Why is it important to say that lindy hop is a black dance?

The mighty Anaïs asked on fb today:

the statement of the “African-American” quality of Jazz dance and Lindy hop has disappeared from the front page and main description of what was taught and celebrated at the Herräng Dance Camp…Why?

Here is what I think.

Herräng is a white-run and European-based business which gains much of its status from the idea that it is offering an ‘authentic’ jazz/swing dance experience. This idea of authenticity or ‘realness’ is really developed by the focus on and use of the idea of ‘vernacular.’ Vernacular, in this sense, means everyday, ordinary, ‘of the people,’ rather than concert or performance or formal or prepackaged. A significant part of the camp’s appeal lies in the immersion style experience campers have: there is music and dance everywhere, every day, all the time.

This is all well and good. But if white organisers leave out the black part of this ‘vernacular’, we’re left with the implication that this ‘vernacular’ has nothing to do with race. Or class.

This is the bit that makes me very uncomfortable. That’s straight up appropriation: taking something that belongs to someone else and repackaging it for your own gain.
It’s difficult to get around this issue, because we are talking about relatively wealthy, middle class, socially and culturally powerful people using a dance which is really appealing. And fun.

One of the solutions suggested by scholars and activists of colour is to name check the people who developed and own this stuff. I like to compare it to recognising the traditional owners of country (ie Aboriginal Australians). It’s a way of saying, “Hello, I saw what you did. I recognise your power and work. I want to apologise for the past. I give you the chance to forbid me use of this dance and music. This is yours.”
When we say, “this is a black dance” we are saying “I do not own, nor did I create this dance.” We are recognising the traditional custodians of this creative land.

So, when Herräng leaves off the words ‘African American’, they’re essentially obscuring the black roots of this dance. The focus on authenticity in camp is likely to leave punters with the idea that this white version of black dance is the ‘real’ or most ‘authentic’ version of this dance and history.
This is cultural appropriation, but it is also colonisation.

Without name checks, without reference to and discussion of real history, Frankie’s face becomes an appropriated icon as much as the swing out.

This is why it’s important that people like Anaïs and others publicly ask, “Hey, where did the words go?” because she is also saying, “Hey, where is the recognition of the custodians of this traditional knowledge?”

Good peeps are doing good work

I’m back from Herräng 2017, and feeling a bit better about the dancing world’s response to sexual harassment.

Just a reminder that there are a whole heap of organisers, DJs, volunteers, and generally good peeps who are watching and acting on information about men who’ve been reported as sexual offenders. Most of them aren’t famous or big names. Almost all of them are quietly squirrelling away on this issue.
Each time I travel I meet people who have incredibly good, well-thought out processes and plans. The international lindy hop community has leapt onto this issue.
They work hard to protect and maintain the anonymity of the women and men who report offenders. They’ll receive threats (physical, legal, emotional, financial), and will be snowed under with paper work and processes.
Almost all of the men who’ve been reported aren’t famous teachers or even well known dancers. There won’t be blog posts or well-trafficked posts about these men. Very few other men will even have noticed them, and it’s unlikely famous teachers will boycott events if these offenders attend. They’re all ages, all ethnicities, all classes, and all over the world. I have not come across a single incident in the last two years where the report has been unfounded. In most cases women are _under_ reporting or playing down the behaviour of these men. And there have been a lot of reports.
These men are almost comically similar in their behaviour and patterns. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so shitty. So offenders are relatively easy to spot. And people are watching, keeping an eye on each other.
These reports trickle in every week, all over the world, and the that network of organisers, DJs, volunteers, and good peeps will be keeping each other in the loop about their movements. Facebook has never been busier with messages organising meet ups and conversations, keeping people aware of which offenders are moving where and doing what.
You can bet your bottom dollar all the people who are working on these reports will get them out their dances and parties.
So if you do report once, and you don’t get a good result, please do try again. There are plenty of good peeps who have your back.
Men: stop that jerky sexist shit. Those sexist objectifying ‘jokes’ in dance contests, the jokes about ‘boob swipes’ in class, the laughing ‘games’ between higher profile men. All of that sends messages to other men that this behaviour is ok, and to women that they need to just tolerate this. Don’t offer to walk us to our cars. Just stop encouraging other men to treat women like jokes.
And all those people working on this issue don’t need your bullshitly immature behaviour muddying the water. Stop being jerks; get your shit together.

Patterns to watch out for. ie stuff I’ve seen or had reported as part of a report of assault or harassment. So many times it’s getting stupidly obvious:

Overly controlling, rough, or sexualised dancing on the dance floor.
– unwanted/non-consensual dips or movements where women are forced into positions;
– ‘blues dance’ moves/styles/steps in a lindy hop context. When women complain about these movements, these men almost always describe them as ‘blues dance’ moves, hence justifying their behaviour and delegitimising women’s complaints;
– ‘teaching’ or ‘telling’ newer or younger women dancers how or what to do during a dance or between a dance. This usually means these women are isolated from other people on the floor between dances as these men mansplain their rough or controlling behaviour.
– targeting younger or less experienced women (of all types of appearance) and asking them to dance repeatedly – they literally comb the room with their eyes.

