We are all good dancers: in praise of jazz and critique of jargon

Lindy hop is a social dance. That means that ordinary people already have the skills they need to do this dance.

Our job as teachers is to just to remind them of this. Because they knew this when they were children.
If we ‘correct’ students and use jargon to make something simple complicated, they feel bad and think dancing is really hard. Dancing isn’t. Lindy hop is really simple.

So I just don’t use that ‘tension/tone’ paradigm for understanding lindy hop. I just have three rules:
take care of your partner
take care of the music
take care of yourself.
Done.

Sheryl asked this good question on fb (as part of a discussion about rough leads and safety):

What difference do you think different terms like tone/ tension/ activate/ turning off make? Honestly to me the main difference I think of between tone and tension is how muscles feel when exercising vs when my muscles are sore. Which is tension is my muscles doing the same thing just one is when it shouldn’t be.

I don’t really know how to address that issue using those terms (I’m just not good enough at this stuff). Mostly I just reject that entire paradigm. I don’t think of dancing that way, so I don’t use those words.

But from the POV of teaching new dancers, when you say ‘tension’, they interpret it using their own experiences (and many of them won’t have done any serious or consistent exercise or training). So they’ll think ‘tense’ as a bad thing, and recreate a tense, tight muscle. Same with the word ‘frame’: they’ll think of a picture frame, or the frame of a chair – something fixed, solid, unmoving, unchanging. And that’s absolutely not what we want in lindy hop. Or humans.

I don’t like ‘tone/tension’ because it’s applied to all muscles and all actions in the same way. It also makes it clear that students know nothing and must rely on their teacher 100% to learn to dance. It also makes classes very wordy and focussed on talking rather than dancing. I want students to figure things out on their own. I want them to know that they have the skills they need to learn to dance: they know how to hold someone in their arms, how to find the beat in music, how to stand on one leg, how to walk, how to look at someone, how to take care of someone. They’re also brilliant pattern matchers so they’ll figure out rhythms and patterns quite quickly. And most importantly: this is FUN. It’s dancing, not maths.

So I prefer to come at it from the opposite direction.

What do you want them to do?

Hold hands? Then ask them to hold hands, but hold hands like they’re holding hands with their elderly nanna who needs some support, but is still an independent human being. So gentle, but reassuring. Or like they’re holding hands with a little kid who needs direction because they get distracted, but knows how to walk. Or hold hands with someone they want to move around a small confined space with to music. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE DOING.

People know how to do this. And they understand the difference between holding hands like that and holding hands so tight it hurts someone. In our classes we then follow up this sort of instruction by saying “Check in with your body. Look at your hands. Are the knuckles white? Too tight a grip. Are your shoulders sore? You’re working too hard.” And we say “Check in with your partner. Look at them. Do they have a scared face on? Are they angry? Is their hand clenched really tight? Change what you’re doing and see what response it has.”
Or as Frankie would say: “You are in love for 3 minutes.” So you look at them, you look at them with admiration. Which orients your body towards them and gives you good ‘dance posture’ and connection, but also tells you how to hold their hand. You wouldn’t yank your beloved’s arm out of the socket. You look at them and interact with them.

We know how to do all this.

So we want them to hold hands with intention. We always use the example : you want your follow to come with you. So you lead them. It’s like you’re saying ‘hey, let’s go to the snack table!’ and you lead them to the snack table with purpose.
This way you get to the important stuff: moving your body first, holding hands, moving with purpose, making sure you take them with you. And there’s corresponding stuff for follows.
The rhythm is just the tool for moving you around the floor. If there’s no room to move, you dance on the spot. A fancy rhythm is just a fancy way of walking. And the music tells you what rhythms are nice, and paying attention to your partner gives you inspiration and marks the parameters of this dance.
The other people on the dance floor give you limits: a crowded floor means you do smaller shapes. A floor full of noobs and drinkers and kids tells you to be super safe. An empty floor lets you stretch out. You adapt.

