Thinking about sexual assault and harassment as OH&S

I’ve started to get really interested in the way labour relations and workplace bullying/safety feeds into these issues. After all, the work place offers a model for describing and engaging with the patterns of power at work in these spaces. It also allows us to shift the idea of ‘work’ from strictly pay-for-labour to ‘paid and unpaid labour’, which of course lets women, POC, and other people into the discourse.

I’ve actually chosen to take the OH&S policy approach to responding to and preventing s.h. and assault in my dance work. From documentation and training to reporting and policy. Partly because I run a dance business, but also because OH&S discourse has all sorts of useful language tools: responsibility, legal responsibility, moral responsibility, mutual responsibility. I have been quite excited by this idea of ‘responsibility’, and have turned it around to become the phrase ‘we have each other’s back.’
I found that my repositioning s.h. and assault as a ‘safety issue’ for everyone, just one example that sits next to things like unsecured ladders, a lack of fire escapes, violent punters, and professional bullying, it gives the community a way of engaging with it. We can bypass the sexual stuff (with all its attendant taboos and gendered assumptions) and consider s.h. and assault as just one example of a harassment, bullying and exploitation. It also turns out to make perfect sense, to see s.h. as just one tool in an offender’s tool box. It’s very unusual, I’ve found, to see an offender _only_ s.h. They are likely to exploit in lots of other ways as well.
This approach also makes it clear something that many feminists (except perhaps Garner and Alcorn) realise. Rape and harassment aren’t so much about sex as about power. So if we set aside the ‘sex positive’ subtext (where it’s implied that I’m supposed to think about assault and harassment as sex, and if I’m against anything sexual, I’m a prude), and position s.h. and assault as a failure to ‘look after each other’ – a safety issue – we can rock on.

In my work on s.h. and assault in the dance community, I regularly have to point out the difference between a happy, consensual sexual touch/interaction and uncool stuff. This helps me move away from dichotomies of consensual and non-consensual, and repositions the whole discussion as asking the question, “Do you have your fellow dancer’s back?” I use phrases like:
– we have your back
– we’re looking out for each other

And in our training manual, I require all workers to practice realising when they need a 5 minute break (self care) and realising when their colleague needs a 5 minute break, and how to step in and encourage them to take that break (mutual care).

In our dance classes, we also spend quite a bit of time on learning to observe our partner. I often phrase this as ‘check in with your partner’, and we practice verbal ‘checking in’ (how to give it, how to respond to it), visual ‘checking in’ (what does their facial expression tell you?), and physical ‘checking in’ (what does the way they touch you tell you?, how is their body communicating their feelings?). In a dance setting, it’s quite simple to then make the next link, and say ‘a successful dance is one where both partners are working happily together, communicating well. And we have plenty of practical dance games and specific moves that require lots of ‘checking in’ with your partner, including copying, call and response, building on something a partner introduces.
I think we can make that same practical connection in non-dance spaces. eg being an audience and a speaker at at conference, managing employees and being managed, carrying a table from one room to another. etc. The key is to have practical, real time experience with these models, where people actually experience the benefits of them.

So the important parts seem to be:
– a discursive repositioning of s.a. and s.h. from ‘sex’ to ‘safety’ (and specifically OH&S)
– putting s.h. and s.a. in the same family as ‘if you see someone who feels sick, help them get a cup of water or take a break’ and ‘running a safe event includes preventing s.h., fires, and underpaying workers.’
– providing a language and model for _positive_ and happy, healthy physical contact. ie knowing the difference between sex and social dance, knowing how to talk about and ask for specific things, men in particular learning to read women’s emotions nonverbally

Most importantly, repositioning s.h. and s.a. as one point on a spectrum of exploitation helps us get past social taboos and discomfort associated with sex, and to think about the actions not as sexual, but as exploitative, violent, aggressive, manipulative, etc etc etc.

A spectrum of behaviour vs a continuum of harm

Ah, another post which is really a bunch of facebook comments masquerading as coherent prose.

A friend linked up Gay Alcorn’s Guardian post ‘Helen Garner’s The First Stone is outdated. But her questions about sexual harassment aren’t’ the other day. I was flabbergasted by the piece. It made me incoherently angry. I literally could not write or talk about it.
I wrote a furious comment, but then retracted.

A few days later, I found a way in, when a man asked a useful question.

Please, first read the article above, then read on.

I began with this response:

Nope nope nope nope nope.

Which escalated to:

I think this Alcorn article is bullshit too. I’m so angry I have to step away from the computer.

But my way in came in the form of a specific discussion about a ‘continuum of harm’. Garner and Alcorn argue that a grope is less important than a ‘rape’. They argue that there’s a continuum of harm/seriousness, and neither really understands why women don’t just ‘deal’ with offenders in less serious cases. This made me very very angry. It’s an attitude profoundly lacking in empathy, but it also suggests to me that this sort of woman is enabling and participating in rape culture by dismissing claims about the ‘severity’ of an offence.

This is what I said next:

I actually don’t buy the continuum of seriousness model, where we have ‘totally not a big deal’ at one end, and ‘horrible violence’ at the other. It simply doesn’t work in practice.

In my experience working on s.h. and assault within a community over the past couple of years, it’s the relationship between incidents and behaviour that is significant. So a whole heap of ‘minor’ things all add up, within the context of patriarchy, to a pattern of exploitation and abuse. It’s very important to recognise these ‘small’ things as part of character type, so that you can predict what will happen next.

So I like to use a ‘spectrum’ of behaviour, where it is the connections between actions that are important.
I think… no, I _know_ that dismissing something like a ‘boob grope’ as inconsequential is a way of dismissing women’s concerns, and making them question their own instincts.

At any rate, should we wait til a man violently rapes a woman, or watch for patterns of behaviour and intervene well before that point?
Garner and Alcorn seem to be suggesting the former, I argue – angrily – for the latter. In fact, I think that Alcorn and Garner’s attitudes are dangerous and betray a profound inexperience with practicalities of dealing with s.h. and assault in real communities with real people. The theory of assault is nothing like the realities of dealing with it in real settings, with real people.

Me, when I see the pattern develop, I step in. I ban men who are potential trouble, because I am not fucking waiting til they do something ‘serious’ enough to warrant a police report. And I devote a lot of my class time to teaching men and women how to identify inappropriate behaviour, and how to respond to it.
This is the deal: women under-report assault and harassment. Men don’t report it. Women question all their instincts. Offenders train women to question themselves and downplay the seriousness of offences.

Garner completely fails to see how her demanding to know all about an event, and to have access to all the details is about her presumption of privilege. Basically, the right to disclose or not to disclose information about assaults and harassment is a key – central – most important! – part of responding to reports.

In my work, we have found that protecting anonymity is SO IMPORTANT. Because women who report, and women who act as agents reporting for survivors, are threatened – physically, legally, financially, emotionally. Within my dance community we’ve had to develop complex networks of relationships to make it possible for women to make reports anonymously. Garner’s coming into a situation like that, behaving the way she did, endangers women.

Reporting to the police? I fucking laugh. That’s far too dangerous and public for almost all the women I know who are reporting assaults.

Garner can fuck off.

I’m getting so angry writing about this, I have to stop. It’s seriously triggering my own vicarious trauma from working on these issues.
Garner, Acorn, and their opinions are fucking bullshit.

Someone then asked:

What’s the difference between a continuum and a spectrum of transgression?

And this is where I really go to town.

A continuum ranges from A to E in a straight line, suggesting A leads to B leads to C leads to D leads to E in gradually increasing severity.

A spectrum thinks in at least 2 dimensions – imagine a circular field, with lots of points all across that field. Instead of progressing in a straight line, offenders commit numerous offences and do many things that in themselves seem ‘unimportant’ or less ‘severe’, but taken as a whole network, add up to a more complex understanding of sexual assault and harassment behaviour.

It’s very very important to note that most offenders defend things like a breast grope or a very tight hand hold, or repeated invitations on dates, or persistent facebook messages, or standing too close, or interrupting women, or not using their proper titles as ‘small’ things. They often admit to doing these things, apologise profusely, and profess ignorance. They target younger, less experienced, less confident, less ‘visible’ women and girls. Women and girls less likely to report and less likely to believe their own instincts.

Taken one by one, each of these is ‘small’. It’s the relationship between all of them, and the repeating, ongoing ‘snow’ of actions that add up to important character profiles.

Most women actually tend to dismiss all these individual things as ‘unimportant’. More significantly, they may not even recognise that men are doing these things to them – eg a woman might feel ‘uncomfortable’ talking to Mr X, but not realise it’s because he’s standing too close, touching her ‘accidentally’, making a lot of eye contact, asking for too much personal information, choosing to speak to her in smaller rooms with no windows, etc etc etc.
It’s easy to apologise for a ‘small’ thing: “Oh, sorry! I didn’t realise! I’ll never do it again. I’m so sorry. Is it ok? Do you feel ok? Let me make it up to you.”

So we have a second important point: women are trained to doubt their very good instincts, men are trained to take the assertive role in these interactions.

A third point: women are trained not to notice or give weight to these many ‘small’ actions/offences.

A fourth point: women are trained to prioritise politeness, male comfort, and avoiding social awkwardness above their own discomfort. So they won’t move away, let alone speak up or ask a man to stop.

A fifth point: women and men lack a language for talking about these minor things, let alone major things.
Women are discouraged from using precise terms to talk about their own bodies: vulva, breast, bottom, stomach, small of the back. This means when they try to articulate where they were touched, they are imprecise: “He touched me down there” rather than “He brushed his finger tips across my vulva”; or “He boob swiped me,” rather than “He trailed his whole hand across my left breast as I turned away from him.” This social awkwardness combined with lack of _words_ makes it difficult for women to explain why they felt uncomfortable, why it hurt, why they didn’t want him to do these things. So when they report these ‘small’ things, they blush, tremble, stutter, hesitate. All signs that suggest ‘fabrication’ or ‘dishonesty’ if you’re looking for a lie.

