Category Archives: lindy hop and other dances

Beginner dancers are perfect

So, we continue with our project to actively prevent sexual harassment in our lindy hop scene.
You can read about our three part strategy here. Our Code of Conduct has come together, we’ve been working on our in-class teaching tools for at least 3 months now, and we have begun doing some direct intervention with offenders. 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.

Reading and writing this makes me feel good:

Statement of Intent
We believe in jazz music and dance. We believe in the best throw-down, heart-stopping lindy hop, and that every song should be a solid sender that makes you leap to your feet. We believe that every dancer and musician has a right to good feels.

We are stepping UP. We do not tolerate harassment or bullying, and are actively working to prevent sexual harassment in the swing dance scene.

You are WITH us on this. In joining us on the dance floor or agreeing to work with us as a teacher, DJ, musician, sound engineer, volunteer, performer, or event manager, you agree to treat all participants with care and respect and to abide by our code of conduct. You also accept that all minors must be accompanied by an adult.

Code of Conduct
1. There’s room for all of us on the dance floor.
2. We’re looking out for our peeps.
3. Talk nice.
4. Your body is important.
5. Be ok with people saying no.
6. You can say no.
7. Play safe.

And last night in a particularly large, boisterous, fun, beginners’ class, we had some really great feedback from students on our ‘how to give feedback to your partner’ tool.

We decided a while ago that we needed to directly address how to give feedback to your partner in class. We’d had some in-class ‘teaching’ from experienced students, we’d seen that people were already figuring out how to work collaboratively in our intermediate class, and we’d decided that we needed to tool women dancers up with the skills to say ‘no!’ to dodgy touching from male partners. We wanted to create a culture of respect for our own and our partner’s bodies, and of being ok with articulating your limits and and boundaries.

So we got serious.

All of us teaching in the teaching team (there are 4 of us teaching in varying partnerships) had begun talking about how to touch your partner the right way. We usually just explained it as “Don’t put your hand too low because it’s weird and creepy,” which is a very common approach. But that didn’t feel like enough. And it’s really not addressing the whole range of ways we can touch each other. And we were generally shifting away from just listing ‘rules’ in our teaching anyway. We wanted people to find out for themselves why we might do things in a particular way, and we wanted them to be aware of their own actions and how they communicated with their partners. Because just telling someone isn’t teaching or learning. Figuring things out for yourself is learning. Good teaching is about facilitating learning, not dictating rules.

I can’t remember how it happened exactly, but I know in our class we were just in a beginner class one night, and we’d had a few conversations earlier in our teaching team about what women should do when men touch their boobs or hold them too tight. We knew we should just SAY “Stop that!” but we all knew how difficult that could be.

So anyway, we were in class. And we got to a part where we’d usually say “Don’t put your hand too low here, leads…” blah blah. Instead we posed it like a question: “So what do we do if our partner’s squeezing our hand too tightly or their hand is too low?”
And then we sort of role played it:

Teacher A: Hey, you’re squeezing my hand a bit – can you can loosen your fingers a bit please?
Teacher B: Oh, sorry, I didn’t realise! There, is that better?
Teacher A: Yep, that’s great, thanks!

We try to make it a really casual, no worries, no stress sort of exchange, to model how giving and receiving feedback is no big thing.

It’s always funny to watch, and people laugh. We don’t do it in a preachy way, we do it a lol way, because it’s actually really funny and kind of strange to role play this stuff.
But then we said to them, “Ok you guys, I want the leads to say to the follows, “Is my hand ok here, should it be higher or lower?” and then follows, tell them. And then, the magic: they immediately had a very loud, engaged conversation with their partner! ALL of them!

It was SO EXCITING!

After that point, we could just say, “Ok, can you check in with your partner to see if the connection is ok, please?” and they’d just DO it! It was very, very exciting. Very exciting.

Since then we’ve streamlined it a bit. When we first say, “Can you just check in with your partner,” they often assume it’s a sort of rhetorical question. But then we say, “No, can you actually do it right now, please.” We say, “Can you ask your partner, ‘how does that feel for you?’. Newcomers to our intermediate class often just reply to their partner “Fine”, but if I hear any of those rote politeness answers, I say, “No, I want you to give your partner actual feedback on how that actually feels.” And then they do. Because it’s not enough to just tell them they can do these things. You have to actually have them PRACTICE it. You have to push through the ‘polite don’t cause trouble ‘fine’ response’, particularly for women responding to men. You have to make it clear that ‘fine’ isn’t enough – your partner wants actual feedback, so you have to figure out how to give useful feedback.
It’s exactly like when you explain how to do a particular move. Explaining to them, then them nodding is useless. You have to explain, then they DO it, immediately afterwards.

This has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in my teaching, ever. Stops me talking too much. Makes them masters of their own dancing and bodies. It’s something that might stress you if you’re the sort of teacher who’s used to micromanaging a class, and standing in the middle of the circle being the centre of attention. But you have to – step out of that circle. Let them make mistakes and then figure it out themselves.

In an extension of this, I’ve also started talking to the follows about how they touch the leads, and what this can say to the leads. My favourite thing at the moment is to talk about how the follow’s left hand on the lead’s right shoulder is an important way for the follow to give feedback to the lead. I often use the expression, “This is how you reassure the lead. The way you put your hand on their shoulder tells them that you have confidence in them, and that you trust them.”

