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.

Eat Your Jazz: Herräng’s ‘no’ list and the advantages of limitations

The now-infamous ‘Herräng no list’ came up in my interview with Ryan for his podcast. I’m not sure how it developed, but this ‘no list’ was a complement to the ‘yes list’, which sadly gets a lot less attention. These lists were playlists on spotify developed as a general guide to the type of music you may or may not choose to play at Herräng. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ titles are typically Swedish. Functional. :D

The first year I DJed at Herräng (2015?), there was an actual booklety thing, setting out the same sort of information, but as a pie graph, with percentages.

Last year I made up a new version of this pie graph for myself. You can see it at the top of this post.

That’s three ways of saying the same thing: this is the type of music we’d prefer you play, as a staff DJ at Herräng. This is a fairly specific description, and it aligns nicely with Herräng’s branding as ‘vernacular jazz dance’ blah blah.

The rules for DJing at Herräng are as you’d expect:

  1. Play swinging jazz from the 1930-40s (with a smear of 50s)
  2. Don’t just lean on the standards

So really it should be a ‘do’ list, not a don’t list.

Does it sound like there are a lot of rules for DJing at Herräng? Not that I’ve noticed. In fact, DJing at Herräng is lots of fun because our bosses simply assume we know all this and won’t play any bullshit, then they just set us up with a time slot or a task, and say “GO.” And then we just go sick. There’s a microphone, there’re lighting switches, there’s a dance floor full of Europeans in a democratic socialist country with far too much daylight. NO RULES TIL BROOKLYN

Advantages of each of the ‘rules’:

Point 2.
You have to really work on your set, not just play your easy-win faves. This makes you work harder and play more interesting sets.
This is especially true because we are on staff for a week, playing every night. One set in a weekend means you can phone it in, but 7 or more sets in a week means you really have to stretch.
This makes the whole week more interesting for dancers, because they’re hearing a wider range of music (within a genre): they get a deeper taste of swing music. But it also makes it more interesting for DJs, and much more creative. You’re more likely to take risks. Here is the good bit. More risks = potentially more errors. But really good DJs know how to recover from errors, and how to avoid them.
So while a DJ’s collection is on display, their skills are too.

I actually love it. I come away from the event with a much better understanding of my collection, having played far more than my usual ‘safe’ songs. And I’ve heard sets that are far more than just a handful of Naomi Uyama and Gordon Webster favourites.

Point 1.
This seems obvious. Playing from the swing era makes for good swing dancing. I see far better lindy hop at Herräng, in part because the music makes it easier to lindy hop.
Less jump blues. This is one that caught me by surprise. I hadn’t realised how much I leant on 40s jump blues. Louis jordan, Big Joe Turner, and others. Wonderful, but when I pushed myself to limit the number of these in my set, again they improved. How? a) different rhythmic emphasis and structure to the songs, b) less vocal driven, more ensemble driven melodies and structure, and c) a shift away from jump blues = shift towards small and big band swing. More complex songs and arrangements. Much more interesting for dancing lindy hop.

So the point isn’t that the no list stops you playing songs. It’s that the no list asks you to start playing a whole heap of other songs. Songs that are just much better for lindy hop and balboa.

I know I come away from the event a much better DJ. Two thumbs up from me.

Buy more drinks, or fund jazz in new ways?

The Unity Hall Jazz Band had the longest running jazz residency in the world.

Their host, the Workers’ Bar and Restaurant in the Unity Hall Hotel, has just announced changes to their monthly program. Now the Unity Hall Jazz Band only play two weeks out of every four in the month. The third is given to the usual monthly Dan Barnet Big Band gig, and the fourth week has just been given to rockabilly bands.
This is not good news.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to one of the younger band members, who was worried about the gig, and more concerned about the band leader, Gary Walford, who’s been leading the Unity Hall band for all the forty seven years of this residency. The venue owners had told the venue manager to increase the earnings at the bar, or the band would be cancelled.
My friend asked me what we could do, and I suggested the usual call-round to dancers to encourage them to spend more at the venue. I had no hope for this ploy. It never works. And I have no shortage of reservations about promoting drinking in the local community. Particularly when alcoholism is a real problem in the jazz musician community.

But I’ve been thinking about this issue.

All over the world, free weekly live jazz gigs get cancelled because there’s a lack of income over the bar. Before they get cancelled, there’s a push to have dancers spend more at the bar.
And then the gig gets cancelled.

We know that lindy hoppers are a bad market for bars, because they don’t drink, and they don’t eat. Because they’re up and dancing, and lindy hop is too tricky if you drink more than a drink or two. At least the way people like to dance it here in Sydney. And the scene generally tends to be people who don’t drink much. Good news for our livers and our domestic lives. Bad news for pub economies.

