Language is important: decolonising dance jargon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where you might begin in developing a code of conduct or safety policy

Ok, so I’ve been looking at how we might develop a ‘how to develop a safe space policy’ guide.
I’ve only got a sample size of two, but I wonder if this is a useful approach:

  1. You need to know your local laws regarding sexual harassment and assault. So a google search will help. I begin with these sorts of search terms “Australia” “Sexual harassment” “laws” .
  2. From here you can often find a link to the specific law or act referring to harassment, equity, human rights, etc etc. Each country will address this issue in a different way. And each legal system is different – eg we don’t have a bill of rights in Australia.
    BUT it’s hard to figure your way through an act if you’re not used to the language.
    Luckily there are good community education bodies to help you make sense of it. They often come up in the first page of your google search.
  3. I use the country’s human rights commission or similar body as a source to help me untangle this language. They often have simple language versions of the law, and specific examples of harassment.
  4. I’ve noticed (in my two examples  ) that sexual harassment is grouped with other types of harassment and discrimination as infringing human rights. This is useful for us as dancers in the current ideological climate, because the relevant act may refer specifically to discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, sex, etc etc. This gives us a starting point for addressing issues like the black roots of lindy hop _and_ sexual assault in the same policy.Here, the link between discrimination and harassment is key.
  5. At this point, it really helps if your organisation has a statement of intent, or a mandate or manifesto or something. eg the Melbourne Jazz Dance Association (which runs Melbourne Lindy Exchange (MLX)) has this one, which was a legal requirement for setting up a nonprofit business structure:

    The Melbourne Jazz Dance Association is a non-profit organisation devoted to the preservation and promotion of vernacular jazz dance and music in Melbourne, Australia. Our goal is to produce affordable dance events for Melbourne and visiting dancers, promoting the history of the dance as well as the current dance community.

    From here, this sort of statement helps us rough out a general policy or way of making our code of conduct fit in with our existing statements. If I was to rewrite this mjda statement, I’d add ‘accessible’ before the word ‘affordable’, which would cover us for talking about harassment and discrimination.

From this point, you have some very useful tools.

  • A legal definition of sexual harassment and sexual assault (note this isn’t legally binding or even legally accurate – you’ll need to consult a lawyer for this stuff)
  • It’s culturally specific. ie it reflects your country’s legal and social understanding of sexual assault and harassment. This is important because your event, and your actions, are governed by your country’s laws.
  • You have specific examples of sexual harassment and assault. This is important for helping the targets of harassment (women and girls, for the most part) put a name and a limit to their ‘bad feeling’ about an interaction. It validates their experience. It also gives you language tools for explaining to offenders why they are banned from your event – they did X, Y, or Z. And of course it helps you feel more confident in your actions. You’re not just acting on ‘a feeling’. You’re acting on facts.
  • You can connect sexual harassment and assault up with discrimination. This is important because it lets us talk about racism, ageism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in one conversation. Our code of conduct can group these different types of discrimination together and let us address a number of issues at once.
    This is the ‘missing link’ for addressing the way sexism dovetails with racism and class in the modern lindy hop scene. It gives us a way of talking about how come male teachers are paid more, there are more male DJs at high level events, or why women are overrepresented as volunteers. It’s about power. Sexual harassment is about power more than it is about sex. And racism is about power and privilege. About who gets to tell the stories, in their words.

Now you can start writing up a very rough draft of your code of conduct.

  • What are your values?
    What do you want your event to be about? Good live music? Great social dancing? Innovative class structures? Huge crowds? Small crowds? What?
  • What are your rules?
    What do you not want to happen at events (in general terms, but also specifically)?
  • What are the consequences for breaking rules?
  • How can people report harassment or assault?
  • How do you respond to reports, document reports, and then store your reports safely?

At this point you’ll see that you have a very dry, often very long list that’s both really depressing and really exciting. You aren’t ready to publish this yet. It’s definitely not something that’ll work as a public document, let alone a intra-organisational document.

From here, you need to do some testing.
Develop a few scenarios, and role-play the process. Horribly, we have a fair few real life examples in the modern lindy world to work with.

