If you’ve ever done a lindy hop class ever, chances are you’ve come across a Problem Guy. Problem Guys are just that – problems. They interrupt the teachers. They talk while the teachers are talking. They instruct the follows in class (usually incorrectly) and they just. won’t. shut. up. They often move themselves up class levels before they’re ready. They quite often pull out lifts and other inappropriate shit on the social floor with follows who are too shy to tell them to fuck off.
They also tend to be a bit socially awkward, but not in a charming way, so men find them a bit difficult to hang about with as well. They may touch women more than they’d like (even if it’s not sexualised touch), and they’re usually not the best dancers. Sometimes they are nice people, but just totally socially clueless ones. I’d argue that it’s not possible to be entirely socially clueless and nice. Social skills are part of what make people ‘nice’, or make us feel that they’re nice. Which is why the Problem Guy is often invisible to many men – those men just aren’t on the receiving end of a lot of the Problem Guy behaviour.
There are also Problem Girls, but that is not what this post is about. I want to talk about how masculinity works in this context. We spend a lot of time policing women’s bodies and behaviour, even in feminist discourse, so I want to talk about men and masculinity. I want to talk about masculinities in dance more in the future (I do want to get back to that point about ‘styling it like a man‘ eventually as well). So this is a post about Problem Guys.
So how do you deal with them? Wait, let me rephrase that. How do I deal with them? Before I ramble on, let me say: these are strategies I use, and they may not work for you, particularly if you’re not in Australia. Because intra-scene politics, gender politics and dance cultures are quite unique. But, well, fuck, maybe they will work for you – try them! And if you’ve got other strategies – please do let me know, as I’m determined to deal with this stuff!
Please note: I do not speak for my teaching partner. This is my understanding of what we do, and I know she has lots of different ideas. So this is me talking about my thinking, and I am NOT speaking for anyone else.
We’ve had a few Problem Guys this year, and we’ve dealt with them in different ways. At first, when we were just setting up our class venue and getting shit under control, we weren’t so confident in dealing with them. But as we got it together, we got it together. I think that as two women teaching together, we found our Problem Guy challenges were not the same as those faced by most male-female teaching couples. We had to be ten times more confident, and ten times more assertive. We had to deal with poor behaviour from Problem Guys much more aggressively, and we had to do lots more work in-class to prevent Problem Guys popping up.
But shit, we’re fucking guns, we can totally pwn that shit. And so can YOU.*
What do Problem Guys do, and what are the effects of this behaviour? Or, why should you give a shit about Problem Guys?
- Question follows and ‘instruct them’ in the class: this makes follows anxious and self-doubting. That means these women won’t come back to class (who would?), or they stay and become more anxious and self-doubting, which is fucked up, and also fucks up their dancing;
- Problem Guy behaviour in class sets the stage for later stuff on the social dance floor or in comps where the lead can get away with mistreating the follow (rough leading, aerials without consent, etc).
- Problem Guy behaviour towards women disempowers women dancers right from the get-go (by making them question their own dancing). This makes them quiet timid dancers, and it also means they don’t feel ok with properly expressing themselves. And this is lindy hop – that’s not how we roll – we do all the emotions!
- Problem Guys distract women from the teachers, and this undoes the teachers’ authority, and this in turn means the class flow is disrupted. This makes for poorer learning, but it can also make for clunky, boring classes or classes with fucked up social dynamics.
- Problem Guys often make loud, inappropriate jokes that are often a bit sexy, while the teacher is talking. These jokes are usually at the expense of the female teacher (so they may make some comment about how the lead can’t put their hand there because omgsexy, or they may joke about how the lead has to be assertive because women don’t like being told what to do.) Conversely, they may make self-depreciating jokes about how men can’t multi-task and need a woman to do that for them. Whatever it is they’re joking about, those jokes demand you respond and interact with them, and this makes them the centre of attention and distracts everyone.
- Problem Guys clearly think they are as important or know as much as the teachers – they don’t listen to the teachers, they talk over the teachers, they instruct the students as teachers do.
- Finally, Problem Guys take up far more than their fair share of time in class. This means poorer learning outcomes for everyone else, and a fucked up social dynamic, where everything revolves around one person, rather than around everyone else. It discourages other people from speaking up in class (because they are often interrupted or pre-empted), and it sets a bad example for other Problem Guys. Problem Guys breed more Problem Guys.
