Spreading stuff in families, workplaces, and other networks

Lock Down Smarter, Not Harder” (DANIEL REEDERS 24 AUGUST 2021) is a really great article by a very clever friend.

Of course, as soon as I read Daniel’s original tweets on this, my brain started thinking about the way dance steps/styles travel between communities. Dance steps are units of meaning, ways of communicating ideas, who we are, and what we value. In Australia our local lindy hop scenes are separated by huge distances (the two closest scenes are a 3 hour drive apart; most are ~1000km apart), so they tend to have distinct local flavours, even with The Internet. We can think of these as functioning the way a workplace does. For many of us, these are our workplaces. Our germs and dance steps circulate within that local community, which expands into our homes and family circles.

When we travel to meet each other and dance together at exchanges, we literally exchange a whole bunch of things. Dance moves, strategies for preventing sexual assault, hospitality, songs, germs. We make jokes about things like ‘exchange flu’ or ‘Herrang flu’, but this is precisely how covid works: we move out of our own bubbles (local networks) and interact with people from other networks. Boom, new dance steps, new musical trends, new germs.

Daniel’s article does some fantastic work explaining why each local network is different.

Estimating transmission rates depends on understanding the network landscape, and that’s exceptionally difficult to map in real time. You can’t do it using the abstract mathematical models that dominate our public debate.

You and I, lindy hoppers, could do a very good job of explaining the internal relationships of our dance communities. The number and types of classes and parties. The formal dance troops gathering regularly to practice. The casual ‘sessions’ where people get together to jam and practice. Regular live music gigs where we interact with nondancers, venue staff, and musicians. Friendships. Romances and hook ups. Employer/employee gigs. After-dancing snack spots. And so on.

When I was doing my doctoral research, a big chunk of it was ethnographic mapping of local and global dance scenes (pre fb and youtube). To get an accurate picture of how a scene worked, I had to do participant-observation, and then have community members engaged in the ‘mapping’ process. I went from very big survey samples, to a series of smaller focus groups and discussions. Because each human is different, and each local community reflects not only the society in which they function, but also the particular dynamics of each local scene.

If I went in with the assumption that every local scene relied on live bands for social dancing, I’d have no way of describing places like Seoul. If I went in with the assumption that every scene had only male-female dance partnerships, I’d miss… every single dance scene that actually exists 😃
The way lockdowns are enforced in Australia at the moment, there is the assumption that every local community works in the same way. This ‘way’ reflects a particular type of family and culture: white, middle class, suburban, patriarchal.

As Daniel says, the structures within a local network are even more complex than a dance scene. Particularly migrant, outer-suburban communities. People taking turns bringing elders food. Sharehouses where everyone works at least 2 jobs in an ‘essential’ industry. Crowded apartments where more than one family share a shower, kitchen, and common areas. Informal childcare arrangements. And so on.
In the white nuclear family model where four people live in one house in the relative isolation of a suburban house, the father/husband goes to an office job, and the mother/wife stays home to look after the kids. This fits very nicely with the lockdown model. You can order people to work from home, to order groceries online, and stay home together, getting some sun in the garden every day.

Extended family networks don’t look or act like this. So they need different models. Curfews, cops on corners, and other draconian lockdown features won’t (and can’t) stop these people meeting.
The truly interesting part of Daniel’s article is where they point out that a relatively limited number of germs circulate within a smaller network. Even if you’re caring for nanna, living in a crowded house, or going dancing every week, practicing with your buddy, you’re only interacting with a set number of predictable people.

The difficulty comes when you go to work. In workplaces we see a number of the contained networks overlap. People from different networks interact and share germs. And not just on a one-to-one basis, where one father-worker shares their germs with another father-worker and his nuclear family. Boom. Exponential sharing.

In a dance scene, this might be a dance class where not only does everyone learn the new dance step from their partner, but everyone learns how to dance with a million other people. ‘Learn how to dance with’ = become more open to sharing and learning ideas (both physical ideas and creative ideas). Then they get onto the social dance floor and this sharing of moves and movement goes superexponential.

If workplaces are where smaller networks interact, then workers need safer workplaces:
– Shorter shifts, so they are exposed for less time;
– Better pay, so they need work only one job, and at that job for fewer hours (ie 8 hours a day);
– Paid sick leave, and leave for testing (or on-site testing) so they can go get those covid tests;
– Job security, so they aren’t fired or lose income if they miss a shift.
But none of these things are present in casualised work, or workplaces that have been de-unionised.
As a sort of extension of my doctoral work, I’ve found that a top-down response to sexual assault and harassment in a dance community is highly ineffective. Simply having a code of conduct where organisers lay down the ‘don’t rape people!’ rule does not prevent sexual assault.