Some examples:

  1. A big name international teacher is publicly reported for sexual assault in a blog post. He has previously taught in your country. You scroll down your facebook feed and see he’s just been announced as teaching in your city. What will you do?
  2. You receive an email from a person acting as an agent on a reporter’s behalf. This agent is a reliable source – someone you know and trust. The reporting woman is terrified of repercussions and wants to remain anonymous. Her report outlines in detail how a male teacher assaulted her at an event in the previous year. You have just booked this teacher for your event in 9 months time. The reporting woman discovers this booking as you’ve just announced it publicly. What will you do?
  3. You see a guy in his 20s physically lifting a new female dancer into a pop jump on the dance floor at your monthly party. She clearly doesn’t know what she’s doing. You can’t tell if she’s actually enjoying this, or just faking it. What do you do?
  4. Two young Asian women come to you at the party you run fortnightly, and tell you that an older Anglo man has been making sexual suggestions to them during class, holding them in too tight an embrace, and sending them facebook messages. He is at the party. What do you do?

And so on. Scenarios like this are very useful for testing your own values and process. And an important part of this process is to flesh out your imaginary people:
Give your ‘big name international teacher’ an age, gender, ethnicity, teaching speciality, comp wins, teaching experience, etc.
Flesh out your agent working for the reporting woman – are they male, female, trans, older, younger, white, black, a teacher, a DJ, tall, short, what?

Do the same for the staff responding to each situation – make them real people. And try to make them people representative of the members of your local area. Not your local dance scene, but the real, live people who live in your city. Census data is very useful here.

Now swap around some of the identity markers. What if the Two young Asian women are also trans? What if they’re anglo and their person hassling them is Asian?

Document your scenarios.

Ok, now go back and rewrite your code. And your rules.
What would have helped in the scenarios? Would it have been useful to have a small printed copy of your rules to give to that guy when you tell him off for hassling those women at the party? Then make one.
If you needed to call the police at one point, would you have called the emergency number, or your local police station? Do you have both numbers? Do you need a little sign with this info on it for volunteers? Make one. How big does the font need to be? Can you read it in a dimly lit dance room?
How do your door staff know what to do? How would you train them?
Where do you keep written reports? Where do you write the reports? Who has access to them?

And so on.
Yep, it’s a fair bit of work. But some of it is actually pretty fun.
You’ll never be done with this work. Each time you encounter a new incident, you’ll get new skills, you’ll revise your processes, and you’ll revisit your values. Maybe ‘good music’ is less important than ‘don’t hire DJs who’ve raped someone’. Maybe ‘good music’ means telling your band leader explicitly that the musicians cannot arrive drunk or play drunk. And then perhaps you need to be specific about defining ‘drunk’.

For me, there are some overarching ‘rules’ in this work:

– the reporter’s safety is paramount. That means anonymity, confidentiality.
– the safety of the staff handling the report is paramount. This may also mean anonymity and confidentiality. It can also mean training for staff, having access to a quiet, safe room with a lockable door, knowing when and how to call the police (or if it’s safe to call the police), etc etc etc.
– ask the reporter what they need to feel safe. You don’t have to do these things, but it’ll be helpful to know.
– limits and boundaries are key. Knowing when to stop working is essential.
– I need to know when I will stop working on this issue. What is my limit?

My own, personal rule – the reason why I do this – is this:

I am responsible for my fellow humans. I choose to care about what happens to them. I choose to do what I can, whenever I can. Not just because it feels like the morally right thing to do. But because caring, and doing right makes me a better person. A stronger, braver, better person.

I could quote you long passages from my favourite feminists (Nancy Fraser, anyone?) about why being a feminist means being a pragmatic feminist. Being an activist. I simply define feminism as being about thinking and doing. It’s about social justice, but it’s about actively choosing to get involved. To do something. This is an act of power and resistance for a woman in my culture. We are trained to not act, to not get involved, not to agitate, educate, or organise. So the very act of speaking up, standing up, and acting is an act of feminism. It is liberatory. But that’s not the whole thing.

I guess it’s really about my believing, very strongly, that I have a responsibility to do what I can for other people. I choose not to be a bystander. I choose to be an agent. Because I find sitting by while other people need me untenable. I just can’t do it. If I can do something, I do it. Not because I want to be a ‘troublemaker’ or an ‘agitator’, but because I feel it is the right thing to do. To care about other people. To care for them, and about more than just myself.

What if an employer only offers pay for the leader/male teacher, not the follower/female teacher?

how to respond respectfully and educationally?

