I’d like to see the Australian Ballet do THIS

Dance people! Argh! You’re home, you can’t dance or see your mates, you are going nuts. What can you do?

If only we had a pool of highly motivated, experienced volunteers and managerial types with time on their hands. If only we had an extensive network of local, national, and international people who liked doing community stuff. If only we had fb groups and email lists and instagram accounts! IF ONLY.

Wait. We DO.
The international lindy hop community is fully sick on the whole organisation thing.

Need a group of tired and confused people sorted into groups quickly and efficiently? Have I got the class-levels-audition judge or competitor marshall for YOU.

Need someone who can organise food and beds for hundreds of people? Have I got the housing coordinator or catering team for YOU.

Need someone who can balance a tight budget, weedle cash out of reluctant individuals, or write a shit-hot grant application? I have the event organisers for YOU.

I haven’t had a chance to think about this properly, yet, but I do know there are a lot of worried, disheartened people in my immediate community looking for something to _do_ to help. Why not put your big brains to work?

Here are a couple of things I’ve come up with:

Hassle our MPs:
– If the dole (newstart, pension, etc) is increased to a liveable wage, we’ll all be better off when we lose a lot more jobs. People with an income spend money, and that means they feed money into the economy. Which is good for all of us, not just those of us who sell bread or run restaurants.

-> So we want to hassle our members of parliament about this. Write letters. Send emails. Get tapping, folk.

Support our local charities:
– Local charities like The Exodus Foundation and Addison Road Community Centre have had a huge increase of people coming in for help in the past month. They need food, basic health stuff (TP, pads, etc), and they need volunteers.
– Lots of us are going to be needing these services soon.

-> So we need to take our extra groceries down there in person. This will give us a chance to scope out the place, and get familiar. Which will make it easier to…
-> Volunteer at places like Exodus or Addison Road. They always need people to do jobs like making food, cleaning up, driving cars, washing things, and so on.

It kind of sucks at the moment, but things will probably get worse. BUT there are things we can do. And the international dance community is kind of crazily competent. I mean, we operate huge cultural events with virtually no government funding. I’d like to see the Australian Ballet pull off the shit _we’re_ capable of!

How to plan an event cancellation

How to go about responding to COVID-19 in Australia?

A good starting point would be to collate:

  • number of cases per state/australia
  • sources for daily updates from gov
  • legal recommendations from gov (eg we still allowed gathering in groups atm).

  • Then each organisation should develop a long term plan and a short term. Even if it’s as simple as ‘we won’t close anything now, but we will reassess in (x) days. When we get to (x) we will decide.’ Then make a rough outline of jobs to be done for either closing or not closing.

    Another issue: is your insurance up to date, and does it cover loss profits, health care, etc etc?
    I’d also have a look at finances: do you have any bills to pay, any money owed to you.
    And just go over your refund policies for classes and events and things.
    -> basically get your affairs in order, so you can make informed decisions.

    I’m getting a few queries about our events this year, so you will soon, too, I guess.
    I personally feel I have a responsibility to present and promote a sense of calm capable professionalism, so I’m planning my responses carefully:

    • I do my usual ‘hello, thanks for your email, i will reply by [DATE]’ (usually a week) reply to emails if I don’t have a comment ready.
    • I am developing a task calendar of what we’ll do when
    • I’m planning out what we’ll say in our public comments, and in our correspondence to various contractors, staff, and volunteers.

    Luckily, we have an extensive and useful safe space policy (more than just a code of conduct), and I’m just rolling our hygiene and response-to-pandemic issues into that. We already have a developed tone (a way of speaking to people about this stuff), and we have developed a good sense of mutual trust, so I feel local dancers trust us to make sensible decisions.

    I don’t want to create a sense of panic, so I’m being very careful with tone (light, but also knowledgeable), I’m using solid resources (eg WHO, Dept of Health, etc, _not_ newspaper or mass media articles), and I’m planning ahead.

    I’m also thinking long term. What will we need to do to redevelop our local scene _after_ this, what will we need to do to support local bands and DJs, and what can we do to support local venues (our scene is rooted in a few key commercial spaces: Ruby’s, a dancer-run dance hall, but also a lot of live music venues).

