Patterns in behaviour: towards a discursive understanding of sexual harassment in dance

[note: this is a discussion that began as a fb post, then outgrew itself as I commented on my own post zillions of times.]

The list of people I’ve blocked on fb over the years correlates with the list of men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and harassment. This behaviour doesn’t happen in isolated incidents.

As R said on fb, “Scary stuff!”
…and yet kind of helpful. We can learn to identify the common traits of offenders.
This is one reason why we should be asking questions about events that don’t pay workers, don’t provide clear, written terms of employment/agreements, and don’t address other issues of equity and justice.

There is also often a correlation between exploiting workers (whether volunteers, paid employees, or contractors) and sexual harassment and assault. Which makes sense when you think of harassment and assault as being about power and control, instead of just being about sex (or even being about sex at all).
I’ve also noted that an insistence on not writing down terms and agreements also correlates with exploitation and harassment. If you don’t write down the terms of the agreement, then the worker (or the less powerful person in the relationship) can’t refer back to it to respond to questionable behaviour. It is much easier to gaslight someone (“It didn’t happen! You’re imagining it! You’re overreacting! It was just a joke!”) if you don’t have a clearly articulated list of what the job does and does not involve.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I actually explain what we define as sexual harassment in our code of conduct. So that people who just ‘have a feeling’ can follow up those ‘feelings’ with reference to a list of specific behaviours. When you have a list like this, and it’s in writing, and available to everyone, it’s much harder for someone to gaslight you, or pass off their behaviour as a ‘misunderstanding’.

I really like a code of conduct to be very specific.
And why I insist that people read it before they accept a job with me. If they read it, then we all know what’s on and what’s not on. And we remove that airy-fairy, amorphous confusion that benefits the people with social power (eg the power to physically intimidate).

A code of conduct is a way of empowering less powerful people. It gives them the tools to articulate their concerns, and to say, “Hey! STOP! I don’t like that!”

If you rely on ‘common sense’ or ‘the rule of law’ to determine how dancers treat each other, you assume that all parties have the same ‘common sense’ or the same understanding of the law and willingness to abide by this.
Which is obviously not the case.
In my case, I don’t think ‘the law’ actually does a good enough job of articulating behaviour I think is wrong or inappropriate. Nor does it deter men from offending.
And because dancers come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and share different values, we don’t have a ‘common’ sense of how we should treat each other. And it’s patently obvious that offenders do think it’s ok to harass and assault people.
So we need a clear outline of these values or sense or laws.

The truly terrifying thing is that I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a network of mutual protection between male offenders in the lindy hop scene.
As J said on fb, “I want so badly for you to be wrong about this…” Me too. But it’s logical. In many cases offenders don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong, so they don’t quash that behaviour in other men, and don’t manage their events to prevent it.

These thoughts were prompted by my going through my events for the rest of the year, and my DJing and traveling for next year. What are my limits as a punter and DJ. What events will I avoid? Do I need a written agreement and code of conduct to attend an event? If there is no explicit code, what sort of broader set of guidelines and strategies will I accept in substitute? If I do refuse to hire known offenders, how do I find out who these offenders are, if women are unwilling to publicise this knowledge, for fear of their own safety? And how do I develop the networks that can help provide this information?

All terribly cheering thoughts in this last, busy part of the dancing year.

The cruel and the brutal; the brave and the kind

A very clever and articulate friend with a very gentle heart wrote a interesting fb post about alternative approaches to the state regulation of drugs. He wrote:

The US initiated War on Drugs was designed to criminalise the black and the brown and the poor. …It also militarised police forces, turning them in to the occupiers of poor neighbourhoods and probably now the not so poor too. We see that in the plague of police killings across the US and the cancerous gun culture that sustains it. It also promoted the worst forms of masculinity, the cruel and the brutal.

That last sentence really moved me: it “promoted the worst forms of masculinity, the cruel and the brutal.” I think a lot about masculinity and men, particularly lately as I’m writing and thinking about women’s safety at dance events. We talk a lot about how to ‘keep women safe’, when I think we should be thinking about men. I get so angry, feel so frustrated, I find it difficult to by sympathetic to men, to whom patriarchy is just as unkind.

In this post, my friend was writing about the relationship between national schemes to criminalise drug use and users, and the way it recruited white men and objectified black men. The way it asked white men to become brutal and violent, and pushed black men to violence. It all seems too relevant today, when American police kill so many black men ‘for looking bad’, and Australia police leave black men to die in the back of police cars or in prison cells. Men are forced to be so brutal, to women, and to each other.

I was struck by this sentence in this post, because this friend is a long time queer activist, practicing catholic, and profoundly spiritual person. He was one of the very best tutors I ever had at uni during my BA, and is one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met. He has worked in various community health projects, volunteering with the very ill, the very poor, the very needy. He was an inspiring force to be around when I was 19 and living in backwards Brisbane in the 80s and 90s. I learnt so much from his radical politics and truly kind, generous heart. His bravery, as an openly gay man in Brisbane at that time, was inspiring. His example continues to teach me to speak out, stand up, and give a shit, no matter what the risk.

Anyhoo, I wrote this comment on his post:

I teach dance, partner dance, and see a lot of men come to classes, struggling to express any emotion that isn’t a rough sort of humour. Our classes are very gentle. We have two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner, and an implied third rule: take care of yourself. So the only time we step in and give very clear direction is when we see someone being rough with a partner, or stepping on someone.