Definitely address this, as it will have issues later on.
I’d use a friendly, bright and breezy writing style, yet with a core of iron.
eg

Hi [name],
So nice to hear from you. We’d love to teach at [event], and I think [name] and [name] would be a great fit for this class, as they have plenty of teaching experience, and are particularly good with new dancers.
Let me clarify a few of the details:
– the class begins at [time], and the social dancing begins at [time], but and the doors open at [time]
– the venue is [name] at [address]
– both teachers will be given free entry to the social dancing afterwards
– there is now pay available for the teachers (how exciting! This is such a good sign of the success of your hard work!), and it is $X in total.
-> related to the pay, I see that you’ve specified that only the teacher who is leading will be paid, and the teacher who is following will not be paid.
We actually pay all our teachers equally, as we ask our teachers to address leading and following as unique and practical skills in their own right.
Are you ok with both our teachers being paid, and at the rate of $XX each?

Hoping to hear from you soon,
[your name]

I think it’s cool to ask for a particular pay rate for both teachers. I’ve come across this sort of issue in other contexts – eg as a DJ I’ve been offered pay, but not free entry, so I’ve responded with ‘as I’ll be liaising with the band and your staff, preparing beforehand, and bringing my usual equipment, so I see this as a working gig. This means that I’ll be part of your staff, rather than a paying guest.’ etc etc etc.
With this approach, if they want to persist in not paying the woman/follow, they’ll have to say so explicitly, and why. This may force to them to confront their assumptions. It’ll also force them to take a slightly more confrontational approach, and this sort of organiser usually likes to maintain an air of casual hail-fellow-well-met chilllaxedness. You’ll still have the ‘chill’ vibe, but they’ll have to decide whether to stay chill or come across as a bastard. :D

It’s usually a matter of the organiser being inexperienced (as sounds the case in your story), and not really understanding dance event culture. They may be approaching running events as a hobby and assume everyone else does too.

I think it’s really important to address this as early as possible, as this ‘casual hobby’ approach is often used to justify not paying all sorts of people, not having an OH&S policy, not being careful about fire safety, and of course, not being professional about preventing sexual harassment and assault.

-> ie I’ve observed that when an organiser is ‘casual’ about one issue, and exploiting people in one way, they are often ‘casual’ in other areas and exploiting people in other ways. So we see sexual harassment by staff happening at events that are also too casual about pay, about setting definite volunteer shift lengths, etc etc etc.

So your being strict, particularly as a woman (sorry, I’ve just assumed you ID female :D ), will set a very good example. Especially if you are chillaxed, friendly, but firm.

Relatedly, but a bit off track, a lot of church groups with conventional gender roles have a long history of women doing unpaid, unrecognised labour. There’s actually a stack of literature on women’s volunteer work in church groups in Australia and the US :D
So you’ll be dealing with that culture as well as some of the less pleasant elements in the lindy hop world.

Your approach could vary depending on who’s writing the email. eg if it’s a man who’s also a minister (ie in a position of power), and you’re a woman, he may be used to being the higher status, more powerful person in these conversations, so you may need to put a bit of low-key work into presenting yourself as a capable professional in person as well. eg I do stuff like pitch my voice lower, not giggle, I speak calmly and professionally, I initiate conversation and ask questions, rather than waiting to be spoken to in conversations, I offer my hand to shake when we meet, and at subsequent interactions, I try to arrange it so that he seems me managing other people, or working in a professional role with other people.

I dunno if you do this stuff already (sorry if this sounds patronising), but it’s always a good thing to practice. I put a lot of work into my professional role and modes of interaction, and that helps me delineate when I’m ‘working’, and when I’m a punter. Which helps me switch off and have fun when I’m not working :D

I have to continually revisit this stuff. eg I noticed when I was watching telly a little while ago that white American male characters don’t make eye contact while talking. So then I observed white Australian men talking. No eye contact, unless they want to get aggressive. So now when I talk with new male colleagues, I don’t make a lot of eye contact. I also avoid smiling too much – I have a neutral face with a little head tilt that says ‘I’m interested in what you’re saying, but I’m not committing to engagement. Convince me.’
I also stand with my weight event distributed on both feet, I often put one or both hands on my hips, and I square up to a new man and make a solid bit of eye contact when we first meet and shake hands. I always come in first with “Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m your DJ/event manager/MC for tonight.” Then I smile and say something like “Nice to meet you [name].” I think of this as making sure they know that I know who they are.
Then I usually guide the conversation on to the next issue, and keep it professional.
If I’m talking to someone who is my boss, I don’t guide the conversation, unless they’re not covering the issues I need.