A sixth point: offenders are really fucking good at hiding what they do in plain sight. I’ve stood and watched a man holding a woman in his arms while dancing, knowing he was groping her, but not being able to see it. I had to trust the woman’s report that he held her too tight, wouldn’t let her go, squeezed her fingers, pressed her groin against his leg. So ‘minor’ things in combination are easy to hide, and also work in concert to make a woman a) doubt herself, b) feel utterly trapped, c) make it impossible for her to report. What does she report? “He touched my hand in passing that one time? He sent me a lot of fb messages?”

A seventh point: other men are discouraged from calling men out on their behaviour, especially when it’s smaller stuff: “Lighten up, mate, it’s just a joke.” They’re trained to dominate space, and to prioritise their own feelings. So they don’t ‘see’ when a woman is trying to get away from a man in a public space in a non-confrontational way.

And, finally, I have seen that offenders invest a lot of time in all this ‘small’ stuff, training women to be quiet, isolating them from friends and help. And then, they escalate. They most commonly seen to escalate to becoming a ‘boyfriend’ who may not actually declare the relationship, but insist it’s casual or just for fun. And within that relationship they often escalate the violence of sexual encounters, and use a lot more controlling, gaslighting, and isolation techniques.

All this is why it’s super important to remember that rape is something that usually happens in the home, domestic or work space, by men women know well.
When we position rape as ‘violent attack on the street by a stranger’, it’s inexplicable (what was she wearing? why did this happen?).
But rape isn’t a bear attack or an earthquake. It’s not an inexplicable natural disaster. It’s often a very carefully planned and executed act of control, and just one expression of a whole continuum of control and exploitation.

So when we want to ‘look’ for sexual assault and harassment, it’s not useful to ‘look’ for the most ‘extreme’ incidents (which are usually defined in terms of phallic power, often literally in terms of vaginal penetration). If we want to find (and stamp out) sexual assault and harassment, we need to look for the ‘little things’, and then the relationships between these little things.|

This is how it’s essential to consider rape and harassment within the context of patriarchy. Everything about that story in the First Stone establishes this as a serious example of sexual harassment. If I was investigating that incident, I’d look for other, non-sexual(ised) incidents of his exploitative and controlling behaviour. Did he use women’s real titles? Did he take them to dinner a lot, or pay for a lot of drinks? Did he only hold meetings in his own office? Did he fail to pursue delayed pay or conditions for employees? Did he ask people to work late?

And so on.

I also need to add that I didn’t really understand how all this worked until I worked on it my dance community myself. I started seeing clear patterns in women’s reports and men’s behaviour. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t articulate or pin down about what made something ‘dodgy’. Luckily dance gives me a good vocab for talking about how to touch someone. But still, it was super difficult, and I still feel like I’m not quite there. I’m missing something. Most telling, I find my own empathy for women reporting assaults, and my own vicarious trauma change the way I think about and respond to reports.

I just don’t think that Alcorn and Garner had or have this understanding of the practical experiences of working on these issues. Too much office time, not enough observation and listening time.

Of course, if you’re reading along as a dancer, and as someone who’s read my other posts, you’ll realise that this is why I get so niggeldy about gender specific language in classes, about the types of photos of dancers we see at events, and whether the lead or the follow is listed first in competition couple announcements.

The ‘continuum of harm’ model is too simple. It suggests only two options: bad or not bad. Which is a) intellectually dishonest, and b) actively disempowering women and survivors of assault. It forces them to decide, ‘Was I raped/harassed or not?’ when the question should be ‘Is that man’s behaviour threatening others?’

Should teachers ask to be paid for social dancing?

A well known and relatively high status teacher, Åsa Heedman posted this (public post) on faceplant yesterday:

Today I learnt that some Lindy hop teachers take an extra charge for 1) showing up at the dance evening and 2) charge even more for dancing with the students. Ridiculous! Organizers in the world: don’t support this, it is not gonna help creating a good Lindy scene.

There were a range of responses, from wholehearted approval of the sentiment to profound disagreement.

Me, I got opinions. Of course. Let me premise yet another poorly written post with the point that I feel that sexual harassment is just one point on a continuum of exploitation and misuse of power in the lindy hop world. So if we want to get rid of assault and harassment, we need profound restructuring of institutions and social conventions throughout our scene. Teachers and teachers’ working conditions are just one of these. The premise here, of course, is that teachers are at once powerful and influential people, but also disempowered and exploited in many of their teaching roles.

One of my general comments was this:

I reckon it’s fine for teachers (and other workers) to charge what they like. The market will let them know what it can bear :D
But i also think it’s totally fine to discuss pay rates and who charges what. If we didn’t, then pay inequities (eg male teachers being paid more than female) and exploitation (eg workers not increasing their rates annually, not being fed or housed properly, or overworked) wouldn’t come to light.

One of the most interesting comments on this post was by Alba Mengual:

Asa i completely agree. On the other hand we have had a contract sent to us that specify “that we must show up to the evenings and dance with the students” and i felt i didnt want to sign it (even if i do it allways) because i do it for the LOVE not because of a professional obligation. Also..how about if i only go 1h to the party bc im tired? Will i get not paid because i breached the contract? .and how many students is enough?? To have this in my contract kills my soul and my love for what i do…i want to have joy at night inviting people and sharing..as i do in any party bc i love dancing…and not feel that im working..really really for me its a big difference

This was my response to Alba’s point, and to the issue overall:

I think Alba’s reluctance to sign a contract where she’s obliged to social dance a lot (has to social dance) is justified. She has a right to say no to dance invitations. Everyone does. I think that it’s not only important for her well being, but for her to model self-care like that.

I always clarify with teachers whether they charge for social dancing. I’m ok if they do.
When I write up agreements for events where I have booked teachers, I always specify the terms:
– whether or not teachers are expected to come to parties
– whether or not they’re expected to social dance
– whether or not they’re expected to arrive at the beginning or stay til the end.

As long as both the organisers and the teachers (ie employer and contractor) understand and agree to those terms, it’s fine.

From an industrial relations/workers’ rights point of view, I don’t mind whether teachers require payment for social dancing or not, and if they do require payment, they should set that out very clearly in their terms and conditions document.
Similarly, organisers need to state very clearly in their own terms if they want teachers to arrive dead on time, dance every song only with students, and only leave at the end of the event.

-> These points are very, very important if I’m talking with non-Australian teachers. Especially if they come from a culture where workers’ rights are strongly protected (eg Sweden) or not protected. Or just plain different to Australia. I have legal obligations to not only protect contractors’, volunterers’, and workers’ rights, but to be sure they understand their rights.

Personally, I say this in my agreements with teachers:
– you’re not obliged to attend parties, but it’d be nice if you did;
– you’re not obliged to social dance, or to turn up at the beginning, or to stay all night;
– you’re definitely not obliged to come to late night parties.
-> I tell them to prioritise their health, and if that means they need to take a longer break between classes and parties, that’s good. If they need to leave earlier to get more sleep, that’s also good. If the sound levels are an issue, if they have kids to look after, etc etc – all those things are more important than their coming to a party.

I just make sure I hire the best bands I can find, bands that makes people want to DANCE. Or sit and watch and listen. Or have a drink or two and talk to people!
I also make sure I hire teachers who enjoy social dancing. And then I make sure that their working conditions and experience makes them feel like dancing.
And I also try to say clearly in my event PR “please welcome guests to sydney – invite them to dance, say hello” etc etc. And that means teachers, musicians, visiting dancers, volunteers, etc.

I also have terms in my agreements with teachers about drinking (ie don’t teach drunk; don’t drink while you’re working because OH&S; abide by the code of conduct).
The code of conduct makes it clear that drinking to excess while working or in a position of authority is not ok; and I’m clear about sexual relationships with students at events.

Åsa then replied:

Sam Carroll, it sounds like you are one of those organizers that teachers really appreciate to cone and teach for. Great! That’s the kind of circumstances that bring out the joy, please come but you don’t have to. But as you are also good with that some people charge for attending social dance I just want to ask you how you handle the fact that maybe one teacher is getting paid for being at the social dance and the rest is not. Is that fair? Is then that teacher getting paid while somebody else is not. For the same kind if “work”?

That’s a tricky one, Asa. It’s a bit like asking ‘how do you feel if one teacher is being paid a higher rate than their partner for teaching’, or ‘one dj is being paid more for their djing than another.’
There’s actually lots of work done on negotiating contracts and collective bargaining by unions. When you are part of collective bargaining via a group like a union, you may accept a lower pay rate so that everyone can be paid and have better conditions. Bosses of big businesses often work to dismantle unions and pressure workers to sign individual contracts. This saves bosses money, and gives them greater negotiating power.
So individual teachers have a right to charge different rates, after all, we don’t have unions, nor do many events observe local industrial relations laws.

I feel that it’s better to go legit as an organiser, as it offers you legal protection if things go wrong (so you can call the police if a teacher assaults someone at your event), and you pay tax in return.

Similarly, if teachers ‘unionise’ (ie talk collectively about terms and pay and so on), they can push organisers to provide better pay andconditions or risk a strike/boycot by teachers.

We are seeing the beginnings of this collectivism now after the public talk about teachers assaulting people. Some teachers are saying, “I will not work at events that don’t have a code of conduct”. This is a way of saying, “i won’t work at events that don’t respect health and safety laws.”

Similarly teachers saying “you must pay me to social dance,” is a way of saying “you must respect the fact that social dancing is physically and socially hard work; you must allow me sufficient rest time after classes; etc etc.” You can still love your work and be paid for it. In fact, there’s a theme in the lindy hop world that you shouldn’t charge or be paid for wonderful, creative work you enjoy. Why not? You can love your job and be paid for it.

