Australian dance events and their codes of conduct: let’s be more awesome

As I noted in Polite ladies don’t swear I’m doing a survey of the Australian swing dance events and their codes of conduct. Do they have them? Are they publicly available? Can they be found and read easily?

This post is a very basic, very simple overview.
I ask:

  • Does the event have a code of conduct listed on its website?
  • Is it available from a link on the main page (it should be), or is it hidden behind a few clicks?
  • If the event doesn’t have a code, does its parent organisation?

Of course, having a code is pretty much a token exercise without supporting response strategies, training for all workers, and the code itself being readable, accessible, and available in paper form at the event. It has to be accompanied by in-class teaching and training for cultural change.

So of course, the next step in assessing Australian events would be to assess the in-person responses and processes of each event. So far MLX is winning: I was very impressed by what I saw this year at that event. Hopefully we don’t have to wait until something happens to assess an event’s response strategy.

Why did I do this? Why am I being such a pain? Because I’m a keen social dancer, I’m a DJ, and I go to events. I want to be safe. I want my friends to be safe. As a woman, I experience sexual harassment pretty much every week, and pretty much every time I leave the house. So you know what? I say FUCK THAT noise. I want my lindy hop to be safe, and I am DONE with fuckers who are busy with one hundred excuses for not doing something to make dance events safe. THERE IS NO ACCEPTABLE EXCUSE.

And if I ask questions about this, other people will too. We’ll stop being a community of ostriches, and we’ll start actually stepping up. I hope that other women will see that a woman can say something quite loudly, and be powerful.

Why is a code important?
It tells your attendees the ‘rules’. It makes it clear to attendees and workers that your event is thinking about and working towards safety and preventing sexual harassment.
It also helps create a culture of ‘prevention’ and ‘respect’. I was absolutely delighted by the way MLX’s public code of conduct and open discussion of these issues led directly to a general attitude of ‘look out for each other’ at the event itself. I saw dancers go out of their way to do things for each other.
So having a code tells people that a code is important. It tells people that these ideas are important enough to talk about, write about, and act upon.

What should a code include?

  • Basically, a list of ‘rules’: dos and don’ts.
  • You also need to include a ‘what do you do if you need help?’ process for dancers
  • a list of contact names (for both attendees and workers to contact)
  • a response strategy or process if something does happen (eg when do you call the cops?
  • training for all workers before the weekend, to be sure everyone knows the code, and knows the process.
  • I think it should also include a list of consequences: eg repeated complaints about you, and you’re banned.
  • A process and training for carrying out these consequences. eg once you’re banned, your name and picture is in the door kit, and door staff are trained in how to prevent your entry (eg calling the police). Banned dancers should be notified in person about being banned, and this knowledge should be circulated amongst local dance organisers.
  • Banning: if you have banned someone, do you have a responsibility to warn organisers about them?

This last point is particularly important, I think. It’s not ok to say “each issue will be dealt with on a case by case basis.” You need to plan ahead. That means coming up with scenarios, and response strategies, and then training people in these strategies. Because we are a community of dancers and musicians, and the relationships between scenes are absolutely central to our local, national, and international success and viability (try running a big exchange without a network of peeps in other cities to invite and to help you distribute promotional material), we need to think collaboratively about response strategies.
eg Last week I banned a guy who’s been groping women. He gave me a bullshit line about how ‘it’s just a blues’ hold!’ Yeah right, buddy. I’m not no noob to be buying that shit. I’ve told other organisers in my city about this guy, what I’ve done, and what he said. The blues dancers and event organisers were immediately alarmed, because this line ‘it’s just a blues hold’ is some very bad PR for blues. And let’s be honest: the blues scene has been faster and more diligent in their responses to these issues than the lindy hop scene.
So these local peeps now have a chance to raise the issue in class: ‘it’s a blues hold’ is not a license to grope. The other organisers in my town know that this guy is not welcome at my events, and that he’s aggressive and may retaliate against me personally at a dance event. So they’re keeping an eye out (I hope! I know other dancers are). And if they do choose to ban him as well, they have a precedent. But they may also use this as a chance to give him an ultimatum: get your shit together, or you lose my events too.

Me, personally, I’ve found having a network of organisers in my town, and good, clear communications about these issues absolutely essential. We may not all be best friends, but we are all capable of open, civil conversation, and have all worked in at least civil will to reduce conflict where we can. In this instance, I know that there are other organisers in my city (many of whom are actually my friends) thinking about these issues, and giving me feedback on my processes.

