 20th century music the legacy of women extends well beyond performing, but also includes arranging, composing and influencing this music since its earliest days.

Lovie Austin and Lil’ Hardin Armstrong were both pianists with formal music education who were integral to the Chicago jazz scene of the 1920s. Hardin played piano and arranged for both King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and Louis’ Hot Fives and Sevens. She contributed some of the most memorable tunes of those sessions, two of which are presented here: “Skid-Dat-De-Dat” and “My Heart,” the very first recording made by the Hot Five in 1925.
Cora “Lovie” Austin, perhaps best known for writing the Bessie Smith hit “Down Hearted Blues,” can be heard on recordings accompanying many of the great early blues singers, notably Ethel Waters, Ma Rainy, Ida Cox, and Alberta Hunter. Austin’s own recording unit, the Blues Serenaders, included various prominent Chicago jazz musicians, among them New Orleanians Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Jimmie Noone, and Tommy Ladnier. Represented in this album are “Charleston Mad” and “Traveling Blues,” a variation on the New Orleans warhorse “Weary Blues.”
The Boswell Sisters (Martha, Connee and “Vet”) who are well-remembered for their seamless and intricate vocal harmonies, are represented here with their original “Puttin’ it On,” which features compositional elements such as shifting tonalities, tempo changes, and contrasting sections that make Boswell Sister records so enthralling.
Lyricists are also represented on this album: Lucy Fletcher contributed the lyrics to Clarence Williams’ “Sugar Blues,” while vocalist Alberta Hunter is credited with the music and lyrics to “The Love I Have for You.” Both Lovie Austin and Lil’ Hardin accompanied Hunter in Chicago during the 1920s.

Ragtime composer May Aufderheide, who wrote “The Thriller,” “Blue Ribbon Rag” and “Buzzer Rag,” among others, is represented here with “Dusty Rag,” a tune known to many revivalists through Bunk Johnson.

“In The Gloaming” is the oldest tune on this album (1877). Meta Orred wrote the lyrics of this tune, which were originally a poem. The music was composed by Annie Fortescue Harrison.

Elizabeth Cotten is better known to folk music audiences, though her song “Freight Train” has made its way into jazz performances throughout the years, including a recording by Preservation Hall. Represented on this album, “Shake Sugaree” was written in her later years with the help of her grandchildren.

Although we know little about the life of blues singer Geeshie Wiley, her name is familiar to fans of early blues and especially among collectors of 78 RPM records. “Last Kind Words Blues” — with guitar accompaniment by Elvie Thomas — is one of only six sides she made for Paramount Records between 1930 and 1931. Adding to the allure of the original performance is the fact that only three copies of the original 78 record are known to exist.

Rather than being the impossible task of an exhaustive survey of early 20th century American female composers and lyricists, this album is much more intended to be a celebration of these songs and the women who created them, and more could be said and learned about each of these songs and artists.

We hope you enjoy listening to A Woman’s Place as much as we enjoyed making it.
– Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band, 2018

Ease is a matter of privilege

“‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read” by Tegan Bennett Daylight

I gave up a career in academia about ten years ago. It was a difficult decision; i love teaching, and i’d loved working in a place all about thinking. But over the previous ten years i’d been working in universities in Qld, Vic, and NSW, things had changed. Some changes were good – student cohorts had burst into diversity and were a heap more interesting. Some changes were not – the pay had gotten shit, and we couldn’t give students the contact hours or libraries or time they needed.

This article is good. It echoes some of the things i saw. But at the same time, it’s bad. I remember a moment i had teaching intro cultural studies at VU. The first generation of families to finish high school, let alone go to uni. Mothers, refugees, kids who’d used TAFE to get into the university system. So different to the privileged young people at UniMelb or UQ I’d taught.
With these students i noticed i was suddenly talking about critical thinking as a tool for dismantling disempowerment. I could see them leap onto Stuart Hall – black, migrant, working class – and his thinking as a weapon. They ate him up. They saw how he was useful to their lives in the working class suburbs of western Melbourne.

I’ve never seen students work as hard as these. Nothing they were doing was easy.

