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.

(mis)uses of power in responding to sexual harassment

A clever point was raised in the teaching swing dance fb group I’m part of.
This group has an excellent vibe: mutual respect, constructive talk, be nice.

Here is a question asked by one member of this group (I’ll keep her anonymous in case she needs to be, but will happily add her name later if necessary).

…there has long been a culture of “dominance” and coercive sexuality based on dance prowess or fame … in the swing scene. And it is absolutely tied to the rockstar status within subcultures.

What do we do to shut down the rock star culture, while still honoring those who are stellar teachers? What can International teachers do to take the focus off them as celebrities while the community at large promotes their contribution to dance and their value as teachers? (and I suppose we need to ask this of the competitor population, too, but I think the crossover population is the actually the one in question)
In conclusion, what can we each bring to our pool to help build a better community that supports our often juxtaposing desires?

This is what I wrote in response. The first paragraph is the most important, I think.

I don’t think the dance world is any worse than the rest of the world for assault and harassment. I actually think we do quite well on reporting and responding – hence the number of reports coming up in the last two years since we saw the public response to Steven Mitchell.

We are quite active and getting well organised in Australia, with almost all events and schools having codes of conduct, and a few events having really, really good response, reporting, and prevention strategies. Vivi Kalman and her MLX safety champs crew are well and truly leading the way on this.

Despite the awesomeness of some organisers, we do have some recalcitrant bastards who are either supporting accused men, or refusing to act beyond setting up dodgy cut and past codes of conduct.
But, well, baby steps.

We’ve also found in Australia that most reports of assault or harassment haven’t been reporting high profile or powerful male teachers. Offenders all sorts of men, most of whom are operating ‘under the radar’ for event organisers, but are well known among the more ‘intermediate’ or general dance population.

Personally, and as an organising person, I am much more worried about organisers and other teachers who cover for offenders. There is clearly a culture of hide-and-ignore protecting high profile male teachers who sexually assault women. There were certainly organisers who protected Steven Mitchell, and we have seen that other teachers protected Max Pitruzella.

So while I’m all for undoing some of the hero-worship and unquestioning adulation for teachers, I’m actually much more concerned about the way organisers protect known offenders. I think that organisers gain a lot of status from ‘getting’ the A-list teachers, and I know that organisers also risk money and status when they put on an event.

I’ve also seen that the worst offenders are booked by organisers who run events with exploitative conditions: underpaying or not paying teachers, DJs, staff; not making workplaces safe; overworking staff and volunteers, etc etc etc.

So I think that one very important way to combat this issue is to think of sexual assault and harassment as issues of power and exploitation (not sex), and that they are just one point on a spectrum of exploitation. So to prevent assault and harassment, we need to address broader issues of power and exploitation.

eg if you don’t run your event legit (eg don’t get visas for teachers, don’t pay tax, don’t pay people properly, don’t invoice properly), you’re less likely to call the police if you an assault is reported at your event. I’ve seen organisers botch things very badly when assaults are reported. eg letting an offender ‘apologise’ to classes before putting them on a plane. That’s a whole series of unethical and illegal actions there.

And one of the biggest issues in all of this, is that inexperienced people run events, and don’t know about half the issues that need addressing – from music use licences to OH&S, and beyond to writing agreements/contracts and how to manage people.
The dodgiest teachers (and why are there so many in the blues scene?) target these inexperienced people, saying they’ll pay their own flights over, if the local person puts on an event. The local person feels super flattered, puts on the event, and then all manner of bad shit goes down.

Flat vs heirarchical power in safe space discourse

Following on from my last post, Conflict or Bullying?….

There are technical definitions for harassment, abuse, and bullying in various government or medical literatures. But I’m finding these aren’t as significant as the perception of these differences within the dance world.
For context, the last two years since Steven Mitchell was openly outed as a serial rapist and sexual offender, have seen dance scenes around the world leap into action to develop policies, processes, and practices which respond to and prevent sexual assault and harassment. This could be referred to as ‘safe spaces’ discourse in the scene (even though many people don’t use that phrase).

