Monstrous

Claire Dederer’s ‘What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?’. Once you get past the Woody Allen stuff, she asks:

It might sound as though I’m conflating two things—male predators and female finishers—in a troubling way. And I am. Because when women do what needs to be done in order to write or make art, we sometimes feel monstrous. And others are quick to describe us that way.

This resonates with me. Because doing ‘the right thing’ and tackling sexual harassment (taking on that feminised role of caring) has had direct consequences on my own creative work. Less time to write, to DJ, to work on my own dancing, to work with musicians. My energy and health spent on tidying up after bastard men rather than fostering my own work.
Men are largely absent in the Australian dance scene’s responses to s.h. There are _some_ very good men squirrelling away, but for the most part it’s women writing codes and policies (for which male organisers are happy to take reflected credit). Women who could be dancing or playing music. It’s a second subtraction from our creative lives: we pay once when we fight off these arseholes, and we pay again when we pick up our sisters and chase down the offenders.

Yes, this caring labour does build skills and networks and confidence. But it also detracts. And choosing _not_ to step up and help is a bastard act. Monstrous. As this writer notes, choosing to pursue our own goals, to set aside that role of carer is monstrous. It feels that way. And it is oftenmen who are quickest to dismiss the woman lindy hopper’s failure to ‘help’ their lead as a moral failure.

My rules for DJing

My rules for DJing are pretty simple, and I’ve written about them many times before:

  1. Make it easy for everyone to have fun.
  2. What you play is not as important as the combinations you play them in.
  3. These combinations are dictated by the crowd’s feels, not how you feel in your pants.

That’s it.
But how does that work? If any of the following phrases don’t make any sense to you, have a read of this post How I think About DJing afterwards.

You don’t need fancy technology, and there’s no substitute for listening to your music and getting to know it well.
I DJ using itunes on a mac + cog and an external soundcard for previewing.
I always choose songs on the fly.

Work a tempo wave, and work an energy wave.
It’s ok to play favourites.
Play solid, swinging jazz from the 30s and 40s, and A bit from the 50s.

If you fuck up (clear the floor), follow up with an apology song (i have a list of tried and true favourites).
If you don’t social dance a lot, you’ll be a rubbish dancer.

Only play songs you love.
Only play jazz. If you don’t love swinging jazz, don’t DJ

Watch the dancers. Stop looking at your computer. Watch the dancers. Learn to read how they feel from how they dance. Don’t leave the booth while DJing (because you can’t watch the dancers). Watch the dancers. Learn their feels.

And most importantly, be a pro. Be on time, bring all your gear, be helpful, accommodating, and polite, and ask the organiser what they want.
Know how to play a birthday jam, learn to use the mic, and buy everything Basie up til 1955.

Seoul fashion report Oct 20, 2017

A city that sees snow in winter and scorches in summer, Seoul revels in the more moderate seasons. Cooling weather sees young women and men adopting softer, boxier silhouettes. We’re seeing bulky knits, raglan-sleeved sweaters that are definitely sloppy joes, and dropped shoulders everywhere. These comfortable shapes end at the hip, bottomed with slim pedal pushers for both sexes. But we don’t think gentlemen will be revealing those elegant ankles once winter comes.

Things male lindy hoppers have done this year in Australia

  • Sexually assaulted women, girls, boys, and men;
  • Sexually harassed women, girls, boys, and men;
  • Deliberately derailed OH&S processes;
  • Discouraged societies or committees from developing codes of conduct;
  • Actively argued against the introduction of codes of conduct in their local scene;
  • Covered up for offenders;
  • Defended offenders in public and private;
  • Witnessed assault and harassment in person, but failed to prevent or act on it;
  • Failed to support women stepping in to stop harassment as it happens;
  • Deliberately attacked and discredited women reporting assault;
  • Deliberately attacked and discredited women and men reporting assault on behalf of others;
  • Hired known offenders for teaching and management roles in large scale events;
  • Discredited individuals and groups working on safe space policies;
  • Used their power and status as international teachers, DJs, and organisers to discredit women reporting offences, and derail the development of safe space policies;
  • Verbally, legally, physically threatened women who are discussing these issues (let alone working on them actively);
  • Taken credit for the work of women in their organisation who have improved safety at their events;
  • Failed to assist in a material or organisational way to improve conditions at their own events or in their own businesses;

I wish this was a hypothetical list. But I could give you names and dates for all of these.