Too many dancers learn a set of figures in class in a ‘perfect’ studio environment. Then when they social dance they just try to reproduce those moves in the same way on the social dance floor. Which isn’t sociable at all.
We need to use all our potential as flexible, responsive, reactive, creative improvising humans. Not just reproduce the same figures the same way all the time, regardless of song, other people on the floor, or our partner.

(This is where I rant about leads who only like follows who execute their moves perfectly: they’re not good leads. They’re very limited leads. So those guys who hurt you demonstrated an inability to change what they were doing to suit their partner’s needs and body and creativity. Same with follows who think a ‘good lead’ is a lead who only leads complex series of moves that work perfectly.)

I think that in lindy hop we focus too much on our arms, rather than thinking of our arms as a medium for a message. They’re like the cables that signals coming from our core pass through to reach our partner. They’re not the place where signals begin. Our arms join us together. They’re just one of the ways we share rhythms: we use our eyes (which is why I don’t like exercises where we close our eyes in class), we use our bodies, our ears, our connection with the floor, and then we use all the points where we touch, not just our arms or hands. And then finally (or first of all) the music connects us: we have a shared sense of time that keeps us together. Even when we’re not touching and can’t see each other, we know when to come back together – the 1 or the phrase or the bridge tells us!

So in nerd terms, I want relaxed, alert but not alarmed arms. Much more importantly, I want my weight on the front part of my foot (but not tippy toes), I want a neutral spine (so my bum muscles can relax unless they’re needed), which means my bum can be ‘out’ (to give me better ‘squat’ posture to engage my core and protect my knees), my knees are soft, my upper body is open and directed towards my partner. My embrace (closed position) is an embrace, where I touch my partner a lot (ie the follow isn’t clamping my bicep with a vice like grip) and our bodies make a v-shape at the closed side.
I’m aiming for relaxed contact, as relaxed as I can. But my pelvic floor is ON.
But these are ideal conditions. If I’m constantly working towards this ‘ideal’, I’ll never get there and I’ll never enjoy dancing. I’ll never be ‘good enough’. We are all good dancers, and we can all do this, right from our first class. We need to accept that we are all different, with different bodies (not this mythical ideal), so we see these variations as creative posbilities, not limitations.

To be honest, I don’t think a dance class is where you learn this muscle stuff. I think you need to do pilates or good strength training with a trainer to learn how to turn muscles on and off, and to be more efficient. Then you go to dance class. Just as the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers all had active physical jobs and lifestyles (because young, working class, African American people) during the day. Most lindy hoppers today have desk jobs, or less active lifestyles, so we’re working with a different physicality.
But none of that matters if you’re not focussed on becoming a competition winning queen.

Because I’m rhythm-focussed rather than move-focussed, I want that relaxed connection to let the signals move through my and my partner’s body so we can communicate. I don’t want to have to micro-manage my partner’s movements. I can have a most excellent dance with just circles, closed position, gliding. We needn’t even get into open position. And you can do that with anyone.

But when I’m talking to beginner dancers, I don’t give them all that talk. It’s just a bunch of words and too much info.
We demonstrate how to do closed position by hugging our partner then turning slightly. They mightn’t do that (too intense for a first class), but they see the example.

We demonstrate open position by holding hands then moving away; the connection is made by the distance, not by ‘tensing’ our muscles. It’s an active connection because our cores are on, and we have a 3/4 orientation to our partner (ie not facing away, not squaring up).

I don’t say all that, though, I just say, ‘look at your partner as you move into open’ and that keeps them at that 3/4 orientation towards their partner, and keeps their heads up, which keeps their shoulders open and the signal from their core through their arms unimpeded. If they’re comfortable with the rhythm by then (which they usually are), doing that rhythm will turn on their core and allow their upper bodies to relax a bit. If they’re having fun they will be relaxed.

If the follow doesn’t move into open, I ask the leads, “Did you stop moving? If you stopped moving, the follow will stop too.” And they realise they’d stopped the rhythm and were standing still.