Stalking:
– constant facebook messages, comments, emojis, photos, tagging in other people’s photos, requests for friending
– repeated requests for phone numbers relatively early in a friendship (eg the day they meet a woman), in person and via social media. Usually for an ostensibly legit reason – to clarify details of an event, find out where the party is, etc)
– constant text messages, phone calls, and pics via phone at all hours and times. Often with emotionally ‘sincere’ or ‘confessional’ tones – eg stories about their emotional vulnerability, their past relationships, etc. Basically, stories about _them_.
– repeated and intrusive invitations to dance – interrupting women’s conversations with other women (to isolate them) cutting in after one dance with another partner, multiple dances in a row at a single party, followed by invitations to ‘private parties
– invitations to ‘private parties’ or events that are presented as group events, but turn out to be just him. These are usually ‘blues’ parties at someone’s house or a secluded venue. The man is usually the only person with the details, and they may collect the woman in their car.
– dropping the woman home after a dance (so they know where she lives), then ‘dropping in’ repeatedly, or making sure they’re the only person who drops her home after a dance. And then keeping her in the car or coming up to her house with long ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations. Mostly about him.

Targets:
– younger, less experienced women dancers
– women with less confidence.
– often have younger girlfriends and keep the relationship secret ‘for privacy’. When other dancers discover the relationship, they are frequently surprised that such a ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ woman is with such a socially outgoing or spontaneous man.

These men:
– all nationalities and ethnicities
– not incredibly handsome or attractive, but usually quite ‘ordinary’ or ‘inoffensive’ – ie strangers probably won’t remember them.
– not usually super fashionable, but often reasonably well dressed. This can really vary between scenes and dance styles, though. They tend to ‘fit in’.
– very rarely very high profile teachers or performers
– may describe themselves as ‘teaching’, but only teach privates or smaller events – usually blues or another niche dance (eg fusion, or another blended dance) which doesn’t have a big presence in that city
– may teach at smaller events, but don’t have a high profile, and aren’t terribly well regarded. May eventually become a standard face in a teaching cohort, but never at a highly respected level. May teach interstate or even internationally at very small scale ‘intimate’ events run by less experienced organisers.
– if they don’t have actual teaching gigs, they frequently teach on the dance floor, or offer to ‘work with’ or ‘practice’ with newer women dancers privately, and present themselves as specialists who like to dance ‘their own style’ and have no patience with formal workshops.

These men work the long game. They put in a lot of ‘ground work’ to groom a woman which they eventually sexually assault, or enter a relationship with where they assault their partner repeatedly. Within a relationship they gradually escalate the assaults, as they gain greater control of these women and isolate them. Women may begin by feeling a bit ‘pushed’ to do deep kissing at a party with other people near by, to ‘mess about’ with this man and another partner (often another woman), to have unprotected sex in otherwise consensual situations. But the sexualised coercion escalates and happen in concert with other controlling behaviours – belittling comments in public, isolation, etc. And then they become more clearly assault and often very violent. The women become ‘quieter’ and more withdrawn at social events.

These men:
isolate
(dominating women at dances, taking them out after dances)
doubt (degrade or critique until women question their own minds and decisions)

dominate
(stalking online with constant fb messages, text messages; dancing in ways that showcase his status and ability and allow her zero creative space)

avoid
(more confident women, figures of authority, and legit events)

It’s very unlikely you’ll ever see them offend at a public event. Even if you’re watching closely. If you do call them on a dodgy hand position, they’ll either make excuses or apologise profusely. Then avoid you.

Please note: it’s the relationship between these behaviours that make patterns. So there’s nothing wrong with asking for someone’s phone number, calling them up, having a D&M then getting together and having gloriously consensual sex. All within a weekend.

But the combination of factors is what we should be watching for.

So you can see why it’s important for us to address seemingly ‘small’ issues like non-consensual dips on the social dance floor, right?

Does everyone see that sexual assault isn’t just a random dood attacking a woman on the street, that we can prevent by having a famous dancer walk a woman to a car? Or by carrying bear repellant?

(This post and its comments brought to you by arriving home to yet another assault report, depressing in its familiarity. It’s as though these men have a manual and just follow it. PUA-style.)

In response to a comment from the ever-thoughtful Byron:

I’d like to find a way for that list of yellow and red flags to become something that’s shared readily within the dance scenes at large, maybe edited in a way that highlights what the dance scene SHOULD be like, and how to tell if someone is violating community standards in weird ways.