Ways climate change is affecting lindy hop in Australia

– We don’t run events in January and February as it’s too physically hot, and December is on the way out.
This means that we’ll lose a quarter of the calendar year for big weekend events;

– Musicians can’t make gigs because they’ve lost their homes in bushfires.
This means that our world standard jazz scene is losing talent and experience, and dancers are losing potential bands and musicians;

– Bushfire smoke reduces air quality to the point where it’s dangerous to dance in unfiltered air.
This means that regular classes are cancelled, and dancers must reduce practice schedules and venues;

– Classes are cancelled during heat waves.
This means that interruptions to the class program loses students, and reduces the number (and diversity) of people in the scene;

– Public transport (ferries) is cancelled due to smoke haze.
This means that people need to drive to class, or find other modes of transport;

– We can no longer use spaces that don’t have air conditioning.
This means that we have to move into more expensive venues, often ones working within Clubs Australia with gambling and precarious hire arrangements, and we lose our smaller local venue relationships.

– Flights are cancelled because of extreme storms or reduced visibility.
This means that dancers and musicians have their flights rescheduled so they miss events. This in turn reduces numbers at events, band cancellations, and costs attendees in lost registration fees and missed competitions.

– Bushfires and dust storms decrease the lifespan of sound equipment.
This means that gear needs to be stored in safer (more expensive) storage, and needs to be replaced more often, draining the coffers of organisers and societies.

Grey recently asked on fb ‘Ok, Feelings on bell hooks?’
And I got caught up in my response.

bell hooks was really important for me as a young feminist in the early 90s. At that stage, most of published women’s studies literature was by white women, and the women of colour who were getting published (primarily in journals, then in books), really shook up my thinking about class and identity. At the time, it really made me understand the intersection of class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc, though at the time it wasn’t called ‘intersectionality’. I was a young, white woman in a working class suburb of a politically corrupt state. People like hooks just blew my brain. It was thrilling.

I remember reading her work, and the work of Ruby Langford Gibni (Aboriginal Australian woman), Audre Lorde (black american feminist), Rita Mae Brown (American lesbian), and then Stuart Hall (queer black British cultural studies king). They were essential to my understanding of identity politics. Because I was a cultural studies person, I was also really influenced by film makers like Laura Mulvey (white British feminist), Lizzie Borden (black American radical), Tracey Moffatt (Aboriginal Australian artist), and by a bunch of authors.

I was lucky enough to be doing my BA in a huge english department (before media studies and cultural studies existed as disciplines), and that department included a lot of politically active feminists, poc, queer peeps, etc etc. So I was able to do subjects across a range of thinking within my BA. Goddess bless Gough Whitlam and the 1980s Australian university arts degree. I remember doing a lot of multiculturalism reading (in a postcolonial context), queer reading (a library full of books about sex!), and getting access to first nations activism. We had brilliant lecturers who were also activists in a lot of cases, and were culturally diverse. Nothing gets you fired up like a koori woman pointing at you and asking you what you’re bloody doing sitting there when there’s a rally to get to?!

All these people in the 80s and early 90, and their critiques of university-based white women’s studies (which was distinct from a lot of the feminist activism of the day), helped me understand that feminism can’t just be about gender. It has to address class, race, sexuality, etc, and it has to engage with institutional patriarchy. I was also influenced by Nancy Fraser (white American feminist) and her concept of ‘pragmatic feminism’. She argued that women’s studies had to have a practical, activist component (feminism) or it was just shoring up the academy.

But that was 20 years ago, and feminism has moved on. The lack of trans voices in the ‘feminist canon’ of that second wave is particularly telling. Even queer voices were marginalised at that moment. I personally think that the rise of trans politics within feminism has been the most radical change of this wave. And that’s no doubt why TERFs have so much trouble with it.
I think that these writers are important for understanding the history of feminism and gender studies, and for understanding women and activists of that generation (who are in their 60s an 70s now). But there are problems with them as well. And the nice thing about modern feminism is that it has moved on, adding new voices and thoughts to the discussion.

As a side note, I’m getting quite interested in Hannah Arendt and Seyla Benhabib at the moment. Old school feminists, but powerful thinkers.