Anyway, back on topic.

NSW (Sydney)
Me first.
Little Big Weekend (lindy hop/solo jazz) – that’s me and Swing Dance Sydney. It does have a publicly available code, and we do have a safety response plan at the door. I circulate the code with all teachers, musicians, sound engineers, etc etc before the weekend, and make it clear to all these people in their written agreements, that they must all read and agree to abide by the code before they work for me. So we are pretty much pirates, right?
My weaknesses:
– no written copy of the code at the door
– the code has too many words
– I’m thinking about a visual guide to not harassing people, which I’d like to get done next year.
– I’m currently working on a readable, useable version of the code for the door
– we need more training: our teachers need in-class strategies; our door staff need training for dealing with banned people; we all need training in knowing when to call the police. I’ve worked with security guards at events before (including one memorable late night party where a DJ threatened me, and I got to tell the big security guard to kick him out), I’ve kicked people out quite a few times (random drunks mostly), and I’ve called ambulances. But what’s my plan for responding when a woman is sexually assaulted at my event?
– I’d like to do some security/defence training for dealing with trouble at events.

These are my focus areas for 2016.

Jazz with Ramona – as with LBW above

Sydney Lindy Exchange – no code of conduct (NB I did provide Bruce with a draft version when I was first working with this event earlier this year, but it’s not been adopted). This event is managed by Bruce Elder and Swing To It Sydney. Swing To It does not have a code either.

Sydney Blues – does have a code of conduct. I don’t know how it runs on the day. This event is run by Chris Kearns.

For Dancers Only (lindy, bal, tap, solo) is run by Trudi Pickering in Sydney and has a Code
NB the Canberra version of the site doesn’t have the code. This seems like a site design problem, rather than an oversight.

ACT (Canberra)
Canberrang (lindy hop, blues, balboa, solo) – no code of conduct. This event is managed by Jumptown Swing, a non-profit organisation based in Canberra. Jumptown does have a Declaration of Safe Space document on its website, but the link’s hidden under a drop down menu.

Jumptown Jam (lindy hop, blues, balboa, solo) – no code of conduct. Also Jumptown Swing managed.

Slow Down (slow lindy, blues, slow balboa, slow solo)- Does have a code, but the link is hidden behind a drop down. Run by Cathie Gough and Shobana Nambier, and sponsored by Cathie’s company Savoy Canberra. Savoy Dance Canberra has no code of conduct.

VIC (Melbourne)
Melbourne Swing Festival (lindy hop, solo, blues) – no code of conduct. Managed by Swing Patrol Melbourne, which does have a code of conduct on its site.

Melbourne Lindy Exchange (lindy hop, blues, solo, balboa)- has a safe spaces document AND guidelines for attendees. Run by a non-profit organisation the Melbourne Jazz Dance Association. Has a very good f2f safe spaces process, and provides hard copies of the code at the door to events.
I was on the MJDA founding committee, and we specifically included the concepts of equity and accessibility as well as promotion and preservation of jazz music and dance in the Association’s charter.

Blues Before Sunrise (blues dance) Doesn’t have a code of conduct, but was held in March this year, and was really too early to have gotten to this issue. It’s a tricky one because Steven Mitchell was involved with this event as a teacher. I think (but can’t be sure) BBS won’t be running in the future, as the organisers are moving on to other projects. This event was administered by Swing Patrol Melbourne.

Cider House Blues (blues) – Does have a code, and developed it before the Mitchell thing. This event is run by a few friends.

SA (Adelaide)
Southern Blues (blues) – Has a safer spaces policy.

WA (Perth)
Hullabaloo (lindy hop) – has an inactive page atm. It’s run by the Perth Swing Dance Association, and I’m pretty sure the event will have a code and a process, as they are fully ninjas behind the scenes on this stuff. The PSDA does have a code, but it’s hidden behind a few too many clicks.

Perth Lindy Jam has no code. It’s run by Swing It, and was only held in March, so again it’s probably not had time to get a code sorted. Swing It does not have a code.

Shag About (shag) – Does not have a code. It’s run by Shag About, which does not have a code.

Margaret River dance camp (lindy hop?) – does not have a code. It’s run by Simply Swing, which does not have a code.

QLD
Sunshine Swing (lindy hop) – doesn’t have a code on its site, but its site is a place holder only atm. This event has been undergoing some changes. I’m not sure whether it’s run by Empire Swing or Corner Pocket Swing. Corner Pocket doesn’t have a code, nor does Empire Swing.