This is the sticking point at the moment. Most of the people I know are doing this very carefully, and mostly in person. Which of course is a challenge for scenes divided by geography.
But there is the risk of exposing yourself to legal action for defamation if you do share information publicly (even by email).

Yet it is possible: you just need to get good, solid legal advice. Which is what I’m currently doing. Costs a fair bit of money, and the laws are different between Australian states (let alone countries), so you need real, legit legal advice (not internet legal advice). And I certainly won’t advise on it. But lawyers specialising in defamation can simply and easily write up a template letter and advise you on how to send letters or emails to other organisers warning them about these people.

A very very important step: all events and organisers need a policy, a code of conduct (ie a list of rules posted publicly), and a practical process, and then a reporting process. If these are in place before communicating info about known offenders, then organisers can prove that their actions weren’t personal malice, but professional process (hence avoiding some legal action). It’s also important because it helps organisers develop a clear sense of their own values, and become confident in their thoughts and actions. And most offenders rely on a lack of confidence or clarity in people’s thinking.

This is also why it’s essential that we drum it into all dancers that we all have a right to a freedom from sexual harassment and assault, and that we are all the best judges of our own limits and personal space and liberty. Dance classes _must_ prioritise this.

I am becoming more and more certain that a student-centred approach to teaching lindy hop is central to this – we have to encourage students to trust their own decisions and thinking. Not just tell them ‘here is the answer’ and then demand they do things one single way (our way). The next teacher who starts a workshop saying “there are lots of ways of doing things, but this is _our_ way” gets a punch: there are lots of different ways of dancing. And they are all worth thinking about. Similarly, I am now 100% absolutely totally angry with teachers who forbid students ‘giving each other feedback’ or discussing how their bodies and they are feeling with their dance partners. It breeds a culture of silence and self-doubt in women.

Korean safe space policies

One of the things I like most about Seoul is the culture of visual information. ie signs with pictures. It draws on comic book culture, but also reflects, content-wise, Korean communitarian ethos and values. So informational signs like this one from the subway focus on individuals doing the right thing not for their own safety, but for the safety and comfort of others. Many of the signs also emphasise on younger people’s responsibilities to older people. It’s a really great discursive tool for peeps to have at hand.

Another thing I really like is the way the Dance Safe peeps in Seoul have used these practices to do some pretty impressive stuff. Here is one of the posters I saw stuck up outside SwingTime Bar in Seoul, above one of the benches where everyone sits to change their shoes (Seoul dancers change shoes before they enter the studio space). So, perfect placement.

The poster itself is solid gold. It has a light hearted, charming feel very much in keeping with Korean visual educational media texts. It uses animals rather than ‘women’ or ‘men’ symbols, which means it avoids gender binaries and norms. Even though I don’t read Korean, I can still get the message.

Dance Safe are a group of Korean peeps (men and women!) who’re working super hard to raise awareness about personal safety, sexual harassment, and mutual respect in the biggest lindy hop scene in the world. This is no mean feat, as the sheer scale of the scene means they need a zillion posters, pamphlets, and people involved. They’re doing some fund raising (with the support of various local organisers) to get $$ together to cover their printing costs.

My media studies/cultural studies brain is super interested in this project. This is almost exactly the sort of work I did in my Phd: how do dancers use media texts within a community so focussed on the body?

These guys are doing things that fascinate my academic brain, but also my activist brain and event organiser brain. How, _how_ are they pulling off this stuff?! I see some racist bullshit coming out of the English speaking lindy hop world about ‘Asian’, and ‘Russian’, and ‘French’ dancers, accusing them of not understanding ‘safe space’ ideology ‘because of culture’. But in my experience with dancers from these countries and other NES scenes, the activism is as exciting and engaged – if not more so – than the English speaking world.

Part of me thinks we need a conference to get all of the safe space activists in dance together to share this sort of information. How exciting!

Why is there so little space for women in jazz music?

This article asks Why is there so little space for women in jazz music?

All the reasons there are so few women in jazz are as you’d expect:

  • sexual harassment and assault discourage women (duh)
  • male band leaders find new players for their band via informal social networks, which are fostered in post-gig hangs, peer networks, etc
  • there are few role models for younger women
  • male players openly encourage young men rather than young women
  • the culture of jazz gigs themselves discourage women
  • incidental gendered language (eg the ‘guys’ in the band; ‘doesn’t she look lovely’ to women on stage instead of ‘isn’t she a fucking gun’) makes women feel invisible.

If we’ve managed to get completely change the culture of DJing in Australian lindy hop over the past ten years, surely we can change the culture of jazz bands.