It’s all very gendered and I definitely adopt postures and behaviours I think of as masculine. If I’m working with very femme women, I use a different approach.

Basically, I’m learning a lot about body language from my doggo Frank :D

Dealing with men who use classes to pick up

Men propositioning women in class, touching too much, touching inappropriately, and all that other gross harassment stuff sucks. But you can totally resolve this!

We always begin the ‘touching’ part of class (ie after warm ups, etc) by saying, ‘this is a partner dance. I’m the follow, x is the lead.’ Then we demo some lindy hop, and explain that the lead is suggesting a move/rhythm and the follow is deciding whether or not they’ll get on board and do it.
Then we say, “Now you need to choose: do you want to lead or follow. Make that choice. Next, we need to find a partner. Watch us do this thing”
And then we do the little ‘asking someone to dance role play’:
eg I approach pete, and say
S: “Hello, I’m Sam. Would you like to dance?”
P: “Hi. I’m Pete” (we offer each other hands and shake hands). “Yeah, sure. Do you prefer to lead or follow?”
S: “Following, ,please”
And then we move to join the circle.

Then we say, “Please find a partner and have that conversation.”

Then they do it. We let them take a bit of time to do this.

Things they learn here:

  • Don’t touch someone without knowing their name and asking them to dance (we repeat this MANY TIMES in class, verbally, and we teachers always ask permission before touching students in class).
  • Don’t assume someone leads or follows, ask instead.

All this stuff may scare off your Difficult Men. If not, there’s more!

Then we teachers get into the middle of the circle, gather them all reeeeeally close, and say something like “Now, we’re going to touch our partner.” And they all giggle. But we get into closed and say, “This is how we’d like you to hold your partner” (it helps if the follow says it). “Please observe us, then have a go.”

We don’t tell them to do anything, or say anything, we just demo it.
Ramona says: “The museum is open. Please come and have a good look.” If they don’t have it, you can say, “The museum is still open. Please come and look at the display again.”

They get into closed position
Then we say, “Because we’re all different sizes and shapes, we need to see if we have this comfortable for our partner.”
Then we do the ‘am I touching you right’ role play:

S:”Pete, is my left hand too far around your shoulder?” And Pete visibly thinks, then takes my hand and moves it, saying “I think it’s a bit too far around for me.” And I say “Cool, ta.”
Then Pete does the same.

Then, and this is KEY: You say “Please have this conversation with your partner.” And you leave them to talk about it and try it until you see them move into non-touching related talk. This is THE MOST important part – they really need to actually practice verbalising asking someone to change how they touch their bodies, and practicing responding to this. So don’t rush them. Intermediates will try to brush off their partner with ‘it’s fine’. Don’t allow them to do this; ask for real conversations.

After the first two or three times they rotate, we say, “Remember, each human is a different size and shape, so you need to figure out if the fit is right. Please check in with your partner.” And they have that conversation.

Anyway, all this skills up your students to:

  • ask permission to touch,
  • ask for feedback on how they’re touching someone,
  • actually practice giving that feedback (they are told explicitly that they can’t just say ‘yeah fine’. They have to stop, think, feel, then articulate their feels).
  • practice responding to feedback,
  • Think about the way their _whole bodies_ touch someone, not just their hands (we often drop this in when we’re talking about how follows are touching the leads with their backs).

This will skill up your women to deal with the too-touchy men, and it’ll train the men in how to touch respectfully.
You won’t need to police the students all the time. You can step in when they’re all dancing and experimenting for extra one-on-one comments, but mostly they police themselves and each other.

Best of all, the truly dodgy bros will get the shits and stop coming to class, because they can’t get away with any bullshit.

We do other follow up stuff in class to compound these skills:

  • eg when they finish practicing to music we say (Because we always see it): “I really liked it when one person in a couple got in a mess, said, ‘hey, can we start again?’ and both people stopped and grooved before starting again.”This emphasises what we _like_ and how they can handle these issues.
  • We might also say, “I saw some really nice, relaxed bodies. I could see people holding each other comfortably, and asking their partner if what they are doing is ok.”
  • I often say, “If you’re not sure if you’ve got it right, ask your partner – they’re a specialist in how their body works.”
  • The teachers often ask each other things like, “How did you know I wanted you to stop there?” as a way of modelling how to talk to each other, how to avoid ‘leader first’ language (so we ask the follow how they knew, which requires follows think actively about what they’re doing, not ‘just following’, etc etc).

