There’s recently been a fairly loud and emotional discussion about sexual violence in lindy hop. I don’t want to rehash it here, because I find it very upsetting. Rehashing this stuff in detail disempowers me. I don’t want to discuss the male teacher named in this discussion, because I don’t want this to be all about him. Again. I want to take that power away from him. I want to find power in this, for me, and for other women.
Here is something I wrote on facebook today, in response to Gwen Moran’s piece How We Can Help Young Girls Stay Assertive. This piece described Deborah Ann Cihonski’s article ‘The experience of loss of voice in adolescent girls: An existential-phenomenological study’. I don’t know what that original research is like (haven’t read it yet), but it’s an interesting place to start.
This article is particularly relevant to the current discussion about assault and safety for women in the lindy hop scene.
I am deeply disturbed by comments emphasising how we might ‘protect’ women and girls in our communities. I think it is problematic (to say the least) to perpetuate this idea of femininity as vulnerable (and passive), and masculinity as dangerous (and active).
It’s important to remember that most sexual assaults happen in privates spaces (dance halls, practice rooms, bedrooms, lounge rooms and so on), and most women are assaulted by people they know. ‘Rapists’ aren’t wild bears or volcanoes: they aren’t forces of nature that we have to protect women from. They are people who need to fix their behaviour.
We need to remind women that they are powerful and capable of caring for and protecting themselves, and for making decisions about their bodies and lives.
So I think that one of the most effective tools for making safe spaces in lindy hop is is empowering women. Some practical tips:
- Do use gender neutral language in class (ie follow does not = female by default). I have heard many male teachers resist this, saying that it’s ‘too hard’, or ‘not important’. Believe me: it is important. If you are a woman leading in that class (or thinking about leading), it makes you feel part of the group. It makes you feel like a lead.
- Follows are not passive; following is an active process (ie leads don’t ‘tell follows what to do’, and follows don’t ‘carry out’ leaders’ creative ideas)
- All partners should take care of each other (ie it’s not that ‘leads look after follows’, it’s that we all should look after each other). eg follows are responsible for floor craft too.
- List the female dance partner in a teaching team first. This is ridiculously rare in lindy hop, and we need to make up for lost time by over-representing women as the ‘first’ member of the teaching team.
- Teach female students how to say “No thank you” if they are invited to dance, but don’t want to. Teach yourself how to say this.
- Don’t use sexualised humour in class. This makes it clear that classes are learning spaces. If all the sexy jokes in the world were gender-win, it’d be ok. But most of the sexualised jokes teachers make in class use gender stereotypes that disempower women.
- Have female role models in your scene: women MCs at big events, women musicians (!!), women organisers, women teaching on their own, women DJs, women publicly making decisions and solving problems (ie female managers), women doing physical labour (beyond cleaning, aye?), women eating well-balanced meals with enthusiasm at shared tables (and not talking about ‘being bad’ when they eat delicious food).
- Value other types of work, particularly the types of work dominated by women. Working the door is as important as DJing. Make that clear. Name all your volunteers in your PR copy.
- Talk about old timer dancers who are women. Al, Leon, Frankie: they’re all wonderful. But so are Norma, Sugar, Josephine, Dawn, Big Bea.
- Research women dancers and teach their material, in their names. And that means more than just another class on swivels. Talk about women choreographers, troupe leaders, and managers.
- Teach solo dance. Women dancing alone is an act of agency and power in a partner dancing world. And teach a variety of styles: sexy, sweet, powerful, aggressive, humorous, gentle, sad, athletic, witty, cerebral….
Congruently, men in lindy hop need to be taught some things too:
- Work on your own strategies for speaking up when you hear a sexist joke. You know you should call that guy on it, but what exactly will you say or do? Will you walk away? Will you laugh along?
- What are your limits, when it comes to ‘blokey’ or ‘boys own’ behaviour? Sexy jokes? Talking about women you see in the room in a sexual way? Competing with other men to ‘get’ a woman? Know your limits, then act on them.
- Defer to female opinion and example: if you’re in a discussion, listen to women before you speak. In all matters, not just sexual safety. Once you’re good at it, then start working on ways of expressing your opinion in a collegial way.
- Don’t call women girls unless they are actually girls (ie under 13). It’s patronising. Don’t call women or girls ‘females’, unless their gender is what you want to discuss: eg “Female dancers are as capable of leading as following” is as good as “Women dancers are as capable of leading as following” but “Females are good leads too” is not ok. Women are not meerkats.
- Encourage women to take up leading. Encourage women who lead. Encourage women to comment on leading. A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better. If a woman chooses to lead in class, don’t make a big deal about it, and make it easy for them to stay in that role (deal with uneven follow/lead ratios in other ways – eg talk about how if you’re standing out, this is a chance to work on your dancing)
- Seek out women DJs. They may be harder to find, but don’t default to the usual male DJs at your events. Men are more likely to speak up, so you need to keep your eyes and ears open for women DJs.
- Proactively encourage women DJs, women leads, and women organisers.
- Use your online time to support women, and to support other men. Men are less likely to chime in with a supportive comment on a general thread about dance than women are. Men generally speak up more often, but they aren’t as likely to just say something like “Hey, great idea!” and then leave it at that.
- Support men who are doing good gender work: compliment or say ‘yeah!’ when you see guys doing good stuff.
- Support male follows: don’t make that sexy “wooo!” noise when you see two men dancing together. When you make that noise it announces to everyone that you are uncomfortable with two men dancing together. Probably because you think that two men dancing together is a sexual thing. Which means you probably think partner dancing is a sexual thing. Which means you need to check yourself.
- When you thank the teachers for a class, say thank you to the female teacher first.
There are a bajillion ways we can be better humans in lindy hop. They don’t have to be formal policies or official responses. Be the change you want to see: men should assume that if they’re not pro-actively changing things, they are part of the problem.
The nice thing about all this, is that being a better human is really quite nice: you get to be nice to people, and that makes you feel good. Doing genderwin stuff can be an empowering thing for you. If it feels a bit hard (eg some guys say using gender neutral language is too hard), then remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer: we love hard things! We love challenges! We dance the most complex, wonderful dance in the world, because we love complex, we love challenge, we love creative solutions!
The point of this, of course, is that feminism is good for all of us. Change can be confronting. But that’s why we love break steps, right? Because change is exciting and stimulating too!
A final note: it’s ok to have heroes. It’s totally ok to fansquee for a big name dancer. Having a crush on your dancing hero (no matter what your sex or theirs) is also ok. It means that you are inspired by what they do.
But don’t stop there. Use the inspiration they bring to become a better dancer yourself. Tell them you love what they do, but stop there. Then move on and tell someone else you love what they do, even if they aren’t a big name dancer.
And remember that if we are all to be held accountable for our actions, we need to be sure that we all have the power, the agency, to make our own decisions, and to control our own bodies and actions.
I have written about these issues many, many times here on this blog. I am an old school feminist, and I believe in the idea of patriarchy, and in discourse and ideology. The bottom line is that I believe that if you want to prevent sexual assault, locking up rapists is not the solution. The solution is in dismantling ‘rape culture‘, or a culture of sexism and patriarchy. I know! It seems like so much work! Good thing we have jazz to sustain us, aye?
Here are some of these posts:
- Dealing with problem guys in dance classes (Dec 2012). This is an important one, as it outlines how we (two women teachers) developed strategies for dealing with sexist, disruptive, and dodgy behaviour in class. It’s important because it’s an example how we moved from policy to practical strategy, informed by feminist thinking.
- A difficult conversation about sexual violence in swing dancing communities (May 2011) (note: this one can be upsetting to read).
- I vant to be alone (May 2011) (about women, solo and partner dance, and positive change)
- Lindy hop followers bring themselves to the dance, lindy hop leaders value this (Jan 2011)
- If you can jazz dance, gender neutral language is a fucking cake walk (Jun 2013), I am So Done (Feb 2013), Gendering Dance Talk (Feb 2013) (this one has good references for why gendered language is important to us as dancers and humans), and More than gender neutral language (Oct 2013)
- So not done. Not done ( Sep 2013) about sexual harassment, etc
- A manifesto should upset and excite. It is revolution not reassurance (July 2013). This piece was about the responses to feminist talk within the lindy hop scene.
- Ladies first: sometimes we are triumphantly cycling to victory in our sports bras (Feb 2013). This piece looks at how I feel as a feminist speaking loudly the lindy hop world. And how scary it can be. It also hooks up HEAP of links to great pieces by other women lindy hoppers looking at gender, sex, sexuality, etc in our scene.
APRA. The Australasian Performing Right Association Limited.
This is just one Australian body regulating the intellectual property rights of musicians and people involved in the music industry.
It’s not the only body that could apply to the swing dance world’s intellectual property rights issues. But it’s the obvious one.
The next important step in running a dance business or putting on a dance is dealing with music intellectual property rights. In other words, if you use someone else’s music at your dance, you have to have a licence.
Luckily, APRA have a list of licence types.
NOTE: APRA is an Australian organisation, and this stuff varies between countries, so you’re going to need to look it up yourself if you’re not in Australia.
ALSO NOTE: Do NOT take this post as a legit, final word on how to do this stuff. I’m just randomly speculating as I skim through the APRA site. You need to do some proper research yourself, and contact APRA for more help.
Let’s have a bit of a look at the licences you’ll need for running a dance business in Australia.
