Jazz BANG bands: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet

music

I have to write some posts about the music at Jazz BANG.

The weekend was quite full on for me, as I overcommitted myself and failed to follow the first rule of event management: delegate, delegate, delegate. But even though I was utterly exhausted by the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My cheeks cramped from smiling by Sunday. People came with such a willingness to lol and learn and have fun, such a determination to be delighted by each other, I was quite overcome by the good will. I think some of the good vibes came from people’s willingness to try something new: no one else had run such a large scale solo jazz weekend, and Sydney hasn’t hosted a big event in a while, so it felt new. Though, for Sydney people, it was really just like a particularly big Little Big Weekend. The local volunteers and managers are such freeking NINJAS they just fronted up as per usual, and pounded out a top shelf event like it was nothing.

I feel the music was the most successful part of the weekend. We used four bands and four DJs, with only one DJed late night party. I put quite a lot of thought into the live music program, and hand-picked bands and musicians I thought would do a great job. It was a bit of a financial risk to hire so many bands, but I think it really paid off. The event felt more professional and top shelf, and I think we really took the social dancing element to great heights. Jazz BANG was pitched as a solo dance weekend, but I wanted to make the parties feel like places where you could dance however you liked, so I needed bands that really welcomed dancers onto the floor and made it easy to DANCE.

I tried to present this idea of dance and music as one thing in all the promotional material, in the class program, in the structure of the weekend, and in the way I worked with the DJs and musicians. I wanted to work with band leaders not as interchangeable blocks to be bought and paid for, but as active participants in the project. Hence this promotional image: JazzBangLogo-smaller

I feel weird claiming credit for the bands, so please, let me make it clear: I see my role in these things as bringing the right people together. I look for people who have the right skills, the right passions, and a willingness to work with other people and try new things. More specifically, I look for creative people who really relish creative partnerships that are challenging and interesting. Then I just try to put them in a room together, and ask them to make people crazy with fun.
All these people just rise to the challenge. I love, LOVE it when I can see their brains fire up, and their skills and passion take over. People take my weirdo suggestions and just go nuts. I mean, I told Lennart my sneaky political goal for the weekend was to convince people that solo jazz and lindy hop are really the same thing, working together, not separate disciplines. And then he did some stealth politicising. I asked Marie to draw on her chorus line experience to develop an exciting set of classes strongly rooted in historic dance, and she came through like a GUN. I asked a bunch of musicians and dancers to just talk about why they think Basie’s band was important, and then just let them go. And they did AMAZING things!

And of course, then I ask a couple of hundred people to come join in. And they DO! They all turn up saying YES! Let’s TRY THIS! And then they engage! They really ask questions, and demand to be challenged, and thoroughly test out these concepts and ideas. Then they take these things as just beginning points, and go on and do really fucking wonderful stuff on their own, in their own cities, with people in other cities, with other dancers. It fucking thrills me. And they do it with such a sense of fun and enthusiasm, I’m just overwhelmed. I think that jazz is wonderful: the way it combines improvisation and structure, all wrapped in a light, joyful, exciting enthusiasm.

I just feel so excited about being able to work with such talented people! It’s such a pleasure – it’s so exciting! I feel my own creative juices fire up, and I come away from these projects really inspired and excited. Not just about dancing, but about music and running projects, and generally doing all sorts of creative work. I’m just SO LUCKY!

Anyways, enough of that hippy feeltalk. Let’s talk about the first band.

Friday evening: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet (Brad Child (sax), Jim Pennel (guitar), Peter Locke (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass), Andrew Dickeson (drums). And with guest trumpeter Eamon McNelis from Melbourne.)

I wanted a small, swinging combo for the Friday night, because I wanted to kick off the weekend with a ‘friendly’, accessible band that made people think ‘this is going to be FUN’ right from the very first moment. I wanted songs that would be ‘easy’ to dance to, that invited people onto the dance floor. So I wanted stuff that was built for lindy hop. No djank, no street jazz, just solid swinging jazz. And that’s what I got.
That gig was co-opting our regular fortnightly social dance, which always includes lots of beginners. So I wanted a beginner-friendly band (ie swinging, classic jazz, not pre-jazz or anything too hot), and I wanted a band leader who really understood how swing works. Andrew Dickeson was that man. He responded with enthusiasm to my ideas about playing for dancers, so I figured this would be fun.
I wanted a band made up of Sydney’s more experienced musicians. The guys who play around town a lot, and tend to get overlooked because they’re occasionally over-exposed. I’d seen Adrian Cunningham pull a brilliant performance from some of them at Rug Cutters’ Swing earlier in the year, and I had a feeling a strong leader with clear set of goals could really pull the best performance from them.

These guys are experienced, skilled, professional and really bloody good. They’re great to work with (focussed when they’re working, easy going off-stage, and respectful, but still with lots of lols and a good sense of humour.) They just needed a clear set of goals to really focus all that. I’ve worked with these musicians a few times, now, and I’m really happy with their work. At some point, though, I’ll get Peter Locke a real piano to play, because he has MAD skills. And I also managed to convince Eamon McNelis to come to Sydney and sit in with the bands. This guy is my favourite Australian trumpeter, and I just love him in a band. He has a talent. A gift. There’s something about the way he adds an energy or depth to the feels of a band. It’s like he is really THERE, 100%, and his presence just pushes the other musicians, says “Hey, fuckers, got jazz? Bring IT!” and then they all go nuts.

This band was many people’s favourites, and when we got to the second song, my pre-event nerves just melted away. Yes, I though, this is going to work. I can trust these guys to pull this off. They did a really great job, to the point where people actually complained that they didn’t play long enough. At one point they had everyone in the room up and dancing. EVERYONE. To something like Moten Swing or something similar. The energy in the room was just fantastic, and Andrew had hit just the right song in just the right way at just the right time. I’ve seen really good DJs do this, but I’ve rarely seen band leaders respond to the dancers like this. It was the perfect way to start off the weekend.

Andrew put a lot of thought into that gig, and really worked with my suggestions and preferences. I don’t like telling bands what to do, because, ultimately, if you’re going to micromanage a band, you might as well get a DJ. But there aren’t that many bands in Australia who really understand how to play for lindy hoppers. They think they do, but they don’t. Playing for dancers requires a great deal of empathy, observation, and responsiveness, and not all musicians are up for that. I figure being a band leader is like being a really good DJ or MC – you have to have your finger on the vibe, and be able to respond to what’s happening at a moment’s notice, or to pre-empt changes or direct the flow. With a gentle touch. This is partly why people love Gordon Webster’s band: he’s good at this stuff.

Anyway, Andrew sent me a set list on the Friday day. I received it sitting on the train with Lennart and Marie and Bec and a couple of other dancers, so of course we all had a look and a discussion. This is what Andrew sent me:

First set
130 Undecided
160 It Don’t mean a thing
120 Squeeze me
150 Lady Be good
130 Don’t get around much any more
190 Caravan

Second Set
140 Moten Swing
170 Sheik of Araby
130 I let a song go out of my hear
190 Take the A train
120 Do nothin’ til you hear from me
150 Things ain’t what they used to be

Third Set
140 Honeysuckle Rose
170 Brand new suit
120 Confessin’
180 Lester Leaps in
140 Swingin’ the blues

If I remember rightly, they actually finished off with something faster and upenergy that resulted in a really exciting jam.

