Black history did not end in 1940.

If we only talk about Harlem in the past (the 1920s and 30s), we ignore the fact that ‘Harlem’ is a living community today, and through time, with the resiliency of a people with a history much longer and more interesting than jazz. If white people tell a history of Harlem that ends in 1940, they are stealing the _ongoing_ story of black strength and creativity.

Sorry Day

Today is world lindy hop day and Frankie Manning’s birthday. But it’s also Sorry Day.

For me, Sorry Day is the more important occasion. But I think that Frankie would be down with that: apologise, remember the past, move forward with hope and good will.

[edit 10 minutes later]…maybe do a bit more than ‘move forward with hope and good will.’ Me, I’m adding ‘Do what you can, when you can. Because life is short, and we should take care of each other. And take care of the music.[/]

Will we be running dance events in May 2021

We’re still in iso here in Sydney. And while Morrison is talking about and early opening, even if the states do go ahead, we will see a second wave before the end of 2020.

Even if we do get out of iso, we will be adhering to safety measures (washing our hands, covering our mouths, not touching people, keeping 1.5m apart) for a much longer time.
Dancing is a high risk activity: all that touching, but also the respiratory droplets blown everywhere by all the panting and puffing and open mouths. Not to mention musicians and their germ-blower instruments.
We won’t be lindy hopping (or solo jazzing) until we get a vaccine, and we’ve seen that vaccine work reliably.

Beyond that, we don’t have the infrastructure to support weekend events. Private venues (eg dance halls, etc) are just devastated by the iso restrictions. Public venues (town halls etc) will either be closed and repurposed, or under extremely strict rules (eg no more than 10 people at a time, hardcore hygiene and cleaning, etc). The people who run events will still be recovering financially (eg we still have outstanding debts from Jazz Bang), and will need to develop new seed money sums, or new sponsorship options.

Music and the arts generally are fucked in NSW and Australia. No sound engineers, lighting specialists, etc etc – all those people who support the artists on stage. They’ll have all started looking for other work and have other commitments to support families and pay rent.

Insurance will become a serious issue. I’ve already had emails from my insurer about new conditions. I personally don’t want to risk legal action for endangering people. And if we start doing things like taking temperatures at dances, we take responsibility for health, and open ourselves to legal action. And I know I don’t want to have to face the Worksafe issues of putting volunteers and staff in unsafe conditions.
Beyond that, the market for big dance events will change. The bulk of the market for these events are those ‘intermediate’ dancers – people who aren’t new, and aren’t super long time dancers (though JB is an exception on this – this older/newer group is our market). We’ll need to find new ways of targeting those markets.

But those avenues of advertising and market development will have changed. Dance schools will have gone out of business, and/or teachers will have had to redirect their energies to things like working from home, new jobs, etc. If we do start up classes again, it’ll take a few years to get up to speed and redevelop the labour force (unpaid volunteers, primarily) to run regular and big events. It’ll be like starting new scenes.

Five years is a long time in dance world. That’s a generation of dancers. I’ll be 51. All our dancers generally will be older – the difference between 22 and 27 is huge when it comes to family and day job commitments.
And of course, my greatest fear is our OGs. Older black Americans. Black americans are four times more likely to die of COVID19 than white americans. And older people are even more vulnerable. I personally cannot countenance the thought of dancers starting dancing again and deliberately endangering the communities that gave us these dances and music.

I’m wondering whether we’ll see people super-keen to do dancing after covid19, or if we’ll see people too afraid to touch other people after covid19. To be honest, I suspect (considering things my epi friends say), we won’t have ‘after covid19′ for many many years. It will be how we live. A seasonal disease that we manage with degrees of isolation and quarantine until a vaccine is found, and then administered to the entire population.
We may be able to start doing smaller events in privates spaces (eg our homes) in 2021, but only mid-way through.