Black activist men:
Straight up, my most favourite thinker is Stuart Hall (queer, black, British man). His work on class, race, gender, and sexuality in culture was the most influential work I read when I was doing my MA and PhD. I love the way he wrote, and his ideas really resonated with me.
I was also influenced by Paul Gilroy (another black British thinker) for his radical black politics.

And I’m a big fan of Tommy DeFrantz (queer black American dance history scholar), who I met while I was doing my PhD. He’s a dancer and scholar, and the way he talked about black dance and media culture, as well as being a dancer himself, part of a dance community, shook me. Plus he is a kind man, and just the right influence I needed at that stage in my own work on race and dance.

I came across Raúl H. Villa and his work on the latina public sphere in LA in the late 19th and early 20th century and was fascinated (partly because it overlaps with the zoot suit riots stuff). I also got into Michael Warner (white American queer)’s work on the queer public sphere.

This then led me to another thought…

Academic journals and magazines were really important in that 70s/80s/90s moment, because they were often published by collectives, or by groups of scholars who had shared interests (and politics). They’d publish special issues, or articles with the latest thinking, and then in following issues authors would respond to those articles or issues. That meant you could see the thinking happening at the time in a particular journal.

So, for example, ‘Screen’ published Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (Autumn 1975) in vol 16, issue 3 (pg 6–18), but people got so worked up about it (it was influential) that the next issue was themed, and all in response to her article.

There were also some really great magazines and journals published outside universities that gave marginalised writers a voice. eg On Our Backs (a sex positive lesbian erotica magazine) was a response to Off Our Backs (a feminist mag that was often anti-porn). For more.

When I first got to uni, I remember being kind of crazed by access to so many huge libraries. I would just sit in there reading everything. So. Many. Journals. I’d never even heard of things like feminist magazines or journals.
I know there are special collections of these things here in Australia eg Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.
The language was exciting: very RISE UP! and radical activist.

And of course, at this point, it’s important to point out that Grey’s research and thinking can be read in Obsidian Tea, one of the most important publications in the modern lindy hop and blues dance world.

Be bold. Stand out.

Aletta linked up this great article on fb yesterday: Cut From The Same Cloth by Myfanwy Tristram.

I was a teen 1987-1993, and fully into a punk/‘alternative’ aesthetic. Docs, shaved head, op shop clothes, etcetera. I started making my own clothes when I was about 22, because I couldn’t find what I wanted in shops. These days I make almost all my own clothes.
It’s been interesting to learn about pattern drafting and fitting techniques and applying them to my own aesthetic. Much of which is informed by the practical requirements of lindy hop.

As a seamstress, I’m really inspired by independent designers, but I really pine for the skills of high end fashion. Most of which are about making things by hand. It’s DIY (very 90s), but with the power and budget of high end fashion industry. And I’m always struggling to avoid bullshit gender norms.

Kenneth D King (source)

I’m very inspired by Kenneth King’s approach to fit and mechanical skills (he’s all about comfort, and fitting/cutting to flatter all bodies), and the Black American women sewers on instagram, who are all about COLOUR and confidence, and a non-m/s body shape.

Thebe Magugu  from South Africa (source)
Tufafifi from Nigeria (source)

Of course I’m excited by contemporary African fashion design (Thebe Magugu from South Africa, Tufafifi from Nigeria, etc). Inspired by tradition, but with modern sensibilities and politics.

Babarra Designs (source

And I’m a serious fan of contemporary Aboriginal Australian fabric design and printing (Australian Indigenous Fashion is a great source for this stuff).

I like artists like Peggy Noland, who makes huge, saturated colour models. Her work with Wacky Wacko is right up my alley: bold colours, confronting images (tampons! Body hair! Condoms! Gay!), men in frocks, fat chicks in tight mini skirts.

Wacky Wacko (source)

The irony is that by the time I have leet sewing and construction skills, I’ll be way old.
I have wondered a couple of times lately, ‘Should I worry about bring ‘ridiculous’ for dressing like this at my age?’ I usually tell myself not to be silly.