It’s quite complicated. Basically, APRA have a heap of different licences for using music, depending on how you use it, how many people in the room can hear it, whether they’re dancing or not, how it’s reproduced and copied, where it’s played, whether it’s featured music or background music, and so on. Their site offers advice for specific users, describing which of these licences you’ll need. So, for example, there’s not so much a ‘nightclub licence’, but there is a set of licences that apply to people who play music in their nightclub.
If you are a dance school (or otherwise teaching classes – however you choose to think of yourself), you’ll need to pay an annual fee for a licence. There are three types of licences APRA sees as relevant to the work that dance schools do.
1. Public performance. If you use music in class.
2. Reproduction of music. If you copy music and give it to your students (eg for a performance).
3. End of Year concerts.
If you teach one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year.
If you teach more than one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year plus $34.28 a year each extra day. So if you’re teaching two days a year, you need to pay $102.82 per year. And it increases for every day after that.
Note: I know some people say they don’t need an APRA licence because they are an educational body, but if you are taking money for classes, then you need a licence.
- Sam’s critical engagement with this
I suspect this is definition of ‘dance class’ dependent on a ‘ballet class’ idea of dance schools, where dance is necessarily performance. A particular ideology of dance pedagogy informed by western, middle class concepts of learning and teaching which are teacher-centred, chalk-and-talk approaches where students are ‘injected’ with knowledge, rather than developing knowledge themselves. I wonder how vernacular dances and classes like African dance with drummers are licensed?
In the former, the people drumming (providing music) are often also students participating in the class as drumming students, rather than as ‘featured musicians’. They don’t play set ‘songs’ so much as series of rhythms and rhythmic patterns (I guess that’s the definition of a rhythm – it’s an audible pattern, rather than random noise).
In the latter, particularly if you use the ‘Lennart approach’ with lots of self-guided learning (I’ve talked about it ad nauseum in posts like Student Centred Teaching – some rough ideas), classes can become what is essentially social dancing (rather than strict choreography).
And how would you classify a class like this one we did with musicians at Jazz BANG, where the ‘teaching’ was more a discussion, and where the ‘students’ were at once the people playing the instruments, the people listening (who also stood up and danced), and even the ‘teachers’ playing the music, talking, and demonstrating.
I wouldn’t like to try to argue your way out of a fine using this logic, though.
- Sam’s critical engagement with this
- Parties with live or DJed music
This is an interesting one.
Let’s assume you’re using an established venue (not just a ‘space’ that you fit out for a party).
If you’re using a venue that regularly uses live music (eg the PBC where we run our live music parties), then the venue is responsible for providing the licence (Hotels/pubs/taverns/bars licence).
But if the music is a DJ or other featured recorded music (not just background music), there’s another licence they need to look at (Featured or Recorded Music licence.)
Wait. It gets more complicated. If the venue is using music specifically for dancing (ie they have a dance floor), then they also need a Recorded music for dance use licence.
There are additional licences required for copying music onto your ipad or phone from CDs, and how many devices you play music from affects the cost of that licence.
If you are running a private event at a licensed venue like a pub, then you will need an event licence on top of all this.
- Sam’s critical commentary
You can see how it makes sense to use an existing venue for your dance classes and events. And how important it is to develop a very good working relationship with event managers. If their management is handling most of the APRA licensing (not to mention the liquor licensing and noise zoning issues), then you don’t have to. That’s why you pay rent to them – not just for the use of the space, but for all this administration. This is also why you have an obligation to run sustainable events that bring money into the venue.
We’re lucky enough to be working with a venue that has a strong commitment to local community arts practice. The PBC is a community-run venue with a board and membership that anyone can be a part of (I’m a PBC member), and the members vote on everything from what colour carpet to buy to whether to get solar panels or not. They’re also really nice people with lefty politics.
I see it as our responsibility to run classes that are in keeping with the PBC’s broader ethos of being a good citizen (ie treating people with respect), of being engaged with decent arts practice, and with being accessible for all peeps.
But it is in the APRA laws about music for dancing where we see Australia echoing the totally rubbish laws in New York about dancing. If you are playing music specifically for dancing, you have to pay a particular licence.
What if you are playing jazz? This is an interesting one, because if you’re a lindy hopper, this is dancing music, straight up, no question. But if you’re a jazznick, a jazz fan, it’s listening music. It’s even art music. Despite the history of the music, its original function and intention, jazz has largely shifted in cultural meaning and function to ‘music for listening’, art music. Not functional music.
But I guess the key issue would be whether you had a dance floor set up and cleared. Whether you briefed the musician on what they should play and how they should play it. How you promoted the event, and to whom.
This issue is one I want to think more about, because I’m getting more involved in promoting the live music events I’m part of to ‘non-dancing’ crowds – eg the Sydney Jazz Club, a particular musician’s fans.
The last is particularly relevant with musicians like Adrian Cunningham, Tuba Skinny, and Andy Baylor, who have substantial fan bases who aren’t dancers. They’re music fans who want to come and sit and watch the musicians. It’s interesting to note here that if your band is paid more than $2500, and they’re performing in a hall or function space, the event holder will need another licence in addition to the venue’s licence. This becomes relevant when you’re hiring a big band, which typically costs more than $2500 (about $3000 if you’re looking for quality).
In reference to the final point above, having bands in residency becomes a good idea for the venue, because they are no longer featured performers, but part of the regular night. So you can avoid some licensing issues. Perhaps. Do not quote me.
- Sam’s critical commentary
This section should really be part of the section above, but I think we usually draw the distinction ourselves, even within the dance scene, between ‘regular social dancing parties’ and ‘special events’. So a weekly DJed party or social dancing event is quite different to a special christmas ball.
The event licences are super complicated, and there are lots of different licences applying to an event. Things like whether you use live music or DJed music, whether food is involved, whether it’s a free or ticketed event are all important.
You’d think that a DJed lindy hop party would count as a ‘dance party’, but it doesn’t, because
Dance parties [licences are]…
For Dances or Dance Parties that are one-off or occasional events, charging an entry fee, and playing APRA Works for dancing as the primary form of entertainment at the event. It does not extend to:
…. 2. private function, or an event which features ballroom or similar traditional dancing;
That bit about ‘traditional dancing’ caught my eye. Is lindy hop a ‘traditional’ dance? If they’re including ballroom, I guess it is. But lindy hop isn’t codified the way conventional ballroom dancing is (though we all know ‘ballroom dancing’ was a vernacular dance at heart… and after all, lindy hop has a long association with ballrooms)….
Looking at the list of licences on the APRA page, it’s impossible to figure out exactly how a lindy hop party would fit into this system. You’d have to call up APRA and find out. Good luck with that.
This is the next thing on my list of jobs. Wish me luck with that, will you.
- Sam’s commentary.
This issue of ‘regular social dancing’ vs ‘special balls’ is a tricky one. In my position with my last employer, my role involved running a number of ‘special events’ (not the fortnightly social dancing party) during the year. Last year I ran seven ‘special’ events for the business (in addition to the four independent parties I ran). Some of them were things that are run annually, some were one-off things, and some were part of big workshop weekends. Interestingly, the annual things have been run for years and years, both here in Sydney and in Melbourne, so you could argue that they’re not really special events any more, but regular events. They’re certainly very formulaic (or they were before I started messing about with them).
I don’t think the distinction between regular and special events is actually all that important for APRA licensing, but it does assume more importance when you add things like insurance to the mix. Typically, your regular dance school insurance covers you for events which you run primarily for your own students (ie they’re not ‘public’ events, but ‘private’ parties). But when you start running events which target audiences beyond your own students, the insurance policy has to change to accommodate this.
- Sam’s commentary.
So different dance events are regulated by different laws (I’m using the word ‘laws’ a bit inaccurately here): tax laws, insurance laws, intellectual property laws, liquor licensing laws, industrial relations laws, residential zoning laws, and so on. When you remember that these laws are different in different countries, states and local councils, you get this fascinating little nexus in lindy hop. I get very excited about this, and wish I’d done more cultural policy studies in my PhD work.
It’s all very interesting. As someone setting up a new business, it can be overwhelming, but most of it isn’t that hard. Because you can get help, and it’s actually useful help. Just call the various organisations up.
When you are planning a business, you need to think about:
– APRA licensing
– industrial relations (OH&S in particular, but also agreements and contracts with contractors – teachers, bands, volunteers, sound engineers, and DJs)
You can sum all this up with a nice, clear Code of Conduct that sets out:
– your social policies (eg how you deal with sexual harassment)
– your industrial policies (eg whether you pay DJs, teachers, etc, and how much you pay them; how you deal with volunteers; your terms for hiring international teachers, etc etc)
– your creative policies (eg how you value choreography and credit choreographers)
– your cultural policies (eg whether you’re into historical dance and music, and how you acknowledge these sources)
I like to aim for being sustainable – culturally, economically, socially, sustainable. That means that I’m aiming for doing things in ways that let me carry on doing things for a long time. If you are screwing people over, if you can’t pay your bills, if you’re risking people’s safety, you are eventually going to implode your community, business, and scene.
I also like to aim for longer term development. I don’t just want to go dancing now, and to put new dancers on dance floors now. I want to see lindy hop music and dancing changing and growing and becoming more creatively sophisticated. Because it’s more interesting that way. And jazz is complicated. So we need to continually level up to keep up with it.
You can do a one-off party and not bother about this stuff. You can even run a bunch of parties and not bother about this stuff. But once you do start doing these things regularly (or even irregularly, but more often), you’re going to need to start thinking about best practices. Not just to stop you copping a massive fine or getting up on some sort of charge. Lindy hop is a social dance, and that means you’re working with people. Lots of them. Planning your projects effectively means you are less likely to fuck people over. And that’s my priority: to not fuck people over.
