A Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities

[EDIT 13/6/13: It makes me very sad that this post is still relevant. It’s been linked up again, by a few different people around the place, because those people are having bad times with arseholes in their dance scenes. So I think it’s worth bumping this post again. This is such heartbreaking stuff to talk about. But we have to. We HAVE to.

Please, if you’re in strife and need some help, call one of the lines I’ve listed below. And if you want to change things in your own scene, start working on constructive plans with women, not for them. We don’t need no white knights, here. And if you’re in a bad way, and need some help, I know that services like Beyond Blue here in Australia can help if you’re having trouble with anxiety and/or depression. And god knows the only sensible response to this issue is sadness.]

[EDIT 4/4/12: I receive emails about this post, or comments on this post every couple of weeks. I published it almost a year ago. It breaks my heart that this issue is still one we need to address.

Please, if you need help, don’t hesitate to call someone. Doesn’t matter whether something happened years ago or this morning – there are people who have got your back. Give them a call.

If you’re in Canada, Europe, Japan, Korea, Singapore, or somewhere else, please do google ‘rape help line’.]

It was inevitable, really. But my thinking about slutwalk and my thinking about dance have finally gotten together in my brainz and become the Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities. Despite my mixed feelings about slutwalk, it has meant that I’ve had more conversations about gender, violence, safety and community since it hit the media than I have in years and years. And most of those conversations have been with dancers who do not openly identify as feminist, or who aren’t otherwise politically engaged. To me, this is a marvellous thing.

Tim linked me up with this article about slutwalk by Jacinda Woodhead and Stephanie Convery, which links in turn to 4523.0 – Sexual Assault in Australia: A Statistical Overview, 2004, a 2004 ABS report on sexual assault in Australia. If you’ve been paying attention, most of the information in the report is depressingly familiar, yet in direct counterpoint to the myths surrounding sexual assault circulated in mainstream discourse. Key points for my post today are summed up on page 13 of this report:

For most victims of sexual assault reported to the police, the perpetrator is likely to be known to them. The most commonly reported location where the offence occurs is a residential setting.

This point is expanded on pg 24:

  • All available data sources indicate that over half of perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims. NCSS 2002 estimated that 52% of all adult victims knew the offenders in the most recent incident in the previous 12 months; 58% of female victims and 19% of male victims knew the offenders.
  • The most commonly reported location of sexual assault is residential, often the victim’s own home.

It’s important to note that these are reported assaults, and that most assaults are not reported to the police at all. The report continues (pg 13-14):

There is evidence that most victims of sexual assault do not report the crime to police, and that many do not access the services available to provide support. Factors affecting the decision to report sexual assault include the closeness of the victim-offender relationship and the victim’s perception of the seriousness of the crime.

Victims are more likely to report sexual assault to police if: the perpetrator was a stranger; the victim was physically injured; or the victim was born in Australia.

The ABS report also points out (on pg 32) that in assaults in the last 12 months, 60% did not involve alcohol, 38% did. The figures don’t indicate where the perpetrator or victim had consumed alcohol.

The following facts are also noted:

In Women’s Safety Survey 1996 data :

  • approximately one in six Australian women (16%) reported that they had experienced sexual assault at some time since the age of 15
  • one in six Australian women (15%) reported that they had been stalked during their lifetime
  • one in four Australian women (27%) reported that they had experienced sexual harassment in the previous 12 months.

It’s important to point out that men are also victims of sexual violence, though at lower rates, and with far smaller numbers of assaults reported.

It’s also important to remember that ‘sexual violence’ and sexually threatening behaviour is broader than the conventionally heterosexual definition of penetrative intercourse (where the p3nis penetrates the vag1na). So ‘rape’ or ‘assault’ leaks out beyond the heterosexual notion of ‘sex’. To talk about sexual assault, we need to expand our definitions of rape, and of sexual activity and of violence. This then allows us to talk about men as victims of assault (as well as perpetrators), and men as the victims of male and female violence. I think it’s also important to remember that the sexual abuse of children constitutes rape.

So, then, a useful point from the slutwalk protests and discussions around the place:

What you (male or female) wear is not the reason you were assaulted.

and

Yes means yes and no means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go.

and

Most assaults happen in the home (or domestic spaces), not darkened alleys, and most people are raped/assaulted by people they know. In most instances there’s no alcohol involved.

How does all this relate to dancing?

Sexual assault and harassment happens in the lindy hop world
Firstly, there have been sexual assaults in dance scenes all over the world. Most are no doubt not reported. I have personally heard of one incidence in Melbourne, where community discussion of the assault was not terribly useful, largely phrased in terms of a woman ‘being violated’. I don’t know if she knew her assailant. Perhaps the most widely discussed (in the United States and online) sex offence was Bill Borgida’s arrest for possession of illegal pornography (specifically pornography featuring children). This was discussed at length in the Yehoodi thread ‘Bill Borgida: Two Counts: Child Porn’. Borgida responded to the issue with a public letter to ‘the dance community’, also posted on Yehoodi, in the thread A letter to the Dance Community from Bill Borgida.

This second issue is particularly disturbing, as Borgida travelled internationally, visiting Australia as well as many other countries. I knew him quite well, and my own feelings about this issue are fraught. I felt furious, upset, sad, hurt, betrayed, guilty, anxious, angry, confused. I want nothing more to do with him, ever. But the responses in the open letter thread on Yehoodi are more complex. Many people feel still support him and forgive him. I cannot.

Most significantly, I’ve been stunned by many people’s regard for the possession of prnography as a relatively victimless crime. There seems to be a vast chasm between consumption and production in this thinking. They cannot seem to grasp the idea that possessing and consuming pornography featuring children is at once supporting a market for the material and endorsing its production. The production is beyond reprehensible: this is sexual assault. Of children. Many, many children, over many years. All recorded and distributed for adults’ pleasure. Possession of this material is equivalent to producing it.

I don’t want to suggest that using prnography is the same as raping, or that using prn leads to raping people. It doesn’t. But the way we use prn and produce prn, and our attitudes towards sexual activities are informed by broader issues of gender and power and identity. So sexual assault becomes a symptom of, or expression of, a perpetrator’s ideas or feelings about power. Having it, not having it, taking it, fighting it. Child abuse, then, is about perpetrators with power harming less powerful people – children. Using child prnography is about finding violent power sexually exciting. These sorts of ideas and feelings about power and other people do not stay safely partitioned in your ‘private life’.

I’ve also been suprised by many dancers’ willingness to separate what happens on the dance floor from what people do off the dance floor, or in their ‘private lives’. I can’t. I increasingly believe that the way we dance reflects our broader ideas about the world, and about the way we feel about other people. For example, the rough or inconsiderate lead is frequently socially inept or clumsy and disrespectful of women off the dance floor. I am unwilling to disassociate dance from cultural context.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. Thinking about people you know – and like – committing acts of sexualised violence on other people you know – and like! – is really difficult. It’s so difficult and horrifying that many of us would just rather not think about it at all. If we make it disappear by defining rape in a way that simply ignores most assaults, the problem become manageable and less frightening. It won’t happen to me if I don’t wear a short skirt, if I drive a car, if I don’t drink, if I don’t talk to strangers. My wife/sister/friend/lover/daughter is safe if I walk her to her car or I fight off an attacker in the street.

