Pay the rent

what should we do when a white teacher rewrites history to make them look virtuous?

I’m not sure if this question from a fb discussion refers to deleting comments, or about teaching practice.
If it’s the former, then it’s a matter of poor social media management. It’s quite common for inexperienced SM managers to delete difficult posts. With more experience, SM managers learn to engage with this sort of comment in a more constructive way. So I’ll set that aside as a separate issue.

If it’s the latter (and I paraphrase), ‘What should we do if a white teacher presents a false or misleading view of history to make themselves look like a really good person,’ then that’s a different issue. Again, I’m not really sure how to address this, because Black people have been telling us the answer for years. We just haven’t been listening.

So I’ll present another question:

How should we respond to white teachers who whitewash the black history of Black dance?
How should we respond to white people in positions of power who tell a story of black history where white crimes and Black suffering are marginalised?

White teachers who don’t talk about the Black history of a dance are deliberately devaluing the impact of colonialism, of slavery, of segregation, of racism, (all white actions) on Black experience. If we, white people, don’t acknowledge the white actions of the past, we can avoid being held accountable for our ancestors’ behaviour. If we establish our white ancestors as ‘good people’, we defend and develop our own right to talk with authority about the topic (dance).

In fact, ‘dance’ is stripped of its racial markers and becomes just ‘dance’ rather than ‘black dance’, or ‘Black dance’. That’s a good example of cultural appropriation – taking the culture of another people. And in this case, then commodifying it – making it into a product from which we benefit financially. It’s also a good example of colonialism: white people invading black country, taking the bits they want with violence, then retelling the history of that country to hide their own brutality.

So how should we respond to this?
Our own power and ethnicity make a difference. Our role in reparation and repair is commensurate with our own privilege. In other words, the more power we have, the more we can and should do. So, middle class white people who have and still do benefit from Black oppression, you have a lot of work to do.

If Black dance is cultural country, and white dance teachers today are cultural imperialists, then what should we do?
As Aboriginal Australians say, we must “pay the rent”. I’m going to use this example from Black activist thinking to answer:

Since the, 1970’s there have been repeated calls by Indigenous activists for non-Aboriginal Australians to ‘Pay the Rent’ to the rightful Indigenous land owners for the occupation of land in Australia and/or in recognition of Indigenous sovereignty.

Since then, the ‘Pay the Rent’ scheme, has been actively operating to provide, opportunities for non-Indigenous Australians to support initiatives controlled by the traditional land owners in their struggle for self-determination and economic independence.

Today ‘Pay the Rent’ is a reasonable, rational and responsible way of ensuring the survival of the oldest living culture in the world.

It is a significant contribution to the process of Reconciliation, and embracing its philosophy is a sign of growing maturity among today’s ‘Australians’.

(source: https://www.invasionday.org/pay-the-rent-campaigns)

So here’s a good model for ‘what we should do’ when faced with white colonialism in dance:

– White people should support Black projects and activism.
With money, with signal boosting, with personal support, by contributing labour. _Support_ is the key word. Not co-opt or invent alternative responses.

In this specific case, then, white people, it’s time to pay the rent. I know I personally can’t change the way Egle and other teachers like her (and there are plenty of them) think and act. But there are other things I can do:
– Instead of watching their videos or attending their classes or events, I can watch videos of Black dancers, and attend Black run events.
– Instead of giving these teachers my money, I can donate to funds like the Frankie Manning Foundation, or the Maputo Swing fundraisers.
– I can stop sharing and promoting events, routines, music, and other cultural product by white people, and _start_ sharing and promoting Black dance and music.
– When I hear a white teacher give an historic dance step a new name, I can butt in with the original Black name. I can interrupt white mapping of Black country. Yes, even in class. Speak truth to power.
– If I hear a white teacher teach an historic step without name-checking the Black choreographer or Black history of that step, I can interrupt and say their name. Speak truth to power.

If all these sound familiar, it’s because Black people have been asking you to do these thing for YEARS. You just haven’t been listening.
If all these sound boring or uninspiring, it’s because it’s not about YOU and your creativity. It’s about you getting out of the way so that Black artists can reclaim Black country.
If these sound intimidating or scary, it’s because white imperialism is an act of terror and cultural theft. Be brave. Stand up. Pay the rent.

Bunya pines and murri knowledge

There are a bunch of bunya pines in Ashfield park, and a huge one up on Charlotte Street. The pine cones are epic huge. HUGE. And edible.

They only grow wild in Gubbi Gubbi, Waka Waka, and Yuggera country, places which have been called South East Queensland since invasion.
A story about Bunya Dreaming festival.