So what does all this mean? There are clear financial challenges posed by Problem Guys: they scare off students and that loses you money. There are pedagogic problems: they interrupt the teaching and learning. And there are occasionally more serious issues, where Problem Guys bully teachers and other students in a physical sense, and make them feel afraid.
So how does all this work culturally, or in terms of interpersonal politics?
Firstly, let’s note that this behaviour by Problem Guy is really quite acceptable by mainstream Australian social standards. We see this sort of behaviour in talk-back radio, on the Footy Show and in television drama. I think this is often very white, straight Australian man phenomena: they are playing out hegemonic masculinity, and our culture encourages that sort of behaviour from men. There is also a congruent dominant femininity that’s required to make this sort of masculinity work: women must be compliant, passive, sexual objects, non-confrontational ears for these men’s words. And as most of us know, it’s quite easy to make your lindy hop reflect those roles. If you’re into terrible lindy hop.
Secondly, if you’re a guy who’s not into being a problem, or a sister who doesn’t want to be an object, our culture makes it really difficult for you to get along in mainstream spaces. If you’re a guy who loves to dance with huge, flamboyant abandon, you’re not going to get a terribly positive reception in some jock straight guy bar. If you like listening to women and enjoy their company without trying to screw them, or their wearing sexytime dresses, you’re not going to feel hugely ok in a mainstream singles scene. You’re going to need to seek out alternative spaces. Lindy hop scenes can be those spaces. But those spaces need to be nurtured.
When Problem Guys come across women performing the non-traditional femininity or men performing the non-hegemonic masculinity, they tend to want to reassert the dominance of conventional gender relations. In other words, they don’t like this non-traditional stuff, so they try to fix it. Or they take advantage of what they perceive (even on an unconscious level) as a power vacuum, because they don’t recognise the other, more complex power dynamics at work in spaces with multiple types of gender going on.
So, the Problem Guy functions in three ways:
- They disempower the women students in the class;
- They deconstruct the power of the teachers (especially the women teachers);
- They re-construct their own power and status in class.
This is all bad because it means we end up with frightened women dancers who have no confidence, who apologise all the time, and don’t want to express themselves or take creative risks with their dancing because #shame.
This is all bad because we end up with disorganised, malfunctioning classes where learning is interrupted or stalls completely (and students get shitty).
This is all bad because we see unpleasant people dominate what could be a very pleasant space.
All this means students leave, money stops coming in, and teachers get really frustrated and unhappy. Bad news.
Why do Problem Guys do all these things?
- These types of men find it difficult to be students and accept the (perceived) lower status of students in a class (this is often a problem in a class that emphasises hierarchies instead of valuing students as peers);
- They compensate by finding other ways to shore up their own status and power (to make themselves feel good): by instructing other students; by assuming they’re right all the time; by not interrogating their own assumptions about their dancing; by constantly interrupting the teachers with jokes or comments;
- They see knowledge as a list of possessions to acquire, rather than as an ongoing, changing process;
- They’re not challenged by teachers in class (who don’t want to cause a scene, who don’t know it’s happening, who don’t like conflict), so they’re effectively getting positive reinforcement for their behaviour.
Things we know about Problem Guys:
- These men are often not such great dancers;
- They don’t improve (they tend to stagnate), because they don’t accept instruction, they refuse to accept that they’re not great (they often say things like “this is just my style” or “I don’t like X’s style, I like Y’s style which I learnt years ago”, or “I don’t care about that stuff – I just want to have fun”). These men often perceive themselves as among ‘the best’ in a scene, or not having anything left to learn, or their teachers as not having anything to teach them. Because they are often quite ignorant of broader cultural and social forces, and of the nuances of partnering technique, they feel that because they’ve done all the classes or been dancing for X number of years they’re ‘finished’ with learning;
- They see teaching, learning and dancing as hierarchal, and this hierarchy as static (ie it’s not changing). This means that they tend to assume once you’re a ‘good dancer’ you stay a good dancer, or that men are better leads than women or that there are certain ‘right’ ways of doing things;
- They aren’t constructively self-reflexive (they can’t and don’t reflect on their own dancing in a constructive way, but they are often quite hard on themselves and inside have quite low self esteem, despite their blustering);
- They and their behaviour is often challenged by other students in class and on the dance floor, but then these challengers avoid them (or are avoided), and the Problem Guy just dismisses these challenges as ‘bitchiness’ or ‘too serious’ or ‘stupid’;
- These men then target younger/more vulnerable women to dance with/instruct on the social floor/bully. Because these women won’t challenge them on their behaviour and are more likely to let Problem Guys do as they want. These women often just leave dancing altogether rather than confront these guys, or they tolerate it, because they have their own issues going on.