I’ve been thinking about this stuff for years and years. Partly because it came up in my PhD when I did a lot of research into volunteer labour in Australia, research which actually came from an abortive first Phd project on the CWA. There, it was made very clear that volunteer workers are mostly women. This is true in the lindy hop world: most of the unpaid volunteer labour in Australian lindy hop is provide by women.
Anyway, I don’t have time to think and write about this now – I’m just letting in percolate for a while. But here are some interesting things that have contributed to my thinking:
- Codes of conduct
Carl Nelson linked up Christina Wodke’s piece ‘Tweaking the Moral UI’ on the facey. It links to Geek Feminism’s conference policy. Michael Seguin linked up the Mobtown Ballroom Code of Conduct in the comments on the facey. Nirav noted that the Fogtown Stomp Code of Conduct was inspired by the Mobtown Ballroom one.
The part I liked about this, was the way Carl introduced the link with:
I would love to see more Codes of Conduct and instructors and organizers willing to put themselves out there by requiring them at events where they work in the dance scene.
I have a personal policy that’s related to this stuff: I won’t DJ at an event that doesn’t pay all its DJs, and I tell organisers this when they approach me about DJing. I have to say, this has reduced the list of events in Australia that I’ll DJ at. SHAME, lindy hoppers, SHAME. I’ve also started refusing to work at (or attend) gigs that hire the dodgiest teachers. That quenelle thing? Well, it’s lost you teaching gigs in Australia, mate.
We have the beginnings of a Code of Conduct for Swing Dance Sydney here in our Classes FAQ:
8. What’s your policy on inclusivity in class?
We’re also a queer-friendly group who welcome same-sex couples.
We don’t tolerate any kind of harassment, and will act quickly to put a stop to it.
We try to make our classes as accessible as possible. We have students from the age of 12 to 82, with a range of needs and interests, and we really like it that way.
We really enjoy teaching, so we’re happy to repeat instructions, to talk more slowly, to try new ways of explaining and teaching things – just ask.
If you have particular needs, don’t hesitate to book a private class (email email@example.com).
It is totally inadequate, but it’s a work in progress. I’m also working on OH&S policies, and on teachers’ agreements. It takes a while to write all this stuff up, particularly around christmas. But I am ON IT.
- Pay rates for DJs, teachers, bands, sound engineers, etc
My position on this stuff isn’t secret.
- Sharing economy requires inequality
Jonathon, Glen and Liam had a very interesting late night talk about Leo Mirani’s piece The secret to the Uber economy is wealth inequality on twitter last night, and it really caught my interest. Uber’s attracted major criticism lately, for all sorts of very good reasons. I’d read Arun Sundararajan’s piece What Airbnb Gets About Culture that Uber Doesn’t a little while ago, and I’d shared the disgust that Uber’s surge pricing policy attracted this week during the siege in my city, Sydney.
This latest article by Mirani is even more useful for the way it outlines the ‘sharing economy”s dependence on inequity. There was a useful illustrated article about the ‘sharing economy’ by Susie Cagle on the Nib that takes up some of these issues too. I think there’s some thinking to be done on the role of individualism in American culture here as well.
This discussion reminds me of criticism of Google’s diversity policy (May 2014), but more specifically of a follow up piece about the non-IT workers in Google. I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find the original article! ARGH! That piece caught my eye for the way it pointed out that Google didn’t count cleaners and other work in its overview of diversity in its workplaces. These workers simply don’t exist for google, because they are contractors, and because they don’t consider that sort of work part of their business model. There are all sorts of things to say about class, knowledge, power, economies of knowledge, contracting, labour relations and so on.
This last bit is important, because it shows how some sorts of labour are devalued because they are ‘unskilled’ (though cleaning – as with working the door – actually requires a particular skill set), and how devalued work tends to be associated with people of colour, and with women. In the IT world as in the lindy hop world. And this of course demonstrates how the lindy hop world echoes and restates the power dynamics of the wider community in which it is positioned.
- Volunteering, the value of ‘work’, and unpaid labour Why do door staff not get paid, when DJs do?
This issue just won’t leave my brain. There’s definitely a hierarchy of labour ‘value’ in the lindy hop world. Teaching is at the top. Cleaning up after a dance is at the bottom. Different types of labour are gendered, though there are interesting regional differences. In Australia the largest dance events are run by women, most DJs are women, and most unpaid volunteers are women. Women are obviously doing most of the work in the lindy hop world, but not all of that work is lower status or unpaid. But this is not the picture in other countries, or even consistent within local Australian scenes. There’s definitely more work to be done here, and more research.
- The economics of live music
I’m interested in this one. There’s a push (which is quite established now), to feature live music at lindy hop events. It’s interesting, because the smallest scenes often have the closest relationships with live bands – the only social dancing available is at local live music gigs. Which may or may not be ‘swing’ or even ‘jazz’, but they are LIVE. The biggest international events showcase live music, to the point of only using a couple of DJs for very few songs, let alone sets. DJing used to be quite important to large events, but not so much any more. But at the local level, DJing is still the backbone of dancer-run social dancing in most Australian lindy hop scenes. Because bands are expensive.
The economics of live music in Australia are shaped by all sorts of factors. Clubs Australia and liquor licensing affects which licensed venues hire bands, when, and for how much. Licensing is important because it shapes the social space: having a bar is good for jazz. Sydney and Melbourne have the largest jazz scenes, but because New South Wales and Victoria (the states) have different liquor and live music licensing laws, the scenes are quite different, and pay rates differ. Basically, if you want to hire a decent band for a dance gig in Sydney, you’re looking at $1200 minimum. Add a rider of about $100. Then add $1000 to hire a decent sound guy, so the band actually sounds good. That’s fucking expensive. If you add $1000 for the venue and incidentals, that’s $3300 right there. So you’ll need 100 people paying $35 to cover your costs. Good luck – $35 is pretty much the most that dancers will pay in Sydney, and 100 is a lot for a regular gig at that price. You can’t do that more than about 3 or 4 times a year, max.
You can hire bands for less, but the quality may vary, and you’ll be calling in favours to pull that off. The market is kind of tight in Sydney at the moment, so you can take advantage of musicians’ desperation for gigs and talk them down in price. But that kind of makes you an arsehole. Venues with liquor licences can afford to hire bands regularly (ie offer residencies) which bands will accept less pay for, but it’s the sale of liquor that finances these gigs, and liquor licenses are managed by the state, and influenced by Clubs Australia, which prioritises gambling (pokies in particular).
The pay rate for bands varies in different cities, for different types of gigs, and for different types of bands.
This $1200-$1500 rate is a corporate rate, not mates rates. So you really need to get to know your local musicians well if you want cheaper rates. But $1200 for a 6 person band is only $200 per musician for about four hours work. That’s $50 an hour for highly skilled professionals, who practice, put together charts and sets, and so on. That’s kind of shit, really. Considering most events now pay DJs about $30 an hour. And top tier teachers are paid $150 an hour to teach (plus expenses). And if you keep in mind the fact that a decent dance event requires quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between organisers (who ‘brief’ the band) and band leaders (who have to develop a set and basically change the way the band works to suit this brief), there’s all sorts of extra labour involved. All those phone calls and emails that have to be factored into the costs of the gig.
I’ve been having a discussion with a few people about the economics of live music on the facey, starting with THIS METAL BAND BROKE EVEN ON A 27 DATE TOUR AND SO CAN YOU by Big James, which was a response to the Pomplamoose piece Pomplamoose 2014 Tour Profits. There was a fairly nasty piece in response to Pomplamoose’s, Sob story from band that lost $11,000 was actually a marketing stunt by Mark Teo, and then Amanda Palmer chimed in. Palmer shits me to tears.
The discussion on facey is quite interesting, and ongoing. I won’t reproduce it here, because I’m not totally ok with cutting and pasting other people’s Facey comments out of context. But I did write this about Palmer:
…that bit about the jam bothered me. I’ve also seen her pulling some dodgy stuff on twitter: she’s a bit of a fail when it comes to recognising her own privilege and power in discussions about class, gender, etc. Sure, she might have done all that sleeping on couches and playing for free and busking in Ye Olden Dayes, but now she’s a high profile celebrity, in a relationship with another celebrity. Her situation has changed. And she doesn’t recognise this.
I think most of us would take that sort of ‘jam’ opportunity – for all sorts of reasons. But that’s the point of understanding your own power and influence: people with less power (ie needing the profile, wanting the experience, etc) are going to take her up on that sort of offer. Imagine if she’d actually _paid_ them – how wonderful! Even better!
…and I think there’s a difference between sitting in on a jam with great musicians, particularly in the jazz scene, and ‘getting on stage with a celebrity at their gig’. Jazz in particular has a long tradition of apprenticing new musicians through jams – tap dancers do it, hip hoppers do it, lindy hoppers do it. But that’s in the context of a real jam – a community space. A celebrity’s gig is a bit different.
I quote myself here, because I think this is where I start to pull all these threads together. I’ve heard people justify not giving volunteers free entry because “It’s a privilege to work on an event.” I’ve heard people justify not paying volunteers or giving them free entry because “They are volunteers.” That heirarchy of value in labour in the lindy hop world affects who gets paid, and how. It also determines status and identity in the lindy hop world.