Again, if we want to control a negative factor, we need to get highly specific, we need to give individuals the power to make decisions about their own lives and actions. Rather than a top-down, blanket order to ‘stop touching each other!’ we need to give people the freedom to avoid contact in ways that preserve their local support networks (families, or peer groups), and even more usefully _use_ their local networks to spread information, resources, and support. The agility of the Sikhs delivering meals safely. The authority of an aunty putting teenagers to work. The collaboration of girlfriends stepping in to divert a creeper from a new dancer. And so on.

Capitalism, patriarchy, however you like to think about these bigger, authoritarian hierarchies, are bad for people’s health.

How much will you pay Black dancers; how much will you pay for Black art?

One of the things I’ve thought about a lot over the years, running workshop weekends, is how much we pay teachers. My general policy with paying teachers is that I always pay what they ask (I never bargain them down), I always pay teachers the same rate (so never paying less to the female partner, or less experienced teacher), and I try to pay more than they ask for.

This is because we underpay dance teachers. When I was working in academia, ten years ago, my per-hour rate for guest lectures was far higher than any dancer teacher receives per hour for teaching today. And I understand that teaching dance is not only about the face time and class prep, but about the toll it takes on a dancer’s body (especially with newer teachers who haven’t figured out how to dance less while teaching).

We also under-charge for workshops. I’m always pretty stunned when I see how low the workshop costs are for American events. Even the BLHF intensives seem too cheap to me – 105 euro is only $AU163 for 7.5 hours of teaching, which is the same as two full days of classes. Here in Australia you’d pay at least $200, probably over $300 for that, and the workshop income always subsidises the parties. Yes, that does pay for more expensive airfares, but it’s still almost at cost. The profit margin is far too small, and it hasn’t changed in decades.

It’s totally ‘normal’ for an ‘A-list’ teacher to be paid more than a newer teacher. We have this unwritten set of rules about whose teaching is worth more. And there are only a couple of people of colour in that highest tier. By far, most of them are white, and most of them are white men.
Why do we feel their work is worth paying more for?
It’s partly to do with promotion. A big name event feels like it’s worth paying more to attend. Competitions build reputations and pay rates, so if a teacher has won big name comp X, then we are more willing to pay for their classes. But we rarely see people of colour win lindy hop or balboa competitions at that high profile level, and white men dominate the solo jazz competitions.

There are ways to get around this racist tangle. If your event has a profile and reputation in its own right, then attendees will come simply to be part of it, regardless of the teaching line up. Before covid, we were seeing the beginnings of a market for ‘unique’ events. Boutique events. Events like Upside Down in Belgium, where the event offered far more than a series of workshops and parties in the familiar schedule. Events with a strong local culture and ‘flavour’, offering more than just adrenaline and a sample pack of dance steps. I think this market exists only when the bigger market is saturated with standard party/class events, and attendees can pick and choose between events. Europe, with its cheaper flights, closer cities, and saturated scene is the most obvious place. If you are operating within this context, then you can afford to offer something unique.
How does this explain BLHF? I don’t think it does. I think that BLHF is more a response to the mainstreaming of Black Lives Matter during the covid pandemic. In that pressure cooker moment during 2020, when Covid locked us in our homes and inequities became undeniable, the BLM movement took flight. While Black dancers have _always_ been talking about and living these issues, the mainstream discourse’s taking up of BLM ideas gave Black dancers an opportunity to present racism within lindy hop to white dance audiences. And of course, in that covid moment, dancers finally stopped dancing long enough to listen.

When I’ve asked other organisers in the US or Australia or Europe why they don’t hire people of colour to teach, there’s usually some humming and hawing about marketability and profile and paying the bills. And I keep asking myself: why haven’t I hired more people of colour? My own answers have been the same: marketability. And I tend to hire teachers I’ve taken classes with or worked with as a DJ. So of course, this is a self-perpetuating cycle of racist work practices.

A couple of years ago I posted on fb: “Why not begin with the assumption that you’ll only hire Black teachers for a lindy hop weekend, then ask yourself to work harder to justify any white teachers.” I was surprised by the angry responses from white dancers. Just as I’m surprised by the comments I see from white dancers who want to break into teaching, where they declaim: take a risk on a new dancer! As though they have a right to teach at an event… because they’re white?

There are only two events in Europe and the US that I know of that start with the assumption that they will only hire Black teachers: BLHF and the International Swing Dance Championships. Tena Morales Armstrong is involved with both. Events with a lower profile, catering mostly to local dancers, may use people of colour – eg Mapoto Swing, South Korean, mainland Chinese events. This reflects the figures we see in government – local government features a more diverse line up of MPs, but as we look higher, members of parliament become more homogenous. They represent the most powerful members of that local community.

I look at all of this and think ‘white supremacy’. This is how white patriarchy works. It employs capitalism to disempower some and empower others.