These issues are important because they establish power dynamics that persist into a dancer’s dancing career.
These conditions enable sexual harassment (where women are encouraged to think it’s ok for men to comment on their physical person and what they do with it); they isolate women dancers and prevent them from seeking support from other women (because they’re only dancing with men).
There’s this expression: ‘threatened people respond with fight or flight, with aggression or avoidance’. Teachers and other students do the same with Problem Guys: they confront or they avoid. Most of us avoid, because confrontation isn’t something Australians do a lot of, because women tend to deal with anti-social behaviour obliquely rather than directly, and because we’re there to dance, not work. I suggest that we needn’t think of this as fight or flight. As a dear and very clever friend of mine said when I was worrying about talking to a male dancer about a Serious Dance Issue: it’s not a confrontation yet. It’s just a conversation.
What do Problem Guys need? My first response is ‘a kick up the pants and told to fuck off’. Because I am NOT here to correct this shit. Part of feminism, for me, is about not taking responsibility for men’s behaviour. I won’t accept that a man sexually harassing me is my fault because I wore a low cut blouse, and I certainly won’t accept that a Problem Guy is a problem in my scene because I wasn’t a good enough teacher.**
I’d also add that we need to STOP promoting our dance as ‘a return to simpler times where men were men and women were women’, because that shit attracts Problem Guys to classes in the first place. And we need to work really hard to prevent journalists writing that shit about lindy hop when they do those regular ‘what is swing?!’ human interest pieces in the local press. So we need to think carefully about how we brand lindy hop when we’re doing our promotional activities.
As a community, we need to deal with this rubbish internally, to make our scenes safer, happier places. Or even just to improve the standard of dancing in our scene, or make our classes more financially sustainable. I’ve also found that practicing these skills in a dance context, where I learn how to deal with Problem Guys in a familiar environment, is excellent practice for the rest of my life. The more experience I have dealing with this shit here, the more confident I become. These are just very useful life skills. So, you see, lindy hop and jazz dance can fight the patriarchy off the dance floor as well!
What do Problem Guys need?
- They need assertive teaching from teachers (but this sucks as this means they get more than their fare share of attention from teachers);
- They need to be challenged by teachers, but in a non-confrontational way;
- They need to stop teaching others and start challenging their own dancing (which they are unlikely to do because it is scary and threatening) so they can rethink their role in our scene.
What do we actually do?
First, and most unsubtle option: confront them. Confronting students in class can be unsettling and difficult for everyone involved – teachers, Problem Guys and students. So you need to have a clear, well-thought out strategy. Both teachers need to be on the same page and supporting each other. And there needs to be a minimum of conflict. Everyone involved needs to save face, the rest of the students need to not feel embarrassed, and everyone needs to feel safe.
- Make a script for the conversation (remember, it’s not a confrontation yet – it’s a conversation). Both teachers talk about it and know what will happen.
- Be very clear in your own mind, and with your teaching partner, about what you want. Do you want the Problem Guy to go away and never come back? It’s ok to want this – some guys who come to dance classes are creepy, unpleasant pervs and bullies. Get rid of them. You’re not the right person to ‘change’ them, and having them in your class will scare away students. Do you want them to stop talking while you’re talking? To stop instructing the follows? Make a list, and then make these into clear, concrete requests. So rather than saying “Stop hassling the follows” say “Stop telling the follows what to do.” Keep it brief. One or three points is enough.
