Food and Dance; as ordinary as oxygen

Soul Food Junkies (broadcast version) from Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez on Vimeo.

This is a really great little docco. As you’ve probably figured out, one of my favourite ways of experiencing the places I visit is to see what people eat, how they eat it, and where they get it. I especially like ‘ordinary’ or ‘everyday’ food – supermarkets, greengrocers, delis, markets. The places where people buy their everyday food.

Sitting here in Herrang, at a dance camp devoted to black dance history, I’m struck (once again – for the millionth time) by just how selective this ‘history’ is. It’s heavily vetted by middle class white people, and barely touches on the everyday lives of black people in the 20s/30s/40s, let alone today. One of the very real consequences of this, is that lindy hop and tap and all those other black dances are even more clearly separated from the black vernacular.

The other night there was a library talk about lindy hop, with the provocation: “lindy hop: a dance to preserve or develop?” All three of the people on the panel were white, middle class Swedes. I find this thought more than a little troubling. This was clearly a statement of ownership of black dance. By white business owners. I couldn’t attend, and frankly, I couldn’t quite bear the thought of another belaboured discussion where white people give endless excuses and reasons for why what they are doing is ok, because this one time a black guy told them so. To paraphrase an important movement in lindy hop today: the voices of black lindy hoppers matter. Time to stop talking and listen, white lindy hoppers.

Anyways, this documentary is about the way black families can both preserve and innovate, by focussing on community development (specifically in terms of addressing food deserts and access to ingredients in black communities, as well as cooking). Here, the cultural practices and products – cooking, eating and food – are clearly marked as central to black family life, and therefore of vital importance to black cultural life. This filmmaker makes it clear that stepping aside from the commodification of processed food and black eaters’ engagement with food only as consumers is a serious issue. Growing your own greens is as important as dancing your own dances and making your own music; it is soul food.

Fart cauliflower

We have had a lot of cauliflower in our veggie box recently, so we’ve made a lot of fart cauliflower. It freezes beautifully, is easy to make, and is quite soothing if you are feeling a bit niggeldy. Exclude the chilli if you don’t like it too spicy. Eat it with rice and yoghurt. Sorry it’s in a photo not text. Sorry it’s rotated 90*. It’s called fart cauliflower, because that’s what it smells like when it’s cooking. Yummy.


(from Madhur Jaffrey’s book ‘The Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook’. All praise Madhur!)

(Note my helpful tip: vegetables get smaller as they cook. Cauliflowers have lots of water in them.)

Another shit-stirrer post about teaching

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about why people teach, and what they get out of it (for obvious reasons).

There is this idea in the lindy hop world that we should all sacrifice lots ‘for the community’. As though ‘the community’ was this really huge thing, larger and more important than all of us, and yet somehow not including us at all. I’m not sure where this idea that we should sacrifice our own health and spare time for the sake of other people’s dancing came from. I sometimes think it has to do with the revivalist impetus: that we have to keep lindy hop alive no matter what. Which is problematic for so many reasons. Starting with a) It wasn’t actually dead before busy white people started getting into it in the 1980s; b) If the communities that developed it have moved on to other things, perhaps a vernacular dance has lost its utility, and social dances should be useful and relevant above all else.

This is what I think:

  • communities must be sustainable. Culturally, socially, economically, environmentally… and so on.
  • The people in the community are that community. That includes the teachers and volunteers and event organisers and so on… all the people who are working their bums off to ‘keep the dance alive’. This means that their lives and work have to be sustainable: they have to earn enough money to pay their bills; they can’t ruin their health and relationships and lives with overwork; they have to find joy their work – it cannot be a burden. ie NO MARTYRS.
  • The ‘community’ is not a discrete bubble. All ‘communities’ overlap and interact with other ‘communities’. So the ‘lindy hop community’ is also a part of, or overlapping with, the ‘jazz community’, and the ‘vintage lifestyle’ community, and the ‘live music industry’, and the ‘wider local community’, and the ‘national community’, and so on. We are no better or worse than the people who don’t dance lindy hop. Lindy hop doesn’t make us special; we are already special. And so are the people who don’t dance lindy hop.

I know that a lot of lindy hop teachers I’ve met and worked with in Sydney and Melbourne feel as though the value of their teaching is assessed by the number of students in their class. As though they somehow fail to be good or important or useful teachers if they aren’t funnelling hundreds of new lindy hoppers onto the floor every year. I used to feel this way. But now I don’t.

I think that we all realise that huge classes are not good learning or teaching environments. Students don’t get the time or attention they need from teachers, nor do they develop the social bonds that help make a good community. Their learning and sense of ‘group’ is focussed on the teacher, and often, on the larger school identity. Rather than on the smaller, more important relationships with other people in their class, and on the social dance floor. Further, classes that focus on rote learning, on running through a sequence of steps over and over again until the students have it ‘perfect’ is not great learning.
It’s as though this sort of class deliberately undoes the culture and practice of social dancing. If you are pushing through a rote sequence of steps, no matter what, you cannot stop and listen to your partner, you cannot adjust your dancing to work with your partner and make it work, and you definitely cannot listen to and respond to the music. And that is very sad. It is also the opposite of lindy hop: this is not preserving a vernacular dance.

I see students come out of dance classes unable to ‘start’ dancing on the social dance floor until someone ‘counts them in’ or helps them ‘find one’. As though there was this rule that we HAVE to start dancing ‘on one’, or that steps have to perfectly align with an 8 or 6 count sequence. More importantly, those same students haven’t learnt how to make a real connection with a dance partner, because their attention in class is so focussed on the teachers; they’ve never learnt that it’s ok to just bop about on the spot with a new friend, chatting, and enjoying the music. They feel that they have to execute that series of prescribed moves perfectly if they are to be ‘good dancers’. And of course, those prescribed moves are only available (for a price) from a dance class.