Now that we’re two years in, particularly in Australia, where we’re actually a little ahead of the game, we’re seeing people moving to a next stage. How to maintain these processes how to support and care for safe space workers, how and when to lift bans or enforce stronger measures. We’re also seeing organisations exploring formal legal options and advice, and in Australia, there is a general movement towards coordinated efforts. A sort of loose national consortium or more accurately loose network of communication. This means that various bodies and individuals who run events, teach classes, or are active in their local scenes are talking about these issues and sharing information and resources.
In an activist sense, we’ve moved from agitate to educate and are now into organise.

We can say that there is, on the whole, a very general (though not comprehensive) agreement that we need to address sexual assault and harassment in the scene in an active way. This is quite a different culture than the one I wrote about in 2011 in A Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities.
I think this is a very good thing.

We are also seeing another interesting (and occasionally frustrating) issue developing: dancers are beginning to talk about and act on a range of anti-social behaviours, but they don’t always (rarely?) share the same understanding of ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’, ‘conflict,’ and so on.
Two of the key issues seem to be: what do we take responsibility for responding to (as institutional bodies)? How do we respond to various behaviours? And what is our scale for ‘anti-social’.
So, while we’re all on board for ‘improving safety’, now we’re seeing clear differences in how people think ‘we’ (as a community) should respond, who this ‘we’ is, and when it should happen.

I’ve seen two general groups of thinking:
1. Peeps who would like to preserve a hierarchical, top-down power structure, where we have powerful people (organisers, teachers, etc) who respond with authority to incidences and reports.

2. Peeps who would like to see broader cultural change to undo some of these hierarchies, so we have a flatter community power structure, and more people feeling powerful enough to intervene in unsafe situations, or to stand up for themselves and others.

I’m in the latter group.
I’ve noticed that people in the first group are very focussed on processes of reporting, ‘punishment’ (from ostracising/banning to police intervention), and essentially maintaining the status quo.

People like me, who are in the latter group are much more focussed on doing things like changing the way we teach dance, and on building class cultures where students do stuff like ask each other to dance in class (and know how to say yes or no, and how to deal with either response), know how to say ‘please move your hand’ or ‘I’m not ok with that’. For a lot of teachers, one of the important parts of this approach is to rethink the lead-follow dynamic, from changing the emphasis on heteronormative gendering (where men lead and women follow) to shifting from moves-based dancing (where leads lead a zillion moves in a row and follows execute them), to movement-based dancing (where both partners interact in a more collaborative way, with an emphasis on rhythm and the music rather than executing moves. The ‘ambidancetrous’ movement is a part of this latter group, but also what I think of as ‘gentle teaching’, where classes are less focussed on mini-routines, teacher-centredness, and class ‘levels’. A ‘gentle teaching’ approach focusses more on social dancing skills in class (eg students counting themselves in, lots more music in class, etc etc etc).

I’ve talked a lot about teaching, but there are other projects that have similar goals (cultural change) and aren’t focussed on teaching. A good example is a very wonderful shift away from school-organised parties in Sydney, and towards individual- or friend-organised parties. This has meant that we’ve seen lots of smaller, more collaborative parties in the last couple of years, where the people putting the events on work with friends and aim to have fun. My favourite part of this is the collaboration with musicians. Whether they’re blues musicians, gypsy jazz bands or swing bands. From a nerdy music POV, I’ve seen that these bands rarely work from written scores; they tend to do more improvised stuff, and there’s more to-and-fro between musicians in the band, and between musicians and dancers. It also seems that musicians like these gigs a LOT more than the other type of gigs.

I really like the second as an example of cultural change, as we see a move away from centralised hierarchies (with power and decision-making centred on one or two people) to localised, flatter hierarchies (where decision making can by done by anyone, and anyone can run a party, and we attend because we think it sounds fun, or because they’re our friends, rather than because we feel institutionally obligated).