    Afterwards
    So I’m looking at what we might need to do to restart local parties, and how we might promote our events in a post-pandemic community where people are afraid of gathering in groups. I’ve learnt a lot from talking to Christchurch organisers about how they dealt with fear after the earthquakes.
    This is changing so quickly, and the panicked tone of a lot of online talk from the US and European dance world is making me feel a bit antsy, and I can see it affecting the Australian dancers, too, so I’m also limiting what and how much I read online. Official, reliable sources only for me.
    Whatever you plan to do, it’s worth planning those public responses before you have to give them, so you’re not emailing and FB commenting in real time (ie in stress time).

    Sharon and I met last Wednesday (9 March) to discuss this issue. We decided to cancel Jazz BANG. We also discussed things we could do to foster the local scene.
    Today I put our plan to cancel into motion, sending off emails, etc.

    I noticed that some of the content in our email copy had to be rewritten because things had changed so much in the past week. Last week we thought we could continue to run local dances each week. This week we have no classes or parties running in our businesses for the foreseeable future.

    To actually put the cancellation into action, we had quite a long to-do list. It’s taken us a week of hard work (including international phone calls with teachers) to get to this point. But so much has changed in a week, we’ve had to rework some of the plans we made a few days ago. And it has been stressful, miserable work. Sending out these emails today has made me cry. And I’m not a big cryer. All our hard work, all the things we had planned, all the new stuff we were going to do.

    But then, the thought of contributing to the spread of the disease is what decided us: I can’t bear the thought of making this situation worse. Of sending friends and loved ones home sick, to spread the illness through their own families and communities.

    So please start looking at your cancellation plans now. If the international example is anything to go by, we will be locked down for many months. China is still locked down after two months, and their response has been better than Australia’s.
    I’m finding this stressful and just heart breaking. All that hard work gone. All those artists out of work. Our businesses imperilled. Please reach out to your friends for a bit of hand holding and affection before you think you need it.

This totally sucks.

We had almost sold out of passes. We had some truly epic things planned with live music and performances. We had wonderful teachers booked. The band and DJ line up was fresh and exciting. We’d spend thousands of dollars already. But the thought of sending our friends home with an infection is even worse.


Hello dear friends,

We’re very sorry to have to write this to you, but we (Sharon and Sam) have decided to cancel Jazz BANG this year, due to the health crisis presented by the COVID-19 virus.

While the Australian government has not banned public gatherings yet, we cannot be sure of the situation in May. We don’t want to risk the health of our volunteers, bands, and guests – our _friends and families_. So we have decided now to protect the health and safety of the people we care about.

What’s been happening behind the scenes?
– It’s become harder to guarantee our international teachers’ access to Australia, as the government restricts entrance to the country and enforce 14 day quarantines.

– We know that transmission of COVID-19 is facilitated by lots of people coming together in big groups and touching each other. We hate the thought of spreading illness ourselves.

– We are concerned that international and interstate guests won’t be able to return home after the event, or will be quarantined when they return. Or even worse, that they will take infection home with them.

– We have already committed a certain amount of our own money to Jazz BANG, but we are at a pivotal point. Cancelling now, we reduce our potential losses. A huge loss in May would make it very difficult to run local parties and classes in the future. So we have decided to focus on protecting the economic sustainability of our local community now.

What does this mean for you?
Registrants:
If you have already registered for a Jazz BANG pass (and we have almost sold out of all passes, even at this early stage), we will begin refunding through Trybooking from Monday 23rd March.
Why the delay? Cancelling a big event takes almost as much work as planning one, and we have a loooong to-do list.

Musicians:
We are bitterly disappointed that we won’t be able to work with you, or to show you off to the dancing world. If you have recordings available for sale, please do send us the details and we will go hard on promoting them.

DJs:
We were looking forward to working with new friends and old. Please keep us in mind for the future when you are planning your calendar. We would love to have you back in Sydney.

Volunteers and staff:
We have been overwhelmed (again) by Sydney dancers’ enthusiasm and determination to be a part of running a big party. We were also looking forward to working with you, and seeing just how epic your work can be. Thank you for your generosity. You humble us.

Again, we are writing with heavy hearts, but with the belief that we are making the right decision.