I showed this text to Lennart who pointed out that you can’t really tell just from reading a set list what it’ll sound like. This is, of course, the challenge we face when dancers work with musicians. We don’t have a common language for talking about music. Or, we do have common words, we just don’t use them in the same way. But I figured, heck, I have to trust the band. I have to delegate. Not just the physical work, but the creative responsibility as well. I have to trust other people not just to do their job, but to say YES and try stuff, come up with creative ideas that I couldn’t ever imagine, let alone do. And as Lennart himself says with a naughty grin, “We will see what will happen.”

I’d sent Andrew quite of lot of instruction before the weekend, something I really HATE doing, because it feels really bossy, and I always think it cramps a musician’s style to give them too many constraints. But then I really needed this gig to work, because Jazz BANG was a big, high profile event, and my professional reputation is based in large part on my approach to music and bands. So the bands were, to a certain extent, representing me. And I also needed the bands to really make it easy for dancers to have fun. And nobody likes it when a dance floor’s empty and a gig bombs – it’s no good for dancers or musicians.
So this is what I’d sent to Andrew:

Andrew,

Regarding the songs the band should play on the Friday night….
What do you have in your book that you really dig at the moment? I’d prefer working with what you’re digging, because funsies.

So far as tempos go, because it’s a mixture of new students (who’ve just come for the class), and experienced people who’re there for the whole weekend, we’ll need a mix of tempos. Below is info based on my experience DJing a lot over the years. I hope it translates to musician talk properly :D

For us, 120bpm is slow and beginner friendly, but kind of draggy. 140bpm is easy and comfortable. 160bpm feels like fun. 180bpm makes us work a bit hard. over 200bpm is fast.
So if you’re playing for two hours, you’d work the tempos like this (if you wanted to play a very safe set):

first set:
– begin at 120bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 180bpm
– 150bpm
– 170bpm
– 140bpm
– 190bpm

second set:
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 180bpm
– 130bpm
– 150bpm
– 190bpm
– 150bpm
– 120bpm
– 150bpm
– 180bpm
– 140bpm

It’s best to end a gig on a moderate tempo (about 140bpm) with lots of energy, so everyone can join in.

We call this ‘working a wave’, where you move up and down tempos in a gradual way. Bands can get away with more dramatic drops and increases than DJs can. But it’s a good idea to avoid going from really fast (eg 220bpm) to scary slow (eg 110bpm), because 110 reminds people that they’re tired. If you went from 220bpm to 140bpm, people’s energy stays up, but they still get a rest.
110bpm is often a real dead zone for lindy hoppers, as it’s harder to dance lindy hop that slow, but it’s not slow enough for blues dancing.
Experienced dancers make all tempos work, but newer dancers really struggle in the 90-120 and 170-250 zones.

As a general guide, 150bpm is average jogging tempo, and most new dancers aren’t very fit. Most experienced dancers are like runners. They can dance at 150 for 6 hours. But they like adrenaline, so they really enjoy the spike up into the faster tempos. And slower tempos give new dancers a chance to get on the floor and experienced dancers a chance to really work the rhythms.

As the night goes on, the average tempo can creep up. But it’s best to vary the tempos, so people feel inspired.
You can do one or two very slow songs (eg a blues at 80bpm), but one is really enough.
No latin rhythms, please.
We like to avoid crooners too (the only Sinatra I like is Sinatra with the Dorsey band.)

Sam’s black list:
Songs I’d prefer you didn’t play:
Fly Me to the Moon
In the Mood
Moon Dance
String of Pearls

We don’t really dig on boogie woogie, and jump blues can have mixed results.

We love Ellington. We love him bad. We also love Basie, Hamp, Webb, Lunceford, Slim and Slam, Django, Bechet, Kid Ory.

What if a jam happens?
A jam is where dancers feel really excited by the band, and see a couple feeling the feels bring their shit. They form a loose circle around that couple, clapping, and then other couples take turns coming into the circle to show off.
Faster songs usually stimulate a jam.
They rarely look at the band when they’re jamming, but at those moments, they are _really_ listening.
When the song ends, if they really feel the feels and want more, they’ll turn and look at the band and cheer and stay in the circle.
If they’re done, they drift away.
The best jams only last one or perhaps two songs, or a total of about 5 minutes max. After that people who aren’t showing off get bored and tired.
It’s best to follow a jam with a nice moderate tempo (but high energy) song (about 140bpm) so everyone can get back on the floor, and you can take advantage of the energy and excitement generated by the jam.

For us, the best dancing happens when the band feels the feels and is really responding to what’s happening on the dance floor. We hear the musicians get excited, and we feel it, and it makes for great dancing. So it’s important you guys like the music you’re playing.

Hope that helps!
Sam.

As you can see, I am prodigious emailer. So props to Andrew for working through the whole thing. He really took the advice on board, and then responded with some clever insights and suggestions. I don’t feel ok reproducing his correspondence here, but you can assume that it was clever and useful. He knows his shit. We were also talking about the workshop with the musicians and teachers together, and I think that helped feed this set on the Friday.

And you can also see that my advice RE tempos is informed by my DJing. I make a very safe recommendation about flow and waves, which I really hesitated to do. I don’t like to micromanage like that. What’s the point of hiring professionals if you then proceed to tell them how they do their job? But on the night, the band actually went with the vibe of the room, the way they were feeling, and the way the whole thing was working as a night. So while all this correspondence seems quite antiseptic, on the night it was quite exciting and organic. And it was a very successful band gig. I’ve worked with a lot of bands now, and some of them think they know what’s what, but they end up playing what really amounts to a wankfest on their part that leaves the dancers cold.

Andrew’s band did not leave anyone cold. Not even a little bit chilly. Shit was hot.

It was fab to then hear Andrew talk about music in the musician/dancer session on Sunday. This reminded me a bit of the way we’ve structured teachers’ workshops in the past: we have the guest teachers teach general workshops on the Saturday, moderate a workshop about teaching for dance teachers on the Sunday, and then we have them teach total beginners how to lindy hop on the Monday. We get to see the process, hear the thinking behind it, and then ask questions and get a practical workshop to explore the concepts ourselves. I guess, ultimately, it’s like hearing the rhythm, scatting the rhythm, and then dancing the rhythm.

Jazz dance, you’re the best. You’re even more challenging and interesting and fun than doing a Phd. I’m so glad I gave up academia for you.

“What made Basie’s band so great?” Musicians and dancers explore the answer together

We did a superfun session at Jazz BANG that got dancers and musicians talking and demonstrating together.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.28.46 PM

(This is Kat Galang’s photo from the session. She has a really good eye for catching the feels of a situation. Look at that first year Con student having his mind blown by lindy hop. <3 ) The session was described like this: "This is a combined stream workshop, with all participants working with Marie [N'Diaye], Lennart [Westerlund], and musicians led by Andrew Dickeson, dummer and teacher in jazz history at the Sydney Consevatorium of Music. “What made Basie’s band so great?” In this session, musicians and dancers explore the answer together.”

We also invited Thomas Wadelton to join the session, bringing his talent and teaching experience as a top shelf tap dancer to the mix. On the day itself, we also invited Georgia Brooks, talented vocalist and dancer to jump in. Andrew brought two of his students with him to pretend to be Freddy Green and Walter Page.

The session was fantastic. Andrew explained how the Basie rhythm section worked, and then they demonstrated, piece by piece. He also explained what Jo Jones did on the drums that was so important, and how Walter Page approached assembling a rhythm section like this.
Then Marie explained what she liked about this feel, Andrew invited her to show us what the groove felt like, and she did.
Then Lennart talked about why the band was important to dancers, talking about the old timers’ opinions of the band.