So when i read that some teachers charge for social dancing, i ask myself, “what experiences have led them to this action?” Perhaps this is a response to poor working conditions:
– too little rest time between long days of classes
– very late nights
– not getting enough sleep or rest (because they don’t have real beds or doors that close)
– terrible parties with awful music
– a scene vibe that encourages dances only to dance with ‘the best’ dancers instead of people they like,
…and so on.

So this pattern in teachers’ pay rates tells us a lot – far more than just ‘they want money.’ There’s nothing wrong with wanting money. But there is something wrong with exploiting workers.

Btw, i have to give specific props to Ramona Staffeld on this issue. She is brilliant to work with: she’s very clear about her terms (and explains why), she tells me when i’ve erred, she’s super professional. She balances self care with an intense, hedonistic love of social dancing, AND she’s a brilliant teacher and dancer. And just plain nice.
Working with her has made me a better organiser. But it’s also led to my doing wonderfully fulfilling creative work with musicians, tappers, and lots of other volunteers and contractors.
I actually don’t do late night parties, but i do always book bands. Musicians who love to socialise with dancers. And Ramona’s generosity of spirit is what leads her to yell approval at a band mid-song, make friends with them, and get up and jam with them. So our evening parties tend to be very rich and intense, whether you’re dancing or talking!

I know i work well with clear structure, but Ramona has also taught me how to let loose and just revel in the jazz as well.

After this, there are a number of posts arguing against having contracts at all.
And I’m not ok with this.
Here is an example from Matthias Müller:

We never signed contracts with our teachers and made great experiences with it. The better you treat the teachers, the less you have to fix by contract and the more you get rewarded by them.
So, thats the big thing for me: Don‘t blame anybody for anything, this is the free market. But choose well and reflect your own setup as an organizer…

I replied:

I disagree vehemently with this, @Matthias. Clear agreements are important. There is a clear correlation between no-contract (no code of conduct) events and underpaying, exploitation, sexual harrassment, bullying, and straight up bullshit.

..i’m also deeply suspicious of any organiser who pushes contractors _not_ to have agreements. All the ones like that i’ve worked with (as dj and head dj) have been fucking dodgy, and later proved to hire and cover up for sexual harrassers and rapists. Dodgy approaches to OH&S issues are a big alarm bell for me.

A contract or agreement is just a way of writing down clearly what you have all agreed on.
Note: the events that hired Steven Mitchell here did not have written agreements with all contractors, and have been the very worst for not paying teachers or djs, overworking staff, etc etc etc.

It is possible to have a contract and still be good friends, guests, hosts, and so on. An agreement just ensures clarity.

At this point, Carla LaRue Heiney commented. I enjoy her contributions. She makes interesting points, and is very thoughtful.

What if we shift our paradigm here….
When I was teaching with Kevin St Laurent and we put in our contract that we needed a “real bed”with a door that closes to the room, people thought we were crazy, but it was because we were trying to take care of ourselves so that we could do the best job possible and also be present. We valued social dancing with the students at the evening parties, but we also valued getting some sleep and eating healthy.
I remember people talking about us and gossiping that we had certain things in our contracts. We had to do this because we honestly were not taken care of and I don’t think it was anyone trying to really “get away” with something, but rather a new scene and people trying to figure it all out still. I don’t think we even knew what we really needed until we had been traveling a bit and realized how poor sleep conditions and lack of time for things manifested in sick instructors, grumpy instructors and more.

So, we talked to some other professionals and we decided to have a contract that just stated what we wanted and needed and nothing too crazy, we hoped. Real bed, private sleeping areas, 3 meals a day, down time, maximum number of hours teaching etc. I am wondering if these newer contracts and requests from both sides are not just another attempt at people trying to take care of themselves and simply need refinement. To me, personally, I think of how nice it would be if some of the dances were earlier or didn’t go quite so late, but that is the mom in me talking.
I have also hired instructors are are known not to social dance as often as others because I still highly valued their instruction and take on the dance and the other things that they added. I tried to balance this choice with hiring instructors who were known to be on the social dance floor throughout the night. And I also made a lot of mistakes along with some good choices, hopefully, too.

The big thing is, let’s try to figure out why and not try to think negatively about the organizers making those requests and the teachers asking for certain things. I am all about choices and freedom and understanding. There is always something to learn.

This point is most important, I think: “The big thing is, let’s try to figure out why and not try to think negatively about the organizers making those requests and the teachers asking for certain things”.

Later, Tonya Morris added this comment:

You know, when Sugar Sullivan taught in Seattle, we couldn’t keep her away from the dance floor at night…one night she ended up in a ridiculously fast jam at the end of the night with Peter Loggins doing first stops and swinging out hard. I kept offering to bring her home and she looked at me like I was crazy. That’s the epitome and spirit of Lindy Hop…just saying.

My response to this:
Different lids for different pots, right?

I’d also like to think that the ‘spirit of lindy hop’ is to take care of each other, to stop and listen to a band and watch a solo, really enjoy the company and conversation of a new friend, to buy a friend a drink, or lend an ear to someone in need.

I’m really uncomfortable with this ‘that is the spirit of lindy hop’ talk. We are all different people, and we do things in different ways, enjoy different things. I don’t want to have this one, singular, and disturbingly evangelical ‘spirit’ of lindy hop.
I want ‘Sam’s spirt’ which involves dancing like a fool, DJing sometimes, being the butt of musicians’ jokes, meeting new friends, designing flyers, reading about jazz history, looking at Australian modernist art, talking about labour relations, making applique banners, swapping photos of historic buildings, listening to CDs with friends, learning about mic stands…. lindy hop brought me all this. I think all these things are important.

And I do think that a scene that thinks the ability to dance non stop for sixty million hours is the highest human quality is a danger. That’s how we got people like Steven Mitchell and Max Pitruzella exploiting this ethos.

This conversation is continuing on faceplant right now.

But I think it’s worth summing up the key issues:

– teachers having terms and conditions
– some teachers specifying their social dancing time/pay
– other teachers and dancers feel this is ‘not in the spirit of lindy hop’
– I feel that this ‘spirit of lindy hop’ rhetoric is an ideological tool ripe for exploitation (to mix a metaphor). The nebulous ‘spirit’ of a community disappears diversity, and discourages solid, clearly written contracts oand terms of agreement.

Continuing:
– some teachers and organisers feel that agreements and contractors kill the ‘spirit of lindy hop’.
– I strongly disagree: clear contracts and agreements are a useful tool for avoiding exploiting workers, and they empower disempowered people.
– some people feel that social dancing is the ‘true’ spirit of lindy hop.
– I feel that it’s just one part of being a lindy hopper and lindy hop culture. I feel that valorising this quality is what led us to the bullshit power dynamic that enables gross exploitation and abuse of less powerful people by more powerful people.

A key point, here is that I want to reframe this as a discussion about labour rights and relations. Unions and collectivism are a useful ideological and practical tool for countering the ‘artistic individualist/ mysterious creative spirit’ rhetoric that is often used to justify exploiting workers, or to avoid transparency in work practices. We have clear proof that this avoidance of legit industrial practice contributes to and enables sexual assault and harassment and exploitation in the lindy hop community. To the point where if I see an organiser or teacher actively arguing against contracts or agreements, I am deeply suspicious. I suspect serious misconduct.

I’m very uncomfortable with some dancers’ resistance to the idea that lindy hop is, and can be a ‘business’. The people most critical of this concept seem to be those who have gained social and cultural power from lindy hop. So we see high profile teachers and some organisers using this argument. I smell bullshit here. I also see no problem in making a business of lindy hop. In fact, formalising arrangements and being financially responsible and sustainable is one way to avoid injustice. We have models to avoid hardcore patriarchal capitalism in lindy hop business, and there are quite a few very good dance businesses around the world which use them.

And look. It’s fucking hypocritical so say that it’s not in the spirit of lindy hop to run a dance business, when you benefit financially, socially, and personally from being employed by those businesses. So fuck off with that bullshit.

I also want to introduce more discussion of cultural and business law and policy into this discussion. Yes, this stuff tends to exclude people. And that’s exactly my point. Learning about these things empowers us. As I said in reply to another person’s comment:

I guess I just don’t think teachers’ social dancing is any more important an issue than all the others that go into running an event. This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but while who you hire to teach is very important, the teachers are just one element of the weekend. And can be replaced.
In fact, an event often _needs_ to change up its teaching line up to continue to attract attendees. And that’s why teachers need to stay competitive as workers and artists: they need to be good at what they do, improving their skills, and acquiring new skills (including how to conduct themselves professionally).

The much more important things involved in running an event are:
– is the event financially sustainable (ie are you going to be bankrupt by running it)?
– are there enough people to actually run it on the weekend?
– do you have venues hired?
– do you have music hired – DJs or bands?
– are people safe at your event (eg do you have cables run safely, is the building sound, do you have fire escapes – do you have an OH&S policy?)

So I put whether or not teachers social dance into the ‘teachers’ conditions’ folder in my head (and literally in my computer), which is just one of many other folders. Teachers’ working conditions are no more important than volunteers’ working conditions, or musicians’ working conditions, or DJs’ working conditions, or the sound engineers’ working conditions, or my own working conditions.
So I can a) only allow teachers a certain amount of time, and b) I can’t help but see common issues across all the contractors’, workers’, and volunteers’ folders.

Basically, and this is something we’ve been talking about in the lindy hop scene for a few years now, teachers aren’t magical fairy artists. They are creative workers and employees, _as well as_ artists and humans and inspirers and mentors. So they deserve no more or less time and attention than any other person at the event.