Swing Camp Oz (lindy hop, etc) does not have a code of conduct. This event is run by Joel Plys from outside Australia. There has been a fb post about a code of conduct, but this code is wholly inadequate.

Bal on the River (balboa) does have a code.

TAS
Swingmania in Launceston does have a code, but it’s a bit tricky to find. It’s linked from the Registration page, and the link is right above the ‘register’ in this body of text: “SwingMania is an inclusive and warm environment. Any participant who marginalises another may be asked by the organising committee to cease their involvement with the event. To view our full Code of Conduct”. So while it’s harder to find, it’s actually cleverly placed, because you know registrants will read it. Hopefully.

[edit: I added For Dancers Only and Swingmania after this page was published because I forgot them]

As you can see, we’re not doing very well, Australia. Time to get your shit in gear, right? After all, we’ve had 11 months since January, so we should all have been thinking about it since then. And there have been some very good resources floating about.

Basically, if you haven’t got a code of conduct on your event’s website (and on your dance school’s website), you’re telling dancers you don’t prioritise their safety. I know that getting content onto a website can be a pain if you’re not tech-savvy, but I’m pretty sure we all manage to get ads for our next event up on the website promptly.

Let’s step up. Be more awesome.

2 thoughts on “Australian dance events and their codes of conduct: let’s be more awesome”

  1. It is good to see progress being made in this space, even if it isn’t necessarily enough across the board. Maybe my thoughts are not indicative here, because our scene is different and smaller so my experiences with it might not carry over.

    Firstly I feel that code of conducts [b]shouldn’t[/b] be required. Is groping someone fine outside the dance space? No, so why would it be fine inside? Appropriate escalation policies should be in place, as part of good event management plans but outside of that the normal rules of life don’t end at the door. When you come in so things you wouldn’t do out there don’t get done in here either. People that think their behavior is fine will probably continue to do so. All you are doing is giving yourselves something to refer to when you are for instance trying to turf someone out. I guess that that is understandable in a manner but I would go with a more general blanket ‘we reserve the right to kick you out at our discretion’

    Most people are good people, that said there are some that aren’t (I mean if everyone was good we wouldn’t even be having this discussion in the first place) and with how you discuss banning you are giving a lot of power to organizers (which for the most part they should have) but you need have appropriate controls on that. As a society we allow for rehabilitation, for learning from mistakes. I am trying to be very careful with my wording here, I don’t want to be in favor of those who make our dance spaces unsafe. As a society we have decided upon a system of arbitration in situations where accusations are made, via courts, and I agree that particularly in sexual violence cases it under-serves the victims. We need to be careful that event organizers are not banning people unjustly. That they are not banning people effectively for life for situations in their past, when they were different people (and I acknowledge that certain sexual based crimes have very high rates of recidivism). That they aren’t banning people who they just don’t get along with. I can safely say that everyone I know that organizes events of this sort would never do any of the latter, they actively work to make sure everyone is happy, comfortable and having a great time. That they wouldn’t abuse the power. But given a big enough group of people, eventually there will be those that do, to appease their petty grievances. We need to be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but that could be said when arguing either way on the subject of bans.

    As a side note: While I know that the majority of the victims are female, and you most likely will have dealt with it in other posts. It pays to watch gendered pronouns. Safe spaces extend to everyone and I have been made to feel unsafe at events before (as male) in people refusing to accept my rejection of their dance requests (for styles I do not know). They were very insistent and caused me to have a small panic attack. I still am anxious regarding certain social dancing situations, and at times actively avoid them. While the severity is no where near that of events others have experienced, safe spaces extend to all.

  2. Hi Nick,

    1. I’m deliberately using gendered pronouns at the moment because I _want_ to gender this discussion. I think that we have to talk about how men (and men specifically) hold and use power in lindy hop. I want to talk about reworking masculinity in lindy hop in particular, which is why my main focus is on talking to men about how they manage their own behaviour, and how they respond to their male peers’ behaviour. I’ve written about the importance of gender neutral language quite a few times (including this post), and I understand the larger issues.

    But this is very clear example of how gender and power are connected: men harassing women is what I want to talk about.

    Having said that, I’ve recently been thinking about how we manage women who sexually harass. I’ve known a few over the years, though far fewer than men. And the men they target tend to be less able to deal with the unwanted contact. It’s on my to-do list. But perhaps a man or men could get onto this issue? I’m kind of busy with talking about how men capitalise on patriarchy to assault women. When I get done with that, I’ll start on women.