How? Same way. Cultural change, structural change, discursive change.
a) Change the everyday culture of jazz gigs (avoid gendered language, use female historic figures in art work),
b) Change work practices and labour conditions (eg penalties for sexual harassment and assault; discourage aggressive, blokey environments; fair pay for fair work; clear agreements and contracts),
c) change uses of language and ideas in discourse (eg watch the way MCs introduce women musos, and the language used in PR).
I think one of the most important elements in changing the culture of live jazz would be to openly address issues of alcoholism and drug abuse in the scene. Because blokey jazzbros who behave in blokey dodgy ways when sober are more likely to be dangerously dodgy when drunk. And those social networking spaces which are essential to professional networking which rely on excessive alcohol abuse will be opened up to people who have to get home to kids and day jobs.

More specifically:
– Band leaders should actively seek out female musicians.
ie not just take the first hand they see waving. They should hunt down good women musicians and put them on their ‘call list’, so they have good names when they’re putting together a band for a gig.

– Women are far more likely to be responsible for domestic labour in their homes and relationships – child care, cleaning, cooking, bill paying, holding down day jobs, etc. So band leaders should allow more flexibility in gig specifics. eg call with more notice so women can book baby sitters; not require long post-gig debriefs and hangs; encourage gigs and social hangs in parent-friendly hours. And they should do things like give women more time to rearrange domestic labour (doing the grocery shopping or laundry, attending children’s school events, etc) and untangle themselves from paid work, etc.

– Male musicians should take responsibility for each other.
They should police each other’s language and behaviour for sexual harassment and assault. eg call their mates out for sexist jokes, for harassment; have a code of conduct for their band and for their gigs (and enforce it); actively _encourage_ respectful treatment of women (both in person and in talk and ideas).

– Male teachers in jazz education should actively encourage girls. They should be mindful of the language they use in class (gendered pronouns?), the examples they use from history, the way they talk about and to girls and boys in class. They should reward collaborative behaviour between students, and discourage aggressive competition.

– Quotas.
Gets women into groups. And once women are there, the simple fact of their presence encourages more women. No, it won’t lower the standard of music. You think all those bros in bands are as good as they think the are, and not just some ordinary musician who’s benefitted from unequal hiring practices? You can guarantee the women you hire are twice as good, and work twice as hard as any bro. And if they’re not, they’ll change their shit up until they are.

– Gig promoters and managers should request bands hire women musicians (not just vocalists), and offer financial bonuses to band leaders who have women in their bands. Straight up.

– Male musicians should ask each other, very loudly “What have you done to change shit today?” They should brag about the fantastic women in their bands. They should GO TO WOMEN’S GIGS and be openly supportive. They should ask women for advice about music and playing.

Ohai Australian lindy hoppers!

There are a stack of themed dances and dance events coming up in the next few months (I’m looking at you, Canberrang). That means, white folk, you don’t want to be offending your dancing friends with your accidental racism.

So this is your aunty reminding you:

  • lackface is never ok. No, stop. You can’t argue this one;
  • Dressing up in ‘oriental’ costumes (including ‘yellowface’ – whether facepaint or dodgyarse ‘geisha’ stuff) is also usually offensive. Yes, even that lovely cheongsam can be culturally insensitive;
  • Yes, I am ruining your (racist) fun, but you’re not Lawrence of Arabia, and you might want to look at the history of the fez, and European occupation of Morocco before you costume up;
  • Dressing up in the ‘servant’ costumes from that Hellzapoppin clip (maids, bakers, chefs, mechanics) is similarly suss (we get the race/class/gender trifecta there).

Not sure whether your costume idea is ok? Don’t wear it.
If in doubt, you can’t go past a clean shirt or a nice dress. Or whatever you usually wear when you want to feel nice for a party.

Next post: camel costumes – who doesn’t love an ungulate?

Where I fall in love with jazz all over again.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did we actually do?

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

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

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

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

But then it got better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if that teacher you’ve hired is reported for assault?

I think that a lot of organisers are currently terrified of this scenario. What if the teacher you’ve booked is reported for assault before your event? During your event? What do you do? You’ve invented $20 000 in an event, you’ve never had to face this issue before, you’re upset, stressed, and kind of freaking.

The best option is to plan ahead. Don’t ‘wait and see’ or deal with it ‘on a case by case basis’. Plan. Develop policies.

And of course, before you hire someone, find out about them. Ask other teachers, experienced and well-known, well-travelled dancers and DJs. Develop networks before you start booking people.

Make sure you’re known as someone who will listen when an assault is reported. And you do that by having a code of conduct, by speaking often and quite confidently in public about your position on this issue. This sort of reputation (for being a good egg rather than an enabler or apologist) will encourage people to speak to you about known offenders.

Get your priorities right: protect the reporter’s safety. They are putting themselves in physical danger by reporting. So you need to be on their side.
Protect your employees, your contractors and volunteers, your friends, your family, yourself: having a known offender at your event is placing all these people at risk.

So let’s look at a pretty shitty situation. It’s a month out from your event, and you discover (privately or publicly) that one of your headline teachers has been reported for sexual assault by a number of people in different countries.