Then Lennart and Marie did a bit of lindy hop to the band and we squeed.
Then Thomas explained what he liked about this rhythm section, and more importantly demonstrated with some tapping. That bit was exciting, because we could see and hear how Andrew managed the band (telling the guys when to play and when not to to), making the tapping + band work as one unit.
That was extremely exciting.

At this point I got excited and asked Georgia if she wanted in, and at first she was shy and they realised: nicest people ever and she was in. Andrew was all “Yeah! More the merrier!”
We took a moment, I spoke to Marie and Lennart, and Marie had a plan for demonstrating why boogie woogie and non-boogie swinging stuff feel different, so she spoke to Andrew about the plan, we got the whole crowd up on their feet, and then there was a great bit:
the band demonstrated a boogie rhythm, and we all dance to it (solo of course)
then Georgia joined in and they played a proper swinging song and we all danced and it was amazeballs.

I was sitting near some of the musicians from the Squeezebox Trio who’d come to watch, and they had a moment of “DANCING! HOW?!” and then they just relaxed and got it.

It was all very exciting and interesting. My favourite part was seeing how the musicians and dancers took my very rough plan and made it work. Andrew and his students had prepared some very good material, and Lennart and Marie (even at the end of a long, tiring weekend), just came through like guns. I think my other favourite bit was seeing Andrew and Thomas deciding they were bffs in rhythm.
I loved seeing Andrew manage that band in real time. Because my favourite part of jazz is that it’s improvised, and musicians and dancers are actually really excited and stimulated by new and unexpected things, and that’s what gets their creative juices flowing. For me, I was quite excited by my role as organiser (though I wanted to take a very light touch, and to let them do the coordinating and managing, I had to keep an eye on time, and make sure everyone had a chance to talk and demonstrate). It felt really stimulating and exciting to see just what might happen that we didn’t and couldn’t plan for. I like to embrace Lennart’s ‘we will see what will happen’ approach to events, and while it’s a bit scary and challenging for someone as control-freaky as me, it’s also exciting and wonderful.

I would LOVE to do more like this, and the feedback from the attendees was a) they wanted more dancing in that session, b) they wanted more of these sorts of session.
I am 100% in for that sort of plan, the only barrier being cost. Having musicians in the class means you have to pay five people for a workshop, not just one or two. Which makes that session cost as much as a live band. Which is expensive. But if I can find a way to absorb the cost, I will. Because it was THE BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE.

It wasn’t the first time I’d organised a band-in-dance-class session. We did something similar at the Little Big Weekend with Leigh Barker and the New Sheiks (who are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project with Kieran, Ramona, Thomas and other great dancers). But the focus there was a bit different, and we really drew on the way that band works together as a group, and the less traditional, more unusual work they’ve been doing with dancers. This session with Andrew and Marie and Lennart and Thomas was a bit more historically focussed and traditional, which was a really nice complement.

It was really good to have the two different sessions to compare. They were both about how musicians and dancers work together, but they took very different approaches. Leigh’s work is very much grounded in historical authenticity, but the approach the group takes is much more contemporary, in everything from funding to working and labour practices. Which makes sense, because this isn’t 1940, no matter how much we may wish it was.

The final point from all the musicians in both sessions is that working with dancers brings something new to playing. But Andrew said something that I thought was quite cool: he said (and I paraphrase) that playing for dancers who just dance through the same steps in the same way each time is really BORING. And he’d rather they just didn’t. And I agree: if you’re just going to dance the same way all the time, why are you dancing lindy hop and not ballroom dancing? You’re certainly not listening to the music, and you’re not responding to each partner as a unique person.
This point dovetailed nicely with the points Marie and Lennart made all weekend: first you take care of the music, and you take care of your partner. There’s no ‘correct’ way of doing anything (this foot could go here or there, it doesn’t matter), but you must take care of the rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t tight and present, then you’re in trouble. Each of us gets to the rhythm in a different way, and our bodies are all different, so the way we move will be different, and our visualisation of the rhythm will be different. Cherish that.

I think it’s a bloody good motto for dancing and life: take care of your partner, take care of the music.

I’ve continued this thinking with a post about Count Basie and his influences over here. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.
I think that that whole philosophy as change-is-good guides everything I do in dance. I am so NOT interested in just doing things the same way all the time. It’s so BORING. I like change. It scares the pants off me, but I love it.

Herräng report: part 1

Well, it’s 6.30am, and I’ve been awake since 5. My sleep cycle is well and truly borked. Curse you, jet lag. Why is that staying awake while flying around the world in a plane is more disruptive than staying awake dancing, eating, laughing, and talking in irregular patterns over several weeks?

I’m back from two weeks in Herräng (weeks 2 and 3), and a bit of time in Stockholm, and I’m taking a few days before I go back to work. It’d been ten years since I’d been to Herräng, and things had changed a bit. For one, things were more organised, which was a relief. The scale had also leapt: more places to eat, more people, more dance floors, more things to do. I was there to dance and DJ this time, rather than to ‘research’, so I approached each day in a different way.

I have lots of things to talk about, but I can’t quite keep hold of my thoughts, so I’m not sure how coherent this will be. Things I’d like to talk about, in no particular order:

  • the ‘how to DJ session’ in the library in week 3;
  • the way the insistence that Herräng is about lindy hop, and lindy hop is ‘such a happy dance’ makes it difficult to talk about problems or serious issues within the dance and event;
  • the somewhat disturbingly uncritical ‘spread the dance/grow the community’ discourse that dominates and justifies most activities (including a particular brand of cultural imperialism);
  • gender politics in the DJing and dancing culture of the camp (and the way critical engagement with this is forestalled by the ‘let’s just have a nice time/hedonism is us’ vibe);
  • the sheer joy and wonder of the Frankie Track in week 2;
  • teaching practice, and the balance between content and practice;
  • the effects of a coherent teaching approach in the Frankie Track versus the usual overall relationship between individual workshops at a dance weekend. I will say this: the Frankie Track was amazeballs because all the classes were linked by a coherent theme and concept: teaching Frankie Manning’s content, teaching classes in the way he taught classes, emphasising his priorities (MUSIC! PARTNERSHIP! SIMPLICITY! RHYTHM!), drawing on the old timers’ approach to learning dance generally…. and MORE;
  • the challenges and excitement of the beginners’ half week of tap in week 3;
  • the ebb and flow of energy and people and vibe over the course of a week;
  • economic factors and the effect of the Herräng Dance Camp’s decades of involvement in this small town’s economy and society;
  • the Swing Kids, Swing Teens and the way having children in the camp in week 2 provided social balance to the ‘hedonism’ of the camp, which was largely lost by the end of week 3;
  • hierarchies, power, and privilege in the camp;
  • the wheeling and dealing and networking and lobbying for work behind the scenes, from teachers, DJs, and organisers;
  • labour, work, gender, and knowledge in the Herräng economy;
  • mindfulness, computer literacy and online culture in camp (and how this had changed in the ten years since my last visit);
  • mindfulness, work, obsessive personalities, and the luxury of time in tap dance;
  • the argument that all DJs should learn to play a musical instrument if they want to be ‘good DJs’ (and the associated issues of power, time, labour, gender, and power);
  • sex, sexualisation, gender, and scoring a root;
  • the significance of Herräng’s place in Europe, and how this affected people’s attitudes to same-sex sex and gender. And how these progressive attitudes were ultimately subsumed or overshadowed by the overwhelming heteronormativity of modern lindy hop;
  • food, nutrition, body image, and the importance of the shared table at Herräng: my favourite part;
  • defining ‘swing’ music, and Herräng’s emphasis on classic swing era big band jazz, and how this affected DJing styles and set content, and dancers’ responses to music. Relatedly, the tension between modern day dancers’ learning to play music, the accessibility of small NOLA or hot combo style jazz versus the inaccessability of big band jazz for new musicians (ie dancers tend to play in small, hot combos which aren’t what Herräng values, but Herräng does value live music and independent creative projects very highly…. the tension needs a bit of discussion, I think);