…and that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this thinking. I’m going to have to let it all boil around in my brain for a while. But I think all these things are related by issues of power, privilege (those two are the same, really), ‘economics’, gender, class, and race. I just need to figure out how to articulate all that.
Zack Richard’s great post about running lindy hop businesses. Hooked up by Jerry @ Wandering and Pondering on the facey. Of course. He was linking to the #improvrespect piece, but I couldn’t give one fig about that discussion, so I didn’t even finish that piece. But he did remind me that Zach writes good stuff, so I flicked back through his earlier pieces and found this one.
I’m interested in the way we use ‘be like Frankie’ as a model for ethical business practice. He’s a pretty good role model for dance stuff. But it’s unusual to see one person become so important as a model for sustainable business practice. It does worry me a bit; smells like a cult to me. And there are some dodgy gender things at work here. And I do worry that the reality of the man is lost in the idea of the man that’s used to sell ideas. But I guess that’s how history works: the reality of the person is subsumed by the idea of the person.
…any way, Zack outlines some ideas that fit nicely with my own point of view, but he frames them in terms of Frankie’s legacy, and the history of lindy hop. Which are very interesting approaches. I like the ethics outlined in this approach, but the cultural studies scholar in me is a bit suspicious. A bit uneasy. At any rate, if you’re just looking for content, and not engaging with narrative and ideological practice in a critical way, it’s a great piece. I definitely recommend reading it.
This bit caught my eye:
Yes, we must be wary of the “ballroom studio model” that hires undertrained and underpaid staff who painfully review fifteen years old instructional videos and then regurgitate washed-out, dumbed down material to the students. To that we say: whatever their level, keep your teachers and yourself well informed and inspired to strive for betterment. Turn to Frankie and his constant need to create and top himself.
I really had no idea (naïvely, it seems) that other scenes had the same problems we do here in Sydney. It’s a relief to see that our problems aren’t unique, and that other people have thought about solutions for them.
Ok, so here’s a sample approach to running a lindy hop event in Sydney. It has a bit of planning involved, but I’ve found you do need some plans. If you play the whole thing by ear, you will screw someone over.
This is a long post. Every now and then someone comments that they find my posts too long. To them I say: sucks to be you, bro.
You need to keep track of your spending. Even if you’re not legit, and are just treating this like a private party, you will need to be sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay the bills. Even if it’s a little dance.
So what’s in your budget? Everything. I put everything in it. Because it’s things like petrol to drive a sound system to a gig that get left out, when they’re actually a fairly big expense. Put everything in your budget. I usually do an ‘estimated income/expense’ budget, and then fill in the ‘actual income/expense’ parts as they’re finalised.
Here’s a draft budget for a little DJed gig in a venue with a sound system in-house already.
- Venue hire: $150 (5 hours @ $30 per hour) -> make sure you include bump in and bump out time, usually an extra two hours. So for a 3 hour event, you’re paying for 5 hours venue hire.
- Venue hire bond/deposit: $0 (you’ll get this back after the gig, but you still need the cash up front for a lot of venues, especially council or church or big corporate venues).
- Cash Float: $140 (for a smaller event, $200 for a bigger one) -> in $5 notes (that’s important). You get this back, but you need the cash up front.
- DJ pay: $75 (3 hours @ $25 per hour).
- DJ rider: $20 (soft drink or chips or whatevs) -> you don’t have to do this, but I’ve found it’s a very cheap way to make your DJs happy.
- Stationary and extras: $50 (envelopes to put pay in, cash box, paper for printing out signs, dodgy hand flyers, and running sheets, clean up kit, etc)
[NB: I have also started adding in the cost of public transport or Goget hire for my event management. That’s an added cost for me (especially car hire), and I need to count that in there, as transport is an ESSENTIAL part of any event. Same goes for including petrol and parking. I use Goget rather than cabs, because they are less stress, and are actually free after midnight.]
=> That’s $435 right there. Which is ridiculously cheap for a dance event.
So you will need 44 people paying $10 each to break even. I’d allow 50, because shit happens. That’s if you’re not paying tax or being legit. This is totally achievable in Sydney. I actually like to aim higher, so I have a little cushion, and perhaps a bit of profit to make into a nest egg, or heck, to just cover your time. If you’re lucky. I find my smallest mid-week events are usually about 60 people. My larger independent weekend events pull about 90-100. And the bigger events I ran for my previous employer, with the promotional pull of a big dance school, can sit on about 140.
That’s all here in Sydney, with a competitive live music and events scene. Other cities run huger events. But remember: 20 people is a party. That’s good shit. You don’t need to be huge to be successful. I’ve run bigger events in Melbourne that pull in hundreds of people. I don’t actually like it so much – my latest plan is for a mini-event in a mini-venue. Fun!
Ask yourself: is your venue big enough for 50 people? 90? 140? Can you afford a larger one? How will you handle too many people arriving? I’ve actually had that problem: it’s exciting to have hundreds of people turn up, but it’s not safe to mash them into a tiny venue. And they will only remember having a shitty, crowded, hot time.
Some people run their events assuming they’ll make enough money on the night to cover their costs, so they don’t bring any extra cash. I don’t do this. I always bring enough cash to cover my expenses, just in case. So I have a little envelope with the DJ pay all divided up and ready to go. And I think about how to protect my cash against theft. Because shit happens. I also make sure it’s all in useful denominations – $5 notes for the float, etc etc. I usually try to divide it up ahead of time, because it’s really hard to count cash in a dark, loud, sweaty room full of dancers at 3am when you are totally exhausted.
Important: pay everyone promptly, and correctly. Do NOT wait for them to ask you for cash. Don’t be a dick.
aka ‘stuff you need’
- Door kit (desk lamp; cash box or pencil case or something to put the cash in; mints and a bowl for them; door sheet to keep a tally of the number of punters arriving (I usually divide it up by door shifts, so I have an idea of when most people arrived, and when we were most likely to have door cash count problems); cash count sheet (so you can count all the money quickly on the night, then do a second count a day or two later when you’re recovered – put it all on one piece of paper); door list to record all the comps getting in for free; sign with the event price on it; a copy of the running sheet for you, for the DJ, for the door; pens, pencils, sticky tape, gaffa tape (the real stuff), scissors, blue tac; a sign up sheet for your email list; hand sanitiser); your emergency plan.
- Clean up kit (roll of strong garbage bags (don’t use cheapies, they’ll make you cry), chux cloths).
- Toilet paper. Trust me – you will be glad you have it.
- Sound gear (RCA cable to connect laptops to the sound gear – always bring your own), power board, extension cord, small torch (yes, this is important), adaptor plugs for the RCA cable.
- Desk lamp, for the DJ or the door desk. Better to have than not have.
- Plastic cups, bottle opener, chocolates, bottles of water for you and the DJ, your own drinks/snacks, especially if you are doing BYO drinks.
- First aid kit. If you’re doing this a few times, buy one. At least buy some ice packs – good for injuries, heat distress, etc etc. I buy mine from the St John’s Ambulance people because they are a good cause, and their products are the best quality. Don’t scimp on first aid gear.
-> all this can cost about $50, maximum $100. But once you have all this junk, you’re covered for the future events.
Special note: Don’t get the cheap gaffa tape. I’m SERIOUS. The cheap stuff is impossible to clean off, and yet it doesn’t stick properly. Use good gaffa to do things like tape down trailing cables, stick fabric to mirrors (extra important in a dance studio venue). And then it comes off easily, and doesn’t make a mess. It’s also easier to tear.
Make one. DO IT. And start it well before the weekend. And put EVERYTHING in it. I’ve been at events that don’t include everything in their running sheets, and it’s total bullshit.
Things to include:
– Venue hire confirmation.
I’ve been involved in approximately one million dance events where the organiser hasn’t confirmed the venue, and we’ve turned up to a locked or double booked space. I usually ring and inquire and leave my details and name, then I make the booking, then I ring and email to confirm (this is when I usually ring to ask about key collection – about a couple of weeks or a month out), then I ring and email to confirm again the day before the gig. This last one is when I double check key collections or organise a key collection time.
A note: if a venue organiser gives you a sad story about being double booked, implying that they’d like you to change your booking, don’t do it. Be properly sympathetic and understanding, but don’t let them push you into changing your date. It will be a massive pain for you, and it’s important to learn to be strong when dealing with venue managers, bands, sound guys, etc etc. You are the boss of this gig. I find that older men try this on me quite regularly. So I just put on my no bullshit, polite but capable voice and body language whenever I deal with people.
Sadly, the cheaper end of the venue hire scale (where we lindy hoppers tend to live) is where the dodgiest venue mangers also live. Learn to smell their bullshit a mile off. Follow your instincts – if you feel like they’re dodgy, they probably are. Run away.
– Event start and finish times
– Bump in start and finish times, bump out start and finish times
– All the specific details for the bump in and bump out.
List exactly what has to happen. DJ set up. Door set up. Rubbish pick up. Toilet tidy. etc etc. You’re less likely to forget something important this way.
– Door set up and tidy up times (the door close time is often before the end of the event).
– Sound gear set up start time (be detailed).
– Leaving home to travel to the venue time.
– Time to arrive home after the event – if it’s 4am, will you make that 8am key return time?
– When to collect the venue key (even if it’s the day before)
– When to return the key (especially if it’s the day after – will you be up at 8am to return a church hall key?)
– Any gear collection/delivery times.
Getting sound gear delivered? When will it arrive? Allow extra time for fuck ups and late delivery. Do you need to collect anything on the day? Bag of ice? DJ? Lights? Slab of beer? Add that into your running sheet. This one is REALLY important, and something most people forget.