If I want more core engagement, I don’t say ‘turn on your core’, I get them to do a one-legged jazz step (charleston), or ‘shake it down’ (ie Frankie’s bum jiggle into the ground). Because those steps require core engagement for balance and control – you can’t do them without your core on. Or I distract them with a joke so they relax and laugh and suddenly: core is on. Laughing: core activation. If they’re super tense so their partners can’t feel their core, I let them dance for a veeeery long time with that partner so that they stop being worried and relax. Talk. Enjoy the music.

If they’re too tense in their upper bodies and dragging their partners around, it’s because they’re relying on their partner for balance, and are not hauling arse. In other words, a rough, yanky lead is not moving their body enough, and is relying on their arms to drag the follow into position. If instead you haul arse and move yourself, the follow will come with you because it’s just the easiest option: “Come to the snacks table – they have ice cream!” Skye is a good example of this, so is Sakarias, and so is Frankie. They achieve great shapes by moving their own bodies first, which creates interesting shapes by the time the follow moves.

I think jargon works as exclusive language. It shuts people out of dancing. It gives power and privilege to the people who ‘know’ these words. And I don’t like that.

Make your code of conduct practical

…I hope my earlier post made it clear that this post is meant as an example of how we can apply existing laws and guidelines to our community?

I’ve been looking at, and thinking about, just how useful codes of conduct are. They’re great as a statement of intent, but if that’s all you do: state your intent. Well, who cares. It’s important to take the next step and apply the theory to practical examples.

eg in our SDS code of conduct I set out the broad ‘statement of intent’, then the code, then the actual sexual harassment policy.

It’s simply not enough to say ‘be excellent to each other’. You have to explain what ‘being excellent’ means. Just as you can’t say ‘use common sense’, because we are from lots of different countries, cultures and backgrounds. There is no ‘sense’ or meaning common to us all. So you need to be clear:

Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour (sexual or otherwise) which makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated.
– This means it’s ILLEGAL to hold a dance partner very close if they don’t want to be held.
If someone says they don’t want to dance, and you insist, touching them and pulling them, it is harassment.
Avoid ‘boob swipes’, touching a partner’s bottom, groin, upper legs – you know the deal. If you accidentally do so, apologise immediately. If you do this repeatedly, you will be warned, if not ejected from the event.
(from the SDS code of conduct)

I also feel that it’s not enough to just say “DON’T DO THAT!”
You also need to say, “YES! DO THIS! THAT’S RIGHT!”

How do I avoid sexually harassing someone?

Ask for verbal consent: “Would you like to dance?” “Would you like a drink?” “Would you like to take a walk?” “Would you like to come back to my place?” “Would you like to have excellent, consensual sex with me?”
(from the SDS code of conduct)

If your code of conduct is just a bunch of words you’ve cut and pasted from someone else’s, you won’t be able to think through the situation to this point. Take each line of your code: can you apply it to a practical situation? If you can, do you have a practical response to people who contravene these guidelines? And are you 100% ok with what you’re saying?
You should be 100% ok with your code, and you should feel passionately about it.

If you’re an event organiser and not acting on safety, you’re a dickbag.

Ruth reposted this great post by Miranda on fb today:

If you are an advanced dancer, you are probably a scene leader. If you check out of important safe space conversations, you are complicit in reinforcing toxic behaviors. Not taking a stance, is a stance that it’s cool for messed up things to happen.

These conversations need you to participate or don’t be a role model. Oh and if you’re a good dancer, you’re someone’s role model.

I agree. Completely.

A friend had tagged me in their comment to this post, and asked me to comment on how to not be a dickbag organiser. He didn’t use the word dickbag. That was me. Because if you’re not acting on this stuff, you’re a dickbag. A bag of dicks.

This is what I wrote:

I have a bunch of things I do (with regards to safe space policies and practice), but I don’t really have the brain space to outline it here.