I think using positive language (telling them what you liked) is better than ranting at them about what not to do. Because you’re just repeating the bad stuff and that’s all they’ll remember. So just repeat the good stuff. We also add in ways follows can eject from dances or moves if they don’t like it, and how leads should respond (let the follow gooo, let her gooooo).

From practical cultural change to broader ideological change and back again

I’m just rewriting a draft teachers’ agreement and editing my teachers’ agreement template for dance events. This is my new favourite bit:

Teachers’ expectations of organisers:
– Provision of safe, clean teaching environments without unnecessary crowding, and including head mics (where necessary), sound gear, venue coordinator to manage the workshops.
– Will teach workshops of no more than 80 participants.
– Will teach classes of no more than 30 participants.
– Will teach for no longer than 1.5 hours without a 15 minute break, and a minimum 1 hour break after 3 hours of teaching.
– Flexible workshop hours to allow for nursing and care of infants.

I’m not there yet, but it’s looking pretty good.

The nice thing about working with teachers who are nursing mothers (this is my second time), is that their needs (eg breaks for nursing, being flexible in class start times, asking students to work independently, or while teachers are nursing/caring for infants) translate to good conditions for everyone.

If we make nursing mothers’ requirements our ‘norm’ for teachers’ requirements, we end up with much better working conditions for everyone – students and teachers!
I’ve found the same when managing DJs’ working conditions, when working on safe space policies, and band’s conditions.

The invisible straight white able bodied cisman norm doesn’t really benefit anyone. Not even straight white able bodied cismen without dependents.

I’ve also found that asking teachers to prioritise self-care (eating real food at regular intervals, taking rests, taking time out, drinking water, having at least 3 hours between classes and parties, going home when they feel like it, only dancing at parties when they feel like it, etc etc) models good stuff for students.

This is especially important for women, where we’re seeing a bit of body dysmorphia coming into play: young women who don’t eat enough for their high-impact lindy hop and solo jazz dancing. When we see women teachers eat well, with enthusiasm, and with great pleasure and none of this ‘I’m being naughty’ talk, we see that eating well and self-care are part of being a professional dancer. Something we owe ourselves, and our bodies.
It’s also important for young men to see men practicing self-care, and to see women practicing self-care, and prioritising self-care above the interests of others.

You can see how this all feeds into a safe space policy, right? And how I build safe space stuff into an OH&S policy?
And of course, it all comes under our statement of intent at Swing Dance Sydney: Take Care of yourself, take care of your partner, take care of the music.

If you tip this list of points upside down, you’ll see that a way to get to safe space policies is to begin with:

A value statement (or statement of intent).

Then to see how this translates to general policies like ‘good working conditions for teachers’.

And finally to practical, real-life actions like ‘teach for no longer than an hour without a break’ or ‘we all sit down together for a meal’ or ‘if you don’t want to dance when someone asks you, just say no thank you.’

I think that this last practical level is where we do cultural practice (ie actual practical cultural change), whereas the two higher levels is where we do ideological change.

The real challenge then comes in keeping track of all these policies and processes. I can remember most of them, but the person who comes after me might not know why we instituted a ‘classes are no longer than one hour’ rule. So we need to document.
And of course, to be really good at this, we need flexibility. Iterative design. So after this Jazz with Ramona 5-7 Oct 2018 weekend, I’ll get some comments and feedback from Ramona, her partner John, peeps in the classes, etc, and I’ll rewrite these guidelines again.

Slavery and Australian economic history

This article Colonial Australia’s foundation is stained with the profits of British slavery by Paul Daley is pretty much a review of bits of Clinton Fernandes’ book ‘Island off the Coast of Asia: Instruments of Statecraft in Australian Foreign Policy’. I haven’t read the book.
This article talks about slavery’s contribution to the developing colonial economy in Australia up until the 20th Century.

It’s also a good place to start if you want to start thinking about the white Australian history of blackface. If whites think of people only as having value as objects to be bought and sold, then they have no qualms about wearing a costume that presents them as objects.

If you’re a lindy hopper thinking about dance history (and the way it is bought and sold in dance classes), then you should probably learn a bit about slavery in colonies (especially in Australia and America), and colonising nations (especially European countries).

The myth of Australia being ‘built on the sheep’s back’ is central to Australian history and to current political PR. Think of the white mainstream support for ill-conceived and executed economic aid for farmers in this moment of drought (and political leadership spills). White farmers are sacrosanct.