But it’s not all tears.
I’ve been thinking about alternative models for delivering jazz dance and jazz music. Unlike the 1980s, before we saw this new generation of dancers, we have the internet. It’s the perfect tool for delivering audio and audio-visual content. And if we get to the point of small groups gathering in private spaces, we’ll have bands again. And if we can get a few dancers in there, then the bands will be able to learn and relearn playing for and with dancers. So I think the pre-pandemic move towards smaller events will stand us in good stead in the coming years. We’ll get really really good at doing small, quality events that value safety like Jazz BANG.

The saddest thing of all, is that jazz is social. It invites us into each other’s company. To hold each other close. And breathe wet air in each others’ faces :D

how do you get women leads?

Sydney now has a very strong culture of ‘anyone can lead or follow if they like, and it’s ok if you just want to do one and it happens to align with your gender ID’.

There are a number of reasons for this – a queer swing dance school who also run a big event; women leads on the floor; women teachers who teach as leads; people being publicly intolerant of anti-social behaviour; a growing ‘be good to each other’ discourse in event promotion, etc.
And where I write ‘women’, please include transwomen. I’ve noticed it’s easier for normcore folk to include transmen in their ideas of ‘men’, than it is to include transwomen in their category ‘women’.
It’s also been super important to see how welcoming and supportive our scene has been of people who’ve transitioned while being in the scene. ie they first presented as one gender, then transitioned to another. On the whole, teachers and dancers have been openly supportive, and more importantly, no-big-deal about changing pronouns, etc. It may have been harder for them one-on-one (all new things are tricky), but on the whole, it’s been ok. Not perfect, but ok. More work to do there.

Note: if a scene is ok with women leads and men follows, it is more welcoming to transpeople and queerpeople. Because a scene that has flexible ideas about gender and dance is a more welcoming, safer place.
If my leading has ever helped pave the way for a shy dyke lead or transwoman follow, then I feel very proud. It was worth it.

etc etc

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed, is that this general trend has been working in concert with peer-motivated anti-sexual-harassment actions. ie women are more likely to say no when a creeper asks them to dance, and they will also step in and check in on other women if they see creepers maccing on them.
There’s also been a scene-wide ‘fuck that; we do not tolerate harassment or assault’ public discussion from teachers (even if the organisational policies haven’t been in place).

And _this_ trend has seen us get a more ethnically diverse cohort of dancers. In part because one of the main creepers was targeting asian women. Boy, did he get his arse handed to him. And because women of colour just get fucked off by carrying the double burden of racism and sexism.

I noticed that once he and his gross mates were absent from events, we saw an increase in men following. It seems that this racist creeper was also intimidating other men _implicitly_. And that the men who liked to follow also liked women who lead (or the women who’d had a gutful of that creeper).

So when we addressed all these issues – sexuality, ethnicity, gender, etc – at the same time, we saw a general improvement in the vibe of parties and classes. People felt more comfortable being themselves.

And then it snowballed, and we saw exponential improvements.

So if your goal is ‘more women leads’, you need to address a range of issues. You’ll get a bunch of lovely good results as a consequence.

But speaking as a woman lead, things that were important for me:
– Teachers who openly said ‘women are leads as well as men’. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I remember the handful of times I’ve heard teachers say it in the last 20 years. But don’t be afraid to be pro-active on this. Not just saying ‘anyone can lead’, but “Women can lead.”

– Teachers saying to me “Don’t ever stop leading.” A woman teacher said this to me quietly one night after class, and it was the most important thing anyone has ever said to me about dancing.

– Seeing women teachers lead socially.

– Seeing other women ask women teachers to lead them socially.

– Having women teachers ask me to dance (and lead)

Things I wish people had done:

– Stepping on students in class who say ‘you’re being the man/boy?!’ with surprise.
I’ve never heard a teacher say this, but it would be solid gold if they said “hey, follows, don’t say this to your partners. It makes them sad.”
I’ve only ever been at two weekend events where no one has said this to me. In 22 years of lindy hop classes and workshops. Each time someone expresses surprise and expects me to justify leading, it wears me down just a little bit. So a) fuck you women follows, and b) teachers, get your students’ backs.

– Never used gendered pronouns in class, or used gendered language and concepts to describe leading.