This issue may vary between different countries, but here in Australia our government policies are fucking over the arts. This is having material effects on the lindy hop scene:
– our community venues are getting more expensive and harder to find (because they are govt funded and maintained), and private venues are EXPENSIVE, but also restricted by new laws (like the lockout laws, and noise restrictions);
– our musicians are going overseas (because the arts grants and school music programs which pay their bills have been cut so severely);
– agencies like APRA, PPCA and so on (which administer copyright and music licensing) have fewer funds for outreach and support for smaller organisations;
– visas increase in cost each year, and require a lot of skill and knowledge to secure, because our govt is slowly closing its borders to anyone who’s not white and middle class;
…and so on.

All this means, that if you want to run a weekend dance event, you have to run it as a legit business. Because there aren’t enough funding or resources to run events on the cheap.
If you _do_ want to run your business as a non-profit, you really need to get your act together and learn a lot about tax law, business registration and administration law and so on.
Either way, you need to be a bit savvy about cultural and business policies and laws. It’s hard work.

A lot more goes into running a dance weekend than booking a teacher. And if we want to be able to invest the thousands of dollars hiring a teacher requires, we have to get our shit together. We have to run this professionally.

Should Gordon Webster’s band play the pie/cake song? No.

This is a post drawing together some thoughts that I had in a discussion with some friends. These were good friends, in a private discussion, so I won’t present their words here, just my own. But I want to give them credit for their thoughtful comments.

Here is the nub of the discussion: should Gordon Webster play the song ‘I Like Pie, I like cake’?
Background: he recorded this song with Steven Mitchell on vocals, in the early stages of the band’s push to popularity. The album included some very, very good musicians, was recorded live, and is super super popular with dancers.

Now that who and what Steven Mitchell has done is being spoken about publicly, most dancers and DJs have decided not to play that recording. But what about Webster? Should he still play the song, even without Mitchell on the lyrics?

My response is: no. No. No.
Why?

Apparently Webster plays it almost every gig he does. When a friend commented in real time, that Webster was playing it at that moment at Snowball in Sweden, one of the biggest events in the lindy hop calendar, I was shocked. I couldn’t really believe it was happening. Surely that’s a no-brainer? Don’t play a song made famous by a rapist?

So I just assumed that there’d been a confusion with the organisers, a problem with the person who briefed him. As I said in that online discussion:

If they [the organisers] didn’t tell him ‘no pie/cake song’, then it’s their issue. But if they did brief him, and he played it anyway, the band organiser should have had a list of ‘consequences’ for breaches of the code of conduct, and know how to handle the situation.

If he did it at my gig, I’d be fucking ropeable.
Though, to be honest, Webster doesn’t impress me with his understanding of these issues. Especially after hearing that ep of The Track where he talked about it.

After a few other general comments, a man asked:

why can’t he play that song?….. Is it because of the connection with SM, that he shouldn’t play it?

I was, frankly, flabbergasted. What do you think? But then I reminded myself: not everyone is elbow deep in safe space policies. And it also made it clear: men who aren’t doing this work, aren’t thinking about it a lot, are able to think about other issues, and do other work. It’s clearly a limitation on their own work, to not understand these issues, and, at heart, a failure of empathy. But it also limits them creatively.

But let’s look at my response. The following is cut and pasted from the discussion, removing names to protect anonymity, and hopefully edited for coherency :D

Yes [it is because of the SM thing], because Steven Mitchell is recorded with the band, on Webster’s biggest selling album, and because Mitchell was always at the front of the band showboating with that song. It’s impossible to separate the two in people’s minds.

Most events have that recording of the song on their banned list, as it’s
a) grossly insensitive to play a song by a man who sexually assaulted girls and women for years, and
b) when we play that song, we are saying ‘I think this is a good song, and I don’t care about other people’s feelings’.

We should draw the line somewhere.
I choose not to play it because Mitchell groomed and sexually assaulted girls and women, using his power to force them into horrid relationships and situations with him. It makes me feel ill to hear him sing. It makes me angry to hear people applaud it or celebrate it by dancing.

So should Webster play that song, even if Mitchell isn’t singing?
I say no.
Mostly because it shows very poor taste (as though he’d rather get the props for playing a popular song than respect the women Mitchell assaulted) and very poor judgement (it implies he doesn’t care or is too cavalier to realise how playing this song might imperil future gigs or his reputation). But also because it shows us that he simply puts his own ego and feelings ahead of the girls and women who were assaulted, and of all the other women, girls, boys, and men who have been sexually assaulted or deal with harassment and the threat of sexual violence every day.

Basically, Webster playing this song tells me that he doesn’t think. And his continuing to play this song, even after being made aware of the issues, tells me that he puts his own ego before ethics, and that he’s tone deaf (in a social sense, not musical sense).

As an organiser, that tells me he’s trouble.
As an organiser, I’d get right up in Webster’s face (after the gig) for playing that song. I’d be so fucking angry, as I would definitely have told him not to play it. Webster playing it at my gig would be tarring my reputation, but it would also be his disrespecting me, publicly, as a woman and as his employer.

In fact, his continuing to play that song absolutely guarantees I’d never book him.

I’m also wondering if the band booker/manager for Snowball gave Webster clear guidelines on this. Playing the song in Australia would technically constitute sexual harassment and bullying, which is illegal (and could get an event manager into serious trouble). There are a range of issues at work here, including the scope of the band booker’s brief (ie what exactly are their powers and responsibilities), and whether there is a clear policy in place for dealing with sexual harassment and/or difficult behaviour from musicians. These aren’t questions I can answer for this event. But with events I run, I have clear guidelines for the bands (leaders and musicians), and scripts that I use for addressing issues with bands. Because I’ve had to in the past.

After this comment, some other friends made interesting observations. I want to maintain anonymity here, as this is a thoughtful group of people exploring difficult issues in a safe and private conversation. So I’ll paraphrase.
This from a very interesting comment:
– Webster still plays this song, every gig, even after the Mitchell issue became public
– People have spoken to him about the issue
– He has spoken to other people (including women who have spoken publicly about being assaulted by Mitchell)
– He knows it’s not ok to use the recording where Mitchell sings
– I’ll quote this bit: “he feels that he and the lindy hop scene can and should reclaim the song for themselves. It’s a theme for the band, not the person, despite the previous recordings. ”
– Sarah Sullivan’s (Stevens first public accuser) band also plays that arrangement specifically for the point of reclaiming the song.

I’ve heard these points from a few people now, phrased in roughly the same way. I think these are key issues, and worth addressing. So here are some things I said.

There’s a huge difference between Sarah (a woman, a survivor) playing this song, and Webster (whose band recorded it with Mitchell) playing it. The power dynamics are completely different. If Webster had a reputation as a clear ally, and if he wasn’t such a showboat, I’d consider it.

I feel that as a powerful, white, straight man, Webster’s speaking to other people about it isn’t really convincing. Who’s going to tell him to stop? In what settings does he have these conversations? At gigs where he’s the headline act, the ‘star’? Who’s he speaking to? Women? Men? Who? Women who’ve been assaulted by Mitchell?

[Let me digress here, to explain why ‘talking to people’ isn’t an adequate reason for continuing to play this song]
It’s difficult for many women to confront men like Webster, on a topic like this, in confronting circumstances. The very emotions of this issue make it difficult for many of us (whether we have been assaulted or not) to articulate why we don’t think it’s ok. Our culture discourages and punishes women who rock the boat and critique powerful men in public spaces. And Mitchell took great pains to make sure his targets were disempowered and unable to speak up against a powerful man.
Dance events aren’t really conducive to serious talk, and where else would ‘ordinary’ dancers have access to Webster? Not too many people would dare to confront or disagree with a ‘star’ at a big gig. Not too many people, other than other powerful people.
And here we have the rub: who are these powerful people? Who are the MCs, the organisers, the DJs, the high profile teachers? We still see men over-represented. And it’s clear that other men both covered up for Mitchell, and enabled his actions. Other teachers, organisers, MCs, influential people. While they may be quick to condemn Mitchell now, these men are not as quick to dismantle the social structures that enable injustice. And playing a song made famous by a sexual offender is an articulation of power, and it is an injustice; it is part of the discursive and industrial structures that enable sexual offenders. It tells us that the stories and songs of powerful men are more important than the stories and safety of women and less powerful people. Who says what and where is a matter of power. Who sings what song, and where is similarly a matter of power.[/]

Listening to that ep of The Track, Gordon’s clearly not aware of the way his own power and status work in his interpersonal and professional relationships within the scene. Though he may have changed his thinking since then, I’m just not convinced his judgement is sound on this one. And continuing to play this song tells me that he’s not aware of the nuances at work.
The thing is, Webster worked with Mitchell for so long, taking him to cities where he assaulted and harassed women. This makes Webster complicit in Mitchell’s actions, even if only through neglect or awful coincidence. As a band leader, he was in a position to call Mitchell on his other inappropriate behaviour (and Mitchell was always a difficult, demanding, pain in the arse). He could have disrupted the continuum of exploitative behaviour Mitchell was operating. He could have removed Mitchell’s literal platform for self-promotion and self-aggrandising. But he chose to put him on the stage, at the gigs, again and again.

And I’m not really ok with a white, powerful, influential man ‘reclaiming’ something. That’s a concept that works as a way to ‘speak truth to power’. Sarah can do it, a woman can do it, even a band that’s not associated with Webster can do it. But the song was ‘his’ to begin with… He had and has the power, so what’s he ‘reclaiming’ it from? His own poor decisions? His own association with a man who has always had a reputation for inappropriate behaviour, let alone assault? Better to make reparation and let the song stay unplayed.

At the end of the day, as a powerful person, he should be making choices that are beyond doubt. By choosing to hang onto a song because it gives him props as a pop anthem, he’s treading on dangerous ground. With his history of association with Mitchell, he needs to be beyond doubt in his actions. And this choice is very dubious.