But there are two parts to this issue:
1) preventing harassment through cultural change (eg how do you teach students, what do you model on the floor, what type of teachers do you hire, etc AND dismantling current power structures like unquestioning adulation of teachers, and top-down authority networks.);
2) responding to s.h. and assault.

You can’t not address this issue today. a) because be a good person, and b) it’s bad PR to be a dick. No one will attend your events, you’ll get a bad rep.

My current concern:
The men who offend are not my big concern.

I am concerned about the people (organisers, fellow teachers) who protect, defend, and enable these men.
I am seeing patterns of behaviour in event organisers who actively protect known offenders, and often enable them. Particularly if they are famous teachers. But they also dismiss reports about ‘less famous men’ because it simply doesn’t have the impact that reporting a ‘famous teacher’ does.
This is what truly terrifies me.
And it’s common and truly upsetting.
They’re not protecting them out of ignorance; many organisers know these men offend, they simply don’t think it’s such a bad thing. And they would rather defend their profits and profile than defend the safety of their students and peers.

So that’s what I’m working on right now. The things I look for when ID’ing rape apologists and enablers (usually a combination of these, with the general result being that it shores up the power of the organiser):

  • lack of code of conduct;
  • a code of conduct that’s been cut-and-pasted from elsewhere and clearly hasn’t been thought through and has no clear ‘voice’ reflecting that organiser/body;
  • no transparency in prevention and response strategies (ie they won’t tell you what the process is);
  • focus on ‘letting the police handle this’ and official legal recourse where women have to report assaults, but they don’t actually assist women in this;
  • talk about ‘private issues’ and framing assault as ‘sex’ or ‘bad sex’ rather than physical assault or attacks;
  • focus on ‘common sense’ to stop people offending;
  • wanting to ‘hear the other side of the story’ or ‘talk to the man’ rather than believing the reporter;
  • wanting a meeting where the reporter and offender meet ‘to discuss this’;
  • refusal to admit that it happens at their event;
  • wanting to handle this on a ‘case by case basis’ where they ‘speak to’ the offender (vs a broader policy with transparency and clear consequence and preventative strategies);
  • statements like ‘women make false reports to hurt a man’s career’. We all know this isn’t true;
  • tatements like ‘if they were raped, why didn’t they tell me? If they didn’t tell me, it wasn’t such a big deal.’

All this keeps the power with organisers and offenders.
Codes, policies, and transparency change the power dynamic, so that we are all responsible for each other and can act on offences; not just one powerful person.

How to approach this issue, as a decent human:
1. Learn about s.h. and assault, from the laws in your country to the info provided by rape crisis centres.
2. Be prepared to be upset, and get your support networks in place. This is upsetting stuff.

More generally:

You have to have a code of conduct. Even if you call it your ‘mission statement’ or ‘vision’ or ‘manifesto’. It’s a public statement of your values and the ‘rules’, and you have to be specific. eg actually explain what counts as sexual harassment in a dance setting – eg hands too low on backs, etc.

Now you have a code, how do you tell people about it? Website? Flyers? Posters? Hand outs?

Once you have a code, you realise that you need consequences for people who break the code. ie do you ban? Do you warn? How do you escalate responses (eg when do you ban vs when you warn).

Once you have consequences, you realise you have to have a process for delivering and then enforcing your consequences. Who will do the warning? How? Paper or email or f2f? How do you keep that warner safe while doing that job?

Develop a process, script, and role for this. Then practice it all.

Once you’ve banned someone, do you tell other organisers? Is it a lifetime ban? Do you take on a remedial role for that person, or do you just get rid of them (I’m in the latter camp – I’d rather give my time to people who are nice than people who hurt other people).

If you have to warn or ban someone, how do you keep track of who did what? You’ll need a reporting process. Who writes the report? When? Where? What happens to that report afterwards? Do you have a report form? Where is it? How many copies do you have? How do you safeguard anonymity and safety?