Here’s a tip: don’t try to hide it. That’s stupid and it endangers other people. Make a plan, so you can respond sensibly if this happens.

I really don’t know how I’d deal with this issue, so I’ve started doing some thinking. Here are my first thoughts.

What I’d do in this situation (and I’m living in dread of the day it’ll be me):

  1. I’d cancel that teacher immediately;
  2. I’d get the teacher’s partner to get another partner stat, or decide to cancel them as well (they may, after all, have been enabling their partner);
  3. I’d make a public announcement that we are not hiring the teacher for this gig. I’d think about whether we announce why. If we did announce why, I’d have a fallout plan in place.
  4. I’d develop a fallout plan. ie a way to handle the financial loss, the PR shock, and my own personal worry and distress.

And I’d just deal with the fact that I’m $2000 worth of airfares out of pocket.
To be honest, I occasionally drop an extra $1500 on an event for things like extra live music, so it’s not that far out of the realm of budgetry possibilities. $2000 seems like a massive amount of money. But it’s a much smaller price than the inevitable PR wreck you’re left with when your covering up this incident is discovered.

Dealing with it promptly = good PR. And there’s a chance you’ll pick up extra registrations from people who see you do take this position, as you’re saying, quite clearly: “I am serious about safety.”

And think about this very carefully: if you still bring a teacher into the country under a visa like a 408, you are bringing a known offender and criminal into the country. This is a very serious issue in Australia, and Border Force will discover this. You are breaking the law. You are also breaking industrial relations law, which requires you to actively work to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

Not to mention the fact that if you don’t act on this, you are placing your friends, family, and employees at risk. Making you a dickbag.

What if one of your teachers is reported for sexual assault during your event?
This happened during Swing Camp Oz a couple of years ago when Steven Mitchell was publicly reported for sexual assault. And Joel Plys handled this issue very badly.
Firstly, Mitchell was allowed to speak to the dancers at the camp, going to each class individually to ‘apologise’.
This is unethical: you are allowing a known offender to make direct contact with your punters and staff in small groups.

Secondly, Mitchell was sent to the airport and out of the country.
This is not only illegal, but also dangerously unethical. You are aiding a known offender in crossing an international border.

What should have happened?
I’m not entirely sure. But one of the clearest options would have been to contact the local police for advice.

One of the most important measures this organiser should have taken was to be sure that all the teachers and the organiser had current, appropriate visas for working in Australia, and had a clear and well thought out code of conduct and OH&S policy. Clearly none of this was the case.

Finally,
who should you tell about this?
This is a tricky one. Since I’ve started being pro-active in speaking to other organisers about known offenders (ie sending emails to organisers making them aware of persons X, Y, and Z, what they’ve done, and what my response is), I have received personal threats of physical violence and legal action. The former really doesn’t scare me that much: what’s new about being threatened with violence? Rape is violence, and I live with that threat every day. By acting on this, speaking out, I’m actually reducing the threat of violence in my community.
The latter scared me at first, as I had no legal experience. But I spoke to some experienced journalist friends (who are used to dealing with threats of defamation), and found a lawyer. The threat of legal action did not eventuate, and an initial letter from the ‘lawyer’ of an offender I’d reported turned out to be an empty threat.

I also saw some of the local organisers being openly resistant to and highly critical of this semi-public discussion of sexual assault. A large number wanted to talk to the reporting woman (I would not put them in contact, as her anonymous safety was more important); wanted to speak to the offender first (like they didn’t know what he’d say); and openly dismissed my efforts as a ‘witch hunt’ or ‘Sam being a bitch’.
This response was what terrified me: so many Australian organisers who openly defended a rapist, publicly questioned a woman’s report, and my acting as her agent in this issue, and made it clear that they thought it wasn’t ‘that serious’.
What was interesting, though, is that I received a large number of emails from women organisers offering support, and saying that they did not agree with the critical comments. In fact, most of the Australian organisers were feeling the way I was: that this shit cannot be tolerated.

All this in addition to the usual round of hate emails, fb messages, and blog comments.

Would I do it all again?
Yep. Because even though this shit scares and upsets me, it’s nothing compared to what these women are dealing with every day. And it makes me SO ANGRY that these men get away with it, and that other men protect them.

But now I am far, far more concerned about the people who protect known rapists. And if you’re not acting on reports, you are protecting and enabling men. Which is why, when you discover one of your guest teachers has been reported for assault, you need to act on it. Because ignoring it will not make it go away; it will enable that man and tell the world you’re ok with it.

Travelling to teach: unsolicited advice from the inexperienced

Someone in our great teaching fb group just asked

do you have advice for gaining a reputation as an instructor outside of your local/regional scene?

Of course I had a long reply!