- Plan out the role for both teachers for the confrontation/conversation. It’s often best to have the male teacher or lead teacher (whoever the Problem Guy will perceive as ‘most important’ – this will almost always be the guy) do the most talking, and for the other teacher to stand right there with them, clearly supporting them.
We’ve made these sorts of plans for our class, and allocated roles according to our personalities. I’m ok with actually saying these things (though I can get pretty scared, I can do it if I know someone has my back), but my partner is not. So I do the actual speaking and my partner does the ‘moving right along’ part, where we immediately get back into the class content afterwards: I stop the group, tell the Problem Guy to stop doing whatever he’s doing, then my partner starts us off again. It’s a well-oiled process. You might like to both speak, taking turns listing requests. Or you might gradually change things up in your approach, as you develop skills, confidence and inclination. Whatever you do, make a plan first. And practice saying your script out loud. That way you’ll be cooler when you put it into play.
- Decide where you’re going to do this talking. In front of a class is very powerful and very effective, but it can be a challenge. It’s a public forum that can make some Problem Guys extra aggressive because they’re embarrassed. And many women dealing with this sort of aggression will immediately back off.
Margaret Atwood puts it like this: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” It’s not likely that a Problem Guy will physically attack you in class, but aggression can take other forms. No one wants to have some nutcase shouting at them in front of a class. But then some Problem Guys are far more aggressive and confrontational in private spaces, where they think they can bully and intimidate you.
So judge your Problem Guy carefully, then choose an appropriate forum. Don’t do it in a dark car park. Maybe do it in a quieter part of the room, in sight of the group, but mostly out of ear shot. Don’t feel that you have to do it on your own to help him save face. Your teaching partner is your wing (wo)man, and you are a team. Present that way. And remember that almost all of your students will support your decision to confront Problem Guy and really appreciate your doing so.
- Practice delivering the script with your teaching partner.
- Finally, it’s always better to nip this stuff in the bud, and make it clear to potential Problem Guys that you are the bosses here, long before a real conflict develops. After all, the longer you let Problem Guy shit you and your class off, the more students he drives away. And the more upset you’ll get. So get in there sooner rather than later. You’ll find that thinking about Problem Guy is far more upsetting than the five seconds it’ll take to shut his shit down.
As two women teaching together, we have found that some men simply don’t respect us or listen even when we address them individually. I’ve had similar experiences teaching in universities, a problem exacerbated by the face that I’ve always looked about ten years younger than I am.
So I have a range of strategies for managing Problem Guys in class: I stop talking and stare at them. I stand very close to them in class. And I even walk over and place my hand on their shoulder if they just. won’t. shut. the. fuck. up. Some guys don’t even respond to that. So, even if you do have a whole host of clever classroom management tools going on, you will find yourself needing to confront Problem Guys at some point. Yeah, I know. That’s sucktown. Why can’t they just GET IT TOGETHER? But you can do this. You can confront Problem Guys calmly, professionally and effectively. You’ve just got to trust yourself, and prepare yourself. Or: check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Other things that we do to counter the lack of respect Problem Guys have for women teachers:
- We pitch our voices lower. Not so good for our vocal chords, but surprisingly effective.
- Don’t accept the premise of the question, don’t argue, don’t get caught up in some crazy arse conversation mid-class. If someone’s asking you to explain what you’re doing for the eleventieth time say (kindly) “Sorry, but no, we can’t go over that again.” Don’t be all apologetic about it – just move on. If someone tries to get you into a discussion or argument, don’t buy into the content of their point, just say “We don’t have time for that now – let’s do some charleston!” and move along.
- If Problem Guys try to physically intimidate you (and I’ve seen this happen lots of times, even to women teaching with men), shut that shit down. If men want to touch you in class (and the ‘jokey teasing’ prodding or touching is part of this) turn and say to their face “That is not ok. Stop that or leave.” This goes for students, too.
There’s a good chance they’ll respond with “Geez, uptight bitch, much?” or “Oh, I’m so sorry! I’m so awful, I always do this, I’m so sorry! Can you forgive me?” Both these responses are about keeping them as the centre of attention, and making you respond to them. And you know what? Who cares what they say! That is not your problem. Just walk your fine self away. Do not apologise, do not try to make them feel better.
