Responding to comments: how do you deal with an offender who’s not committed an offence at your event?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

how would you address eg a DV or restraining order in your creation of safer spaces?

This is a bit like responding to a report about an offender, where said person was offending/had offended in another city. This actually comes up quite regularly, and is the follow up issue to ‘how do we report someone’: ‘what do we do with someone who’s been reported?’

I personally have a zero tolerance policy. If you have committed an offence in my class/event/city, and I have a report, then you are banned from all my classes and events forever.
I know that other people work with offenders to rehabilitate them, but I personally figure I only have a limited about of time and energy, and I’d much rather put that energy and time into supporting the people who don’t harass or rape people, and into my own work (eg if I’m working on s.h. stuff, I don’t have time to DJ, social dance, work on scripting performance, etc etc). In shorter Sam talk, “Fuck that shit. I ain’t got time for that.”

So when someone is reported to me for an offence in another city/country, I take I take it very seriously:

  • I find out as much as I can (though I never ask for the name of the reporting person. I’m totally ok with anonymous reports, because I prioritise the safety of reporters above all else);
  • If I get the heads-up from someone who isn’t in my trusted network, I find someone who is in that network and ask questions;
  • I am very careful to maintain confidentiality, and that means I don’t name the reported offender unless absolutely necessary;
  • Once I’ve got confirmation, I send that person an email telling them that they’re not welcome at my events (I list the events specifically), and that they will be asked to leave if they do attend. If they refuse to leave, the police will then be called. This email is an important part of developing a defence against an accusation of defamation in the future. I send an official email and ask them to reply. I don’t need to respond or follow up on that reply.
  • By the timee I get a report about a person in another scene or city or country, they’ve already committed a number of offences and have assaulted/harassed a number of people.

Note: if you do send someone an email/message/text/letter naming an offender, you may be liable for a defamation case, as it constitutes publication of defamatory comments. So a phone call is better (though it’s still not a ‘safe’ option). I take a calculated risk on this: I am prepared to pursue this to preserve the safety of my myself, my friends, my students, my peers, my teachers, my musicians, everyone. I have clearly set out my own limits, and I stick to them.
I also have a lawyer who specialises in defamation law in NSW, and is very helpful for developing strategies. I speak to her about twice every six months, and this costs me $$, which I’m prepared to spend.

If someone is notifying an organiser in another city/country, they need to be very sure that person will also be working to keep the reporter safe, and won’t tell the offender all the details. They also need to be willing to keep the person notifying them safe (offenders are often aggressive, bullying types who will threaten people who band them or report them).

So I prioritise:

  • Keeping myself safe
  • keeping the reporter safe
  • keeping the person working as an agent/intermediary for the reporter safe
  • Keeping other people in the community safe.

I figure, as with a restraining order, the reported person/offender has proved themselves a demonstrable risk, so I notify them officially that they are not to attend my events/classes, and that the consequences for attending will be X, Y, Z.
I find they often don’t try to attend anyway, because they’ve figured out that I will jump on that phone and call the police immediately.
I will not be bullied or pushed around. And I definitely will not let them threaten other people. Hell no. That’s the stuff that makes me super white-cold-furious.

When will I call the police?

I don’t notify the police about reports of sexual assault. Reporting to the police is a harrowing process for women, and we rarely come out of this well. After the past year of negotiating legal options, my opinion is that the Australian/NSW legal system is not able to protect women reporting sexual assault. So I leave that decision to the woman reporting the incident.

I will hop on the phone and call the police immediately if a known and banned offender turns up at my event, whether it’s at a public venue or a private venue. I have the local police stations’ phone numbers, and I’m more than willing to call 000.

I also have a procedure for responding to these people in person:

  • They turn up at the door and try to pay/enter
  • a volunteer lets me know (they don’t try to confront the person)
  • I tell them that they need to leave: “You are not welcome at this event. You will leave now, or I will call the police and have you removed.” (I practice this little script)
  • Then they either leave, or I call the police. They must leave _immediately_, or I call the police. If they have paid, I hand them their money (to save hassle, though I’m not required to).
  • I do not confront them, I do not touch them, I do not allow anyone else to touch them or engage with them. I make sure they see me watching them. I say nothing more than the script.
  • While we’re waiting for the police, I observe them, and I make sure no one engages with them. By this stage, most of the staff will have noticed them, and are avoiding them, and making sure other people avoid them. If they interact with anyone, I ask that person to come with me for a drink. I have noticed that other people will intervene to ask that person for a dance/talk, whatever.
  • After all this, we write a report, and I notify other organisers.

Note: thinking about all this and working on a real-time script is really distressing and tiring. So I am very careful about when I do this work, and I make sure to debrief afterwards. I speak to a psychologist about this stuff, as it’s highly distressing to deal with in real time, and across a lot of incidents.

Responding to comments: can’t we just ask people to be decent to each other?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?