This isn’t the students’ fault. Or even the teachers’, really. It’s the fault of a pervasive ideology of ‘learning through memorisation’, and a push to acquire huge class numbers as an indicator of ‘success’ – primarily financial. It’s also accepted that the retention rate of any class will be low – that people will find lindy hop really hard in their first class, and that they won’t ever come back. And, to be blunt (as though I was ever anything else), I’d be scared off by a huge class focussed on rote-learning a series of strictly ‘perfect’ steps.

The saddest thing about all this, is that this is not what lindy hop – or jazz – is all about. It makes me sad that teachers feel they have to push their classes to become bigger and more ‘successful’, instead of taking time to enjoy the time they spend with students in class. They are so intent on acquiring the ‘sexiest’, most ‘sellable’ steps from the latest round of competition videos, that they forget that dancing is actually lots of fun, particularly when the steps are simple and the focus is on the music and your partner.

I’ve recently shifted my own focus – in a very determined way – to classes which are all about social dancing. That means great music. That means learning to work with a partner – and not just for a 30 second rotation in class, but for a whole song in class. I don’t teach fixed patterns of steps; I teach a pattern, and then build on it, encouraging the students to figure out their own combinations. With Marie and Lennart’s example in mind, after the first few partner rotations in class, I don’t ‘count students in’ any more. I let them find their own way into the music. To me, these are the real skills social dancers – lindy hoppers – need. Nobody needs that latest trick that Famous Dancer X pulled out in a comp. A competition is not social dancing; the skills are quite different.

The nicest part of this shift in focus is that I find teaching so much more satisfying, and so much less anxiety-making.

So why am I writing this post now? It’s because this story about Stefan Grimm has been making the rounds in my academic network. I used to work in academia, but gave it up because it just wasn’t any fun. The students were neglected by shitty class environments, the research wasn’t fun any more because it was squeezed into restrictive grant-getting processes.

Reading this piece about universities as anxiety machines, I was struck by the similarities between the ‘dance class industry’ and universities. And not just because they’re both centred on pedagogy (or are they? What university still prioritises learning – whether through research or teaching?) The discussion about unpaid labour (normalised by the idea that ‘that’s what you do to get ahead’), sounds a lot like the exhaustion and exploitation in the lindy hop world justified by ‘doing it for the community’. The

…normalised surveillance of performance in class through attendance monitoring, learning analytics, retention dashboards and text-based reminders about work/labour/doing, and in the entrepreneurial demands of attending careers fairs and employability workshops and cv clinics, and in attempting to find the money to eat and live.

…sounds a lot like lindy hop today.
Get bigger classes. Where are you on the leader board? Have you hunted down the latest marketable step or move from the latest round of competition videos on Youtube? Did you go to that workshop and ‘collect’ moves?

And for ‘professional’ lindy hoppers (as though we aren’t professional unless we are traveling the world every weekend), the pressure is far higher. Not teaching on a repetitive injury? Not working hard enough. Not disguising disordered eating as ‘eating healthy’, ‘the paleo lifestyle’, or, most ironic of all, ‘keeping well’? Not truly committed to dance. Haven’t taken up a dozen ‘strength and maintenance’ exercise regimes on top of your lindy hop training? Just aren’t trying hard enough.

…this form of overwork and performance anxiety is a culturally acceptable self-harming activity. …My culturally acceptable self-harming activities militate against solidarity and co-operation that is beyond value…

(all these quotes are from ‘Notes on the University as anxiety machine’)

This is, of course, the bottom line. Because teachers (especially the highest profile ones) don’t spend quality time with anyone other than other teachers for extended periods of time, this stuff is all normalised. And they aren’t allowed the time and quiet to question the working conditions of their ‘jobs’. They are expected to work and work and work ‘for the community’. And if they do ask event organisers for things like, oh, a quiet room with a door that closes and a real bed to sleep, there is this niggling perception of them as ‘difficult’.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, really. Beyond arguing that we should shift our focus to more socially sustainable practices. And we should question the ‘for the community’ ethos that justifies socially and physically unsustainable work practices. Also, we should teach lindy hop like a vernacular dance, not like you’re going to be sitting an SAT test.

Lemon parsley sauce

Make this and serve it with roasted veggies, some greens and poached eggs, or with salmon.

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • grated zest 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • ground pepper

Whizz everything except the olive oil and pepper in the food processor. Then add the olive oil gradually as you whizz, til it’s mixed in properly. Then add some pepper.

If you’re a vegan or a vegetarian and you don’t eat anchovies, I’m not sure what you can do. Or what can be done for you. You’ll need to up the salt without them. And, well, look. Just don’t bother. Don’t bother. You need anchovies.

The Rules of Connection: I think about pedagogy, lindy hop and ideology

Once again, Bug’s Question of the Day has my brain working.

Recently there was a paper published in Research and Dance Education on “frame matching” where it is proposed that there is a “universal” methedology of lead/follow that can apply to all partner dances.

However is it really Universal? I often hear complaints from blues dancers about “Lindy Connection”, and likewise from Lindy Hoppers about how “heavy” blues connection is.

Likewise, some say that the concepts of frame matching are different for different dances anyhow.

So, do the concepts of frame matching really apply universally to all partner dances?
Do these efforts help codify Lindy and Blues at least to the level of tango, or at least is a step in the right direction?
Or is it simply another step in the evolution of partner dancing in the swing/blues genres?