Queensland is a huge state, and the land it covers now is the country of a whole host of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Bunya Pine grows in only a small part of this territory, in country cared for by three people (Gubbi Gubbi (aka Kabi Kabi), Waka Waka, and Yuggera.
I used the AIATSIS map and the The Australasian Virtual Herbarium map to figure this out.

There are other stands of Bunya Pines in other parts of Australia, but they are much smaller.
Bunya pines fit into the ‘bush tucker’ family of noms, and I know my local Sydney foody friends have been experimenting with using their nuts to make pesto.

This website is a useful tool for learning about agreements treaties and negotiated settlements in Australia.

Landrights in Western Australia and the Yindjibarndi people

Some very good news.
The High Court has upheld the Yindjibarndi people’s native title rights to their land.
Fortescue Metals Group applied to appeal these rights, and got a big ‘nope’ from the High Court.

The Yindjibarndi people live in what has been called Western Australia since invasion, but has been black country for 40 000 years. If you look it up on this great map, you’ll find them in blue on the far left of the continent, above the most eastern most bit.

You can read about the Yindjibarndi languages here, on this epic good map.

Languages are important, because you can trace who lived where by the languages they speak. A people will share some linguistic elements (and languages) with neighbouring people.
Language is culture, and the number of people speaking a language can tell you about that people’s history.
The Stolen Generations interrupted the transfer of language and culture between generations in many areas. Reconciliation Week is supposed to be (in part) about making amends for the Stolen Generation.
You cannot understand Australian history without reading the Bringing Them Home (1997) report.
Please note: this Report warrants a Content Warning for sexual violence, neglect, persons who are deceased, and so on. If you are an Australian, particularly if you are not a Aboriginal or Torres Strait islander Australian, you should try to read this Report.

What is Native Title?

Useful things to think about in regards to native title today:

  • water rights (who owns them, who can buy or sell them);
  • mining (who has access to land to mine);
  • continuous occupation of land (and proof thereof, including rock paintings and burial grounds).

    Note: native title is determined by the High Court. There are 7 High Court judges, 3 are women, none are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. It’s worth noting that one of them, Justice Virginia Bell was a volunteer at the Redfern Legal Centre in the 70s, a centre that provided legal support for the 1978 Mardi Gras protesters (the first mardi gras march), for local Aboriginal community members, and other civil rights activists.
    Read more about the Redfern Legal Centre here.

Mervyn Bishop and Vincent Lingiari

I like to think of Frankie Manning’s birthday as the day we white people kick off a week of deep diving into supporting black civil rights. Here in Australia, it’s reconciliation week. This land is home to the oldest culture on earth. And some of the most persistent and terrifying racism.

If you don’t have the stomach for reading about the horrors of black history here and in the US, focus on digging out and supporting black artists, thinkers, activists, workers. Be the person who clears a space so they can stand. Still your voice so they can speak.

This iconic image is by aboriginal photographer Mervyn Bishop. He composed and shot the image.

…on 16 August 1975, he covered a historical event at Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory. This significant moment in Australian history followed a nine-year strike over the working conditions and request for traditional lands to be returned to the Gurindji people. This photograph captures Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hand of Aboriginal rights activist, Vincent Lingiari on the occasion of the successful passing of the revolutionary act of parliament.
(source)

-> land rights + labour rights + black civil rights
Useful topics to follow up:
– Wave Hill Walk-Off (1966-1975)
– Gurindji people
– Vincent Lingiari
– Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (1976)

Queer black men

I really like the way this story is reframed to focus on a queer black man as hero by this queer black jewish man*.

*Michael Twitty is a cook and scholar who focusses on the black jewish food traditions of America and the African diaspora. He has a book, goves good twitter, and could tell you exactly what ingredients were in a cake walk prize.


I want to keep sharing photos of black men like this, rather than bad white people, because they are an antidote to the bad news. ❤️✊🏽

And this is why we need queer histories of jazz dance. Without them, it’s too easy for white people to position themselves as saviours ‘reviving’ the black dance of a doomed or negligent people. “Black gay men have incomparable strength and courage.” White people, it is not ok to position ourselves as ‘preserving’ black culture. Just get out of the goddamm way.

If you’re interested, queer black men’s experience in dance under slavery is one of Tommy DeFrantz’ research interests. His book ‘Dancing Many Drums’ has some good bits on this tooic.

Sorry Day

Today is world lindy hop day and Frankie Manning’s birthday. But it’s also Sorry Day.