Can you just fucking step up and do something GOOD, for once, lindy hopping men?

So, we’re continuing to wade on with the work on sexual assault and harassment in the dance world. There have been great strides made. By women. At this point, men are continuing to offend at the same rate as before, men are covering up and enabling other offenders, whether deliberately or by neglect, and almost all of the work on codes of conduct, safety committees and cultural change is done by women.

Even more significantly, women are doing all the emotional labour of convincing men we need these things. There are still plenty of men in the international dance scene who don’t think we need codes of conduct (when your mates stop raping us, we won’t need a list of rules that say ‘don’t rape us’), think we should leave all this to the police (when the cops and legal system actually prosecute and punish offenders, we won’t need to police this shit ourselves), and think we should just leave all this to ‘common sense’ (when men actually have the sense to see that raping and harassing women isn’t ok, we’ll actually accept that they have any sense at all).

At this point, years after Bill Borghida was jailed for possession of child pornography, two years or more after some very brave women outed Steven Mitchell as a violent sexual offender and pedophile, a year after more brave women outed Max Pitruzella as a violent rapist and offender, and as every day we see more and more women reach out for help from anyone who shows even the smallest hint of empathy, women are still doing all the goddamm work.

And here’s the deal: men are still doing all the goddamm raping and assault. Yes, there are some women who offend. But at this point, I’ve come across dozens of male offenders in the past two years, and only two women. And those women’s offences were far, far less severe than the things men have been doing to women dancers.

Yes, all men. All men are responsible for their own behaviour and for the behaviour of their male friends. But they aren’t stepping up and taking on that responsibility. In this sense, men are failing to do community, and women are doing all the labour. Maybe we should just ban all men from lindy hop events. At this point, that seems the only way to put a stop to all the sexual violence.

But some people actually quite like having men around. So, men, if you want to prove that you actually deserve a place in our communities, you’re going to need to step up.

Yes, there is some emotional labour for YOU to do.

We’ve done a pretty good job of getting women up and engaged with safe space policy to deal with sexual harassment and assault. And they’re engaged as agents of prevention and response, rather than as ‘potential victims modifying their behaviour so they don’t provoke men into raping them’.

But we don’t have many men involved.
We’ve tried a range of strategies, from the ‘most offenders are male, so you need to step up’ offence, to the ‘we need you to be there for us’ to …. well, all sorts of things.
Getting organised as allies, and as actively engaged in preventing sexual assault is straight up emotional labour: thinking and planning, using empathy, working to discourage other men from offending, reducing micro-aggressions, dismantling less overt elements of rape culture.

And we’re just having no luck.

I don’t want to micromanage …work. I want a partner with equal initiative (ref).

So now we need real strategies for getting men to get involved. Because the women on committees and so on are bloody tired of this shit. We’re basically now 100% responsible for responding to and preventing men from raping women.

Things I’m having some luck with:
– pushing the ‘we are looking out for each other’ line, and having short examples in our PR copy, our speeches, etc etc (eg ‘see someone looking crook? Offer to sub in for them for a break’).
– coming at it indirectly in class by having all students learn and practice asking their partner ‘does this feel ok?’ and then being constructive (rather than defensive) with responses.

But this is not moving fast enough. And I’m just too tired and busy fielding emails from frightened women, producing documentation, and looking after my own health to actually do all the work for men too. Can you just fucking step up and do something GOOD, for once, lindy hopping men? Because I’m beginning to despair of you.

What are some useful suggestions for getting men to do this sort of emotional labour? Because unlike neglected house work, neglected violence kills people.

Why is it important to say that lindy hop is a black dance?