Wednesday 30th May

(full article reference: DeMers, Joseph Daniel, “Frame matching and APTD: a framework for teaching Swing and Blues dance partner connection,” Research in Dance Education (2012).)

I have lots and lots to say about this article. But I can’t fit them all into one post. Well, I could, but this post is already reeeeally long for a blog post. Only 2.5 thousand words, which is way short for a journal article (~5000 words). So I (may) return to this topic later, in other posts. Or not.

Sadly, DeMers’ article triggered my ‘marker’s brain’. Reading this, I’d assume the author was an undergraduate or in the early stages of a postgraduate degree (in the arts or humanities). But the author has a background in science, education and educational psychology, so I should be a little easier on him, as those fields don’t pursue such rigorous approaches to critical inquiry. But if you’re publishing a journal article, you really need to step up, yo. There are some problems with written expression which occasionally obscure the author’s point. There are problems with the construction of the argument as well as with the communication of this argument: it is too simple, and does not exhibit sufficiently rigorous critical engagement with the topic.

In other words, it is thinking in short, straight lines, rather than around corners and back and forth. My background is in cultural studies, which is all about thinking round corners. Further, I was into feminist cultural studies, which is about thinking around corners, asking difficult questions and refusing to shut up when some fuckwit tells you you “think too much.” So I’m sorry, DeMers, but this is going to be a fairly close criticism of your piece. But, before I get into it, I need to ask: “should I read scholarship from the dance world the way I read academic articles?”

I think there’s a clear cultural divide between the way arguments are constructed and communicated in the university world and in the dance world. In the latter, consensus, cooperation and empathy are valued far more than a ‘right’ answer. I think that this is – largely – a result of the influence of Frankie Manning, a man who was determinedly disassociated from local scene politics. His emphasis on the idea that ‘for three minutes you are in love with your partner’, on ‘bowing to the queen of the world’ and on humility make it clear that he felt dance (‘as the happiest thing on earth’) is about peace and fraternity, not conflict. I’ve found this approach frustrating when reading about his responses to racism in the American south in the 30s and 40s in particular (because I do think dance is a vehicle for radical political resistance as well), but I also deeply admire it as a truly pacifist response to cultural and physical violence. What better way to combat hate, than with love?

Writing this response, I was struck by a conflict in the two methods of discursive engagement I’ve used in the past. In the academic world, a forceful, even aggressive tone was important as a woman writing in a patriarchal, highly regulated and heirachical discourse. But in the dance world, where a harsh word or aggressive line has immediate real world consequences and runs in direct conflict with the ethos of international lindy hop ideology (ie Frankie would not have liked it). I’ve lately decided that one of the reasons I didn’t like academia very much was that it privileged aggressive, combative discourse. I feel that part of being a feminist is (to clumsily paraphrase Germaine Greer) to practice fraternity as a response to patriarchy.

So I’m going to try to do like Frankie did. But I’m also going to remember Norma Miller and her fury. Speak up, but be gentle. Mostly.

So let’s get to it. Let me engage with the article, point by point, with the fundamental premise of this article (this has gotten too long for just one post, so I’m just going to do one thing here).

The piece presents “frame matching” as a

codified theory of partner-dance connection (abstract, pg 1)

. Ok, yeah, that’s not such a problem. If you’re ok with the whole concept of ‘codified’ dance practice. In this context a ‘codified theory’ is a ‘set of theoretical rules or guidelines’. So this paper is establishing a set of rules for teaching and practicing partner dance, specifically in terms of connection (part of me wants to argue that there’s very little in partner dancing that isn’t about connection, whether you’re touching your partner or not). There are some useful aspects to this approach. As DeMers points out, adopting a code

…gives instructors a framework for creating a well-organized partner-dance curriculum, and gives them a means of assessing students’ working knowledge and execution of connection (pg 3)

This is such an appealing notion. Right now, as I’m trying to figure out exactly how I teach, and what I want to teach, the thought of a formal, fixed and reliable teaching tool kit is just so tempting. It’d be so much easier to just discover this foolproof, ‘right’ way of teaching the ‘right’ stuff. But this sort of approach also rings my alarm bells. I’ve done a heap of courses focussing on pedagogic practice in tertiary education over the years, and one of the most exciting ideas was that of the teacher as a guide to learning. Rather than adopting a ‘chalk and talk’ approach (where the teacher stands at the front of the room, dispensing knowledge), the student-centered class room sees the teacher (or tutor) as facilitating the student’s discovery of knowledge. Inherent to this approach is the idea that each student learns in different ways, and has different interests. By god that’s hard work. It’s really hard to work with thirty unique hoomans with thirty different ways of learning (all of which are changing constantly). Teaching would be SO MUCH EASIER if I could just pretend students were standardised units. And yet, that idea is also REALLY SCARY because it means that there’re also very wrong ways of teaching. PRESSURE!

Most usefully for me – as both a postgraduate learning to tutor and lecture and now as a dancer learning to teach dance – this student-centered model does not assume the teacher carries all the learnz around inside them. Rather, the teacher encourages and assists students in their discovery. For me, this means that I don’t have to be the cleverest person in the room, or the best dancer on the dance floor. I do have to be the person who manages the group, who guides the discussion of concepts and challenges (whether in verbal discursive exploration or in physical exploration), who encourages and supports new ideas and new ways of thinking. Granted, it’s fairly important for a teacher – in both a dance class and a university tutorial – to know a heap of things. But there will always come a point where the student reaches the edges of the teacher’s knowledge, ability, or experience.