We also know that bars will book bands specifically to help people have fun and spend money at the bar. If the people don’t have fun and don’t spend money at the bar, the band gets cancelled.

We also know that keno, pokies, and other automatic gambling systems (specifically not social things like bingo) bring heaps of money into a venue (if you have a licence).
And we also know that bands distract people from gambling.

So big corporate venues (who are also members of clubs Australia and have gambling licences) are more likely to encourage gambling, because they make money.
-> there are studies all about these things, and evidence to support this.

So I’m thinking:
– Encouraging dancers to spend money at the bar won’t work, as they don’t spend enough to compete with the pokies and keno. And there are no good consequences to pushing for cultural changes that see dancers increasing the amount they drink;
– Encouraging mixed dancer/drinker audiences won’t work either, as neither bring in as much as a gambling clientele;
– We need another income stream for venues.

I’ve been wondering if venues like the Workers, even though they’re all about money and gambling rather than music and socialising, could be encouraged to apply for grants.
Ironically, there is funding available from the Office of Responsible Gambling in NSW to subsidise arts/live music projects in community venues.

So the venue could apply for grants money, or the group as a whole could do it.

I’m not the first to have this thought about live music venues in Sydney. Our live music culture is at risk, mostly because the venues in which it is played and enjoyed are struggling. And even though they’re not applied in Balmain (home to the Unity Hall Hotel) and the inner west (home to most of Sydney’s lindy hop), the lock out laws haven’t helped with Sydney’s night life.
Fewer gigs, so bands move south to Melbourne or north to Brisbane. The decline in arts funding nationally and in NSW has seen younger jazz musicians going overseas for work. Last year’s ethically dubious redirection of funding from successful applicants to Opera NSW by the state minister, and the Liberal party government signalled not only a general decline in funding, but a deliberate redirection of funding away from community arts projects, and towards high arts projects.

Of course, this government funded approach to paying for live jazz runs contrary to the free market, small-government-advocating capitalist ethos. The Liberal party is doing its best to deconstruct arts funding. And to promote gambling (and gambling revenue). The welfare state, the state that fosters the arts, and public funding for creative thinking in the arts and sciences, has been steadily undone by previous and current governments. And with a newly elected Liberal government in NSW, things won’t be getting any better.

While jazz is no longer vernacular music, a free, afternoon live band gig in a pub is certainly community arts practice, engaging ordinary, local people of all ages. And there is a connection to be made between the NSW state government’s dependence on gambling income (taxes) and the decline of ordinary, community arts practice. Gambling, it seems, is not only destructive to families and small business, it is also dangerous to community arts practice and community social spaces.

And that’s as far as my thinking has gone.

What is gliding?

Basically, it’s just moving around the dance floor in closed, doing whatever rhythms you like.

“Just grab your partner and move over the floor”

I’ve been in classes with all sorts of teachers, who’ve taught it in different ways. Because it’s so simple, you can adapt it to teach all sorts of skills and concepts.
eg when we teach our week 1 beginners, they do solo jazz warm up, then solo rhythm work, then we change gear completely, and get them to partner up and try gliding. We usually start with music on, but with no specific rhythm. We literally just demo what we want them to do, then say ‘try this’.
After a few minutes or a song, and they’ve rotated a bit, we do the “here are some things we saw that were really cool,” and we focus on the things we want to see more of – eg stopping to apologise when you kick someone.

That last one is REALLY important, not just for good social skills, but also because it encourage them to think about where their body is in space, in relation to other moving objects. This is the great thing about gliding: you move all over the floor. So students have to learn about moving through space without bashing into people. And if they _do_ hit someone, they have to recognise that, stop and see it as significant, then make contact with the other people in the room to apologise. And then they reset with their partner to start again.

Then we may point out that someone has started adding in the rhythm from earlier (someone always has), and we ask everyone to try it.
We add in the rock step around about here, after a bit of practice on this, because someone always asks “How do you change direction?” And we introduce the rock step as a good direction changing tool.

Having them all over the floor is also great, because when you say “Please ask someone else to dance,” they learn to move around and ask new people to dance. If you’re using a small floor (joy), it really feels like a laughing, happy party. And that gives them a good taste of how much fun dancing is. It’s also a relatively simple task, so they get confident and have good feels. Teaching win.
And so on.

The specific limitations or tasks you ask them to consider really depend on what you’re teaching. eg I’ve done this in higher level classes where we’ve been asked to _not_ rock step, or to use only a specific rhythm. Heck, peabody is just gliding, but at SPEED.
In terms of dance nerdery, I really like gliding both partners are moving in the same direction at the same time. There’s not the obvious compression and extension that you get when you introduce rock steps. This is a kind of ‘pre-lindy hop’ historical moment (in my brain).