One of the interesting parts of the second approach is how Sydney (as my working example) has integrated safe space practice and discussion into this culture. If we are localised (rather than centralised) and we have lots of people making decisions, how does a code of conduct work?
Things I’ve seen in Sydney:
– people share resources and ideas
– people are saying ‘I am personally responsible for my friends’ and my own safety’. And I see men saying this too. So individual people are feeling engaged, rather than relying on a powerful person at the top of a hierarchy to ‘fix things’.
– there’s more communication between individuals running parties, but also between people who are working on events in other capacities. eg the people who managed the door at Jazz with Ramona this past weekend also manage the door at other parties and events, and they are taking their experiences with both groups’ safety policies and growing a practical, tailored approach that works in both spaces.

I really like all this stuff.

But a clear consequence of these two general groups of thinking has been some clashes in ideas about who should do what. And about what ‘counts’ as harassment, bullying, or conflict.

So, right at the end here, I’m actually in favour of shunning or ostracising in some cases. The most obvious of these is when groups of women say ‘no thank you’ when a known groper asks them to dance. They feel confident enough to say no without justification. And they are making it clear to him that they are the bosses of their bodies, and his antisocial behaviour has had consequences.

If those women had chosen instead to make a complaint to a powerful person, who had then ‘warned’ that man, then those women remain disempowered, and the organiser has the power.

Of course, in this environment, knowing when to do formal bans, warnings, and escalation of responses is a more complex issue. And this is where I (and a few friends all over the world) are now: how do you use official roles and processes in a flatter power structure?

Hence my interest in understanding the difference between conflict (which I think is inevitable and ok – especially as it teaches us how to manage conflict in healthy ways) and bullying/harassment.

Help the helpers

Hey there fronds. Are you working on sexual assault and harassment, safe space, and other issues relating to shit stuff that men to do women, children, and other men at dance events?
 
You may be feeling pretty fucking bad at the moment, what with Turmp, Max Pitruzella, Steven Mitchell, shit going on in your own scene, etc etc etc.
 
It can be a mix of total awful hearing terrible stories about awful men doing awful things, and total amazing fighting the power, kicking heads and taking names.
Either way: emotional roller coaster.
 
Please be looking after yourself and each other.
Keep an eye out for the symptoms of reactive depression, anxiety, and other illnesses, as well as just generally feeling poo. These don’t mean you are ‘nuts’ or going to be ill forever. It means you’re ill and run down and need to take care of yourself.
 
Me: I find working on this stuff pretty bloody depressing. I feel frightened for my own safety, for my friends’ safety, and very, very angry. I get particularly angry with men, because most of the people working on these issues are women, while almost (99%) of the people offending are men.
 
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Why are we once again picking up after you shits?
 
Me again: while the rage can keep you warm, it often dies down into depression (where I personally despair of humans), anxiety (being afraid of my email inbox as i receive another raft of vicious hatemail), frustration and irritation (fucking dancers, not being able to step up and help each other), and a general disinterest in dancing. The millionth time I read the same organisers or dancers list a million reasons why they can’t act on an issue (whether it’s paying people properly, banning a known rapist, or stepping in to tell some jerk to stop hurting women on the dance floor), I just feel like screaming. And then making good use of one of those bags of warm dog poo.
 
Things I do to manage these very normal feelings:
– set limits (what will I read, what won’t I read, how often will I read about these things)
– set limits (what am I prepared to act on? when will I stop acting?)
– set limits (no, I won’t talk to you about X, I’m sorry, because I haven’t the strength)
– set limits (soz, no known rapists, sexual assaulters, harassers or stalkers at my events. No excuses, no explanations, you’re just out on your arse)
– set limits (if I do think I might lose my shit and physically attack the next man I see hurt a woman on the dance floor, I take a deep breath, tell a friend I’m going in, and tell him politely to quit it. Talk before punching.)
– set limits (never too many beginner dancers; never too many dogs to pat, never too many early nights)
 
– get help. Talk to a GP (I love mine), talk to a counsellor (hey, they teach you how to respond to these issues). Talk to a professional rape counsellor so you know how to manage these issues and when to handball them to a professional. Tell a friend you feel terrible.
 
– pat more doges.
 
– remind yourself of the wonderful women you know. Then send them a message telling them that you think they’re wonderful. They need it, and it means you’ll be spending less time thinking at dumbfuck men, and more time thinking about wonderful people.
 