And when we ask them to ‘find the groove’ in the music, and put it in their bellies, I see men, particularly middle aged men, struggle to find and then plant in their belly something in the music that brings them joy. These men are always looking for other rules or other things to do in class: where to put their feet, how to move their arms, when to start dancing. We usually say ‘put your feet wherever they need to be to get you to your destination’, or ‘let your arms relax, and hold your partner in your arms’, and ‘start when you feel ready’.

These men can’t just relax and enjoy holding someone in their arms, enjoying music together. It makes me so sad that it takes them so long to relax enough to feel safe just moving their bodies in a way that isn’t linked to violence or aggression. But when we do find men who stick with it, and enjoy dancing and treating women and other men with respect, it’s such a joy. They just light up inside. I think that it makes them so happy to see their bodies as a source of happiness and kindness, and find a place where being gentle man is valued so highly.

I do enjoy following you on fb.

Learning by doing; teaching by learning.

Damon Stone linked up this post, On Kinesthetic Teaching Part I by Cierra (August 26, 2016). Damon introduced the post by saying,

So similar to my own experience.

Both Damon and Cierra are African American, or as Cierra puts it, Black American. I think it’s important to note the way both Damon and Cierra place ethnic and cultural identity right there are the front of this discussion. This is a story about race, about culture, about People, about cultural practice, cultural values, and about identity. It says, ‘These are Black American dances. We are Black Americans.’
The ownership, the cultural positioning is very important. Because, as Cierra’s post continues, dances like blues or lindy hop or vernacular jazz have been appropriated by not-Black-American communities all over the world, and commodified by not-Black-American teachers and schools. As a white woman, I think it’s important to remember ownership, to do things like show appreciation by asking permission, or signifying respect by listening. And I have long felt that the way we share dance knowledge reflects relationships of power. If I package up a dance and sell it, I am appropriating it for my cultural and financial gain. If I position the dance in particular ways through my teaching methods, I am appropriating the dance for a particular ideology and social discourse.

For me, lindy hop is social discourse. It is ideas in motion. And that means, if I am do to good feminism, if I am to show respect for this dance’s origins, I need to be cognisant of my own privilege and social power. I also see it as a responsibility to name check the creators and creating communities of these dances. I need to remember who my elders are, and who (to borrow from indigenous Australian discourse) the traditional custodians of culture are. I think that the least I can do is rework my teaching practices to destabilise the power and authority of a middle class, white woman’s body. And to remind students of their own power and ability.

I’m sorry that I responded to this post by telling a story about me. I should have just let that original post stand, and said ‘yes!’ as loudly as I could. But, well, I didn’t. Anyway, here is the comment I wrote on Damon’s post. Thank you for writing the original post, Cierra, and thank you for drawing it to my attention, Damon.

I wish there was a follow up post on this topic I could read immediately. It was very interesting, and I want MORE!

To refer to some comments responding to Damon’s post, I don’t take the ‘kinaesthetic teaching’ title as a specific signpost that this post is about Gardener’s ‘multiple intelligences’ learning theory (which has been thoroughly disputed). Instead, I think it’s a good way of saying, “Hello! Look out, this post will talk about learning-by-doing; teachers encouraging students to try/learn through encouraging them to value their own experiences and judgement (‘you know what cooked chicken looks like’); and student-centredness.” In other words, students learn by getting in and trying it, valuing their own observations, rather than being ‘told’ the answer, reinforcing verbal learning/teaching.
I think the references to ‘european teaching traditions’ foreground ethnicity in learning and cultural practice.

I especially like this bit in the article: by using this alternative teaching model,

Students learn to be empowered, how to focus on the music, how to relax, be athletic, work in partnership, own their ideas and how to be dancers and not just to follow a pattern.

To me, this clearly articulates the way dance classes and dance spaces can be agents for social justice. Social, vernacular dance is radical. And exciting. So beautifully accessible.

Which very much echoes much of the literature which critiques traditional classroom models in western teaching practice. ie a class where the teacher is the authority and centre, a model of teaching where teachers ‘inject’ knowledge into a student’s blank-canvas brain (therefore making teachers the source of all knowledge), and a classroom model where students sit silently (metaphorically) in rows, facing a teacher/blackboard.

We’ve been experimenting with some of these methods in our lindy hop classes, and one of the most interesting points in Cierra’s article resonates with things I’ve noticed in class. Some students really struggle with a class model where they’re expected to learn through trying, and not given a quick, concise answer to their question by a teacher-authority. I see older white men in particular really struggle with developing cooperative learning/experimenting skills, I see them get frustrated by not having a single, definitive answer, and we regularly have to signpost their progress so they don’t get shitty.
In contrast, we see women, POC, and younger people enjoy the fact that we say (in response to questions) things like, “Hey, that’s an interesting question. Can you all take some time with the music now and work with your partner to see what you think?” and then we put on the music, and just let them figure it out for themselves. When we then bring them together, they give multiple (and often conflicting) reports, and we say, “Oh yes. I think all of those answers are correct,” some students really struggle with this. They want to know the RIGHT way to do things! They want to know exactly how to hold their partner’s hand, where to put their feet.
And I think this is because they don’t trust themselves to know what to do. Which makes me so sad: we know how to hold hands! We know how to embrace someone! We know how to walk! We know how to enjoy music!