Fernandes writes, “There was no industrial revolution in this period, but rather a burgeoning agricultural export industry that helped create a group of wool-rich rural elites. An industrial business class appeared after the discovery of gold in the 1850s. In the 60 years before this, however, there is a largely unknown source of wealth: slavery.”

The mythic history of white Australia goes like this:
– white explorers ‘discovering’ the Australian land,
– white farmers occupy the land, ‘taming’ it, and producing lots of stuff
– white businesses sell that stuff to other people and we all get rich and prosperous.
This history leaves out…. well, pretty much everything. The genocide and colonising of _people_. Of course, the idea of ‘terra nullius’ (nobody’s land) at once made Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders not _people_, and justified white invasion and occupation.

This dehumanising is what makes slavery possible.
It’s also what makes the current government’s utterly cruel refugee concentration camps possible.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Fernandes’ book is his careful unpicking of the authority of ‘objective’ references like the ADB (Australian Dictionary of Biography). While the ADB presents as a ‘list of facts’, this list is incomplete, and therefore entirely subjective.

I guess Fernandes’ point is this: ‘objective’ histories that overlook some facts or misrepresent them contribute to contemporary oppression. eg he writes in the book, “The dictionary of biography mentions that Macquarie’s first wife Jane Jarvis was “a West Indian heiress”, but doesn’t note her inheritance: Antiguan slave plantations.”

“The Australian Dictionary of Biography is Australia’s pre-eminent dictionary of national biography. In it you will find concise, informative and fascinating descriptions of the lives of significant and representative persons in Australian history.” (http://adb.anu.edu.au/)

A calmly objective listing of ‘facts’ in the format of a dictionary is a useful tool for refuting ‘hysterical women’, ‘angry blacks’, and other overly emotional voices.

Echoes of Sophiatown

I’m a bit lax in promoting this, but the South African Echoes of Sophiatown project is VERY exciting.

I saw a documentary film about Sophiatown years ago, and the music and dancing (YES, lindy hop in South Africa in the 1950s!) has stayed with me. I still DJ songs I heard in that film, and some of the vocalists (MIRIAM MAKEBA) are unparalleled, now or then.

Sophiatown was a neighbourhood in Johannesburg where musicians, artists, activists, writers, dancers… _people_ lived and worked. In the 50s it was bulldozed by the white government. Much of the creative work these people did was unrecorded because apartheid.

Now South African dancers and musicians are raising money for “A transcription project to pay tribute to the South African jazz musicians of the 1940s and 50s.”
This means that living musicians are transcribing and recording some of the best jazz in THE WORLD. And they need some help.

Every dollar you can spare will make a difference. They’re only aiming for $12000, and they have a month to go. Which means that if we all chuck in $5… they’ll have enough to do the job properly.
AND some of the proceeds will be used to benefit the families and artists who originally recorded this music.

Check the Indigogo here.

Responding to comments: how do you deal with an offender who’s not committed an offence at your event?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

how would you address eg a DV or restraining order in your creation of safer spaces?

This is a bit like responding to a report about an offender, where said person was offending/had offended in another city. This actually comes up quite regularly, and is the follow up issue to ‘how do we report someone’: ‘what do we do with someone who’s been reported?’

I personally have a zero tolerance policy. If you have committed an offence in my class/event/city, and I have a report, then you are banned from all my classes and events forever.
I know that other people work with offenders to rehabilitate them, but I personally figure I only have a limited about of time and energy, and I’d much rather put that energy and time into supporting the people who don’t harass or rape people, and into my own work (eg if I’m working on s.h. stuff, I don’t have time to DJ, social dance, work on scripting performance, etc etc). In shorter Sam talk, “Fuck that shit. I ain’t got time for that.”

So when someone is reported to me for an offence in another city/country, I take I take it very seriously:

  • I find out as much as I can (though I never ask for the name of the reporting person. I’m totally ok with anonymous reports, because I prioritise the safety of reporters above all else);
  • If I get the heads-up from someone who isn’t in my trusted network, I find someone who is in that network and ask questions;
  • I am very careful to maintain confidentiality, and that means I don’t name the reported offender unless absolutely necessary;
  • Once I’ve got confirmation, I send that person an email telling them that they’re not welcome at my events (I list the events specifically), and that they will be asked to leave if they do attend. If they refuse to leave, the police will then be called. This email is an important part of developing a defence against an accusation of defamation in the future. I send an official email and ask them to reply. I don’t need to respond or follow up on that reply.
  • By the timee I get a report about a person in another scene or city or country, they’ve already committed a number of offences and have assaulted/harassed a number of people.