Safety. Mine. Other Women’s.
At this point the biggest priority for me, having done public reports about known offenders in the Australian scene, and actually being active on this issue, is the safety of women who’ve been assaulted/harassed, and my own safety:

  • my physical safety (I have been threatened for speaking up);
  • my legal safety
  • my financial safety
  • my mental well being (it’s fucking stressful and exhausting)
  • knowing my limits: how far do I go in protecting women who reports assaults; how far do I go in reporting? How much will I do before I say ‘ok, this is enough; I’m too tired/scared.’
  • protecting the anonymity and safety of reporters. I find that EVERYONE wants to talk to these women – to ‘verify’ the story, to know who they are (as if that matters), etc etc etc. This is partly straight up sexism (people simply don’t _believe_ women).
    I have also found that the offenders want to ‘talk to’ the women reporting them to ‘work it out’. This means they want to bully or threaten them into shutting up. Remember that assault and harassment is frightening and physical assault: people are injured. So protect the reporter.

Actually illegal things that lindy hoppers do

I’ve just been reading this post, Jeepers, peepers, what to do with your creepers by Dan Newsome, and I was struck by a particular list, where Dan lists things that contribute to a situation being ‘unsafe’ (there are other lists (sexist, creepy, coercive, etc).)

Just plain illegal
– Seeking physical affection from another person when that person is inebriated or otherwise incapacitated
– Drugging
– Using threats
– Using physical force
– Continuing to contact someone when they’ve drawn a boundary
– Having relationships with someone below the age of consent

This bit rang a bell for me, because there are many cases where lindy hoppers excuse this behaviour.

‘Using physical force’: The ‘rough’ lead.
All of us know a lead who is so rough he routinely hurts his partners. Yet our response is women either avoiding him or tolerating it. A lot of dancers excuse the rough lead as ‘a beginner’, or ‘just how he is’.
But if we won’t tolerate a stranger physically yanking us about in a cafe, or a man grabbing a handful of our flesh in a supermarket, why do we tolerate it in during a dance? When we say yes to a dance, we aren’t giving our partner permission to hurt us.

If you’re teaching lindy hop, your number one priority should be safety. People come to dance classes knowing how not to hurt people. So if they leave your dance class having hurt people, you’re responsible for that.
If you see someone hurting their partner, say something to them! You don’t have to be a teacher or a famous person. Make a polite script, practice it, then do it.

‘Continuing to contact someone when they’ve drawn a boundary’: keeps asking you to dance person.
If someone says ‘No thank you’ when you ask them to dance, deal with it. Be ok with with that.
If you don’t want to dance with someone, it’s totally ok to say “No thank you,” and leave it at that. You don’t need to give a reason or excuse.

If you see someone hassling someone to dance (the ‘dragging her onto the floor guy’, the ‘needy pleading girl’… and vice versa), say something. “Hey mate, be cool.” You don’t need to step in and dance with that annoying person (though we often do this). Australian slang has the perfect expression for stepping in: “Steady on, mate.”

(mis)uses of power in responding to sexual harassment

A clever point was raised in the teaching swing dance fb group I’m part of.
This group has an excellent vibe: mutual respect, constructive talk, be nice.

Here is a question asked by one member of this group (I’ll keep her anonymous in case she needs to be, but will happily add her name later if necessary).

…there has long been a culture of “dominance” and coercive sexuality based on dance prowess or fame … in the swing scene. And it is absolutely tied to the rockstar status within subcultures.

What do we do to shut down the rock star culture, while still honoring those who are stellar teachers? What can International teachers do to take the focus off them as celebrities while the community at large promotes their contribution to dance and their value as teachers? (and I suppose we need to ask this of the competitor population, too, but I think the crossover population is the actually the one in question)
In conclusion, what can we each bring to our pool to help build a better community that supports our often juxtaposing desires?

This is what I wrote in response. The first paragraph is the most important, I think.

I don’t think the dance world is any worse than the rest of the world for assault and harassment. I actually think we do quite well on reporting and responding – hence the number of reports coming up in the last two years since we saw the public response to Steven Mitchell.