For me, as a teacher, the hardest part has been unlearning a lot of the learning and teaching skills I had from working in universities: I’ve had to step back and let students figure out how to do things on their own, rather than jumping in to ‘correct’ them all the time. It’s really hard. I’m having to work very hard on not working so hard in class :D
The very best consequence for me is that I find teaching far more fun, and less stressful, and students are more likely to ask me to dance or hang out with me like a buddy. They don’t teach me like an unreachable TEACHER. And as a person in class with students, I find classes a really valuable learning opportunity. I’ve learnt so much about dancing since I started teaching. And I love it.

Fundamental disagreements

I’m part of a very good facebook group about teaching lindy hop and swing dance, and there was a recent question about ‘heavy’ following, which referenced this 2010 article of Bobby White’s.
My first response was this:

One day someone will write an article about the heavy/light lead, and we’ll get to argue about whether or not it’s too do with men’s physical weight, physics, or their just not being a very good dancer.

…i’m sorry to be so snarky in such a friendly forum, but honestly. This discussion tires and depresses me.

While Bobby has updated his post with a little disclaimer, his post still circulates in the lindy hop community, frequently touted as an important or useful source of information. Me, I think it’s total rubbish. Questions about ‘heavy follows’ are rooted in a fundamentally unhelpful and flawed understanding of partner dancing. It is, as I’ve ranted elsewhere, based on the assumption that lindy hop is about successfully completing a series of moves. Leading them ‘well’ and following them ‘well’ for a ‘good dance’. In this context, if you can’t perfectly ‘follow’ the lead’s leading, you are a ‘bad follow’. This sort of thinking leads to nights where follows stand around the dance floor moaning that there are ‘no leads’, when there are in fact plenty of leads, it’s just that they are looking for leads who can set out a perfect sequence of moves for them to complete. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to women competing with each other for dances with particular men (yes, women do actually queue up around the edges of the dance floor), with big-headed leads convinced that they are the fucking business because they have these queues. It leads to the myth that we have a ‘lead shortage’ or, worse, ‘too many follows’, which in turn leads to bullshit registration deals for events, where leads receive cheaper registrations, or more flexible registration deadlines.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know that I’ve really moved away from this idea of leading and following. If we stop thinking of a ‘good dance’ as a sequence of moves perfectly executed, then we can start thinking about a ‘good dance’ as one where we have just two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner.

More importantly:

The term ‘heavy follow’ is profoundly sexist, places the power in the lead-follow dynamic firmly with the lead (who is usually male), and prioritises moving across the floor, performing a sequence of inflexible moves ‘perfectly’.

I think it’s fucked up, and I refuse to accept it as in any way legit.

But I think my immediate response to the post (which I’ve quoted above) wasn’t productive in this particular group, where the values we espouse in our jazz-centred dancing carry on into a discussion based on kindness, mutual respect, and listening to one another. So I apologised.

I did write a long comment in response, but when you find your comment is too long to fit in one comment on facebook, you know it’s time to write a blog post.

Interestingly, it seems Anaïs was writing a response at the exact same time I was. A post which sets out many of my own values, but in a much more gentle, productive way. Anaïs Sékiné’s lovely post about leading and following and dance as collaboration, is a nice alternative to the ‘heavy’ follow paradigm. I recommend reading it. It’s full of good feels.

But here is the long comment I wrote on facebook, but didn’t manage to post:

I don’t accept the premise of the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow.
I think it encourages a focus on moves-based dancing, rather than rhythm-based dancing. I also think it makes us focus on moving across the floor and executing moves perfectly, rather than listening to the music and connecting with another human being.

I’ve been thinking about my own dancing a lot lately, as I’ve done a few very useful and interesting workshops this year (Herräng most recently, but also the Little Big Weekend in May with Jenny and Rikard, and Snowball classes in December 2015). These, and the work I did last year, as well as lots of interesting talk in that facebook teaching group, and with my co-teachers, have been really inspiring. My general focus has been on simple shapes and solid rhythms, and is connected by the content and focus of the Frankie and Harlem Roots streams at Herräng in 2014 and 2015. I’ve also been inspired by Lennart Westerlund’s approach to teaching and learning.

Thinking about my own dancing hasn’t just been about getting my shit together (ongoing project, right?). It’s also about improving my dancing and understanding of what I do so that I can be a better teacher. And this in turn helps me improve my own dancing. I see my own limitations reflected in my teaching and hence in my students’ dancing: I’ve been thinking about how to dance faster, more relaxed, and with interesting rhythms at all tempos.

RE the swing out in particular, and how to make it work if one partner isn’t moving as fast as needed.
As a lead, my first response would be to change my plans. I don’t need a swing out to be a 360* turn. It can be 180* or 90* or any old degrees, fitting into the space on the floor, working with my partner, and the music.
I think this is the most important thing: leads need to work more actively with their partner. This is why I think we need to talk about ‘active leads’ rather than ‘active follows’: leads need to be able to change their swing outs and respond to what’s happening with their partner. Not just get cranky if a follow is ‘too slow’ to make the lead’s preferred swing out ‘work’.
1) Teaching translation: we say that to our beginners in week 1: You don’t have to have rules about the angle you cover. Just aim to be open, in closed, then in open. They immediately stress less.

My second response would be: am I asking the follow to move too far? My current bugbear is leads who ask the follow to go three million miles away in open, but still somehow run in and get around 360*, all at a million bpm. With this sort of swing out, the follows end up super fast and strong (in their bodies), but also more likely to send themselves miles away from their partners. So you get a kind of flattened out rhythm, where the emphasis is on horizontal movement across the floor, rather than a more nuanced rhythm-as-movement using different planes. I also see a lack of good, relaxed, swinging timing. There’s a lot of rushing, with a rhythmic emphasis on the extremes of the move – 3 and 4 in closed, and 7-8 in open. This emphasis often starts to look like a ‘dead spot’ where there’s a hold in the rhythm. Which is totally ok, but begins to ignore the music if it happens on every swing out.