I can’t comment as a high profile teacher, but I can as an event organiser. I tend to seek out teachers who offer something unique, are great dancers, are nice people, and are great teachers. So comp-winning videos aren’t enough reason for me to book someone.
So I’m an example of a particular type of organiser with a particular brand and clear idea of what I want in teachers.
It helps to know the organiser types, and which ones you want to work with. eg experienced dancers from small friendly scenes; new organisers from small scenes; right on up to very experienced dancers and organisers running huge international events with huge teaching staffs.

So when I look for teachers, I look for:
– A clear set of terms (their pay rate for teaching, performing, competing), food and accommodation requirements, minimum hours, etc. And good PR photos. This stuff tells me they are professional and organised, and it makes my job SO much easier.

– Evidence that the teacher is working on their own teaching and dancing all the time, not just trotting out the same old classes in sixty different countries every year. I am not interested in a package deal; I want a teacher who is growing and developing. There are a couple of exceptions (people like Syliva Sykes for example could get away with this), but I’ve done workshops with the same teachers a couple of times in a year in different countries and had the exact same class taught in exactly the same way, despite the different crowd. It’s ok to have a type of class or to teach similar material, but each time they teach it should be adjusted to the class and event, and be a bit better. This is actually why I don’t just hunt down the A list teachers for my own learning or events; I don’t want a cookie cutter experience. I’ve been dancing too long for that.

– Personal anecdotes about learning from them, from people whose opinion I value (eg teachers I know who’ve taken classes from them).

– Personal anecdotes or recommendations about their personalities from people who’s opinion is valuable (eg from people who notice whether a teacher is kind and interacts as a real person, v a person who is a bit star-struck and thinks ‘dancing with everyone’ makes a teacher a nice person).

– Opinions or recommendations from other guest teachers (this is a good one – they can (subtly usually) let you know what person X is like to work with, or if they’re a very experienced person, they can point out a talent you might not have noticed)
-> be super careful on this, because no teacher wants to be known as a gossip. So don’t push for details. Just pay attention when they talk about events.

– Videos of comp performances, choreography, demos, etc that show me interesting dancing (ie they’re not just repeating what every joe is doing), the sort of dancing I value (and you know what that means), and some historical reference points.

– My own good experiences with that teacher in their class, or just interacting with them socially.

– My own observations of that teacher’s interactions with other people. eg I’ve seen a few big name teachers be total jerks at events when they’re not working, so even though they are ok when they are ‘on’ and working, I still won’t hire them.

– Teachers who talk to anyone and everyone, not just people who can get them stuff (ie not just other teachers, organisers, etc; they talk to all sorts of people). It’s ok for teachers to be shy or less gregarious, but I have no time for arse kissers or professional shmoozers.

– Teachers who offer the right material for my local scene at the right time. Not necessarily in terms of ‘the right teaching to get my scene better’, but more ‘the right vibe that will sell tickets and make people happy now’.

– Teachers who offer more than just classes. So I like teachers who are doing interesting research, are DJs, are musicians, like working with musicians, give good talks, etc etc. They don’t have to do these things at my event, but it does offer something more.

– The right interests and class content to suit my own projects. eg I was talking to a very high profile teacher about working at my event, but eventually chose not to work with them, not because they wouldn’t bring crowds (they so would), not because they were rubbish, but because their values and interests didn’t mesh with what I was doing. eg I look for teachers who want to try new things, work with musicians in interesting ways, and perhaps do unconventional class structures. This often doesn’t gel with the top name professional teachers who have a very set way of teaching and working at events (and that’s ok).

So I guess I’d recommend:
– Thinking about how you’d like to work as a teacher, out of the classroom. eg do you want huge events? Do you want to travel internationally? Do you want to travel to places like Asia v Europe? How much time do you want to spend traveling (eg coming to Australia takes at least a week of travel jet lag and work)? etc etc

– Be yourself, and work to your own values. Don’t try to be ‘fashionable’, unless you just want to get gigs quickly.

– Cultivate networks. And by that, I mean socialise like a real person, not in a fake shmoozy way. Don’t try to be super-social if you’re not; it’s ok to be shy or quieter. Just be a real person. Oh, and don’t be a dick. Be a nice person. You want to work with people you like and who share your values, not just with any old stooge. And go to the type of events you want to work at, or to the type of events that attract people you want to work with. So your crowd at ILHC isn’t like your crowd at Lindy Bout.

– Cultivate contacts. There are people in the scene who recommend teachers for gigs, are regularly consulted by organisers about teachers’ reps, and are generally very useful people. But they mightn’t be famous teachers or organisers or DJs. They could be that woman in her 60s who social dances, does classes, and doesn’t hobnob. But everyone seems to know her, and she’s been dancing for 20 years, and done every type of class or party under the sun. She’ll be the type of person who’ll know whether a teacher is a nice person or not, or have been privy to rumours about misconduct.
Think long term about this – you might meet them this year at LoneStar, but not see a gig come your way for two years. A good contact takes their time and doesn’t offer their recommendation lightly.