On this particular topic, I can think of two examples of huge events that have a ‘just respect each other’ code of conduct. That’s all very well in theory (I mean, we all do just want people to treat each other decently), but it’s useless when someone comes to you at a dance in tears to tell you about Person X who’s just grabbed them in the parking lot.
Both of these events have since proved to be covering up for and enabling serious offenders.

To my mind, a code of coduct needs a few parts:
1) an overall statement of values.
What do you really value and want in your event/project? Good music? Kindness? Zero waste? Live music only? Ambidancetrousness? Historical accuracy? Welcoming all folks regardless of sexuality, ethnicity, age?
-> This value statement helps you make decisions about what you want and don’t want at your event. eg Zero waste isn’t a huge priority for me, but it might be for the Green Dancers of Sydney*

2) A definition of s.h./assault or racism, or whatevs it is you want to target in your code.
This should be based on the legal definitions of your city/state/country, but also expand to include other things you value.
-> eg the Green Dancers of Sydney literally want zero waste, so no pooping on site.

3) A process for making a report.
Including how to make the report, and what happens afterwards.

4) A list of consequences for offenders/offences.
What will happen, and who will enforce them.

Most organisers and teachers and so one have a code of conduct and that’s it.
The better organisers (eg MLX is the total best and leader for most of the world) has all four parts, and is on to THE THIRD OR FOURTH ITERATION.

Once you have to start addressing these issues, you realise you need a process for taking and sorting reports, a policy for how long someone should be banned for, some legit research into the local laws.

And THEN you figure out you need a way to script and train people for these interactions (what do you say when you kick someone out?), you need a way to keep training up to date, and you need some way of sharing information about this stuff (eg a database or resource kit).

Once you’ve done this for a while, you realise…
WHAT A LOT OF WORK.
And you need support for your safety workers, debriefing, etc etc etc.

Incidentally, most Australian and NSW businesses are legally required to address all these issues in their business plans. This is one of the reasons why going legit, rather than ‘just being friends who run a party’ is a good idea – you have access to help in putting together this sort of material.

Ongoing issues:
– this is a top-down response to incidents, which doesn’t change any of the power dynamics in our community. It just means we’ll get a steady stream of offenders we get really good at dealing with.
– most scenes have found that there’s a sudden rush of reports once a safety policy is set up, as the ‘backlog’ gets dealt with, and then the reports slow.

Things I want:

  • Someone to put together a ‘kit’ for safety champ processes, so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Eg the Dace Safe Korea people have BRILLIANT research on offences in their city. How did they collect this data? How does it compare with Sydney?
  • A shift towards the local ‘safety champ’ peer network instead of the ‘scene leaders solving problem’ top-down process. I want to see local peeps powered up to care for each other, not people just shifting responsibility onto a few powerful people.

I think we are all responsible for each other. That’s why I teach lindy hop the way I do: we’re in love for three minutes. So make it happy, safe, consensual love where we all get out happy. :D

*not actually a thing.

Responding to comments: is gendering offenders a mistake?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?
…Over-Genderising the issue is arguably perpetuating the inequality that causes these things to occur in the first place. The tone is set that we expect less from men.

I have just wanted to shout “JUST STOP BEING POOS!” so many times. It just wastes so much time and energy for us to have to come up with a bunch of processes and guidelines for preventing and responding to sh/a, time and energy we could better spend on DANCING.
But it just keeps happening. WHAT is wrong with these people?!

So far as gendering goes:
I think this is a very good point. At this stage, internationally, the vast bulk of offenders identify as cismen, and the vast bulk of targets/reporters identify as women (including non ciswomen).
This is representative of figures outside the dance community – it is a definite fact that most assaults and harassment are perpetrated by cismen, and women and girls are the majority of targets. The follow up fact is that men and boys are also targets for offenders, but that they under-report.
We also know that boys are probably as likely to be assaulted and harassed as girls (and I’m talking children and young teens here), but are far less likely to report than girls.

So we can say that sexual harassment and assault in the dance world reflect patterns in the wider community.

Offenders are prevalently cismen.
This aligns with what we know about how power works in our communities. I find it more useful to think of sexual assault and harassment as acts of power and abuse first. Acts of power that have sexualised settings.

What I will say, is that the dance world has been spectacularly quick and effective in its response to this issue. Within a year of Steven Mitchell being reported, we had codes of conduct and working response processes around the world. That is INCREDIBLE. And SO fast!
This is partly our challenge: we’ve gotten onto these issues so quickly, we can’t keep up with ourselves!

Australia is certainly in the lead for safety prevention and response. We are just bloody GREAT at this. It also means we’re inventing stuff as we go, rather than getting to learn from other scene’s efforts. TIRING.

I actually think Sydney is doing a truly fabulous job. Teachers across the city can speak calmly and reasonably together on this topic, they share information and resources and collaborate on efforts. That is truly crazily good work for a city with ~10 different teaching bodies and events.