At this point in our discussion, I thought, ‘What am I doing? Why am I defending this position? Surely it’s clear, that choosing not to play this song is the right choice?’ I really felt as though I was going to a lot of effort to prove something that should be self-evident. To articulate that lurch in the guts that was a combination of rage and frustration and fear and sadness. Now I realise that that ‘self-evident’ emotional, empathetic response isn’t shared by people who do not experience sexual harassment and assault. Men aren’t trained to see and respond to these things the way men are. So they need it pointed out; it isn’t self-evident to them.
And this is the rub: I feel as though we keep having these discussions. And it’s always women who are doing the explaining. Where are those male allies to step in and do this work? Why aren’t men willing to just accept that we actually know what we’re talking about? It’s so, so tiring. And as long as women continue to do all this work, the social structures that enable injustice remain in place. Women spend time and labour on this, instead of other creative work.

So then I felt like I had to excuse or explain my ‘shouting’ and long comments. I always feel like this. As though I need to excuse or explain why I’m so worked up. That there’s something wrong with getting worked up. But because this was a group of friends, I just posted my feels. And then I realised: this is the core of it. The feels. This is what I wrote:

I am so adamant about this because I’ve seen the havoc these men wreak. After the last year working with women reporting assault, I’m just… I cannot articulate just how evil these men are. It’s not ‘just’ a matter of ‘attacking’ a woman once. It’s systematic, ongoing control of every aspect of their lives. These women are terrified, seriously fucked up, and it’s just so so bad.
These women contact me saying ‘I just want to know if X is going to be there. If he is, I won’t go.’ They’re just so afraid, that if they see these guys they dissolve into panic – it’s real trauma. And the things these men do to them. It’s horrific.

And it’s now very clear that these men all cover up for each other, support and defend them. That’s the part that’s really upsetting me. I keep running into organisers and DJs and teachers and musicians who actively protect men who are known rapists and cruel bastards, because they’re _also_ doing these things! They hire each other for gigs, they bully women into disappearing quietly, they provide environments that encourage exploitation – in all sorts of ways.

It’s all so awful that I can’t read any more reports. I haven’t been assaulted, but I am regularly harassed, because I’m a woman. And now that I’ve heard these stories, that are just so common, I’m just heart sick.

So I just can’t believe that someone like Gordon Webster wouldn’t do something as simple as stop playing a song. It’s such a little thing for such an influential person, but it’s such a big gesture.

Reading these comments again now, I’m reminded of the arguments people make for watching and posting videos of Max Pitruzella, another reported rapist. People go to great lengths to defend this choice. And I’m not convinced.

In sum, then, I don’t think Gordon Webster should play the ‘pie/cake’ song with his band. He should stop playing it. For as long as he continues to do so, and for as long as men defend his playing it, I will be suspicious of him and his motivations. They are not my allies.

what is inclusivity? what is a safe space?

Shelby recently asked on fb:

Dance friends!

What is inclusivity?

Also, what is a safe space?

I know what these are in general sense but curious of what people’s functioning definitions are rather then these ne terms that thrown around in the ether but don’t have a definition tied to it but rather have actions connected to these terms.

This is what I said.

I use these words in different ways in different contexts, but in my dance work:

What is inclusivity?

I usually talk more about ‘being inclusive’ (ie doing something, rather than a noun), because it’s tied to activism – actions – in my head.
Basically, it means doing what you can, changing things, to include all sorts of people. The assumption is that mainstream spaces (ie lindy hop classes, parties, workshops, etc) are dominated by white, middle class, heterosexual, urban, able bodied people. This isn’t an accident, but a result of how the space is designed and functioned.

So when we make things ‘more inclusive’, we change the space. That can include:
– the language teachers use; the type of teachers (eg hiring POC, same-sex couples, etc etc);
– where a space is (in a middle class area, or out west in a more diverse community?);
– how a space is advertised (changing images and language to be more welcoming to a wider range of people);
– the make up of bands (from all white men, to ….heck, anyone else).

Before we can make these changes, though, we need to study the space itself, and note it’s characteristics: who’s missing from this space? Which voices are heard? Who is speaking? There’s lots of literature about this stuff to draw on, so we needn’t invent the wheel. This is also my background: looking at communities of cultural practice and finding out who they are.

I don’t think every single person is welcome at all dance events. As an example, I don’t allow known sex offenders or violent people into my events. They are clearly not welcome.
As another example, we have women-only dance classes in the Sydney scene, run by and for women who don’t feel safe with men, or want to dance just with women. For all sorts of reasons. That’s cool.
We also have lgbqt classes, which welcome straights and allies, but also make it clear that these classes prioritise queer language and politics. So anyone coming needs to be cool with that, and might find it challenging at first.

So when we say inclusive’, I’m thinking ‘a place or policy that actively works to resist and undo patriarchy.’ It’s not a neutral ‘everyone is welcome’ policy. It’s an explicitly political policy to undo the privileging of straight, white, middle class men in lindy hop.

What is a safe space?

I don’t use the phrase ‘safe space’ very often, but I do talk about ‘safety’ in my dance work. When I talk about safety, I’ve specifically chosen to position my work on preventing sexual harassment and assault as part of ‘occupational health and safety’ work. Why? Because I run a business, and there’s a lot of good literature and resources on this exact issue, coming out of feminist activism and also union work.

So when I talk about ‘safety’ I’m talking about:
– prosaic stuff like avoiding injuries and accidents by removing dangers. But this is useful because a ‘danger’ can be a known offender that we ‘remove’ for the safety of workers and punters.
– I like to position sexual assault and harassment as potential injuries, as this makes them ‘ordinary’ and desexualises them to a degree. This allows us to get past some of the social taboos around talking about sex or bodies or gender in our community.
– I like to push the idea that ‘safety’ is all of our responsibilities. So I use the phrase ‘we have each other’s backs’ and ‘look after each other’ a lot. The three main ‘rules’ of my business’s dance classes are: ‘look after your partner, look after yourself, look after the music.’
-> this idea of mutual responsibility is central to my feminism: it’s about communitarianism and collectivism (rather than individualism); it’s about care and nurturing; it’s about empowering people by giving them responsibility for each other.
-> very central to this is giving people concrete ways to ‘care’ for each other – eg our code of conduct has a section on ‘how not to harass someone’. At events I say, “If you see someone who needs help, offer to help them to the registration desk” (and this is said over the mic to punters, but is also written in our handbook for volunteers and staff). They have explicit ‘scripts’ for asking for help or for offering help.

At the heart of this approach, is my belief that to make spaces more inclusive and safer, we need to undo patriarchal power structures. ie we need to undo the ‘top-down’ pyramid of power, where we have one ‘boss’ at the top, and then layers of people with less and less power. I aim for a flatter power structure, and more rhizomatic systems of responsibility. When I say ‘rhizome’ I’m talking about a model where everyone is connected to each other in complicated ways and relationships, not just looking up to one boss or down to employees. Change is the most important part of this: we are capable of change, and we should aim to change and learn and try new things.

Who wants to pay me to research gender in the Australian jazz music industry? Have relevant experience, skills, degrees, etc.

a long post from fb.

I am interested in:

  • sexual harassment and assault and its role in discouraging women musicians;
  • the recent round of cuts in arts council funding and its role in pushing musicians o/s;
  • do women follow the jobs o/s as younger men do, or do they have domestic commitments keeping them here?;
  • whether or not a lack of attention to female historical figures in jazz education disuades young women musicians;
  • intra-band culture and masculinism, and their role in discouraging women from playing instruments (v singing), and consequent effects on the music itself;
  • are broader industrial factors inaccessible for women, because of impossible child care and donestic labour making the late hours, excessive drinking and drug use cultural factors central to jazz music culture and networking)

And so on.
I also want to look at the intersection of race, class, and sexuality, because the australian jazz world is very white, very straight, and very male.

What’s the point of asking these questions?

  • most dance event organisers are women; does jazzbro culture impede collaboration? Would it be different if there were more women musos?
  • jazz is slowly fading away as musos and audiences pass away. Why is the jazz world ignoring (even fighting) the great resource of 51% (more!) of the population?
  • how would the music itself be different if it became the vernacular not just of some white bros? How many more people would it resonate with, if the stories were more varied and interesting?

I just need money for research (incl library access, transcription resources, secure places for data, travel $$ for interviews, etc). But i could plan and do this research no worries.

Here is a thing I read today RE arts funding which made me think about this: https://twitter.com/beneltham/status/942570857250959360

And I’ve also been reading first-person accounts by very brave young women recording their experience with sexual assault and harassment in the jazz scene, both in the US and here in Australia.

Basically: getting raped and harassed every day by staff, teachers, students, and punters discourages young women musicians. How can it even be true. Unfathomable*.

Upshot: sexual assault is a very good way of getting rid of threats to male egos and careers. ie talented young women.

Similarly, racism (both explicit and implicit) is another good way to get rid of threats (to white masculinity): talented young musicians of colour.

None of this is news. We have decades of first hand and academic research supporting this idea that sexual assault and harassment are tools of the patriarchy: discouraging women and others from breaching the citadel.

*insert sarcasm gif

I feel like the ban on black/american musicians touring Australia until the 50s is also relevant. And the role of the musicians union(s).
…and I want to look at the role of women in the Australian jazz industry to date. Especially the role of the women in the 50s, 60s, and so on up til now – the people who managed gigs, sold tickets, etc etc. All that unpaid, low status work that actually makes a gig possible.

I think that ‘uses of history’ is going to be important too. Something about the way historical figures, historical recordings and texts, ideas about history, authenticity, etc etc are used in ‘jazz’.