I started talking about this in a class where I was explaining how I danced with very new dancers, or with leads who were freaking: I just relaxed my body as much as I could, and tried to communicate to my partner that I was totally chilled. Because if I touch them with stress, they get stressed.
When I talk about it in class, I say this “This is the hand of reassurance” to the follows, and they usually then reply with “Oh, if I hold my hand like this” and they scrunch up their hands or let their arms hover, “It says I’m feeling scared or don’t trust them.” If they don’t see that connection, I explain it (in a nice way). The goal here is not to tell students “Don’t hold your hand like that,” but to say to students, “The way you touch your partner communicates how you feel to them,” and then letting them figure out what they want to communicate to their partner.
I had a moment like this in class last night. An older woman was doing the arm-hover, fingers-pinch left hand, and she was also doing some really disconnected footwork which was making it tricky for the leads to lead. So I explained the ‘this is how we reassure the leads’ thing. And she figured out straight away that she needed to think about how she was communicating with her partner.
This is especially good for follows because it stops them getting into that ‘the leads not doing it right’ loop, and it makes them think about themselves as an active part of the partnership. I never say this bit, but it also improves their connection so the leads can feel their weight changes and be more effective leads.
Of course, all this does actually make the leads relax and feel more confident. :D

This was really an extension of a talk we’d had in the intermediate class about how connection between partners isn’t a one-way street where leads signal to follows. It’s a two-way, and constant communication, where follows return the energy the lead gives, and leads constantly listen to the follow, to see how they’re balanced, what they’re digging, whether they’re going to bring some improvisation.
If you’re engaged with your partner as a living, thinking, feeling human like this, you’re also going to be doing empathy, and less likely to sexual harass them, or throw them into unwanted dips or lifts. It makes me quite tired to have to keep doing this, but we have to teach men how to think of women as active agents, capable of making their own decisions. We have to teach men that they aren’t the boss, and they aren’t always right. They have to work in cooperation with women, not in control of them. Fraternity not patriarchy. The ‘reassuring arm’ is a way of saying to men, “You don’t have to feel insecure in this new equal relationship. We don’t have to have a boss and a submissive in this team; we can be equals and it’ll be ok. Your partner is with you; we can both rock feminism together.”

I find that even the most ‘unsexist’ of men can find this difficult, because they have a lifetime of gender programming to overcome. You can often talk the talk, and your brain can understand that you have to think of women as equals, but it’s much harder to undo the unconscious ways of using your body and occupying space that the privileges of patriarchy give men. Manspreading: it is about patriarchal colonisation of space. Lindy hop: it teaches you how to be a feminist.

This is turn developed from a conversation about bounce and finding a shared sense of bounce or time or rhythm with your partner: you spend time in closed at the beginning of a dance, where you have all that physical contact in a moment of chill. Here, you both work to find a shared sense of bounce and timing. No one sacrifices their bounce or rhythm, you just work to find a compromise. A shared sense of music which is a combination of you both. We all know this is magic.
I don’t think we talk enough about how follows contribute to the partnership. I still treasure a moment where Naomi Uyama explained her role when she’s following is to maintain the beat and rhythm when a ‘storm of rhythm is coming at you’ (she was teaching with Skye): she stays cool. I also like Ramona’s line: follows, don’t ever sacrifice your rhythms for the lead’s.

Anyhow, all this stuff is something we can talk about with beginner dancers, and we SHOULD, right from their first class. Because classes are about teaching us how to social dance, right? We use Lennart’s approach to teaching lindy hop, where the beginner classes teach you to social dance right from the start. The students count themselves in, they decide which steps to do in which order, they can stop and restart whenever they like. None of this ‘calling steps’ and dancing fixed sequences. And you let them dance for a loooong time with the same partner. Last night they danced a WHOLE Song with a partner, just 20 minutes into class, and it was FANTASTIC! They dance really well, and learn how to do floor craft (we encourage them to move around the dance floor), how to apologise, how to stop and start, how to lead and follow, what to do when you confused. We stop them every now and then to give tips, but we keep it practical – how do you improve your communication? What do you do if this happens?

Any how, students can do this immediately, from their very first class. And they fucking LOVE this type of class. You can see them approach a problem (‘why isn’t this working?’), work together to resolve it, then resolve it and literally cheer together. The noise level is incredible. The laughing and talking and shouting out with excitement. It’s just wonderful. And we just float around the class giving tips and feedback. Our focus is always on safety and mutual respect, and we resist the urge to tidy or ‘fix'; we give them a lot of time to figure things out with their partner. And they make their own fun, they find that real joy in solving problems together, and then just enjoying music, being awesome and victorious.

So, giving them tools for giving and receive feedback is essential to this approach. And, honestly, they love it. And once you’ve shown them once, they just do it themselves during the class. And then you can continue to dismantle the conditions that enable sexual harassers.

To finish off this long story, last night after class I was chatting to some of the students, and they said that they particularly loved that part of the class where we explained how to give feedback, and then had them try it. They said it was really FUN, and really helpful. This surprised me. I don’t often think of this as fun, I think of it as practical. But they really liked it.

And you know, it’s true – it is fun. When we first say “Ok, do it,” in class, there’s this sudden rush of noise and really enthusiastic conversation that’s quite surprising. It’s not angry talk, it’s this loud, cheery laughing talk. It’s as though people have been waiting all day to actually talk to someone in a meaningful way. I know follows like it, but leads like it too. And they are really good at it. They’re respectful and nice to each other.

Humans are just so fucking amazing.

Jazz is fun

I had a little ramble on Leigh’s fb page today. So here it is, where it should be, on my blog, not someone else’s fb page.

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Hey, I have to share this photo of our class last night. This was a group of about 40 people, most of whom had never really heard jazz or swing before. It was really exciting when a student asked us to explain who the song we were dancing to was by, and what it was called, because he wanted to go and buy it so he could listen to it again. Right then and there, someone was interested enough to stop a class and ask for details so he could own that music himself.

I love jazz music for its own sake, but jazz dance really is a direct route to jazz love.

I get esp cranky at the implication that jazz is something you sit politely and quietly to or watch. Art should be something anyone get involved in. Whether you’re sitting and listening or up and dancing. Jazz is wonderful because it invites engagement – musicians improvising, audiences shouting out in reply, dancers making it visible.