I give a bunch of credit to the fact that Sydney started getting serious about lgbqt inclusiveness ages ago (still not 100% good yet though!), has leads and follows of all gender variations (still not 100% there either!), and is relatively multicultural.

I’m also really excited about the fact that Sydney has stopped relying on a top-down approach to safety (where business owners make and enforce decisions) to a flatter approach to safety (where individuals take care of each other and tell offenders to get lost).

I’m really really proud of everything people do to look after each other in Sydney. It’s really really wonderful.
But one night a week dancing struggles against a whole culture.

Responding to comments about my post ‘Stalking: online and face to face harassment’

I address some issues raised in response to my previous post, Stalking: online and face to face harassment.

Every man will feel like they’re being watched.
I hope this is true. Because they need to realise that they will be held accountable for their actions. I like to think of it more as men will feel as though they are being held to account for their actions. As Teena says, women’s behaviour is constantly observed and assessed.

The men reading this who are harassing won’t listen and consider changing.
I agree with this in part. Some men, for sure. But I’ve seen a few reports lately where it’s not clear whether the men realise what they’re doing is not ok. I’m kind of flabberghasted by how few men realise that a woman saying “Please stop touching me,” or asking their friend to ask him to stop touching them

New dancers will see this and feel threatened and not come back.
…I’m not sure about that one. Most of the women targeted by these men _are_ those newer dancers. So hopefully, it might help them realise that this behaviour isn’t ok, no matter what these men say. Some of the newer dancers I’ve spoken to or have reported stuff to their friends, etc, have said that they didn’t know what was normal or not….
But I think this is a good point.

This harassment happens to men as well as women.
I think this is an important point, but in my post I’m talking specifically about behaviour men’s behaviour towards women. It’s a deliberately gendered discussion. Not all of these men are actually straight or sexually interested in women. And by ‘women’ I’m including girls and anyone who presents femme (and I specifically include trans women _as women_ here). But this topic needs much more attention.

I’m certain men are also harassed and assaulted _by men_ (because these behaviours in the dance scene reflect what’s happening in the broader community), but I’m also certain these harassers use different strategies. I haven’t been dealing with any of these reports, and I haven’t heard any reports from friends overseas. This doesn’t mean it’s not happening, it just means we haven’t found a way to make it possible for these men to report.

Women do harass and assault, but in this post, I’m specifically speaking to _men_. Again, we will see different behaviours by women harassing other women and harassing men.

Stalking: online and face to face harassment

NB this post is part of a series:

Hello!
This year I’ve received, on average, about a report per month of men harassing or assaulting women in the lindy/blues/bal scenes. Which puts us at about 9 for the year so far.
Most of these reports have been about Australians, and most of them have been about men in Sydney. Yes, including who are part of this facebook group. Yes, if you are harassing women, we have seen you, and we have written reports. Even if you are hassling women interstate.

Most of these reports have been about harassment. So I thought I’d write a quick bit of info for the men in this group who’ve been harassing women.

The most common report is about a combination of face to face and online harassment. So, here bros, stop doing this stuff (especially to brand new dancers or young dancers):

  • Asking a woman for her phone number so you can ‘Help her find out about dancing’ the first time you meet her at her first dance. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Immediately facebook friending a woman you’ve just met at a dance and then sending her HEAPS of messages, commenting on all her posts, tagging her a lot, asking for her phone number, address, dates. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Taking photos of her and then posting them online and tagging her. This is epic creepy. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots (ie more than 2) facebook messages within an hour or two, or a day or two. If she doesn’t reply, or doesn’t send the first message, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots of texts. If she doesn’t reply, doesn’t send the first message, or responds only with emojis, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Demanding a woman reply to messages and texts, and getting angry or upset/saying how sad you feel if she doesn’t answer your messages IMMEDIATELY.
    This is crap. STOP IT.
  • Driving her home after a dance the first night you meet her, then ‘dropping in’ at her house randomly afterwards. This is hella creepy. STOP IT.
  • Asking her about her relationships (boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends), sex life, or intimate history. This is CREEPY. STOP IT.
  • While dancing: holding her too close and then passing it off as ‘a blues hold’ or an ‘experienced move’; touching her inappropriately (on her breasts, buttocks, groin, upper legs – you know what we’re talking about). This is really gross. And other people in the room see you and will do something about it. SO STOP IT.
  • While dancing: Physically lifting or pulling a woman into a dip, lift, or jump, even if it seems ‘small’. This is not respectful or safe. STOP IT.
  • At dances: touching too much. Unwanted cuddles or hugs, massages or ‘dance lessons’, constant ‘platonic’ touches, hand holding, ‘accidental’ touches. If you haven’t asked for and received permission for this stuff, STOP IT.
  • Continuing to do any of these things if she’s asked you to stop, or said something like “It’s a bit full on to get so many messages.”

NOTE: We SEE YOU. Other people in the room see you doing stuff that isn’t ok. And they will do something about it. So STOP IT.