(pic by Hillary Mercer of course)

Something I’m really interested in at the moment is how to dress/dance on stage as an older, fatter woman. I’m experimenting with things like creating discomfort in the audience: revealing cellulite thighs, getting a skirt caught in my knickers, a too-tight bodice, an exposed bountiful bosom
I can feel the audience wriggling in their seat, and i really enjoy the way it fucks up the gender norms of the lindy hop world: skinny young white women with long limbs and long hair and no boobs. If you’re in a comp, people _have_ to watch you. They’re not allowed to look away. Cellulite or no.


Dancers like Sing Lim, with her fully sick sense of fashion, are my inspiration: be bold. Be clear.

This idea of discomforting the viewer is part of a punk aesthetic: piercings, torn clothes, spikes, and acidic colours. It’s also part of my feminist praxis: discomfort a male gaze. Disrupt a gendered norm. Enjoy it. I like using this as a tool in my sewing as well. I love power clashing, bold colour palettes, and mixing full, flowing sleeves with fierce colours and silhouettes. And as an older woman, who society is busy telling should be invisible, I’m beginning to really enjoy wearing clothes that demand attention. The difference now, is that my practical construction skills have increased. I know how to cut a woven fabric so that it fits as comfortably as a knit. I’m also a fan of complex construction techniques, using traditional techniques to make weirdarse garments.

Fun lindy hop routines

This is the performance from Camp Hollywood I keep coming back to.
Choreographed by Bethany Powell & Stefan Durham, performed by lovely Swingin’ Denver people. I love their costumes (Delilah inspired, I’m guessing), I love the song (The Stuff is here and it’s mellow by Cleo Brown), and I love the routine itself.
Typically Bethany and Stephan, it’s informed by history, but it’s also new and innovative. The way lindy hop should be.

The Swingin’ Denver people do lots of interesting stuff in their home town, including working with live bands, pushing on safe space policies, and getting involved in fun stuff like the Montreal Swing Riot street style battles.

APPROVE.

linky

Should every lindy hopper know these people?

Art Kane’s famous photo of jazz greats, titled “Harlem 1958”; approved for one-time use only. MUST CREDIT: Photograph by Art Kane – courtesy Art Kane Archive NOTE: this is a downsized low-res photo for web use

I feel a bit preachy saying “These are some band leaders every lindy hopper should know”…. but then, shouldn’t every lindy hopper eventually get to know Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb, and so on… ? It doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it?

I mean, isn’t it kind of part and parcel of learning a historic dance form, that you learn about the people who made the music that they did this dance to?

And if we namecheck the OG band leaders, surely they’ll also start asking why we don’t have many women band leaders on those lists? And if they don’t, shouldn’t we point it out?

And if they see pictures of those band leaders and realise so many of them were black, and then look at the band leaders on stage in their local scenes and see that they’re all white, surely they’ll ask some questions about that?

And if they see that jazz was born in black working class neighbourhoods, won’t they start asking how come jazz is a middle class white people thing now?

I don’t want to get all Revivalist Evangelical on the kids, but I do think those kids should learn about the elders and custodians of this knowledge of jazz… #blacklindyhopmatters

(photo of course ‘A Great Day In Harlem‘ by Art Kane in 1958)

Things to take to Herrang

Each year I forget something. So I’m going to write a list of stuff.
Most of my stuff also has to travel to places like Seoul and other cities before it gets to Herrang, so it has to be multi-use.
I’m usually in Herrang for two weeks, and I assume I’ll be staying somewhere where I’ll need to bring sheets and towels.

Before I leave on a long trip….

  • back up laptop files in triplicate, one online, one on hard drive, one in a third format
  • notify bank of countries and dates of travel
  • cash in Swedish kr (budget $AU50 a day + private accommodation rent + deposit for a bike)
  • cash in other local currencies for trip

Electrical stuff

  • laptop
  • power cord for laptop
  • power converter with usb plug point (Au -> Eu)
  • sound card
  • headphones
  • headphone charging cable
  • headphone input cable
  • phone charger
  • phone charging cable
  • external battery and cable
  • kindle and charging cable

Clothes

  • raincoat
  • jeans or cold weather trousers
  • thick cardigan or jacket for cold weather
  • short legged pyjama bottoms
  • long legged pyjama bottoms or tracksuit pants
  • sulu
  • hot weather cotton dress
  • a nice dress or fancy outfit for slow drag night
  • a nice dress or fancy outfit for Savoy night
  • clothes for workshops
  • clothes for parties
  • 12 x pairs socks
  • 12 x underwear
  • sports bras
  • fancy bras
  • belt(s)

Allow for a laundry that washes with hot water (and shrinks clothes) and tumble dries aggressively.