The mighty Anaïs asked on fb today:

the statement of the “African-American” quality of Jazz dance and Lindy hop has disappeared from the front page and main description of what was taught and celebrated at the Herräng Dance Camp…Why?

Here is what I think.

Herräng is a white-run and European-based business which gains much of its status from the idea that it is offering an ‘authentic’ jazz/swing dance experience. This idea of authenticity or ‘realness’ is really developed by the focus on and use of the idea of ‘vernacular.’ Vernacular, in this sense, means everyday, ordinary, ‘of the people,’ rather than concert or performance or formal or prepackaged. A significant part of the camp’s appeal lies in the immersion style experience campers have: there is music and dance everywhere, every day, all the time.

This is all well and good. But if white organisers leave out the black part of this ‘vernacular’, we’re left with the implication that this ‘vernacular’ has nothing to do with race. Or class.

This is the bit that makes me very uncomfortable. That’s straight up appropriation: taking something that belongs to someone else and repackaging it for your own gain.
It’s difficult to get around this issue, because we are talking about relatively wealthy, middle class, socially and culturally powerful people using a dance which is really appealing. And fun.

One of the solutions suggested by scholars and activists of colour is to name check the people who developed and own this stuff. I like to compare it to recognising the traditional owners of country (ie Aboriginal Australians). It’s a way of saying, “Hello, I saw what you did. I recognise your power and work. I want to apologise for the past. I give you the chance to forbid me use of this dance and music. This is yours.”
When we say, “this is a black dance” we are saying “I do not own, nor did I create this dance.” We are recognising the traditional custodians of this creative land.

So, when Herräng leaves off the words ‘African American’, they’re essentially obscuring the black roots of this dance. The focus on authenticity in camp is likely to leave punters with the idea that this white version of black dance is the ‘real’ or most ‘authentic’ version of this dance and history.
This is cultural appropriation, but it is also colonisation.

Without name checks, without reference to and discussion of real history, Frankie’s face becomes an appropriated icon as much as the swing out.

This is why it’s important that people like Anaïs and others publicly ask, “Hey, where did the words go?” because she is also saying, “Hey, where is the recognition of the custodians of this traditional knowledge?”

why the black kids sit together

I was just watching this video ‘Why the Black Kids Still Sit Together’ feat. Beverly Daniel Tatum and thinking about how important it was to have critical mass of black dancers at Herrang this year in week 4.
There was a moment after the meeting when I was watching the OGs hanging out with the Frankie ambassador peeps, with teacher, dancers from all over the world. They were just hanging, talking, dancing a bit while staff tidied the hall for the dance, the DJ (me) set up for the gig, and the hall emptied out.

Watching these peeps of colour from all over the world hang out, I was struck by just how white Herrang is, and how there’s this insistence in the camp that we only listen to black music from no later than the 50s in common areas. No hip hop. No rap. No reggae. No modern rnb. None of the music that these young people listen to, own in their everyday lives.

And I thought, ‘This is some pretty fucked up shit. That white, middle class people are gate keepers for what counts as ‘legit’ black culture. And it’s the black culture that’s back there in another time, out of reach of these young people.’ And it makes me want to laugh as much as cry that the camp was stretching as far back as the 1600s to an ‘authentic’ black dance from Africa for classes, rather than just reaching out its hand to the kids who were right there in the camp, a living part – owners! – of black culture today.

That’s why the black kids sit together in the cafeteria, lindy hop.

[edit: these same points apply to why we need more women in DJing, why we need to queer it up in lindy hop, etc etc etc]

How gentle classes can fight the power

I was thinking about this this week. When it’s hard for peeps to get to class, if our classes are extra welcoming and embracing diversity, we make it easier for marginalised peeps to get to class and learn to dance.

I think it’s important for us, in this political climate, to do what we can to counter the horrible sadness and anger we feel about injustice. And I think we can do that by doing positive, excellent stuff that makes people feel good and happy. Including us. And lindy hop is just perfect for this.