Dancers do not challenge sexually inappropriate behaviour often enough.

I also frequently come across the sentiment in dance discourse (online and face to face) that swing dancers are ‘good people’. Yes, many of them are. But I am certain that many of them are also capable of, and do perpetrate, sexual assault. I think this is a difficult idea to talk about in dancing. So much of what we do is dependent upon the idea that we are all ‘good people’ who just want to ‘enjoy themselves’ in ‘harmless dancing’. We also trust the person we are dancing with, who we touch, intimately, and who we work with, creatively. I find it deeply disturbing to think about being in a closed embrace with someone who is capable of sexual violence.

There is very little violence at social dance events. I’ve only ever witnessed one incidence, in extreme circumstances. But I have witnessed many incidences of bullying and sexual harassment. There are endless stories about leads who physically handle women into lifts or air steps in dangerous contexts. Or followers who do not take responsibility for their own balance or kicks. We’ve all got a story about the guy with the tent in his pants who presses too closely to uncomfortable women in the blues room. We’ve all got a story about that guy who always ‘accidentally’ does the boob swipe in class or on the dance floor. Many of us also have stories about women who perpetrate an unwelcome ‘beaver clamp’ in the blues room or spend too much time draped over men off the dance floor. Though it’s difficult to compare men’s and women’s inappropriate behaviour, and they work in different ways within a broader context of patriarchal society.

Most disturbingly, swing dance culture advocates tolerance of these sorts of actions. We are told, repeatedly that we should never say no to a dance. Women in particular are encouraged in most scenes to wait for a man to ask her to dance, and then to be so grateful for the dance she should tolerate all sorts of inappropriate behaviour just to be dancing. Women are also discouraged from dancing with other women, where they might have the opportunity to dance in a clearly nonsexual partnership. And, just as worryingly, it is very, very rare for a man to talk to his friends or other women about women’s inappropriate behaviour. Men are expected a) to enjoy sexual attention, and b) to not feel threatened by women. I mean, when I wrote, explicitly and in detail about particular men in the post Hot Male Bodies, was I crossing a line? Was that inappropriate?

This raises yet another issue in dance. What does sexualised dancing mean? Is this public or private space? Is it appropriate to take something from the dance floor and then decontextualise it, take it away from the dancer themselves? Dancers seem to negotiate this stuff every day in sophisticated ways. I mean, there are millions of amateur clips of performances, but it’s much less common to find footage of social dancing. It is as though most of us have agreed that social dancing is ‘private’, even when it’s conducted in the exact same spaces with the exact same people. If it is regarded as private, then, is that why we have so much difficulty making clear, hardline condemnations of sexual harassment on the dance floor – the tentpants, boobswipes and beaverclamps which make us so uneasy, but are so unlikely to be openly and immediately censured? After all, our broader societies find it so difficult to legislate domestic violence and sexual assault…

There are covert methods for dealing with this sexual harassment and bullying. We tee up a friend to quickly intervene and take us to the dance floor if a ‘dodgy’ person approaches. We learn to physically ‘block’ a partner who wants to get too close. We hide ourselves in a crowd to make approach from ‘undesirables’ difficult.
I’ve also learnt how to deal with men want to bully me in a professional setting. I’ve figured out, for example, how to a) not let male DJs (and they are always male) bully me into letting them DJ when and how they want when I am working to an event coordinator’s brief, b) not feel obliged to hire difficult or bullying DJs, c) make sure everyone pays entry fee when they are required to, regardless of ‘status’, d) not to end up being overworked and exploited by event organisers (either by their design or their incompetence).
It’s important to note that most volunteers at dance events are women. And that we are engaged at all levels in the management and running of events. We have also managed to develop non-confrontational methods for dealing with difficult people. Unfortunately, these methods are usually ‘invisible’, so avoiding the public demonstrations of women’s conflict resolution skills. Their invisibility also maintains the idea that swing scenes are always ‘nice’ and ‘friendly’ and ‘safe’.

I’m framing these ‘everyday’ instances of sexually inappropriate behaviour as sexual harassment and bullying for a reason. Let’s remember those points from the ABS data. Most perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims. If we insist that sexual violence only occurs in public places, is only perpetrated by ‘strangers’ with weapons while women risk their safety wear revealing clothes on the street, we make real rapes invisible. We hide the fact that we are more likely to be assaulted by the man who has driven us home, walked us to our door, gone out to dinner with us many times before. We also discourage women from speaking up about inappropriate actions. Don’t make a scene – the Uppity Woman will not get another dance! It’s not sexual harassment if a man continually touches your breasts on the dance floor?! In this context, the sexual assault by a known person in your own home is also disappeared. The perpetrator doesn’t believe he’s raped someone. The victim is left wondering what she did to deserve this. After all, she’s learnt that she’s not to speak up if she’s touched in a way she doesn’t like or want.

So what are we to do?

This is all bloody depressing. It’s fucking horrible to think about my dance community this way. I do not want to think about the idea that people I know and dance with or share a room with, assault or harass people. I hate the thought that I knew and travelled and danced with Bill Borgida. But I’m certain he’s not the only person who has done these sorts of things. It’s not statistically possible. It’s like last night’s episode of 4Corners about live animal trade, A Bloody Business (Mon 30th May 2011). These things are happening in my community. I’m participating in their continuing by not asking about it, by not looking, by not watching. And, awfully, sexual assault and harassment can happen to me or to people I know and care about. Someone I know could do these things to me. Sexual harassment and assault are a real, immediate, visible part of my life.

So, really, what are we to do? What can we do?

Firstly, I think it’s important to think about broader social and cultural context. This is why I bang on about women dancing and the way we think about women dancing. Do we encourage passivity, acceptance, submission in women dancers? I think we do. Do we also encourage, or at least enable, inappropriate behaviour by men? I think we do. I also think we need to talk about these issues. And to do what we can. For me, that’s meant learning to lead. But it’s also meant asking questions about things like unequal divisions of labour in the dance community. Who is always working the door at social events? Do they actually want to be sitting there all night? Who does get paid and who doesn’t? Why don’t people get paid?

Secondly, I think that going on and on and on about the shitty stuff, getting angrier and angrier and feeling more and more upset without doing something is disempowering. It weakens us with despair. So we need to a) pay attention and ask questions, b) talk about this stuff and then, most importantly, c) DO SOMETHING. I’m a big fan of small, localised change and action. A rally was cool for getting us talking. But it’s not enough. We need to saddle up, friends.

There are things we can do.