Linens and stuff

  • 2 x towels (so you can wash one while the other is in use, or use one for the beach and one for the shower
  • 2 x queen sized sheets (can be used as top and bottom sheets when one is in the wash)
  • 2x pillow cases

Random things

  • travel washing line
  • travel cup for coffees and teas
  • tea bags or special teas and drinks
  • special food or drinks (eg spices, instant noodles) that will make you feel at home in Sweden, land of no-flavours
  • presents for friends (from your home town, or your travels)

Shoes

  • thongs (or flip flops for non-Australians), for use in the communal showers, or in wet weather or just generally shlepping around
  • sandals for warm weather
  • 2 x sueded (or ‘fast’) dance shoes (these get used night and day, so just one pair will never dry out, and will get grooooss)
  • 1 x sticky (or ‘slow’) dance shoes
  • tap shoes

Medications and bathroom stuff

  • paracetemol
  • pain killer with codeine
  • anti-inflamatories
  • 2 x cold and flu tablets
  • prescription medications (enough for the entire trip + extra)
  • if you get a feeling you’ll be unlucky this trip, bring some anti-spew and anti-poo medications too
  • Bring copies of all your prescriptions, and letters from your doctor explaining what you take and why. Things like codeine are controlled drugs in many countries.
  • vitamin E cream
  • general moisturiser
  • 2 x deoderant
  • toothpaste and toothbrush and dental floss
  • shampoo and conditioner
  • nail file, nail scissors, tweezers, nail varnish, etc

Other things that people like to bring

  • make up and perfume
  • jewelry
  • alcohol from duty free
  • random costume things
  • musical instrument
  • promotional postcards for promoting events

Why do I go back to Herrang each year?

Why do I go back to Herrang?

I’m going to assume that you know what Herrang dance camp is, and that you have some passing familiarity with concerns about the enterprise. People who know me are surprised that I keep returning to an event that seems to break all my personal and professional rules. Why do I keep going back, trying to be useful and to contribute to constructive political work at this huge, rambling pile of a dance event?

Why do I go back each year?

It’s a huge enterprise. 300 odd paid staff + volunteers + 20-odd DJ + dozens of musicians + dozens of teachers, over 5 weeks of camp programming, and two additional weeks of set up and bump out in a small village in rural Sweden.
There is no other event like it in the world.

Buildings need to be cleaned, food cooked, classes taught, music played, bills paid, cars driven, sound gear fixed, dance courses administered, classrooms booked, dance floors built and repaired, sets built. For 7 weeks. Each week a new group of staff needs to be inducted. A huge, volunteer and largely untrained staff. Managers start from scratch, with staff of varying ability and inclination.

Because it’s the only long term event in the world, we get to see processes and ideologies play out in real time, in a durational sense. We see the usual tensions of late nights and high adrenaline play out over a longer time. Which means that we see things that we don’t at other events. We see how humans from a range of cultures and language groups interact with each other in a pressure cooker environment. Structures or systems that might be stable over a weekend or a just a week might not remain stable over 5 weeks. Ideas or processes that work for 3 days with a staff working to the brink of exhaustion show cracks over longer periods, where staff must begin thinking about care, rest, recuperation, down time. All elements that don’t come into play at other dance events.