So I fix this by staying closer to my partner, at all points of the swing out (closed and open). Rhythmically: I don’t go flat when the follow is in open – the rhythm I keep provides the timing for how long a follow should be traveling. And time = distance here.
2) Teaching translation: look at your partner; keep dancing leads, don’t stop when the follow goes into open. Don’t think of the rhythm as sets of 8, but as a continuous rhythm with the music.

My third and most important response: am I hauling arse? If a lead stands on the spot and asks the follow to do all the moving, then it’s twice as hard as it needs to be. If a lead steps up and moves their bodies, then the follow needs to cover half as much distance. If you stay closer together, then you can halve that distance again. And this means you have more time in the music for fun.
As a lead: I need step up and haul arse. I really need to hustle.
3) Teaching translation: leads, haul arse. Move your body. Do not let the rhythm drop. Everyone learns a new rhythm on their own first. Everyone has to carry the groove; it’s a shared rhythm. (all this keeps bodies active)

My fourth response: how am I oriented to my partner?
This is my current issue. I am trying to aim for a 3/4 profile for my partner. I describe this as the ‘perfect instagram selfie pose’ to our students: you want a 3/4 profile, and you want your weight on one foot, rather than split. If your butt’s out, then you are immediately ready to rumble. Or leap out from the blocks and beat Usain Bolt.
I am trying to stop myself ‘squaring up’ to my partner, because it’s inefficient, and makes it harder to recruit the bigger muscles that help me haul arse. It also lets your arms relax, and encourages an efficient weight change. A squared up profile is harder (this is 100% Rikard teaching btw).
4) Teaching Translation: 3/4 instagram perfect profile.

Fifth: I also try to be more ‘alert’ in my connection when we get into open. This is helped by having that 3/4 profile.
I use that triple step at the end of a swing out or move to say ‘Hello, I am ending the swing out earlier, I think, so please listen to see what happens next – we can choose something else to do.’
If I just go ‘dead’ or ‘limp’ in my arm as the follow gets out (at about 6), then the follow feels no signal, so they often just continue that last message or momentum I suggested. I’m not talking about ‘tension’ or any of that stuff – I’m talking about facing my partner, about moving my body, etc.
5) Teaching translation: leads, don’t let that rhythm or groove drop. Both partners – watch them move away from you, and be ready. Because you don’t know what jazz they’ll bring (a practical beginner exercise is just having them do a call and response jazz step – so as they move into open, one does a jazz step, and the other echoes it for 8 counts – they naturally have to watch each other, and stay closer together).

Sixth: out with the butts.
The other thing that’s important (when I’m following), is to not send myself so far away from my partner, and to check my posture. We’ve been talking to our intermediates about this – ‘out with the butts’ as eWa says. If you have your butt out, as a follow (but not sitting down into the shape), and you come out of a swing out sideways (ie the lead lets go earlier and doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out with their left arm), then you are more engaged in your glutes, etc, and in a more athletic posture that helps you respond faster, or move faster, or just plain bring the shit.
Out with the butts is very important coming out of a swing out for follows. It stops them leading groin first (which makes it harder to balance or control yourself).
6) Teaching translation: out with the butts. Practical exercise: anything Frankie related.

Seventh: feel the love.
Asa and Daniel were crapping on about this in Herräng: get closer to your partner in closed. Treat it like an embrace. So they didn’t do this squaring up thing where the follows grip the lead’s bicep and clamp the lead’s right arm with their elbow. Instead they moved closer together. Learning from so many first gen revivalists in the Harlem Roots stream at Herräng stream, two things were made very clear: closed position is much closer (in a v-shape, where the follow’s arm can be further around the lead’s shoulder, and the lead’s arm further around the follow’s back). This embrace makes it easier to feel what your partner is doing with their body, too.
The second thing: follows are much more likely to do stuff like just go into open if they were sick of closed. Catrine, eWa, Asa – all those Swedes who worked with Frankie. None of them were worried about ‘backleading’ or ‘hijacking’. If they didn’t like a move, they just didn’t do it. And their leads were all 100% ok with this – they just saw it as normal. This signalled a fundamental shift in lindy hop ideology in the mid 2000s in America in particular: lindy hop follows stopped seeing this ‘just don’t do it’ as ok. They saw their goal as ‘follow perfectly’. To me, this is the most important point, the absolute total point of all this: FOLLOWS DON’T HAVE TO AIM TO ‘FOLLOW PERFECTLY’. Being a ‘good follow’ doesn’t mean ‘do exactly what the lead asks, perfectly and quickly.’ Being a ‘good follow’ means ‘go with your feels.’ Trust yoself.
7) Teaching Translation: when you’re in closed, check in with how you’re touching your partner. Ask them if this is ok. Remember that the way you touch your partner sends them information (eg the claw of panic from follows; the floating weirdo right hand from leads). If it doesn’t feel ok, tell your partner.

For me, these things have made lindy hop much easier: don’t move so far from my partner; feel the love in the embrace; out with the butts; perfect instagram selfie pose; take more time to feel the groove before you start dancing; clear rhythms.

Just in the few weeks since we’ve been back from Herräng and focussing on these things, we’ve seen massive changes in our students’ dancing. They can dance much faster, and have greater freedom to improvise.