When you add in rock steps (and hence compression/extension in closed, if you like nerd concepts), they level up their physical abilities, and also move through dance history, away from that ‘always flowing in one direction’ type of dance. They start experimenting with staying in one spot on the floor. Once you have that physical limitation, you can see how swing outs happened: if you can’t have fun moving across the floor, you need to have fun on the spot. And rotating on the spot (a good circle) is a way to have energetic fun in a small space.

You can signal this historical stuff if you want, which makes them think about dance in social context. Or you can signal the technical stuff, which makes them think about dance as biomechanics. Or you can signal the music changes, and have them think about the dance as music.
And so on and so forth.

[We do find that after a chunk of this they want some clear structure or a solid ‘move’. Promenades are a good option here, or flip flops.
eg at 0.53 Asa and Daniel bring the flip flopping shit. Actually, this video is great for lots of closed position ideas.]

BLACK lindy hop matters

My problem with discussions about the ‘lindy hop revival’ is that it is centred on whether or not the lindy hop died out.
This way of talking and thinking about lindy hop and black dance and music is all about non-black people trying to force a particular paradigm (way of thinking) onto black history and culture. Wanting these cultural practices to fit into a linear understanding of dance, where one thing gave birth to another in a nice straight line.

When it wasn’t that way at all.

There’s stacks of literature and oral history and discussion of black culture (esp music and dance), _by black people, from black communities_ that point out that music and dance don’t work that way in these communities. Did everyone read Odysseus’ piece that he posted in this group? Did we read Katrina Hazzard-Gordon? Tommy deFrantz? Jacqui Malone? Joann Kealiinohomoku?
No?
It’s time to set your Marshall and Jean Stearns aside, and read some work by actual black authors.

The prevalence of multi-generational spaces (where young people and older people got together) in black communities is unlike white American, and other colonialist spaces. BBQs, cookouts, street parties, church dances, dances, parties, weddings, baptisms, engagements, birthday parties, anniversaries, etc etc etc. All these cross-generational social spaces where people danced and talked and listened to music and did all sorts of cultural stuff. There’d be different dances happening all at once in one space. And steps and rhythms moved between generations as well.

The term ‘revival’ is highly problematic, because it implies, necessarily, that something was ‘dead’, and then ‘revived’ – brought back to life. To declare something ‘dead’ or irrelevant, or gone, is an act of cultural power. To do it retroactively, from a position of cultural and social power (white colonial power) is full-on, epic-dodgy, do-not-do-this.
1. Because white people did not and do not have access to black spaces*,
2. Because white eyes aren’t so good at seeing black culture in this colonial context,
3. Because fuck off mate, that’s an arse-act.

As I said earlier, to declare a culture ‘dead’ is an act of imperialism. It’s what British colonists did when they invaded Australia: they declared Aboriginal culture dying, and on its way to dead. They literally declared the continent terra nullius: uninhabited. Both these positions were justification for British imperialism, invasion, colonisation. It’s fully hardcore oldschool racism.
-> I am referencing this chunk of postcolonial theory because it is directly relevant to a discussion of American history, and of slavery within American history. Bodily autonomy – the freedom to move one’s body at will – and cultural autonomy – the freedom to share or not share culture – are determined by race and class throughout the colonial history of America and Australia.

Anyway, this is why I don’t like to use the word ‘revivalism’ in the context of 1980s lindy hop.

*A note here about desegregation in the jazz era: desegregation gave _white_ people access to black spaces. I do not in anyway condone segregation, but the movement of white bodies and persons into black community spaces was pretty good for white cultural thieves, but not always so great for the black communities they were colonising.

Black lindy hop matters


(Dee Daniels Locke, teacher at HJDF, pic from the event’s fb PR, photo by Ben Hejkel).

While bunches of white people were organising dance events to celebrate the white revival of lindy hop day with a bunch of white teachers this year, Tena Marales-Armstrong was bringing the shit in Houston.

The Houston Jazz Dance Festival is run by Tena, a black woman living in America, it features poc in all the promo material, and it stars a team of black teachers (and Mike Pedroza, so I guess we’re talking poc :D ), TWO BLACK WOMEN MCS, a black DJ, and a black band. It’s a part of Tena’s bigger event, the International Swing Dance Championships, a project which celebrates the living dances of black communities in America today.

This is vernacular dance.

Let’s stop and talk about Tena Morales-Armstrong. She’s not only a great dancer and all round impressive woman, she’s also the co-manager of some of the biggest events in the lindy hopping world. ILHC. Swing and Soul. Lindyfest. International Swing Dance Championships. The modern dance world likes to talk a lot about competition winning dancers, young and flexible performers, popular teachers. But the people who help build these careers are the business people and organisers behind the huge events that employ them. Tena is one of these people, and she is important.

Let me spell it out.