….there’s something really wonderful about a room full of people discovering jazz for the first time. And the truly magic part of a beginners’ dance class is that this group of people are actively taking hold of jazz and using it, exploring it, figuring out how it works in a practical way. For the very first time! And with such enthusiasm! They learn about swinging timing, about the beat, about phrasing, about breaks, about improvisation in a very relaxed, fun way, by moving their bodies.
It’s kind of the opposite of an institutionalised ‘art’ practice – it’s about taking a music and seeing how useful and practical it can be. Does it make me move? Is it fun? Will it make me happy? Can I work with this? It’s a very rigorous, demanding engagement with music which makes _everyone_ both an art user and _maker_ – audience and creator. And it happens in an ordinary space (the Petersham Bowlo :D), by ordinary people, saying “Hey, musicians, what have you GOT for me? Step up!”
These guys don’t have any time for music that doesn’t bring the feels or the energy, or _something_.

….the creative stuff is wonderful, but the best bit – the bit that makes jazz worthwhile – is that it makes people laugh out loud, talk really loudly, and actively engage with everyone in the room in creative play. It just brings the good goddamm feels.

All this to a recorded song. When it’s a live band. Well. That is just wonderful. There isn’t anything better.

Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven: album review

Hello!
This is a post about music!

I was approached by Glenn Crytzer a couple of weeks months ago, saying “I’d love to have you do a piece on our new record. Please let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in. Here’s a digital copy of the album for you.”
And there was a digital copy of the album Uptown Jump by Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven.

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My review in brief:
Buy this album because it’s good, and it’s only $15. Buy it because you want to tell the band you support what they’re doing and you want them to keep doing it. You want dancers to hear this music and then demand organisers have them play their events. We need this stuff. I know I’d hire them in a heartbeat.
But
the sound quality is not ok for DJing, unless you are a rockstar DJ at a professionally run event, or just plain lucky enough to have a great local DJing sound set up. If you’re listening at home for pleasure, then fuck all that shit about sound quality and just buy it and LISTEN to it.

My review in extreme length:

As you probably know, this latest Crytzer project was funded by a kickstarter, and I have no idea whether I supported it or not. I’m usually quite happy to buy an album after it’s come out. More importantly, I will almost definitely buy an album if it’s on sale at a band gig. Which is the problem with Crytzer’s bands: they’re only playing in America (and maybe Canada?), which is far away, and not on my ‘to-travel’ list any time soon (soz america). I am all about Korea, as you know. So I will have to enjoy this band in recorded form.

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(image source)

This is important, because Crytzer is a dancer (or was – I dunno if he has time to dance these days, what with all the touring and recovering) and plays all the big American dance events. This is a dancer’s band, playing dance music for dancers. I’ve spoken about one particular gig in detail before. His first release, by Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band, Chasin’ the Blues, was popular with dancers, the band’s name an obvious nod to DJ and dancing nerds. But it was the second album Harlem Mad by Glenn Crytzer and His Syncopators that was wildly popular, DJed by people all over the place. Including me. I still hear people DJing ‘Fortunate Love’ with Meschiya Lake on vocals.

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(image source)

I think this 2011 recording, combined with the popular live shows, and the presence of the massively popular Meschiya Lake, really was the perfect storm, dropping at just the right time. Lake and all things NOLA were supercrazy popular (and some of us had begun to wail about the lack of big band action at events and in DJ sets), and squishing this charismatic performer into the line up was genius. The music itself managed to combine the rough edges and ‘real’ sound of NOLA with the larger band format and more complex arrangements of a bigger band.

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After that, there was Skinne Minne by Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators in 2011. This album used what many dancers would describe as an ‘authentic’ recording sound. Simply put, it sounds like an olden days recording. And I will be very blunt here: it was unDJable. This is a terrible shame, because it was recorded live at Lindy Fest, and the songs are just great. It feels exciting and fun. There are a couple of musical rough spots, but who cares – it FEELS LIKE LINDY HOP! But I have only DJed from it perhaps once or twice, ever. Because I tend to DJ in shitty halls with shitty sound gear, and if I’m going to take a risk on a ‘poor quality’ recording, I’ll go with Ellington or Basie or Hamp.

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In fact, my experience with this album was so disappointing, I didn’t even buy the next album, Focus Pocus by the Savoy Seven, and featuring all original compositions. Listening to it right now, I feel like a total fool. This has a more conventionally ‘modern’ recording sound, but definitely still feels ‘old’. In fact, I’m buying it now. And you should too, because it’s only $7. Crazy.
It’s worth mentioning the christmas album A Little Love this Christmas, because lindy DJs are often looking for christmas themed music, and Glenn has gone and made some that’s actually good. Buy this too.

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Ok, so what does all this have to do with the new album? I think it’s important, because Crytzer is now a well-known name and band in the lindy hop scene, particularly on the more competitive big American event circuit. DJs and dancers aren’t as likely to cut him some slack now. The ‘authentic’ earlier swing sound is a bit more common, and we are pickier. We are less likely to tolerate poor quality recordings.

This is, of course, the first thing I noticed about the new album Uptown Jump. It uses an ‘old style’ recording technology. And I did groan. No matter how great the songs are, they’re going to be up against all those old masters again. It isn’t fair, it’s uncool, it’s even ungrateful to think like that. But this is the bottom line for a swing DJ: it has to sound good on a sound system in a crowded or empty room. And every modern band is competing with a mythic ‘golden age’ of swing.