– Volunteer shifts: start and finish times, who does what, etc.
Include door shifts, bump in, and bump out times. This one is IMPORTANT. Don’t play it by ear. Roster your volunteers into spots that suit their skills and preferences. Are they great with people? Put them on the door. Are they fantastically organised? Get them to handle the first door shift. Are they rubbish with people, but very diligent and responsible? Put them on tidy up.
– DJ shifts.
Which DJ is DJing when? Don’t do this randomly – they’ll have set preferences, and will be best suited to some shifts. If they’re a crazy hardcore fast DJ, don’t put them on first. If they’re good at blues and lindy, maybe put them later in the night so they can do both. If they’re great at making dancers feel relaxed and comfortable, put them on first, so they can warm up the crowd.
Circulate this information well ahead of time.
– Cash drop times.
If you make heaps of cash, do you have a time set for when you’ll collect that extra cash and squirrel it away safely?
– Door close.
When will you close the door? Set aside time to do a quick cash count and door tally. It probably won’t be accurate, but it’ll give you one extra layer of accountability.
Allow 5 minutes for every 3 minute performance. It takes time to do announcements, applauding, getting performers on and off stage.
Even a jack and jill needs to be slotted into a running sheet. If you are running a comp, even a little one, you’ll need a whole other running sheet and plan for that. If you do this stuff, keep it short and sweet.
– Any snowballs or welcome dances or birthday dances or any of that stuff. Most DJs can just pull a song out of their bum, but newer DJs can’t.
– Any important announcements.
If there’s an after-party, announce it at a set time, and put that in the running sheet, so you won’t forget. Welcome people to your party at about half an hour in, or an hour in. That way people will know who you are, and they’ll feel welcome. MCs are actually great for helping a party flow. But keep your speeches short, light hearted, and friendly. DJs can do this, but that’s not their job – it’s an MC’s job.
– Introducing and back announcing DJs.
Put it in your running sheet, so you won’t forget.
-> I recommend putting these things between DJ sets, so you don’t mess up a DJ’s flow.
This is my latest addition to my door kit. It is very very important. It’s like a birth plan when you go to have a baby – you won’t be in a good position to make good decisions when it happens, so plan ahead.
- Contact phone numbers for the local police station (as well as the emergency number 000) – the NSW police have an easy search box on their site. This will be very important to have on hand if you have randoms turn up at 1am.
- Contact phone numbers for an ambulance – even if it’s just 000, it’s important to have it written down.
-> I write all this on a little card that is stuck to the back of the door sign, so people can see it ALL the time.
- Put your first aid kit right there on the door table in plain view. Do NOT hide it. It tells your punters you are serious about safety, and it makes it easier to find.
- Make a plan for accidents: what will you do if someone falls and can’t get up? Think ahead, and plan out what you would do. Would you call an ambulance? When would you make the decision to call the ambulance? Would you move them? Would you stop the music?
Make a plan now, because you won’t be able to when it happens. If you are running the event, it is your responsibility to think of this stuff. Write out this plan – don’t just think about it. Write it down, and have it in an accessible place, and tell the door volunteers about it.
- NEVER assume that because X ‘is a doctor’ that they will handle an emergency at your gig. That is a big mistake: you don’t really know if they are competent, and you don’t know if they’ll be there and willing to help out.
- Do you have the venue manager’s phone number? Why? Five reasons:
1) One MLX I turned up at the late night venue to set up, at about midnight, to find someone had knocked a pipe in the kitchen (which was also the band room) and water was gushing into the room. We couldn’t reach the venue manager, we didn’t have the brain to call a plumber, so we just taped that shit up with gaffa tape. Seemed legit.
2) Another year I turned up at the late night venue and the security code did’t work, and the alarm went off. So I had to call the event coordinator, who then called the venue manager. Meanwhile, I got to say hello to a particularly unappealing security guard. And his gun.
3) Earlier this year an alarm went off during a huge dance with heaps of people and a big band, right in the middle of a students’ performance. The venue manager came running to fix the alarm, and luckily we didn’t have to interrupt the performance. Much.
4) One MSF I was just pulling into my accommodation’s drive way, after a 30 minute drive home, when the first late night DJ called to tell me he’d arrived at the venue and there was no sound gear in the main lindy hop room. None. So I called the event coordinator, and she called the venue manager. Meanwhile, I had the ‘blues’ DJ in the other room play ‘lindy hop’ music at slower tempos until they got the situation in the other main ‘lindy hop’ room fixed. Thing I learnt: DJ coordinators need to be on-site at the beginning of every party in the weekend. Even if it’s the second night.
5) Last year at Canberrang there was a fire alarm, fire engines came, and everyone had to empty out into the street in the middle of the night. To sub zero temperatures. Someone actually contracted pneumonia.
Shit like this always happens, so be prepared. And buy good gaffa tape
This is a tricky one, and depends on what you want to achieve with your event. Decide ahead of time: do you want millions of people? Do you want just a few people? What is your ‘vision’ for your event? Are you planning a solid old school scratchy hot jazz party with hardcore lindy hop? Is this a late night beer-and-cake party with lots of shouting and a wide ranging style of music? Think carefully – all your PR decisions will be shaped by these ideas.
Things to think about:
- what tone will your PR talk take? Will you be friendly and chatty?
- will you use lots of in-jokes (and alienate peeps who don’t know you)?
- will you be professional and kind of distant?
- will you be talking to new dancers, who need a lot of things explained to them (eg ‘social dancing’, ‘hardcore lindy hop’, ‘hot jazz’, etc etc)
- will you be talking to experienced dancers who travel a lot?
- are you addressing blues dancers, lindy hoppers, balboa dancers?
- How will you contact people?
I like a three-pronged approach: paper flyers (cheap photocopies are actually cool for smaller or more ‘indy’ dance parties), word of mouth (your volunteers talking about their gig, for example, you talking to all sorts of people, your teaching friends mentioning it in class, etc etc), and online. Online is a big one (facebook is most powerful, but twitter, instagram, a designated website, and EMAIL are very powerful too), but face to face is actually your most powerful promotional tool.
- Make a PR plan.
You don’t want so spam all your friends on fb 6 weeks before the event, then go silent for six weeks. Plan it out. Designing, making, printing, and distributing flyers takes time – more time if you have less experience. Are you friends with lots of peeps on facebook? Do you have good relationships with teachers in your scene? Do you have access to an email newsletter?
- Only tell people useful information.
Don’t just randomly spam them on facebook with useless shit. They want to know: when it is (so perhaps a post about why Saturday the X of X month is a great date is important), where it is (a post about the venue itself – use a photo! – is great), what music will be on show (who are the DJs? tell people! use a youtube link to a song that really captures the vibe you want for your event), and what will actually happen at the event (is there a comp? are you byo or selling drinks? Do you want peeps to bring a plate to share? Tell people!)
- Use a friendly, open, yet professional tone.
You can be personable, but don’t tell everyone all your personal information. Be accessible and friendly, but not stalkery and creepy.
- After the weekend:
Follow up on your FB event with a nice note thanking your volunteers, DJs, and other workers by name (ALWAYS do this). Post some photos. Link to other people’s photos. This is PR for your next event. It’s also just a fun thing to do. Part of the fun of lindy hop is remembering past events that were really great.
- Don’t play the martyr card.
Don’t ever beg people to come, cry about having spent a million dollars on food or the venue or whatevs, and don’t shout that no one is buying tickets for your party. Nobody will like that, and it will make them cranky, and they will AVOID your parties. Also that is weird shit – don’t do that.
- Be honest and open, and run events that actually meet people’s needs.
Just because you want a late night blues party with a hip hop DJ dropping phat beats, doesn’t mean other people do. And perhaps someone else is already doing this, but better than you ever could. Know your scene, know what they want. And do not ever try to ‘educate’ or ‘give people what they need’. That’s patronising shit. Stop that.
All this stuff is important, even if you’re just running a small dance in a studio. You have bills to pay ($500 remember), and you want people to come to your party. So find a way to get them interested.
- Clean up
It will take longer than you think. Will you be up for it at 4am? Plan it now, because you will be too tired to think straight then.
- Set up.
- It will take longer than you think. Just opening the doors, turning on the lights, and walking about being excited will take 15 minutes. It’ll take 15 minutes to set up the door. And other 15 minutes to set up the DJ table (if all the gear is in place, and ready to go. which it rarely is). If you’re decorating, allow at least an hour.
If you’re doing all that by yourself, it’ll take 1 hour and 45 minutes. If you have volunteers, you’ll still need to explain what to do, and trouble shoot as you go along. Allow AT LEAST one hour bump in time for any event. Longer if you’re decorating.
- Do you actually know how to set up sound gear? If you don’t, you’ll need to organise someone to come in and do it for you. Do NOT just assume the DJ will do it. They are there to DJ, not do tech support.
- It will take longer than you think. Just opening the doors, turning on the lights, and walking about being excited will take 15 minutes. It’ll take 15 minutes to set up the door. And other 15 minutes to set up the DJ table (if all the gear is in place, and ready to go. which it rarely is). If you’re decorating, allow at least an hour.
- Rubbish disposal.
This is a big one. One wheelie bin probably won’t cut it. If that’s all you have, you’ll need to be sneaky and see if you can put rubbish in other properties’ bins. But don’t get caught or fuck shit up for the venue manager.