I feel like there’s some connection with the way Herrang really discourages modern black music like hip hop, house, rap, etc etc, yet sponsors the Frankie Manning ambassadors and young black people to the camp. These kids are allowed to come as ‘ambassadors’, but they aren’t allowed to bring their own, modern day music and dance – stuff they are authorities on. They have to be positioned as ‘special cases’ accessing black history via white ‘specialists’ in Europe, v accessing black history via their own families and communities and bodies and contemporary culture.

…I guess it’s all about culture, gatekeeping, power, and access to knowledge. And the discursive role of words and concepts like ‘authentic’, ‘history’, even ‘swing’. And which historical figures are used (Louis Armstrong vs Lil Hardin Armstrong etc).

So I guess we’re looking at the intersection of ideas about ‘work/labour’, ‘art’, ‘creativity’, ‘gender/race/ID’ in a particular creative field. Same old same old, really, but in a new context. And the new part is the role of funding and support (eg universities) by governments today, and jazz’s shift from vernacular music and culture funding by everyday spaces (eg bars, cafes, dancehalls) to ‘art’ funded by the state and high-end sponsorship. Which, it turns out, is much more precarious. There’s also something in there about education, learning, and teaching in vernacular vs institutional spaces. I think that’s the bit that’ll interest me most.

I’m already pretty interested in community arts practice via ‘art’ in galleries, opera houses, conservatoria, etc etc. I’d like to have a look at some cultural policy studies literature on engagement with the arts in Australia. ie do more people ‘engage with the arts’ as amateur makers via craft courses, community choirs, school holiday programs, etc etc, than they do via more formal routes like ‘going to see a show at the opera house’ or ‘attending the Sydney Festival’? I’d also like to look at the pathways to professional musicianship – via places like the Con, or via music programs in universities, or via informal apprenticeships with family members, or via ongoing lessons with teachers? And do these pathways offer particular obstacles or opportunities for women/POC/queer folk?
And of course, what are the more complex (and interesting) networks and convergences of all these pathways and factors? eg attending the Con, taking classes as a kid at school, practicing with friends in high school, making a band, recording and broadcasting at home for youtube, etc etc etc.

why the black kids sit together

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

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

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

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

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

What is groundedness?

More thoughts from fb, inspired by recent time in Herrang.

Jo asked in the fb teaching group:

I recently had a student ask me to define what being grounded was and said that a lot of teachers use this as a buzzword, but never actually explain what it was nor how to get there. I found this quite interesting. So, my fellow instructors, how would you define “being grounded” and what are some of your favorite exercises you use to teach it?
If there is a thread that has already discussed this, please feel free to link as my search came up empty. :D

And I replied:

In my head, I use this concept a lot, but I never teach with it.
So I guess I’d have to nut through what makes a dancer look ‘grounded’…
This will no doubt be another huge post. Soz not soz.

– I often say when watching a dancer that I really like the way their feet touch the ground. Their feet are under their body, and they _use_ it to push off, they make conscious choices about which part of their foot touches the ground (like a tapper), and they make very clear weight changes.

They also bend joints, and have ‘loose knees’, rather than straight legs. All this bending and collecting and angles and so on brings the eye _down_ rather than up. It’s also very functional, as it makes it easier to respond quickly.
But this is often a matter of aesthetics, as tap dancers and dancers from Ghana Guinea (thanks for the heads up, Bert) are both grounded (as in they use the ground), but also capable of great jumps and lifts – a sense of defying gravity. In the case of tap, I’ve noticed (and had to learn) that tappers have a superior sense of where their weight is at any one time, and don’t settle for just ‘split or committed’ weight. They have varying degrees of weight commitment, and can do what seems like hold themselves in mid air. I often notice it when I watch Sakarias Larsson dance: he is both supremely grounded and using the ground, but also seems to hang from the bottom of his rib cage, able to hold himself higher if he needs to.

We talk a lot about ‘seeing the rhythm’ when someone dances.
I usually mean this to involve a really engaged core (ie movement coming from the middle of the body, or particular muscle groups within the body), or nice combinations and engagements of muscles*. Rather than just arms flapping about in the air or feet slippering about all over the floor while the torso does nothing. We did some work on this with eWa and Lennart in the teachers’ track – how to make the shim sham a rhythm rather than figures.
I think that it’s also important to really begin and finish movements clearly, referring always to the music. And by movements I mean very small segments of time (eg half a beat or less). So the dancer really needs to know what they’re doing rhythmically, not just moving through shapes. ie if we’re serious about rhythm, we don’t just work with beats and half beats. We don’t just have swung time, we also work with straight time. And so on. The physical manifestation of rhythm requires sophisticated and very clean, clear engagement of particular muscles at the right time, so it also requires good proprioception (am I doing what I think I’m doing) as well as the ability to engage or turn off particular muscles at the right time.
-> all of this involves a very clear use of the ‘ground’ and gravity

In ballet, dancers aim to look light and airy and the opposite of grounded. This is about aesthetics, though. There’s a cool article about this called “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance” by Joann Kealiinohomoku (What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism Eds. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. 533 – 49). Kealiinohomoku does a close textual analysis of ballet as ethnicised dance, and the stuff that makes ballerinas look ‘light’: hyper-extended, straight legs and arms (vs bent knees and joints which are essential to african and african american vernacular dance); pointed toes and extended hands and fingers, elongated necks and lifted chins, lifted rib cages and turned out hips to flatten the buttocks and make them look flatter and longer. Even the clothes they wear (there are some grooving photos illustrating this here, where Balanchine works with ballet dancers).

-> there’s some really fantastic work on the black american choreographers and dancers of the 20s-40s, and their part in the Harlem Renaissance and then black arts movements. Their integration of black cultural history with white high art (ballet) really saw a playing with the ‘airy’ lightness of traditional ballet with the ‘grounded’ aesthetics of other dance traditions. Katherine Dunham is the big name here, but also Balanchine (his work on Cabin in the Sky with lindy hoppers and jazz dancers, for example), and Alvin Ailey.
I actually see similar innovations in black Australian dance companies like Bangarra Dance Theatre.

RE how do I teach dancers to be grounded?

I do a lot of solo jazz work.
So, for example, the last block I taught we began each intermediate class with a phrase of the shim sham, looking at how to make the rhythms clear, the weight changes crisp or functional, how to remember and dance the sequence rather than just copying the teacher, etc etc.
I noticed that all the class in the rest of the session were really grounded and very clear in their movements. And their leading and following was much better.
I think that the solo work makes you much more confident, but also forces you to make very clear weight changes, and to know where your weight is at any one point. Teaching the shim sham as series of weight changes (ie fancy walking) also makes it easier to dance. This then transfers directly to lindy hop (ie fancy walking holding hands).

Rhythm games like I-go, you-go, where the teacher dances a two bar rhythm, then the students come in immediately on the next bar.
This makes them watch, observe, understand, then remember and reproduce. As they get better at it, they stop consciously mapping the rhythm and movements with their brain, and let their pattern-matching brain bits do the work. Particularly with longer sequences. It’s HARD. But also very, very good. I have found in my own dancing that this tap work is making me much better at learning sequences in lindy hop, so when I dance them, I’m much more confident and commit my weight properly, rather than trying to play it safe and dither about uncertainly between feet.

Where is your weight?
In my own work, tap is teaching me to really make confident choices about where my weight is. I have been really focussing on how to know when to commit my weight completely to one foot, to just commit 50% of it, or 20% or whatever, and THEN to be able to change that amount within a particular time limit (ie quickly or slowly or within a full beat, half beat, third of a beat, whatevs). I find this very challenging, and I’m struggling a lot. But it’s making my lindy hop SO much better.

Gimme de kneebone bent.
(to quote Malone). ie soft knees (with a little bend), avoiding pointed toes and extended ankles (unless it’s intended for contrast), bent hips, experimenting with bands and angles in the torso at the hip and waist, and with rotation, extremely angled shoulders (as in a shorty george), bent elbows and wrists, turning the head and using gaze to direct the eye. ie charleston, pecking, shorty george, fish tail, rocking, etc etc.

Don’t fall down
We use the ‘traveling on the bus’ example to demonstrate groundedness. We ask them to think about this when they’re next on the bus. How do they keep their balance when they’re standing up if they can’t reach a bar? They relax their knees, feet shoulder width apart, and think ‘down’ rather than ‘up and tippy’.

*Entirely unrelatedly, I think the ‘arm v body lead’ distinction is a false dichotomy. Arms are attached to bodies, so every arm lead is a body lead. BUT, we can use our arms in lots of ways. So I can let my shoulders rise up towards my ears when I lift my arms, and this then makes the movement happen more in my arms. Or I can keep my shoulder blades down ‘in my body’ as I raise my arms, which then engages the muscles from my shoulders to my spine, and my spine to my hips, which is super good for leading and following. But both are legit, and can give very different visual effects for solo performance in particular. The former can look very funny if you bend at the waist 45*.
This relates to groundedness because the arms that have dropped shoulder blades look more ‘contained’ and give a clearer sense of what the torso is doing while the arms are moving. But of course it is far, far more complex (and wonderful than that):

(The Charles Moore Dance Theatre: “Ostrich” choreography by Asadata Dafora (1932))

Not everything I believe is true.

I’m still thinking about the the issues that came up in the teaching dance fb group.
Specifically the importance of fixing meaning.

It’s nice to advocate for the idea of gender or identity in dance as fluid and defying a fixed meaning. The sentiment that ‘anything is true’ is very appealing. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how having a fixed, authoritative meaning is important for radical or resistant politics. Of course, if this idea of fixed or essential identity is used by dominant ideology, by patriarchy, it doesn’t go well for queer folk and people of colour.

I would like very much to quote some of the comments and attribute sources from this fb discussion, but I’m not sure how these people would like their words used out of context, so I’m going to have to go all stealth on you. Sorry, and I’ll add names and attributions on request.