Sexual harassment and assault are symptoms of power relationships and dynamics between individuals and within groups of humans. They aren’t inevitable, but they are characteristic of patriarchy. They can be managed and eradicated, but only through concentrated, strategic planning and policy. And most of this work is conducted by inexperienced ordinary people. This work is increasingly professional and sophisticated. I often wonder, though, if the codes of conduct and safety policies of American events, for example, would stand the test of a five (or seven) week time frame. They are, essentially, experiments in social politics, and working largely against the broader patriarchal culture of their home societies. Would Lindy Focus’s exceptional approach to sexual violence remain steady over five weeks? I think that it could, perhaps, but it would require a lot of on-the-ground, real time adjustment and tinkering. Because shit changes over time.
While Herrang does not have an over-arching code of conduct or safety policy, each of its many departments _does_ have a particular set of rules and guidelines for determining how staff and volunteers should treat each other and the general campers. As DJs, for example, we were reminded again in week 3 that drinking to excess while DJing is not ok. That we have to treat fellow DJs with respect and professionalism, by turning up on time for our sets, checking in with our DJ peers, and being supportive of their work. We were reminded of emergency procedures and shown how to use the emergency phones placed around the camp.

Each of Herrang’s departments change staff each week, so the managers and more permanent staff have the opportunity to edit, change, and adjust processes to respond to their participants’ changing needs. And the work of training and enculturating an entirely new group of people each week.

This agile people management is the most fascinating part of Herrang. Shane and Spela are juggling hundreds and hundreds of staff members across hundreds of roles. They are dealing with changing and unpredictable conditions (too many campers! a water shortage! disease! excessive heat!) within a framework that has to be reflexive and responsive. It’s a truly impressive thing to see in action.
These staff coordinators manage a base of general staff and volunteers, but work through and with a group of department managers. Each of those managers juggles a 24 hour schedule and a shifting group of workers of various skill, ability, and inclination. If you thought it was difficult managing entitled middle class white men on the dance floor, imagine trying to get them to work hard in an industrial kitchen for a black woman manager.
One of the primary concerns of the staff coordinators and managers is morale. How do you keep so many people feeling good over a long period of time under difficult circumstances? They don’t sleep enough, they don’t eat properly, they’re saturated in endorphines and adrenaline, and they’re doing unfamiliar work. How do you keep the whole machine running?

Herrang has a broad system of processes for handling these issues, from staff appreciation parties to balanced shift lengths and times, and a fairly efficient process for handling complaints, concerns, and questions. It is certainly not perfect, and it has flaws. But not because no one is trying. The staff managers and coordinators are caring people, and they work hard to improve processes every year. They’re also clever and inventive. Because they are also jazz dancers :D

What I’ve noticed about Herrang, is that the more permanent staff (people who are there for more than two weeks) tend to be curious, inventive, industrious, cooperative people. To the point of obsessive. Living in the countryside for 7 weeks, they start making things. Inventing things. Experimenting with things. While a conventional office workplace might foster pranks, Herrang staff move beyond your random ‘wrap a car in toilet paper’ prank to ‘wrap every item in the camp in toilet paper’. They come up with brilliant ideas, but then they truly relish figuring out how to execute these plans, and then do so within a contracted time span and limited resources. Someone might decide that the theme for this party is ‘Savoy’, and by the end of the day, staff have build an entire New York neighbourhood out of cardboard, wood, and fabric. A woman might have lost her phone, and by the end of afternoon, staff have built a human sized phone, put a jazz band on a truck (including a piano) and moved the whole thing across the village to her dinner table where she’s serenaded by her friends and peers. And giant phone. Someone else finds a giant glowing model moon, and by the end of the week she’s not only suspended above the square, she’s lit from within with a suspended table and chairs beneath her to be enjoyed by dining lovers.

This is the part of Herrang I like most. It’s exciting. It’s stimulating. Over-stimulating. I really enjoy real-time problem solving at the best of times, but on this scale it’s invigorating. Thrilling. Dangerously addictive.
I really like working with such a clever, creative group of people from all over the world. They manage language differences, tiredness, negative budgets, and sexual tension with enthusiasm and professionalism. And good will. Yes, people crack the shits and get overtired. But they also laugh a lot every day, and seek out ways to delight each other.