We are quite active and getting well organised in Australia, with almost all events and schools having codes of conduct, and a few events having really, really good response, reporting, and prevention strategies. Vivi Kalman and her MLX safety champs crew are well and truly leading the way on this.

Despite the awesomeness of some organisers, we do have some recalcitrant bastards who are either supporting accused men, or refusing to act beyond setting up dodgy cut and past codes of conduct.
But, well, baby steps.

We’ve also found in Australia that most reports of assault or harassment haven’t been reporting high profile or powerful male teachers. Offenders all sorts of men, most of whom are operating ‘under the radar’ for event organisers, but are well known among the more ‘intermediate’ or general dance population.

Personally, and as an organising person, I am much more worried about organisers and other teachers who cover for offenders. There is clearly a culture of hide-and-ignore protecting high profile male teachers who sexually assault women. There were certainly organisers who protected Steven Mitchell, and we have seen that other teachers protected Max Pitruzella.

So while I’m all for undoing some of the hero-worship and unquestioning adulation for teachers, I’m actually much more concerned about the way organisers protect known offenders. I think that organisers gain a lot of status from ‘getting’ the A-list teachers, and I know that organisers also risk money and status when they put on an event.

I’ve also seen that the worst offenders are booked by organisers who run events with exploitative conditions: underpaying or not paying teachers, DJs, staff; not making workplaces safe; overworking staff and volunteers, etc etc etc.

So I think that one very important way to combat this issue is to think of sexual assault and harassment as issues of power and exploitation (not sex), and that they are just one point on a spectrum of exploitation. So to prevent assault and harassment, we need to address broader issues of power and exploitation.

eg if you don’t run your event legit (eg don’t get visas for teachers, don’t pay tax, don’t pay people properly, don’t invoice properly), you’re less likely to call the police if you an assault is reported at your event. I’ve seen organisers botch things very badly when assaults are reported. eg letting an offender ‘apologise’ to classes before putting them on a plane. That’s a whole series of unethical and illegal actions there.

And one of the biggest issues in all of this, is that inexperienced people run events, and don’t know about half the issues that need addressing – from music use licences to OH&S, and beyond to writing agreements/contracts and how to manage people.
The dodgiest teachers (and why are there so many in the blues scene?) target these inexperienced people, saying they’ll pay their own flights over, if the local person puts on an event. The local person feels super flattered, puts on the event, and then all manner of bad shit goes down.

Flat vs heirarchical power in safe space discourse

Following on from my last post, Conflict or Bullying?….

There are technical definitions for harassment, abuse, and bullying in various government or medical literatures. But I’m finding these aren’t as significant as the perception of these differences within the dance world.
For context, the last two years since Steven Mitchell was openly outed as a serial rapist and sexual offender, have seen dance scenes around the world leap into action to develop policies, processes, and practices which respond to and prevent sexual assault and harassment. This could be referred to as ‘safe spaces’ discourse in the scene (even though many people don’t use that phrase).

Now that we’re two years in, particularly in Australia, where we’re actually a little ahead of the game, we’re seeing people moving to a next stage. How to maintain these processes how to support and care for safe space workers, how and when to lift bans or enforce stronger measures. We’re also seeing organisations exploring formal legal options and advice, and in Australia, there is a general movement towards coordinated efforts. A sort of loose national consortium or more accurately loose network of communication. This means that various bodies and individuals who run events, teach classes, or are active in their local scenes are talking about these issues and sharing information and resources.
In an activist sense, we’ve moved from agitate to educate and are now into organise.

We can say that there is, on the whole, a very general (though not comprehensive) agreement that we need to address sexual assault and harassment in the scene in an active way. This is quite a different culture than the one I wrote about in 2011 in A Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities.
I think this is a very good thing.