— CONSEQUENCES —
If you’re doing this stuff, you’re going to get busted. What usually happens:

  • you get warned,
  • you get banned from local events,
  • you get banned from interstate and international events.
  • bans are enforced by security at events, and all event organisers are very willing to call the police if offenders try to turn up anyway.
  • yes, organisers and teachers do talk to each other about this stuff, both within Sydney, and between states and countries.

— PROCESS —

  • The woman/women you’re targeting speaks to their friend who then speaks to someone like me who organises events, to a teacher, or to a dancer who’s been around for years.
  • This person then tells you/the harasser to stop that shit, or they tell a person who can do something about it (eg an event organiser).
  •  You get an in-person warning, or an emailed warning. If it’s from me, you will get an immediate ban from all my events and parties.
  • The organiser/friend will tell other people, including other organisers and DJs in other cities and countries, who will then ‘watch’ you or warn you when you visit their town.

It is common for offenders to threaten the woman/women they’re harassing if they ‘tell someone’ about this.
Most organisers have a process in place to keep the reporting women safe: a friend or agent does the reporting, and the woman stays anonymous.

NB: most offenders harass more than one woman, and we are finding more women are reporting now.
Most offenders are seen by _other people_ who then report them. Yes, other men will report your behaviour.

— SOME DEFINITIONS —

  1.  “Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”
    (ref: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/…/…/guides/sexual-harassment…)
  2. This can be online or face to face.
  3. Face to face harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):
  • Staring or leering eg Staring at a woman while she’s dancing or talking;
  • Deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching eg Squeezing past someone to get to the water dispenser, touching her while she’s talking to her friends, holding her too close and in a sexual way during dances;
  • sexy or sexualised comments or jokes eg asking a woman about her sex life, or how often she has sex, or about her sexual preferences;
  • insults or teasing of a sexual nature eg making jokes like “X likes it a bit risky don’t you?”
  • intrusive questions or statements about your private life eg “Who is your boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend? Why isn’t he here?”
  •  displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Showing women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos on his phone at a dance;

4. Online harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):

  • displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Sending women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos of sexualised vintage wear to women via facebook, suggesting she wear this outfit or would ‘look good in this’;
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • inappropriate advances on social networking sites eg lots and lots of messages on facebook, or text messages, asking for dates, or asking invasive questions about her private life;
  •  accessing sexually explicit internet sites
  •  requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates eg Asking a woman to come for coffee after dancing, or to go for dinner before dancing.
  • behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications. eg groping a woman’s groin, buttocks, or breasts while dancing, forcing kisses and ‘cuddles’ at the end of a dance or at the end of a night of dancing.

If you are resisting addressing sexual assault at your event, you are actively enabling it.

The thing is, the only possible reason for aggressively resisting addressing sexual assault at your event is that you’re an offender. I’d add ‘or you’re actively concealing offenders’, but that’s pretty much par for the course. Aggressively resisting addressing sexual assault prevention and response processes conceals and enables offenders.

If you don’t develop policies for prevention and response, you leave the actual work up to your people on the ground – your volunteers, your door staff, your ‘middle managers’. And because they don’t have a clear policy guiding their decisions, they’ll be forced to either develop their own policy, or respond in an ad hoc way. You’ll also be making _them_ entirely responsible for OH&S at your event. Which is fine if that’s their job – OH&S officer. But if they’re the Registration coordinator or the head chef in the kitchen, then that’s not appropriate.

None of us are just naturally born knowing how to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment. In fact, many of us are trained by our families and home cultures to _avoid_ addressing these issues. And women are even further trained to be _afraid_ of addressing these issues, trained to perceive themselves as the ‘natural’ victims of assault and harassment. But despite this training – this socialisation – women in the lindy hop world have started figuring out how to respond to and prevent assault and harassment. And done a pretty darn good job. Our time line has been relatively short, from the public reports about Steven Mitchell to this moment. It’s been less than ten years. We’re pretty bloody good at this.

So if you want to run an event well, just as with decisions about what food to serve, and what to charge for tickets, you train your staff, or hire staff trained in these particular areas.

In the lindy hop world, we now have a fairly large body of first hand experience with dealing with s.a/h specifically in dance communities, _as well as_ a whole range of literature and training from other social spaces and bodies. And we are very, very good at learning and working in collaboration. It’s the one defining feature of the modern lindy hop world: we specialise in learning how to touch each other.

So why not offer your staff support and direction with a clear policy? If you’ve hired the right people, they can then go on and develop specific processes, training, and support for your event and your staff.

As I said above, the only reason to _not_ actively address these issues is that you are an offender attempting to conceal and enable your offences. The other implicit or explicit consequence of your inaction or resistance is to conceal and enable _other_ offenders.

But as a final point, I’ll also add:
Even if _you_ discourage work on these topics, your staff will be working on preventing and responding to sexual assault and harassment. Because dancers are reporting offences and expecting your event to be safe. And that is a reasonable expectation: that we will be safe at your events. So your staff are already acting on these issues.
The key issue then becomes: will you support their work, and provide them with the resources to do this well, or will you get in their way and fuck shit up?