 

If you’re someone reading along who doesn’t help out on these issues, it’s time you did. And you should begin by finding out how. I’m talking to you, men. This isn’t our problem; men assaulting women is the problem. That’s you, and your male friends. If you don’t step up and do something, say something, you are complicit.
So share the load, hey?
And a general fb post where you offer to walk women to their car or to ‘talk’ to a doodbro on request is not helping. That just maintains the status quo. Instead, you could talk to doodbros when you see or hear them being dicks. Check yourself: what sort of jokes are you telling? How’s your gendered language? How do you proposition someone? Have you volunteered to help out at a dance event lately (no, not DJing or MCing, something actually essential)? Did you take your trash to the bin at the end of the night? Did you say ‘thanks’ to the vollies or staff at a local dance? Did you recommend a woman for a gig you wanted? Have you asked a woman dancer to show you that cool trick they just did?
 
Hell, start walking known or suspected offenders to their cars. Because they’re the ones who need watching. THEY’RE the ones who are trouble, not women.
 
 
Here is a useful resource: https://www.livingwell.org.au/professionals/confronting-vicarious-trauma/

Feminism as happiness

And as this week continues, we hear more and more brave women talk about being assaulted by Max Pitruzella. Even worse, we hear more and more men making excuses for why they didn’t step in and tell Max to stop that shit and quit being a fuckwit. It is difficult to stay positive in this climate.
One of the hard parts of feminism is that it often feels like we have to be continually angry and hating on things. But it’s not true. Feminism is very good stuff. It can bring you happiness and power.

I see the dance world’s action on sexual harassment as a very lovely part of feminism.

One of the ways I turn this issue around (and why I love teaching beginners so much), is by focussing on how to treat your partner with respect, but in practical ways. Our whole Swing Dance Sydney teaching and learning group has come up with very good, simple and practical ways to integrate respect and consent with old school lindy hop dancing. It’s easy, it’s FUN, and it makes classes rowdy, full of laughter and happiness. I do recommend.

What we did with our beginner (week 1) students this week was explain about how to ask for a dance, to introduce yourself before you touch someone, and how to make sure your partner was touching you in the right way, and to be sure your partner is ok with the way you touch them.
With the intermediates we talked about how to understand your partner’s body language as communicating their feelings: how a clenched hand and tight arm might mean an uncomfortable, worried, or nervous partner. And we talked about how to be nice so your partner feels safe. And we reminded both leads and follows that we don’t ever demand or tell our partner to do a rhythm step. We invite them to join us in that step. And that we should be totally digging their response, whatever it is! Even if they ignore us!
All of this was part of a very general discussion about having relaxed swing outs where we let go early, don’t yank in early, and take care of our own posture and rhythm. Leads don’t try to micro-lead, follows bring their shit. People dig that, because they see straight away that this type of partnership is how the jazz gets in.

Our intermediate students are already right on top of these issues. Most of them volunteer or work on our events, so they know our safety policies, and how to deal with reports, the police, etc etc. They are all very active about spreading the word to other people too.

I’m lucky. They are a very wonderful group of people. I’d hashtag this blessed but I’m too cynical for that.

I love the Petersham Bowls Club

I love the Petersham Bowling Club. They took a punt on us when we first starting teaching lindy hop there in 2012. They let us put on live band nights whenever we want (well, any Wednesday, and a lot of Sundays). They have air conditioning, and they don’t try to force us to make our dancers drink more. They are a community-run, pokey-free venue that has solar energy, tank water toilets, and are in the black. Their staff are lovely, and we love them. I love going every week and seeing Jon and everyone. I don’t drink, but I love their care and attention for quality beers, and will happily listen to a long story about the latest barrel, and even have a taste.

They are pretty much the perfect venue for our dance classes, and we love them. LOVE them. We ran the first weekly solo jazz class in AUSTRALIA there every week for years. The PBC was where I ran my first Sam-run live jazz gig. It has good acoustics. The musicians love it – we’ve had local bros, and big international acts play for our beginners, and it’s been wonderful every time.

I love the PBC.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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