This is my back story:
Our country is currently embroiled in a very nasty public shitstorm about a survey asking whether or not the laws should be changed to include same sex marriage. It’s not a referendum or a binding vote. It’s just a huge, expensive, shit-stirring survey intended to stir up distress and foment conflict. All because our spineless government didn’t want to allow members of parliament to vote on a new bill according to conscience (rather than party lines).
Last week in class we had a few same-sex couples come to class for the first time. Our door person was wearing her excellent ‘YES’ tshirt*, and I’d reposted this the previous week:

The couples felt a bit nervous about class (usually first time beginner stuff). And today I was thinking, ‘I’m so glad we were making it clear that anyone can lead or follow. I’m so glad we had a same sex teaching couple that week. I’m so glad we have a friendly class that focuses on looking after each other. I’m so glad our usual students are so welcoming and nice to each other.’
It’s hard enough coming to class for the first time as a shy noob. But if you’re someone who’s used to be marginalised, it’s even more important that you’re met with a welcoming class environment.
Because I believe, so strongly, that happy students do better learning. And we can do very good, important things for the world just in teaching dance. It’s not ‘just dancing’. It’s important.

*meaning ‘vote ‘yes’, let’s change the laws.

Why teaching is important to feminism

James recently made this comment in response to some interesting comments by Kathleen in the fb teaching group:

I would do anything for them to let me teach lessons in my scene the way you do up there! When I tried I encountered surprising resistance. People are weirdly attached to their 6 count triple step highly gendered rotation classes.

I think my response pretty much sums up my ideas about the relationship between teaching (which is so central to contemporary lindy hop culture – for better or worse) and the broader cultural and social power structures in our community. I believe that we build cultures of exploitation or empowerment in our classes.

Traditional class models are very easy to teach (because you teach to that imaginary ‘average’, rather than to different students’ needs); very easy to promote (this is exactly what you get *lists moves in sequence*); and are a very powerful ‘add on’ promotional model, where students start at level 1 and then add 2, 3, 4, 5. You keep adding levels/products to retain that market.

As you’d expect, you end up retaining your ‘average’, losing diversity in your cohort, and churn out students who all dance the same way, and can’t count themselves in. Which is ok if you want to build a very big scene very quickly. Not so good if you’re looking for diversity. This sort of approach to ‘scene building’ promotes/builds very clear hierarchies of power and status, and consequently enables sexual harassment, exploitation of labour, and other status-related bullshit.

Also it’s boring to teach.

In contrast the ‘full hippy‘ teaching culture (which draws a lot from things like Montessori thinking and other independent pedagogic practice), hopefully enables personal empowerment and fights the fucking patriarchy. And gives us more interesting dancing and teaching :D

Going the full hippy: Progress report

We’ve been gradually increasing the amount and type of hippy teaching tools in our classes.
I’m trying to balance full-on hippy fun with historical repertoire, name-checking OGs, and disciplined rhythms and skills.
Interestingly, I’ve found that my definition of ‘technique’ has expanded from partner connection to the ability to create and execute rhythms precisely, to observe and learn-by-watching-and-trying, and most importantly, to do all this stuff _as a teacher_ while I’m guiding student through these skills.
So I can’t teach rhythm-first if I don’t have preceise control of my rhythms.
I can’t see if they’ve got control of their rhythms if I can’t see what their bodies are doing.

The hippy tools
I’ve been working with include:

1. “We’ll do it three times, then you try it”
(A sequence of them trying it with a partner in their own time, us all coming together and them articulating what they’ve had trouble with or observed/been amazed by, them watching again, them trying again, us all doing it together, a technical note or two (usually related to dance technique. This is an extension of the solo jazz warm up where they ‘just have a go’). This is ideal for uneven lead/follow ratios as they can work in groups of 3).
-> skills: learning to understand rhythms or sequences with the eye or ear (not broken down); self-reliance; prioritising what to look for first when learning (and suiting their own needs, not the teachers’ priorities in breaking things down); working with a partner(s) to solve problems (cooperation, mutual respect, listening, speaking, trying); learning by doing, rather than learning by thinking; trying; making confident mistakes; ‘errors’ as a natural and useful part of learning; finding their own ‘style’ through problem solving biomechanics.