There are two points of view which really caught my eye. One of them was raised by a friend who is a little/lot/enough genderflex, and who posited that the leading and following are not as distinct as we like to insist. This was in response to this piece Why Leading Is Not More Difficult Than Following, and How to Make It True from the always-dodgy-and-a-little-bit-shit clickbait site Joy In Motion. That piece has been giving me the living shits.
This friend’s post began:

Regarding the “leading is not harder” article, ambidancing pedagogy, leading and following being different skill sets, and whether we should use lead/follow as nouns or just verbs.
I think I think about all this really differently, like super differently*. I completely agree that leading (as a verb) and following (as a verb) are different skill sets to learn, practice and use, but I really struggle with the conflating of skill set and role within the dance – the rigid assignment and division of these skill sets by role.

And it continued with some really great thinking and passionate points.

In sum, the key points were:
– leading and following are abilities/skill sets
– these skills aren’t welded to the role or lead or follow; they are transportable
The implicit ideology at work here (which all the people in that fb group are familiar with if not on board with), is that leading and following aren’t innately gendered, but are practically gendered by cultural context.

So this position can be read as an argument for skills/qualities being culturally associated with specific gender roles, but not innately gendered or associated with leads or follows.

Not a particularly controversial point, and it’s one I agree with.
I’ll say here, though, that this is as far as I’ll go on this one. I know there are people who argue that the role of lead and follow are essentially the same, and that we then just negotiate who does ‘some leading’ and ‘some following’ within each partnership. I don’t 100% dig on this, just as I don’t 100% dig on much of the ambidancetrous discourse floating about, particularly within the blues and fusion scenes.

I personally feel that within lindy hop, as a dance out of history, there are specific biomechanic, structural, and role-related qualities which defining leading and following. So while a follow may initiate a move or rhythm, I believe that ‘leading’ – being a lead – is about initiating and suggesting movements. The individual lead may enact this potential in different ways – from the leader who really asks the follow to do as they ask, to the leader who assumes a more open role of suggesting movements or shapes or speeds that the follow then chooses (or chooses not to) execute.
I believe that the acts of leading and following are different. And within lindy hop, we give those ‘leading’ elements to the leader role, and the following elements to the follow role. These have been historically gendered, but I am not on board with any bullshit about women being innately ‘better’ at following or men innately ‘better’ at leading. That’s patently not true.

My own physical understanding of leading is that it is not like following. I believe leaders in lindy hop have a different relationship to the beat than follows. They tend to be closer to the beat, while the follow is a little behind. By the nature of ‘following’. Though of course decent jazz dancers can adjust and play with this relationship to time and the beat. And should!
here are various characteristics of led and followed movement that mean the lead is often the pivot point or centre of a smaller point of rotation than follows (though obviously not always). As an example, the follow and lead move around a shared pivot point, and when things are working well, both move equal amounts. But many traditional or ‘heritage’ lindy hop moves or figures use the lead as a physical pivot point.
Leads often do more movement on a vertical plane, and follows more on a horizontal. I feel a bit shaky on this one, as this is purely a regional cultural thing, or specific to particular historical dancers. eg Jewel McGowan’s swivels rotate on a horizontal plain, while Frankie Manning’s swing out often uses a very vertical layout where he kicks back behind him. But it’s hard to pin this one down, as we can immediately think of a hundred exceptions to this rule. I wonder as well if the way we operate on vertical and horizontal planes is more informed by the biomechanics of particular lifestyles and particular cultural agents and individuals, than by some essential physics. In other words, we all live such individual lives and lifestyles with such unique bodies, and so few of us operate at our physical peak or potential, that our dancing cannot help but be individual and defy grouping at a very essential level.

Specific leads like Frankie Manning use the space within the reach of their own arms as ‘their space’ on the dance floor that they share with their partners, and while they are aware of and work with their partner’s body and reach and limits, this ‘space’ is primarily defined by the way the lead suggests and initiates movement within that specific range. The space might move across the floor, but is defined by that particular person’s body, range of motion, step size, gait, etc etc etc. When things are working well, it fits the lead and follow well, and a lead makes adjustments to their dancing and space to accommodate the follow and their creative expression and physical presence.

But let’s set all that aside. This is all stuff that I’m wading through in my own brain, mostly in relation to my own dancing. I have been lindy hopping for twenty years now, and I don’t suck. But I am certainly not operating anywhere near my physical peak, nor do I make best use of my body’s potential. I don’t train, I don’t care a heap about technical accuracy, and I tend to be driven my music and improvisation than by making an effort to refine what I do. So I tend to dance in a way that gets the job done for me, now. So the way I lead now is not the way I led when I was 23. I’m older, fatter, less fit, and more ornery now. But I’m also a better dancer now, and more efficient in my movements (because lazy), and I have pilates and yoga and lots of other experience under my belt.
But in my experience, following uses my body in different ways than leading. I have a different connection with the ground in each role. And most importantly (and elusively), my muscles and unconscious physical responses are completely different when I lead and follow. So if you look at my body and the way my muscles are engaged or look ‘in neutral’ as a lead vs as a follow, they’re completely different. I find that if I work on one role intensively, avoiding the other, I get much better at that role. And my unconscious reactions change. If I then swap bak (especially if I’m going from leading to following), my following tends to suck a bit. I tend to take the initiative more, initiating movements in a way a follow doesn’t. Because it interrupts what the lead is doing.
So I don’t know if my opinion on all this is just anecdata limited by sample size of one human’s first hand experience.

Which is exactly my point. Each human’s experience is the most important thing in their world.

So when my friend makes their point about leading and following being skills rather than innate qualities, they are mapping their own lived experience onto lindy hop. And that is vitally important. To make that statement is so, so important. Because it is a lived expression of their sense of self and of identity.
And there is nothing we can say that can make that untrue, or to disprove that.

So while I might go on and on about how leading and following are completely different, it doesn’t make my friend’s points any less true.

And I quite like that. I find it quite exciting to hold that idea in my head: my ideas can be 100% true at the same time as my friend’s somewhat contradictory ideas can also be 100% true.

This gets even more interesting when we look at a reply to this post from a black American woman. She and my friend discuss this issue in the most civil, most interesting conversation. They have fundamentally different understandings/experiences of identity, but they are listening and discussing. And both understand that these two different approaches are both valid and ‘true’, may conflict in theory, but in practice can quite happily live alongside each other on the dance floor.
Here are some excerpts from the second person’s responses:

I can’t disagree more. They are roles for a reason. Just because I have a voice as follow doesn’t make me “leading”. It means I have voice. Equal but different voice. Being able to do both is valid but saying they’re are no rules only dancing is not how this dance works. There are fundamental ideas of what makes a dance in black culture and how our culture shows up in them. Changing that is creating a new, and valid, but different dance.

The roles are tied to what you do in the world. I would never disrespect my partner by doing their time and ignoring my responsibilities as a follow.

If you take that out, it might as well be a dance from a different culture and therefore different rules and values. Aka a different dance

I dance both roles equally and teach with out gender (mostly blues now but hey). I have found most people who desire to share movement initiation either 1 feel like bored/limited in following and want to affect the dance more or 2 they are trying to upend the “follow is passive” concept. But both issues stop existing if you approach the rules in the cultural context of those who created it. I love all that comes with leading and all that comes with following. But I feel no need to mix them. My teammate/partner has that covered in this dance. A dance with different values and my feelings change

This is how I got to that post Muddling through thoughts about ethnicity and dance and gender. Alex had chimed in to say “I think there’s a lot of room for reasonable people to disagree on this”. And I agree with him. As I was writing that previous post, I was struck by just how comprehensively my experience and understanding of lindy hop is informed by my experiences as a white middle class woman living in urban Australia in the late 20th and early 21st century. I could see the privilege just leaking out of the screen each time I wrote ‘we’ when what I should have written was ‘me.’

For me, lindy hop is, ultimately, a discourse. It is a place and site and act of discussion and negotiation of ideology – ideas about the world. And some of those ideologies do not play well with others. In my brain, the part of me that did all that work on discourse analysis and models of public discourse for my phd, it’s ok for all these ideas to swirl about. It’s ok for me because being able to float along with conflicting ideas is a marker of privilege. My own lived experience isn’t disavowed by a genderflex understanding of leading and following.
But for a black woman, dancing today, a dance that developed in the social spaces of her people, her community, has gender and roles informed by that community. Because making these differences and distinctions disappear is an act of colonialism. Of oppression. It is exactly the sort of work that slavery did to suppress black culture on plantations and in domestic servitude. So I cannot and will not argue with a black American woman who is telling me what lindy hop is and means. I won’t even say “I can accept that and still hold my own beliefs, even in they disagree.” I simply have to shut up and accept this story about the way things are, this truth. Because it is a radical act of allydom to stop telling your own story, and to stop occupying public discourse. To cede it to the words and stories of another.

I think that this is the best bit. At the same time as I take this position, I can also believe that the genderflex approach to leading and following is true. Because I believe that when we dance, when we tell these stories, we make it true. And we need to keep telling and retelling our stories, which change and grow as we do. So if I want to believe my own ideas about dance, I have to get out there and dance them. And when I’m teaching – which is the key part of this whole thing – I have a duty and responsibility to remember the black history of these dances and tell these stories. Which is why I don’t think we should abandon the original names of historic jazz steps. Why I think we should namecheck OGs.
So when I teach, I let students figure out how they want to think about these issues. I can set them up with information about how to find out more about ideas – who to talk to about black dance history, which OGs were dancing when and were – but I definitely won’t tell them how to think about it.

At the end of the day, though, I think that genderflex and black American stories about lindy hop have much more in common with each other than with the dominant white patriarchal stories about lindy hop. They are both operating from positions of resistance, and lindy hop is very good for resistance and transgression.