As you can see, I have approximately one million things to write and talk about after my time in Herräng. One looming largest in my brains is DJing, as I was a staff DJ in week 2, and one of only 4 women out of 16 staff DJs in the 5 week camp. There were a number of volunteer DJs in the two weeks I was there, but not a whole bunch of them. A higher proportion of them were women than men.
I have a few things to say about how gender, networks of association and labour, and the professional skills required of DJs (primary of which is networking, in this case) work in Herräng, but I don’t really have the brains to articulate them properly here. In sum, though, I was very surprised by how few women DJs there were, after the last couple of years in Australia where women far outnumber men in the higher, most experienced ranks of lindy hop DJs. To the point where for the last MLX I had only one male DJ on the DJ team.

My approach to hiring DJs for events is to look for the most capable, most professional, most skilled, most useful and talented DJs, regardless of gender. They need to be not too over-exposed, and yet still have a degree of popularity with dancers (ie, be ‘in demand’). They might not be quite where they should be, in terms of experience or expanse of music collection, but I’m willing to invest in someone with promise and a good, strong work ethic.
I think that the reason I end up with more women than men, is that I actively seek out DJs, rather than waiting for them to approach me, and I put quite a bit of work into long term development for DJs. My own gender is probably significant too, though I’m often described as ‘intimidating’ by other women. But I’m very yolo about that: life is too short to worry about whether you intimidate other people. And I know other DJs and DJ organisers who are both male and very approachable.

I find that male DJs are more willing to put their hands up for gigs (to approach me for gigs) than women, and that women DJs are more critical of their own DJing, needing more encouragement, and also looking for more critical feedback on their DJing. The latter makes most women much better DJs (because they are open to improving, and open to communicating about their own DJing, and less defensive about their DJing), the former makes women less excellent at developing professional networks and ‘taking risks’ by applying for jobs they might not be ready for. They tend to play it too safe, and be more intimidated by hierarchies. There are male and female exceptions to these things, but very few. Very, very few.

My approach involves long term planning and development, including encouraging newer DJs, providing references and recommendations for new DJs with smaller events (so they can get the experience I need for the bigger events I work for), and keeping my local scene networks healthy – talking to people in different scenes to keep my finger on which DJs are looking and sounding good, and good to work with.
I’m also very keen on providing working conditions which make DJing more accessible for people: friendlier, safer, healthier, clearer (guidelines, etc), equitable pay, an open DJ recruitment process (so people know who to contact and how if they want to DJ, rather than using a quiet system of personal networks), and I am quite aggressive about getting feedback on my own work, and on the DJs’ experiences, so I can keep improving things. I think this transparency is the most important part of encouraging diversity in the DJing team: I am open about my ideas, process, and thinking.

Dargoff was the DJ coordinator for Herräng, and he was just a joy to work with. I don’t know his policies or approach to booking DJs for Herräng, so I can’t comment on them here, but I couldn’t find fault with his work. There are, however, broader systemic issues which make it harder for women to get into these higher profile DJing gigs which require active, fairly aggressive strategies from organisers to overcome. I simply don’t know enough about how Herräng works to be able to comment on this, though. And I don’t even know who organised the DJs in previous years. But I do have some ideas about international DJing culture, and most particularly DJing networks and interpersonal and professional associations which might be useful in this discussion. Again, my lack of experience here makes me reluctant to comment more. I have some ideas, but I just don’t think I know enough to start speculating.

So, when it comes to my experiences DJing at Herräng, I give it a big thumbs up, and I give all my fellow DJs, Dargoff, the huge sound crew, and the event organisers a big huzzah. It was a really great experience, and while challenging in some moments (looong sets are loooong), I would absolutely leap at a chance to do it again. I feel privileged and honoured to be a staff DJ at an event I admire so much, and I learnt SO MUCH about DJing over the two weeks I was there. I also made some new and good friends, and realised I have a lot to learn about the international DJing scene.

I also realised Australia is really isolated from the rest of the lindy hop world. This makes it harder for DJs to crack the higher echelons of DJing, but it has also had effects on our approach to labour and pay and professionalism. Overall, though, I’d say that Australia has quite a few DJs who are not only as good as, but better than some of the DJs I heard in Herräng, and that our lindy hop scene as a whole is something to be proud of. We aren’t a cultural backwater, we’re just a really distant tributary.

Busy Ham finds time to rant about gender

I’m sorry I’ve not posted much lately, but I’ve been TOO BUSY!

So far this year:

  • We ran a Hot Foot Stomp on the 18th January (and demonstrated why there’s so little lindy hop in Australia in January: it’s too FUCKING HOT);
  • Our usual Wednesday classes started up again at the beginning of February (and I began working with a new teacher while my usual partner’s been doing a residency elsewhere);
  • We launched our weekly solo class at a new venue on Thursday nights in February. Squee! A studio space! With mirrors!;
  • We ran a social night at our Wednesday venue with a visiting American band, Underscore Orkestra, and it was GREAT. I thoroughly recommend them – they tailored their set specifically to dancers;
  • I’m planning a dance with another visiting musician for my day job;
  • I’ve done some booking and preliminary planning for the Winter Performance Ball for my day job, and it’s already proving drama-filled. Performances: they bring out the drama in lindy hoppers. Which is ok, really, because drama is much better than apathy;
  • I’m booked to do some teaching up at the University of Sydney for their new swing dance club (!!), which so far hasn’t taken much physical time, but it’s borrowed some of my thinking time;
  • We’ve started planning for some workshops we’ll be teaching in New Zealand at the Christchurch Swing Festival at the end of April, which Al and I are especially excited about;
  • I had some health challenges in February, which I wouldn’t ordinarily mention, but it was very frustrating to have all my planning interrupted. ARGH;
  • And, finally, I’ve started work on a solo dance weekend for here in Sydney in October! We’ve run solo dance workshop weekends here before, but this is a big one, and will host Lennart Westerlund and another international teacher for a weekend of solo dance FUNSIES. I’m planning to use a house band of local musicians, squeeze in a second band for the last night, run a bunch of parties with them, have the teachers do the strangest classes they can, perhaps do a solo dance battle/jam (I like that Al and Leon format they used at Lindy Focus last year, and generally have a jolly good time. I’m interested in more unusual structures for the classes, parties, and comps, but unusual and new means MOAR WORK, so I have to get thinking on all of that. Not to mention finish the goddamm website and promotional material. I’m really very slow off the mark on that this year, but the health stuff really slowed me down. ARGH. Anyway, if you’ll be in Australia 10-14 October this year, you should come. We are a great city to visit, even if you’re not dancing, and if you are, the music is great and the people are friendly.