For me, Sorry Day is the more important occasion. But I think that Frankie would be down with that: apologise, remember the past, move forward with hope and good will.

[edit 10 minutes later]…maybe do a bit more than ‘move forward with hope and good will.’ Me, I’m adding ‘Do what you can, when you can. Because life is short, and we should take care of each other. And take care of the music.[/]

Condoman

I was living in Brisbane, and about 15 when I first saw Condoman. This was mid-AIDS crisis, and the Brisbane AIDS team was based in the Valley, where my mum worked, and where we went out to see bands and get hassled by junkies.

Condoman was invented by Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood and a bunch of other good peeps from Townsville, who wanted a figure who would empower black kids and get them to use condoms. This poster was designed by and printed by Michael Callaghan and Redback Graphix in 1987.

Redback Graphix (1979-1994) was an independent printing cooperative based in Wollongong, and focussing on politically minded, community-centred posters. Their posters are most excellent.

I for one would welcome an anti-Rona poster that was a bit more empowering, and a bit more block colour than the pissweak govt publications we’re seeing.

But Redback were funded by state and federal arts grants, and the coalition governments (both state and federal) today have decided the arts can go and get fucked. So there’s no covid bailout for them (us) and funding for the arts generally has been gutted.

I’m nuts for posters, playbills, and printed ephemera. Particularly hand-printed, or short-run printed material. There’s a great book about Redback Graphix, which I strongly recommend.

What’s with that Captain Cook cunt?

So, today is the 250th anniversary of Cook’s claiming he’d discovered Australia. He and his crew were driving the Endeavour round the world stealing stuff and killing and raping people for the British empire. They bumped into Australia, home to the oldest living culture in the world (40 000 years), 700 distinct languages, extensive complex land management traditions… basically it was bigger, fancier, and culturally rich.

Former PM Tony Abbott and his mates had planned an epic big series of expensive public thingies to commemorate Cook ‘circumnavigating’ the continent. The best bit of COVID19 is that it fucked up those plans. The best bit of history is that Abbott will be remembered for that particular nugget.

Why do we think Captain Cook was shit?
– He killed and raped a bunch of people;
– He claimed Australia was ‘terra nullis’ – there were no people living here or using the country;
– He defined ‘people’ as white people, and ‘using’ as european style intensive agriculture;
– He kicked off 250 years of invasion and attempted genocide.

He was fucken wrong.

What happened to Cook?
– He killed and raped some people in Hawai’i, tried to kidnap their leader, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, and got FUCKEN KILLED.

James Cook was a bad person, and he got pwnd.

THE END.

Buy this shirt and be useful.

The above image was a bit of paper circulated at UQ when I was there in the early 90s. It was a photocopied thingy pinned up on someone’s door, so I took a photocopy of it.
I have no idea who made it, or where it came from

BLACK lindy hop matters

My problem with discussions about the ‘lindy hop revival’ is that it is centred on whether or not the lindy hop died out.
This way of talking and thinking about lindy hop and black dance and music is all about non-black people trying to force a particular paradigm (way of thinking) onto black history and culture. Wanting these cultural practices to fit into a linear understanding of dance, where one thing gave birth to another in a nice straight line.

When it wasn’t that way at all.

There’s stacks of literature and oral history and discussion of black culture (esp music and dance), _by black people, from black communities_ that point out that music and dance don’t work that way in these communities. Did everyone read Odysseus’ piece that he posted in this group? Did we read Katrina Hazzard-Gordon? Tommy deFrantz? Jacqui Malone? Joann Kealiinohomoku?
No?
It’s time to set your Marshall and Jean Stearns aside, and read some work by actual black authors.

The prevalence of multi-generational spaces (where young people and older people got together) in black communities is unlike white American, and other colonialist spaces. BBQs, cookouts, street parties, church dances, dances, parties, weddings, baptisms, engagements, birthday parties, anniversaries, etc etc etc. All these cross-generational social spaces where people danced and talked and listened to music and did all sorts of cultural stuff. There’d be different dances happening all at once in one space. And steps and rhythms moved between generations as well.

The term ‘revival’ is highly problematic, because it implies, necessarily, that something was ‘dead’, and then ‘revived’ – brought back to life. To declare something ‘dead’ or irrelevant, or gone, is an act of cultural power. To do it retroactively, from a position of cultural and social power (white colonial power) is full-on, epic-dodgy, do-not-do-this.
1. Because white people did not and do not have access to black spaces*,
2. Because white eyes aren’t so good at seeing black culture in this colonial context,
3. Because fuck off mate, that’s an arse-act.