Listening to it over the following couple of weeks and talking about it with my DJing friends, the general consensus was: great album, unworkable sound ‘quality’. It’s very unfair, because this is an album of original compositions that are actually quite good. These days when I hear a band introduce an ‘original’, I cringe a little. There’s some really bad shit out there. But the actual songs on this are pretty bloody good. They are properly in keeping with musical history (for the most part), they swing, they make great dancing. I just can’t hear them properly! ARGH!
As a friend said, I wish I could have a copy of ‘clean’ master. I’d DJ the shit out of that.

Even the album itself – the song order – is perfect for dancers. Good range of tempos, good range of styles and feels.
The musicians are all great too:
Mike Davis, tpt
Evan Arntzen, cl/ts
Dan Levinson, ss/as/ts
Jesse Gelber, pno
Glenn Crytzer, g/vcl/ldr
Andrew Hall, sb
Kevin Dorn, d
It’s a 7 piece – not too big, not too little – and there are musical moments that make me squee. Everything is here, but I can’t hear it!

Of course, I do have severely fucked up hearing from all these years DJing and dancing. And I am a picky DJ. Who has to play on some of the worst sound gear and in some of the worst rooms ever. I’m no pampered ILHC DJ, that’s for sure :D .
But I’m also a DJ who collects and plays a lot of modern bands, so I’ve heard a lot of different modern recording set ups. Some have sucked big time (there was one Tuba Skinny album that was pretty darn bad. But when I listen to something like the latest Tuba Skinny album Pyramid Strut, with a lovely, lovely warm studio sound – each instrument right THERE in the room – and that really nice, energetic street jazz musician camaraderie… I get sad about this Crytzer recording.
:(

But let’s talk about authenticity. That is the point of Glenn’s approach to the production process. Dude had a VISION, and we need to engage with that. Glenn responded to a fairly lively discussion about the new album on facebook with this great post Low-fi.
I like that he begins with the term ‘lo-fi’. Because fidelity is, of course, the idea of ‘trueness’ or faithfulness to truth, honesty, exactness of a copy, realness. This is what we are all about with recreation in lindy hop: we are looking for ‘realness’. Authenticity. We value ‘realness’ in so many ways in the lindy hop scene, from historically accurate choreography to bringing ‘real’ feels in a dance competition (the argument about improvisation vs choreography following Lindy Focus is an example of this). The key tension seems to be between recreating music/dance/art in minute detail and accuracy, and tempering that with recreating the intentions of the original artists. So we may recreate the lindy hop routine in Hellzapoppin’ to pinpoint accuracy, but miss the point that these guys valued making shit up – invention and improvisation

I have written about recreationism in the lindy hop scene approximately one million times, most recently about DJing in Herrang, land of recreationist obsession. There are good things about being an obsessive recreationist, and there are bad things. And there are interesting things that are worth talking about.

So let’s accept the premise of Glenn’s project: this is recreationism. Let’s engage with the album on those terms, lets talk about those interesting things.
One of the things I like about this album is that it’s a smaller band. I am a massive fan of Ellington’s small groups, the Goodman/Hamp small groups, John Kirby’s groups… and so on. I really like the way a small group – in the swing era, peopled by musicians who also played in big bands – allowed a band to explore more complex, more ‘modern’ arrangements and vibes. A lot of the guys in these groups went on to do bop and modern music. And each band allowed each musician a unique style and real role in the band.

Listening to Crytzer’s band, it definitely sounds like a swing era small group. Sometimes to the point of… um… homage? Take the song ‘Road to Tallahassee’. It sounds very similar to the Ellington small group recording of ‘Ain’t the Gravy Good’ (credited to Cootie Williams and his Rugcutters). Cootie’s an interesting example, because he had such a distinct sound, and Ellington’s band played arrangements that were developed just for Cootie, with parts that showcased his style.

This seems the point of this recording by the Savoy Seven, though. To do homage to these groups. And that’s what they do. There’s nothing wrong with that – we dig it! But there are moments on this album, though, where I feel they don’t give enough love and attention to developing their own sound.

Let’s have a look at something Glenn says in that tumblr post about the recording process for this album:

The modern “standard” way to record an album these days is to put mics very close to every instrument to isolate their sound. In fact sometimes the instruments are even put into separate rooms with the musicians listening to each other through headphones to create total isolation. Using this technique everyone doesn’t even have to play at the same time!
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This creates the sound we’re all used to in the 21st century – the sound of rock and pop music. It’s very bright, the instruments each sound very clearly like themselves and are isolated from each other, the sound can push the speakers really hard because the signal is super intense.

There were also some technologies that were available but were not used – by the 1940s the technology existed to put a mic on every instrument in the studio – but they chose to still use just a couple of mics – to let the sounds blend and then to record that. To me, that’s a cue that the natural blending and balancing of sounds was really important to band leaders. (link)

I like this point. I really like this idea of the importance of recording musicians who are all playing together in one room. It gets closer to capturing that sense of group is so central to jazz music, to improvised music!

I’m not sure this album as a whole is quite there. I don’t think the actual relationships between the instruments in each song are quite right. There’s something about the to-and-fro of musicians in Goodman’s small group that is unique. Their ways of taking turns, replying to each other, and interacting, reflect the dynamics and personality of the group. Goodman is the boss, but you hear him say “Ok, bring your shit. Let’s ignore all this segregation shit. You are GOOD, I am GOOD, let’s make the best fucking music ever.” And they all step up. You hear their personalities in their style and way of interacting to each other.
In Crytzer’s band, I hear people ‘taking turns’, having their say, rather than having a living conversation. A living conversation can involve interruption, call-and-response and collaborative meaning making. It doesn’t have to be this mannered, overly polite formal turn taking.

Do we have to sacrifice the clarity of sound to get that feeling of togetherness? Of course not. Nor do we have to push for that super-bright, ‘harsh’ sound that Glenn finds a bit much (and which I also find a bit much). The Tuba Skinny Pyramid Strut album is a good example of a modern recording that has real depth and warmth, but still manages sharp lightness when it needs to.