Does the venue have a skip? Where is it? Can you find it in the dark? When you look at the venue, go and physically touch the bin and see if you can open it – don’t rely on a verbal description from the venue manager. Ask the venue manager: “Are we expected to empty the bins into the skip?” Some venues are ok with you leaving the full garbage bags on-site. Most aren’t. Remember: dancers make a LOT of rubbish. Mostly empty plastic water bottles.
Where are they? Can you turn them off? Could you do it when you’re totally exhausted, at 4am, in the dark?
- Is the venue clean before you start your gig?
We use one great studio that often has quite dirty toilets, so we need to allow time to clean them before the gig. If you’re cleaning toilets, you can’t expect volunteers to do it without checking with them first. Allow time for this. Some volunteers have never actually cleaned a toilet before. inorite.
- General cleaning.
Say to the venue manager – “Will we be expected to clean the venue after use? What does that specifically involve?” If that means vacuuming the whole joint (I’ve had to do that) at 4am, perhaps that is too sucktown for you and your meagre volunteer resources. If you do have to clean extensively, put that time in your running sheet. DO IT NOW.
- Venue manager contact details: get a phone number, and test it then and there. You will need it 5 minutes before the gig starts and you can’t get the front door open.
- Is the venue clean before you start your gig?
Where are the power points? Take a photo. Does the venue have 3phase power?
- Sound gear.
Look at it, test it, try it out, take photos.
What is there in the venue? Are you allowed to use it? Or move it? You will need a DJ table and chairs, a door table and chairs, and probably something for your punters to sit on during the night. Look at it all in situ, take photos of it, measure it, count it.
- How big is the venue?
Measure it. Take photos of EVERYTHING.
- Toilet paper.
Is there heaps? I usually allow about 5 rolls per cubicle, if there are 6 cubicles for the venue. So allow about 30 rolls. Yes, it’s a lot. But dancers use it for all sorts of stuff besides wiping their bums. Ask the venue: do they supply it, or do you? If it’s on-site, where is it? Physically touch the rolls, so you know it’s not locked in cupboard somewhere.
Once you’re at the venue and the party’s started, there’s more work to do. If you’re running this party, you have to manage this party. That means that you can’t just dance like a fool all night and then suddenly think at 4am “Oh shit, we have to clean up.” When you are running a party, you have to keep part of your mind on the the mechanics of the whole thing.
You need to keep an eye on:
- The DJs.
- Introduce them, thank them individually, pay them promptly.
- If you need to give them feedback, or to get them to change it up during their shift, ask them, specifically: “Hey mate, peeps are looking to dance, but they’re having trouble getting into it. Could you please drop a favourite like ‘Easy Does It’ in there in the next couple of songs?” Don’t give vague advice or vague comments like “Everyone is really tired.” That’s an observation, not actually useful advice.
- Don’t hover. Do not hover. Don’t hover. DJs are working, and unless they give you open body language that says ‘hey, talk to me!’ they won’t want you hovering – just let them do their thing. I find event managers do this quite a bit: they just. can’t. let. go. I personally find it absolutely maddening.
- Don’t kiss DJ arse. Yes, they’re great, but too much sucking up is weird. Say thank you, and tell them “You rock!” when they pull something awesome, but mostly just them do their thing. Don’t micromanage.
- The volunteers.
Have they turned up for their shift? Are things going ok at the door? Have you had a crazy amount of people turn up, leaving your door people with one million dollars in small notes to deal with? Have you thought of a cash drop process to deal with this? Who’ll do it? Where will you keep that money? Have you thanked a volunteer coming off shift? Did you check in with the new shift of door volunteers? Are you being patient and kind during bump out, even though you’re absolutely shagged and kind of grumpy?
- The punters.
You need to keep one eye on the people in the room. You might be having the best time ever, but is everyone else? Are they sitting about talking? Are they dancing like crazy fools? Are they only dancing to the slow songs?
My usual plan: I want people to have a lot of fun. If I’m running a dance, I want them dancing. Sometimes that means crazy fun, sometimes that means calm, gentle fun. I rarely aim for calm, gentle fun, because lindy hop. But a blues event is probably looking for calm, intense fun.
If people are sitting down, why? Is it because they’re tired? Did you notice whether people were dancing the last five songs, and have only just sat down? Or have they been sitting down all night? Is the room too hot? Too cold? Too crowded? What time is it? All these things will help you decide what to do next. If you want them up and dancing, you might have to suggest (politely) to the DJ that they play a favourite – ‘Splanky’ or ‘Easy Doest It’ or whatever songs works as a nice friendly invitation to dance for your scene.
But be prepared to change your ‘plan’ for the party: you might be aiming for crazy fun, but they might want to dance slowly, talk more. You might have wanted old scratchy super hot jazz, but they might be responding to sugergroove at moderate tempos… or getting their funk on with Aretha. You might have wanted calm, quiet chatting and slow dancing, but have ended up with a room full of adrenaline junkies shouting at each other and swinging out like fools.
Go with it.
- Means being able to delegate in a rational way. You need to look at a situation, assess the priorities, and then delegate jobs to deal with each issue. You can’t just do everything yourself. If you plan things ahead of time (eg estimate that it will take one hour to hang decorations), you’ll be able to put volunteers to work in a sensible way.
- My rule: be polite to all people at all times. If you are cranky, take a time out. Be nice. Smile. Laugh. Problems are interesting challenges, not fucking terrible tragedies. Thank people. Don’t get all up in their grills hassling them and micromanaging them, though – let people be competent, trust them and delegate. Take responsibility for dramas or problems: the buck stops with YOU, so step up and take responsibility. Tell volunteers to handball difficult punters to you immediately. Be a manager, not a pain in the arse.
- btw, if you are managing an event, you can’t DJ. It’s just the way things are. You probably shouldn’t teach or perform, either. Who’ll trouble shoot while you’re showing off?
Respect your volunteers and DJs. You can’t actually do this without them. They are actually more important than you are. Be polite at all times. Listen to them. Don’t micromanage, but don’t just assume they know what to do all the time. Explain clearly and simply what you want from them. Listen to their suggestions, and take them on board.
Volunteers are the people who help you promote your event. Just by telling their mates that they’re volunteering, they’re telling them that they think this event is important and good enough to be a part of. So make them happy bearers of good news, not shitty people with a gripe to share.
Also: just be a decent person, ok? Get over your issues, your insecurities, and just BE NICE.
And finally, enjoy this. Enjoy the real-time challenges and pressures. Enjoy the excitement. Enjoy the problems! Enjoy working with people. Be flexible, and able to amend your plans on the fly. Take suggestions and advice. You could be wrong – how exciting! New ideas that you don’t have to come up with!
I know a lot of people reading this will be all “Oh, that’s overkill. Chill out, man!” especially if they’re thinking about a smaller event.
You don’t have to do this sort of stuff. But I do. Because I’ve been doing this for fourteen years now, and I find that it’s when things aren’t planned out properly that people get screwed over. Me or other people. And it’s really stressful.
I’ve found that developing these sorts of processes with smaller events helps you prepare for running larger events. A large exchange, for example, is like running 6 or 7 huge parties in one weekend. Except you’re getting progressively tireder and physically trashed. So your plans are even more important.
If you have comprehensive plans, you can hand over your event to someone else. We developed this approach in the early days of the Melbourne Jazz Dance Association running the Melbourne Lindy Exchange. We were all volunteers, so we needed to be able to drop everything with no notice if our day jobs got intense, our families needed us, or our health failed. So we developed a good way of documenting our planning, and then sharing our planning. These days I use google docs to share documents: version control is gold. I use it even for little parties, so I can circulate DJ rosters, keep track of budgets, and so on.
And if you do document your plans, you can develop templates for future events. I tend to reuse running sheets, because the basic structure of a dance event doesn’t actually change very much – we still have to bump in and out, roster DJs and bands and volunteers. Same goes for budgets: complete budgets help you remember what to pay for, but they also help you remember what to actually buy in the first place. I often annotate budgets with notes about where I bought cheap beer, whether they delivered, etc etc etc. And running sheets with contact details for venue managers, DJs, and so on are just gold for subsequent event planning.
I think that planning out an event ahead of time can also help you decide whether this is something you want to do. It’s quite a lot of work the first few times, because you don’t have the time management skills, the patience and the people management skills. So it helps to see just what you’re getting yourself in to before you actually put down the cash and do the PR.
I think that your sense of scale also changes after you’ve done a lot of events. I now think of a ‘small’ band night like our Swinging at the PBC gigs with international and interstate bands as relatively small and simple projects. My idea of ‘big’ these days is a five day weekend event with half a dozen bands, international teachers, heaps of venues, stacks of volunteers and DJs. But if this your first time, a DJed party at your house might be ‘big’.
I’ve also found that the hugest events mean that you can’t give lots of attention to the tiniest things – being a proper host and welcoming or farewelling people as they arrive or leave the party. Making cute paper invitations. Planning a birthday jam for a friend. So a ‘small’ event can actually be quite detailed, and really much nicer… can you see why I’m moving away from larger events these days?
I think that a well-planned smaller, local event is much more important to a local scene than a huge exchange. It’s the everyday, cheaper, accessible local stuff that skills dancers up to run events, to social dance, and to be part of a socially sustainable community. So they are much more important. They also run on smaller budgets, at greater personal financial risk, make smaller profits, and are kind of relentless in the way they demand labour and time over and over again, from relatively inexperienced folk. But this is where we learn to DJ, we learn to be social dancers (not just social dancing, but being dancers in a social space), we learn to work with bands, we learn to create professional networks and relationships. So it’s worth putting time and care into them.