Things that put me off:
– Gendered language in classes, inappropriate behaviour, etc. You’d think it’d be obvious, but teachers who drink to excess, who hit on lots of people, who swear too much, who are disrespectful or sexist or racist or homophobic, who take advantage of organisers or other dancers, etc are shithouse.

– Aggressive self-promotion by teachers.
I’m regularly approached by teachers at events wanting to talk about coming to teach in Australia. I usually don’t mind if we are already friends or have some sort of rapport; it seems the logical extension of our relationship if we ‘click’ professionally. But I do get random teachers who approach me when I don’t even know them, trying to pressure me into booking them. It makes me supremely uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure it’s a cultural thing. I often close the conversation with a vague comment about already having booked someone. And then I run away. So putting organisers on the spot is a bad idea. If I am interested in someone coming to my city, by the time I mention it to them in person, I’ve decided I WANT them.

– This is a culturally specific thing, but in Australia we are quite uncomfortable with ‘tall poppies’ who self-promote aggressively. It can be ok for an American to list all their accomplishments and send an email to other Americans soliciting a gig. But for many Australians this can seem too aggressive and arrogant.
As a heinous example, we often get single American men (usually blues teachers) approaching non-organisers with a ‘deal’ where they fly to Australia if the local person organises a gig.
This generally makes experienced organisers pretty uncomfortable, and it can exploit inexperienced people who don’t know how to say no, or feel flattered. These guys often arrive acting as though they’re literally a great white savour bringing dance to the colonies. When they really aren’t very great dancers and aren’t good teachers. They often do a bunch of gigs in the region, which tells me they don’t have any/many regular bookings, and have a wide open schedule with no local business or teaching commitments. All this stuff is mighty suspicious, and we often find out later they weren’t on the right visa, were sexually inappropriate, and did things like buy or use drugs inappropriately or illegally, borrowed money from dancers, or used dancers for their homes or resources.

I’ve noticed, working with Korean organisers, that there are cultural differences that are hard to discover until you’ve tripped over them. Even just working with translators requires a particular set of teaching skills and personality.
So research the dance and culture of new countries and scenes before you go there. And go to a scene to dance as a punter before you start trying to get gigs there.

-> so maybe talking about general dance stuff with organisers, casually saying that you like the sound of scene X in their city, and are interested in traveling more is ok.

Make your code of conduct practical

…I hope my earlier post made it clear that this post is meant as an example of how we can apply existing laws and guidelines to our community?

I’ve been looking at, and thinking about, just how useful codes of conduct are. They’re great as a statement of intent, but if that’s all you do: state your intent. Well, who cares. It’s important to take the next step and apply the theory to practical examples.

eg in our SDS code of conduct I set out the broad ‘statement of intent’, then the code, then the actual sexual harassment policy.

It’s simply not enough to say ‘be excellent to each other’. You have to explain what ‘being excellent’ means. Just as you can’t say ‘use common sense’, because we are from lots of different countries, cultures and backgrounds. There is no ‘sense’ or meaning common to us all. So you need to be clear:

Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour (sexual or otherwise) which makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated.
– This means it’s ILLEGAL to hold a dance partner very close if they don’t want to be held.
If someone says they don’t want to dance, and you insist, touching them and pulling them, it is harassment.
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.
(from the SDS code of conduct)

I also feel that it’s not enough to just say “DON’T DO THAT!”
You also need to say, “YES! DO THIS! THAT’S RIGHT!”

How do I avoid sexually harassing someone?

Ask for verbal consent: “Would you like to dance?” “Would you like a drink?” “Would you like to take a walk?” “Would you like to come back to my place?” “Would you like to have excellent, consensual sex with me?”
(from the SDS code of conduct)

If your code of conduct is just a bunch of words you’ve cut and pasted from someone else’s, you won’t be able to think through the situation to this point. Take each line of your code: can you apply it to a practical situation? If you can, do you have a practical response to people who contravene these guidelines? And are you 100% ok with what you’re saying?
You should be 100% ok with your code, and you should feel passionately about it.

If you’re an event organiser and not acting on safety, you’re a dickbag.

Ruth reposted this great post by Miranda on fb today:

If you are an advanced dancer, you are probably a scene leader. If you check out of important safe space conversations, you are complicit in reinforcing toxic behaviors. Not taking a stance, is a stance that it’s cool for messed up things to happen.

These conversations need you to participate or don’t be a role model. Oh and if you’re a good dancer, you’re someone’s role model.

I agree. Completely.

A friend had tagged me in their comment to this post, and asked me to comment on how to not be a dickbag organiser. He didn’t use the word dickbag. That was me. Because if you’re not acting on this stuff, you’re a dickbag. A bag of dicks.

This is what I wrote:

I have a bunch of things I do (with regards to safe space policies and practice), but I don’t really have the brain space to outline it here.