Class ‘content’

We’ve just finished a six week long beginner lindy hop block. This whole block could be summarised in one hour (as we did tonight) with the below points. If I had time, I’d also list the specific class plans we had for each individual class.

Specific dance stuff:
– gliding (dancing in closed with no particular rhythm), aka floor craft, partnering, leading and following, comfortable closed position, finding 1, stopping and starting independently;
– circles, aka a specific rhythm (which someone pointed out tonight is 2 x 4 counts) with a specific direction and shape – leads leading and follows following, efficient and deliberate movement through space, being able to choose a smaller step size, etc;
– swinging out from closed position, aka knowing where ‘halfway’ is in a circle (on count 5 or after the triple step), continuing rhythm, leading with your body and the physics of rotation, understanding how far to go away from your partner;
– jazzing in open, then re-starting again, aka keeping time and changing between a single time rhythm and a step step triple step rhythm, leading in from open using your body, following in from open;
– using rotation again to ‘catch’ the follow, making contact with your body to follow the lead;
– combining the two to make an open to open swing out, with or without time jazzing in open, aka hearing 8s, phrases, keeping time, swinging time, etc, improvising, changing rhythms;
– charleston on your own (and using the groove to transition between the two);
– moving from a circle into side by side charleston then out again (using the groove to keep time, knowing when to change, using your body to change direction and suggest a change in rhythm, recognising changes in your lead’s body movement, maintaining a rhythm until it changes);
– the kick through in side by side charleston (how to lead by moving your own body – kicking in and out, pivoting on one foot, pivoting on one foot and turning, a new charleston rhythm, etc etc)
– leading the whole group in a big apple, in turn (hearing the phrase, knowing how to prepare for, then pass the turn to your neighbour, knowing how to pass without stressing, understanding how to lead a move successfully for a group, etc)!
– moving through space (rotating partners!)
– swivels, boogie back and forward, itches, push it, push it out, etc, rocking, and many other jazz steps.

Learning skills:
– learning-by-watching;
– working with a partner;
– dealing with not getting it right first time (aka patience and perseverance);
– i-go you-go learning style in pairs and in groups;
– sticking with a task (no matter how ‘simple’) and refining it;
– working with a range of partners of different abilities, and finding the fun;
– knowing how to stop, chillax and find the groove, then restart and start dancing again with many different partners (esp after ‘making a mess’);
– working on a problem or challenge before asking for help (independent and team problem solving);

Social skills:
– how to ask for a dance, how to accept one, how to introduce yourself;
– how to ask a partner how to change how they’re touching you, how to accept that comment from a partner;
– stopping, then chillaxing, then restarting with a partner to manage stress or making mistakes;
– staying calm and cheery under pressure, and accepting challenges and obstacles as a useful part of learning, without getting angry or anti-social;
– respecting partners’ bodies, and when they ask to stop, change, or adjust a physical contact;

Musical skills:
– finding the beat;
– swinging the beat;
– finding the 1;
– finding the 8;
– accenting 2, 4, 6, 8 (as in boogie back);
– difference between 20s and 40s jazz and how it affects charleston emphasis;
– finding a phrase (consciously and also implicitly);
– recognising a 12 bar blues and 32 bar chorus format;
– finding the right place to start in the music, then getting started and dancing;
– moving between different rhythms (single time, half time, step step triple step, charleston, a range of other rhythms) in partners and alone as solo dancers, and also as solo dancers with a partner;
– being able to recognise, retain, then repeat a given rhythm (as in I-go, you-go);
– being able to transfer a rhythm from clapping to different parts of the foot, to stepping, to physical movement through space.

They learnt so much!
I’m also happy that I’ve learnt how to rethink a class and course structure. I used to teaching thinking ‘ok, what moves will we teach’, and now I can think ‘ok, what skills do we want’, then develop a class that fosters these skills implicitly (rather than through lots of talking). But still uses and shares historic vocabulary and musical knowledge.

Teaching: follows’ skills

Someone asked in the teaching group this week:

Planning a workshop focused on follow mechanics. What skills do you think separate great follows from good follows, and how would you train those skills?

There were some interesting comments from people asking if there would be leaders in the class (yes), a male lead chimed in to say how much he learnt as a lead participating in this type of workshop, and there was general chat about how to run this sort of thing. All fascinating.

Me I tend to feel that leaders and follows have very similar goals and skills. I do think of leading and following as very distinct roles within the partnership, though. Leaders have the map, the follow is driving the rally car. The leader points out a side road ahead, the follow decides whether to turn, how fast to turn, whether to u-turn etc. An approach I learnt from Jenny and Rikard. So my response below reflects this.
I also see this question as a consequence of a general push in lindy hop teaching to address follows more directly in class.