This is when your teaching partner rocks: they just immediately move the class on to something else, preferably something quite physically vigorous. The people around you will be so impressed, and the women around you will immediately develop a massive hero crush. Be mighty, because you ARE.
- Students, in class: if some guy won’t stop putting his hands on you, even if it seems not-sexy, and you don’t like it, tell them “Stop that”, and make sure the teacher or someone else is standing right next to you. If you can’t make that happen in earshot of someone else (these guys usually make sure no one else is around), you can just say it really loudly, at some other point. Say it in a slightly lower pitched voice, say it calmly, and not too quickly: ” STOP THAT.” Other students or your teachers will hear and be right there for you. You don’t have to wait till they touch you – just say it: “STOP TOUCHING ME.”
If they’re doing it in a less obvious way (eg their hand on your back gets too low or too far to the side, or they stroke your hand in a creepy way) immediately call the teacher over or ask a question to the whole group: “I’m feeling some weird stuff with the back/hand connection. Can you come and help us fix it, please?” A clued-in teacher will come over, see what you’re doing, and then give the lead feed-back. If the lead keeps doing it, tell him how you do want him to touch you, and that what he’s doing is actually kind of creepy. But say it in a joke way that also sounds serious. Pitching this feedback can be tricky, so practice!
All this goes for guys dealing with women as well.
- Don’t let Problem Guys buy you drinks or be continually holding doors open for you as you pass through, or ‘helping’ you with your things. That’s their way of asserting their dominance. Sure, it’s great to be bought a drink by students every now and then, and of course we open doors for each other all the time. But some Problem Guys do this all the time and it’s clearly their way of asserting ‘proper’ gender relations. Don’t let them.
It’s ok to say “No thank you!” to offers of a drink. And if they just buy you a drink regardless, turn to their face and say “No thank you, I don’t want a drink”. Don’t just ignore it, because then they’ll comment on it forever.
In fact, you’ll often find these types of Problem Guys will not let your objection or comment rest. They’ll make comment after comment, usually along the lines of “Are you some sort of feminist?” (to which the answer is “yes” and then a turned shoulder). These sorts of guys tend to be cowardly bullies – they’ll try to publicly manage you. But be careful of them in private – don’t let them drive you home or walk you to their car or to the train. Make sure you’re not alone.
If you’re not sure you can do this (because it feels like a confrontation, and we women are trained to be a bit afraid of confrontation), practice at home. Write a script. And tell your friends that you plan on telling this guy to stop, and tell them what you want them to do. Even if that’s to just stand there next to you, or smile and move the conversation along after you’ve said NO THANK YOU (the wing (wo)man factor again!) After a while you’ll get better at this, and you won’t need a script any more.
I know quite a lot of women worry that if they do this sort of thing, other men (the ones they want to buy them drinks or talk to them or touch them :D ) will think they’re bitches and back off. That is so UNTRUE. If you don’t make it clear that you don’t like this sort of behaviour from Problem Guys, you’ll attract more Problem Guys. But if you make it clear that you don’t like this, you’ll find that guys who don’t treat women like that will get the ‘oh, she likes respectful guys’ vibe from you. Plus you’ll have cleared the field of Problem Guys, so that the guys you want will feel there’s room for them.
All of this thinking is kind of bad news, though. It sets you up as an object to be admire by men – a flower attracting bees. And that’s no good. You want to BE a bee!
If you stop worrying about attracting men, if you feel ok about dealing with Problem Guys, and focus on having fun and enjoying the company of friends (of all sexes), you’ll be feeling so awesome you’ll be able to rock in and dazzle the guy of your dreams with your pwr and he’ll be all ‘omg I would LOVE to be your boyfriend!’ WIN!
Now, if you’re a guy reading this and thinking “Gee, overreact much?” you’ve obviously never spoken to a woman. This is what it’s like to be a woman in our culture every single day. We just get used to dealing with this shit every. single. day. Every day some arsehole is telling us to ‘smile!’ or making a joke about how we need help carrying things or making an excuse to touch us in a public place, or looking us up and down or whatever.