For me, the most empowering thing I learnt about teaching was that it’s totally ok to say “I don’t know the answer to that. Why don’t we find out together?” It’s the same with dancing: I need to know some things, but it’s ok for me to reach a point at the limits of my physical ability or experience and then say “I don’t know why that works like that. Why don’t we find out together?” The delightful thing about dance is that it requires whole-bodied experimentation through play: lindy hop and swing music are all about having fun while learning stuff. One of the things I like most about lindy hop (and I extrapolate from DeMers’ work to assume that he feels his code can be used across the panopoly of jazz and swing era dances) is that it prioritises individual improvisation. Making stuff up. Breaking rules. But in a social way.

This is why I’m not entirely ok with the idea that we need a codified approach to dance practice or dance pedagogy. It presupposes a final, finite rule book for how we teach, how we learn, and how we dance. And that doesn’t sit well with me. I’d be heart broken to discover that everything there is to know about dance had already been written down. For me, the very best part of teaching has always been that moment when a student presents an idea that had never occurred to me (or anyone else), or moves their body in a way that is utterly unique. Suddenly I’m inspired and excited about teaching and learning. Hoomans are amazing: we are wonderful and surprising. I don’t want to forestall that with dancing rules.

In a practical sense, though, accepting that different teachers teach in different ways, and different students learn in different ways makes good financial and promotional sense. I work within a large dance scene with lots of teachers. I’ve realised that students don’t come to class and stay with that class just for the dance knowledge they’re developing. They come because they like that class’s culture (the people in the room, the way they interact, the physical space, the music, and so on and so on). In a market crowded with ‘dance experiences’, it makes sense to differentiate, to offer something unique. We are all teaching lindy hop (well, mostly… :D ), but we all teach in different ways.
The most powerful promotional tool we have at our disposal is the effective communication of that difference. Dancers’ best promotional tool is their own dancing body: we attract new students who see us dancing at public gigs; we attract existing dancers who want to learn ‘new’ things when they see us dancing in competitions or performances or on the social dance floor. But we also make extensive use of online, paper and face to face media and promotions. We have developed a language for selling our teaching, and this language is not politically or ideological neutral or ‘just descriptive’. The way we talk about dance and articulate what we feel in dance expresses the way we think about dance, and about our dance partners.

Arthur Murray’s pedagogic practices worked on a premise in direct opposition to this ‘diversity rocks’ idea. The assumption was/is that dance a) could be codified; and b) that it could be sold as a consistent, quality-controlled product in many different venues by many different people. It was a profoundly effective way of selling dance. But it was also a profoundly effective way of stifling individual creativity and the development of social dance practice as a living, breathing, changeable art.

I think about this approach as being the McDonalds approach to dance. Sure, you get the reassurance of consistent ‘food’, no matter where you are in the world, and the model ensures a high food safety standard. But that consistency has led to a preponderance of factory-farmed product where that quality is controlled by chemicals and cruel farming practices. The mundaneness of this consistency is countered with unnatural sensory experience: extra salt, extra sugar, extra fat, all efforts to replace the pleasures of a simple, authentic ‘flavour’ with artificial ‘taste’. Sometimes that’s how I feel about aerials: if your basic swingouts and footwork and rhythms are dull and pedestrian, you need air steps to make it interesting. This is why Skye Humphries and Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama and Ramona Staffeld and Frida Segerdahl and Lennart Westerlund are so amazing: they don’t need air to excite your palate (though they can certainly bring it if they need to).

I’m a big fan of the Montessori or free school learning and teaching model. I’d like to be able to encourage students to discover their own way of moving and expressing themselves, where they try to figure out what they love, and how they feel, and then work on expressing that with their bodies. There are physiological limits to what we can do with our bodies, but because all our bodies (and lifestyles) are unique, the bodies we work with are all unique. So the dancing we do, and the ideas that we have, are all unique. And that is what I think we should be working towards.

I have similar feelings about teaching dance. I recently organised a workshop weekend here in Sydney with some visiting teachers. We had one day of general workshops, and one day of ‘teacher training’. The teacher training was set up in two parts. One session where dancers worked on their own dancing specifically to improve their teaching (eg looking at how clearer lines or sharper footwork made it easier for students to see how the movement worked in demonstrations). The second session more a ‘skill share’ session where everyone shared their favourite teaching tools, asked specific questions about how other people taught particular things, and then experimented with these.

The presumption in this day of ‘teacher training’ was that the dancer/teachers involved were all skilled professionals with unique ways of working. The session was not to enforce a ‘preferred’ teaching code or to ‘improve the standard of teaching’, but to encourage reflexivity in teachers’ practices. To share ideas so that each teacher (and teaching partnership) could refine and develop their teaching practice in their own way. Inherent to this was the idea that teaching practice is mutable, flexible and responsive to the students’ needs, and to the teachers’ interests and needs. In other words, teaching different things in different ways to different people by different people. The end goal was of course unique pedagogic cultures and practices within the broader dance scene. Organic, gmo-free, visually unique, sensorily exciting.

I think the sessions went well, for a first-run. I had good feedback from participants (and I like to encourage all sorts of feedback), and from what I observed in the session, people enjoyed the experience. I do think that it takes time to learn how to participate in this sort of session, and that it takes a degree of trust: you need to trust your peers to support your ideas and not dismiss them. So I’d think that you’d really need to do this a few times to get the best results.