[comment]

Things I might look at with follows:
“You are responsible for carrying the beat, and for maintaining your own rhythm. Don’t sacrifice that for the lead.”
This means that you take the steps and move across the floor in a way that feels like the music, and is also a choice. So not always reacting to the lead, but completing each movement, giving each piece of the rhythm the right amount of time, whether it’s a quick weight change or a slow one, a tap or a jump or whatever.

“Know what you are doing.”
This might not be a conscious brain thing, but your body should be making confident choices about your movements. I _choose_ to echo my lead, to synch with them, to add something new. Just as I _choose_ to echo the music, synch with it, or add something new.
This is about being PRESENT in the dance. I am right there in the moment, in my partner’s arms. I’m not predicting the next step. I’m there, with them. Emotionally, physically, rhythmically.

“Both partners find a shared sense of groove.”
This means that it’s not the follow’s job to just ‘match’ the lead. It’s both partners’ responsibility to listen, express their groove (ie dance, not just ‘wait’) and find a nice ‘connection’ (both physical and social – communicative). I think of it as ‘taking the measure’ of a partner before you start to do moves.

“If leads call the rhythm, follows respond.”
In the first few steps of the dance, a leader might ‘call’ step step triple step, or step-step kick step, kick kick-step with their bodies: swing out or charleston. As a follow, I respond to this. I might (as I describe it), listen for a second, and then say “ok, yep, I’m on board with this” and then pick up that rhythm. I hold that rhythm until the lead suggests a change. eg I hold down that step step triple step until the lead suggests a new one ( eg step-step kick step, kick kick-step).
I think of that as the first sort of ‘finding consensus’ part of a dance. As a follow, I say with my connection and facial expression, “Ok, I’m paying attention. Where would you like to start?” and then we do that rhythm together. It’s like the lead lays down a time step, and I get on board and do it too. Until we change it up.
From here, as the music changes, and I get the measure of my partner, I may add in rhythms – ‘call’ a rhythm. The lead can ‘get on board’ by joining in, or by listening, or by holding down that time step/basic rhythm while I improvise on top. It’s all good. But the the type of relationship you have with that partner depends on who you are as people, what the music says, how you feel, etc etc.
So as a follow, you pay attention to how the lead is feeling about all this.

-> As a lead, I don’t want the follow to just copy everything I do, and try to synchronise with me. It makes me a bit sad (and frustrated, really), as a lead when a follow apologises for ‘not getting it’. It’s ok. If we’re together in our embrace, we can do completely different stuff below the waist.

“The follow’s feet are their own business.”
As a lead, I don’t try to tell the follow how to get from point A to point B. I do NOT demand they synch up with me perfectly like I’m the boss. NO.
I might suggest the speed and direction, but they choose whether to maintain that, change it, do something completely different. Because I expect this active response from the follow, I have to pay lots of attention: with my eyes and my body.

“Take care of your body.”
If it hurts, let go. Stop. A lead who clenches your hand when you’re trying to let go is bad news. Leads: if a follow wants to let go of your hand – “Let it go, let it goooooo!”
You want a nice, natural posture with a neutral spine and engaged pelvic floor as default. Don’t ‘stand up straight’ or ‘squat’ or whatever as default. Your natural resting position should be whatever feel right for that dance with that partner. That first moment in closed, hearing that song will tell you what you need to be safe and ready. From here you can adjust or engage or disengage muscles as needed. You don’t have a ‘frame’, you have a lovely system of muscles and veins and bones and things, that you use in lots of different ways to respond to lots of different signals in the music and your partner.
So you want to be able to choose what to do when, not default to something out of panic or habit. So being mindful of your own body, and really present, is really important.

-> learn to read the signs. Sore shoulders? You may be tensing up in your upper body. So soften your knees, think about your pelvic floor, let your arms swing, maybe reorient to your partner from squared up to 3/4 profile (or whatever). See how that feels now. One sore knee? You might be overusing that leg, so perhaps make sure that the other leg is being placed on the ground clearly and with purpose.

etc etc etc. Basically, observe, accept, be ok and safe.

“Check in with your partner”
Visually – look at them! How do they feel? Are they smiling?
Physically – do they feel ‘on’ all of a sudden? Are they relaxing in their muscles? etc etc
-> use your observation skills. Don’t worry about the next ten beats, be right there in this beat, with this person.

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More talk about consent and blues dance: the consequences of trauma on discourse

In a continuation of the discussion begun by Damon’s post, Kelly posted a lengthy, intelligent piece on facebook. This one was only visible to friends (not everyone), so I won’t copy and paste it here. But she did begin some interesting discussion about being a white woman engaging with this topic. I chimed in there in a less careful tone than I would on Damon’s post, as I know Kelly better, and I wouldn’t splash my feels all over the page of someone I don’t know.

Anyhoo, this is how I responded:

While i can get behind the statement, ‘Some historic blues dance styles are defined by a close embrace’, i cannot endorse the line that walking through the door at a blues dance event _is_ giving consent for a closed embrace.
Whatever the history of a dance, drawing an equivalence between those two points is rubbish.