As I said earlier, to declare a culture ‘dead’ is an act of imperialism. It’s what British colonists did when they invaded Australia: they declared Aboriginal culture dying, and on its way to dead. They literally declared the continent terra nullius: uninhabited. Both these positions were justification for British imperialism, invasion, colonisation. It’s fully hardcore oldschool racism.
-> I am referencing this chunk of postcolonial theory because it is directly relevant to a discussion of American history, and of slavery within American history. Bodily autonomy – the freedom to move one’s body at will – and cultural autonomy – the freedom to share or not share culture – are determined by race and class throughout the colonial history of America and Australia.

Anyway, this is why I don’t like to use the word ‘revivalism’ in the context of 1980s lindy hop.

*A note here about desegregation in the jazz era: desegregation gave _white_ people access to black spaces. I do not in anyway condone segregation, but the movement of white bodies and persons into black community spaces was pretty good for white cultural thieves, but not always so great for the black communities they were colonising.

Language is important: decolonising dance jargon

‘Gliding’* came up in a fb discussion about great things to teach brand new dancers.
Gliding is just moving around the dance floor in closed position without any particular rhythm, with or without music. In our classes, we want them to experiment with working with a partner in closed, with no pressure to perfect a rhythm or shape.

Gliding teaches them:
– closed partner connection
– floor craft
– the joy of being with a partner with no pressure to do a rhythm
– confidence to experiment on their own
– how to change direction (as a lead and/or follow).

In this discussion, there was a comment by someone using a lot of dance industry ‘jargon’. And a couple of words that I wasn’t entirely sure were being used correctly.

…or, more generously, were being used in ways I wasn’t sure I understood.

Anyhoo, I asked for clarification. And got some more jargon. Partly an ESL issue, but also partly… a confusing thing.

The biggest problem I had with this comment, was the author’s correcting our use of the word ‘gliding’:

…gliding is a modern subculture term, progressive ( in line of dance) would be the common teaching terminology.

I immediately felt very uncomfortable with this correction. Because Frankie Manning used the term ‘gliding’ to describe a more organic, natural movement about the floor (distinct from a very clear straight line). So I asked for clarification. And felt it was… massively patronising and also WRONGTOWN and full of some bullshit white elitist crap. So I figured I’d just ignore it, because life is too fucking short.

Luckily Damon Stone was feeling patient. I’m sorry I didn’t step in; it’s not cool to leave all this hard work to POC.
This is Damon’s great answer:

It feels like you are using te[rms] from one subculture of “ballroom” and applying to all other dances done in ballrooms.

The terminology of different American ballroom chains at one point differed from each other and there are still terminology differences between American and International ballroom studio associations.

When you compare both style technique, composition, and terminology between ballroom studios and the people who created the dances it isn’t uncommon to find slight to wild variations between those created by African American or Latinx peoples.

Progressive definitely implies line of dance, gliding doesn’t. Frankie definitely used the term in my lessons and classes with him to indicate dancing within a general space as opposed to on the spot or line of dance.

You absolutely could glide in line of dance and yes the earliest version of lindy hop appears to be rooted in a progressive structure but, in my experience, that was not how Frankie wanted it done.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with using American or International ballroom terms of you get a lot of dancers with that background, if you teach in a that type of studio and how your lindy hoppers will also study that style of ballroom, but this dance also has a language developed by its own originating and innovating dancers, keeping that terminology in the dance is a great way to pass along parts of the culture.

I’d be super careful about correcting someone’s terminology if it can be traced to people who danced at the Savoy even if it was terminology they added to the dance well after the Savoy was torn down.

I did end up chiming in (of course I did). Paraphrasing Damon’s clever (and patient) comment, I added:

I want to emphasise this idea: if we use the language of the white-run and owned ballrooms and dance classes of the day (and now), instead of the language of black dancers who invented and owned this dance, then we are recreating and reinforcing white colonisation of black dance. An insidious sort of appropriation of black culture for white profit.

In more practical terms, a lot of the language and ‘technique’ of OGs who danced on crowded dance floors reflects the practicalities of a crazy packed dance floor. You have to behave like social creatures when you social dance.
An insistence on straight lines, slots, fixed figures, etc etc is often profoundly anti-social as ‘rules’ don’t account for crowds of humans with varying skills and attention. Not to mention actual live music.
I think that this is one of the most important parts of vernacular dance. It changes and improvises to account for the needs of real humans in social spaces <3 It _belongs_ to the people dancing it, not to a rule book and codified pedagogy. *Do a search for 'gliding' here in this blog and you'll find a bunch of posts.