Does a modern recording have to have that particular recorded sound to be authentic? Here let’s look at a band that is almost ridiculously hardcore in their attention to historical detail. The Hot Jazz Alliance, recording their forthcoming album:

Milenberg Joys – The Hot Jazz Alliance The ‘Hot Jazz Alliance’ recording their debut album at ‘HiHat Studios’, April 2014. Michael McQuaid – clarinet, Jason Downes – alto sax, Andy Schumm – cornet, Josh Duffee – drums, John Scurry – banjo, Leigh Barker – string bass.
Sounds old, but isn’t. Different style of jazz to Glenn’s album, but I think my point is clear: it’s a pleasure to hear old music with that clarity of sound brought by modern technology. But we’ll wait and see what their recording is like.

Let me just finish off with a bit of attention to the songs themselves. Do they carry that same commitment to ‘old’ – recreationism? Is Glenn’s band pulling off this grand project?

I’m going to start with the song ‘Smokin’ that Weed’.
Songs about vipers, chasing the gong, and plain old garden variety tea are a dime a dozen in the jazz world. They don’t call them jazz cigarettes for nothing. But this one… hm. The lyrics are just too obvious, and it leaves the song feeling kind of juvenile. Sure, there were some dumb, obvious songs written in ye olden days about drugs. And sex. And food. But many of the songs about dope from the swing era (particularly for mass release) could be very clever, hiding their drug references in innuendo, metaphor and word play. Part of the pleasure of these songs is getting away with something naughty. so ‘Smokin’ that Weed’ could have been a bit…cleverer? Subtler?

I also find the lyrics of ‘Smokin’ that Weed’ and their delivery a bit too… intense. Which conflicts with the vibe of ‘floatin’ in the sky’. The accenting and pacing of the first lines is uncomfortable, and the emphasis on “suckin'” is too harsh and sharp:

Do you like the vipe
suckin’ on that pipe,
it gets ya feeling tight
aw smokin’ that weed

This song has real potential. The first, brassy notes remind me a lot of Herb Morand and the Harlem Hamfats, who of course recorded ‘If You’se a Viper’, a song that’s been very popular with American dancers over the years. This is a clever touchstone for Crytzer’s band. The Hamfats have jazzcred, being relatively obscure and yet still featuring a few very good musicians (like Buster Bailey, Rosetta Howard, Alberta Smith, etc). But the vocals in ‘Smokin’ that Weed’ aren’t right. If you listen to someone like Rosetta Howard singing ‘If Youse a Viper’, her pronounciation is mellow and relaxed, just as it should be if you’re chilling with a spliff.
But in ‘Smokin’ that Weed’, they’re rushing to get the joke out, and it feels a bit forced and eager to me. Not quite cool enough. More to the point, I’m not sure what the joke is, exactly. They’re basically just giggling about singing a song about smoking weed.
Sigh.

I guess what I’m saying is that this song lacks subtlety and nuance. Which I think is my quibble with a lot of the songs on this album, and with the general recreationist vibe. It’s not subtle. I need a little more nuance to really dig this. And it needs a little more sophistication to pass as properly ‘authentic’ in both tone and content.

What about the other songs? My favourite song is ‘Glenn’s Idea‘, because I like the piano in there. It reminds me very of all those nice small swing era groups. I’d certainly play ‘Savoy Special‘ for dancers, because it comes in strong and exciting and continues that way. ‘Missouri Loves Company‘ is definitely my sort of song, and I love it. To be honest, I’m a girl for instrumentals. Unless you’re the Hot Club of Cowtown and you have a voice like Whit Smith‘s on hand.

So, in sum, as I said up there at the beginning, buy this. It’s worth it. The musicians are good, it’s great dance music, it’s all good. But I’m disappointed by the sound ‘quality’, and I can’t DJ it at my regular gigs. :(

Milenberg Joys

Here are four bands playing Milenberg Joys. They all have quite different styles.
This is an interesting set of bands because they include some of the bigger name/most popular musicians of the moment, but each version has a distinct style, even though the bands have some members in common.

The Hot Jazz Alliance

The ‘Hot Jazz Alliance’ recording their debut album at ‘HiHat Studios’, April 2014. Michael McQuaid – clarinet, Jason Downes – alto sax, Andy Schumm – cornet, Josh Duffee – drums, John Scurry – banjo, Leigh Barker – string bass.

This is the most recent, and the band is pretty darn good. All the musicians have great projects on the boil, and they’re all Australian (Melbournian!), bar Josh Duffee and Andy Schumm. I have mad feels for John Scurry’s playing. I like this version a lot, but there are times when the band feels a bit square. You can see the drummer Josh Duffee has moments where he’s kind of pushing them to let go a little. This feel is probably because they’re playing in a studio, on camera, as they’re all usually a little rowdier in person. Except Michael McQuaid, who is very rarely rowdy :D This is very definitely ‘recreationist’ and has a very solidly ‘authentic’ feel.
The Hot Jazz Alliance have a new album coming out soon. Keep an eye out – it’ll be great.

The Milenberg Joys – Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars – Hot Steamed Jazz Festival 2012

Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars (http://www.danlevinson.com) play at the 2012 Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex CT (http://www.hotsteamedjazz.com/)

Dan Levinson – Reeds
Andy Schumm – Cornet
Matt Musselman – Trombone
Gordon Webster – Piano
Molly Ryan – Guitar and Vocals
Rob Adkins – Bass
Kevin Dorn – Drums

I think of this as a very New York combination of musicians. Again, great stuff. But also a bit more into the ‘swing era’. At first the drumming annoyed me with all the hihat action, but then I understood. Webster is of course a dancers’ favourite (though I feel he might just have passed his apex), and this solidly swinging style makes for great lindy hop. I can’t really understand how that crowd of greybeards can just sit there, utterly still while all this is going on onstage.