But there are two parts to this issue:
1) preventing harassment through cultural change (eg how do you teach students, what do you model on the floor, what type of teachers do you hire, etc AND dismantling current power structures like unquestioning adulation of teachers, and top-down authority networks.);
2) responding to s.h. and assault.

You can’t not address this issue today. a) because be a good person, and b) it’s bad PR to be a dick. No one will attend your events, you’ll get a bad rep.

My current concern:
The men who offend are not my big concern.

I am concerned about the people (organisers, fellow teachers) who protect, defend, and enable these men.
I am seeing patterns of behaviour in event organisers who actively protect known offenders, and often enable them. Particularly if they are famous teachers. But they also dismiss reports about ‘less famous men’ because it simply doesn’t have the impact that reporting a ‘famous teacher’ does.
This is what truly terrifies me.
And it’s common and truly upsetting.
They’re not protecting them out of ignorance; many organisers know these men offend, they simply don’t think it’s such a bad thing. And they would rather defend their profits and profile than defend the safety of their students and peers.

So that’s what I’m working on right now. The things I look for when ID’ing rape apologists and enablers (usually a combination of these, with the general result being that it shores up the power of the organiser):

  • lack of code of conduct;
  • a code of conduct that’s been cut-and-pasted from elsewhere and clearly hasn’t been thought through and has no clear ‘voice’ reflecting that organiser/body;
  • no transparency in prevention and response strategies (ie they won’t tell you what the process is);
  • focus on ‘letting the police handle this’ and official legal recourse where women have to report assaults, but they don’t actually assist women in this;
  • talk about ‘private issues’ and framing assault as ‘sex’ or ‘bad sex’ rather than physical assault or attacks;
  • focus on ‘common sense’ to stop people offending;
  • wanting to ‘hear the other side of the story’ or ‘talk to the man’ rather than believing the reporter;
  • wanting a meeting where the reporter and offender meet ‘to discuss this’;
  • refusal to admit that it happens at their event;
  • wanting to handle this on a ‘case by case basis’ where they ‘speak to’ the offender (vs a broader policy with transparency and clear consequence and preventative strategies);
  • statements like ‘women make false reports to hurt a man’s career’. We all know this isn’t true;
  • tatements like ‘if they were raped, why didn’t they tell me? If they didn’t tell me, it wasn’t such a big deal.’

All this keeps the power with organisers and offenders.
Codes, policies, and transparency change the power dynamic, so that we are all responsible for each other and can act on offences; not just one powerful person.

How to approach this issue, as a decent human:
1. Learn about s.h. and assault, from the laws in your country to the info provided by rape crisis centres.
2. Be prepared to be upset, and get your support networks in place. This is upsetting stuff.

More generally:

You have to have a code of conduct. Even if you call it your ‘mission statement’ or ‘vision’ or ‘manifesto’. It’s a public statement of your values and the ‘rules’, and you have to be specific. eg actually explain what counts as sexual harassment in a dance setting – eg hands too low on backs, etc.

Now you have a code, how do you tell people about it? Website? Flyers? Posters? Hand outs?

Once you have a code, you realise that you need consequences for people who break the code. ie do you ban? Do you warn? How do you escalate responses (eg when do you ban vs when you warn).

Once you have consequences, you realise you have to have a process for delivering and then enforcing your consequences. Who will do the warning? How? Paper or email or f2f? How do you keep that warner safe while doing that job?

Develop a process, script, and role for this. Then practice it all.

Once you’ve banned someone, do you tell other organisers? Is it a lifetime ban? Do you take on a remedial role for that person, or do you just get rid of them (I’m in the latter camp – I’d rather give my time to people who are nice than people who hurt other people).

If you have to warn or ban someone, how do you keep track of who did what? You’ll need a reporting process. Who writes the report? When? Where? What happens to that report afterwards? Do you have a report form? Where is it? How many copies do you have? How do you safeguard anonymity and safety?

Safety. Mine. Other Women’s.
At this point the biggest priority for me, having done public reports about known offenders in the Australian scene, and actually being active on this issue, is the safety of women who’ve been assaulted/harassed, and my own safety:

  • my physical safety (I have been threatened for speaking up);
  • my legal safety
  • my financial safety
  • my mental well being (it’s fucking stressful and exhausting)
  • knowing my limits: how far do I go in protecting women who reports assaults; how far do I go in reporting? How much will I do before I say ‘ok, this is enough; I’m too tired/scared.’
  • protecting the anonymity and safety of reporters. I find that EVERYONE wants to talk to these women – to ‘verify’ the story, to know who they are (as if that matters), etc etc etc. This is partly straight up sexism (people simply don’t _believe_ women).
    I have also found that the offenders want to ‘talk to’ the women reporting them to ‘work it out’. This means they want to bully or threaten them into shutting up. Remember that assault and harassment is frightening and physical assault: people are injured. So protect the reporter.