So what does it mean to have a dance class that is taught only by Black dancers, and is free for Black dancers? It is a clear act of empowerment for Black dancers. But it’s also transgressing the dominant discourse of white lindy hop. This dominant discourse says that ‘lower profile’ teachers (ie teachers who aren’t white men) are worth less than higher profile teachers. Black teachers are worth less than white teachers. The BLHF is simply saying: Black teachers are worth as much as white teachers, and in this case, they are worth _more_.

When we look at the teaching line up for a big event and see no people of colour, yet still pay for workshops, then we are accepting the idea that white people are worth more than people of colour.

We should be looking at the BLHF workshop line up and say “Holy shit, these teachers are rare as hens’ teeth! I should pay MORE to work with them!”

But as the line goes, white people value Black art higher than they value Black people.

Doing antiracism in lindy hop

image source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01883-8

I’ve been chasing down as many of the antiracist groups in the lindy hop world as I can find. I want to make a list here, so people can have it as a resource. And by people I mean me, and by have, I mean share.

I’m thinking the groups that are specifically anti-racist in ideology and practice (rather than groups that have inclusive policies but other goals – eg Mobtown, Swingopedia, etc), and groups that focus on Black dance.

So far I’ve thought of:

  • Balboa In Color
    (FB group for balboa dancers of colour, focussing on balboa)
  • Black Lindy Hop Matters
    (based in Baltimore, USA, including Black board members, focussing on linking up Black jazz dance resources)
  • Black Lindy Hoppers Fund
    (based in the USA, Black board members, focussed on fund raising for Black artists and presenting dance workshops)
  • CVFC – Collective Voices for Change
    (international group, including Black board members, focussing on presenting anti-racism talks)
  • Guardian Baltimore
    (based in Baltimore, USA, Black board members, focussing on Black dance culture and history as a site for social change)
  • HellaBlackLindyHop
    (based in USA, Black board, focussing on Black dance orsm)
  • Integrated Rhythm podcast (based in USA, including Black board members, focussing on discussing race and Black experience in jazz dance.) NB no website/fb, but podcast link
  • MOVE TOGETHER: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice
    (based in the USA, including Black board members focussing on hosting discussion forums and fund raising)
  • Obsidean Tea (based in the USA, Black staff, focussing on Black culture and dance today)

I’ve also been thinking about what we do with all this information. There’s lots to read and learn, but integrating it in our teaching practice can be harder. Especially if you’re not teaching at the moment.
I’ve been thinking that it’s good to combine one of the practical dance classes with one of the talk-and-think classes. eg the Harlem Renaissance link from Guardian Baltimore with a tap dance class from Josette Wiggans; Black Lindy Hoppers Fund with Collective Voices for Change. There are also some great Black DJs doing sets at various online parties (Global Online Social, Track Town Swing’s online party, etc etc), and they frequently speak a few words between songs. And of course, there’s the Blues In a Flat fundraiser/collab with Maputo Swing.

I’m feeling it’s essential to get up and do something, rather than just thinking or listening. Thinking and listening quietly is a very Anglo-European (settler) approach to learning. Getting up learning-through-being-and-doing is a cornerstone of Black dance culture. Most of the modern lindy hop world prioritises white ways of learning, where the ‘lesson’ is spelled out explicitly. It’s worth undoing that by taking a class or dancing to a set with Black artists, to undo that.

So my feel, generally, is that simply ‘adding Black history’ to your dance class isn’t anti-racist. It doesn’t change anything. To be really anti-racist, you need to make radical paradigm changes. And the most important one of those is for teachers to take classes and to focus on learning. Because the idea that a teacher is beyond learning is not only a BIG problem, it’s also really dull.

As I write this stuff, I’m super conscious of who is reading, and who I am, writing. I am a white woman. So I need to engage with that in my own thinking and practice. It’s a sad fact that most of the members of this group are not Black. So most of us have a lot of work to do; most of us need to be questioning everything we think we know about lindy hop and about teaching.

But what if you are a Black teacher or dancer? I know that there is an argument for decolonising your own thinking, as a Black artist. That might mean unlearning the ways of teaching you’ve learnt as a student in white-run classes. Which carries with it all sorts of risks. And I do not want to encourage Black dancers to doubt themselves!

I feel supremely uncomfortable writing those sorts of suggestions, as a white woman aware of my power and privilege. But perhaps Audre Lorde’s piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is the best piece to read for more on that. I’d like to end by saying to Black dancers: trust yourself, and trust your history and culture. You know much more about it than someone like me does. And I’m happy to clear a space so you can do what you need to do.

nb this is a useful unit drawing together some of these ideas in Black feminist thinking.

DJing on the internet! I LIKE it!