I want to talk about how we get home from dancing, because it’s about getting from ‘private’ place to ‘public’ places. This is a tricky one. We’re out late at night, usually on public transport or walking to our cars alone. We’re out with a large group of people, some we know well, many we don’t. All sorts of people come to swing dances. Many of them are socially awkward or inept. Many of them already ring our internal discomfort alarms and have us avoid dancing with them. We go out to drinks or meals after dancing with large groups of people, many we only know by first name even though we see them every week. At the end of the night, how do we get to our cars, to our homes?

My usual instinct is to get a ride with someone in a car, or to organise a group to go via public transport, and then to call Dave so he can meet me at the station. But is it really such a good idea to get a ride with someone from dancing? Even if you’ve seen them every week for a year, what do you really know about them? This is where it gets really tricky. I don’t want to advocate mistrusting every man just because they’re a man. This is why it’s attractive to think ‘only strangers are a threat’. It’s impossible to be wary all the time. And being wary all the time is disempowering. If we’re spending all our time being angry or worrying about being raped, we don’t have time to be excellently powerful and strong. But it also makes sense to think about safety and to be safe. To be aware of our surroundings.

Perhaps a solution is to organise groups of women to travel home together, and to have clear sets of rules for how you get home. No one walks to the station or their car alone. Send a text message to keep in contact. Or to get help. I’m not sure how this should work, but I think we should organise these sorts of things! Sometimes it’s hard to get to know other women at dancing well enough to develop these sorts of support networks and practices. We dance mostly with men in class and socially, we women don’t develop solid peer networks of trust and confidence in each other. Although I have always found that leading, and doing solo stuff with women socially is a key part of developing creative and personal relationships with other women in dancing.

But this talk about ‘getting home’ is still accepting that myth that sexual assault is only done by strangers, only happens in public places, late at night. We should think about the idea that sexual assaults happen at dance events. When we walk to the toilets through the gardens to the toilets at the back of the hall. In the toilets. In the carpark. In dressing rooms. In empty ‘breakout’ rooms at late night dances. At the reception desk while everyone is in dance classes.
These thoughts are far, far more frightening than the idea that we’re only at risk for that 40 minutes on our way from dance to home.

We need to think about safety at dances. And, much more importantly, about dance culture.

So here is what I do.

  • I pay attention to the people at the dance venue. Who is in the room? Who are they watching? How are they acting? If a man slips into the blues venue on Friday night, asking me to “hold the door” which is usually locked, do I know him? If I don’t, where does he go? It’s harder to pay attention to the whole room when I’m dancing than when I’m DJing. When I’m DJing, I’m constantly watching the people in the room. I notice who sits and does nothing. I see the guys who watch women dance and move and sit and talk and walk. I recognise the difference between a sort of general interest and an unnervingly close attention. I take note of the men who boobswipe or target the less confident women, the newer women dancers, the younger women. I pay attention to men who only dance with these type of women or who stand too close to them. There’s often a reason these men are avoided by women dancers who’ve been around. Sometimes it’s just social awkwardness that sets them apart. But sometimes it’s a nameless, discomforting creepiness.
  • I call people on their bullshit. This makes me less popular. But what the fuck. I’m not 20. I don’t need everyone to be my friend. And if I see some guy picking up a shyer, less confident girl and tossing her into some sort of bullshit lift, I’m going to say to him “Stop that.” And I’ll say to her “He’ll hurt you. Don’t let him do that.” Then I’ll make sure I talk to her later, about other stuff, so she knows I’m not shitty with her. I won’t (for the most part) let some dickhead chuck me around. I will call attention to a boobswipe, even it’s to make a joke, even if it’s an accidental boobswipe. I’ll also call guys on sexist jokes or crude, cruel comments. I try to be gentle, but I’m often quite confrontational. This does mean that I’m not going to be asked to dance by some men, many of whom are the ‘best dancers’ or high status. But who gives a shit? And why would I want to dance with that arsehat anyway?
  • I’m also equally determined to appreciate and show my appreciation for positive, excellent behaviour and attitudes. I think it’s like applauding awesome boogie backs when you want to encourage solo dance. It’s easy to get angry. But it’s healthier to get constructive. Carrot rather than stick. This is where men come in handy. If we want men to be the most excellent men they can be, we need excellent men to model excellent behaviour. On the dance floor and off it. Men should call other men on bullshit talk or actions. They needn’t be stroppy. Jokes are very powerful. More importantly, men are excellent, and when they do excellent things and we all applaud them for their metaphoric boogie backs, we are showing other men that being excellent is a lucrative business. We need to change cultures of masculinity, not ridicule men. The challenge, then, becomes how we go about doing this. How, for example, should men express their sexual interest to women? Or appreciate a particularly fine frame on the dance floor? How should men and women do heterosexuality in a positive, empowering ways? We’re creative people, right? We can figure this out.
  • Dance classes are important. Dance classes are a key point in the socialising of new dancers. How do the male lead and female follower model appropriate behaviour on and off the dance floor? Who does most of the talking in class? Who interrupts who, and how often, and how? Who makes the jokes? Who’s the butt of the joke? What type of jokes are they? Is there sexualised talk or joking? What sort of language do teachers use to refer to gender or to leading and following? What analogies do they use? How do they dress? How old are they? What are their relative ages? Where are they teaching? What material are they teaching? Who are the dancers they mention?

I could go on and on and on with this. But I think it’s important to figure out ways of making this work in your own life, and own social context. But, mostly, we need to be Excellent To Each Other.

We also need to be aware of the fact that dance scenes are not all flowers and ponies. Bad shit does happen, and we should do something about it.

43 thoughts on “A Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities”

  1. If you dig a little deeper than the surface you will find some truly unsavory things about the people you dance with, not only limited to sexual activities, but into other areas of civil and criminal liability. Will it make me want to avoid those people? Probably. But there are also two sides to every story.

    I agree with your calling people out for harassment. Generally people are nice at first, dismissing it as an accident, but after a few times and a few more follows complaint about it, we usually put our heads together and figure out what to do about it. It has resulted in one of the follows, after consulting with a group of follows, confronting the perpetrator in an appropriate manner and this method has been successful for our scene, for an issue of personal hygiene. Another follow dealt with a lead who didn’t understand that no-means-no by a more forceful threat, because, at that point, he had harassed so many follows it had become distressing to try to avoid him at dances. The threat worked and he now no longer asks certain people to dance who were included in the “If you don’t leave X, Y, and Z alone I will punch your face in.” It shouldn’t have to get to that point and there were, perhaps, better ways to deal with it, but the desired result was achieved.

    I feel fortunate to have been dancing for over a decade and have not encountered that many incidents of perpetual creepers and assaults. I am a lawyer and I can tell you that the incidence of these kinds of events are far more common with my client base than in my social sphere. I hope to keep it that way.

  2. Fuck yes. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listened to follows complain about leads inappropriate behavior and never say anything to them about it, never warn newer follows, never speak up at all. I’ve warned follows about creepsters in our scene, and to leads about respectful boundaries.