Note: if you do send someone an email/message/text/letter naming an offender, you may be liable for a defamation case, as it constitutes publication of defamatory comments. So a phone call is better (though it’s still not a ‘safe’ option). I take a calculated risk on this: I am prepared to pursue this to preserve the safety of my myself, my friends, my students, my peers, my teachers, my musicians, everyone. I have clearly set out my own limits, and I stick to them.
I also have a lawyer who specialises in defamation law in NSW, and is very helpful for developing strategies. I speak to her about twice every six months, and this costs me $$, which I’m prepared to spend.

If someone is notifying an organiser in another city/country, they need to be very sure that person will also be working to keep the reporter safe, and won’t tell the offender all the details. They also need to be willing to keep the person notifying them safe (offenders are often aggressive, bullying types who will threaten people who band them or report them).

So I prioritise:

  • Keeping myself safe
  • keeping the reporter safe
  • keeping the person working as an agent/intermediary for the reporter safe
  • Keeping other people in the community safe.

I figure, as with a restraining order, the reported person/offender has proved themselves a demonstrable risk, so I notify them officially that they are not to attend my events/classes, and that the consequences for attending will be X, Y, Z.
I find they often don’t try to attend anyway, because they’ve figured out that I will jump on that phone and call the police immediately.
I will not be bullied or pushed around. And I definitely will not let them threaten other people. Hell no. That’s the stuff that makes me super white-cold-furious.

When will I call the police?

I don’t notify the police about reports of sexual assault. Reporting to the police is a harrowing process for women, and we rarely come out of this well. After the past year of negotiating legal options, my opinion is that the Australian/NSW legal system is not able to protect women reporting sexual assault. So I leave that decision to the woman reporting the incident.

I will hop on the phone and call the police immediately if a known and banned offender turns up at my event, whether it’s at a public venue or a private venue. I have the local police stations’ phone numbers, and I’m more than willing to call 000.

I also have a procedure for responding to these people in person:

  • They turn up at the door and try to pay/enter
  • a volunteer lets me know (they don’t try to confront the person)
  • I tell them that they need to leave: “You are not welcome at this event. You will leave now, or I will call the police and have you removed.” (I practice this little script)
  • Then they either leave, or I call the police. They must leave _immediately_, or I call the police. If they have paid, I hand them their money (to save hassle, though I’m not required to).
  • I do not confront them, I do not touch them, I do not allow anyone else to touch them or engage with them. I make sure they see me watching them. I say nothing more than the script.
  • While we’re waiting for the police, I observe them, and I make sure no one engages with them. By this stage, most of the staff will have noticed them, and are avoiding them, and making sure other people avoid them. If they interact with anyone, I ask that person to come with me for a drink. I have noticed that other people will intervene to ask that person for a dance/talk, whatever.
  • After all this, we write a report, and I notify other organisers.

Note: thinking about all this and working on a real-time script is really distressing and tiring. So I am very careful about when I do this work, and I make sure to debrief afterwards. I speak to a psychologist about this stuff, as it’s highly distressing to deal with in real time, and across a lot of incidents.

Responding to comments: can’t we just ask people to be decent to each other?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?

On this particular topic, I can think of two examples of huge events that have a ‘just respect each other’ code of conduct. That’s all very well in theory (I mean, we all do just want people to treat each other decently), but it’s useless when someone comes to you at a dance in tears to tell you about Person X who’s just grabbed them in the parking lot.
Both of these events have since proved to be covering up for and enabling serious offenders.

To my mind, a code of coduct needs a few parts:
1) an overall statement of values.
What do you really value and want in your event/project? Good music? Kindness? Zero waste? Live music only? Ambidancetrousness? Historical accuracy? Welcoming all folks regardless of sexuality, ethnicity, age?
-> This value statement helps you make decisions about what you want and don’t want at your event. eg Zero waste isn’t a huge priority for me, but it might be for the Green Dancers of Sydney*

2) A definition of s.h./assault or racism, or whatevs it is you want to target in your code.
This should be based on the legal definitions of your city/state/country, but also expand to include other things you value.
-> eg the Green Dancers of Sydney literally want zero waste, so no pooping on site.

3) A process for making a report.
Including how to make the report, and what happens afterwards.