I’m a bit sad that I haven’t done any Women’s History Month posts this year, as I really enjoy them, but you can check out the 2011 posts or 2012 posts for a taste.

More contentiously, Bobby White posted this status update on faceplant recently, and someone tagged me in the comments:

Casting call: For an upcoming Love & Swing article on Swungover, I’m looking to see if there’s anyone who is open to interviewing who

(1) is a heterosexual male who has chosen to follow as his primary role in dancing.

(2) is a male, leader or follower, who has chosen to dance with “feminine” characteristics to his dancing (for whatever reason, and with whatever definition of “feminine” they choose.)

(3) is a heterosexual female who has chosen to lead for her primary role.

or

(4) is a female who has chosen to dance with “masculine” characteristics (for whatever reason, and with whatever definition of “masculine” they choose.)

Please contact me at robertwhiteiii@gmail.com if you know of anyone who might fill these descriptions, or, if you don’t mind, please like so that people will see it! (28 Feb

I commented:

I have problems with the use of ‘female’ when we’re talking about anything other than meerkats.
I’m a woman who is primarily a lead, and sure, I’ll talk about it. If you can handle the snark. I think we’re friends if you want to pm me. (28 Feb)

Gee, wasn’t that snarky.
Then I added

….incidentally, your definitions of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are severely limited: there are many masculinities and femininities happening here (I reckon you need to read some Judith Butler), and these aren’t consistent across cultures. (28 Feb)

Bobby replied:

Sam, where did I define “masculinity” and “feminiity” in the above post and statement to make you think I have a limited definition? I have purposefully NOT defined them in order to see other people’s personal insight. Am I missing something? (1 Mar)

…This whole thing kind of pooped me, because it’s such OLD FASHIONED SEXISM. I just couldn’t be bothered. So I set it aside for a few days. I’d intended to just respond with a blog post, but then Bobby PMed me, so I figured it’d be rude not to reply. I was a bit snarky in those comments above, but, frankly, this comes up SO OFTEN and it’s SO EASY to find out why it’s not ok to describe women as ‘females’, for example, I just couldn’t be bothered.
But well, I had a bit of time.
Meanwhile, my twitter feed was full of unrelated conversations where women were making loljokes and laughing about blokes describing women as ‘females’ (again), so I figured it was something I needed to comment on.

Bobby asked in his PMs:

(1) How did I use “female” in a way that you have a problem with it; I felt I used it only in its scientific, factual sense, with no bias or implied meaning other than simply gender. I used “male” as well in the exact same wording. Am I missing something?

This question does make me lol a bit, because it’s such an OLD discussion.

The next question:

And (2) how did I mention gender in terms that made you think I have a limited view, especially when I clearly stated “whatever that definition means personally”to the person answering.
I’m truly curious.

Bobby was asking in the best spirit, and I figured it was worth answering. This is what I wrote:

————-
Hi,
I’m sorry, I’ve been super busy lately, so haven’t had time to write. And I don’t really have time to do any proper talk right now.
but
1. I’d go with Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’, as it’s most relevant. I used it as a starting place to talk about these issues in my phd. Basically, we’re talking about performing gender.

2. The problem with using ‘females’: we’re not doing science, here, so that’s not really the right approach. More importantly, there’s a difference between women and female: female is gender, women is biological sex. Gender is socially constructed, and sex is biological. In this context, you’re talking about people’s biological sex relates to their performance of gender, right?
Additionally, using ‘females’ in this setting makes us sound like meerkats – it’s not appropriate. There’s a wealth of feminist criticism of this, so I suggest you do a bit of googling on that one.

3. There are multiple ways of performing femininity and masculinity. Or, there are multiple femininities and masculinities, and these aren’t fixed or permanent. They are specific to particular moments in time, to particular cultures, ethnicities and demographics. Patriarchy tends to insist that there’s only one type of femininity and masculinity, and that these are the only desirable models. So femininity equates to delicate, sensual, passive, gentle, nurturing, caring, soft, hairless (except on your head), emotional, untechnological, natural, etc; masculine equates to aggressive, potentially violent, mechanical, intellectual/rational, etc etc. Both are necessarily heterosexual and interdependent.
In that setting, if you aren’t gentle/sensual/caring/etc, you’re not feminine.
Your questions implied that you see only one type of femininity and masculinity at work in the world (and in the lindy hop world specifically). When this is certainly not the case. We just need to compare Frida S and Sharon Davis to see two very different performances of femininity at work.
I personally wouldn’t engage with the discussion you’re presenting because I cannot accept the premise of the question: that there is one ‘femininity’ and one ‘masculinity’, and that women dancers must choose between these two. As a woman, and as a dancer, there’re many more interesting things going on in dance and gender than these two very limited options.
There is quite a lot of literature looking at how race and ethnicity work in these discussions which are particularly relevant for us, as we are dealing with dances which developed in black communities a century ago. This is something I’ve written about lots of times, and which I think is very important. It’s also something I have dealt with in classes with students.
As an example: hetero, middle aged men often find Leon James’ styling ‘effeminate’, and I’ve had them ask me (as I teach as a lead) “How do I style this as a man?” The problem isn’t so much that I’m a woman demonstrating a step, but that the type of masculinity Leon James performs seems ‘effeminate’ or ‘non-masculine’ to a modern day Australian man from this particular demograph. Leon tends to play with gender a bit anyway: he’s definitely not a woman, nor is he performing a femininity. He’s performing a different type of masculinity, which is quite specific to him, and to his moment in time. And there are more complex issues of race, class, and ‘theatre’ going on in his dancing.

4. There are also some problems with the way you’re linking sexual preference/identity with gender in your questions. In implying only two types of gender (masc/fem -> in patriarchal terms), and then asking for straight women who lead, and then looking for ‘female’ and ‘male’ styling, there is the implication that if you are a straight woman, it’s unusual for you to be styling ‘masculine’, and if you are a lesbian, it’s unusual for you to style ‘feminine’. Gender and sexual identity are far more complex than this: dichotomies are hopelessly limited, and there are more ways of being a dyke than just ‘butch and femme’. Lesbians don’t just map their relationships onto hetero/patriarchal models of a male/female dichotomy. In fact, straight women don’t either.
There’s lots more to be said on this. And your first response is probably, “Oh, I am actually just looking for these specific examples; I don’t have space/time to do all that other stuff.” But my response would be “We see these sorts of discussions of heteronormative/conventional gender all the time. By asking the same questions again, and by reproducing the same gender norms again, you are contributing to the maintenance of patriarchy. Why not try something new and interesting instead?”

—————

For me, my dancing has gone a long way beyond ‘dancing male’ and ‘dancing female’. That dichotomy really is far too limited for just me and the way I think about my dancing.
When I started teaching as a lead (two years ago), I did worry about the male students not having a male role model to draw on for styling. But as a clever friend pointed out: “You don’t want students to dance like their teacher anyway, do you? Won’t they be seeking out other dancers to experiment with developing their own style anyway?” So I got over that worry.
Interestingly, I do wear trousers when I’m teaching as a lead, and try to wear a skirt or a dress when I’m (very rarely) teaching as a follow. When I’m teaching solo I just wear whatevs. I wear trousers when I lead because it sets up particular lines, and it helps me ‘get into character’, or remember that I’m leading. When I’m teaching I need to be hyper-aware of what I’m doing with my body, I need to be self-reflexive. When I’m social dancing, I don’t worry about any of that. But I find trousers give me a little mental reminder to help me remember what I’m doing. I also find leading uses a lot more forward-backward movement, while following uses more contra movement, and trousers work better for me for leading than for following.