I’m also very unkeen to just recreate the past. Honour our history, yes, but i’m not just going to give a blanket ok for wholesale reenactment of ‘history’.
I go to dances with my brain and eyes open. One of the most important parts of the cultural transmission of dances between generations, communities, and cultures, is adapting them to make them socially relevant. That’s why canel walk in 1930 and camel walk in 2018 aren’t exactly the same.

So i’m saying it bluntly: even if the historical ‘truth’ was that you (women, it is implied), give up the right to withdrawl consent at blues partirs, i am NOT ok with that now. And i do not want to revive or preserve that little nugget. And i sure as shit won’t tolerate retrosexist bros who use this ‘history’ to enable contravening women’s rights.

No punches pulled there, right?
But I’m finding it so difficult to stay chilled on this topic.

A couple of black men responded, but again I won’t cut and paste their comments here, as they weren’t publicly visible. When a post and comments aren’t public, we assume that the authors assume a degree of anonymity or ‘safety’.

But I did continue, after some thought, with the following post. I think it best sums up by difficulties in dealing with this topic. It’s so, so hard to unpack privilege and assumptions about race and ethnicity when your brain is being pounded by the effects of vicarious trauma.
Lately the topic of intergenerational trauma has entered Australian discourse about indigenous Australian rights and compensation. Part of me would like to talk/write about the physical consequence of trauma and violence (and living with the threat of violence) for people trying to participate in public discourse. Basically: it’s fucking hard to be calm and coherent when your brain is pouring adrenaline through you. And I think that this is why we need allies. We need people who have the privilege and advantage of not being physically threatened by patriarchy to do some heavy lifting.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I get so upset about this particular point. I understand with my brain, but then my emotions just come raging in.
I think it’s an old school trigger. I have heard men use exactly this argument -“It’s a blues hold”, “Relax and go with it,” “This is how you do blues dance” – when a woman asks them not to hold them so tight it hurts, not to touch their breasts or groin, or gets so upset they cry and leave the dance. I’m dealing with these men in my local dance scene at the moment.

So when I hear just the beginning of this sentence, it’s like a switch gets flicked in my head, and I hear those women literally crying, ashamed, and telling me what the man said as he held her down and groped or assaulted her. Repeatedly. “Relax. It’s a blues hold.” It’s line built for gaslighting.

I know I feel this way because I’m dealing with vicarious trauma from working on so much s.a. and harassment stuff. But my brain isn’t in control here. My emotions are.

At this stage, I simply can’t accept this approach. As I type this, I’m starting to feel a bit distressed. But right now, I’m 100% not ok with even getting anywhere near supporting or even taking apart this argument to see how it works.

I’ve also been wondering: am I doing some low-key racism here? Am I policing a topic for my own privilege? I’m not sure. I do know that I’ve heard white male offenders appropriate the ‘this is authentic black history’ argument to justify serious harassment, as social dancers, and as teachers, _teaching_ other men that this sort of behaviour is legit. And that makes me super, super angry.

So I’m going to sit on this for a while until I don’t get so seriously triggered. Then revisit it.

When do you give consent: blues dance and historical context

Damon Stone, a high profile black male blues dancer recently made this post on facebook:

Blues dance post following –

Asking for consent before dancing in close embrace. If you are at a blues dance and someone asks you to dance, the expectation is that you are going to do blues, be it freestyle or a specific idiom…if they say yes, that *is* consent for you to dance in close embrace.

Like all other activities and aspects of consent, such consent can be withdrawn at *any* time, but if you do not want to dance in close embrace with someone politely refuse the dance. If you don’t want to dance in close embrace with anyone, then, respectfully, find a different dance.

EDIT: This is assuming two things, 1) that the person is dancing correctly, 2) that not every single blues idiom dance is a close embrace dance, but blues idiom dances use close embrace as their starting position.

I read this post in light of the recent (and most excellent) comments by black women about white blues dancers (which I note in my post ‘Stop Dancing’), and ongoing about how to negotiate consent and avoid sexual assault and harassment in the contemporary blues, balboa, and lindy hop scenes.

My response was as follows.

I think there are a few issues here for me as a dancer and observer:
– One is the history of blues (and we are talking about a dance that includes a very close embrace – just as tango does),
– One is the different current cultural contexts of blues music and dance around the world today,
– And one is the different notions of consent and negotiated physical contact in different cultures today and then.

I think this statement is problematic:

If you are at a blues dance and someone asks you to dance, the expectation is that you are going to do blues, be it freestyle or a specific idiom…if they say yes, that *is* consent for you to dance in close embrace

Why?

Because people take this statement and this concept at face value. As a relatively experienced dancer, I know what it means: if I go to a blues party at Damon’s house, I should expect some pretty close physical contact. I’ll be able to tell a bro or a woman to back off if I’m not ok with what they do, but I should expect a close embrace (vs no physical contact at all, as at a tap jam).