Your friends,
Sam Carroll and Sharon Hanley.

BOO a cancellation

Hi everyone,

I’ve decided to be responsible and cancel the party on the 21st March:

———

Dear friends,

I’m very sorry to have to write this to you, but I have decided to cancel this party on the 21st of March.

As we all know, the COVID-19 virus is moving into our communities. It is spread through ‘respiratory droplets’* (drops of wet stuff from our mouths and noses), and through physical contact. The best way to prevent its spread is to avoid transmission through direct contact.
That means: not touching lots of people or blowing respiratory droplets onto them.

While our government have not yet asked us to stop gathering in large groups, it would be responsible to remove another opportunity for us to germ on each other :D

It’s a very great shame, and I was looking forward to hearing the band, seeing you all, and dancing like a fool. But I think – this time at least – it’s best to be sensible.

*I know it sounds like a great name for a dance troupe, but: too soon.

Our poor old industry

So many event organisers, musicians, dance teachers, sound engineers losing thousands of dollars canceling events in the dance world. People in this industry really do live gig to gig.

I had thought it was a bit on the nose for organisers to ask before, but if an event you’re registered for is cancelled, please consider not accepting a refund.
Your couple of hundred dollars is a drop in the bucket for events that have already paid for flights, accommodation, visas, venue hire… not to mention still having to pay teachers a cancellation fee. A small Australian event has a budget of about $20 000, and most organisers are paying the bills from their own savings, before the registrations come in.

If you can, please do consider giving what you can from your registration refund.

Carers’ passes!

Topic: Carers’ Passes
or
Getting parents and carers into workshop weekends

We’ve had a Carers’ Pass at Jazz BANG in Sydney forever, and before that at The Little Big Weekend …basically forever. It’s become almost a staple at all Australian events now.

http://jazzbang.com.au/registration.html#carers

Each time I run a weekend event, I ask for comments and advice from the attending carers.

I use ‘carer’ instead of ‘parent’, because I want this to apply to anyone who’s looking after a dependant person – a baby, a child, an elder, a disabled family member, etc.
The primary goal was to retain dancers who’d gotten on with their lives and had babies after years of dancing. We didn’t want to lose them, their experience, or their $$ :D And a diverse dancing cohort is a healthy dancing cohort.

Hannah Anderson asked in another thread
“Love the carers pass- hadn’t noticed a need for it until I became a carer. Im interested in how you make it work- do the dancers sharing the pass need to dance the same role?”

First off: Diversity matters. And diversity at a management level is so important. People with different lived experiences bring a wider range of skills, knowledge, and priority to your event. Bless. <3 We just tell them to email us when they register. This way we know who's coming as a caring team, and what their particular needs are (they may also need advice about accommodation, contacts for borrowing cots, places for nursing babies, etc). I also find that talking to a real person makes a carer more confident about coming. Then we usually get about 2 or 3 couples max attend. They register for a 'carers' pass' which is the same as one workshop pass (either one day or two days). They then buy tickets to parties individually. We have two streams, and about 50 people in each stream. Part of our branding is that we keep classes small, and offer a 'boutique' experience that's community-minded, and emphasises really good music and really good international teachers. Sort of like an event from the early days (1990s and 2000s), but with really good music, organisational experience, and dancing. :D Our teachers are also prepped with info about these sorts of situations. When the couples talk to us (they may be two parents of the one child, or two mums sharing care of two babbies, or whatever - we've had all sorts and we encourage all combinations), we make sure they realise that only one of them can be in the class at a time (the other is caring for the kids). From here, we let them divide up the day how they like. - Some take alternating classes (the other one walking about with the bab, getting a coffee nearby, or in the class watching*) - Some take half a day each - Some drop in and out as needed (eg if the babby needs breastfeeding, then the nursing parent steps out) When it comes down to the actual day, we let them manage the time as they like. We don't police it. The lead/follow ratio really depends on what role the two carers dance. Most are so keen to dance (and so keen to be out with other humans) they'll do anything. Our workshops and teachers are flexible teachers, so it doesn't end up making a difference who does what. We also find that people swap themselves around in class depending on their feels. eg they may lead a class, then follow a class. We just keep our eyes on things and step in to sort things out if the ratio gets really skewed. The most popular option for single mums has been to take one class in the morning each day, while their child plays with their adult friend at the door. And then they go home for naps. I usually let them have this for free. Shhh. Don't tell anyone. We've also had teachers who are breastfeeding teaching the workshops, and we realised that you can't stick to a tight schedule when a babby needs a feed! So we actually put that in our teachers' contract, and we make it clear to all teachers: we have this many hours, we require you take regular breaks, but you can divide up the hours as you like. eg 15 min warm up session, then 1 hour exercise, then 30 min game, then lunch etc etc. In this situation, two people caring for a child may just take a block of hours between feeds, or the morning, or some other combination dictated by their child's needs. The most adamant feedback we've had is a request for a proper creche: childcare + child-safe space. I'm not sure how to do this, yet. There are insurance issues. And cost issues. Ideally, we'd spread the cost around, increasing pass prices a bit so everyone pays for this. And because we offer deals for lower income earners, we can mitigate the effects of higher ticket prices. *babbies and children are allowed in our class spaces, but they must be supervised at all times by an adult (ie the adult can't be dancing too)