Yesterday I DJed a really nice zoom party/listening session for the San Antonio Swing Dance Society in Texas. I was in Sydney (still am), but perhaps one unexpected perks of a pandemic, is dance scenes’ refocussing on their local community. Quite a few local scenes have been running regular online meet-ups for the crews, keeping social and creative bonds alive.
In the days before COVID, it’s unlikely I’d have had a chance to DJ in San Antonio. I wouldn’t have travelled so far for a small gig that can’t defray costs, and I would have found it hard to make friends with the San Antonio peeps from Australia. But now – I can!

Anyhoo, the session was about 1.5 hours long, and is run weekly. It was so NICE to see a bunch of brand new people, and to make new friends! This sort of social interaction has just become so important for me during COVID. I’m used to traveling a lot during the year and meeting lots of new people. But it’s been a year of no traveling, and very little socialising. I’ve met far too few new people. But for this set, I only knew ONE of the participants!

I’ve done quite a few of these online/zoom sets now, and I’m really enjoying tailoring the session to the group and expectations of the organiser. Do they want solid party hits for dancing? Do they want a radio show style session with back announcing songs? Do they want history stuff? This session involves a fair bit of conversation in the chat, and there’s less dancing that pure social engagement. If everyone else is like me, they’re just soaking up all those faces on the screen.

Anyway, this one was a bit of talking (more than I usually do, but I checked with the organiser mid-set a few times to see if they wanted less talking, more music), but lots of good music, played the way I’d play a normal social dancing gig.

This is what I played:

(title year artist bpm album length)

Tippin’ Out 1946 Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 112bpm Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Giant 2:54

Hootie Boogie 1945 Jay McShann 148bpm Jay McShann: Complete Jazz Series 1944 – 1946 2:55

Tempo de Luxe 1940 Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio 130bpm New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln 3:19

Ridin’ On The L&N 1946 Lionel Hampton and his Quartet (170) Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 2:53

A Touch Of Boogie Woogie 1944 Teddy Wilson Sextet (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Edmond Hall, Slam Stewart, Sidney Catlett) 196bpm Teddy Wilson: The Complete Associated Transcriptions 1944 4:49

The Count 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Billy Butterfield, Al Davis, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Clint Neagley, Skip Martin, Vido Musso, George Berg, Chuck Gentry, Mel Powell, Tom Morgan, John Simmons, Sidney Catlett) 169bpm Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 04) 3:15

Take It 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 174bpm Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03) 3:13

If I Could Be With You 1948 Kay Starr featuring Novelty Orchestra (Joe Venuti, Les Paul) 124bpm Best Of The Standard Transcriptions [Disc 1] 1:53

No Regrets 1936 Billie Holiday and her Orchestra (Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Cozy Cole) 130bpm Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933-1944) (Disc 01) 2:38

When Day Is Done 1935 Mildred Bailey and her Swing Band (Chu Berry) 218bpm Classic Chu Berry Columbia And Victor Sessions (Mosaic disc 01) 3:32

Rose Room 1944 Esquire Metropolitan Opera house jam session (Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, Sidney Catlett) 196bpm Sid Catlett: Chronological Classics 1944-1946 5:56

Well All Right! 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 183bpm Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 2:31

Flying Home 1940 Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra 185bpm Charlie Barnet : Skyliner 2:57

Redskin Rhumba 1940 Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra 186bpm Charlie Barnet : Skyliner 2:41

Algiers Stomp 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, JC Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) 219bpm Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat 3:08

Apollo Jump 1943 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra 143bpm Apollo Jump 3:27

Harlem Air-Shaft (Rumpus in Richmond) 1940 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 191bpm The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 08) 2:59

Barney Goin’ Easy (I’m Checkin Out Goom-Bye) (WM 1036-A) 1939 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Rex Stewart, Juan Tizol, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy) 151bpm Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic disc 06) 2:59

Harmony In Harlem 1937 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 151bpm The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia And Master Recordings Of Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra (Mosaic disc 08) 3:08

Hello Little Boy 1950 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 180bpm Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 2:50

Hi Ho Trailus Boot Whip 1946 Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 224bpm After You’ve Gone 2:46

All She Wants To Do Is Rock Wynonie Harris 145bpm Greatest Hits 2:34

Froggy Bottom 1957 Jay McShann and his Band (Jimmy Witherspoon) 155bpm Goin’ To Kansas City Blues (Mosaic) 2:37

C Jam Blues 1994 Statesmen Of Jazz 161bpm Statesman Of Jazz 6:32

Every Day I Have The Blues 1959 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 116bpm Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 3:49

Hallelujah, I Love Her So 1958 Count basie and his Atomic Band 133bpm Complete Live at the Crescendo 1958 (disc 2) 3:03

What did you do?

I began with an acknowledgement of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, traditional custodians of this land (where I was speaking from), and a shout out to the Black history of jazz music and dance, to the elders of that community.

Why did you play that?