When we become teachers, Problem Guys find having us in positions of authority really threatening, so they try to assert their own power by wearing us down. So this sort of shit actually escalates when we move into more interesting roles. It’s very tiring.****
But we don’t need men to step in and deal with this for us. In fact, that can make it worse, as it reinforces Problem Guys’ and potential Problem Guys’ idea that we aren’t as powerful as men. If you’re a guy in the class seeing Problem Guy being an arse, then you can deal with these guys in other ways. One of our students once saw Problem Guy getting told to stop talking with the stare-face, and responded with a loud “Busted!” and a big laugh. It was very jolly, we all laughed, but it made it clear to Problem Guy that other people were watching and that this shit is not ok.
It’s also totally ok for you (as a guy) to say to Problem Guy on his own or even in class in front of people “Mate, can you stop talking during class? It’s really distracting.” It’s ok for you to calmly and politely tell someone you don’t like how their behaviour is affecting you.
In fact, men telling other men that they don’t accept bullshit behaviour is a key part of making the world more awesome, and of my idea of feminism. Feminism isn’t just a job for women: it’s a job for all of us, because it’s about improving things for all of us. Even Problem Guy benefits from feminism, because it means he can chill the fuck out, stop beating himself up about not being alpha male, and just get on with learning to DANCE.
How else do we indirectly manage Problem Guys, or prevent Problem Guys?
- Make leads (rather than follows) rotate in class. Or switch it up every other class. Rotating is unsettling, and it makes dancers have to constantly reorient themselves in the physical room. This can make leads more defensive, but it’ll also make follows more confident.
- Use gender neutral language ALL THE TIME. The more you unsettle assumptions about leading and following and the way dancers interact, the more you discourage dodgy in-class behaviour. This is a tiny, but super-powerful tool.
- Avoid describing leading and following as “Leads/men make the follow do this,” or right/wrong language that implies there’s only one right way of doing things. For a start, you’re wrong, and for a finish, you’re modeling poor behaviour and furnishing students with fairly crap learning tools.
- Talk about the class room as a laboratory or place for experimenting, and encourage dancers to think about classes not as a place where you ‘acquire’ knowledge (like collecting stamps), but a place where you develop skills and explore ideas.
- Don’t describe things as ‘rules’ or set out absolute definitions for ways of doing things. eg never say “We must always hold our arms like this,” say “If we hold our arms like this at this point, we can avoid this and make this possible. What happens if we do X instead?” And then get students to test the theory with some practice.
- If you have leveled or streamed classes, police that shit. You need a way to tell students they’re not allowed to join the more advanced class, you need a way to tell people who’ve turned up anyway that they can’t join in, and you need a clear idea of what your levels mean. You need to publicise what’s expected of students in the more challenging classes, and you need to make it damned clear that there’s nothing wrong with doing the ‘lower’ level classes. Perhaps you need to ditch this whole concept of ‘low’ and ‘high’ and talk about these classes as teaching different material in different ways.
- Monitor class behaviour. Pay attention to what’s happening in the room. Listen. Watch. Ask questions. And give students honest, useful feedback about their dancing that at once makes them feel awesome, and also encourages them to work hard and be self-reflexive. If you get Problem Guys in your lower classes who ignore you, boss the follows about and generally give you the shits, while still not actually doing what you need them to do in terms of dancing, you need to correct them! Let them know that that thing they just told the follow to do was wrong town. Let them know that they’re not being safe, that they’re being too rough or whatever it is. Feedback, yo – that’s what teaching’s all about! You need to move away from the idea that teachers just inject knowledge into students. It’s a process, and you need to be pro-active and self-reflexive too.
- Model good behaviour.
- Both the lead and follow teacher must spend equal time talking in class.
- Lead teachers: are you interrupting the follow teacher? If you are – STOP IT. If you do – apologise, and then don’t do it again! It shows the students that you don’t think what your partner is saying is worth listening to, and it establishes you as the boss with the more important things to say.
- Lead teachers: do you respond to your partner’s explanation of a point by paraphrasing what they say? Stop that, too. This is a tricky one, as one of the ways we do active listening, and demonstrate to our conversational partners that we’re paying attention is to paraphrase what they’re saying. This tells them we’re listening, that we understand, and that we agree. I tend to do this A LOT, and I’ve noticed that it happens way more when I’m teaching with other women than with men – women do it more (though not exclusively). But it means your students have to listen to descriptions twice (if not more, if you both get into an affirmation-spiral), and that means way too much talking and not enough dancing. Bad news!