Why do I go back to Herrang each year?

Why do I go back to Herrang?

I’m going to assume that you know what Herrang dance camp is, and that you have some passing familiarity with concerns about the enterprise. People who know me are surprised that I keep returning to an event that seems to break all my personal and professional rules. Why do I keep going back, trying to be useful and to contribute to constructive political work at this huge, rambling pile of a dance event?

Why do I go back each year?

It’s a huge enterprise. 300 odd paid staff + volunteers + 20-odd DJ + dozens of musicians + dozens of teachers, over 5 weeks of camp programming, and two additional weeks of set up and bump out in a small village in rural Sweden.
There is no other event like it in the world.

Buildings need to be cleaned, food cooked, classes taught, music played, bills paid, cars driven, sound gear fixed, dance courses administered, classrooms booked, dance floors built and repaired, sets built. For 7 weeks. Each week a new group of staff needs to be inducted. A huge, volunteer and largely untrained staff. Managers start from scratch, with staff of varying ability and inclination.

Because it’s the only long term event in the world, we get to see processes and ideologies play out in real time, in a durational sense. We see the usual tensions of late nights and high adrenaline play out over a longer time. Which means that we see things that we don’t at other events. We see how humans from a range of cultures and language groups interact with each other in a pressure cooker environment. Structures or systems that might be stable over a weekend or a just a week might not remain stable over 5 weeks. Ideas or processes that work for 3 days with a staff working to the brink of exhaustion show cracks over longer periods, where staff must begin thinking about care, rest, recuperation, down time. All elements that don’t come into play at other dance events.

Sexual harassment and assault are symptoms of power relationships and dynamics between individuals and within groups of humans. They aren’t inevitable, but they are characteristic of patriarchy. They can be managed and eradicated, but only through concentrated, strategic planning and policy. And most of this work is conducted by inexperienced ordinary people. This work is increasingly professional and sophisticated. I often wonder, though, if the codes of conduct and safety policies of American events, for example, would stand the test of a five (or seven) week time frame. They are, essentially, experiments in social politics, and working largely against the broader patriarchal culture of their home societies. Would Lindy Focus’s exceptional approach to sexual violence remain steady over five weeks? I think that it could, perhaps, but it would require a lot of on-the-ground, real time adjustment and tinkering. Because shit changes over time.
While Herrang does not have an over-arching code of conduct or safety policy, each of its many departments _does_ have a particular set of rules and guidelines for determining how staff and volunteers should treat each other and the general campers. As DJs, for example, we were reminded again in week 3 that drinking to excess while DJing is not ok. That we have to treat fellow DJs with respect and professionalism, by turning up on time for our sets, checking in with our DJ peers, and being supportive of their work. We were reminded of emergency procedures and shown how to use the emergency phones placed around the camp.

Each of Herrang’s departments change staff each week, so the managers and more permanent staff have the opportunity to edit, change, and adjust processes to respond to their participants’ changing needs. And the work of training and enculturating an entirely new group of people each week.

This agile people management is the most fascinating part of Herrang. Shane and Spela are juggling hundreds and hundreds of staff members across hundreds of roles. They are dealing with changing and unpredictable conditions (too many campers! a water shortage! disease! excessive heat!) within a framework that has to be reflexive and responsive. It’s a truly impressive thing to see in action.
These staff coordinators manage a base of general staff and volunteers, but work through and with a group of department managers. Each of those managers juggles a 24 hour schedule and a shifting group of workers of various skill, ability, and inclination. If you thought it was difficult managing entitled middle class white men on the dance floor, imagine trying to get them to work hard in an industrial kitchen for a black woman manager.
One of the primary concerns of the staff coordinators and managers is morale. How do you keep so many people feeling good over a long period of time under difficult circumstances? They don’t sleep enough, they don’t eat properly, they’re saturated in endorphines and adrenaline, and they’re doing unfamiliar work. How do you keep the whole machine running?

Herrang has a broad system of processes for handling these issues, from staff appreciation parties to balanced shift lengths and times, and a fairly efficient process for handling complaints, concerns, and questions. It is certainly not perfect, and it has flaws. But not because no one is trying. The staff managers and coordinators are caring people, and they work hard to improve processes every year. They’re also clever and inventive. Because they are also jazz dancers :D

What I’ve noticed about Herrang, is that the more permanent staff (people who are there for more than two weeks) tend to be curious, inventive, industrious, cooperative people. To the point of obsessive. Living in the countryside for 7 weeks, they start making things. Inventing things. Experimenting with things. While a conventional office workplace might foster pranks, Herrang staff move beyond your random ‘wrap a car in toilet paper’ prank to ‘wrap every item in the camp in toilet paper’. They come up with brilliant ideas, but then they truly relish figuring out how to execute these plans, and then do so within a contracted time span and limited resources. Someone might decide that the theme for this party is ‘Savoy’, and by the end of the day, staff have build an entire New York neighbourhood out of cardboard, wood, and fabric. A woman might have lost her phone, and by the end of afternoon, staff have built a human sized phone, put a jazz band on a truck (including a piano) and moved the whole thing across the village to her dinner table where she’s serenaded by her friends and peers. And giant phone. Someone else finds a giant glowing model moon, and by the end of the week she’s not only suspended above the square, she’s lit from within with a suspended table and chairs beneath her to be enjoyed by dining lovers.

This is the part of Herrang I like most. It’s exciting. It’s stimulating. Over-stimulating. I really enjoy real-time problem solving at the best of times, but on this scale it’s invigorating. Thrilling. Dangerously addictive.
I really like working with such a clever, creative group of people from all over the world. They manage language differences, tiredness, negative budgets, and sexual tension with enthusiasm and professionalism. And good will. Yes, people crack the shits and get overtired. But they also laugh a lot every day, and seek out ways to delight each other.

They’re also some of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I’ve ever met. One of the most common things I see and hear in the camp is a person going to great lengths to find out what their colleague likes best, hunting it down (even going driving hours to find it), then surprising them with it. Just because they looked tired or a bit sad. Or because they love them. Yes, there are pranks, but they aren’t cruel pranks. They’re loving, affectionate pranks. Filling a new teacher’s classroom with balloons for their first class. Swapping wardrobes with another dancer for a day. Learning an entire, complex jazz routine in a day, then recruiting a jazz band to surprise someone with it in their office at lunch time. Organising a parade of children and adults playing musical instruments and wearing costumes to tramp through the camp, just to entertain the participants and audience. Leaving a punnet of perfect strawberries on a colleague’s desk, because you know they are lovely.

And on top of all that, they love to dance and sing. To eat and cook and make love. To work hard and sleep deeply. To argue and talk and laugh.

These are the reasons I, personally, go back to Herrang. I like to spend my days visiting people’s offices, learning about their work, seeing how they do things. Watching people be kind and generous. Laughing til I can’t breathe.

Eat Your Jazz: Herräng’s ‘no’ list and the advantages of limitations

The now-infamous ‘Herräng no list’ came up in my interview with Ryan for his podcast. I’m not sure how it developed, but this ‘no list’ was a complement to the ‘yes list’, which sadly gets a lot less attention. These lists were playlists on spotify developed as a general guide to the type of music you may or may not choose to play at Herräng. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ titles are typically Swedish. Functional. :D

The first year I DJed at Herräng (2015?), there was an actual booklety thing, setting out the same sort of information, but as a pie graph, with percentages.

Last year I made up a new version of this pie graph for myself. You can see it at the top of this post.

That’s three ways of saying the same thing: this is the type of music we’d prefer you play, as a staff DJ at Herräng. This is a fairly specific description, and it aligns nicely with Herräng’s branding as ‘vernacular jazz dance’ blah blah.

The rules for DJing at Herräng are as you’d expect:

  1. Play swinging jazz from the 1930-40s (with a smear of 50s)
  2. Don’t just lean on the standards

So really it should be a ‘do’ list, not a don’t list.

Does it sound like there are a lot of rules for DJing at Herräng? Not that I’ve noticed. In fact, DJing at Herräng is lots of fun because our bosses simply assume we know all this and won’t play any bullshit, then they just set us up with a time slot or a task, and say “GO.” And then we just go sick. There’s a microphone, there’re lighting switches, there’s a dance floor full of Europeans in a democratic socialist country with far too much daylight. NO RULES TIL BROOKLYN

Advantages of each of the ‘rules’:

Point 2.
You have to really work on your set, not just play your easy-win faves. This makes you work harder and play more interesting sets.
This is especially true because we are on staff for a week, playing every night. One set in a weekend means you can phone it in, but 7 or more sets in a week means you really have to stretch.
This makes the whole week more interesting for dancers, because they’re hearing a wider range of music (within a genre): they get a deeper taste of swing music. But it also makes it more interesting for DJs, and much more creative. You’re more likely to take risks. Here is the good bit. More risks = potentially more errors. But really good DJs know how to recover from errors, and how to avoid them.
So while a DJ’s collection is on display, their skills are too.

I actually love it. I come away from the event with a much better understanding of my collection, having played far more than my usual ‘safe’ songs. And I’ve heard sets that are far more than just a handful of Naomi Uyama and Gordon Webster favourites.

Point 1.
This seems obvious. Playing from the swing era makes for good swing dancing. I see far better lindy hop at Herräng, in part because the music makes it easier to lindy hop.
Less jump blues. This is one that caught me by surprise. I hadn’t realised how much I leant on 40s jump blues. Louis jordan, Big Joe Turner, and others. Wonderful, but when I pushed myself to limit the number of these in my set, again they improved. How? a) different rhythmic emphasis and structure to the songs, b) less vocal driven, more ensemble driven melodies and structure, and c) a shift away from jump blues = shift towards small and big band swing. More complex songs and arrangements. Much more interesting for dancing lindy hop.

So the point isn’t that the no list stops you playing songs. It’s that the no list asks you to start playing a whole heap of other songs. Songs that are just much better for lindy hop and balboa.

I know I come away from the event a much better DJ. Two thumbs up from me.

I need some help paying my bills

In which I uncomfortably ask for your help… https://www.gofundme.com/AustralianSafeSpacelegalFund

As you may or may not know, in addition to ranting about stuff on facebook, I also do a bunch of practical things about sexual harassment and assault in the swing dance world. These include:
– developing policies and processes for my own events,
– consulting with and responding to questions from people in other scenes about issues in their own scenes,
– intervening in actual situations where I see women being harassed,
– etcetera.

All this can be risky. There are plenty of physical threats and intimidation, but also legal threats. It seems angry men don’t like being told they can’t assault women and girls by a woman.

I like to do all this work properly. So I have a law firm that specialises in defamation law give me advice on:
– how to write guidelines for our events,
– how to notify people that they’re not welcome at our events,
– how to enforce our codes of conduct.

This protects me, my partners, my contractors and employees, and my volunteers from law suits.

And it costs a bit of money. A whole bunch of money.

I’m at the point now where I need _your_ help. I don’t feel comfortable asking, but I figure, if half this work is reminding us we can ask for help when we need it, then I should learn that lesson too.

If you have a few bucks to donate, you can contribute to my gofundme. All this money will cover ongoing legal fees. I’m happy to talk about and give details of these fees (as far as I’m legally able).

[photo of dancers by Dave from WW photography.]