Things that shat me to tears:
– Male teachers who try to make me try a move as a follow in class, when I’m leading. Sure, it might help my learning, but would you ask a male lead to do this, even if you knew they followed? And also, whatever your norm is, do this thing: treat women leads like they are leaders, not follows who sometimes lead.

– Teachers who kept ‘forgetting’ to use gender neutral language.

– Teachers who use sexy jokes in class, because most of those jokes were heterocentric and/or relied on the idea of a lead being a straight man.

Should every lindy hopper know these people?

Art Kane’s famous photo of jazz greats, titled “Harlem 1958”; approved for one-time use only. MUST CREDIT: Photograph by Art Kane – courtesy Art Kane Archive NOTE: this is a downsized low-res photo for web use

I feel a bit preachy saying “These are some band leaders every lindy hopper should know”…. but then, shouldn’t every lindy hopper eventually get to know Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb, and so on… ? It doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it?

I mean, isn’t it kind of part and parcel of learning a historic dance form, that you learn about the people who made the music that they did this dance to?

And if we namecheck the OG band leaders, surely they’ll also start asking why we don’t have many women band leaders on those lists? And if they don’t, shouldn’t we point it out?

And if they see pictures of those band leaders and realise so many of them were black, and then look at the band leaders on stage in their local scenes and see that they’re all white, surely they’ll ask some questions about that?

And if they see that jazz was born in black working class neighbourhoods, won’t they start asking how come jazz is a middle class white people thing now?

I don’t want to get all Revivalist Evangelical on the kids, but I do think those kids should learn about the elders and custodians of this knowledge of jazz… #blacklindyhopmatters

(photo of course ‘A Great Day In Harlem‘ by Art Kane in 1958)

BLACK lindy hop matters

My problem with discussions about the ‘lindy hop revival’ is that it is centred on whether or not the lindy hop died out.
This way of talking and thinking about lindy hop and black dance and music is all about non-black people trying to force a particular paradigm (way of thinking) onto black history and culture. Wanting these cultural practices to fit into a linear understanding of dance, where one thing gave birth to another in a nice straight line.

When it wasn’t that way at all.

There’s stacks of literature and oral history and discussion of black culture (esp music and dance), _by black people, from black communities_ that point out that music and dance don’t work that way in these communities. Did everyone read Odysseus’ piece that he posted in this group? Did we read Katrina Hazzard-Gordon? Tommy deFrantz? Jacqui Malone? Joann Kealiinohomoku?
No?
It’s time to set your Marshall and Jean Stearns aside, and read some work by actual black authors.

The prevalence of multi-generational spaces (where young people and older people got together) in black communities is unlike white American, and other colonialist spaces. BBQs, cookouts, street parties, church dances, dances, parties, weddings, baptisms, engagements, birthday parties, anniversaries, etc etc etc. All these cross-generational social spaces where people danced and talked and listened to music and did all sorts of cultural stuff. There’d be different dances happening all at once in one space. And steps and rhythms moved between generations as well.

The term ‘revival’ is highly problematic, because it implies, necessarily, that something was ‘dead’, and then ‘revived’ – brought back to life. To declare something ‘dead’ or irrelevant, or gone, is an act of cultural power. To do it retroactively, from a position of cultural and social power (white colonial power) is full-on, epic-dodgy, do-not-do-this.
1. Because white people did not and do not have access to black spaces*,
2. Because white eyes aren’t so good at seeing black culture in this colonial context,
3. Because fuck off mate, that’s an arse-act.

As I said earlier, to declare a culture ‘dead’ is an act of imperialism. It’s what British colonists did when they invaded Australia: they declared Aboriginal culture dying, and on its way to dead. They literally declared the continent terra nullius: uninhabited. Both these positions were justification for British imperialism, invasion, colonisation. It’s fully hardcore oldschool racism.
-> I am referencing this chunk of postcolonial theory because it is directly relevant to a discussion of American history, and of slavery within American history. Bodily autonomy – the freedom to move one’s body at will – and cultural autonomy – the freedom to share or not share culture – are determined by race and class throughout the colonial history of America and Australia.