I don’t worry about ‘follows being heavy’ because it’s simply not an issue. I don’t even recognise it as a thing.
I do worry much, much more about leads who don’t haul arse. I think the lazy arse lead is a much bigger issue than the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow. I also get very cranky about leads who never look at their follows: it makes for bad connection, bad vibes, and dancing that focuses on horizontal momentum rather than good solid rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response. ie jazz.

…having said that, if a lead is physically slower or older or infirm or fragile (as with our lovely Extremely Elderly student), then hauling arse isn’t the issue. He has mad rhythm skills (tap dancer!), so the follows have to figure out how to make this work with him. Much more important skill set.

As Anaïs says in her gorgeous post,

Lindy hopping is about sharing through dancing and through jazz. That’s our common language. The rest is up to each and everyone of us.

As Lennart says,

…it is a very simple dance

As one of our beginners said in their first class

A swing out is when you are together and then you are away from each other.

And that’s it.

It’s ok to say no; be ok with people saying no to you.

Hey, you can just say no to an invitation to a dance. “No thank you, but thanks for asking,” is a nice response. You don’t need to give anyone a reason or excuse. Sometimes a lindy hopper just don’t want to dance.

You can also be ok with someone saying “No thank you,” to your dance invite. Just smile and say “No wuckers,” then find someone else to dance with. If you get a couple of knock-backs in a row maybe check people’s body language before you ask?

Also: sometimes people just don’t want to dance with you. Be ok with that. If you practice being ok with that, you’re actively undoing the bullshit power dynamics that make women feel they have to dance with rough, creepy, or just plain nasty people. You’re being totally awesome.

Bullying and power

First off: soz this post is a bit shitly written. Still dealing with jetlag in Germany.

This is an interesting little piece about Finland’s anti-bullying program KiVa: Anti-bullying program focused on bystanders helps the students who need it the most (Feb 1st 2016).

Reading it, I was struck by one key factor: children are encouraged to take a position of mutual responsibility. To think and care about others, and to take responsibility for their own behaviour. In other words, they are encouraged to see how they can be powerful in a social situation, and how being powerful and feeling powerful can prevent bullying. This makes particular sense in the case of bullying, where (we’re reminded), bullies target less powerful peers to make themselves feel powerful and in control.

This is the next step in my approach to responding to and preventing sexual harassment and assault in lindy hop. At this stage a lot of the work on this stuff in lindy hop has focussed on the role ‘organisers’, teachers, and other powerful people can play. But I see this emphasis as just rehashing and shoring up heirarchal power structures. When what we really need to be doing is deconstructing patriarchy – which is a very hierarchal system of power that privileges straight, white men.

Having a ‘boss’ (a teacher, organiser, or other powerful person at the top of a hierarchy) responsible for dealing with offences and offenders isn’t so great. Instead, we need to rethink relationships between individuals. In this little piece about bullying and Finland, kids are powered up and encouraged to take responsibility for situations (even if that just means understanding why they don’t/can’t step in). In the context of sexual harassment in lindy hop, we want to power up women, so they will speak up, but we also want to power up men to take responsibility for each other’s actions.

This is one of the reasons why I really dislike the expressions ‘scene leader’. We should all be scene leaders, all be engaged with community development and safety.

And I think that this is why some people will never truly get on board with wiping out sexual harassment: it means that some people will need to give up on autocracy. Which they’ll be reluctant to do, as so much of contemporary lindy hop culture is focussed on having clear hierarchies of power and status. Competitions have winners and runners up, and these competitions are then presented as defining factors in a dancer’s social and economic status. ‘International’ teachers are flown in to teach one-off workshops (and then fly out, taking no responsibility for what’s left behind). Even social dancing and ‘likeability’ is categorised with ‘people’s favourite’ awards for social dancers and general competitors. DJs are divided into ‘staff’, ‘head’ or ‘volunteer’ DJs. And so on.

If we are to get really serious about sexual harassment and assault in lindy hop, white blokes are going to have to give up power. Male DJs will have to openly and deliberately ‘give up’ high profile gigs for female DJs. Male MCs will have to ‘give up’ high profile gigs for women MCs. Male dancers generally will have to get used to the idea that they can’t just walk into workshops at a cheaper price because there’re ‘too many follows’.

There’s simply too much to be gained from these prosaic structures. These formalised systems of power privilege straight white men, and I can’t see many of them giving up this power any time soon.

Why I will not answer all your questions

A useful resource Erin hooked me up with on the facey tody: Feminists are not responsible for educating men by Cecilia Winterfox.

I’m quite regularly asked by random dudebros to help them understand feminism or whatevs it is we grownups are talking about. The questions usually start out quite reasonable (I discuss one in this post), but gradually escalate until I realise dudebro is snowing me under with bullshit questions that turn into mansplains and manrants. I tend to give them one or two questions, and then I shut shit down. That means I delete their comments and often block them on fb. Because, mates, I just cannot be fucked. And I don’t want some niggling bastard following me around fb being a pain in the arse.

But the important part of being an ally (ie a bloke who digs feminism) is that you go out and get your learn on. This isn’t a bullshit lindy hop class where the teacher just ‘gives’ you a bunch of moves, counts you in all the time, answers all your questions in detail (instead of having you test the theory yourself), and generally babies you. This is feminism, where you are responsible for your own learns. And as a bloke, you’re in a better position to do that learning.

Your annoying questions are getting in the way of grown ups kicking the patriarchy.

Teaching and caring is labour, emotional and intellectual labour. And part of feminism is uncoupling ides of the feminine from the notion of ‘carer’. It’s giving women permission not to take on the role of ‘mother’ if they don’t want to. Or don’t have time to.