2. I-go, you-go where the teacher leads or they do it with a partner.
(The starter does the rhythm, then the follower does it immediately afterwards in time, then the starter moves straight on to something else. They usually begin by watching and following the teacher (with the second teacher ‘on their team’ with them), but also do it with a peer in class. This ‘exercise’ or ‘game’ is also applied to teaching a specific rhythm or move in class.)
-> skills: learning by watching/listening rather than having it broken down; super-focus; mindfulness; proprioception; understanding rhythm as patterns; pattern recognition and creation; being ok with errors, and not fixating on them; demonstrating or dancing as clearly as possible; team work; gauging a partner’s abilities or state of mind and adjusting to suit; realising that a ‘success’ is where one demonstrates well and the other figures it out well: collaboration.

3. If you have a question, watch us demo it/try it yourself/watch your peers and find the answer.
-> skills: self-reliance; try before asking (they eventually learn to try before they ask questions); valuing their own judgement and skills; confidence; observation (physical, aural, visual); mindfulness; proprioception.

These three tools are great. And we can build them into our classes as ‘exercises’. But eventually a class full of exercises feels boring, and disconnected from actual social dancing.
So what I’ve been working on is building them into classes and making the connections between the exercises and actual social dancing skills and dancing history obvious and useful. How?

We’ll do it three times (ie learn by watching/observing, as part of ‘talk-less’ teaching) is a really nice tool that informs most of the way I teach now. I’m less likely to break things down first (though I may later on if they need some clarification, and if the intermediate dancers want technical connection nerdery, or we want to do rhythmic nerdery and tighten up their syncopation, etc). This is how we’ve done it this block. In fact, the following section is a description of last night’s class. FUN.
– We do our warm ups this way, beginning every single class, where the leader in the circle dances a step/rhythm for a phrase (repeating it 4 times), and the students just join in. Straight away, they learn to just try and have fun.

– A ‘warm up’ after the solo jazz warm up, where everyone copies the teacher. Last week we did this as a preparation for the following game/exercise. The teacher just danced rhythms, and because it moves so quickly, and we don’t dwell on a rhythm until people get it right, they don’t freak out. A teaching note: you gradually increase the complexity, in keeping with their progress. If none of them get a rhythm, you repeat it slower. You build on the rhythms, using different variations of the rhythmic components you’ll be using in class.

– We have them do games with partners, where the starter dances a step, the other watches and joins in, then on the 4th 8 of the phrase, they both do a ‘break step’ (ie anything they like, as long as it’s different, gradually progressing to a very deliberate ‘step’ or rhythm that they come up with while doing the 3 repetitions of the move). We find that this develops some pretty bloody good skills – they get GOOD at this. We did this this week and it was FUN.

[NB at the beginning of the class we did a ‘where would we start?’ exercise where we listened to a song and had to make a visual sign on ‘1’. Then we did it for ‘8’. Then we did it for the beginning of a phrase. They could do any sign they liked. And as we progressed, they weren’t allowed to repeat a sign. It was gold. And of course, to keep time, they were grooving like crazy. And their ‘signs’ got more interesting. Until they were just dancing like freaking superheroes.
Then we stepped up the exercise, and they had to walk around the room doing any old thing, then on the last 8 of the phrase, they had to stop and stand still. Then we stepped it up and they had to do a specific rhythm on that last 8. Then they had to do it on the spot. It was also fantastic.]

[last week]They learn a basic step earlier in the class (eg last week we did an under arm turn from closed into open). They then did a game where the leader danced the basic rhythm (step step triple step) and the follow practiced dancing a new rhythm over the top. We explained the leads’ job as “Keeping time and structure for the follows while they’re a storm of rhythm.”
We had them do this a few times with a partner, then rotate. After a few rotations, we said to the leads, “Ok, leads, so you’re paying attention to your partner, right? Now the follow will dance their 8 count rhythm while you keep your basic rhythm, and then you will repeat it back to them immediately.” And the leads were all eee! But they did it and were grand.
Then we had them do some lindy hop, and when the leads led the under arm turn, the follow could insert their new rhythm, while the lead kept the basic rhythm.
After a few rotations, we said to the leads, “Ok, now you learnt at least three different rhythms from your partners. Start adding them in!”