This is a post about cross-promotion, and the reciprocal benefits of not being weird about it.
Quite a few swing dance teachers and event organisers won’t mention, let alone promote, other swing dance organisations in their own city, because they don’t want to ‘promote’ another dance business. I’m always a bit surprised by this attitude, because it’s quite clear that when you cross-promote other dance businesses, you do good things for your own business. And when other people do well – particularly in term of lifting their profile in the wider community – we all benefit.
This was made particularly clear by a random facebook comment made by Duncan, administrator of Swing Out London, recently. He noted that S.O.L. (a really impressive online guide to the huge London lindy hop scene) had seen a huge spike in hits in that week, and he was wondering why. He hadn’t done any new promotion, and nothing had really changed on the site. Another commenter noted that a large London dance school had recently had some massive publicity through a tv show. I suspected that show’s audience had immediately googled ‘swing dance London’ (rather than the specific school’s name), and hit on the well-maintained, SEO-happy S.O.L, which does all the things a good swing dance website should.
Swing Out London had benefitted directly from the success and high profile of another dance project. And we can assume that so did all those other dance businesses listed in its guide.
S.O.L. is one of those projects which we should all support. It has a very clear, and well-managed listings policy, that helps users find what they’re looking for – lindy hop and other jazz and swing era dances – and it helps make clear the differences between jazz and swing dance and ‘other’ dances. This is good for people who are ‘selling’ jazz dances, as opposed to west coast swing, jive, or rock n roll. It’s also non-partisan, which means that it lists any event, so long as it fits into the swing and jazz era dances.
Yes, it might be promoting your ‘competitors” events, but you actually benefit from being listed along side your competitors. It means that you are grouped together under ‘quality’ or ‘relevant’ events, which means that punters will come to your event with expectations that match your promotional strategies and product. You’re not going to send unhappy tango dancers off into the night to bitch about your gig.
This seems counter-intuitive for people coming from a traditional business model. How could it possibly help my bottom line to encourage people to spend their money with another business?
There are a number of ways we can benefit from cross-promotion.
Punters develop expectations about your business that actually match your product and services. So, again, you won’t get people turning up expecting tango, and going home cranky to badmouth you on facebook. You’ll get punters plugging into a network to find products like the one they got at X’s event the other week. When punters start branching out beyond your little domain, they are effectively saying “I want MORE OF THIS.” So why not feed the addiction? :D .
It’s good for peace of mind. This is the reason I’m quite happy to cross-promote, and why I actively support events, teachers, bands, and DJs that I think are great. It just makes me feel good to say “I think X does GREAT work!” It’s also easier to openly support other people, than it is to pretend they don’t exist. Or to actively work to sabotage the success of their project (which is what refusing to promote or acknowledge other peeps does).
I won’t, however, promote, support, or draw attention to events that I think are rubbish. If I think a particular organiser or event is dangerous or unsafe or ethically wrongtown, I will critique it publicly. But if I just think it’s a bit un-excellent, I’ll just move on. I find that I benefit from honestly supporting stuff that I think is great. I get sent free tickets or free CDs, or I even just develop good friendships with people whose work I admire. And I usually just don’t bother trying to suppress my excitement or pleasure in something new and fantastic that I’ve found: I WANT to tell people about these things. And it’s just plain exciting to blabber about a new CD that I love, or a new party I’ve been to. As a DJ, I want other people to play CDs I love, so I get to dance to them! I want other people to hire bands I love, so I get to dance to them! I want other organisers to do well, so I get to go to their parties as a punter, with no responsibilities!
You are a lindy hopper/jazz fan/vintage nut, too. If you’re not, I’m not sure why you’re in this business. If you love lindy hop, and someone else runs a successful, top quality party, you get to go dance! If you love victory rolls and trading 1930s hand-painted ties, and someone else runs a swap meet with great products and stalls – you get to trade ties and win! If you lead a hot jazz band, and someone else runs a successful (and great) jazz band that gets lots of gigs, they’re not only feeding a hunger for good music in the community, you get to go to good gigs!
=> these scenes are all small. We all benefit directly from the success of others.
As a business, it does really good things for your reputation to be seen as open and willing to work with other organisers, teachers and businesses in the swing dance world. Conversely, being a dick and refusing to mention other businesses (either in classes, or in online conversation), or even demanding students and troupe members never attend other classes or parties (yes, this really happens!), makes you look like a dick. A number of organisations just in Sydney have reputations for being dicks because they won’t cross-promote. Word gets about, and people remember the sourness and ill-will that comes with petty refusal to wish someone else well. Particularly in the lindy hop world. And the strongest selling point we have for lindy hop is its capacity for joy.
But if you are out there in the public eye, saying wonderful things about other people, everyone will remember: you are a good stick. You said good things. You are filled with good will. And that will trickle down into your own projects. Much more importantly, saying wonderful things makes you feel good. It’s much nicer to be positive and supportive than to be nasty and selfish. Be good to yourself, ok?
If we really are a community, we all benefit from stronger, more diverse, more prolific cultural and business activities in that community. If I run parties, I benefit from another dance school teaching heaps of classes and prioritising social dancing skills in their classes. Because those peeps will then go on to social dance. If I’m a jazz band leader, I benefit from dance classes that use jazz in class. If I run dance classes, I benefit from great social dancing parties, because they give my more advanced students in particular a place to dance and get the jazz feels. If I’m a teacher, entering a high-profile dance comp with a great reputation and good media profile is really good for my profile! And so on.
But what if I have a dance business that tries to offer all these things to ‘my’ students? Wouldn’t my profits suffer from the ‘competition’? Nah, mate. Swing dancers like new and interesting things. A scene with a wide range of music, activities, events, classes, competitions, and organisations caters to that need for the new. It also helps retain dancers. And we need to retain dancers, so we can add to the ‘brains trust’ that is the average ability level and dance knowledge in the scene.
What if my party/class/event is on the same night as someone else’s? Wouldn’t their event automatically count as competition for mine? Only if you’re offering exactly the same product or experience as that other person. And why would you offer an identical product, when we’ve just noted how much dancers like new stuff? This is the interesting part of jazz dance: we are built to enjoy innovation and improvisation. So we are constantly looking for more stimulation. The more experienced a dancer is, the more interested they are in new things. They want to be inspired. Hopefully!
So you’re really only in trouble if your product doesn’t change, if it’s static. And let’s be serious: you’ll die of boredom if you teach the exact same classes, run the exact same events, play the exact same music every night forever. Think of other people’s projects as stimulation and impetus for your own development. Have you taken a lindy hop class yourself lately? Have you danced with anyone new lately? How’s your own dancing going? Are you teaching at your best? How’s your music collection? Bought a new CD lately? Been to a weekend event lately? Hired a new band?
I know that working within a recreationist community makes it feel as though we need to hang onto the past and never change things. But let’s think about what lindy hop and vernacular jazz music and dance are all about: they are about utility. About innovation. About improvisation. About change. No, you don’t have to start swinging out to One Direction to be ‘new’. You can still recreate a historic solo jazz routine from archival footage, muscle twitch by bone twist. But you also need to remember the purpose of jazz dance: to challenge and be new. To ask questions. You can use new venues, new bands, new class content, new teaching tools!, dance with new people, travel to new places, have new ideas. Jazz can accommodate that. It wants that.
If you haven’t been doing these things, you can guarantee your teaching/DJing/dancing/choreography/events are getting boring. And you won’t do your punters any favours by trying to keep them ignorant of other, more interesting stuff in the scene. You’ll just lose their attention, or do bad things to their dancing. Nobody wins. Being aware of, cross-promoting, and participating in other people’s projects will be good for you, and for your projects. Not to mention making it clear that you’re not only not afraid of and not threatened by new things, you embrace them!
Be like the tap dancers in a jam: keep good solid time. Get into that circle of life. Be accountable for your own actions. Recognise the actions of others, the value and effort of their work. You’ll be pushed to improve yourself. You’ll do better work. We’ll all benefit.
Don’t be a poo.
I’ve just had a look at the latest Swingnation video podcast, because a friend said I was on it. Yes, this was a vanity watch.
It’s kind of interesting, but I think I’d have liked to hear a bit more engagement with the issue from the three blokes, as they have such wide-reaching experience as teachers, punters and organisers. I’m glad Mike Pedroza said he has a written document setting out his teaching terms: I LOVE LOVE LOVE teachers who have these. And I have very little patience with the ones who don’t, but who do have a long list of preferences RE food, or teaching hours, or airlines.
Teachers: GET A GODDAM LIST OF TERMS.
I’m also not sure Mikey understood the point of my post: this was just a brief overview of some of the areas I’ve been working on. It should not – AT ALL – be considered a comprehensive overview of setting up a dance business! But I will disagree with Mikey: this stuff isn’t very complicated. It’s just quite laborious. But if you’re not prepared to do a little work, you probably shouldn’t be setting up a business.
I also want to make it clear that there’s a difference between a legally binding contract and a written agreement. And there are also differences between Australian states, let alone different countries, so this post of mine shouldn’t really be considered a guide for setting up a dance business in America or France or anywhere other than New South Wales, Australia.
Here, mind you, a written agreement does have legally binding ramifications. It is, essentially, a type of contract. But the strength of this contract can vary, and your lawyer’s knowledge of Australian (NSW!) arts law will be key to determining how you write, discuss, and enforce this sort of contract. Which is why I recommended the NSW Arts Law Centre for Sydney people – they can give you advice about lawyers and contracts, and they provide samples for written agreements.