I have seen this approach used by other dance scenes and at other dance events. But my problem with some of those models is that though they ostensibly encourage individualised teaching practice and dance, they effectively maintain hierarchies and power. Most specifically, some of the people involved are established as ‘authorities’ and the collaborative setting is ultimately working to shore up the power of the organising person or ideologies. I’m certain this (inevitably, perhaps) happened in our setting this past weekend. But I’m hoping the organising ideology was ‘diversity and flexibility through collaboration’ not ‘uniformity and ‘correctness’ through collaboration.’
I do think that the best way to encourage a diverse, lalala learning environment is not to preach about it explicitly, but to sneak it into the process. So Herrang, for example, encourages dancers to interact in casual, friendly ways with old timers, with teachers, with each other not through formal ‘sessions for hiearchy-free interaction,’ but by setting up large communal eating areas where people share tables. I do think the shared table is an excellent metaphor for community, and it’s not just pragmatics that encourages many dance events to build meals into their programs.

Having said all that, part of me wants to know how can we do all this lovely hippy work and still be involved in a project of historical recreation and preservation? In a practical example, my teaching partner and I are currently figuring out exactly what type of swingout we want to teach to our class over the next month or so. We both have different preferences and ideas, but we’re both dance supernerds with an interest in biomechanics, a commitment to individual self expression, an emphasis on safety and pleasure, and we’re both guided by history. In a perfect world we’d work with the students to develop their awareness of their own bodies and and their basic skills so that they can choose how they dance their swingouts. In that same perfect world we’d introduce them to particular swingouts from lindy hop history, working with examples by particular dancers at different times. The ultimate goal would be to have each dancer being aware of what they’re doing in the swingout, and consciously choosing the way they move and respond to their partner. We both have particular favourites and dancers (both historic and contemporary) which we admire and want to emulate. But we also want our students to develop their own flavah flave.

The challenge, of course, is this: how do you actually run a class (or classes) which are historically grounded (and preserving/recreating lindy hop from the past) and also encouraging and allowing students to follow their own interests and personal creative instincts?

Interestingly, dance teachers like the Harlem/Rhythm Hot Shots are in an easier position: they are determinedly into historical preservation, and they position their classes and performances this way. They often say “This is our way of dancing a swing out, which we learnt from/modelled on Al Minns/Frankie Manning/Anne Johnson/Norma Miller, so we want you to learn to swingout this way.” The caveat is of course that once you’re done with the class you can just put aside that particular swingout and never do it again. But actually learning to dance precisely that way has taught you something about your body (and history) and more importantly, given you the ability to choose the swingout(s) you will do.
But my dilemma is this: how exactly do you do balance historical recreationism/preservation with student centeredness and principles of ‘natural’ movement and biomechanics in a weekly one-hour class that really has to be promoted in a clear, simple, accessible, totally-fun way, with a goal of maximum student numbers possible and mad dancing skillz? Week after week after week.

I guess the answer is that you don’t. Unless you really are a high-status, highly-skilled dancer like (my heroes) Asa Palm or Lennart Westerlund. In those cases what you are selling is historical accuracy, and students may choose to attend or not attend class. And as highly skilled, well respected dancers, students are likely to attend just because you’re teaching.
Or are they?
This is where we must balance pedagogic ideals with promotional and economic sustainability, individual creative self expression with historical preservation. To pull this stuff off, you just have to be one shit-hot teacher. Which is what the Hot Shots are: they are shit hot teachers and dancers.

Ok, so you can see, right here, that I’m going to have trouble with DeMers’ article. I can’t accept the basic premise of the thing: that there is a single codified theory for teaching connection, and that this is desirable, useful thing. I just don’t think that this is a useful approach: it doesn’t accommodate the complexity of hoomans in motion. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I discovered the other day that Al Minns used a swingout that didn’t involve triple steps. This makes me freak out a little in my brain, but it also makes me intensely curious. HOW EVEN DID IT WORK? If I rely on triple steps to generate and maintain momentum and stuff syncopation into a swingout, if I rely on triple steps for covering more ground, how did Al Minns and his partners achieve all these things without triple steps?! I NEED TO KNOW. I MUST ACQUIRE ALL THE LEARNZ.

That’s how I feel about this article. The basic premise unsettles me, but it also invites my engagement.

No Meat Week continues… and continues…

vegetables Laura linked me up with the Guardian article “Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: the joy of veg” and it reminded me that I’d been talking about our no meat week here and not reported on it recently.
We are still not cooking meat at home for dinner. It’s been ages, and we’ve only cooked meat perhaps 6 times since we started the no meat week thing. And we like it that way. We didn’t plan to go vegetarian, or even to keep not cooking meat, but we just like it. We like the way it makes us feel, we like the food, and the variety of the food, and the fact that we are eating seasonally simply because veggies taste better in season. I think we make more interesting meals, and I’m certain we’re eating more balanced meals.
The transition was pretty simple for us because I’ve lived in vegetarian households before, and know how to cook quite a lot of vegetarian dishes. And The Squeeze prefers eating vegetarian food and hates handling meat, so he preferred the change. Since we stopped cooking meat (98% of the time) our house smells much better (that was something we noticed straight away), it’s easier to wash up and we stopped relying on the fats in meat to make good flavours in our meals. Win!