So, for me, there is a degree of ‘butching up’ but dancing as a lead. But it’s ridiculous to say ‘men wear trousers, women wear skirts’, because HELLO, 21ST CENTURY. This is something for me, not a general comment about what women dancers should wear.

I’m quite fond of wearing waistcoats and things for dancing, but not necessarily because I’m thinking ‘masculine’. I’m thinking ‘dress up in practical fun clothes’. I wear dresses as well as trousers.

Look, basically, for, me (and I cannot speak for all women), gender is much more complex and interesting than ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. As a human being, I’m occupying a more complex place than just ‘feminine’. I am a woman, but I explore gender – femininities – in lots of different ways. As an example, in my professional role as an event organiser dealing (almost only) with men, I have to adopt particular mannerisms and approaches to make it clear that I know what I’m doing: confidence, a particular sense of humour, a way of standing, a way of making eye contact and shaking hands. None of these are particularly ‘girly’ or flittery-feminine. But I’m certainly not a man, and I’m not ‘masculine’. I’m just working with a different type of femininity. Which quite a lot of men find threatening, which is ok by me. I want a degree of intimidation when I’m negotiating work stuff with some men.

But this is just a professional persona, and one I use only at work, and only with certain types of men. As any second year women’s studies student knows, gender roles and gendered behaviour aren’t fixed, ‘natural’ or permanent: they are clothes we put on for certain settings and tasks. In the context of patriarchy, being chameleon in gender is about subversion and power for a woman. As a dancer, it’s exciting: being aware of how you change the way you move and hold yourself makes you a better dancer, and a better actor and performer.

I guess my main problem with Bobby’s article was that all this discussion was predicated on reference to a heteronormative romantic love. He’s looking for straight women and men who dance ‘unstraight’ (ie ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’) to talk about romantic love. As though it’s surprising for a straight woman to adopt ‘masculine’ mannerisms. At the end of the day, I reckon Bobby might need to meet a few more queer folk, or perhaps to spend a bit more time with straight women, to understand just how fluid and interesting gender is, and how sexual preferences don’t necessarily fit cleanly into gender binaries.

Hot Foot Stomp 2

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Hot Foot Stomp 2 from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

A couple of friends and I are running the second Hot Foot Stomp dance in a week or so, and I’m having a look at some music I might play. We’re going for more a rent party sort of vibe, as we’re using a studio space which is in an (tall, skinny) old warehouse.

title artist bpm year album length

The Harlem Stride Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 199 1939 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 3:29

Whoa Babe Casa Loma Orchestra 199 Boneyard Shuffle 3:00

John Silver Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra 155 1938 Swingsation: Charlie Barnet and Jimmy Dorsey 3:15

It’s The Gold Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra with Ella Johnson 159 1941 Buddy Johnson: Complete Jazz Series 1939 – 1942 3:01

Come On Over To My House Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers (Julia Lee) 143 1944 Kansas City Star (disc 1) 2:54

Open The Door, Richard Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Emmett Berry, Snooky Young, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Ted Donnelly, George Matthews, Eli Robinson, Bill Johnson, Preston Love, Rudy Rutherford, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, 127 1947 Count Basie RCA Years In Complete (disc 01) 2:43

Free Eats Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Emmett Berry, Snooky Young, Harry Edison, Ted Donnelly, George Matthews, Eli Robinson, Bill Johnson, Preston Love, Rudy Rutherford, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 163 1947 Count Basie RCA Years In Complete (disc 01) 2:56

A Touch Of Boogie Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard) 186 1941 Boogie Woogie And Blues Piano 3:12

Two O’Clock Jump Harry James and his Orchestra 192 1939 Life Goes To A Party 3:17

Bugle Call Rag Metronome All Star Band (Cootie Williams, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Toots Mondello, Coleman Hawkins, Tex Beneke, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Buddy Rich) 262 1941 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 06) 3:17

Deep Forest Earl Hines and his Orchestra (Walter Fuller, Milton Fletcher, Ed Sims, George Dixon, John Ewing, Ed Burke, Joe McLewis, Omer Simeon, Leroy Harris, Bob Crowder, Jimmy Mundy, Claude Roberts, Quinn Wilson, Alvin Burroughs, Billy Eckstine, Budd Johnson) 140 1940 Classic Earl Hines Sessions 1928-1945 (Mosaic disc 05) 2:31

Goin’ Out The Back Way Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 155 1941 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12) 2:44

Sweet Lorraine Metronome All Star Band (Charlie Shavers, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Bob Ahern, Eddie Safranksi, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, June Christy, Sy Oliver) 127 1946 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 08) 3:13

Do all the things

Omg I am so busy. SO BUSY.

Next Thursday I fly to Melbourne for MLX, the biggest, oldest, best lindy hop event in Australia. It’s fucking great – if you’re coming to Australia to dance, come for that. Nothing else comes close, and Melbourne is a great city. Weather is shitty, but there are good pubs. The music is THE BEST.
I’ll be head DJ for that, and the increasingly ambitious MLX program has made my job trickier this year. The number of bands: HIGH. I aim to dance until I might chuck. Yeah, that’s me running from the dance floor with my hand over my mouth. Super professional.

I get back on Monday. On the Wednesday our little teaching venue is hosting the charming singer Hetty Kate and the phenomenal guitarist Ian Date for a once-off ‘Swinging at the PBC’ gig. Every time I describe Hetty Kate as charming, or see her being described as ‘lovely’, I lol, because she is the saltiest arsekicker femme ever. We are very lucky to have them do this gig for us: Ian Date is now based in Ireland, and Hetty Kate is based in Melbourne.

HettyKate-newsletter

That’s the very awful ad I made. I wish I could have a solid designer on my staff to whip up these ads at a moment’s notice, because I need approximately one million items a year to promote things online and face to face.
I think it’s worth pointing out that Hetty Kate has the best online presence I’ve ever seen in a jazz musician. She has a lively, interesting instagram account, which was particularly cool to follow when she was recording with Gordon Webster. She’s fun to follow on twitter, she has a fab website, which has everything a promoter needs: high-res photos, tour dates, downloadable posters, pdfs with bio information. She also keeps an up to date facebook page. And she managed a very effective pozible campaign, where she capitalised on a performing relationship with Gordon Webster to record a crowd-funded album. Working with Gordon is, of course, promotional gold in the lindy hop world – the guy has massive pull. All of this is just so great when you’re promoting her for events. Add to this the fact that she’s a very good ‘product’ – a great singer, an entertaining performer and a very together, organised professional – and she is the perfect musician to hire. If only 90% of jazz bands could figure this stuff out.

I am quite excited about this gig because I’m running it independently. It’s tagged on the end of our classes, which we teach through a big dance school, but this social dancing bit is independent. I just thought ‘fuck it – let’s have a good party.’ I don’t care if no one turns up: it will be a brilliant fun time, and I figure: here’s a present for our group. I run a lot of events during the year, but this is the first one I’ve run completely independently. Well, there are still a lot of people involved, working the door, teaching with me, helping put the band together (there’re more musicians than just Hetty Kate and Ian), etc etc etc. But this is the first time I’ve gotten up the guts to do it all on my own. WINNAH.

On the Thursday after that, the teachers for the Little Big Weekend arrive, and the classes begin.