    I’m really glad you posted this. I will share it with others.

  3. I think the problem can be summed up in the response of one dancer whose behaviour we challenged:

    “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but nobody said anything so I thought I’d do it anyway.”

    If you do not challenge unacceptable behaviours, you are complicit in them.

  4. [edit] yeah, so I deleted that earlier comment.[/]

    @Lindy Shopper, I like your stories. I like them a lot. I like to think that dancing is a nicer place than the rest of the world. I certainly like the lack of obvious violence, I adore the music and I do love the way dancing makes people just shine with happiness…. although I’m not sure about personal hygiene as a punishable offence…

    @Kevin, it’s a tricky one. I imagine it’s especially hard for men whose female friends are being bothered. I actually don’t get hassled that often. Mostly because I think a lot of blokes find me a bit frightening. Which is ok by me :D But it drives me NUTS to see other women being hassled. I’ve also found it really difficult to see my lovely male friends dealing with aggressively in appropriate women. In that situation it’s even harder to deal with, as there’s even less talk about how men should deal with sexual harassment.

    @anon-organiser: ARGH!

  5. Great article, DP. There is a lot here, but one thing I really picked up on and wanted to say something about…

    The relationship of women to other women in the Lindy Hop. My husband and I always commented to each other after an event that I don’t know any of the women and he didn’t meet any of the guys. I think that because leads outnumber follows so frequently, that sadly, women can sometimes see each other as competition for dancers, rather than fellow creatives.

    Leading has been incredible for me in that I was able to make more female dancer friends and form much stronger bonds with them than ever before. It’s just. So. Awesome. I value my friendships with men very highly, but in a patriarchal society, I think my female relationships and support are so important – especially in the dance community where our role in the dance (default follows) is less valued than the males’.

    Leading is the absolute best almost exclusively for this reason. Yea, it’s super fun, yea, it makes a statement about what my gender is and how I express it, yea, it gives me a better technical and creative understanding of the dance – but before all of that it’s helped me build great friendships with other women. I feel like before we were all isolated all in competition for the leads, but in taking the lead myself, I’m suddenly free.

    Everyone should do it. Men too. Dudes, learn to follow. So cool.

  6. Lovin’ this post and would like to add to the discussion, because I think it’s JUST THAT IMPORTANT.

    “Yes means yes and no means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go.”

    I like the ‘yes means yes’ addition. Very affirming of my ability to say yes! But what about all the ‘maybes’? I’ve had years in my life where I’ve been a Maybe Girl. Maybe I’d like to go out with you. Maybe it’s okay if you brush my boob. Maybe it’s okay if you lead me by the neck like that.

    Women can do so much more to be clear on their boundaries with men. Yes, I’d love to go out with you. No, you can’t brush my boob, please fix that. And I freaking hate neck leads; you must never do that again.

    But it meant I had to know my needs and be confident enough to express them. Now, I can’t tell a girl whether she wants to have sex with a guy (so that her ‘maybe’ doesn’t progress to Stuff Happening that she didn’t want to happen).

    But I think we CAN create a community where it’s not ‘unsexy’ to clearly state your boundaries. Where people won’t avoid dancing with you because you’re direct (aka a bitch). Where women feel confident in voicing their needs.

    One strategy I use:

    Telling new follows it’s best to just say no if they don’t want to dance with someone. Insist that they say no if they get a weird vibe. I find it frustrating (though understandable) when follows won’t just say no to guys that make them uncomfortable.

    If our scene can tolerate snobbiness based on dance level, then we can absolutely embrace women making empowered decisions about who to interact with, and when and how they want to interact.

    One more strategy I’d like to see:

    I want men to approach teenage dancers in this scene more appropriately. The best way to do that is for other men to say, “Yo dude, quit flirting with that 17 year old. It’s not appropriate.”

    Okay Mr. Man, maybe that 17-year-old cutie is gonna turn 18 in a few months. Are you thinking it’s open season the day she becomes ‘legal’? Oh hell no. She doesn’t have her wits about her any more than she did they day before.

    I understand how hard it is to ignore both of your natural hormonal impulses. I’ve only gotten marginally better at it since I was 16. But hormones raging does not mean flirtation and sexual cavorting are next up on the list.

    It takes girls a while to figure this out, same as guys. The larger the age gap, the more likely you are simply taking advantage of her.

    When you’re both kids, you’re making mistakes together. When you’re 30 and she just turned 18, no matter how ‘mature’ she is, she has a lot more to learn than you do. Even if she’s indignant that you think she’s not mature enough, it’s up to you, the older adult, to set the tone.

    Oh darn! We lindy hoppers just want to have fun! Why do we have to set good examples for kids?

    Because if you make a mistake, you’ll end up hurting that teenage girl with flimsy boundaries. Teenagers are still figuring their shit out. Help them do that by setting your own clear boundaries with them.

    Okay, end rant to fictional guy lindy hopper. Thanks for listening.

  7. Another bloody well written post, DP. Thanks for writing it. Certainly makes one assess every action, which is never a bad thing.

  8. This article is interesting. I think I have mostly had that “but dancers are good people!” attitude historically, though I’ve certainly come across some blatantly abusive people. There is a lead in our scene who needs to be talked to. I know some organizers were discussing confronting him, but I’m not sure if that happened. This is a good reminder and motivation to find out what happened with that.

  9. Great post!

    And I agree with many of your points. I think many of us do tend to dismiss inappropriate behaviour to begin with, telling ourselves that “they are new, maybe they don’t realise” or “it’s just ……. , they’ve been around for ages and they are pretty much harmless” or “he/she had been told, but they obviously don’t listen so we just deal with it.

    One thing I have become increasingly aware of more recently, is that many dancers tend to be more physically ‘over-familiar’ or touchy-feely with their dancing friends, than perhaps they would be within their other social circles, or other dancers they don’t know so well. Things like prolonged and/or regular hugs, sitting/lying on each others lap, kisses on the cheek, poking, tickling, running across a dancefloor to grab a friend to dance, and in some cases some ‘inappropriate’ jokes, usually of sexual nature, but accepted within a close circle of friends etc. I’m not saying that these behaviours are by any means exclusive to dancers, but I have certainly seen them far for often among dancing scenes than any other social circles I have been exposed to. I guess that to an extent this is not surprising given the amount of time us dancers spend in each others personal space, just through the sheer nature of the activity. And I’m not necessarily saying it’s a bad thing. I like hugs, when it’s someone I am familiar and comfortable with. But my issue with this trend is (and hopefully this has some relevance to your article):

    New dancers to the scene see these behaviours and assume that it’s the acceptable way to act; without realising that they actually need to build a degree of trust and familiarity with people first. This has resulted in behaviours that inevitably result in other peoples discomfort and a LOT of complaining. I can only speak from a womans perspective, but over the past few months I have heard, for the first time since I started dancing in 2007, several stories about new(ish) leads acting inappropriately around girls they don’t really know that well. I’m talking things like flirting during class, prolonged hand-holding to get a girls attention to ask for a dance, inappropriate jokes, and asking the same girl to dance over and over again even when her body language indicates that she doesn’t want to dance. And they don’t seem to pick up on the fact that the girl is not responding to this behaviour. They don’t seem to realise that it’s not ok to act like that just because a woman is nice to them.
    I was talking to a friend from another city who had recently come over for our local lindy exchange, who had had a conversation with a relatively new dancer (whom she had just met). He seemed to think it was ok to express his ‘disappointment’ that he didn’t get to host any one this year, and then proceded to say that the only available bed in his house would have been the other half of his!. Needless to say, despite the fact that he (hopefully) appeared to be attempting to make a joke, my friend was pretty appalled and creeped out! I am going to take a guess here, and state that there may be some other guys in the scene who could probably get away with a comment like that. But these would be guys who are well known enough that others feel comfortable enough around them to accept such a statement as a passing joke….

