Labour and equity in lindy hop (notes)

I’ve been thinking about this stuff for years and years. Partly because it came up in my PhD when I did a lot of research into volunteer labour in Australia, research which actually came from an abortive first Phd project on the CWA. There, it was made very clear that volunteer workers are mostly women. This is true in the lindy hop world: most of the unpaid volunteer labour in Australian lindy hop is provide by women.

Anyway, I don’t have time to think and write about this now – I’m just letting in percolate for a while. But here are some interesting things that have contributed to my thinking:

  • Codes of conduct
    Carl Nelson linked up Christina Wodke’s piece ‘Tweaking the Moral UI’ on the facey. It links to Geek Feminism’s conference policy. Michael Seguin linked up the Mobtown Ballroom Code of Conduct in the comments on the facey. Nirav noted that the Fogtown Stomp Code of Conduct was inspired by the Mobtown Ballroom one.

    The part I liked about this, was the way Carl introduced the link with:

    I would love to see more Codes of Conduct and instructors and organizers willing to put themselves out there by requiring them at events where they work in the dance scene.

    I have a personal policy that’s related to this stuff: I won’t DJ at an event that doesn’t pay all its DJs, and I tell organisers this when they approach me about DJing. I have to say, this has reduced the list of events in Australia that I’ll DJ at. SHAME, lindy hoppers, SHAME. I’ve also started refusing to work at (or attend) gigs that hire the dodgiest teachers. That quenelle thing? Well, it’s lost you teaching gigs in Australia, mate.

    We have the beginnings of a Code of Conduct for Swing Dance Sydney here in our Classes FAQ:

    8. What’s your policy on inclusivity in class?
    We’re also a queer-friendly group who welcome same-sex couples.
    We don’t tolerate any kind of harassment, and will act quickly to put a stop to it.
    We try to make our classes as accessible as possible. We have students from the age of 12 to 82, with a range of needs and interests, and we really like it that way.

    We really enjoy teaching, so we’re happy to repeat instructions, to talk more slowly, to try new ways of explaining and teaching things – just ask.

    If you have particular needs, don’t hesitate to book a private class (email info@swingdancesydney.com).
    link

    It is totally inadequate, but it’s a work in progress. I’m also working on OH&S policies, and on teachers’ agreements. It takes a while to write all this stuff up, particularly around christmas. But I am ON IT.

  • Pay rates for DJs, teachers, bands, sound engineers, etc
    My position on this stuff isn’t secret.
  • Sharing economy requires inequality
    Jonathon, Glen and Liam had a very interesting late night talk about Leo Mirani’s piece The secret to the Uber economy is wealth inequality on twitter last night, and it really caught my interest. Uber’s attracted major criticism lately, for all sorts of very good reasons. I’d read Arun Sundararajan’s piece What Airbnb Gets About Culture that Uber Doesn’t a little while ago, and I’d shared the disgust that Uber’s surge pricing policy attracted this week during the siege in my city, Sydney.
    This latest article by Mirani is even more useful for the way it outlines the ‘sharing economy”s dependence on inequity. There was a useful illustrated article about the ‘sharing economy’ by Susie Cagle on the Nib that takes up some of these issues too. I think there’s some thinking to be done on the role of individualism in American culture here as well.

    This discussion reminds me of criticism of Google’s diversity policy (May 2014), but more specifically of a follow up piece about the non-IT workers in Google. I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find the original article! ARGH! That piece caught my eye for the way it pointed out that Google didn’t count cleaners and other work in its overview of diversity in its workplaces. These workers simply don’t exist for google, because they are contractors, and because they don’t consider that sort of work part of their business model. There are all sorts of things to say about class, knowledge, power, economies of knowledge, contracting, labour relations and so on.

    This last bit is important, because it shows how some sorts of labour are devalued because they are ‘unskilled’ (though cleaning – as with working the door – actually requires a particular skill set), and how devalued work tends to be associated with people of colour, and with women. In the IT world as in the lindy hop world. And this of course demonstrates how the lindy hop world echoes and restates the power dynamics of the wider community in which it is positioned.