LBW4DancingManlogo-FACEBOOK

The Little Big Weekend kicks off officially on Friday night. I’m running this one, too, but I run it for the dance school, which means they fund it, but I plan and manage it, and work with a few superawesome people to run it on the weekend. It’s not possible to run a good event entirely on your own, and furthermore, it’s not a good idea: get other people involved to save your sanity, but also to give other people a chance to get involved in event management. The more people with more skills in your local scene there are, the higher the quality of the events, the greater the range of event types and styles. Diversity is good for lindy hop.
This is the fourth Little Big Weekend (they’re biannual), and it’s the most ambitious. Leigh Barker’s band the New Sheiks is coming up to play the Friday and Saturday night gigs, and they’re part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project. The MRP is a collaboration between dancers and musicians – lindy hoppers, tap dancers, guitarists, pianists, trumpeters, fiddle players….
They will be performing at the Saturday dance, but the dancers are all coming up mostly to hang out and be a part of it all. There are only three main workshops on the Saturday, but the third one will involve the musicians playing in-class, as we look at musical and dance structure and history.

This is exactly the sort of thing I LOVE, so that’s very exciting. And it’s very very nice to finally get to work with Leigh on a project after such a long time emailing and talking online, and chatting in person. Even if the entire weekend collapses (which it won’t – we’ve sold out of workshop passes already), we are still WINNAHS because we are trying something very interesting, and right in our own creative and professional ballparks. And it will be MAD FUN.

But that’s not all there is to the Little Big Weekend. The Speakeasy kids are flying in another Melbourne act: Andy Swann’s band. He’s been involved in lindy hop almost as long as I have, and he has mad skills. That party is already fully sick (at the last one I nearly did chuck up because I was dancing too much), so I’m not sure I’m physically capable of handling it. That party is one of the main reasons we don’t have Sunday workshops: it is not physically possible after the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy is the sort of late night party where people can dance seriously hardcore lindy hop, and then find that they’re just dancing all over the place. Not ‘solo dance’, but just rocking out. And the band usually bring their girlfriends (yes, the bands are all straight men. I’m working on that, though) and friends and they get up and just rock out, and it is awesome. There’s really good food, a blues room, a nice cool, quiet room to chill out in (I rarely avail myself of that – I like to keep on rocking). When the band ends at 4am you think ‘wtf? we just got started!’

Anyway, the week after that we don’t have any classes to teach because our venue has finished for the year, but I’m off to Melbourne again for Sweet n Hot to do some classes with ‘Skye and Frida’. Seriously doods, why doesn’t anyone ever list the follow’s name first? I mean, Skye is great and everything, but Frida is freaking powerhouse. She has unmatched dancing experience, talent and knowledge. I have booked a nice, quiet single room studio space on airbnb, so I’m going to chill. Hopefully there won’t be any chucking up on this trip.

Then it’s back to Sydney for a nice, quiet christmas. Until January comes, and new plans are set in place, and shit gets even realer.

I like what I do for a job, but sometimes I worry that dancing isn’t really important enough to spend this much time thinking about. But then I remember that running a business and being an event organiser and teacher and all that is actually a lot of work, requiring skills that are useful in all sorts of businesses. And dancing brings people joy, and sends joy out into the world. I could be working in fucking retail again, for fuck’s sake. But dance is about empowering people, and I think it’s important. THE END.

To sum up, here is Norma Miller being fabulous again:

996665_10151779683407285_459306459_n

Someone replied to my posting this by pointing out that the show itself didn’t seem so bad. That was interesting, but when I read Norma’s comment, it didn’t occur to me that I should engage with her criticism of the show. Who knows what that show’s like. I was reposting her criticism because Norma Miller is exciting. She makes me feel strong and reminds me that you need to be confident and loud and powerful.

My response was:

The thing I like about this is that Norma Miller is a confident black woman who calls herself ‘Queen of Swing’ calling out some dood who made a stage show, on public media. She just doesn’t give a fuck – she has a point to make.

Every time she calls someone out or declares, with confidence, that she is THE BEST, I get excited, because women aren’t allowed to do that in lindy hop. I bet no one sends her hate mail. Or if they do, she finds them at a party, stands really close to them and gives them the biggest telling off OF THEIR LIVES.

She’s fearless. FEARLESS. And for an older black woman living in America – that shit is AMAZING. …fuck, for a woman living anywhere these days, that shit is SO INSPIRING.

So I don’t even care one bit about that show or what it’s about. This is a story about how awesome Norma Miller is.

I love her comment, because she’s obviously doing a bit of self promotion (queen of swing), she’s calling bullshit, she’s shamelessly stroppy. And that’s what’s so exciting. Women aren’t supposed to be these things. We’re supposed to be shy and meek and modest. And Norma is not.

So, I’m going to end this post with this nice little quote which I found on I hope you like feminist rants:

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I think that a lot of women would like to do more organisationally things in lindy hop. We’re not all designed to be the famousinternationallindyhopcelebrity. There’s so much body image shit going on there, so much gender crap about working with male partners. But if you are ambitious, and you do have ideas, and you want to just do more than dance in lindy hop, there are lots of options. Start small, and work up. You don’t have to run events or DJ or do stuff like that. There are other cool things.

You could start a once-off performance group with two friends. I’ve done this many times, and it’s great. You mightn’t do the best performance ever, but the process will teach you SO MUCH. You could work the door at a dance. Sure, it’s not glamorous, but the people who work the door, bump in and bump out of dance events are the ones who make the whole thing possible. It’s like the office lady at uni: she is the most important person in the department. And seeing how an event works in front-of-house teaches you how important it is to have a friendly face greeting first time dancers: lindy hop scenes are built on welcoming dance spaces. You could design and make dance costumes. You could design decorations for dances. You could learn to work sound gear (please, please do this and come and work for me – I NEED you! I will CHERISH you!) There are so many interesting options!

For example, Sydney Lindy Hub is run by a woman. This cool guide is the most thorough, most comprehensive guide to swing dancing in Sydney. There are quite a few guides to jazz music for dancers around. I ran one myself years ago in Melbourne. But this one does it right. What’s so great about it? Firstly, the listings are comprehensive. You’ll find all the band gigs, all the DJed gigs, all the dancer-run gigs, all the council run gigs, all the musician run gigs, all the live music venue gigs there. This thoroughness is the result of good research skills and – even more importantly – good networking. People contribute gigs to SLH, they contribute reviews of gigs, and they are engaged with the site. This is a total WIN.

This engagement is a product of the guide’s cross-platformness (a website + FB + twitter), but also of the administrator’s style. She responds to people positively and with enthusiasm, and she’s proactive in her support of events. I never get a chance to send her my event’s details, because she’s already on it. I never get to suggest live music gigs, because she’s already there. As an organiser, I see SLH as an essential promotional tool, so it’s in my interests to engage with it (and with the administrator), but it’s also a pleasure to engage with it, as it’s so useful and productive.

I like the positive, inclusive tone of the listings. I LOVE that SLH encourages people to go out and review gigs. It’s easy to just list a heap of gigs, but it’s the dancers’ reviews that make this site so powerful. The up to date listings help make SLH a really useful social calendar as well. People organise their nights of dancing around SLH FB posts and listings.