    I’ve been thinking about this more so lately, and wondering why it has become the case. One theory is that, like you mentioned, that dancing does seem to attract a variety of people with a degree of ‘social awkwardness’ who just want to fit in with the new dance scene they have become addicted to. So they look around, observe the behaviours that “the cool” people display and respond well to and therefore assume that either a) Its acceptable for all dancers to behave like that, no matter who they are around or b) Thats the way they need to behave to be fully accepted into the scene.

    For the first few years of my dancing, I didn’t really have any issues about feeling uncomfortable around anyone. I had my circle of friends I trusted, but pretty much anyone I interacted with was pretty trustworthy, and I didn’t need to worry so much about how what I say or do could be misinterpreted by other guys in the dance scene. Now, not only do I hear stories from other follows and leads about some leads, I am also for the first time finding that I need to be more hyper-vigilant!

  10. This was an interesting article. I got about half way through it, though, and I had to get up to take a break.
    While you call attention to some important things, the way you addressed things made me feel a little uncomfortable.
    I think it’s important to call attention to this kind of stuff, because there IS the tendency to think that in our Lindy Hop community of well-educated and/or socially awkward people, that sexual harassment and assault doesn’t occur. I’m sure it does. But at the same time, it feels like you’ve blown things a little out of proportion. Of course these things happen, but I think more than it being driven by attitudes within the dance community, it’s because the dance community is a cross-section of the population, where you are certainly going to find this kind of thing.
    I don’t think there are many things inherently wrong with the Lindy Hop community that encourage or ignore this behaviour. In some ways it feels like blaming the way a woman dresses for her rape. You’re blaming the way the swing dance community is for these things going unchecked, but ultimately, it’s the perpetrators that are responsible. Watching people, becoming suspicious, trying to organise groups that travel together for safety, blaming certain character types – while important to some extent, we should be wary of such things. Sexual harassment and assault aren’t going to go away. The emphasis you place on these things seems to propagate fear more than address the issue.
    I DO, however, think you’ve made some good points. Inappropriate behaviour of some dancers (generally male, I guess) does go unchecked to some extent – uncomfortable and all-too-intimate blues dances are often not talked about because generally dancers are afraid to appear impolite or unsympathetic to the more socially awkward portion of the dance community. Making dancers feel like they can’t turn down a partner can be dangerous. But I don’t feel that you offer solutions for these problems, either.
    I agree with what Rebecca said above: “But I think we CAN create a community where it’s not ‘unsexy’ to clearly state your boundaries.”
    I think this is something that needs to be focussed on a lot more. DEFINITELY.
    Outside of that, though, I definitely haven’t seen an environment that turns a blind eye to the possibility of sexual assault and harassment. In my experience, it seems to be something that people would be happy to openly address and deal with it if something truly serious was known about. Most people I know (here, anyway) would be happy to protect people within the community who they knew were being/had been harassed or taken advantage of.

    I had more to add, but I’ve honestly lost my train of thought.

  11. @SA
    It’s not my job to offer solutions. This is just a blog post where I think through ideas. I’m not writing an undergrad essay or a journal article or a manual. And I think that the solutions and strategies people come up with should be culturally specific. ie, something that might work in an American city mightn’t work here in Sydney, or in Seoul. So I can’t say “hey, do a, b and c and you’ll fix all the fucked up shit in your scene.” What I can do, though, is find ways that _I_ can be useful.

    Yes, perpetrators are responsible for their own behaviour, but making whole communities responsible for violence is exactly my point. I’m actually saying this very deliberately: we are, as communities, responsible for and participate in, shared values and ideologies and discourses. If we _don’t_ get proactive about bullshit gender stuff, we are _complicit_ in even worse stuff.

    It’s like the ethical treatment of animals in the food industry. If we don’t ask where our meat comes from, if we continue to eat unethical meat, we are complicit in the suffering of animals. If we don’t ask questions about (for example) the language people use to address each other, we are complicit in condoning the ideas this language contains. So I’m going to call some dickhead on his stupid arse sexist or racist or homophobic joke because otherwise I’m saying, with my silence “Hey, what you’re saying – it’s ok!”

    It’s like when a move isn’t quite working in a class, right? It’s crap to just assume it’s the other person’s issue. Go into the partnership (or pathetic metaphor) assuming that you are probably contributing to the move-fail. And then work collaboratively with that partner to make it work.

    This is how we should approach community problems. Something isn’t working. If I’m not doing something to actively fix it, I am part of the not-working.

    Everyone else: it’s a bit late for me to be replying to other comments. We have an episode of Forbrydelsen to watch!

  12. I encounter sexual harassment in the workplace, in church, on air planes, etc. all too often. And when I return to my scene, I tell a lead about my experience if he responds with “yes, that’s messed up, what are you going to do? are you ok?” I dance with him every time I am out. If they do not react like that, I don’t seek them out if I dance with them at all. This way, I know who realizes how common harassment really is, who is looking out for me, who is actually respectful regarding these situations. And most importantly, I tell follows “dance with those guys, they are good people” because sometimes you are just tired of the list of who to avoid every night.
    And I agree that a guy who is abusive on the dance floor is someone I am not interested in spending any additional time with because it’s so easy to tell that he doesn’t care about you, and he doesn’t care about what other people witness him doing to women.

  13. Good article. A lot of this sounded a little two familiar.

    Just a cultural question…I learned to dance in Northern California, and have spent the last two years living in Illinois, and I have never once heard an instructor, or anyone else for that matter, even so much as imply that you should never say no to a dance. Quite the opposite, in fact. Especially in the Blues scene where things tend to get a little closer, but as well with Lindy, I’ve heard said very often that if someone, lead or follow, is making you uncomfortable or physically hurting you, you shouldn’t dance with them. Granted, the general implication is you should be polite, and most will make an excuse to save face, but I’d honestly feel horrified if someone who felt uncomfortable dancing with me also felt they couldn’t say no. Not having had the opportunity to dance internationally, do you think this is more of a local issue, or have I been that lucky? Or do you think I’m just that blind? It raises some scary questions, I’ve always thought of the dancing community as being, in general, above this sort of thing.