  • Volunteering, the value of ‘work’, and unpaid labour Why do door staff not get paid, when DJs do?
    This issue just won’t leave my brain. There’s definitely a hierarchy of labour ‘value’ in the lindy hop world. Teaching is at the top. Cleaning up after a dance is at the bottom. Different types of labour are gendered, though there are interesting regional differences. In Australia the largest dance events are run by women, most DJs are women, and most unpaid volunteers are women. Women are obviously doing most of the work in the lindy hop world, but not all of that work is lower status or unpaid. But this is not the picture in other countries, or even consistent within local Australian scenes. There’s definitely more work to be done here, and more research.
  • The economics of live music
    I’m interested in this one. There’s a push (which is quite established now), to feature live music at lindy hop events. It’s interesting, because the smallest scenes often have the closest relationships with live bands – the only social dancing available is at local live music gigs. Which may or may not be ‘swing’ or even ‘jazz’, but they are LIVE. The biggest international events showcase live music, to the point of only using a couple of DJs for very few songs, let alone sets. DJing used to be quite important to large events, but not so much any more. But at the local level, DJing is still the backbone of dancer-run social dancing in most Australian lindy hop scenes. Because bands are expensive.
    The economics of live music in Australia are shaped by all sorts of factors. Clubs Australia and liquor licensing affects which licensed venues hire bands, when, and for how much. Licensing is important because it shapes the social space: having a bar is good for jazz. Sydney and Melbourne have the largest jazz scenes, but because New South Wales and Victoria (the states) have different liquor and live music licensing laws, the scenes are quite different, and pay rates differ. Basically, if you want to hire a decent band for a dance gig in Sydney, you’re looking at $1200 minimum. Add a rider of about $100. Then add $1000 to hire a decent sound guy, so the band actually sounds good. That’s fucking expensive. If you add $1000 for the venue and incidentals, that’s $3300 right there. So you’ll need 100 people paying $35 to cover your costs. Good luck – $35 is pretty much the most that dancers will pay in Sydney, and 100 is a lot for a regular gig at that price. You can’t do that more than about 3 or 4 times a year, max.

    You can hire bands for less, but the quality may vary, and you’ll be calling in favours to pull that off. The market is kind of tight in Sydney at the moment, so you can take advantage of musicians’ desperation for gigs and talk them down in price. But that kind of makes you an arsehole. Venues with liquor licences can afford to hire bands regularly (ie offer residencies) which bands will accept less pay for, but it’s the sale of liquor that finances these gigs, and liquor licenses are managed by the state, and influenced by Clubs Australia, which prioritises gambling (pokies in particular).
    The pay rate for bands varies in different cities, for different types of gigs, and for different types of bands.
    This $1200-$1500 rate is a corporate rate, not mates rates. So you really need to get to know your local musicians well if you want cheaper rates. But $1200 for a 6 person band is only $200 per musician for about four hours work. That’s $50 an hour for highly skilled professionals, who practice, put together charts and sets, and so on. That’s kind of shit, really. Considering most events now pay DJs about $30 an hour. And top tier teachers are paid $150 an hour to teach (plus expenses). And if you keep in mind the fact that a decent dance event requires quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between organisers (who ‘brief’ the band) and band leaders (who have to develop a set and basically change the way the band works to suit this brief), there’s all sorts of extra labour involved. All those phone calls and emails that have to be factored into the costs of the gig.

    I’ve been having a discussion with a few people about the economics of live music on the facey, starting with THIS METAL BAND BROKE EVEN ON A 27 DATE TOUR AND SO CAN YOU by Big James, which was a response to the Pomplamoose piece Pomplamoose 2014 Tour Profits. There was a fairly nasty piece in response to Pomplamoose’s, Sob story from band that lost $11,000 was actually a marketing stunt by Mark Teo, and then Amanda Palmer chimed in. Palmer shits me to tears.
    The discussion on facey is quite interesting, and ongoing. I won’t reproduce it here, because I’m not totally ok with cutting and pasting other people’s Facey comments out of context. But I did write this about Palmer:

    …that bit about the jam bothered me. I’ve also seen her pulling some dodgy stuff on twitter: she’s a bit of a fail when it comes to recognising her own privilege and power in discussions about class, gender, etc. Sure, she might have done all that sleeping on couches and playing for free and busking in Ye Olden Dayes, but now she’s a high profile celebrity, in a relationship with another celebrity. Her situation has changed. And she doesn’t recognise this.

    I think most of us would take that sort of ‘jam’ opportunity – for all sorts of reasons. But that’s the point of understanding your own power and influence: people with less power (ie needing the profile, wanting the experience, etc) are going to take her up on that sort of offer. Imagine if she’d actually _paid_ them – how wonderful! Even better!

    …and I think there’s a difference between sitting in on a jam with great musicians, particularly in the jazz scene, and ‘getting on stage with a celebrity at their gig’. Jazz in particular has a long tradition of apprenticing new musicians through jams – tap dancers do it, hip hoppers do it, lindy hoppers do it. But that’s in the context of a real jam – a community space. A celebrity’s gig is a bit different.

    I quote myself here, because I think this is where I start to pull all these threads together. I’ve heard people justify not giving volunteers free entry because “It’s a privilege to work on an event.” I’ve heard people justify not paying volunteers or giving them free entry because “They are volunteers.” That heirarchy of value in labour in the lindy hop world affects who gets paid, and how. It also determines status and identity in the lindy hop world.

…and that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this thinking. I’m going to have to let it all boil around in my brain for a while. But I think all these things are related by issues of power, privilege (those two are the same, really), ‘economics’, gender, class, and race. I just need to figure out how to articulate all that.

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