- Lead teachers: do you describe what the follow teacher is doing, or does the follow teacher? If you speak for the follow teacher, you are again asserting your dominance and making it clear that the follow’s body (and what they do with it) only has meaning through its relationship to the lead. This is NOT TRUE. Follows are individual hoomans, and while they are working in response to the lead, the lead is also responding to the follow. Let the follow talk!
- Follow teachers: are you giving the follows in the class something to work on every time you do a move? Or are you just letting the lead talk to the leads about what they’re doing? If follows aren’t given tasks for their learning, they’ll get complacent (“I just have to follow and if it doesn’t work, it’s the lead’s fault”) or become passive little flowers to be moved around by the lead. Bad news!
- Do you only teach moves where the follow spins and spins or executes a series of complicated steps while the lead remains fairly stable or in one place? If so, you are DOING IT WRONG. You’re demonstrating a poor understanding of lindy hop, but you’re also modelling a poor partnering dynamic. The follows in the class will a) become better dancers, but b) feel constantly unsure or off-balance, while the leaders a) don’t get good skills and b) develop the idea that the lead stands still while the follow carries out their leads.
- Use steps where both partners’ contributions are built in, and an essential part of the move (eg don’t do things like say “This is the follow’s moment to shine” as though it were a one-off or special occasion thing (“Dance monkey, dance!”)).
- Finally, remember that lindy hop is a jazz dance, with lots of improvisation. Breaking rules is part of the dance. Experimentation, improvisation and making things up is central to the dance – for both partners!
Encourage your students to explore the full range of movement in a move, and to try as many variations as possible. And then to give each other useful feedback, and to listen to each other’s feedback. This sort of self-reflexivity will encourage students to move away from the idea of knowledge as a shopping list of items, and towards lindy hop knowledge as a constantly changing experience and relationship with others.
- Finally, most importantly, teach solo dance. Solo dance fucks up the partner dynamic and makes it impossible for the Problem Guy to boss women dancers around. It makes women dancers more confident, and it makes it clear to Problem Guys that they haven’t learnt everything. Most Problem Guys will immediately leave your class and never come back, because solo dancing scares the shit out of them. THIS IS A GOOD THING! Problem Guys have issews, and it’s not your job to fix them.
You’ll find that Problem Guys just don’t like all this hippy stuff. They like dance classes with hierarchies and rules and proper men. So just don’t be that sort of class. Don’t create an environment that encourages rubbish behaviour. And be self-reflexive yourself.
Be confident in yourselves as teachers as well!
Finally, and most importantly:
Cherish your students. This is an important one for me. Deal with Problem Guys for your students. That can be easier than standing up to Problem Guys for your own sake.
At the end of the day, that Problem Guy who gives you the stomach-wobbles when you think about teaching classes with him in them, is really just some socially inept bully with low self esteem. You are the boss of this class. Even if you set up a lovely hippy learning laboratory, it’s your job to direct the session, to facilitate learning. And the students are ok with that – that’s why they’re there with you. And you can do this. Just make a plan with your teaching partner, make a script, practice it, deliver it. Each time you do this, you’ll get better. You’ll get more confident. And eventually you won’t need to make a script or a plan, because you’ll HAVE one!
Be mighty in the classroom, friends, because you ARE.*
*You need to say these things to yourself, ok? It’s not arrogance or bragging. It’s just being HONEST. Because Problem Guys rely on you dissing yourself. Patriarchy is made of women’s self doubt. PWR to you, sisters!
**This issue reminds me a bit of Steve Locke’s piece ‘‘Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race’, where Locke – black American man – declines to speak to an audience about race because (basicaly) he is done with this shit. So done. And that it’s time for white men to get all up on this issue and do this work. The implication is that this is their problem, so they need to deal with it.
***Ok,now you need to remind yourself that you’re awesome. If you’re holding down a regular teaching gig, you must have some serious shit going on. You’re an administrator, a teacher, a teaching partner, you liaise with venues, you handle sound gear, you plan classes, you deal with political shit. You are THE BOMB. So hug that thought to yourself and BE AWESOME.