    2. Banning, and when or whether we allow people to return to our community.
    This is a tricky one. Generally, I say they can fuck off. Because I’m so angry about the men I see doing this that I just can’t not swear. In my experience, a man’s behaviour has to be really, really bad, to be banned. They’ve harassed multiple women over a long period of time. I know men who’ve raped women, at dance events, and still haven’t been banned. Let’s remember: rape is physically attacking and hurting someone. It’s not ‘unconsensual sex’, it’s a physical attack. I ban people who threaten to hit me, I definitely ban people who’ve started fights, so I ban rapists and serial harassers.
    To my mind, if you’ve been banned, you’ve used up all your credit.

    And who gives a fuck about these men. My responsibility is to making dancers feel safe at my events. Men like this frighten women. And I have found that men who serially harass aren’t just ‘decent people with a foible’. Then tend to be antisocial in a number of ways. Small loss. I want them GONE.

    More importantly, it’s not my job or responsibility to provide spaces for men who’ve assaulted women to learn to be decent humans. I just don’t CARE about that. They can go elsewhere. I simply don’t have the emotional energy or resources to add that to my list of emotional and social labour. I would much rather spend my time supporting women learning to DJ than spend hours at a dance carefully watching a known rapist to be sure he doesn’t hurt someone.

    So, very simply: No. I disagree. I DO NOT OWE A RAPIST A SECOND CHANCE. And I would not attend an event that had this policy, because I would not be safe.

    In contrast, the swing scene is incredibly forgiving: we let gropers get away with too much, for all sorts of reasons. This is why we need to start telling men, early in their dancing lives, that we are aware of harassment, and we will act to sort it out. Not just ‘bosses’ or teachers/organisers, but all of us. It’s everyone’s responsibility and right to be able to warn a groper: stop that. I like this approach – where we are all involved in tackling harassment – much more than all of us just waiting for a ‘boss’ to sort it out. This is why I’m not just working with banning as a tool.

    I’m using:
    – in-class strategies to skill up women dancers, and to teach new dancers how to be respectful
    – codes of conduct and other documents that articulate, in writing, the ‘rules’ (ie what we will and won’t tolerate)
    – practical strategies for responding to problems (like banning, kicking people out, warning people etc)
    – encouraging women to lead and men to follow, and everyone to solo dance, so we can disassociate particular dance structures from gendered power relationships
    – teaching lindy hop as a social dance first and foremost, with a whole heap of in-class strategies that stress social skills and mutual responsibility for safety
    – specific strategies for warning and managing difficult male students in class – from how to give a warning safely to how to ban someone. This is important because all our teachers are female.
    – warnings for people who’ve been inappropriate
    – tackling broader cultural issues like exploitation of volunteers, because these issues contribute to a broader culture of exploitation (ie rape culture) which enables sexual assault explicitly
    – an ‘iterative design’ approach to all this, where we continually revisit, revise, and rework strategies to improve them. Just like a swing out: we’re never done.

    I started looking for links to posts I’d written about this stuff, but pretty much every post I’ve written this year is on this issue. This one sums things up http://dogpossum.org/2015/10/ok-im-not-going-to-let-my-anger-and-sadness-weaken-me/ but isn’t exhaustive.

    3. Moderating the power of organisers (who can ban people).
    Yeah, good luck with that. Lindy hop likes hierarchical power structures. It’s built into every class, every party, every performance. We have DJs because we accept the idea that one person might know more about choosing songs for dancers. We have teachers because we feel that some people know more about dance, teaching, and running a class.
    We try to undo it in our classes, I try to take a more egalitarian approach to running events, but let’s be real: we do need bosses and leaders at events. After years on dance committees, I don’t do non-profit, committee work any more. I run a business, I have rules and guidelines, and I have priorities.
    Yes, this does lead to problems: Steven Mitchell is one.
    And yes, I do think we need to be accountable. Which is why I think, as punters, we have a right to ask dance event organisers where their codes of conduct are.

    4. Codes
    – we need written texts, because word of mouth and intimation doesn’t work.
    – codes are a written description of an organiser’s position on sexual harassment and safety. If you don’t have one, I don’t know what your position is. Particularly if I’m coming from overseas to attend your event.
    – most event organisers and teachers are amateurs, with little or no event management experience. So they’re not actually any good at doing this stuff. We need to learn how to be better.

    I won’t explain this point any more, because I’ve listed my reasons above.

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