That Swing Nation ep reminded me of this great video of Shawn Lavelle discussing budgets for big dance events, which I watched when someone like Jerry posted it on Wandering and Pondering. There was some interesting discussion happening there, but I can’t remember any of it, nor can I find the link. Mostly because I’m sitting in someone’s lounge room on stolen wifi waiting for a ride to my next accommodation for MLX, at the end of the week after Sea of Rhythm. I’m also listening to loud jazz on headphones, sniffing some lovely vegan muffins baking, and carrying on half a conversation.
So, here: no coherent thoughts.
Anyways, I thought Shawn’s talk about budgets was really great. I’d been meaning to make a post covering those sorts of issues ages ago, but I’d just not ever gotten around to it. Mad props, bro.
I think that more people should run dance events. I really wish they would!
My original post was partly to make it clear to people that you have all the skills and experience you need to set up as a sole trader to run your own dance class, DJing business, or performance troupe. I think that a lot of dancers get into tricky or exploitative professional relationships because they don’t feel they are clever enough or experienced enough to set up their own legit business.
I am here to tell you: you are.
You don’t have to get involved with dodgy deals to become a jazz dance performer, teacher, DJ, or event organiser. You can exploit yourself!
I’ve started my own dance business, Swing Dance Sydney, and I’m looking into various legal and financial guidelines for running this sort of business.
So far I’ve discovered some very interesting things. The least surprising of which is that most Australian lindy hop teachers aren’t operating under safe or even legal conditions. Not that surprising, right? When I started looking at this stuff, I was a bit nervous, because I’d been led to believe that all this stuff is really complicated.
It’s really easy to set up your own dance business, and run it legally and safely, and there are lots of great free resources to help you.
Key areas to consider:
Registering a business name. It’s easy. You need a tiny bit of money, a name, and a bank account. Boom. Done.
You’ll need a business structure: will you be a sole trader? An incorporated company? A non-profit? Each makes different demands, and some are simpler than others. There are advantages to some (eg non-profits have access to supercheap community venue hire; sole-traders are really simple to set up – the easiest), and disadvantages to others (non-profits are quite complicated and require AGMs, a minimum number of executives, etc).
Contracts and/or Agreements
If you are working with other people – ie DJs, a teaching partner, a venue, a visiting teacher, another teaching team in your school or business – you will need to have either contracts or agreements. These shouldn’t be verbal. They should be written down. A written agreement has quite a lot of power, and is really important for helping you keep track of who needs to be paid what and when, what you all expect of each other, who should be doing what work, and when it all needs to happen.
I already use written agreement with DJs: I write DJ briefs. I’ve explained why I take a professional approach to managing DJs in this post, where I make it clear that being a professional employer not only helps you run top shelf events, it also helps you run equitable events and secures diversity. In other words, if you don’t do things like a pro, we’ll be able to see it, because you won’t have any women DJs in your team.
A sample copy of my DJ brief:
I can send you and editable version if you like. And as you can see, I’ve cut out my phone number and the name of the event from this version. I try to take a light hearted tone in these things, because I’ve found DJs can get bloody huffy if you preach at them. I often add a ‘brown M and M clause’ to my briefs to check and see who’s read it. This is often a photo of a pony.
I also use a very brief brief :D with bands, where I lay out the basics. I sent this one last week to the leader of a band I’m hiring this week:
Hi [band leader name],
Just checking in to see you’re ok at your end for this gig.
Now that I’m past the big October weekend, I’ll start ramping up the promotions, so you may get a bit of spam on facebook – just turn off notifications in the event settings if you don’t want them.
Please let me know how many mics you’ll need, so I can sort that out.
We won’t have a sound guy, which will be a pain sometimes, but we can be casual at this gig, as it’s a smaller crowd. And there tends to be a lot of audience/musician interaction at these gigs as well, which is nice.
I’ll pay you $[pay rate] on the night, before the gig, and put a tab on the bar and in the kitchen for your drinks and food. The kitchen does good vegetarian stuff, but let me know if anyone needs vegan/wheat free.
Make sure you bring CDs to sell! We can handle that at the door for you.
And do let me know if you want some friends put on the door.
Just to double check the running order for the night:
5.30 venue opens, and we can do the bump in. I’ll arrive to do the set up.
6.30 we have a dance class, so we’ll need to have the band bumped in by then (you can eat dinner in this spot, or later or earlier!)
7.30 the class ends, so you can begin, though we can just pipe in some DJed music if you want to start at 8pm (we can be casual about timing)
8.10 band break 1 (if you start at 7.30)
8.30 band set 2
9.10 band break 2
9.30 band set 3
10.30 the venue has a sound curfew, so we’ll need to have the sound finished by then.
Thanks, and see you in a few weeks!
Sometimes when I write these, I feel a bit uncomfortable for being such a stickler for formalities. But over the years my experience with organising DJs and volunteers, working with venues, hiring teachers and sound engineers, and even just sorting out dance troupes’ performances at a regular dance have made me realise that you do need to set all these things out clearly. It’s when you don’t state things clearly that a) people fuck up, b) there are misunderstandings that make people ANGRY, c) you get screwed over, d) people try to bully you into doing stuff you don’t want to do. If someone objects to an agreement like this, I don’t work with them. Flat, that’s my rule: you don’t accept this agreement, it’s not on.
As an organiser, it helps me to have a summary of a negotiation or bargaining process, and it also helps all of us stay on the same page. I have had people try to renege on these deals, and I have had people try to bully me into not using these agreements, or into deviating from them. No. I won’t do that. There’s quite a bit of bullying in the lindy hop world, and I have zero tolerance for it.
It turns out that you’re legally required to have these agreements when you run businesses in the arts. UNSURPRISE.
The Arts Law Centre of NSW provides templates for agreements on their website, which is fantastic: it can help you figure out how you should word things so everyone is protected, legally.
If you pay people or deal with people in situations where money changes hands (that’s you, dance people), you’ll need to think about tax (income tax, GST, etc).
Most dance business won’t need to worry about GST. You don’t have to collect if it your net income is less than $75000 per year (ATO reference). So you don’t need to deal with BAS forms or any of that rubbish, in most cases. Easy.
Contractors, Employees, and their ABNs
If you’re paying people, they’ll need to be a) employees, or b) contractors. If they’re contractors, and businesses themselves, you’ll need to collect their ABN. If they don’t have one, you can have them sign a non-declaration of ABN form (technically a ‘Statement by a supplier (reason for not quoting an ABN to an enterprise)’ form: ATO reference.) This is cool, and applies to most of us doing day-to-day work in the dance world: if you’re a hobbyist (ie this isn’t your main job), or if you’re being paid less than $75 for the work.
But what if they’re a band, and you’re paying them more than $75? Then they’ll need to give you their ABN. If they don’t, you have to withhold (and pay!) up to 46.5% of the value of the pay – as a non-declaration tax! EEEK! So, bands: get an ABN.
Insurance, Workers’ Compensation and OH&S
If you are dealing with the public, you’ll need insurance. This sounds tricky, but it isn’t, really. You can organise public liability insurance for your dance school for $300 or less with one phone call, effective within 24 hours.
Once again, there are approximately one million great resources for dealing with this stuff.
The most basic insurance you’ll need is public liability insurance. This protects you from other people’s legal action, and nothing else.
You can also insure your students against accident, for a reasonable rate (about $4 per student per year, which you can absorb if you’re a club and the students are paying annual fees). You can also insure your teachers against accident.
Work Cover and Workers’ compensation
Ok, this is where we need to kiss the unions right on their faces for a) all this wonderful stuff, and b) also providing fantastic information about doing the right thing by your workers.
Firstly, who counts as a worker?
Anyone you pay money to. So teachers in your school, DJs or bands at your dances, sound engineers at your gigs. And even, conceivably, volunteers who receive payment in kind (ie free entry). So if you’re running a party or teaching classes with someone, you need to think about this stuff.
If you are paying workers (whether employees or contractors), and you are paying all of them more than a total of $7500 per year, then you MUST have Work Cover.
[EDIT: this doesn’t apply to you if you’re a sole trader – only pty ltd companies need to consider work cover. If you have questions about this, give Work Cover a call – their numbers are on their websites, they’re very nice, and each state is different.]
If an employer pays workers more $7500 per year in total for all wages, (in this next bit I draw and quote directly from WorkCover):
…they are required by law to have a workers compensation insurance policy (Work Cover ref)
In the event of a workplace injury or disease, the insurance policy will provide the worker with weekly benefits, medical and hospital expenses, rehabilitation services, certain personal items (eg. clothing and spectacles, if damaged in a work-related accident), and a lump sum payment for permanent impairment.
An employer is a business (including an individual) that employs or hires workers on a full-time, part-time or casual basis, under an oral or written contract of service or apprenticeship (Work Cover reference).
Occupational Health and Safety
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your workers. These involve a number of things, summed up as a) keeping the workplace safe; b) educating workers about safety; c) documenting injuries, d) reporting injuries; e) actively working to prevent injuries.
So let me make that clear: if someone has an accident at your dance or in your class or at your event, you are LEGALLY REQUIRED to make a record of it.
After all this fun stuff, you’ve really only got two other important things to do: get a PR strategy happening, and make a business plan. Which are the fun bits!
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:
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:
160 It Don’t mean a thing
120 Squeeze me
150 Lady Be good
130 Don’t get around much any more
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
140 Honeysuckle Rose
170 Brand new suit
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:
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):
– begin at 120bpm
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
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!
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.