I’d say we were spending less on groceries, but we seem to have replaced meat with things like organic juice and milk, simply because the taste is incomparable. You really cannot get better milk than organic milk. It’s amazing. So we’ve replaced meat with ‘luxury’ veggie products. Things we certainly don’t ‘need’ to eat, but things we are going to eat because they are DELICIOUS. So, budget wise, things are pretty much the same as the way they were before, except we’re eating better quality food. If we had access to a close organic veggie store, I’m sure we’d blow our budget on organic veggies. Because they are much tastier.
If we do buy meat, we only buy free range, organic stuff. That’s the deal. It stops us eating meat regularly (partly because other stuff doesn’t taste as good) and it makes us think more carefully about the meat we eat – we don’t just sling some mince onto pasta because we can’t be bothered. I’ve noticed that we don’t let veggies rot in our fridge the way we did before (and that was even though we have always been big veggie eaters), and we are definitely much pickier about the quality of the fruit, veggies and herbs we eat (and we were pretty picky before). No supermarket veggies for us (yucky – no has a flavour!).
I don’t know if we’re healthier. Meat isn’t particularly bad for you, unless you’re eating poor quality meat too often, and we’re certainly not avoiding other foods which are laden with sugar and fats. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar and fat. But we have never been particularly big on processed foods (besides dairy foods and bought juice), and we’re a bit more interested in baking cakes and biscuits these days. The Squeeze definitely prefers the way he feels on this less-meat menu, but then he didn’t really like meat before. I love meat, I love good quality, well-prepared meat. But I quite like the way I feel eating less of it. I don’t feel ‘less full’, because we make filling, intensely flavourful meals that make us want to eat more. I haven’t ‘lost weight’ or ‘gotten skinnier’, because I’m still doing the same amount of exercise and eating the same quantities. But those things definitely weren’t on my list of reasons for dropping meat.

Basically, eating less meat makes me feel a bit less selfish. I couldn’t live with the thought of the way animals are treated by the food industry any longer. So I decided to opt out, a little bit at a time. We might go entirely vegetarian eventually, but for now we’re just easing towards ethical eating. And we like it.

Live Music and Dance Economies + beer

I’m afraid this isn’t a terribly well written or thought out post. Spring has struck, my sinuses are buzzing with histamines and my brain is running slow and foggy. But I wanted to join up all these issues before I forgot them.

So this is a story about liquor licensing, live music economies (financial and cultural) and dance cultures. It’s not terribly well researched or referenced, so please do go on and explore the issue rather than relying on my dodgy interpretation of events. I mean, buggered if I really know anything about liquor licensing in Australia and within Australian states.

The ABC story Live music injects $1b into economy (Lucy Carter and staff, Posted September 19, 2011 10:56:27) discusses a report on the economic value of the Australian live music scene commissioned by “industry stakeholders including the Australian Council for the Arts and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)”.

  • The study was limited to live music performances in pubs/bars, clubs, restaurants/cafes and nightclubs in Australia.
  • the venues included in the study were limited to those in live music venues licensed by APRA that staged live music during the 2009/10 financial year.
  • The study included only revenue generated from venue-based live music performances.

(pg 4)

The basic point here is that live music makes a significant contribution to the state and national economies, and is therefore important. This gains particular relevance in the context of ongoing battles over noise restrictions, the gentrification of urban spaces and the rezoning of areas where live music lives.
I need to note, here, that live jazz in Australia does not have broad appeal. It tends to cater to a much older demograph than most of the live music discussed in that report. But I think this is important. If live music is equated to ‘youth culture’ in popular discourse it marginalises an increasing (and increasingly influential) demograph and market: older audiences. I also think it’s important for jazz to reposition itself as a product for a more diverse audience. Bands like Virus in Melbourne did this well in the early 2000s, and New Orleans of course can pull this off because live music – of all types – is so thoroughly embedded in the mythos of the place. But live jazz is positioned as ‘art’ music rather than popular music in Sydney. Frankly, I think there should be more live jazz in everyday community spaces (like pubs), and this live jazz should be representative of the whole spectrum of ‘jazz’.

…though, personally, I want more of the hot jazz and less of the twiddlyfiddly arty stuff. Because it was designed and built as popular music and lots of fun to dance to.

My attention was caught by the fact that this was a study of venues serving alcohol and licensed by APRA because there’s been a recent discussion on Bug’s Question Of The Day FB page about paying cover charges, buying drinks and tipping at live music venues. The full question (15th September) reads:

I’ve noticed that, not only in New Orleans but every scene I’ve been to, dancers don’t want to pay a cover charge or tip the band. I’ve also heard from venue owners that dancers are notorious for not buying drinks. Why are we as a community resistant to supporting the musicians and venues? Do we not know any better? If so, how do we educate the community?

Drinking and tipping and cover charges at live music gigs are an issue for lindy hoppers because most dancers don’t drink much while dancing. Simply because it’s a demanding game, and drinking impairs your dance skills. So a venue that depends on drinking to cover the cost of live music is not going to make it, financially, if their clientele is made up entirely of lindy hoppers. The amount dancers drink really depends on the gig – the time of day, the vibe and so on. So they will drink, just not at every gig, every time. If we were to depend on live music for our entire scene, I think a reasonable standard of dancing would require spaces that focussed on dancing, rather than drinking. Ballrooms, dance halls and cabaret clubs with more physical room and a greater emphasis on dancing as well as bars and pubs where the social focus is more diverse.

I don’t think it’s a terribly good idea to promote drinking generally in a culture like Australia’s where binge drinking is a serious social issue, but I don’t want to suggest that I think drinking is wrong or bad. Basically, lindy hop events aren’t like other social events at licensed venues in Australia, and I think it’s a really good thing (and the thing I enjoy most about dance events) that young men and women (and older men and women!) can enjoy social events and dancing without getting shitfaced. I think that social and cultural practices and spaces should be centred on more than just drinking, not that social and cultural spaces should exclude drinking. Diverse cultural spaces make for diverse and vibrant communities, cross-generationally.