  14. You know, I really want to reply to all your comments, but I find it a bit too upsetting to think about this topic atm. Which I guess is the point, right?

  15. My experience with the expectations of my local dance scene (Midwestern) has been somewhat different than yours. Same-sex dances are encouraged, if for no other reason than that the girls so completely outnumber the boys on such a regular basis. And while you identify girl-on-girl dances as an opportunity for a nonsexual dance experience, the most sexual dance in which I have ever participated was with another female.

    One of the things I most enjoy about the swing scene is its willingness to protect its members from sexual predation. We make it plain to new dancers that it is always your right to refuse a dance (though it is your responsibility to be polite about it). We know who the creepers are, and we warn the new dancers about them and protect each other from them. In my three years of dancing, I have only ever had one dance that made me feel truly threatened and uncomfortable in that get-him-off-me-I-feel-dirty sort of way. The follows from my dance scene now recognize and avoid Creepy Hat Man, as we have dubbed him, and help each other avoid him.

    I think you’re right, though, to raise the issue that we can, and probably should, do more about the situation than just avoiding it. Our swing club was until quite recently saddled with a member with whom no one wanted to dance – in part because he was older, in part because he was simply a bad lead, but most importantly, because of his consistent disregard for follows’ wishes about things like blues in close embrace. For the most part, we dealt with the situation by avoiding it: helping each other to avoid dancing with him, refusing to make eye contact when he was pretty plainly trying to ask for a dance. While he was berated for specific incidents in which he went WAY over the line, I can’t help but think that we owed it to him, and to ourselves, to deliver a more general message: Your dancing makes girls uncomfortable. They stop coming because they don’t want to have to dance with you. You need to stop, or you need to go away.

    I’m not sure why were so reluctant to impart that message to him, but after reading your post, it’s become clear to me that that’s how we should have handled the situation.

  16. “I can’t help but think that we owed it to him, and to ourselves, to deliver a more general message: Your dancing makes girls uncomfortable. They stop coming because they don’t want to have to dance with you. You need to stop, or you need to go away.”

    YES. I have advocated the direct approach many times in similar situations, but the general consensus amongst my dance peers is that no one wants to deal with the fallout. I’ve even volunteered to be the one to deliver the direct, no-nonsense message to the person’s face. But still, complicity and the status quo are hard to overcome!

    I advocate this approach because I’ve had enormous success with it in my personal affairs. It works. Avoidance fails to achieve the desired outcome. End of story.

  17. I take some issue with your statement that women are so strongly encouraged never to say no to a dance. I think in general there is a feeling that women should be “responders,” but swing seems to be a more “open” scene in terms of gender boundaries when it comes to saying no to dance requests. Beginning dancers do have a strong sense of “Men ask women; women should say yes,” but it seems like as dancers become more experienced, this “wears off” to some extent.
    However, the thing about the Lead/Follow dynamic is that it IS a bit of a throwback/archaic interaction pattern. Social dancing, as a cultural phenomenon, is largely a thing of the past. Modern gender communication has to take something of a step back when you are working with the element of “antiquated” gender roles, and perhaps the desire to fit in and go with the flow of that old timey pattern contributes lack of assertive women. Outside the scene, they might be more vocal about feeling violated, but because they are interacting in a counter- or sub-cultural scene, they aren’t going to do so in that context.

  18. *When I say social dancing as a cultural phenomenon is largely a thing of the past, I mean that we’ve replaced partner social dancing with solo and club dancing.

  19. >>>I’m not sure why were so reluctant to impart that message to him, but after reading your post, it’s become >>>clear to me that that’s how we should have handled the situation.

    We also had a creepy guy with a hat and didn’t jump into action at the first clear evidence. An unacceptable incident occurred and I (as a less experienced dancer) asked more experienced organisers and dancers for their opinion. The two responses I got were:
    1. This is the risk you take if you blues dance. It just happens and you have to accept that. I never have and would not do anything about this kind of behaviour at one of my events.
    2. Let’s not be mean. He’s older and not a good dancer. We’d probably accept it if it came from someone more attractive/a better dancer. There’s a guy in this other city who’s just the same. We’d be picking on this guy if we challenged him. He probably doesn’t mean it. He’s just a bit awkward.

    After the event (a) I was angry at myself for acquiesced to doing nothing and (b) it became clear that there had been a real, serious problem which we could not ignore, so the person was challenged. at which point we got the response I gave above.

    I think these responses highlight some of the reasons why as a community we don’t always leap up though. Firstly, this was the first occasion in several years of dancing that I’d come across someone clearly crossing the line so I didn’t have precedent. Secondly, in those years of dancing I had also never heard of anybody ever being challenged. Challenging somebody was a big step that felt like it broke community norms. Thirdly, you get the victim-blaming going on: “if you blues dance you’re asking for it”. Fourthly, it is just frickin’ hard to challenge somebody. You don’t want to assume they’re a creep or make them feel back (because there are people who are genuinely clueless and don’t mean to cause offence). Then if they’re not a good dancer or perhaps they’re a bit older than your usual crowd, you do feel like you might just be cross because you don’t like them personally.

    The challenges still need to happen though. If you don’t try to stop someone then you are complicit in the next person they “attack”. Furthermore, if you don’t challenge somebody, then you send the message to the “attacker”, the “victim” and everyone there that this kind of thing is okay. I think it’s important to challenge, and not just to challenge but to make it quietly known that a challenge was made. The latter has to be done carefully because this isn’t about humiliation or bullying, but I think boundaries need to be seen to be enforced as well as actually enforced.

    Finally, some random points:

    1. My philosophy, which I attempt to pass on to my students, is that it’s never okay to decline a dance because of that person’s dancing ability, but that you always have the right to decline a dance with somebody on the grounds of their personality. If you don’t get on with them, or you don’t feel safe/comfortable with them, or you just have a bad vibe, then say no.

    2. Particularly when I teach close-hold dancing, I always make a point of saying that if anybody ever makes hip contact or does something dodgy, you should tell the event organiser. Firstly it’s true, and secondly I want it to be clear from day one that just because we’re dancing close and wiggling our hips doesn’t mean that anything goes.

    3. It’s interesting to see how scenes differ around the world. Most of our intermediate follows can and do lead, and most of our intermediate leads can and do follow. I’d go so far as to say that at any one point in time at a social dance, there will always be one same-sex or reversed-role couple on the dance floor, and usually in lessons as well. This also has a huge impact on how the teaching works: being able to lead makes it so much easier for the follow to be active rather than “just a body”.