A half-arsed report on our sexual harassment responses

[note]This was a post on the facey, which I’ve started writing up here.[/]

Remind me to write up a report on how our new reporting and preventing sexual harassment and accidents process went at LBW.

Short version: it worked.

Mid-length version: we put together a door handbook, reporting forms, and a process for reporting incidents. We ‘trained’ managers in the process, and we let volunteers know about the process via the handbook, email, and in person talk.

Long version: how online discussions, reports of assaults made by very brave women and girls, and getting angry and upset led to the development of policies, of material codes and rules, and then practical processes and documents. A success story.

Things we needed:

  • An online version of our code of conduct, easily accessible from one click on event website, and well publicised on facebook.
  • A brief paper version of the code printed on the back of the event program which was packed into registrants’ envelopes.
  • A full version of the code printed and put into the event handbook.
  • Paper incident report forms in the event handbook.
  • A process for making reports (including a quiet place to do the, who should do them, and how, etc etc).

Most importantly, we needed good will from all the volunteers, staff, and managers. And that was the easy bit. Everyone was really keen to make this work, and really just saw this as an extension of our Swing Dance Sydney rules:

  1. Look after your partner
  2. Look after the music
  3. Look after yourself

What a lovely group of people.
This is by no means a finished project, but it’s actually turned out to be a very interesting and productive one.

13344581_10153611377823483_2930802524378605505_n

Packing the code of conduct (on the back of the program) into registrants’ envelopes.

 

 

 

13315547_10153611381933483_5111295868712487877_n

A first version of our event handbook, which contains lots of things, including: event program in plain text, door count sheets, cash count sheets, incident report forms, code of conduct, guide to identifying wrist bands, various paper signs, etc etc. All in one central folder.
There were two copies of this handbook, and each has a plastic slip on the front for adding notes or action items when handing over shifts or responsibilities.

13315680_10153611382133483_8751312588924837771_n A first draft of our incident report form, which drew on examples provided by lots of useful people who work in places that have decent reporting processes for accidents, etc.
These forms are in our event handbook.

 

13339482_10153611382288483_6080499492564714442_nThe longer version of our code of conduct, in paper form. It explains what counts as sexual harassment, and s.h. is just part of the ’emergency’ and ‘incident’ part of the handbook, after what to do if there’s a fire.

 

13319936_10153611382293483_5897772960599469148_n The paper version of our code of conduct on the back of an event program. Which is available at the door at events, in registrants’ rego packs, and as a promotional item distributed to venues in the week or two before the event.

Having it so readily available is an attempt to normalise this sort of talk and material. So ordinary that everyone has read it.

 

[Note] That was the original post. Then there were some comments. Here are some of them.[/]

Tal Engel: Can you elaborate on the phrase “it worked”? Are there any incidents you’re comfortable discussing where the system came into play?

We had no reports (thankfully, but also – maybe we had incidents but no reports?), so I can’t talk about that issue.

But I think ‘it worked’ relates mostly to the ‘consciousness raising’ part of the exercise, to quote old school activism. So by having lots of people involved in the process, from stuffing envelopes to handling a handbook, we gave people access to the code, and to the process. We demystified our process, but we also demystified sexual assault and harassment a bit. I hope.

I also wanted to make it clear that these things are _all_ of our responsibilities, and something that happens in our public places between friends, not in dark car parks by strangers.

It also ‘worked’ as a practical skills development process for me, and for the rest of the group. So actually putting together a handbook took some practice and real thinking – far more than I had expected. And it took several drafts to create something more accessible. Still needs work I reckon.

It also worked as a way of engaging all the staff in thinking about events as community spaces, where problems (whether they’re someone needing a bandaid, or someone needing a quiet place to sit and talk) are solveable.

…I think one of the most effective parts of this whole process was the online discussion of this process on our facebook event page.

I just matter of factly laid out the deal. But this also dovetailed with the way I engage with people on the event fb page: prompt replies to queries, but professional in tone. I also use my real name and face on event pages (rather than the event’s home page ID), so that our events have a ‘face’ and a name behind them. This makes it easier for people to see who they’re ‘talking to’, but also says ‘hey, I respond to your concerns’, which hopefully sets up an example of how I might respond to reports of assaults.
More importantly, this public talk in a public forum also addresses the lurkers, who are the vast majority of readers. They might never post on the page, but they read how I engage, and see what I do.
I’d really, really hope that this also normalises modes of discourse for this topic. ie just as having other women leads in your scene encourage other women to lead, having someone addressing these issues clearly, personally, and professionally might also encourage similiar responses.

What I really hope is that people will do as I do when I go to an event: see the best stuff other people do and then copy shamelessly in an attempt to be as good at it as they are. So hopefully people will see what I did, steal the good bits, and improve on it all, fixing the bits I’m not good at.

13087454_10153541191933483_297896331261212459_n Related to this ‘putting a face and name to an event’ stuff, is having badges for volunteers. It’s something for volunteers and staff to know when they’re on duty (you take it off when you’re off duty), but it’s also a clear way of identifying staff (and you need to tell punters about this). If I had more money, I’d have done Tshirts :D

I’d add that this wasn’t a particularly difficult process. It just took a while. And we had to approach it as an iterative process: where you don’t just do it and then, boom, it’s finished. You see each version as one step in an ongoing process.

I think that it was very important to be very angry and determined to do this. If I hadn’t be so angry, and if I hadn’t wanted so much to look out for my peeps, I probably would have given up ages ago.