And finally, SLH is perfectly positioned in this moment in Sydney. There was a bit of a decline in organised dance events a few years ago, and SLH slipped in just as local dancers were getting really desperate for social dancing. I think that Sydney dancers’ current passion for live music (and fierce enthusiasm for seeking out new gigs) is largely due to the role SLH plays in the swing dance community. It brings people together, it’s a useful information tool, and the tone is light, fresh and enthusiastic. WINNAH!

I don’t think the administrator’s gender is particularly important in the general scheme of things, but if we are talking gender, and we are talking about how seeing other women inspires women, then I do think it’s important. For me, it’s important to know that I’m part of a network of creative, ambitious, enthusiastic women in lindy hop. It really helps to know that I can ring up a woman organiser in Melbourne to talk about how to manage employing international teachers. It’s exciting to get a call from a woman oragniser in another city who wants to do a collaborative project. And it’s just so NICE to get together with other women organisers at exchanges to just talk shit and then DANCE like fools.

And then, it’s even more thrilling to see women doing things like organising the Melbourne Rhythm Project (Ramona is a driving force there, though I think it’s a pretty collaborative project generally). It’s really creatively stimulating to get together with other DJs (male or female, though increasingly female – we have so many great women DJs pushing up to the top tier in Australia), and I am particularly fond of a woman blues DJ in Melbourne, Manon von Pagee, who has such fascinating observations about DJing for blues dancers. Which I just don’t understand. And, finally, it’s wonderful to be on a dance floor where I know there are heaps of other women leads, so that I’m just one of them. I’m with my peeps.

Men are important and great too, but when there’s so much bullshit in your everyday life, telling you over and over again that you should shut up and be invisible (so you don’t get harassed on the street, sent nasty emails, challenged in dance classes, critiqued on the dance floor), having a couple of powerful women figures out there doing shit is so important. Norma Miller, you are loud and stroppy, and I mightn’t always agree with your opinions, but by fuck: you make me feel powerful.

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Little Big Weekend 3

This is where my attention is right now:

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The (3rd) Little Big Weekend, featuring Lennart Westerlund and Georgia Brooks, 11-12 May 2013, here in Sydney.

The website: www.littlebigweekend.com/ is now active;

There’s a twitter account to follow: @littlebigwkend;

And a facebook event.

I run two Little Big Weekends per year, and I think they’re great. They’re basically smaller workshop-focussed weekends, tailored specifically to my local dance scene. But we do attract interstaters as well, which is nice.

There’s only one day of general admission workshops, and the workshops start at midday. There’s only one day of classes, because local peeps don’t want to spend their entire weekend at workshops – they’re usually busy people with full time jobs who have other things they need to do on the weekend. But the workshop content is quite unique (we don’t just do random ‘intro to charleston’ or ‘lindy hop blahblah’ – we do 1920s eccentric solo dance, or ‘blues dancing that’s dynamic and interesting’). I hunt down teachers who have mad teaching skills and are also great dancers and (most importantly) are approachable, friendly, nice people. Because life is too short to deal with pain in the arse, drama queen teachers. I’m also very interested in mixed-level classes, especially solo dance classes, because they’re good for the local community.

There’s only one big dance and one major late night party, because local dancers are busy and can’t really trash themselves hardcore all that regularly. The major dance is in a big town hall, and will feature a really great band. The late night party is the best late night party. The band is truly fabulous, there’s free cake (and not just random cake – really good, high quality, fancy cake), there’re usually two rooms of music and a chill out room, and it’s a community-run, non-profit event. This time the weekend happens to fall on the same weekend as a fortnightly DJed dance, so that’s on the Friday as well. And this time, because we are hosting Lennart Westerlund, I’ve added a film-talk-Q&A event to the program. That’s on the Sunday, and it’ll be a bit more chillaxed. The venue does good food and drink, there’s non-dancing stuff to do there (lawn bowls, etc), and it’s a friendly, community-run venue (NOT a Clubs Australia venue). The film/Q&A will be followed by DJed social dancing.

And, finally, there’s another teachers’ workshop on the Sunday. This is an afternoon session with limited numbers, restricted to people who are currently teaching regularly. These workshops have two parts: a general skills tidy-up for teachers (looking specifically at dance skills for teachers); and a teaching-skills and practical tips session. Because Lennart tells me he teaches ‘old school Harlem style’, I want him to talk about this in that session, and to explain how this is different to other types of teaching. And I want him to explain how he fits history into his classes, in a practical way.
I find these teachers’ workshops really interesting and stimulating. The small class size is just fantastic, and working and talking with other teachers is so inspiring and stimulating. These aren’t ‘be a better teacher’ sessions, so much as ‘come and think about and work on teaching practices with us’ sessions. The sessions emphasise participants’ asking questions and bringing challenges or things to work on, where they can workshop them with other teachers and draw on the experience of the visiting teacher. And then the best bit is that we then get to go to the Film/Q&A gig and talk about these ideas.

Having run larger events which explicitly target inter-staters – a national and international audience – running locally-focussed gigs is really nice. I don’t need to do aggressive interstate promotions, hassling people in other cities and competing with other high profile events. I can aim for a smaller group of people, which makes for much better learning experiences (good student:teacher ratios = good learning), and I can canvass local people to find out what they want to learn, and then plan the weekend to suit their interests. Financially speaking, the risk is much lower, but the profit percentage stays the same, which is nice. Running two per year means there are two opportunities to earn profit, but there’s less risk of a massive loss. Because I’m not trying to make a weekend event feel like good value for money for a traveler, I don’t have to run my local volunteers ragged putting on three million events in one weekend. I can just run a couple of good parties. And it also means that I can look at really unusual or interesting class content. I don’t have to try to appeal to a huge, general audience. I can be very specific.

The littler program means that I can run two of these per year. It’s not as draining a a mega event, where you run on too little sleep and too much work for too long. Running two per year means that promotion works in a slightly different way as well. The event stays closer to the front of punters’ minds, and if they miss one, they know the next one is just six (or so) months away, so it’s not a huge drama to plan for that.

So, all up, it’s a good thing. And I enjoy working on these events quite a lot. They don’t leave me with that burnt-out, exhausted and creatively wrung-dry feeling that a huge event does. And because I’m deliberately thinking small, there’s not the pressure to be a huge success. Having said that, because I have had experience with larger events, I can draw on that to make these smaller ones very high quality. They’re not dodgy small and amateurish events. The local managers and volunteers are highly skilled people – they are capable, professional and a joy to work with. And Sydney is a big, cosmopolitan city, so we have very good resources to draw on – good venues, great bands, lots of options for sound and lighting engineers, great restaurants and bars. As a fairly diverse, long-running lindy hop community (the oldest in the country) with lots of dancers who travel overseas, we also have a fairly discerning audience-base, so we need to run events that are fairly decent. So you’re not getting rubbishy DJs in crappy dance studios. You’re getting fucking hot bands in great dance studios :D

…and that’s partly why I haven’t been writing here much lately. The part of my brain that does critical thinking about dance is otherwise engaged.

FYI If you’re interested in the Little Big Weekend, we are running a fourth event in December this year. I have no idea who’ll be teaching, but we have a very good band lined up to do a series of gigs, so the parties will be good :D
It’s 7th-8th December, the weekend after MLX, which is 28 Nov-1 Dec. So if you’re thinking of a trip to Australia, it’s cool to combine the two events. MLX is the biggest event in the country, and Melbourne is a great tourist city. Then the LBW the weekend after is in Sydney, which is the biggest city in the country. Last December we had quite a few internationals travel up from MLX to the LBW.