Then I played one of my favourite songs, Hootie’s Boogie.
It has good energy, but isn’t too up in your face crazy loud/fast. Also it’s LOLsome.

Then Tempo deLuxe, which is another of my faves. It’s a song I’ve started a jillion sets with in the past, because it builds from a mellow intro to an upenergy, fun finale with shouting and shit. It’s a live recording from the 1939/1940 New York World Fair. This is a pretty fun connection for dancers, as the Savoy Ballroom had an exhibition at the fair. And there’s footage of it:

Yep, that’s women dancing with women, and men dancing with women. Always has been, always will be.

There are HEAPS of photos of people dancing lindy hop (and of lindy hoppers and jazz musicians), including this one:

You might recognise that jacket logo from the repro Chloe Hong from Seoul did a few years ago for Frankie100. When you think about the fact Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were promoting the Savoy, it makes complete sense that they were basically walking billboards.

Apparently working the World Fair gig was HARD WORK, with long hours, few breaks, hot sun, and bullshit working conditions. It gave us footage like the Hot Mikado, but it also pushed the Black dancers far too hard. Check out Frankie Manning’s bio for stories about his experiences, and the Alan Lomax bio, ‘Man Who Recorded the World’ for stories about how Lomax’s original ideas for showcasing Black music were curtailed by bullshit.

There’s a heap of stuff from the World Fair in the NY Public Library, so you should defs hunt that down!

Anyhow, I played that song second because it’s by Harry James’ Boogie Woogie Trio (though I think it’s more than three musicians :D) and I dig the boogie vibe.

Then it was Ridin On The L & N, which is one of my most faves. It also has a boogie piano feeling, this time feeling like a train (the L&N) riding down the track.

Then we had radio transcript, ‘A Touch Of Boogie Woogie’ by Teddy Wilson and his Sextet. I had intended to play the 1941 Wilson Orchestra version, because it’s such a surprise to hear that band play something so chunky and exciting and pulse-poundingly good. But the sextet version is equally good, BUT it features some interesting musicians: Sidney Catlett and Slam Stewart. We all know Teddy Wilson for his work with Billie Holiday, and then Benny Goodman’s small groups, but Catlett is a drummer who played in Goodman’s band too. But only for a few months.


Apparently Catlett was so charismatic, so exciting, and so popular, that Goodman fired him in a fit of jealousy. I don’t know if it’s true. But luckily we have some of his recordings with Goodman’s band, including the live album ‘Roll Em!’ from 1941. I don’t have that album, but there is photographic evidence of the gig:


(from the Gottlieb Collection in the Library of Congress)

And of course, Slam Stewart we know from Slim and Slam, and thinking of him in Mr Tighty-Whitey Rules Mc Rulesington Benny Goodman’s band is just weird. But there are recordings of him with the Goodman orchestra, and they are FANTASTIC.


(Stewart and Goodman waiting for something in 1945 (source)).

Anyway, I played ‘The Count’ by Goodman’s orchestra, featuring Catlett, so we could feel just how exciting the band was with this drummer. Incidentally, this song is a nice follow-up to the previous one, as it carries that big energy, lindy hopping fun with it. NB it’s just as great for balboa :D

I followed up with another Goodman Orchestra recording from the same year, this time with Dave Tough (our beloved Dave) on drums. Still amazing, but also different. Two songs by one artist in a row? Don’t mind if I do!

A Note: Catlett and Stewart are Black. Goodman was putting mixed race bands on stage for years, and copped flack for it.

After that, it was a complete change of pace, with Kay Starr singing ‘If I could be With You’. This is another transcript, and the band features Joe Venuti, which is weird, because I associate him with gypsy jazz. But by this point, he was major famous. But it’s also wonderful. This photo of them in the ABC Studios was taken ~1945, while the song was recorded in 1948.

circa 1945: EXCLUSIVE American jazz violinist Joe Venuti (1903-1978) and American vocalist Kay Starr smile and sing while playing a violin together. They stand by an ABC microphone. (Photo by Metronome/Getty Images)

Onwards!
Then we had some Billie Holiday, because I wanted to hear some more nice female vocals, with a bit of charm. 1936 put us back into the period I wanted to explore next.

Then ‘Day Is Done’ by Mildred Bailey and her band, featuring her husband Red Norvo.

This song is a nice companion to the previous two female vocals, and she and Holiday match well. But I wanted to play these two artists because they were important in the story of Goodman’s small groups. The story is that Bailey used to host great parties at her house, and at one of these in 1935, Goodman and Teddy Wilson met, and started jamming together. Later that year the Goodman Trio was born.

Bailey herself is super important as this sort of social lubricant, but also as a musician.

Then I played ‘Rose Room’ by an Esquire band, because it’s a live recording, and it features Catlett talking to the audience directly. And it has an epic drum solo at the end.