But an awful lot of people take this sort of dance etiquette and map it onto their relationships throughout the dance world. An awful lot of men and women are trained to expect this: that a woman or man must say yes to a dance invite, a close embrace, a partner doing as they like with our body. Because an awful lot of people don’t know how to touch other humans with respect.
In my world (fuck, in Trump’s world), men expect to touch women as they like, women expect that men will try to touch them without permission, and learn to avoid that in a non-confrontational way. Men learn to exploit this and exploit women.
So when we go to a blues dance, some people need to be told, explicitly: you don’t get to do what you like to your partner’s body. You have to ask permission.

I’m rolling my eyes too. For fuck’s sake.

Blues as a historically-rooted dance comes from black communities, where notions of how to touch and when to touch and who to touch were something black kids learnt growing up, engaged with as teens, and then continued to negotiate and renegotiate as adults.
These ideas of ‘appropriate’ touch, how to ask for permission to touch, how to reject touch and so on weren’t monolithic across black communities in the US. I mean, there’s that iconic story that Frankie Manning told about imitating his mother dancing by dancing with a broom and getting into big trouble. The implication here is that dancing that way was something adults (sexually mature people) did. And they certainly didn’t do it across generations (part of his mother’s reaction was no doubt to do with the fact that Frankie was watching his mother, not some random woman, in an intimate embrace).

So we have generational differences then. We also have generational differences now. And young women regularly police the boundaries of when old is ‘too old’ to dance intimately (and sensuously) with (“eee gross! He is too OLD for you!”)

Then of course, we have different regional differences (country v city, city v city, etc), and different class differences (eg the super close intimate dancing has long been associated with ‘low’ culture, and wasn’t appropriate for huge, cross-generational dances in ‘polite’ company).

In all those spaces, people figured out what was appropriate and what wasn’t. A good slap would tell a man if he’d crossed a boundary. From that woman, or her brother or father. And then a series of stern frowns, lectures, and ‘punishments’ from a world of aunties and grandmas and mothers.
But, for many dancers today, blues dancing isn’t situated in that close community network. Their aunty is never going to know what they did at that party and come after them with a broom. There isn’t that inter-generational education about how to touch and be touched on the dance floor.

Blues dancing today also exists in lots of different cultural and social contexts, with all sorts of attendant social mores and modes of behaviour. We are at this moment having very public discussions about the role of race, cultural heritage and who gets to police these values. Who gets to speak in these discussions, who gets listened to, and whose words last are subject to broader socio-political forces.

I’m saying this not to be patronising (I know you all know all this), I’m saying it to signal that I’m aware of these issues. I need to talk context, and I am aware of the bigger issues, and the intensely personal issues at hand.

But I think that one of the voices I’m not hearing in many discussions about blues dance (and how to touch a partner on the dance floor) is black women’s. I think that Cierra’s Obsidian Tea piece about dating is really useful here, for me (as a white woman in another country). It says, ‘Hey, mate, your rules of physical intimacy may not apply here. Pay attention.’ So I’m paying attention.

BUT there is also an ongoing contribution from black women talking about their rights to decide how and when they give consent, and to whom. As a full-on example, a queer black woman at a blues dance not automatically give consent for a man to hold her in a closed embrace. Nor does a straight black woman. They might not need to give and receive verbal consent, but they certainly have a right to set boundaries about their bodies.

So I figure: in this moment, when we are renegotiating blues and lindy hop, we don’t assume anything about how we touch other people’s bodies. I might go to a tango practica expecting to be held and to hold in a very close embrace. But each dance that I have in that session will involve some degree of negotiation. I might invite a close embrace, but I might also reject it. I might end a dance early. I have a right to do all these things with no notice, both on and off the dance floor. How I do this depends on the traditions of that scene, and my own social skills (or lack thereof).

In my culture (white woman in urban Australia), women are strongly discouraged from publicly embarrassing men. To protect their own bodies, but more to protect the reputations and status of that man. So we are trained not to slap a handsy man on the dance floor (though goddess knows I’d like to). We’re trained not to say “STOP THAT” to that handsy man on the dance floor. We’re trained not to move away from that handsy man on the dance floor.
And I don’t know what a black woman my age at a party in Chicago would do in those situations either. I’d probably watch and learn, and ask my female friends questions, and figure it out. But I’m in Australia, and I’m white. So I’m figuring it out long distance. And this is why I really really want to see black women talking about how they do this stuff.

We might sensibly assume that if we go to a blues dance or event that is advertised (or described) as a party in the sense of the historic blues idiom, that we might be doing some close embracing on the dance floor.
(which I think is your original point, Damon?)

BUT I think that we should never assume that we can embrace someone or touch someone without asking for and receiving consent to do so. And to continue to check in and to see that our partner is ok with this. And being prepared to end the dance ourselves if our partner isn’t into it, or if our partner wants to end this.