A preliminary thought about Codes of Conduct in dance

[edit: I was overzealous in this piece (that’ll teach me to not proof-read) in my use of ‘most’, so I’m amending this post. Don’t be a dick, Sam.]

I’m currently quite sceptical of the rush to develop and post codes of conduct for dance events. They seem to be empty words, without any practical applications. And what’s to stop a dodgy arse organiser using a posted code of conduct to defend any accusations of poor behaviour in the future?

I think that we need:
– clear, useful codes of conduct
AND
– practical action plans and strategies for responding to specific situations
THAT
– take into account our local laws.

That means we have plans for responding to accidents (eg a broken leg), to physical attacks or assaults, to natural disasters (eg earthquakes).

Talking to my union wonk, and policy friends, they’ve made a clear point: if the situation involves broken laws or criminal matters, then the ‘response’ is to call the cops. So, for example, the proper response to discovering a dancer has sexually assaulted someone, or to fear one of your staff members is dangerous, is to call the police. As an organiser, you have a legal responsibility to call the authorities if you know a crime has been committed. Though you may not want to, you may want to protect the victim, etc etc, you have a responsibility to call the police.

I’m working through all this for my own business, and for my own events and peace of mind, and I’m not sure I want to just cut and paste from other lindy hop organisers’ websites. Partly because there are legal differences between countries. And between states in Australia. And I don’t want to borrow from the IT industry’s conference policies, or fan community policies. Because I don’t think they’re good enough. I had considered looking at university policies, because I’ve worked with them for many, many years, but I’ve paused. Because Australian universities aren’t exactly winning.

I’m beginning with an OH&S approach, in part because my experience with swing dance culture has made it clear that the most common breaches of dancers’ safety is through an inappropriate application of work place health and safety guidelines and processes.
Simply put, [edit]most some[/] dance schools do not have Work Cover, which they need. I’ve talked about this in my post Making a dance business: it’s not that hard, actually, where I point out that if you have a dance business, you need:

  • Contracts or agreements for your workers.
    I use written but informal agreements with my DJs and teachers, using models provided by the Arts Law Centre of NSW.

    This is where we can slot in things like a code of conduct for teachers (whether local or international). Liam‘s drawn my attention to the AFL’s code of conduct, and I think the example set by the AFL coach’s code of conduct is particularly useful for us.

    I’m still working on this stuff, so I can’t write about what I do just yet.


  • Codes of conduct for attendees.
    This is an important distinction: teachers and attendees (ie paying and payee peeps) should be treated in different ways, as there are different power issues at work. Yes, the same standards of behaviour are important, but the circumstances are different.
  • Public liability insurance.
    This covers you against legal action by other people. And that’s it.
    Let’s think here: what if you allowed a known sexual offender to attend or remain at your event? You are exposing yourself to legal action. As well as being a pretty awful human being.
  • Work Cover and/or Workers’ compensation.
    This is where [edit]some of [/] the big Australian dance schools fall down. As I noted in that post I linked before, this is where I draw on and quote from the NSW Work Cover website:

    If an employer is a pty ltd and pays workers more $7500 per year in total for all wages, (in this next bit I draw and quote directly from WorkCover):
    …they are required by law to have a workers compensation insurance policy (Work Cover ref)

    In the event of a workplace injury or disease, the insurance policy will provide the worker with weekly benefits, medical and hospital expenses, rehabilitation services, certain personal items (eg. clothing and spectacles, if damaged in a work-related accident), and a lump sum payment for permanent impairment.

    An employer is a business (including an individual) that employs or hires workers on a full-time, part-time or casual basis, under an oral or written contract of service or apprenticeship (Work Cover reference).

    So if you are a pty ltd company in NSW, and you are paying $7500 or more per year to employees, contractors, volunteers, etc, you are required by law to have work cover. That means that if you don’t have work cover, you are breaking the law. Even our tiny dance class pays out more than $7500 per year. And if you add hiring bands, paying sound engineers, etc to that… well, you are easily over the $7500.

    Please note: this stuff varies between Australian states. You can call them up and they are very helpful. So call them up.

I feel that policies for dealing with sexual harassment, sexual assault, racism, etc etc, can all be grouped under occupational health and safety. We can address these issues as things that affect all workers (and customers), not just women. So we need some nice, solid policies to cover us all.

This means that we need to get legit.

Which brings me to my next point.
[edit]Most Some[/] large dance events are not operating in a legitimate way. International teachers and musicians are paid in cash. And their visas or entry documents do not declare the real reason for their entering or leaving the country.
This means that both organisers and employees are reluctant to contact the authorities when laws have been broken. And this, of course, makes it much easier to get away with awful anti-social behaviour. I’m reminded of the drug trade (though it’s an extreme example): if it’s illegal, or criminal, then the culture surrounding that activity will be particularly exploitative and dangerous.

Ironically, it’s because they’ve been crossing borders with huge chunks of (undeclared) cash that teachers have been stopped by customs and later charged. This was the case with Bill Borghida: crossing a border with teaching pay, he was stopped, and later found to be in possession of child pornography.
We all have heard first hand accounts of other teachers who’ve been stopped by customs and deported for working without a proper visa, for carrying large sums of undeclared cash, or for otherwise being unable to explain what they’re doing crossing borders. A lot.

This issue of not declaring teaching pay is a problem for our dance community. I’ve discovered (through consultation with my accountant) that it’s actually in my interests to declare my teaching pay, and to declare the pay I give to teachers. The teachers can then accept that pay as ‘hobbyists’, which means they don’t pay tax or have to worry about GST (so long as they provide a ‘declaration of no-disclosure of an ABN‘). Or they can declare the income (which is the better option) and then use this, as part of their status as sole traders, to write off dance expenses and make tax claims.

I feel that in encouraging teachers, DJs, and other dance workers to not declare their pay, we are in fact disempowering them. Just as not having written agreements disempowers employees. They are unlikely to question inappropriate behaviour by their employers, which means their employers can get away with things like not getting Work Cover. And employees have no job security – they can be ‘fired’ at any time. And if our workers aren’t legit, as employers we don’t have formal methods for responding to their behaviour. We all worry about reporting assaults and other crimes to the police, which means that sexual assault can go relatively unchecked.

This is, sadly, a tale as old as capitalism. And why we need unions, and collectivism.

2 thoughts on “A preliminary thought about Codes of Conduct in dance”

  1. I really appreciate this write-up on the necessity of legitimate operation, especially as it ties in to (or lays a foundation for) large cultural problems of how we treat each other.

    As for your skepticism of codes of conduct, have you read A Code of Conduct Is Not Enough? I think it says more than I could right now. It’s definitely from the IT world, and while I agree that industry’s policies don’t do enough, I think there are some good and interesting things that have come up from voices over there, if only because they’ve been having the conversation a little longer.

  2. And I don’t want to borrow from the IT industry’s conference policies, or fan community policies. Because I don’t think they’re good enough.

    I wrote a blog post on that topic which might interest you. I think that IT conference policies are both too vague and potentially too stringent.

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