I think this process makes it very clear that a simple code of conduct squirrelled away on a website is pretty much useless on it’s own.

Some of the most important parts of this process were:

  • Having a lateral power structure (rather than a top-down power pyramid dynamic thingy), where everyone had a role to play, and power to do things and make decisions – from volunteers and people making reports to musicians and managers. To me, this is THE most important part of this process. If it’s just a boss ‘saving’ women, then we’re not changing anything; we’re reinforcing the status quo.
  • Getting people involved by asking for help, by posting about my sticking points on fb (eg posting that I needed a reporting form but had no clue where to start gave me a bunch of useful comments and messages, plus actual examples of other people’s forms).
  • Letting go and letting other people do stuff.

[note]After some other discussion, I got to this point…[/]
What I’d really like to do is get together with other organisers and peeps at some weekend event to talk through what we do and what they do. There’s already a very healthy network of people sharing ideas, but I want MORE!

[note]This is the bit I want to emphasise. I’ve learnt most from seeing what other people are doing. And I want MORE of it.[/]

As an example, I learnt a lot from talking to Ben Beccari about handbooks and practical emergency response stuff. He’s doing a Phd in disaster response, so he’s kind of mad skilled. I also talked to people like Liam Hogan about how the SES does stuff here. And I had examples from friends of reporting strategies (I’d better not name them in case it’s meant to be confidential :D ). I also followed up ideas with my femmo stroppo mates (like Kerryn, Zoe, Kate, Penni, Tammi, Liah, Naomi, Daniel, and MANY more) for their suggestions and ideas, which came from their big brains, and also their experience as activists at community and local levels.

…I keep adding names, but there are too many. So many people had excellent ideas.

[note]end[/]

So, that’s what I have from that post.
I’ve written about what we’ve been doing in a few other posts already:

*1. I think a code of conduct is important because it sets out your goals and ideals in plain language. I go into why codes are important in this post.
2. ‘Cultural change‘ is about changing the way we do things. The way we think about teaching and teach, the way we think about learning and learn, the way we think about social dancing and social dance, the way we think about partners and treat our partners, the way we think about ourselves and treat ourselves. All of this stuff changes what we do and think about what we do. I like to mix feminism with historical example: I have clear political goals, but I want to use and stay true to the creative and practical examples of the swing and jazz era.
3. Developing strategies for practical change means confronting men about their behaviour, training staff, and banning offenders. But in a thoughtful, organised way, not a random, ad-hoc way. Our practical actions (what we actually do) must be guided by solid thinking and a sense of consequence. We need to be safe, we need to confident, we need to be organised.

**In this one I wrote this paragraph, which really sums up my whole purpose:

There have been some scary moments, but, for the most part, it’s actually been a very exciting and positive experience. Sitting down and thinking about what we want to do, and talking about the good things we want to see has been very exciting. It makes us feel good. This is what activism is about: you start by getting angry. You do some learning, and then you start doing things which make you powerful.

***One of the most important parts of dealing with sexual harassment, is women having the confidence to speak up. To speak in public. Male perpetrators rely on women and girls being too frightened to speak up and challenge them. To tell people about the things that men are doing. They threaten women and girls into staying silent, and they rely on broader social forces which discourage women to keep them quiet.
When those women first wrote about Mitchell’s violent criminal acts on this blog, one of the responses was that they should have made private complaints, spoken to the police, been more polite. More careful.

Their speaking up was very important. Very, very important. And this is one of the reasons I’m not entirely for male feminists. I think that the very act of speaking up is a political act, and one of the key parts of being a feminist. We are told sit down and shut up. And when we stand up and say no, we are doing a radical thing.

And this is where I’ll end this post.
We have to speak up. A private email or private discussion between a woman and her attacker or an organiser is an extension of the conditions that made that assault possible in the first place. We are supposed to push issues of sex and interpersonal violence between men and women into the private sphere. It’s not supposed to be appropriate for public discussion.

In simpler terms, I know that if I send a private email to a man who is a sexual offender or one of their offenders, he’s much more likely to try to bully me, frighten me, attack me. I do my talk in public now, because it’s safer. I want witnesses. Just as I don’t ban or warn offenders in person unless I’m in a public place with plenty of witnesses.

And I know this, because it happens. So I say: speak up. Be sure you have buddies to get your back, but speak up. And by buddies, I’m saying ‘sisterhood is powerful’. This is what that expression means: when we work together, women and girls are far more powerful than most men would like to think. We can protect each other and ourselves.

And after all, that’s what all this is about: women protecting themselves and each other.

We do not try to hide it.

It’s been quite a long time since I posted here, mostly because I have been SO BUSY. But also because my attention has been caught by facebook. A long time twitter user, I used to talk about interesting stuff with my friends there, in the relative privacy of a protected twitter account. But then every started to move away from twitter, and towards facebook. And I went too.
I’m hesitant to float all my ideas on facebook, simply because the audience is so much wider than my twitter readership. And the audience is more diverse. On twitter I was writing for and with people who largely had a background and politics like mine. People who knew how to discuss and test out ideas. Clever, curious people. But when I post on facebook, I know that those people are still listening and reading, but they’re just one group out of many. I hesitate before posting loaded articles or comments, because I know that most readers and commenters will write without pausing to think, and the discussion will degrade into frustrating derailments.