  20. Sam,
    All this talk is reminding me of a quote re-stumbled across this week & love, from SAFER Campus, in a blog post called “Real Campus Safety Tips:”
    http://www.safercampus.org/blog/2008/03/real-campus-safety-tips/

    The hardest two:

    * Self-assess. Have you ever used your body weight to keep someone from pushing you off and ending sex with them? Have you ever kept going after your partner said “No” or “Stop” ? Have you ever tricked or threatened someone into having sex with you? Have you ever had sex with someone you knew was very drunk (slurring words, having trouble standing, not awake)? Have you ever had someone cry or scream upon waking up in bed with you? Have you ever been contacted the next day by someone wanting to know what happened the night before? If you answered yes to any of the first four questions you have crossed the line into the legal definition of rape in most states. If you answered yes to the last two, you’ve either crossed over or tread awfully close. Stop. Seek help. You are the problem, and only you can change your behavior.

    So important, since even lots of people who are against sexual violence commit it sometimes (everybody sins in ways they wish they wouldn’t). I wish we would also, as a community, think about how to help people do this.

    Which I think you do with these:

    I call people on their bullshit.

    &

    I’m also equally determined to appreciate and show my appreciation for positive, excellent behaviour and attitudes.

    I think it’s that kind of bystander behavior that helps perpetrators “self-assess,” in a way.

    Maybe not to the point where they’re, like, going to counseling over their past behaviors. Or even heavily pondering the reality of their behaviors being sexual violence. But often to the point where they go, “Oh shit” and don’t do them again, or as much as before!

  21. SA wrote:

    Of course these things happen, but I think more than it being driven by attitudes within the dance community, it’s because the dance community is a cross-section of the population, where you are certainly going to find this kind of thing.

    @SA:
    I agree with the cause of sexual assault being that it’s a cross-section of the population.

    But I think that we’ll only arrive at our best solutions to bettering the general population if we understand how “attitudes within the dance community” can prevent us from reaching that goal.

  22. I love the comments here…you guys are such bystander intervention badassess–those of you who’ve shared what you did, and those of you who’ve reflected and come up with things that would have been good to do!

  23. I often wonder if I’m doing something wrong/unwanted and generally try and err on the side of staying away versus getting to close to follows but I still wonder about how people feel about dancing. Something else that wasn’t quite brought up (probably b/c the author was focusing on lindy and not blues) is that what is ok w/ one follow/lead might not be for the next. I know that there are things that I would feel comfortable doing w/ some follows (and leads) that I wouldn’t w/ others and I think that also complicates things like calling people out on stuff.

    Maybe one of the things that should be taught in intro blues/swing classes is how to say “Hey that’s actually pretty creepy can you stop?” I think that if that was taught in intro classes it would not only make it easier to let people know that they CAN tell some one they’re being creepy but also that their not just being mean when they say that they’re being creeped out.

    Anyways as a male lead (and occasional follow) of both blues and swing dancing I’d like to say that it can at times be pretty difficult to know if something is or isn’t acceptable when I’m dancing let alone when other people are dancing. So I’d really appreciate being told politely if I’m doing something wrong and I hope that the same is true for other dancers. Because if I am doing something creepy it is completely unintentional and I’d like to know so that I can stop doing it.

  24. Hey, I’m still reading along, you blokes. But I don’t really know where to start in responding to individual comments. But I am reading along and paying attention… except to that comment by some dumbarse who said they didn’t read the whole post, or any of the comments, but had to ask if I didn’t spell out some words completely because they were ‘dirty’. That person fails internet and deserves only public ridicule.

    You know what I really like about everyone’s comments? The way people are posting from different scenes all over the place (mostly America, admittedly), and with different ideas and approaches. That’s cool.

  25. I was at an event in an unfamiliar city and found myself in a very uncomfortable blues dance (the lead’s hand was on my butt A LOT and it was very uncomfortably sexual). Afterwards, a woman (one of the organizers I think) approached me and asked if I felt comfortable with the dance I just had. I said, “No.” and she went over and had some words with him. I really appreciated that, since I have yet to work up the nerve to tell a lead he’s making me feel uncomfortable. Usually I just endure the rest of the dance and then avoid/turn him down forever after that.

  26. One of the most valuable things that women can do is to warn each other. I’ve been told that new women are warned about creepy guys in the rest room. Please keep it up.

    But also the good guys need to be made aware as well. I’ve walked plenty of women to their cars and am always honored to be asked. But women should also remember that they do subtle better than most guys. If you need help, please state it out plainly so we know what you’re talking about.

    I’ve been big for over thirty years now and it took me a long time to appreciate how the world is different to someone 1/3 my size.

    Oh yeah, dancers always have a shoe bag. There is room in there for a small knife or something else that can be used as a weapon. No means no, but a spike in the knee means HELL NO.

  27. I see your points, John, but the purpose of rallies like slutwalk, and of my post, is to say that we shouldn’t make women responsible for men’s actions. So, women aren’t responsible for being raped. Sure, we think for ourselves, but we need to target the behaviour of people who _commit_ assaults, rather than the people who are assaulted.

  28. John, I think the point is that historically the focus has always been on what women should do to protect themselves, and anyone assaulting or harrassing a woman who hasn’t followed those “rules” is justified because “she was asking for it” or “she didn’t make it plain enough”. Thus, the goal is to try and shift society’s attitude to make it so that everyone is perfectly clear that assault and harrassment are always wrong no matter what you’re wearing, whether you’re alone or not, and whether you said no quietly or with a weapon.

    To risk an analogy: pretty much everyone agrees that when you leave your house you lock the doors. However, if you forget to and somebody robs you, people don’t go round saying “Well, you were asking for it. The robber just couldn’t help themselves. That was a clear invitation to go in and rob you. We’re not going to prosecute the thief because it’s your fault for giving confusing signals.” We need society to have that attitude to sexual harrassment.

    We can’t stop people doing bad things. That will always happen. We can, however, change our attitudes so that we don’t enable and excuse the people doing those bad things. Bad stuff is more likely to happen when people think they can get away with it, and in our society, it is so so easy to get away with rape and harrassment, because a hundred people will stand up and defend it as “just a joke” or “a misunderstanding” or “she led him on; she deserved it”. Even though there undoubtedly are things one can do to reduce the risk of being attacked, I therefore think that as a community, what we can most usefully do is send the message that dodgy stuff is always wrong and will not be tolerated.

  29. Chris F. makes a some great points. I’ve been dancing regularly for several years now, and sometimes still find it difficult to tell whether something – hand placement for example – is comfortable for a woman. Clothing, age, relative ages, and dance level do, I’m sure make a difference. But to what extent from one person (or scene) to the next? I’ve found it helps to just ask at the outset ‘is this hold comfortable for you?’

    I dance both ballroom and swing, and a hold mid-back or in the small of the back (common in my swing scene & taught as necessary for swing-outs & some more advanced moves) can be seen as very forward in ballroom for example. It has taken some adjustment to learn that this isn’t necessarily the case in Swing, and I’m sure both men & women new to the scene find a certain degree of anxst in this.