“MILENBERG JOYS”: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at MONTEREY 2011

Clint Baker (cornet), Marc Caparone (cornet), Howard Miyata (trombone and euphonium), Mike Baird (clarinet), Dawn Lambeth (piano), Katie Cavera (banjo), Paul Mehling (bass), and Jeff Hamilton (drums)

This is a much rowdier performance, partly because of the instrumentation, but also because this is midway through a megajazzfan party, so they’re all warmed up. I think of this grouping as more San Francisco inspired, probably because of Clint Baker’s presence. Baker has been doing a lot of work with SF dancers over the past few years, including mentoring musician-dancers. When I listen to this, I think of that ‘new orleans revival’ sound that was big in the 50s. It has an old school vibe, but it swings pretty seriously. There’s different stuff happening in the drums again. As busy as the previous performance, and nowhere near as sparse as the first clip.

“MILENBERG JOYS”: THE EARREGULARS AT THE EAR INN (Oct. 21, 2012)

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Lopeman, reeds; Rob Adkins, string bass.

This performance is different again. The Ear is a New York restaurant bar that squeezes a very good band into a tiny space, and the crowd may or may not listen to them at all. But you can be sure they bring the business. This performance has a chilled vibe again, but they bring the shit, and they’re really digging on each other.
Note the lack of drummer, but presence of bowed bass! Nerdgasmic!

While we’re talking strings, it’s intresting to see which bands use banjos v guitars. The first is definitely a banjo outfit (though John Scurry is a JOY on guitar as well), the second uses guitar, the third banjo, and the final guitar. The replacement of banjo with guitar is usually a cue to dancers that we’re going to hear a more swinging, later sound. Same goes for replacing tuba with bass – the bass replaced tubas in a lot of bands. All four instruments have different aesthetics, styles, and modes of playing which affect the ‘feel’ for dancers. If there’s banjo + tuba, you’re thinking more uppydowny, and if there’s guitar + bass, you get a little deeper in the pocket, more lateral momentum and a ‘swingier’ feel that makes you get into your swingout like Frankie.

You might have noticed that two of these videos were filmed by Jazz Lives. Michael Steinman is a generous, thoughtful jazz fan and author, who’s written about his approach to filming jazz in his post Expanding the community. I recommend his site. Just nail your wallet shut before you start browsing.

Code of Conduct – draft

Nicole Zonnenberg’s post A Contribution to the Discussion of Sexual Harassment in the Swing Dance Community (21 April 2015) is great because it clearly and simply explains how a code of conduct could have reduced distress or provented conflict in specific instances.

I’ve decided a code of conduct is essential for dance events. But they can’t be randomly copied documents of meaningless. You have to really mean what you say. And be prepared to act on this code. I’ve finally put together a code of conduct and am working on specific response strategies. You can read a draft version of it here on google docs. I am interested in your comments (though you’ll need to add them as comments to this post, not directly into that google document, because I don’t have time to moderate one million sites).

I’ve also started formalising and compiling my various workers’ agreements. I’ve been using these for years, though each copy has a slightly different form, as it is a negotiated agreement including the worker’s preferences and stipulations. This is important: this is an agreement, not a contract (it’s not legally binding!), so you must have consensus between all parties.

There are, of course, plenty of other relationships that require contracts or agreements – and these above should technically be covered by contracts rather than agreements – and you can find templates for them on the Arts Law Centre of Australia website. Note, you must pay for these.

[Edit]
A friend added an interesting comment to my post about this on facebook:

Really appreciate you keeping us all accountable Sam. I think Codes of Conduct are great but as you say, they’re useless if people don’t know how to take action with them.

This person has right-on politics, so I want to start here. Who is accountable for our actions? Are we only responsible for ourselves and what we do and think? Are we only responsible for the people ‘below’ us in a power structure? Are we responsible for each other – all of us? Are men responsible for the actions of other men, or just for their own? Is sisterhood an important idea, that women are accountable for the safety and actions of each other?
It’s a tricky one. I personally feel that I have a responsibility to look out for the safety of other women and girls. That’s where I start. I’ll also call out people who make racist/sexist/ist jokes. That’s my job, that’s one of the responsibilities of privilege (for me). To speak up.

So why don’t men call other men out on their behaviour? Why am I the one who’s telling men to stop pulling air steps at social dances? Why aren’t men doing this? Why did that male teacher try to discourage me from talking about and responding to sexual harassment by insisting that women harass too? What makes men feel like this isn’t their job too? Maybe they just don’t realise how powerful they are. Maybe they really don’t realise how much ‘safer’ patriarchy makes them.

Maybe this is a symptom of liberal individualism. This idea that we are own bosses, and we all need to work harder, and if we are poor or vulnerable, it’s our own fault for not working hard? Maybe this is the most important part of feminism: collectivism. Socialism. Caring about other people. Doing things for them and with them when we can.

I dunno. Aren’t you a lindy hopper? Isn’t the whole point of what we do to be awesome in partnership with other people?

I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t actually like the idea of one person making other people accountable for their actions; I don’t want to replace patriarchy with matriarchy. The thing that bothers me most about codes of conduct is that we all KNOW these things are totally not ok, and yet we still do them! And we don’t call other people out on their behaviour! So rather than deconstructing this top-down power dynamic, we reproduce it with a code of conduct, which we assume the ‘management’ or ‘powerful’ will enforce.
What I’d like to see is a) more women feeling powerful and in control of their lives and bodies, b) more men calling other men out on their behaviour – it’s not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue!, and c) more men regulating their OWN behaviour, and questioning their own assumptions about who and what they are entitled to do with their own and other people’s bodies.