I don’t drink, so I don’t buy alcohol at live music gigs. I’m not a huge soft drink fan, so I don’t buy softies. I’ll buy a mineral water with lime, or some chips. But I like pubs. I like their casual drop-in culture where you can meet friends for a quick drink or a long meal. I like the way live music is an important part of pub culture. But I’ve been been struck by the differences between Melbourne pub culture (which I really like) and Sydney pub culture, which is a lot less pleasant.

There are different laws and licenses in each Australian state, and local licensing laws are often regulated by local councils – eg in Melbourne local city councils regulate licenses. A venue can lose its liquor license if it breaches noise level laws or serves under age customers. I have some problems with the way licensing works in Sydney, mostly because licenses are very expensive, and geared towards larger venues subsidised by on-site gambling (whether a TAB, Kino or pokies). Licensing in Sydney seems (at first and cursory glance) to promote pubs and licensed venues as places to get totally shitfaced, rather than places to meet friends, share a meal, listen to a band, play trivia, read, laugh, talk or get shitfaced. They’re simply more diverse community spaces in Melbourne than in Sydney. While even I’d drop into a pub in Melbourne on my own to drink or eat at the main bar, I’d feel a lot less comfortable at most Sydney pubs, because I’m not there to drop a million dollars in the pokies or the TAB or to drink a jug of beer on my own at lunch time.

This is where my knowledge really breaks down, but the way licensing works is affected by the influence of Clubs Australia, an influential interests group representing social clubs (like RSLs, Sporting clubs, etc). Pubs and clubs are different, legally and culturally, but in Sydney large corporations own a string of pubs and interests in clubs. Their main source of income from these businesses is gambling, or more specifically, pokies. Pokies are a scourge on the earth, encouraging people to sit and drop coins into a machine for hours and hours at a time. This type of gambling targets lower income earners and I think it’s promoters are ethically fail. Pokies also degrade the conviviality of a local pub – people sit in front of a machine rather than a bar, conversation is impeded by the loud noises and attention required to pull a lever. Live music and pokies are fundamentally incompatible: you can’t make good music in a room full of pokie machines. And pubs depending on pokies for revenue will devote valuable floor space (whole rooms!) to pokies rather than less profitable bands.

There’s been speculation about the effect of pokies on pub culture, and news articles like this Daily Telegraph one from earlier this year suggest that a focus on pokies has led to a neglect of drinkers. Of real, live people. I’d argue that chain pubs, run by an absent owner, are not community-oriented spaces at all. And pubs that are most culturally and socially relevant spaces are local spaces. Which is why one suburb in Melbourne can host so many small pubs – each serves a particular local clientele and offers a specific ‘experience’. Grand Final afternoon is perhaps the best example of this sort of localised specialisation, but the live music culture is just as useful an illustration of the cultural value of smaller, independently owned and operated pubs.

The federal government is currently considering revisions to the legislation affecting pokies, and Clubs Australia is spending an awful lot of money on advertising to drum up opposition to the changes. I’m curious to see how it all pans out. There are very few convincing arguments for promoting pokies, and many convincing arguments against it.

And here is where I’ll have to leave my discussion of pokies and licensing specifics, as I’m a bit histamine-crazy and generally ignorant of the facts. But I wanted to link up this news article, reference that Bugs Question, and the also something about the recent sale of the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain to a corporate entity who owns a chain of pubs.

Unity Hall hosts one of Australia’s best jazz bands every Sunday afternoon. Musicians passing through town regularly drop in to play a few songs, so you’ll see all sorts of brilliant Australian (and visiting) musicians. For my money, this is the best dancing music in town. Dancers go there to dance, and there’s no cover charge. The bar staff charge the locals less for drinks than dancers (which is totally ok by me), but dancers who do turn up (and who pretty much count as regulars, though not necessarily locals) always buy drinks and chips and maintain a good relationship with bar staff and musicians.
While this is the best opportunity for hardcore dancing, it’s a small venue, and dancers need to share it with ‘nondancers’. Or, in other words, ‘normal folk’ who like to dance but don’t spend a million hours on dance classes. Because it is in a non dancer-run space, dancers need to engage their real social skills. Talking. Hanging out. Dealing with dickheads off the street. I think it’s a good place to learn floor craft (safety first!), to engage your social skills (conversate!) and to enjoy and support quality live music. Unity Hall isn’t as ‘good’ a pub as the best independent pubs in Melbourne – it does have a TAB taking up lots of space, and pokies, and it isn’t properly cross-generational (though it’s getting there), or multicultural (though even Melbourne pubs don’t really rock the multiculturalism). But it’s one of the better Sydney pubs, and I really hope the it doesn’t change for the worse with its new owners.

The sale of the Unity Hall hotel is indicative of how many pubs in Sydney are run: by big businesses who own a chain of pubs and treat them as warehouses for the real money makers – pokie machines. This is a bit shit when you compare it to Melbourne where there’s a strong independent pub culture, which results in brilliant food, child/family friendly pubs (which are also popular with the young and hip), live music venues and bar staff and owners who know their clientele and give a shit. Basically, venues which are owned and operated by members of the local community for the local community are more likely to give a shit about the local community and be important community spaces. Whether you’re looking for awesome food, locally sourced beers, live music, somewhere to dance, somewhere to talk, or just a quiet spot for a quick pint at lunch time.

I know my perception of Sydney pubs as community spaces is biased by my experiences in urban Melbourne (and I don’t mean to feed into the Syd/Melb rivalry), but I think state-based licensing laws are significant when we’re talking about dancers’ obligations at live music venues. Honestly, if licenses were less expensive, venues wouldn’t be so dependent on drinks’ sales and gambling to cover their costs. They could operate on a smaller profit margin, offering more specific and niche services – good food, niche music, smaller premises – and not need to rely on shit like pokies and promoting binge drinking. They could be more responsible and responsive community spaces.