4) A list of consequences for offenders/offences.
What will happen, and who will enforce them.

Most organisers and teachers and so one have a code of conduct and that’s it.
The better organisers (eg MLX is the total best and leader for most of the world) has all four parts, and is on to THE THIRD OR FOURTH ITERATION.

Once you have to start addressing these issues, you realise you need a process for taking and sorting reports, a policy for how long someone should be banned for, some legit research into the local laws.

And THEN you figure out you need a way to script and train people for these interactions (what do you say when you kick someone out?), you need a way to keep training up to date, and you need some way of sharing information about this stuff (eg a database or resource kit).

Once you’ve done this for a while, you realise…
WHAT A LOT OF WORK.
And you need support for your safety workers, debriefing, etc etc etc.

Incidentally, most Australian and NSW businesses are legally required to address all these issues in their business plans. This is one of the reasons why going legit, rather than ‘just being friends who run a party’ is a good idea – you have access to help in putting together this sort of material.

Ongoing issues:
– this is a top-down response to incidents, which doesn’t change any of the power dynamics in our community. It just means we’ll get a steady stream of offenders we get really good at dealing with.
– most scenes have found that there’s a sudden rush of reports once a safety policy is set up, as the ‘backlog’ gets dealt with, and then the reports slow.

Things I want:

  • Someone to put together a ‘kit’ for safety champ processes, so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Eg the Dace Safe Korea people have BRILLIANT research on offences in their city. How did they collect this data? How does it compare with Sydney?
  • A shift towards the local ‘safety champ’ peer network instead of the ‘scene leaders solving problem’ top-down process. I want to see local peeps powered up to care for each other, not people just shifting responsibility onto a few powerful people.

I think we are all responsible for each other. That’s why I teach lindy hop the way I do: we’re in love for three minutes. So make it happy, safe, consensual love where we all get out happy. :D

*not actually a thing.

Responding to comments: is gendering offenders a mistake?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?
…Over-Genderising the issue is arguably perpetuating the inequality that causes these things to occur in the first place. The tone is set that we expect less from men.

I have just wanted to shout “JUST STOP BEING POOS!” so many times. It just wastes so much time and energy for us to have to come up with a bunch of processes and guidelines for preventing and responding to sh/a, time and energy we could better spend on DANCING.
But it just keeps happening. WHAT is wrong with these people?!

So far as gendering goes:
I think this is a very good point. At this stage, internationally, the vast bulk of offenders identify as cismen, and the vast bulk of targets/reporters identify as women (including non ciswomen).
This is representative of figures outside the dance community – it is a definite fact that most assaults and harassment are perpetrated by cismen, and women and girls are the majority of targets. The follow up fact is that men and boys are also targets for offenders, but that they under-report.
We also know that boys are probably as likely to be assaulted and harassed as girls (and I’m talking children and young teens here), but are far less likely to report than girls.

So we can say that sexual harassment and assault in the dance world reflect patterns in the wider community.

Offenders are prevalently cismen.
This aligns with what we know about how power works in our communities. I find it more useful to think of sexual assault and harassment as acts of power and abuse first. Acts of power that have sexualised settings.

What I will say, is that the dance world has been spectacularly quick and effective in its response to this issue. Within a year of Steven Mitchell being reported, we had codes of conduct and working response processes around the world. That is INCREDIBLE. And SO fast!
This is partly our challenge: we’ve gotten onto these issues so quickly, we can’t keep up with ourselves!

Australia is certainly in the lead for safety prevention and response. We are just bloody GREAT at this. It also means we’re inventing stuff as we go, rather than getting to learn from other scene’s efforts. TIRING.

I actually think Sydney is doing a truly fabulous job. Teachers across the city can speak calmly and reasonably together on this topic, they share information and resources and collaborate on efforts. That is truly crazily good work for a city with ~10 different teaching bodies and events.

I give a bunch of credit to the fact that Sydney started getting serious about lgbqt inclusiveness ages ago (still not 100% good yet though!), has leads and follows of all gender variations (still not 100% there either!), and is relatively multicultural.

I’m also really excited about the fact that Sydney has stopped relying on a top-down approach to safety (where business owners make and enforce decisions) to a flatter approach to safety (where individuals take care of each other and tell offenders to get lost).

I’m really really proud of everything people do to look after each other in Sydney. It’s really really wonderful.
But one night a week dancing struggles against a whole culture.