But how do you do all that in the _context_ of patriarchy? The commodification of dance in formal dance classes doesn’t help, as it reinforces this power structure. …I guess that’s why I think you can’t talk about responding to s.h. without acting to prevent it with broader cultural change. Sets of rules and then punitive measures just reproduce unjust power dynamics.

…maybe the best sorts of response strategies are those that everyone can enact, not just an ‘authority’? Anyways, I’m still struggling with this part of the process.

Let’s get material about sexual harassment

As part of my 3-part response to sexual harassment in the lindy scene, I’ve started getting keen on the idea of visual assets. ie paper postcards, a useful website, etc.

My 3-part response:
1. Develop a code of conduct.
This is basically a set of ‘rules’, but also a clear statement of intent.
– the in-progress code of conduct and sexual harassment policy I’m developing

2. Working towards cultural change through:

Teaching in a way which explicitly helps women feel confident and strong, and provides tools for men looking to redefine how they do masculinity.
– using tools like the ones I outline in Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer and Uses of history: Frankie as teaching tool

Teaching in a way which implicitly discourages sexual harassment, by encouraging good communication between leads and follows.
– I am keen on the rhythm centred approach as a practical strategy. Less hippy talk, more dancing funs.
– I like simple things like talking to both men and women about being ok with people saying no to you.

3. Developing strategies for actually confronting men about their behaviour.

– I talked about how I do this in class in Dealing with problem guys in dance classes
– I’m working up to addressing the more nebulous issue of sexual harassment by practicing on more concrete stuff like telling men to stop pulling aerials on the social floor
– Talking to and about men confronting other men. Because it’s men who are doing the dodgy stuff in most of these cases, and we need to ask men to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether those actions are harassment, or condoning/enabling harassment by not using their power to speak up.

Working on this, I’ve discovered that a bunch of words is next to useless. We need simple graphics, pictures and posters. Using a range of resources (the AFL’s response to sexual assault is particularly powerful and useful), I’m thinking that we need to add a few things to the prevention/response strategies. I’m considering making up a simple, powerful website and postcard outlining what’s ok, and what’s not. They have to have a light-hearted, fun vibe (because lindy hop), but they also have to be very useful and not too twee. The tone of these texts should suit the vibe of my business, but also give an idea of national and international lindy hop culture (as if there was such an homogenous thing!)
These two assets could work in concert with a poster or sign, and with a practical training program for teachers, door staff, and ‘safety officers’ (ie the people you go to when you need help).

Luckily, lindy hoppers have already gotten on to this. We actually have a discourse of ‘etiquette’, which is the way we manage and control social interactions in our scene. We also talk a lot about ‘floor craft’, which is another way of managing how we take care of ourselves and others on the dance floor. The basic message of both is ‘Look out for others or you won’t get any dances.” Lindy hop has a powerful shaming tool at its disposal, and we should make greater use of it.

I think we can just tweak these two sets of ‘rules’ a little to make them a bit more powerful and directly address sexual harassment and assault. A lot of dancers don’t want to address rape and sexual harassment explicitly because it’s a downer (and lindy hop is supposed to be all happy clappy all the time), and it’s a bit of a social taboo to talk about sex and sexual violence in an explicit way. And it’s really difficult to talk about sexual assault and violence without actually talking about breasts, vulvas, vaginas, penises, bottoms, and how we touch and use them.
Added to this are the broader social myths about women’s bodies, women’s sexuality, and men’s sexuality. The bottom line in responding to sexual harassment and assault is that you have to accept that it’s about power and violence more than it’s about sex and sexuality, and you have to accept that patriarchy exists. A tall order for people who ‘just want to dance’.

But I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when there’s fab stuff like this around:

Lindy-Hoppers-etiquette-1024x723

This is an etiquette guide produced by Holy Lindy Land, the Israeli lindy hop community. Which of course you should know about, because they sent an open letter of peace and friendship to the lindy hoppers of Palestine, which makes me cry like a little baby with the love. (You can read more about the two scenes’ work in this lovely piece).

I like this poster because it does simple things like replace my awkward description

Avoid ‘boob swipes’, touching a partner’s bottom, groin, upper legs – you know the deal. If you accidentally do so, apologise immediately. If you do this repeatedly, you will be warned, if not ejected from the event.

with
Lindy-Hoppers-etiquette-1024x723

I think that lindy hop could also do with some of the sharper edged humour that would help us get real about sexual harassment.

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There was a most excellent swing memes thread on yehoodi years ago, where most of the images are sadly missing now :( I’m especially fond of Good Guy Greg.
And of course tumblr brings the gif with people like lindy hop problems.

But these are, of course, not ‘official’ responses to sexual harassment. They are very important, because they give us a way to comment on issues, and also to ‘talk back to power’ if we don’t think organisations are stepping up.

I’m thinking something by an artist like Tomeito would be pretty useful:

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At any rate, I’m working on it. Slowly but surely…. :D

Resources:

  • Mobtown ballroom code of conduct (casual, human tone to the talk)
  • the SES (State Emergency Services) position sexual harassment as an occupational health and safety issue rather than a ‘women’s issue’ or ‘sexual issue’, and have some EXCELLENT training material available
  • AFL (Australian Football League) have Respect and Responsibility, a hardcore response to s.h. and assault which targets men (because it is a male-dominated sport), and uses the Australian discourses of ‘mateship’, ‘team’ and community responsibility (or club-loyalty) through the language of the sport (‘taking the tackle’ etc) in a powerful way. Their posters are great. I admit it, my Uses of History: Frankie as Teaching Tool in-class strategies are an attempt to do the same thing. To use the language and model of our most important and powerful cultural imagery as a strategy for dealing with sexual harassment.
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (for identifying and defining s.h., and researching the legal status of s.h.). My federal government’s current push to destabilise and ultimately destroy the AHRC is making me very angry.
    AHRC’s ‘know the line’ campaign, which feels a bit naff to me, but uses a strong poster campaign and website/poster tie-in.