It was super magic and they had a GREAT time. Note, this was a group of beginners in their 4th week of classes. And they were doing quite sophisticated stuff.
Learning outcomes: all the above, _and_ they all had very relaxed (but alive) connection, and were REALLY engaged with their partners. They were also in time, swinging, and had a clear sense of call and response. It was 100% jazz. And they had SO MUCH FUN.[/]

– They dance lindy hop with a partner, and take turns being the ‘starter’. The ‘follower’ has to observe the break step or rhythm and repeat it back. The starter can repeat it three times, or as many times as they like. This exercise can be structured so that they do 3 x 8 of one rhythm (eg charleston), and then 1 x 8 of a break (which the follower gets to observe once a phrase). As you can see, varying the phrase structure – eg ABAB – can improve this exercise.
We did this last night, and the progression of this exercise was to explain how even though we can make up anything on the spot, the very best dancers have a really good sense of rhythm and music.

Then we talked about Frankie Manning, and how he was really good at this stuff. So we then taught them a mini dip. We positioned it as a step that’s taught a lot today (as part of the lindy hop ‘canon’), and that’s because it’s really fun, and just feels _good_.

I liked positioning the step this way, as it name checked an OG, it referenced what makes a rhythm really ‘good’, and it also made musical sense. We taught them the step by teaching it as a rhythm first. Then we showed them how it’s really just two people passing by each other. Then we had them watch three times then try it. And BOOM.

Things we pointed out: the follow is a free agent and can do anything they want. So the lead and follow have to keep an eye on each other to know when to do it.
Thing they learnt: the timing of the rhythm is affected by where your body is. eg if you take longer while rotating your body to look and check in with your partner, you delay the final hit of the move, which changes the rhythm. This is ok, but if you pay attention to your partner, you can do more things.; they learnt that they can ‘feel’ the rhythm through relaxed connection when they’re holding hands, as well as ‘see’ it and ‘hear it’. So they began to experiment with stretch (though we didn’t say stretch): eg a lead said “If I’m too far away from my partner, I can’t do X fast enough”, and a follow said, “Because the lead’s goes down low, I know where to go myself.” Both of these are examples of stretch (moving away from each other horizontally, moving away from each other vertically), and they saw how it affected their connection and rhythmic timing.
Because we had set this all up as an experiment or game, they were all saw these things as variations on the rhythm, not mistakes. And they figured out that ‘deliberate’ rhythms require planning ahead, and control of your body, as well as connection with a partner.

We had a student arrive late, and so I said, “Ok, what if your partner doesn’t know this rhythm? How would you teach them?” They drew on the previous week’s class skills, and figured out that they’d dance it _for_ their partner. We then set them free to social dance it, and to adjust the rhythm of the mini dip however they liked, just as long as it was deliberate.
SOLID GOLD. These were a mixed class of total noobs (in week 5) and experienced people. They had FUN.

-> you can do all this stuff with total noobs (these guys were all total noobs – weeks 4 and 5). They progress REALLY quickly. And classes run really smoothly and are a lot of fun.
-> it is really, really important to use solid swinging jazz to make this work. They find it really hard to do good syncopation (vs straight beats) in a stomp off, for example, if they don’t have the good solid swinging jazz playing to help them make it fit the music. If the song is playing, I noticed that they self-correct to make their straight stomp off swing.
-> mini dip is a fantastic step for teaching about swing and syncopation. And because we framed it as a historic step that’s stuck with people, they made the connection between something they immediately recognised as ‘really good’ (they all went “Ooo!” when they saw it, and felt cool doing it), and the importance of a good choreographer with a good connection to music.

For me, I really really really liked that they realised that they could invent a break step or rhythm (anyone can), but a really good, satisfying rhythm is the work of a master. And something you work towards. They also figured out that sharing the rhythm with a partner is what makes lindy hop so great.