  30. This article really makes me appreciate the scenes that I have been a part of here in Canada. We have always been taught to tell a partner if they are too close or you are uncomfortable and that you can say no as long as you are polite about it.

    “We’ve all got a story about the guy with the tent in his pants who presses too closely to uncomfortable women in the blues room. We’ve all got a story about that guy who always ‘accidentally’ does the boob swipe in class or on the dance floor. Many of us also have stories about women who perpetrate an unwelcome ‘beaver clamp’ in the blues room or spend too much time draped over men off the dance floor.”
    I feel very fortunate to not have experienced any of these things in my dance communities.

    “Women are also discouraged from dancing with other women, where they might have the opportunity to dance in a clearly nonsexual partnership.”
    This has always been encouraged where I have danced and I love leading. There are also lots of guys who dance together in my scenes. Although I find it odd that this discludes any possibility of homosexuality or bisexuality. I know lots of bi female dancers who would likely disagree with this statement.

    I hope I never have to confront any of the behaviours mentioned but I will definitely keep the suggestions in mind for the future.

  31. Wow I just went to a social dance for the first time in a while last night and a couple of dances really unsettled me. This post is amazing and important and I know the Seattle scene is lacking this type of awareness and activism. We don’t have the “tell a partner if they are too close or you are uncomfortable and that you can say no as long as you are polite about it.” Kimberley described, but I am determined to use that in my experiences from now on.

  32. Hi! I know I am commenting waaaay late in the game but I had a thought that I would like to see more addressed. First of all – thank you for this. It’s so important. I usually think of myself as being pretty good at intervening and speaking up both for myself and others even when people don’t like it. (I remember a time where I was insisting that a particular man should be asked to leave the scene. While everyone agreed that there was a problem, they responded with “he’s part of the community”. Grrrrrrrrrrr.) However, in reading this, I realised an area that I could do more (or where more should be done in general as I doubt that I could have that much influence) and that is with teachers and leaders in the scene. This is a major problem because people take their cues socially from teachers, DJs, leaders, etc and I think a lot of the times what perpetuates the bad behaviour – whether it’s sexually forward/inappropriate talk or action – is the acceptance of it within the leadership itself. Admittedly, I have failed to recognize the gravity of what was going on in certain situations because a) I was so surprised by it that I didn’t fully recognize what was happening at first and b) I liked the attention in general and didn’t feel that uncomfortable even though I believe it was inappropriate – which is probably a sign that it is prevalent! On the flip side, when I have addressed misogynistic, over domineering behaviour (power issues being deeply linked to sexual abuse), attitudes, etc with those leads themselves, I have more often than not been responded to with condescension, overly strong bullying etc. They either seem to think I am seeing things that aren’t there or that I’m overreacting or know that it’s happening and just don’t care. It’s very hard to break through that wall, to change those attitudes, esp. when those people are running major events, internationally renowned etc – much more so, in my estimation, than dealing with a perennial creep who is a bad dancer. What are your suggestions in these cases?

  33. I completely understand what you are saying here. It seems to be a fine line in the dance world as a whole. After we get a couple women complaining at our lindy events, I have been asked to “escort” men out on a few occasions. Our scene has a zero tolerance for unwanted behavior. If they continue the next time we see them, then they are asked not to return to any event we happen to be sponsoring.

  34. Bill was a predator. Plain and simple. He made young and attractive women feel uncomfortable and older less “hot” women feel inadequate (his leading made you feel like you didn’t know what you were doing, his attitude cocky and patronizing).
    But you couldn’t talk about him as he had that kind of hold in his dance communities.
    After awhile I didn’t care and I started warning young women about him. He heard about this and came to me and verbally eviscerated me for “judging” him and so on….it was really bad.
    Well now he’s in jail and I’m happy. Women are safe from one less creep out there.

    1. Thanks, for your comment, Paula. I was an older women, even 16 years when I was about 46 and had just moved to Ithaca, because it had better Lindy than Philly. I was dismayed that I couldn’t get his attention to teach me with any kind of interest. I really wanted to learn. He was a terrible lead, not fun at all. The message, I think, was that I was too old.

  35. I think this is excellent. About time these uncomfortable subjects are brought to light!
    I love to swing dance, BUT I feel about 50% of the time I go to either a dance class or a social dance, I get creeped on. I don’t know if it’s how I look, or if it’s because I go out of my way to be friendly to people, or if this is normal. I live in a place (Midwest USA) where it’s very important to be “nice” which for women means not saying anything about being harassed. I have actually had my FEMALE INSTRUCTOR tell me a guy’s behavior (cornering me exiting dance venues, stealing my phone number from another dancer and then obsessively calling me to see “if you will show up” at the dances) was “exuberant, but not a threat”. I have been shamed by instructors for refusing to dance in class with a guy who made a rated X comment to me AND “accidentally” groped me!
    Six years into dancing and I now will only go if I’m with my SO or a male friend.
    I wish I knew what I could do in my own community to change this :-(. I try to befriend new dancers and keep an eye out for them, but I get labeled as being difficult when I speak up, even if it’s in a covert manner. I’m a pretty strong willed person, so I know there are other people who are getting a lot worse experience than me. I think if we had instructors who took this seriously it would make a big difference.

  36. Thanks for this discussion. I had experienced sexual harassment when I first started dancing Lindy Hop. In Philadelphia by Ernie Wysong and David Burkhart in Ithaca, NY, who both did the tent thing, but I was stupid enough to consider relationships with them. The first one I actually went to his house with, and we started a “relationship.” He came home from a trip and blithely told me about this other woman who came to his room to give him a massage and brought her to dances. The second one, I got smart and turned down, even though he was insulted that I refused to stay at his house after only meeting him at a dance camp once. All the girls loved him. He was very popular. Gee, why would I turn him down.

    I’ve seen it happen to other friends and wondered why our community doesn’t ban them from our dances.

    I thought the scene had gotten better, but I’m 62 now. There’s one nice thing in getting old. But I shouldn’t be too complacent. You never know. I’m a dancer. I look good for my age. And I want to be aware to support others, for sure! I’ve been grappling with the Bill Borgida thing for some time, and wondering about forgiveness. You’re right, pictures are the same as producing them. It’s more than pictures. I have heard of him doing unwanted inappropriate acts to young women, in living room gatherings and on the dance floor. Really lewd acts.
    And I won’t tolerate the sexual innuendo jokes any more either. It’s helped me realize that there are a few men I would rather not dance with just for some “creepy” factor.
    As for the “always say ‘yes’ principle.” I miss that to a certain extent. Don’t turn someone down just because you think you are too good to dance with newbies. Build community. Reward men and women who are doing their best to learn. Spread yourself out among beginners, intermediate, advanced, and master level. And by all means just say “No!” to anyone threatening and report those who are blatantly inappropriate.
    I appreciate the discussion and look forward to hearing more.

  37. What about blues dancing. Is it wise to be dancing such sexually suggestive dances? I wonder about this sometimes. Please discuss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *