Part 3 of ‘get ready for Seoul’: DJing for dancers 8.30pm Saturday @ Harlem Returns! with Interstate DJ Justine Kinkade.
Hello there. Seems it’s time for another reminder about working conditions for DJs in Australia. Particularly as event ticket prices are increasing, and DJ pay is not increasing at the same rate.
Here’s a tip: gender parity is often a result of good event management. So you’ll get the sisters if you run a good event and have a good reputation. BECAUSE the reasons women don’t DJ are structural and institutional, not individual.
If you are looking for gender parity in your DJing team, you will need to be sure your DJs are safe, your pay package fair, your working conditions just. If they’re not, women will avoid your event. Because omgicanteven.
And because women DJs face enough shit already. We don’t need the extra grief of DJing at a shitty event. Bro DJs get less hassle at dance events, so they’re more likely to volunteer for substandard events.
Here is my professional opinion, as an experienced event organiser and DJ. All of these things must be agreed upon in writing, well before the event.
Have a clear vision for the musical program. If it’s a lindy hop event, get DJs who play classic swinging jazz. Do it right.
Do not do a ‘call for DJs’ for your event. This is not a casting call for some random chorus line spot. Nor are you some bullshit company running a competition for punters to ‘design your new logo!’ so you don’t have to pay a real designer. You are looking for talent to promote on your event program, so seek out the skill.
If you want good DJs to play your event, email those DJs directly. Woo them. Flatter them. Offer them a very attractive deal. Go above and beyond.
Hunt down new talent. Go to events. Ask DJs questions. Ask your interstate contacts about fresh young talent, for progress reports on newer DJs, for updates on older DJs.
Music should be your priority at a lindy hop event. So go out of your way to get the best DJs.
Then promote the buggery out of them. Brag that you got Reclusive DJ X to your event.
– $30 per hour MINIMUM. This is a low rate.
DJs should be paid in cash on the night, before their first set, or at the end of their first set.
Or they should be paid by direct bank transfer by a specified date.
Or they should be paid in response to invoice by a specific date. They should never have to ask for the money.
– Band break DJs should be paid for the entire duration of the gig they are DJing, not just for the actual minutes they are playing.
– All DJs should receive free entry to the gig they are DJing.
– Use fewer DJs, and give all DJs a full free social pass to the event. Your event will suck if you use a heap of shitty DJs who have no skills, and you don’t give anyone a free pass. If you use fewer DJs and give them free passes, your event will be better.
– There should be a DJ coordinator, head DJ, or DJ manager, and they should be the DJs’ point of contact for the event. They should be available at all times during the event, and should reply promptly to emails before and after the event. They should provide the DJ with their agreement, terms, etc. All discussion with event management, musicians, sound crew, MCs, performers, and so on, should be mediated by this DJ manager.
– DJs should be given an agreement or contract before the weekend, which they should read and sign and return before the event. They should have adequate time to read and negotiate this contract.
– All DJs should be treated with respect by DJ managers: no shouting, no rudeness, no harassment, no bullying. All DJs should know who to speak to if they have difficulty with the DJ manager. And they should know this before the event.
– DJ managers should ensure all DJs have a safe way to get home after an event.
– DJs should – as with all staff, contractors, and volunteers – know who to speak to if they feel unsafe, are harassed, injured, or in danger or injured. That person should be introduced to them, and the process explained, all in a quiet, calm place and manner.
– The sound set up should be safe, electronically and for hearing.
– The DJ does NOT set up the sound gear at a big event. EVER. Nor do they pack it down.
– DJs should not have to plug or unplug their own RCA cables to connect their laptop to the sound desk. There should be at least 2 cables ready at the desk at all times. Safety first, yo.
– The DJ must be behind the speakers, not in front of them, so their hearing isn’t damaged.
– There must be adequate heating or cooling. Both can serious issues at dance events. I’ve played gigs where it’s been so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers and couldn’t use the trackpad. I’ve played other gigs so hot and humid the trackpad didn’t work because I was so sweaty.
– There must be sufficient room behind the DJ booth/desk to sit and stand comfortably, and access to this area must be restricted to staff, or to the DJ’s friends with permission (so punters can’t just wander up and touch the DJ’s gear or hassle them).
– DJs must have a chair or stool to sit at the right height to DJ, but room to stand as well if necessary.
A decent work space includes:
– adequate power outlets (which are safe) already set up
– a clear, flat, clean, safe area to setup a laptop, sound card, and various gear
– lighting (so they can see the dancers and gear properly)
– the DJs can see the dance floor well, from a raised platform, where dancers won’t bump their table (and damage gear)
– a copy of the event’s DJ schedule should be available in the booth
– DJs should know ahead of time (ie before the weekend, or at least before the shift) about all performances, snowballs, speeches, special stuff during their set. They should also be provided with a copy of performance music before the event. This music must be tested and of performance quality.
Let’s look at what’s happening around the Australian scene at the moment.
At this point, $30 per hour + free entry to an event is standard. This includes band break DJing (which is often paid by the hour). This is not a good deal. It is in no way commensurate with the average rates for large events in Europe or America.
– many events do not provide RCA cables already set up for DJs
– booths are frequently in front of speakers, where DJs can acquire industrial deafness
– many events do not have anything more than a basic code of conduct; they do not have clear emergency or safety procedures
– djs are not made aware of the event’s code of conduct, safety measures, or what to do in an emergency, or if they are harassed, feel unsafe, are injured, or endangered
– the dj gear is set up by inexperienced amateurs, who do not take proper sound and general safety precautions
– djs are often left to tidy up or close an event
– djs are doing more than just playing music during competitions
– djs are not given free event passes. They are offered unfair ‘deals’ on passes, or asked to choose between a combination of cash pay, free entry to some parties, or passes.
…and so on.
Breaking down the average existing pay rate:
If an event has only DJed music for 4 days, over 3 evening and 2 late night parties (ie 72 hours), with DJs paid at $30 per hour, that’s $2160 all up for DJ pay. Plus entry to that for a DJ team of about 15 DJs.
If an event has (as is more usual) one DJed night (4 hours), 5 band events (3 evening and 2 late nights), then they will need 10 DJ shifts (2 x 2 hours on Thurs; 1 x 4 hours, 2 x 2 hours on Fri, 1 x 4 hours, 2 x 2 hours on Sat, 2 x 2 hours on Sun). That’s 24 hours (give or take some) @ $30 = $720.
Get 4 DJs maximum to cover those shifts, and that’s 4 full social passes @ $120 = $480.
One band is paid $1500 on average for a 4 hour gig in Sydney. Each musician is paid about $250 each, plus a cut for the band leader.
The bands for this weekend would cost $7500 (usually a bit less if they work some good deals). Sound gear and engineer will cost them $4000 at top rate (usually less if they work a deal).
The basics of a weekend music budget, then, will cost $11850. 6 riders for bands and DJs @ $100 each (I just lump band break DJs in with bands for riders), and that’s $600 (which is more than you’d probably spend). That’s $12805, at the outside. The DJs are $1200 of that. Less than one band.
The value of a good DJ:
All those DJs are also dancers, often very good, experienced dancers, dancers who come with their friends to events (so for each DJ, add at least one punter you know will definitely come, and a handful of others who’ll come because your DJ talked about your event to them in person. Solid gold word of mouth PR). A good DJ is a draw in their own right. People (meaning more experienced dancers who care about music) will come to a gig if they know DJ X is playing. If DJ X also has a reputation for being associated with good music and good events, then that’s even more good PR for your event. Yes, there are plenty of dancers who don’t care about the DJs or bands on the program. But they are only part of the available market. You do want those more experienced dancers, because they have stamina, they give good photo, they bring energy to a party, and they’re another little part of the market to tap into with your event.
As you can see, underpaying and exploiting DJs is one way for dodgy events to cut their costs. Or is it?
Poor working conditions and pay make DJs shitty, and make good DJs avoid your event. Shitty DJs make for shitty dancing. That means you don’t get any good videos of good dancing to help you promote your event. Particularly if you have a shitty DJ DJing your competitions or other high-traffic events.
Shitty DJs give your event a shitty reputation. Neither of which is good business sense.
Another, very important aspect of hiring good DJs, is that you’re hiring an experienced professional. A person you can just trust to get on and do the job. You know that having a full floor is just a baseline. You know they’ll be able to run your dancers ragged, keeping the floor full, and your dancers full of strong feels and crazy dance CRAZY. Which they document like ranting nuts on facebook, document in photos, document in video. And talk about. Everywhere. Word. Of. Mouth. Gold.
Incidentally (and more importantly), a ‘good DJ’ is nice to work with. So your job as an organiser is easier. PHEW.
Let’s talk about band breaks.
When a DJ is doing band breaks, they are effectively working for the entire night, not just those minute they are actually playing music. A band break DJ is also:
– meeting and working with the sound engineer
– meeting and working with the band leader, watching them to be sure they are ready to go when the band finishes or starts
– meeting and working with the DJ coordinator, event manager, various performers, etc
– working with the band’s style so they don’t play the exact same type of music, or clash too much with that style
– they also need to avoid playing the same songs on the band’s set list. Which means coaxing a set list out of the band before the gig (good luck with that) or noting every song the band plays during their set (enjoy focussing on your dancing, DJ)
A reasonable (yet still not equitable or internationally standard) pay rate is:
– free entry for all parties (a measly $120 on average)
– pay per hour
– drinks and snacks
To make this cost effective for organisers, we should hire fewer, better DJs.
What is a top rate DJ deal for a big European (eg Herrang or Snowball) or American event which has about 1000 dancers in house during the event?
– free airport transfers (eg taxi to and from the airport to the venue)
– free flights for A rank DJs
– free food for the entire event
– pay per hour (this varies)
– full free pass for all parties and workshops for the duration of employment
– accommodation (hotel room, often shared)
– accommodation for partner (eg husband or wife)
– child care assistance
– free wifi
– office space/chill space (essential for working DJs at big events)
Additionally, their working space (the DJ booth) is set up by a professional sound engineer, who is also available at all times for repairs or assistance.
The ‘work space stuff’ is just basic amenities. Remember that DJs are working from anywhere between 1 and 4 hours at a stretch without a break.
They payment package obviously applies to the top rank events, and is less for smaller events.
A 300 person event is a moderately small event.
DJs also receive a contract or agreement, which sets out the terms of the gig (including all the above). This is sent to the DJ well before the event, signed by both parties, and agreed on. DJs are able to negotiate terms if necessary.
Finally, a word about good DJ managers:
If you want a good team of DJs who do good work, you’ll need someone to keep an eye on them. Someone to protect their interests, get the best possible work out them, keep them happy, and serve you up a good load of great music and happy dancers. So organisers need to look after their DJ managers. They need to hire good people-person type managers. They need to hire experienced dancers or DJs to be their DJ managers: head DJs is a term that means something here.
So DJ managers should have their own agreements and pay packages. They should also be happy, safe, and healthy, enjoying their job and doing good work.
…so, in sum, equity makes good business sense, and is economically as well as socially sustainable.
I was having a conversation with some friends the other day about why I’m so fucking fierce about stamping out sexual harassment and assault. Or rather, why I continue kicking up shit and being a pain in the arse. Even when it’s scary to confront famous, powerful organisers and dancers. Even when the consequences for me mean losing DJing gigs or teaching gigs or other real world stuff.
I think about those stories my women friends tell about being assaulted by Steven Mitchell over many years, as girls and then as adults. Other dancers who knew Steven Mitchell often say, “I didn’t know what he was doing,” or “I was never in a position to say something,” or “I didn’t have a chance to do anything.” The girls telling their stories say, “You had so many chances. There were so many times when you could have done something, I was begging you, silently, to step in and help me. And you didn’t.”
And as I was talking to my friends the other day, I said:
I think about that. That those girls say there were times we could have helped them. But we didn’t. I think about how we might have been standing about after a dance, talking and laughing, and one of us offered that girl a ride home. But Mitchell interjected, “Oh, it’s on my way – I’ll take her with me.” And we just accepted that, because she didn’t object. It seemed like a sensible solution, we might even have thought that he was a nice guy for keeping an eye on younger dancers.
I think about that girl. Not saying anything. Not objecting. But silently wishing, praying one of us would reply, “Nah, Steven, it’s cool – us girls are gonna hang.” It would have been that easy. But we didn’t. I can imagine her panic and dread as the conversation continued, and she knew she was going to have to get into a car with him. Go home with him. And she wanted, desperately to say something. But she was too afraid. And she can’t understand why no one does anything. Never does anything, each time there’s a chance.
I think about her terror. I think about how often those ‘chances to do something’ happened, but we didn’t do anything.
When I was telling my friends this imaginary story (this is an imaginary story), I teared up, and I got so full of rage and sadness and fury. I could have done something. We could all have done something. There were so many times we could have done something. We can do something. Now.
This is why I don’t just sit back and let other people deal with these issues. This is why I make myself be brave enough to challenge teachers who do dodgy things. This is why I demand events address safety and talk about sexual assault. Because of that girl. Those girls, who are trapped and desperate for us to take all these opportunities to do something to help. It might make me nervous to speak up. It might make me scared. But it does not in any way compare to the way those girls are feeling. My fear is nothing like theirs.
That’s why I keep being a goddamm pain in the fucking arse. Because there are plenty of chances to speak up, to do something, and if you don’t, you are just letting those girls get in that car to be raped and hurt and terrified. When you could have just said one small thing.
We recently did something cool in Sydney.
The Sydney Swing Festival was cancelled at the last minute, for a range of reasons, and the local Sydney dancers were concerned visitors would be left with nothing to do. One woman in particular, Christine, started a facebook group. Her first post on the 2nd of June was this simple:
This group is to share local Sydney events and contacts with people who are travelling to Sydney for the (now cancelled) Sydney Swing Festival.
Please add anyone you think would like to be in the loop.
Locals: please share your knowledge and extend your hospitality for any social activities underway.
Visitors: let us know what you need (link).
At about the same time, there were a few conversations getting about on facebook messenger, with people beginning to Make Plans.
And then everyone jumped in and got involved. It was GREAT.
By that evening we had a rough program for the whole weekend. One week before the event.
By the Monday before the event, we had a solid weekend of dancing sorted out. Including three live bands, DJs, picnics, late night parties. All organised by a bunch of different Sydney people. Including:
- Swing Pit with DJs on Friday ($8)
- Harlem up late with a band Friday late ($25)
- Sharon’s Party with a live band on Saturday evening ($25)
- SBOSS with DJs on Sunday ($8)
- The regular Unity Hall Jazz Band gig on Sunday with live music (free!)
- Vivid viewing after that on Sunday (free)
- DJed party on Sunday evening with a blues room, lindy room, and supper ($20)
- picnic and pub night (free)
It was one of the best exchanges I’ve been to. Certainly the best one I’ve been to in Sydney in years. Each event was run by a different group of people, all of whom put their hands up at the last minute to make the weekend fun. It was put together in a week, so there was no long term stressing. All the promotion was word of mouth or via facebook. I did run up a dodgy paper version of the program that people could print out themselves, but it wasn’t really necessary. All sorts of people volunteered lifts between venues, hosting for guests, generally took care of each other. There were heaps of volunteers running the door, bumping in and bumping out at events. And all the organisers worked together to be sure everyone had DJing covered, etc etc.
I booked one of them – Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band – who I’ve worked with before heaps of times, and who are just about to become THE band of the year, booked for all (and I do mean ALL) of the major Australian lindy hop events this year. They were also playing Saturday night, and I was a bit worried that they’d be a bit samey too nights in a row. But NO. On the Friday we had George Washingmachine play violin with us, and OMG. You know those 50s Ellington live recordings with Ray Nance playing violin? That’s what it was like. They played C Jam Blues. Oh. My. God. This band. I just can’t gush about them enough. Fuck. Holy fuck. They are 100% four on the floor solid swinging jazz. Andrew is a big Basie fan, and he knows his shit. He works with VERY good musicians, and they play riff arrangements, not from scores. Anyhoo, they also played Saturday night, but with a trombonist, not violin. Andrew on drums, and then a bass and Peter Locke on piano. Shit was HOT.
The Sunday band was the Unity Hall Jazz Band, also full of amazingly good musicians. But more a hot jazz band than a solid swinging band. Which was a great contrast.
I wasn’t impressed by any of the DJing, which is a shame, but then, I’m a hardarse. I thought Sharon’s band break DJing on Saturday was grand, and well chosen to complement the band. But otherwise…
Ah well. The bands were so good, and I danced so much to them, it was all ok.
If you went to everything, it would have cost you $86. Which is ridiculous. Because everything was pulled together in one week. And as a serious music nerd, the music was fantastic: three REALLY good bands. Two of whom were left out of pocket by the cancelled event, but were ‘rescued’ by the last minute gigs. Why was it so cheap? Because there weren’t any of the extra expenses that make a weekend more exy: no printing or publicity design work; only one event for each organiser to pay for; very few volunteers on the roster; no flights or accommodation expenses; no sound engineers (we cobbled it together on the night); no paypal fees to cover; etcetera and so on and so on.
As I said, it was the best exchange I’ve been to in ages. Great live music. Good will and good company. I only had to organise one party, then I could just party on, Wayne. There were 6 different groups involved in running events during the weekend (3 of the 4 other Sydney lindy hop groups were involved in other ways – promotion, attending, etc), and the good will and general enthusiasm was most excellent.
It was like going to an old school lindy exchange.
One of the interesting challenges that I saw come up, though, was how to coordinate a code of conduct/oh&s process that covered the whole weekend? One of the groups have an existing code of conduct and safety strategy. We have our Code of conduct, and one or two of the others also have various policies. Some don’t. The issue then becomes, how to create continuity in safety and OH&S policies at an event like this one?
My first instinct would be to have a team of ‘safety officers’ who are present at each event, and are clearly trained in how to respond to OH&S issues (eg injuries, assaults, etc), and are clearly visible at each event. You’d also have to be sure each of them was vetted and cleared. I actually think that this approach would have been quite successful over the weekend.
Since we instituted our policies, I’ve found that while I haven’t had any reports of sexual harassment, I have found that people are more likely to look out for each other, and actually come to the door peeps or me asking for things like a quiet place to sit down; a snack to deal with low blood pressure; ice packs for injuries; bandaids or pain killers for minor problems. This has been a very nice result: people don’t suffer in silence, and other people watch out for each other.
So I’m wondering if we could make up a ‘safety pack’, delegate and train a team, and then set it in motion, with the go-ahead of the organisers. You could even offer to fill this role at other events for organisers at other events.
- a first aid kit with things like ice packs, band aids, panadols, bandages, etc (and know how to use it);
- a snack kit with things like sweets, biscuits, bottles of water, etc (and know how to use it);
- a reporting system (eg a report form, and record keeping system);
- a delegated ‘quiet space’ to make reports, or for people to have a quiet sit down;
- a clear set of guidelines for the team, and for the organisers, so that everyone knows what the terms and responsibilities are;
- a simpler, paper version of the guidelines so all the punters knew the deal;
- a website or facebook page with all this info, so that organisers could advertise it before the weekend, and punters knew where to go and what to do if they got in trouble;
- training for all the team;
- vetted team members.
I’m finding that the volunteers on my teams are actually so experienced now, they know what to do. And punters are getting just as good: if they see someone, or dance with someone who’s feeling rough, they know what to do. And they do it.
I think a scheme like this would also give general people a way to step up and take care of each other.
Anyhoo, the weekend was GREAT, and it really invigorated the Sydney dancers. You could see people saying, “YES!” and getting involved. And it was also a really GREAT event – lots of good dancing, good company, and good fun. It really showed just how diverse, and how amicable the Sydney lindy hop scene is.
[note]This was a post on the facey, which I’ve started writing up here.[/]
Remind me to write up a report on how our new reporting and preventing sexual harassment and accidents process went at LBW.
Short version: it worked.
Mid-length version: we put together a door handbook, reporting forms, and a process for reporting incidents. We ‘trained’ managers in the process, and we let volunteers know about the process via the handbook, email, and in person talk.
Long version: how online discussions, reports of assaults made by very brave women and girls, and getting angry and upset led to the development of policies, of material codes and rules, and then practical processes and documents. A success story.
Things we needed:
- An online version of our code of conduct, easily accessible from one click on event website, and well publicised on facebook.
- A brief paper version of the code printed on the back of the event program which was packed into registrants’ envelopes.
- A full version of the code printed and put into the event handbook.
- Paper incident report forms in the event handbook.
- A process for making reports (including a quiet place to do the, who should do them, and how, etc etc).
Most importantly, we needed good will from all the volunteers, staff, and managers. And that was the easy bit. Everyone was really keen to make this work, and really just saw this as an extension of our Swing Dance Sydney rules:
- Look after your partner
- Look after the music
- Look after yourself
What a lovely group of people.
This is by no means a finished project, but it’s actually turned out to be a very interesting and productive one.
Packing the code of conduct (on the back of the program) into registrants’ envelopes.
A first version of our event handbook, which contains lots of things, including: event program in plain text, door count sheets, cash count sheets, incident report forms, code of conduct, guide to identifying wrist bands, various paper signs, etc etc. All in one central folder.
There were two copies of this handbook, and each has a plastic slip on the front for adding notes or action items when handing over shifts or responsibilities.
A first draft of our incident report form, which drew on examples provided by lots of useful people who work in places that have decent reporting processes for accidents, etc.
These forms are in our event handbook.
The longer version of our code of conduct, in paper form. It explains what counts as sexual harassment, and s.h. is just part of the ’emergency’ and ‘incident’ part of the handbook, after what to do if there’s a fire.
The paper version of our code of conduct on the back of an event program. Which is available at the door at events, in registrants’ rego packs, and as a promotional item distributed to venues in the week or two before the event.
Having it so readily available is an attempt to normalise this sort of talk and material. So ordinary that everyone has read it.
[Note] That was the original post. Then there were some comments. Here are some of them.[/]
Tal Engel: Can you elaborate on the phrase “it worked”? Are there any incidents you’re comfortable discussing where the system came into play?
We had no reports (thankfully, but also – maybe we had incidents but no reports?), so I can’t talk about that issue.
But I think ‘it worked’ relates mostly to the ‘consciousness raising’ part of the exercise, to quote old school activism. So by having lots of people involved in the process, from stuffing envelopes to handling a handbook, we gave people access to the code, and to the process. We demystified our process, but we also demystified sexual assault and harassment a bit. I hope.
I also wanted to make it clear that these things are _all_ of our responsibilities, and something that happens in our public places between friends, not in dark car parks by strangers.
It also ‘worked’ as a practical skills development process for me, and for the rest of the group. So actually putting together a handbook took some practice and real thinking – far more than I had expected. And it took several drafts to create something more accessible. Still needs work I reckon.
It also worked as a way of engaging all the staff in thinking about events as community spaces, where problems (whether they’re someone needing a bandaid, or someone needing a quiet place to sit and talk) are solveable.
…I think one of the most effective parts of this whole process was the online discussion of this process on our facebook event page.
I just matter of factly laid out the deal. But this also dovetailed with the way I engage with people on the event fb page: prompt replies to queries, but professional in tone. I also use my real name and face on event pages (rather than the event’s home page ID), so that our events have a ‘face’ and a name behind them. This makes it easier for people to see who they’re ‘talking to’, but also says ‘hey, I respond to your concerns’, which hopefully sets up an example of how I might respond to reports of assaults.
More importantly, this public talk in a public forum also addresses the lurkers, who are the vast majority of readers. They might never post on the page, but they read how I engage, and see what I do.
I’d really, really hope that this also normalises modes of discourse for this topic. ie just as having other women leads in your scene encourage other women to lead, having someone addressing these issues clearly, personally, and professionally might also encourage similiar responses.
What I really hope is that people will do as I do when I go to an event: see the best stuff other people do and then copy shamelessly in an attempt to be as good at it as they are. So hopefully people will see what I did, steal the good bits, and improve on it all, fixing the bits I’m not good at.
Related to this ‘putting a face and name to an event’ stuff, is having badges for volunteers. It’s something for volunteers and staff to know when they’re on duty (you take it off when you’re off duty), but it’s also a clear way of identifying staff (and you need to tell punters about this). If I had more money, I’d have done Tshirts :D
I’d add that this wasn’t a particularly difficult process. It just took a while. And we had to approach it as an iterative process: where you don’t just do it and then, boom, it’s finished. You see each version as one step in an ongoing process.
I think that it was very important to be very angry and determined to do this. If I hadn’t be so angry, and if I hadn’t wanted so much to look out for my peeps, I probably would have given up ages ago.
I think this process makes it very clear that a simple code of conduct squirrelled away on a website is pretty much useless on it’s own.
Some of the most important parts of this process were:
- Having a lateral power structure (rather than a top-down power pyramid dynamic thingy), where everyone had a role to play, and power to do things and make decisions – from volunteers and people making reports to musicians and managers. To me, this is THE most important part of this process. If it’s just a boss ‘saving’ women, then we’re not changing anything; we’re reinforcing the status quo.
- Getting people involved by asking for help, by posting about my sticking points on fb (eg posting that I needed a reporting form but had no clue where to start gave me a bunch of useful comments and messages, plus actual examples of other people’s forms).
- Letting go and letting other people do stuff.
[note]After some other discussion, I got to this point…[/]
What I’d really like to do is get together with other organisers and peeps at some weekend event to talk through what we do and what they do. There’s already a very healthy network of people sharing ideas, but I want MORE!
[note]This is the bit I want to emphasise. I’ve learnt most from seeing what other people are doing. And I want MORE of it.[/]
As an example, I learnt a lot from talking to Ben Beccari about handbooks and practical emergency response stuff. He’s doing a Phd in disaster response, so he’s kind of mad skilled. I also talked to people like Liam Hogan about how the SES does stuff here. And I had examples from friends of reporting strategies (I’d better not name them in case it’s meant to be confidential :D ). I also followed up ideas with my femmo stroppo mates (like Kerryn, Zoe, Kate, Penni, Tammi, Liah, Naomi, Daniel, and MANY more) for their suggestions and ideas, which came from their big brains, and also their experience as activists at community and local levels.
…I keep adding names, but there are too many. So many people had excellent ideas.
So, that’s what I have from that post.
I’ve written about what we’ve been doing in a few other posts already:
- Let’s get material about sexual harassment (25 April 2015): a discussion about my 3-part approach to responding to and preventing sexual harassment (1. Develop a code of conduct, 2. Work towards cultural change, 3. Developing strategies for practical change (including actually confronting men about their behaviour))*
- Australian dance events and their codes of conduct: let’s be more awesome (15 Dec 2015): a rough overview of which Australian dance events have/don’t have codes of conduct
- Beginner dancers are perfect** (21st May 2015): where I talk about teaching practice as part of working towards cultural change
- Polite ladies don’t swear (8 Dec 2015): a brief piece about how speaking up about these issues is an act of bravery for women.***
- Using Femmo Stroppo Tactics. Or, bitches get shit done. Or, disagreeable feminists will discomfort you (22 Apr 2016): another piece about speaking up and its consequences.
- Yes, all men. And all women. All of us. (21 Apr 2016): a short piece about structural change.
*1. I think a code of conduct is important because it sets out your goals and ideals in plain language. I go into why codes are important in this post.
2. ‘Cultural change‘ is about changing the way we do things. The way we think about teaching and teach, the way we think about learning and learn, the way we think about social dancing and social dance, the way we think about partners and treat our partners, the way we think about ourselves and treat ourselves. All of this stuff changes what we do and think about what we do. I like to mix feminism with historical example: I have clear political goals, but I want to use and stay true to the creative and practical examples of the swing and jazz era.
3. Developing strategies for practical change means confronting men about their behaviour, training staff, and banning offenders. But in a thoughtful, organised way, not a random, ad-hoc way. Our practical actions (what we actually do) must be guided by solid thinking and a sense of consequence. We need to be safe, we need to confident, we need to be organised.
**In this one I wrote this paragraph, which really sums up my whole purpose:
There have been some scary moments, but, for the most part, it’s actually been a very exciting and positive experience. Sitting down and thinking about what we want to do, and talking about the good things we want to see has been very exciting. It makes us feel good. This is what activism is about: you start by getting angry. You do some learning, and then you start doing things which make you powerful.
***One of the most important parts of dealing with sexual harassment, is women having the confidence to speak up. To speak in public. Male perpetrators rely on women and girls being too frightened to speak up and challenge them. To tell people about the things that men are doing. They threaten women and girls into staying silent, and they rely on broader social forces which discourage women to keep them quiet.
When those women first wrote about Mitchell’s violent criminal acts on this blog, one of the responses was that they should have made private complaints, spoken to the police, been more polite. More careful.
Their speaking up was very important. Very, very important. And this is one of the reasons I’m not entirely for male feminists. I think that the very act of speaking up is a political act, and one of the key parts of being a feminist. We are told sit down and shut up. And when we stand up and say no, we are doing a radical thing.
And this is where I’ll end this post.
We have to speak up. A private email or private discussion between a woman and her attacker or an organiser is an extension of the conditions that made that assault possible in the first place. We are supposed to push issues of sex and interpersonal violence between men and women into the private sphere. It’s not supposed to be appropriate for public discussion.
In simpler terms, I know that if I send a private email to a man who is a sexual offender or one of their offenders, he’s much more likely to try to bully me, frighten me, attack me. I do my talk in public now, because it’s safer. I want witnesses. Just as I don’t ban or warn offenders in person unless I’m in a public place with plenty of witnesses.
And I know this, because it happens. So I say: speak up. Be sure you have buddies to get your back, but speak up. And by buddies, I’m saying ‘sisterhood is powerful’. This is what that expression means: when we work together, women and girls are far more powerful than most men would like to think. We can protect each other and ourselves.
And after all, that’s what all this is about: women protecting themselves and each other.
Running events narks:
- Male ‘Photographers’ (you’ve never heard of) who offer to shoot your workshops for free (if they can have free entry);
- Male ‘Photographers’ who arrive at your event offering to shoot your event for free (if they can have free entry), but make sure they arrive and ask just in the busiest part of an event (ie the first 5 minutes after doors open, just before the band is to start and you’re about to MC). Double points if they ask their female friend to ask on their behalf;
- Punters who couldn’t attend asking for refunds after the event, or during the event itself;
- Dancers who ask, “Can I give you some feedback?” then proceed, without pausing, to tell you that the adequately air conditioned and ventilated room is actually far too hot for them.
- People who want to tell you about their great idea for a project… then get the shits when you tell them you don’t want to run their outdoor picnic party in the bush/write all the content for their revolutionary website/hire their band/play their CD/run a jack and jill instead of the carefully planned competition you have your band briefed and ready for.
There are times when I just can’t quite believe some people. Luckily I’m usually too flabberghasted to give them the punch in the bum they deserve when they say and do these things.
I believe that our dance community is generally well behaved, and I am not sure we need a codified response. Just be respectful to everyone, respect their space, dont abuse your position, much the same as in everyday life. Dancing gives no extra rights to misbehave. But we are all adults, right?
I get people like the thought of a code of conduct because it makes people feel better but all i see is another paper in a system that should be a far more simple system of either make that person leave, call the police that’s against the law common sense.
I feel that as a bunch of adults we as a community should not need a code of conduct to dictate that we obey the law.
These are a few quotes from recent online discussions about sexual harassment policies. They are taken out of context. My aim here is to show the language that’s used to defend these positions. These are actual examples of quite common phrases used in these discussions.
The number of people publicly saying ‘we don’t need codes of conduct’ or sexual harassment policies in lindy hop is increasing, the further we get in time from the stories about Stephen Mitchell. I’m not entirely sure what their motivations are. But we can read these statements as suggesting, ‘I don’t think rape and attacks are important enough to change the status quo.’ I wonder if their opinions would be the same if people were being knifed or bashed or kicked. I don’t think they realise that rape involves physical pain and violence, as well as intimidation and threats. Sexual harassment or grooming of girls and women by predators involves systematic intimidation, threats, isolation, and manipulation over a long period of time. Or perhaps they simply don’t think violent attacks on women are important.
There have been a number of high profile rape and assault cases in the international lindy hop scene over the years, and sexual harassment is an ongoing issue. The consequences (besides horrible stuff happening to our friends) include drops in class numbers and event attendees (ie financial consequences), and a loss of community knowledge (ie social sustainability declines as people with experience leave). And yet many dancers are still reluctant to take clear, positive action to improve the safety of their friends and peers.
We need to be more proactive in preventing and responding to this issue, because men in our dance community don’t seem to grasp the fact that raping women and girls is not ok. Offenders know that their actions are illegal, immoral, and disrespectful. Offenders also know that no one will call them on their behaviour. They do these things with no real-world consequences. They know that other men will not challenge their behaviour. They know that women feel alone and vulnerable.
Me, I’m done with that bullshit. Reading all those accounts of girls and women assaulted by Steven Mitchell and other men, I was galvanised. I am an organiser. But I am also a human being, who cares about her friends. I simply can’t look away or pretend this isn’t happening. Does this make me braver than the men who don’t speak up? Probably. But I can’t do this on my own. Codes of conduct are about collective responses: we work together to look after each other.
My focus now is on the way men don’t call other men on their behaviour. Calling out offenders is left to organisers, and to women. As the comments I’ve quoted above suggest, there is an assumption that sexual harassment is a problem for organisers and women, and no one else. Me, I think it’s a problem we should all be looking at. Most particularly men, because it is men who commit most of these offences. Interestingly it is when I call out men for not stepping up that people get angriest with me. Because, I think, this is the matter that most destabilises the status quo. Or as we femmostroppos like to say, this is the point at which we address patriarchy in the most explicit way.
Why are codes of conduct important?
You may choose to have a ‘statement of intent’ or a ‘manifesto’ or a set of ‘rules’. This document or blob of words is not implied or hinted at or common sense. It is a clear and explicit statement of your values, and your limits.
Codes of conduct are important because they:
a) Are a public symbol telling people that your organisation is not ok with sexual assault and will act on reports;
b) Make explicit implicit or implied ‘common sense’ standards and rules. So that we can actually be sure we all have ‘common’ (or shared) values and ‘rules’.
c) This then gives teachers/employees/contractors within the organisation a set of clear guidelines: what are our ‘goals’? What is our position on this? This then guides future policies and actions;
d) It gives students and punters a clear outline of what the organisation’s policy is;
e) Give you an ideological guide for developing policy;
f) Give you a clear list of ‘rules’ to set in your agreements with contractors like musicians, DJs, and teachers. Basically, I say “by working for me, you agree to read and abide by this code. If you can’t agree with it, then you do not work with me or attend my event.”
b is especially important, because the vague or implied ‘common sense’ rules (instead of explicit rules) are used by offenders as an excuse – eg “I didn’t know it wasn’t ok.” It’s also increasingly clear that some men and women simply don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment. So women don’t know that they can trust their instincts, and men don’t know that what they’re doing is sexual harassment.
My code of conducts make it very clear: if you can’t agree to not rape people, you are not welcome at my dance or in my community.
Since our organisation Swing Dance Sydney instituted a code of conduct and clear oh&s policies, dancers who identify as queer or trans, young women, decent men, have said that they feel welcome at our events, or at the least the idea of our events makes them feel welcome. Basically, we are making our events openly hostile and uncomfortable for male sexual offenders, and much friendlier and more welcoming for everyone else.
Our events are also much better as a result of all this work. We’ve just put on better events because we’ve had to think through how we look after people, how we develop and design guidelines and practices, and then we implement and communicate them to workers. This means that there are fewer fuck ups in the program, fewer technical errors, and less general bullshit. Because we’ve gone over these bloody things so many times we’ve caught most of the common problems and fixed most of the crap.
I don’t think codes are enough on their own, but they are important. I have adopted them for all my events, in both paper and digital forms.
But I have also developed:
1) Practical strategies for responding to complaints (eg banning offenders, then training staff to respond when those banned offenders turn up at events).
2) In-class teaching strategies to effect cultural change (ie making it clear that sexual harassment is not ok; skilling and powering up women to give them confidence; teaching men how to touch women with respect).
3) In-person strategies for talking about our code (eg I do speeches at our events that are both funny and important).
4) Skills for dealing with offenders myself.
5) Policies and training that skill up our volunteers and staff so they can step up.
I have already has SERIOUS and marked responses to these policies. I have banned serial offenders. I have responded to women’s complaints/requests for help. I have skilled myself up in confronting frightening, aggressive men. I have dealt with musicians, DJs, and dancers who sexually harass.
Our classes are much better, and we’ve seen students developing good lindy hop, the confidence to improvise (and not micromanage their partners), and we see great social dancing.
I have learnt how to address and teach follows in ways that actually articulate what following is. None of this ‘just follow’ crap for me. This has helped me and my students see how follows (and implicitly, women) are not just objects to be moved about by leads.
Our door staff are more confident and capable. Our musicians are more engaged with us as people (not just punters). And the parties are heaps more fun.
Our events are better. I think that this is the most important part: by taking greater care with one particular issue, and for one particular group, all our punters are better taken care of. Our events and projects are simply better, because we have had to think through these issues and implement strategies. It’s pushed us to become better at what we do; we don’t just continue to do things as they’ve always been done. I actually think this last point is the marker of working with an ambitious, motivated group of people. And they put this sort of energy and focus into their dancing too, which makes the dancing so much better as well.
Relatedly, the ‘common sense’, or ‘we’re all just decent people’ discourses that inform labour relationships (DJing, teaching, volunteering) within the lindy hop world often facilitate exploitation. The implicit hierarchies of power enable exploitation (and sexual harassment), but do not necessitate the reciprocal duty of care and responsibility that goes with formal declarations in other hierarchical social systems.
Basically, the ‘we’re all decent people’ and ‘common sense’ approaches haven’t stopped sexual assault and harassment in lindy hop. They’ve enabled it. So either we change it to help people, or we let things stay the same and accept that we are enabling rape.
WEbsite now full of useful information. Come. Good bands, good guest teachers, fun.
New Harlem venue from 18th March: Amera’s Palace, level 2, 314 Marrickville rd, Marrickville.
Done a floor-test, and it’s sweet. It has air-con. It’s near restaurants, cafes, pubs, public transport, and has off-street parking. It’s bigger than previous venues. It has a chunking sound system. Leave your stilettos at home. No knife-fights, thanks.
Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band.
I wrote this email the afternoon after Jazz with Ramona.
My only regret is that I don’t have any sound files or video to flaunt this band’s mad skills.
I had to write to you immediately to tell you about the band we used last night at the Jazz with Ramona weekend: Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band.
I’ve been looking for small to medium sized band that just plays good, solid swing. I’ve been working with Andrew for a while on putting together the right line up, charts, and set structure, he’s done a gig for me with this band before, and played in lots of other bands for, but last night…
I was just amazed.
It was like someone shoved Basie’s band into a four piece. Andrew is gifted drummer and jazz historian (he teaches jazz at the Conservatorium here in Sydney), but more importantly, he really understands what lindy hoppers are looking for in a band. And he has spectacular taste. He not only played great arrangements, be combined the songs inside the set the way a the best DJ would. I was amazed. I just couldn’t believe how good it was. And the musicians play by ear, with some strong leadership and collaboration on who solos when. Andrew invited Mona to tap with him, and it was integrated so well into the band, it was like she was just another musician. It was riveting.
They play classic solid swing. Four on the floor and no cheating – perfect for lindy hopping. Song-wise, they played the things we want. King Porter Stomp. Swinging the blues (the ~150bpm version). Moten Swing. Doodlin’. Jumpin at the Woodside. Jeep is Jumpin’, Flying Home. And they knew how to work the tempos to suit what the dancers could handle, but also to adjust the energy in the room. Playing together, they’d call things like “King Porter’s Stomp, but brighten it up and put some energy in it,” or “Jeep, but go in heavy”. I can’t believe a 4 piece can play a song like Jumpin’ at the Woodside and make it feel like a big band.
Anrdrew’s also very good to work with.
His email: firstname.lastname@example.org
His phone number: +61 401 354 897
I cannot recommend this band enough. I have him booked for all three nights of the Little Big Weekend in May, putting together a 4piece, a slightly larger band, and then a 3 piece barrelhouse band. I have absolute confidence in his ability to give each band a different flavour, and to deliver top shelf swinging jazz to my brief.
More importantly, Lennart declared this band very nice and actually went in a jam of his own free will in October. They are that good.
If you book him, I’ll be there.