More power to you all, sisters.

Where I fall in love with jazz all over again.

I’m going to go on and on about the music at Little Big Weekend 2017 for quite a long time, so best to give you some facts.


Andrew Dickeson and I are big jazz nerds, who love swinging jazz and live in the same neighbourhood. So we’ve been collaborating on putting together live music programs for dancers that make musicians happy. Which means we go to each other’s houses and argue about which songs we should play (ever tried to narrow your favourites down to a dozen?), argue about whether cats or dogs are better, and sigh over Duke Ellington.

We began working on these projects in 2014 at Jazz BANG, a solo jazz weekend here in Sydney. And we’ve done a zillion gigs since. Each gig we seem to pick up another musician who almost cryfeels about the experience of working on this type of music with this band leader, and this crowd. And each gig we see more musos flying or driving to Sydney to be part of it.
You must understand that all these musicians are trained professionals who’ve been playing for years and years, and have recorded heaps of music. Ones like Bob Henderson have been playing since the 50s. Andrew is a lecturer at the most prestigious tertiary institute for music in Australia – the Sydney Conservatorium of Music – where he teaches jazz history. Georgia is a hardcore dancer, teacher, and performer, as well as a trained musician, vocal teacher and performer.

To my mind, the success of the Blue Rhythm Band lies in the relationship between the band leader Andrew Dickeson, and his bff Brad Child. Andrew is a drummer who knows when not to play. He doesn’t bang pots in the kitchen; he places cups and plates on the table, moves them around, rearranges the flowers so everyone can see. When the band sets up on stage, he’s right in the middle, where he can see everyone. And where everyone can see and hear him. So Andrew brings structure, clarity, and direction to the band.

Brad is more about the feels. Standing near the band (or sometimes right in the middle of it when I’m working), you can hear Brad yelling out things like “There, now, I’m going in!” and then pumping the energy. Or, “Back off, back it off, nice and gentle!” He has the sort of unerring ear and eye for energy and vibe which I’ve only seen in one or two exceptional DJs. It’s truly a rare talent. He’s not just watching the crowd, he’s feeling the crowd, and the band, and he’s bringing them all together, on a very nice trip through jazz.

When you add responsive, clever, talented musicians to that pair, you get a lovely, vibrant, powerful band. A solid group who take improvisational risks, but are still very solid. Sound. Or, if you’re thinking about lindy hop, this band has very tight rhythms, excellent timing, but knows that it’s ok to relax and just improvise around simple shapes rather than trying to jam complex figures into one dance. And they know how to look at their partners. :D

But this weekend was the most ambitious. I was collaborating with Sharon Hanley on the dancing parts. Sharon is a long-time balboa nut, and she was bringing some very good balboa dancers to town, dancers strongly rooted in the history of the dance, and who understand swinging jazz. I was bringing two teachers who are all about lindy hop and solo jazz dances. Also very much informed by jazz dance history. Sharon and I run separate dance businesses in Sydney – Swing Time Australia (Sharon), and Swing Dance Sydney (me). These businesses focus on our dance and musical interests. We’ve worked together lots of times in the past, mostly on DJing, and on running parties. This was our first large project together.

It never occurred to us that balboa and lindy hop couldn’t have fun together on the same dance floor. It’s the same music, right? Solid, swinging jazz. After all, when we DJ together, we’re into the same music. And it never occurred to us that east coast influenced swing dances (lindy hop, balboa, shag) couldn’t sit well with Harlem-centred swing dances (lindy hop, solo, tap, etc). After all, that’s how Sydney works: all these dances play well together at our parties and live music gigs.

For me, it’s the music that makes the point of all this. Working with musicians, musicians working together, dancers working together. It’s all about improvisation, playing games, having fun, and just being filled up by that good sound. Andrew and I have just had so much fun doing these parties, and we just LOVE the music so much, and the relaxed fun of social dancing with live music, we just figure: let’s do MORE!
I want to do more and more and more of this. I can see how it could become addictive. I can see how musicians have problems with drugs – uppers to keep you going. Downers to help you finally sleep. Putting together a few little shows for the weekend, I just thought ‘Ha! There are some serious talents coming, I’ll just set it up and let them go!’ and then we set it up, and let them go, and it was amazing. Musicians and dancers. I really do love this approach to events and dancing: get some solid framework in place, then let people improvise on top. And make sure everyone has a lot of fun and feels good and safe. Amongst friends.

So what did we actually do?

Friday: the usual Blue Rhythm Band line up (Brad Child (sax), Peter Locke (piano), Mark Elton (bass), Andrew (drums), Georgia Brooks (vocals).
AND we did a little introduction performance where we introduced our artists (musicians and dancers (Marie N’diaye, Anders Sihlberg, Kate Hedin, Bobby White)) one at a time. It was SPLENDID.

I had a few goals with this performance.
1. I wanted to place the musicians right in there on the same level as our guest teachers. I wanted dancers to see them, know their names, and hear how they added to the band. So we did a ‘Now you has jazz‘ style intro, where we began with Andrew, then literally had the musicians walk in one at at time and start playing. When that bass hit. WOW. The room just LEAPT. I couldn’t believe how effective it was.
2. I wanted to really begin the weekend, not just have it stagger up to speed. So we had a bit of mellow music, lots of snacks and drinks and conversation as people arrived, and THEN we introduced the band and the teachers.
3. I wanted the vocalist (Georgia) to introduce everyone, and to sing. Which was just magical. When she sang that chorus of Honeysuckle Rose, we just sighed.
4. I wanted a well known song that feels nice. Honeysuckle Rose is a lovely song, about loving someone. It’s my favourite. And it can be funny. So it’s perfect for an intro.

This just went off so well. I loved it. I was so happy. Such talented artists!

Saturday: we got super ambitious. Because this Little Big Weekend is a balboa/lindy hop event, we had two bands. We had a swinging combo (Brad, Peter, Mark, Andrew, Bob Henderson (trumpet), Chuck Morgan (guitar)). Adding a guitar: the band was pretty much perfect.
THEN we decided to get all Benny Goodman on our crowd (because balboa dancers – and everyone sensible) loves Goodman’s small group. VIBRAMAPHONE! (Glenn Henrick) and Brad played clarinet.
THIS was pretty freaking amazing. Vibraphones! It’s a magical instrument. I had no idea just how wonderful it sounds in a big room. It just feels all velvety and vibratey, and you can almost feel it on your skin. In the band, it just sort of filled in all the gaps in the music, softening the edges and really feeling like that gorgeous mushy-strong feeling of a good connection between partners.

But then it got better.

ALL the musicians were on stage together, not playing from charts, but paying close attention to Andrew’s leadership, and listening very carefully to each other.

The huge, ugly 70s ballroom (with amazing acoustics and raised seating for non-dancing punters, and a full bar) was just crammed with happy people and great music. Musicians brought their friends and family, and we had a very good time.

With this night, I wanted to really marry the two dances (balboa and lindy hop), by making it clear that we really did love the same music. While Goodman’s small groups are popular with balboa dancers, it’s also wonderful for lindy hop.
And when the band played a beautiful ballad (Moonglow!) people didn’t think ‘oh no, I don’t blues dance!’ they said (SHOUTED in some cases), “I LOVE THIS SONG!” and then just found a person and just enjoyed the song.

…thinking about it now is making me tear up. It was quite magical.

SUNDAY the band was pared back to the Blue Rhythm Band format again, and we just danced and danced.
But first we did a little ‘story of jazz’ performance, where the band showed us how jazz changed from the 20s to the 50s, and our guest teachers showed us how the dancing changed. Tap. Balboa. Pure bal. Bal swing. Lindy hop. Charleston. Breakaway. All of it. And at the end, we all got up and swung out to Shiny Stockings, and some people cried.

Here, my plan was:
1. Make it clear that the music literally comes first,
2. Show that the dance styles may be different, but they’re still the same in that they listen to the music.
3. Invite everyone onto the dance floor together. Literally. We ended with Shiny Stockings, and when I said, “And in the 50s, band leaders like Basie reminded us to dance together… so if you feel the urge, join in and dance with us,” everyone leapt to their feet and danced. It was a very special moment.

One of the best bits happened next. We were doing this as a snowball, to make sure we had everyone feeling welcome. But I added ‘slow motion!’ and ‘Freeze!’ and ‘snowball’ as calls. At first I could hear the musicians saying to each other, “What’re we doing?” and replying “Snowball means change partners!” and then they all got INTO it. When I called ‘freeze!’ the second time, the band literally froze. And then we picked up in perfect time. And everyone in the room laughed and cheered. It was totally improvised, but it felt really, really good. Because we were improvising and playing a game.

Things I loved about the weekend:
– The band was so good, everyone danced to any old song. They don’t worry about speed or who they’re dancing with; they just get up and have some fun.
– The floor was full of all the dances. Balboa, lindy hop, solo, shag, people just holding hands and swaying.
– the noise level from the crowd. Shouting out to the musicians, talking, laughing, cheering, clapping, whooping, hollering.
– the musicians’ massive smiley faces, and the way they’d talk to the dancers or yell out to each other.

This song Benny’s Bugle is important, because the original Goodman small group included Benny Goodman, Cootie Williams, George Auld, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Harry Jaeger. So Basie’s powerhouse rhythm section got together with Goodman’s perfectionist control, and then they made an amazing song. There are some very interesting outtakes from this recording session, available on box sets like Charlie Christian:Genius of the Electric Guitar. And you can listen to it on youtube here.

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band is strongly influenced by Basie’s rhythm section. And we all know how lindy hoppers feel about Basie. Goodman is just perfect for balboa, because he has that precise, clever instrumentation matched with a glorious swinging timing. That’s balboa, right?

So this song is important: balboa and lindy hop = <3