[Edit: I need to read
A history of machine gambling in the NSW club
industry: from community benefit to
commercialisation” by Nerilee Hing

Country Red Rice (from Sri Lanka, Jothi brand)

…with some leftover curry.

country-red-rice-closeup, originally uploaded by dogpossum.

This rice is DELICIOUS. It’s like brown rice, if you’ve rubbed off most of the brown, and the brown is actually a rusty red.

It’s sort of a broken grain, and clumps together when you cook it, becoming fluffy and delicious. It’s so nice, it’s probably bad for me.

I just found it at the local grocer (well, one in Croydon) and decided to buy it because I haven’t seen it before. The label looks like this.

No Meat Week: no. 65million – Red Slop and Nice Rice

We are still not cooking meat at home. Although we did last night. But that was an exception, and organic, free range lalala hippy la meat. That’s the rule. No cooking meat unless it’s from organic free range lala sources.

But that’s the only time we’ve cooked meat since we started this whole thing.

Recipes of interest:
– Pizzas with various vegetable things on top. Using bases from the baker in Haberfield. Why buy bases? Because they’re from the HABERFIELD BAKERY where the nonnas push you out of the way to get the good stuff.

– Spinach and ricotta caneloni. Still not old. Delicious.

– anything involving sweet potato because it is GOING OFF at the moment. In curries, roasted, every fucking where, because that shit is YUM!

Tonight we had Red Slop And Nice Rice. This is another dish from the old share housing vegan coeliac days. Except it has cheese in it. We used to make this one just so we could eat the nice rice. It’s very easy. And cheap.

Red Slop
– Saute a bunch of mashed up garlic in some olive oil. Don’t you dare use that jarred shit. Add a tbsp ground coriander and a bit less of ground coriander. Saute til the smell really rises.
– Add a can of tomatoes. Stir it all around. If you use fresh tomatoes, cook the slop for much longer – you want this to get really rich.
– Add a can of chickpeas (drained of course). Stir that all around. Use your soaked and cooked dried ones if you’ve got them. If you’re a chickpea nut, use the big fat juicy ones, not the littler ones.

I forgot about the eggplant. It usually has eggplant. Get an eggplant, cut it into matchsticks about a centimetre wide. Saute that in the oil before you do the garlic. Saute til the eggplant is cooked. Then proceed from the first step above. If you’re scared of all the oil this will require (and it will need a bit), grill the eggplant first with a brushing of oil, then slice it and add it after the chickpeas. Eggplant is YUM YUM YUM.

Ok, so now you have red slop. It can simmer for a while on a low heat, getting thicker and richer and yummier.

Put your rice on in the rice cooker. I go the absorption method because I am lazy arse. But it’s just as good with looser grains. Use a long grain rice. We used basmati tonight. Cook it.

When the rice is done, put it on a plate to cool a little, and add a heap of washed, finely sliced fresh spinach to the red slop. Don’t use frozen stuff. Fresh is cheap and good. You only cook the spinach til it’s wilted. Don’t let it get brown.

Meanwhile (or earlier if you’re bored and impatient) put these things in a big bowl:
– some crumpled up fetta. Dodoni is best, unless you’re in a good middle eastern/mediterranean area, then find a good, tasty, bitey one. How much fetta? Well, you want to eventually mix it into the rice, so not too much, but enough to leave little bobbles on every forkful.
– juice of half a lemon. Or perhaps more if you’re cooking for four or more.
– some freshly ground pepper.
– some salt
– a fairly generous amount of finely chopped parsley

-> these amounts depend on the amount of rice you use. Basically, the rice should be flecked with green and bits of fetta and taste lemony but not too sharp or sloppy.

Then you add the rice, just after it’s cooled a bit. This dish is best if the rice is just a bit warmer than room temperature. You don’t really want to wilt the parsley or melt the cheese, but you want the rice’s warmth to set the flavours loose. It’ll suck up the lemon juice and kiss up to the fetta. YUM!

Now you put some nice rice on your place, a big plop of red slop next to it, and perhaps have it with some Greek yoghurt or a yoghurt sauce (olive oil, garlic, sugar, salt, lemon juice).

It’s a ridiculously delicious, simple dish. The most expensive bit is the cheese. Don’t be tempted to buy the cheaper ‘Australian’ fetta, and don’t even look at the low-fat stuff. This dish is so healthy you can manage a bit of full fat cheese.

I can imagine this would be brilliant with some grilled haloumi on top. But you don’t really need that second salty cheese in there.

The nice rice doesn’t really taste good refrigerated – it’s better at room temperature. Now I’m thinking about it, though, I reckon leftover nice rice (ha! as if there’ll be any!) would be awesome stuffed inside a capsicum and roasted. Or inside anything, really. A zucchini! A squash! YUM!

No Meat Week4: Tuesday

Tonight I am feeling much better, so we are having the cauliflower, onion and ginger dinner with spinachy rice from an earlier week. This is a delicious dinner, and I hope it will revitalise my taste buds, and more importantly, the antibacterial qualities of all that ginger, garlic and onion will kick the last bits of goober in my sinuses to the curb.

We love spinach, and this is exactly how it looks when we buy it here in Ashfield. It’s stupid cheap, and very good for you. It’s also very versatile, and can be used in all sorts of cuisines. Win.

In other news, we are supposed to be going to Tasmania for an exchange on Thursday, but the volcano has grounded all flights out of Sydney for at least 48 hours. So we might not be getting to Tasmania.