Then I just went with that exciting big band sound, and another live recording, this time Ella Fitzgerald with Webb’s band in 1939. I wanted to just play some good hard party music. YEAH!
Same for the next song, really: straight up party music. I ADORE this version of Flying Home.
And again – just another uptempo party song.

Then a slight change in tone, with Algier’s Stomp by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. I do recommend reading up about them. This song features Lucky Millinder.

Which was my segue to playing Apollo Jump, classic lindy hop party song.

Then I switched it up a smear, to play Harlem Air Shaft, by Ellington of course. I like this song for the story about it: that Ellington composed it to reflect the sounds that carry up the internal shaft in an Harlem apartment building.

Now I’m reading about airshafts in Harlem, it’s FASCINATING! Here’s a little article about them.

I dropped a word here about the extreme crowding in Harlem in that 1920s-40s period, where thousands of Black Americans travelled north in the Great Migration, fleeing lynching and violence, and looking for jobs. This crowding led to extremely high rents, rent parties, and competition for housing. It also led to the burst of creativity and political activism that was the Harlem Renaissance.

[I didn’t say it, but in my mind, I was thinking about how these close conditions, everyday stuff like Mildred Bailey’s parties, etc all led to people living and working and writing and thinking and playing music in very close quarters. Harlem really was an important place in that moment.]

Then on to something else by Ellington, but one of his smaller groups, playing something calmer. Here, I wanted to chill us out a bit, emotionally, but stick to Ellington and that period and sound.


And another Ellington, Harmony In Harlem. Because Harlem. Musically, it’s a bit chill, but it grows in energy. It’s a nice dancing song at first, because it’s quite simple and calm, but it gets louder and more exciting. Break over. Party time.

ANOTHER Ellington, but this is one of my super faves. It has a chill start, but a snappy tempo, and what makes it really interesting and fun, is the combination of characteristically weird Ellington harmonies with a solid, chunking beat, all over an old school blues structure and blues vocals. It’s about as Ellington as Ellington can get. You can enjoy it for the stompy rhythm and salty lyrics, for the clever harmonies and almost-dissonance, or all of it combined.

Then I just went hardcore with ‘High-ho trailus bootwhip’, which is loud and fun and exciting. In my head, I was thinking ‘let’s strengthen that blues structure and element, and go further towards jump blues. But I didn’t say that. I was just thinking it.

That song is quite quick, but it feels EXCITING. So I pulled a standard DJing stunt, and built energy with that, then followed up with a solid party hit at an accessible tempo, with shouting and clapping. Something that would fill the floor after the faster song. Wynonie Harris is straight up party music.

Then I just felt like it was a party.
So Witherspoon.
Then I realised I hadn’t cued up a song :D So I fumbled, and pulled out the Elder Statesmen of Jazz, playing ‘C Jam Blues’.

Then back on party track with ‘Everyday I have the Blues’ from Breakfast Dance and Barbecue, the first Basie album I bought. It has a great story: held at about 3am, a party held by the American Disc Jockey’s Association, and everyone was drunk and tired. Then Basie’s band hit the stage, and it was PARTY TIME. Worth buying the CD for the liner notes!

And then the final song, a party version of Basie’s Atomic band playing ‘Hallelujah I love her so’. This is from a huge, multi-CD set, ‘Complete Live at the Crescendo 1958’, which you can listen to on youtube. Or buy for the liner notes.

WHAT a fun set. Lots of nice people talking and having fun. I love it.

Time lines of Black dance as white patriarchy

Someone on fb recently asked:

“Question: has someone made a visual timeline/lineage of Lindy Hop? Is this a good idea?”

I dislike the linear timeline model because:

  • It puts Africa in the past, when helloooo it’s not;
  • It uses a very western hierarchy of value with a particular dance or people as the apex or cumulation of different dance. Soz but lindy hop has never stood still or existed in a singular ‘true’ form. It is meaning in motion.
  • Who gets to decide when the line begins and ends? If it ‘begins’ in Africa and ‘ends’ with the white observer, then that is some fucked up racist social Darwinist crap. Stop, white person. That ways lies revivalist colonialism.
  • linear notions of time are white patriarchy.

There are other, far more interesting notions of ‘time’. The Aboriginal idea of the Dreaming is a good one: it is now, then, to come, and always. So, eg, when we tell a creating Dreaming story/dance/song, we are at once telling history and engaging in that act of creating as well.

If we take this way of understanding (the assumption that time needn’t be linear) to jazz dance, we have multiple dances existing at the same time in different and the same spaces. Specific shapes move through time and between generations, but are also moving laterally between siblings of different ages. So different aged people dance the same movements at the same time, but it has different meanings, depending on who is dancing where.