Anyway, this is why I don’t like to use the word ‘revivalism’ in the context of 1980s lindy hop.

*A note here about desegregation in the jazz era: desegregation gave _white_ people access to black spaces. I do not in anyway condone segregation, but the movement of white bodies and persons into black community spaces was pretty good for white cultural thieves, but not always so great for the black communities they were colonising.

Black lindy hop matters


(Dee Daniels Locke, teacher at HJDF, pic from the event’s fb PR, photo by Ben Hejkel).

While bunches of white people were organising dance events to celebrate the white revival of lindy hop day with a bunch of white teachers this year, Tena Marales-Armstrong was bringing the shit in Houston.

The Houston Jazz Dance Festival is run by Tena, a black woman living in America, it features poc in all the promo material, and it stars a team of black teachers (and Mike Pedroza, so I guess we’re talking poc :D ), TWO BLACK WOMEN MCS, a black DJ, and a black band. It’s a part of Tena’s bigger event, the International Swing Dance Championships, a project which celebrates the living dances of black communities in America today.

This is vernacular dance.

Let’s stop and talk about Tena Morales-Armstrong. She’s not only a great dancer and all round impressive woman, she’s also the co-manager of some of the biggest events in the lindy hopping world. ILHC. Swing and Soul. Lindyfest. International Swing Dance Championships. The modern dance world likes to talk a lot about competition winning dancers, young and flexible performers, popular teachers. But the people who help build these careers are the business people and organisers behind the huge events that employ them. Tena is one of these people, and she is important.

Let me spell it out.

A black woman runs some of the biggest name lindy hop events in the world, and she is running an event with an all-black list of artists, as part of a dance event which proves, definitively, that lindy hop didn’t die and need reviving. It just grew up into hand dancing, fast dancing, Houston Two-Step, Chicago Stepping, Detroit Ballroom… living, healthy black dances in black communities.

And I want to go back to that teaching team.
Latasha Barnes, Mike Pedroza, Josh McLean, Dee Daniels locke, Michelle Stokes, Laurel Ryan, Alexis Davile, Cyle Dixon, Nel Lopez. Two of those (Alexis and Cyle) were junior lindy hoppers at ILHDC a few years ago. Michelle and Laurel were the MCs (I saw them MC at Focus. They are the BEST). These are some big names, here. Just try getting Latasha for your event any time in the next twelve months. The woman is seriously popular at the moment. So this isn’t just a random grouping of dancers. This is some top shelf talent.

If you are interested in the ‘decolonising lindy hop’ project that’s gaining ground in the US, you should probably have attended this event. Yes, it’s all very nice and well to attend a panel session at Lindy Focus, or to drop some cash on the Frankie Manning Foundation. But actually putting money down on an event like this – black owned, black run, black attended, black community – is important. I so wish I could have gone. It kills me that I couldn’t. So, NEXT YEAR. I will put my money where my mouth is.

Safety and dance: the limits of the law

The laws that the state and nation have in place to dictate how we touch each other may not be good laws.
eg in NSW, Australia, the legal system does not adequately protect us from sexual assault and harassment. The laws are inadequate, the legal system (from police to courts) do not prevent or protect us, and the consequences of laws do not punish or educate offenders.

So I don’t think the laws are enough. I believe that our laws disadvantage marginalised peeps: women, children, girls, trans folk, queers, poc… anyone who’s not a straight white middle aged man with money.
Just saying ‘follow the laws’ is obviously not enough.

Who is responsible for enforcing safe spaces?

With regards to ‘types of physical spaces’ and who is responsible for them… Let’s ask ourselves: who has the power here?

I feel, personally, that if I know a person has assaulted or harassed someone, that I don’t want them at my event, and I don’t want to be at an event they’re at.
Because they are unsafe.
Because they are putting my friends at risk.
Because I am at risk.
So even if they’ve committed an offence in a space I’m not ‘responsible’ for, then I will still take action.