They’re also some of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I’ve ever met. One of the most common things I see and hear in the camp is a person going to great lengths to find out what their colleague likes best, hunting it down (even going driving hours to find it), then surprising them with it. Just because they looked tired or a bit sad. Or because they love them. Yes, there are pranks, but they aren’t cruel pranks. They’re loving, affectionate pranks. Filling a new teacher’s classroom with balloons for their first class. Swapping wardrobes with another dancer for a day. Learning an entire, complex jazz routine in a day, then recruiting a jazz band to surprise someone with it in their office at lunch time. Organising a parade of children and adults playing musical instruments and wearing costumes to tramp through the camp, just to entertain the participants and audience. Leaving a punnet of perfect strawberries on a colleague’s desk, because you know they are lovely.

And on top of all that, they love to dance and sing. To eat and cook and make love. To work hard and sleep deeply. To argue and talk and laugh.

These are the reasons I, personally, go back to Herrang. I like to spend my days visiting people’s offices, learning about their work, seeing how they do things. Watching people be kind and generous. Laughing til I can’t breathe.

Gofund me update

What’s going on with my Australian Safe Space Legal Fund?

Here is the latest update:

Hello friends!
You’ve no doubt been wondering what’s been happening with this project. Well, here are the details.

I’ve paused the fundraising element of this campaign, as we have raised enough money to cover the latest round of legal fees. Phew.
Now I’ve been able to honour my work commitments in our scenes. And to take advantage of this work to meet and learn from safe space workers all over the world.

I (Sam) was booked to DJ in Korea (at the Rhythm Korea event), and at the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden. Mid-June I left Sydney for Korea, where I was not only a staff DJ at this event, but catching up with local dancers and organisers.

Korea is, of course, home to the Dance Safe Korea organisation, which is one of the largest and best-organised safe space organisations in the international dancing community.
Each time I visit Seoul, I take note of the public posters, pamphlets and information brochures DSK have at all the dozens and dozens of swing dance ‘bars’. There are posters with information about how to treat dance partners respectfully, and how to get help when you need it. And these posters have been printed by the hundreds, and distributed all over this city of 10 million people.

Rhythm Korea also gave me a chance to meet and catch up with dancers from outside Seoul (Incheon! Busan1), from Thailand, from Japan, from Hong Kong,… and other Asian cities. Not to mention visiting teachers from Sweden and France.

I am always inspired by the DSK team. Their awareness-raising work is backed by some of the most comprehensive survey and statistical work I’ve seen in the dance world. And they are truly great people.

After Korea, it was off to the Netherlands. I spent time in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, two very different Dutch cities, and had a chance to meet and speak to teachers, organisers, and dancers from both those cities. Each local organisation has a different approach to safe space policies and actions, but it’s fascinating to see how the socially progressive Netherlands fosters a very different (and diverse!) dance culture.

For me, it was wonderful to see and speak to Dutch friends who have been working hard on tricky issues, and it was really _nice_ to take time to hug and be hugged by friends and colleagues who are so determined to do good stuff. <3

Right now I am in Stockholm, with a couple of meetings planned, but no firm dance safety sessions organised. From here, I will go into the Swedish countryside to work as a staff DJ at the Herräng Dance Camp.

 

Sweden is culturally very different again, and this huge, long-running event has been dealing with a range of safe space challenges. As a staff member, I look forward to the latest iteration of my (DJ) department’s action and response plans. The Security Team has had a personnel reshuffle, with changes like increased gender parity, and my own DJ managers have been developing schemes that run across the five weeks and dozens of DJs on staff during this time.

 

I’m also looking forward to meeting up with my European friends in Herräng to talk safety policy internationally. In previous years we’ve run ‘Feminist Fika’, a catch-up session for dancers visiting from all over the world. This year I’d like to talk about peer-centred safety initiatives, and to hear about all the hard work my international friends have been doing. I’m also looking forward to more of those comforting hugs and supportive conversations.

I’ll also have the chance to meet up with black dancers from the US who are addressing black lindy hop matters, and doing the hard work of interrogating the intersection of race and gendered violence in the dance world. I’m particularly keen to see what they’ve been up to since January.

If you’re doing safe space work in your local community, or at events as you travel, make sure you take time to look after yourself. Not all the stories we hear are good, and we all need time to rest, relax, and _dance_.
You’re not alone: we are here to hold your hand or lend an ear. Reach out!

Sam.