If we use a linear model, elders are in the past, superseded by successive generations of ‘improvers’, all focussed on a single point/form in time: lindy hop.
But we know it doesn’t work like that. Frankie teaching a bunch of white people the electric slide to Easy Does It, at the same time (day, even!) Black families might be dancing it to disco at a party. White people may separate generations and social spaces and learning, but other cultures do not.

So i say no to time _lines_, because they force western ideas and hierarchies of meaning onto Black culture.

It’s more useful to get up and dance, and feel those changes. Or to think of those dancers from all over Africa leaping up to share a step like the ones Al and Leon were demonstrating, all of them ignoring Marshall Stearns’ voice, and sharing ideas and feelings in a single moment of inter-continental, cross-generational immanence.
Africa isn’t in the roots of lindy hop. The nations of Africa are dancing now, in conversation with lindy hop.

Workplaces are where COVID19 is spreading

Workplaces are where COVID is spreading in Australia. Not at the park or in the shops.
But in meat packing plants, aged care homes. Places where the pay is bad, and the work is hard. And the industry is not properly regulated.

If you really do want to get angry about covid, get really angry about:
– Jobs shifting from permanent full time to casual (removing workers’ access to sick days and the ability to take time off when they’re sick);
– The price of childcare (that forces women to work excessive hours just to pay the bills);
– Wage theft (where bosses don’t pay workers their full pay);
– The privatisation of public services like aged care facilities.

All these things put vulnerable workers (people on low incomes in jobs they could lose with no notice) at risk. They have to go to work because they’re desperate for money. Even if they’re sick. Even if their boss won’t let them distance properly, wash properly, or wear masks.

These workers often have more than one job. So they double their risks as they enter two workplaces. And they have dependent families (parents, grandparents, children).

And a note: you can bet your bottom dollar that that shirt you bought at Gorman or those socks you bought at Kmart weren’t manufactured in safe factories.

If we talk about Bunnings woman not wearing a mask, we’re not talking about working conditions for Bunnings staff.

Sexual assault in the Australian jazz industry

Gender Inequality in the Australian Music Industry (Part Two) is a bit of a clunky piece, but it’s so unusual to read a male Australian jazz musician commenting on this issue, it’s worth a look. Note that that they contacted 50 musicians, and only 3 replied.

I’ve worked with a lot of jazz musicians over the last twenty years. Very few of them have been women or enby. And the misogyny and sexism has been stunning. Far worse than any other industry I’ve dealt with. I’ve been harassed by musicians while I’m DJing while I’m MCing and while I’m actually running the event. Yes, they think it’s ok to harass their freaking BOSS. This is because it is a male-dominated industry, and an industry dominated by older white men. I remember one particular evening having a conversation with a band leader who insisted there was no sexual harassment in the the Sydney jazz scene, then five minutes later I was dodging the groping hands of a musician in that guy’s band.

Individual sexual offenders (rapists and men who commit acts of sexual violence) are not the biggest problem with Australian jazz. It’s the other men who turn away from these men and refuse to believe women when they tell them about their physical experiences. It’s the older men who are the bigger problem. And by ‘older’ I mean over 30.

Get it to-fucking-gether Australian jazz musicians.

I actually think that the young men in the music scene would rehabilitate the older people in the music scene a lot better. Nowadays, I think there’s a lot more ‘wokeness’ happening in the music scene, but young men still need to work with young women, play music together, and get the fuck over it.

The jazz music industry is a subset of the wider society in which it is positioned (like the jazz dance community). But the Australian jazz music industry is _even more_ patriarchal than Australian society generally: it’s overwhelmingly white, male, and able-bodied.
Luckily (sadly) we’ve been openly discussing sexual assault and harassment in the wider community since at least the 1980s. So we have a range of practical and discursive strategies, resources, and support services available to us. I’d argue that the Australian jazz industry actively suppresses anti-discrimination actions and thinking.

But.

It can certainly be addressed _now_. The international jazz dance scene started working on this issue about 8-10 years ago, and we’ve had very good results. The practical strategies of the BLM movement has helped even more.
But most of this work is being done by women, and woc.
With the jazz music world, it’s going to need to be men who step up. And a lot of (older white) men aren’t going to like it, because it will mean stepping aside.
At one point in the linked article, it notes that there’s idea (myth) in the jazz world that ‘if you can play, you’ll get the gig,’ as though success is merit-based. That’s untrue. The JM case is a perfect example: a young straight white guy was literally mid-court case, and the patronage of an older white guy got him an exemption and gig.
The adage should be ‘if you’re a white guy with white patrons, you’ll get the gig. Even if you’re a violent criminal.’
The Australian jazz world is very much invested in the myth of creative genius winning out. ButAustralian jazz is not a meritocracy. It is white patriarchy.