A black woman runs some of the biggest name lindy hop events in the world, and she is running an event with an all-black list of artists, as part of a dance event which proves, definitively, that lindy hop didn’t die and need reviving. It just grew up into hand dancing, fast dancing, Houston Two-Step, Chicago Stepping, Detroit Ballroom… living, healthy black dances in black communities.

And I want to go back to that teaching team.
Latasha Barnes, Mike Pedroza, Josh McLean, Dee Daniels locke, Michelle Stokes, Laurel Ryan, Alexis Davile, Cyle Dixon, Nel Lopez. Two of those (Alexis and Cyle) were junior lindy hoppers at ILHDC a few years ago. Michelle and Laurel were the MCs (I saw them MC at Focus. They are the BEST). These are some big names, here. Just try getting Latasha for your event any time in the next twelve months. The woman is seriously popular at the moment. So this isn’t just a random grouping of dancers. This is some top shelf talent.

If you are interested in the ‘decolonising lindy hop’ project that’s gaining ground in the US, you should probably have attended this event. Yes, it’s all very nice and well to attend a panel session at Lindy Focus, or to drop some cash on the Frankie Manning Foundation. But actually putting money down on an event like this – black owned, black run, black attended, black community – is important. I so wish I could have gone. It kills me that I couldn’t. So, NEXT YEAR. I will put my money where my mouth is.

Kate Wadey’s Presidential Holiday is very very good

Kate Wadey is a gem.
Based in Sydney, she is a jazz singer in the proper sense. Informed by history, but not constrained by it, she’s one of the few modern jazz vocalists that I really, truly enjoy. No, I love her singing. As a person, she’s warm, interesting, clever, and engaging. As a vocalist, she’s warm, interesting, clever, and engaging.

Last night I saw her sing with her band Kate Wadey’s Presidential Holiday, and I danced every single song in the first set. Which is a big deal, as I haven’t been dancing as much as I like lately. But the band came in with a lovely, accessible dancers’ favourite at a comfortable tempo, and then continued, moving up and down tempos, in and out of classic swinging jazz styles. And i danced every one. Then I put the band break to good use, and had a drink of water and a nice sit down.

What made the band so great?
I think it was the combination of voices in the band. Sam Dobson on bass has been anchoring the younger generation of Sydney jazz bands for a while, and in this band he set down a swinging beat that managed to rein in even the overly enthusiastic OG drummer Ian Bloxsom. He has that type of playing that melds into the whole sound of the band, not pushing forward, but you’d miss it if wasn’t there. Just right for lindy hop. Andrew Scott, band leader for the Corner Pocket Trio and other good swinging combos, plays piano, and that is also nice. But the real business is the relationship between Kate and Chris O’Dear on saxophone.

They’ve recently done a show of Billie Holiday and Lester Young music, and you can really hear that influence in their musical relationship. It’s not that they’re trying to be those two icons, it’s more that they’ve paid attention to the way the two musicians worked together, call and response, combinations, echoes, conversations. Kate and Chris are both talents to watch, but together, they’ve developed a mutual sensibility that really makes you _listen_.

I think that’s the most interesting part of Kate’s style: she draws you in. She’s really present in every single note, really singing every single note to _you_, to the band, to us all. And we can’t help but pay attention. What is she saying to us? We need to know. If she was a dancer, she’d be present in every single step, committing her weight, playing with time and rhythm, but right there, giving every single beat her whole attention. There’s the delay and stretch of a very good blues dancer, but with jazz sensibilities. As a singer, she fills up the room, and you can’t look away.

For dancers, it invites us into the music. What does this mean, here?
When she sang My Baby Just Cares For Me, an almost too-tired standard in the dance world, suddenly it became interesting and new. I wanted to know _what_ her baby cared for, if it wasn’t Lana Turner or shows or clothes. And then, Kate added a note of… was it smugness? that he cares for her. The tone is just perfect. She moves us from that that confidence of a woman with a man who loves her, to an almost-feeling of sorrow. Perhaps he’ll leave. After all, she asks, ‘what is wrong with baby, that he just cares for me?’ The song builds, with Chris taking turns, adding clever notes of humour as he picks up the riffs from other standards, and by the end of the performance, we are all dancing.

I was too busy dancing to take photos or record any snippets but that last vocal number. And I’ve been listening to it over and over since I got home last night. I’ve never thought so much about the lyrics. I’ve never realised that balance of pathos and love. But I think that’s the talent of a good vocalist: we find new meaning in old standards.

Kate’s band doesn’t have an album (yet), but she does have a solo release, which is just lovely. Watch out for her recording of ‘Sit right down and write myself a letter‘. It features some of Australia’s best musicians (Eamon McNelis!), but Kate’s vocals gives Fats’ hit just a little more melancholy.

linky