Body stuff: making choices about your own flesh

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A friend has been patiently managing an ongoing thread about ‘obesity advertising’ on her facebook page, and I’ve chimed in today.

One of her friends wrote this excellently sarcastic reply to a piece about dieting:

I am NOT going to read the article, but in response to the tagline: Yes, clearly it is better to increase the pain and suffering of fat women through stigma and discrimination. After all, shame is strongly correlated with positive health outcomes.

For me, this point, that shame stops you being healthy and powerful, is the most important. I see it as directly related to the perpetuation of sexual harassment. If we are continually questioning our own worth, if we are taught to see men’s sexual desire for our bodies as the only reliable proof that we are ‘attractive’ and of worth, then we will tolerate sexual harassment. Even if it frightens and upsets us, we won’t speak up about it, because we are supposed to want this. A particularly unpleasant man commented in a public space recently that we need to “loosen up” and dance in closer position. As though our reluctance to be manhandled by unpleasant, aggressive men was a symptom of frigidity, and that we aren’t actually capable of knowing our own minds and making logical decisions.

It is this sort of bullshit that makes me very, very ANGRY and also very, very determined to encourage women dancers. Your body is important for far more than what it looks like. It is a wonderful machinery, and a woman dancing is mighty. Your mistakes should be confident because they teach you. Your dancing should be brave because it is YOU dancing, telling us something about music and the way you feel and think. You can lead, you can follow, you can solo dance, you can do balboa or charleston or whatever the fuck you like, in whatever way you like, so long as you respect your partner and yourself. And being fat or skinny will not in any way affect the value of your movement.

I replied to that comment on facebook with this:

The thing that bothers me most about all this, is that we’re continually reminded of our bodies, and how we should be thinking about what we look like, all the time. It fills up our brains. It makes us ask, over and over “Do I look ok?” The answer, of course, will never be a definitive ‘yes’, because what is ‘ok’ changes every day as well. Yesterday your eyebrows had to be skinny, today they have to be thicker. Yesterday you wore skinny jeans, today you wear leggings.

Various industries benefit directly from encouraging and perpetuating this anxiety about your personal, bodily value. Governments like ours make it clear that women’s bodies are not as important as men’s (the amount of money spent on commemorating the loss of Anzac bodies vs the lack of money spent on discussing domestic violence makes that very clear).
Even our parents and families and friends are recruited into policing our bodies: the aunts who ask if you’re really eating that second serving, the mothers who put girl children on diets, the fathers who won’t let daughters walk alone at night, the parents who ask when we’re going to provide grandchildren.
The idea that I might use my body simply for my own pleasure and satisfaction is utterly sinfully wrong: being fat is a ‘lack of control’. Eating for pleasure is ‘naughty’. Enjoying sex is ‘problematic’. Dancing until your heart stutters and your calves tighten is ‘dangerous’. As an adult, I should be allowed to choose how I enjoy my body. But enjoying your body, being happy with the way you look is not allowed. That’s how patriarchy works.

My most serious problem with this, is that it takes brain time away from what we can do with our bodies or our brains. And of course, if we are busy doubting ourselves and bodies, we don’t have time or confidence to stop and say “Hey, what the fuck, patriarchy? I’m a fucking amazing writer/engineer/doctor/parent, and all this time and money I spend on what my body looks like is detracting from the time and money I can spend on being a writer/engineer/doctor/parent.”
In an example, women on average spend so much more time on grooming than men do. Yes, some men are groomers, but women spend a lot more time on hair removal, makeup, clothing choices, etc etc. And I decided a long time ago that I’d rather spend that hour every day writing more. Reading more. That’s an extra hour a day I can spend on tap practice. On laughing at jokes. An extra hour every day that I get to spend doing things that make me feel good, rather an hour every day that I spend assessing and inspecting my appearance.

For me, specifically, this constant nibbling at my self esteem stops me questioning patriarchy. If I’m always worried that I’m too fat, too big, too small, too never-going-to-be-right , then I won’t have the confidence to question bullshit.

So, as practical examples, if I’m feeling anxious and low confidence, I won’t confront that man who’s been touching his female dance partners’ boobs all night. I won’t get on the microphone and say my own name to advertise my own DJing/teaching/event. I won’t put my hand up for a staff DJ position at Herrang. I won’t start my own business.
The bullshit about ‘obesity epidemics’ has a direct effect on my confidence: I won’t get up on my feet and speak up.

So I say NO NO NO and fuck YOU to talk about diets and obesity epidemics and all that shit. I eat what I like, I exercise too much, and I assess the value of my body through my ability to breathe freely, to dance too much, to bend and move easily, to bring me pleasure and ridiculous joy.

And I take a great deal of satisfaction in telling men to fuck off when they try to mansplain the value of my own flesh.

Mobile-friendly websites are important for lindy hop (durh)

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Rolling out the mobile-friendly update is an interesting thing: I’m particularly interested in the way it affects dance event sites (of course).

Dancers use dance sites with mobile devices (particularly during a big dance event weekend), and most people first come to lindy hop through a google search. So mobile-friendly websites with good googles are super important – essential – to a dance business. Yet most dance websites are built by inexperienced/non-pro designers/code monkeys, and aren’t terribly mobile friendly.

This is partly to do with budgets (we work on very tight margins), but more to do with inexperience. Spending money on your website is a very good investment, but many dancers can’t bring themselves to shell out that sort of money, and if they do, they don’t know how to find or judge a good web designer.

We have really really shitty interwebs in Australia, so a lean, mean, mobile website is super important for a dance business.

(image just stolen from that google blog article)