So why don’t I post here instead? The audience is smaller than facebook, and the long form I really enjoy using here is deterrent enough for most readers. In other words, I write so much most people don’t bother reading til the end. So I can hide a lot of my thinking and writing in plain sight. But it is long form. And I like the to-and-fro of twitter, where you can float a quick thought, and get a dozen quick, witty, or thoughtful responses. But that doesn’t happen on twitter any more. Twitter has largely gone dark. In my sphere anyway.

Most of the people I speak with on twitter were friends I met online in the earlier days of blogging. Ten, eleven years ago. When those conversations happened in comment threads, and in responsive posts. We moved onto twitter as our lives changed, even though some of us might still be dropping the odd blog post. Or newspaper or magazine article or journal article. And now we’re speaking on facebook. We’re making longer status updates, discussing links or stories, and engaging in discussions in comment threads. Again. And we’ve brought those ten, eleven years of experience talking and writing online to facebook. Thing is, facebook’s mass audience doesn’t have that experience.

My larger problem with writing and thinking on facebook, is that facebook is one of the places where I work. That’s where I do the promotion and advertising and posting to support and promote my business projects. My dance classes, my larger events, my DJing. Despite this, I’ve recently shifted my public professional talk to represent my private and public political talk, which I might previously have kept a little to the side. This has been made possible (necessary?) by issues developing in 2015.
The first, public, and largely positive discussion of Steven Mitchell’s long term sexual harassment, rapes, and grooming of women and girls within the lindy hop and blues dance scenes. The bravery – and power – of these women and girls speaking up and naming names. Talking about issues which have largely been awkwardly ignored by the lindy hop community. All of these things made me realise that my public, professional talk needed to be more clearly informed by my more private political thinking. I saw this as another example of my engagement with lindy hop moving closer to my background, my training in academia.

So I have, as my social media manager colleagues say, ‘shifted my public professional brand to incorporate my feminist politics’. In part because the public lindy hop discourse now allows this sort of talk. I can talk about gender, power, sexuality, class, ethnicity, etcetera, as a dance teacher and organiser, and I’m not written off as ‘too radical’. Because, sadly, the Mitchell issue has made it impossible to ignore the fact that we need to talk about these things.

In a practical sense, I can use my academic background in my current role. My deep, critical knowledge of gender politics, discourse, and ideology gives me the thinking and practical skills for addressing sexual harassment within my local dance community, via my business activities. It’s been quite exciting to see that I have the skills required for writing and talking about gender and power in a dance context. And working at a higher, postgraduate, or professional academic level. This seems to me the logical extension of feminist thinking: practical activism. And I really, really like it that this work can happen at a very local, very personal level. I find it essential to think about what I do and write as having immediate, practical consequences for people I see every week, and speak to every day. This isn’t academic; it is immediate and practical.

One of the things I quite like about my current job, is writing every day. I really quite like learning to write about these issues as part of a broader strategy for a) selling dance and music (through classes or events or DJing and so on), and b) promoting sustainable community development (where the community is centred on dance and music, but reaches out into the broader community). Where sustainability is recorded in financial, social, and cultural measures.
And I do like the way this writing asks me to articulate ideas I have about dance and music as art and as a site for activism. This means that I tend to lean on ideas of vernacular dance as a public discourse. A place for ordinary people to exchange ideas and to discuss and argue. But it also means that this public discourse is also a site for public, collaborative creative work. And lindy hop being what it is, most of this creative and intellectual work is also joyful. Full of happiness and light.
I think that this is why lindy hop is a particularly powerful tool for feminism. It lends itself to jokes, to kindness, to a lightness of heart. Frankie Manning is often quoted as saying that lindy hop is a very happy dance. But I think it is far more a hopeful dance. After all, for a dance with its roots in slavery and african american segration and oppression to feel happy, it must be bloody well loaded up with hope.
I’m often struck by the coincidence of Frankie Manning’s birthday being Sorry Day in Australia. A day of national reconciliation. It’s a day where we acknowledge our darker history, and hope for kindness and change. For reconciliation. I find it difficult to read the almost beatific accounts of Frankie Manning’s life on facebook on that particular day. Because it is a day where aboriginal Australians remember and speak up about the more horrible parts of Australia’s history and present. But I do think that it’s also appropriate. Frankie Manning was no stranger to racism and segregation. He knew people who had been slaves. He knew people who had been lynched. He would have understood the importance of the reconciliation movement.

For me, lindy hop and jazz dance, and jazz music are tools for liberation and reconciliation. They are handy tools in the activist’s tool box. I really do enjoy the fact that good lindy hop requires partners listen to and respect each other. I do love it that we can say to our beginner students, “Check in with your partner. Do you have your lines of communication open? Are they with you? Do they dig what you’re doing?” We say to our beginners in their very first class, “Each person you dance with is a different size and shape, and they listen to the music in their own way. You need to adjust for that, and you need to take time to get on the same page.”
This is profoundly feminist to me. I see my dance classes as feminist work. As well as bloody good fun. I do like it that I can use this language and these ideas for running events as well as classes. And the fact that lindy hop requires this mutual respect and communication to do good creative work is very exciting. It’s a very nice place to begin a discussion of working conditions and labour in lindy hop. It’s a fantastic model for mutual respect and healthy, consensual relationships between men and women (whether sexual or not).

Anyway, I don’t have much more to say. You’ll be disappointed if you thought this was going to be an inflammatory rant. But if you’re a meninist who believes in feminist conspiracies, you’ll be delighted. Except it’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a reality. There’s a whole bunch of us out there using lindy hop as a tool to fight patriarchy. And we certainly don’t try to hide it.