Further, we are all responsible for each other. When we start saying “Oh, this isn’t my event, I’m just here as a guest, I don’t want to do anything about that man I can see groping each of his partners,” we are abrogating our responsibilities to each other as humans, as friends, as a community. We are also perpetuating a patriarchal system where the most powerful people at the top of that hierarchical pyramid of power do all the acting, and the people at the bottom are acted upon. Where the white straight middle aged men at the top do all the decision making and acting, and all the women, people of colour, queers, young people, old people, poor people are acted upon.

I’m actually at the point in my work on this issue in dance where I think that we need to move away from top-down solutions, and on to a flatter, peer-centred solution.

In this setting, yes ALL men are responsible for preventing sexual harassment and assault. Which means that they not only police their own behaviour, they also keep an eye on their male mates, and step in to say “Hey, that’s not cool” when they see them do dodgy stuff. Whether they’re a teacher, DJ, organiser, keen social dancer or bar fly. All men have a responsibility for each other, and for the rest of us.

Similarly (and more powerfully), people who are positioned as ‘powerless’ or without responsibility in dance spaces (eg young women, social dancers, beginner students, teenagers, etc etc ) should be encouraged to find ways they can take care of their friends.
Together, we are mighty.

I’d like to get more active on a ‘peer program’ like the ACON Rovers (https://pivotpoint.org.au/why-i-love-the-acon-rovers/).

Or to simply teach students in class to:

  1. Trust their instincts. If it feels wrong, then it is wrong. If it feels bad, then it is bad.
  2. Practice saying NO and STOP. ‘No thank you’ to dance invites, ‘Stop’ mid-dance, and to step in and tell someone “STOP” if they see them making someone else uncomfortable.
  3. Experiment with how they touch and are touched in class to develop a spectrum of touch, and to get to know what ‘good touch’ feels like and ‘not good’ touch feels like. And to understand that these aren’t fixed states, and can vary with each partner. eg I love to hold my good friends very close, but I can’t bear to have someone unpleasant touch my hand.

Once they have these tools, these students will then go out and interact with other people, teaching them through example about how to touch, and how to be ok with people saying no to dance invites, or asking them to change how they touch people.

What next after Codes of Conduct?

A few years ago, in 2015, I did a survey of Australian dance events, to see if they included a code of conduct on their event websites. There were mixed results, including a fairly unpleasant email from the organiser of an event which did not have a CoC at the time, and has since folded.

I (or someone else!) should at some point revisit this survey, to see if things have changed much in Australia. Do we see CoC at all Australian events? If not, which events don’t have them, and why not?

But that’s not the topic of this post.

Now I’m wondering if events (including local party nights) have follow-up processes to accompany their CoC. It’s all very well to have a list of things attendees cannot do at the event, but I have some questions.

  • Does the CoC provide specific examples of what constitutes sexual harassment or assault in a dance setting?
  • What are the consequences for people who break the rules?
  • Who enforces the rules?
  • Is there a spectrum of responses from warning, through banning, to calling the police or evacuating a building?
  • If these responses exist, are they listed in the CoC?
  • What is the in-house process for these responses?
  • Who has the authority to call for a consequence and then enforce them?
  • How are these actions documented?
  • How are these documents stored?
  • Who has access to them?
  • Is there any follow-up on these actions?
  • Is there any scope for the repatriation of banned offenders?
  • What are the terms for their return to the event?
  • Who monitors this process?
  • How is information about who is banned passed between generations of staff at an event?
  • How does this communication of knowledge account for Australian defamation laws, which would deem this publication of a potentially defamatory statement?
  • If a banned person does decide to sue for defamation, who would they sue – the organisation/business? An individual working at the event? If the latter, how does the host organisation respond to and support this person?
  • How does the host organisation ensure that staff are not exploiting their power to break the CoC rules? What measures are in place to police the policers?

I feel at this point the majority of events have gone no further than simply cutting and pasting a CoC. These later questions all ask for a fair bit of work. And I know there are some organisers which do not prioritise safety to the extent that they would invest in this sort of labour.