The next step of course, is for you, musicians, and your friends to make a list of practical things you can and will do to improve things:
– don’t laugh at sexist jokes. Practice stamping them out in a non-vibe-killing way
– learn to see sexist acts; don’t look away
– step in when you see a bro do sexist stuff
– be inclusive; involve women and enby folk in jokes, drinks, hangs so they can get into professional networks
– swap drinking/drugs sessions for stuff that is less risky for vulnerable people: eating, talking, dancing, basketball, etc

My feel is: explore how you can do _positive_ things. Practice them at home or with your mates. Then do them. Musicians are creative people. You can do this.

Masks can’t hurt

Tl;dr Masks can’t hurt. Wear them. But prioritise hand washing, not touching your face, and keeping distance from others.
Unless you’re in the US where shit is out of control. Then wear a mask.

Another of Daniel’s great pieces. Again, the unsafe workplaces of ‘essential workers’ are big contributors to transmission. Rather than focussing on individual responsibility and blame (fines for nonmasking), we need to address workplace safety and equitable wages. If your first (unsafe) job pays too little to feed your family, you’ll get another unsafe job, and double down on your risk.

And can we interrogate the phrase ‘essential work’? If it’s so essential, why is it paid so poorly? The phrase is code for forcing vulnerable people into unsafe work: you _have_ to do it; it’s essential.
But of course, it’s the work that’s considered essential, not the people.

The danger posed by the mask discourse is distraction. A distraction from what we already know, with certainty, about the virus and how it is passed on. From the drivers of this new outbreak, which are still workplaces, social events and family gatherings, most of which involve close and prolonged contact and are not covered by the mask mandate. From what works to control outbreaks, including aggressive contact tracing, testing and isolation. From banning the events and settings where transmission can occur. From dealing with huge gaps in lockdown arrangements that exempt essential workers, even though precarious work arrangements caused this second wave. And from the trust in our public health experts that characterised our early response.

No. Don’t run your dance event.

Everybody knows that a big international lindy hop event is the definition of a perfect pandemic super-spreading event?

– You get a heap of people together from different regions
– They do a heap of exercise, and they generate lots of saliva and snot and then they rub it all over their faces and and hands…
– And then they touch a zillion different other people, and they touch a zillion more, and then you have eleventy zillion people covered in goobs
– Oh, and everyone is shouting and laughing and coughing and sneezing and blowing respiratory droplets everywhere, including all over nondancing audience
– Then there’s a band full of people on a raised platform, blowing respiratory droplets out of canons and all over the crowd and each other.

That’s pretty shitty, right. But it gets worse.

The virus has an incubation period of 1-14 days. That means:
– You could get the virus, leave your home, fly to the event, attend the week long event, and fly home. All before you showed symptoms.
– You could be contagious during this period. And not know it.
– Even if you only dance with 2 people the entire week, they may then go on to dance with 10 people and 20 people respectively. Who dance with anywhere from 2-50 people. And then they dance with 50 people… and so on.
– But you’re also coughing and touching elevator buttons and eating at the buffet breakfast.
– And you’re standing in line at registration. You’re toting about a bag and sweat towel and drink bottle. All covered in germs.
– All inside an air conditioned hotel with a closed air circulation.

Even if you think you’ll wash your hands and wear a mask, do you have the hygiene skills of an experienced surgeon who never makes mistakes and never gets fatigued?
No. You do not.

And that’s if only _one_ attendee is infected with the virus. Can you be sure that _all_ of the attendees are clear?

Even before we look at the health costs, what are the financial costs?
– Flights are far more expensive, and more likely to be cancelled with no notice. Can you handle a cancelled teacher at the last minute?
– What teacher would work at the event without a massive cancellation policy and huge pay rate? An idiot or a less-good teacher.
– Could your budget handle a smaller ticket sale?
– Insurance rates and policies have changed; are you properly insured?
– All staff will need additional hygiene and safety training. We can’t get organisers to do this to prevent rapes at events.
– You will need to provide masks and gloves, and know how to dispose of them all safely. And so will all your staff. If they’re prepared to take that risk.
– You won’t be able to use wristbands (because they need to be removed for proper hygiene), which means you’ll need a new rego system;
– You’ll have to clean all the class and workshops spaces to a much higher than usual level.

And what are the social costs?
– Your staff are going to be doing lots more work. And it’s stressful, skilled work.
– Your

….look, it’s not going to work. And it’s irresponsible to try.

Speculation:
We know that sexual harassment and assault tend to happen within a spectrum of exploitative behaviours. If we see an event where workers are routinely underpaid, overworked, asked to do things they don’t want to or that are unsafe, then we are likely to see sexual harassment as well.

So if we see a dance even being run at the current moment, then can we assume that an event taking risks with the virus is also risking the safety of workers and attendees in other ways? ie are they ok with hiring sexual offenders and with putting attendees and workers in positions where sexual harassment and assault happen?