We are also seeing another interesting (and occasionally frustrating) issue developing: dancers are beginning to talk about and act on a range of anti-social behaviours, but they don’t always (rarely?) share the same understanding of ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’, ‘conflict,’ and so on.
Two of the key issues seem to be: what do we take responsibility for responding to (as institutional bodies)? How do we respond to various behaviours? And what is our scale for ‘anti-social’.
So, while we’re all on board for ‘improving safety’, now we’re seeing clear differences in how people think ‘we’ (as a community) should respond, who this ‘we’ is, and when it should happen.

I’ve seen two general groups of thinking:
1. Peeps who would like to preserve a hierarchical, top-down power structure, where we have powerful people (organisers, teachers, etc) who respond with authority to incidences and reports.

2. Peeps who would like to see broader cultural change to undo some of these hierarchies, so we have a flatter community power structure, and more people feeling powerful enough to intervene in unsafe situations, or to stand up for themselves and others.

I’m in the latter group.
I’ve noticed that people in the first group are very focussed on processes of reporting, ‘punishment’ (from ostracising/banning to police intervention), and essentially maintaining the status quo.

People like me, who are in the latter group are much more focussed on doing things like changing the way we teach dance, and on building class cultures where students do stuff like ask each other to dance in class (and know how to say yes or no, and how to deal with either response), know how to say ‘please move your hand’ or ‘I’m not ok with that’. For a lot of teachers, one of the important parts of this approach is to rethink the lead-follow dynamic, from changing the emphasis on heteronormative gendering (where men lead and women follow) to shifting from moves-based dancing (where leads lead a zillion moves in a row and follows execute them), to movement-based dancing (where both partners interact in a more collaborative way, with an emphasis on rhythm and the music rather than executing moves. The ‘ambidancetrous’ movement is a part of this latter group, but also what I think of as ‘gentle teaching’, where classes are less focussed on mini-routines, teacher-centredness, and class ‘levels’. A ‘gentle teaching’ approach focusses more on social dancing skills in class (eg students counting themselves in, lots more music in class, etc etc etc).

I’ve talked a lot about teaching, but there are other projects that have similar goals (cultural change) and aren’t focussed on teaching. A good example is a very wonderful shift away from school-organised parties in Sydney, and towards individual- or friend-organised parties. This has meant that we’ve seen lots of smaller, more collaborative parties in the last couple of years, where the people putting the events on work with friends and aim to have fun. My favourite part of this is the collaboration with musicians. Whether they’re blues musicians, gypsy jazz bands or swing bands. From a nerdy music POV, I’ve seen that these bands rarely work from written scores; they tend to do more improvised stuff, and there’s more to-and-fro between musicians in the band, and between musicians and dancers. It also seems that musicians like these gigs a LOT more than the other type of gigs.

I really like the second as an example of cultural change, as we see a move away from centralised hierarchies (with power and decision-making centred on one or two people) to localised, flatter hierarchies (where decision making can by done by anyone, and anyone can run a party, and we attend because we think it sounds fun, or because they’re our friends, rather than because we feel institutionally obligated).

One of the interesting parts of the second approach is how Sydney (as my working example) has integrated safe space practice and discussion into this culture. If we are localised (rather than centralised) and we have lots of people making decisions, how does a code of conduct work?
Things I’ve seen in Sydney:
– people share resources and ideas
– people are saying ‘I am personally responsible for my friends’ and my own safety’. And I see men saying this too. So individual people are feeling engaged, rather than relying on a powerful person at the top of a hierarchy to ‘fix things’.
– there’s more communication between individuals running parties, but also between people who are working on events in other capacities. eg the people who managed the door at Jazz with Ramona this past weekend also manage the door at other parties and events, and they are taking their experiences with both groups’ safety policies and growing a practical, tailored approach that works in both spaces.

I really like all this stuff.

But a clear consequence of these two general groups of thinking has been some clashes in ideas about who should do what. And about what ‘counts’ as harassment, bullying, or conflict.

So, right at the end here, I’m actually in favour of shunning or ostracising in some cases. The most obvious of these is when groups of women say ‘no thank you’ when a known groper asks them to dance. They feel confident enough to say no without justification. And they are making it clear to him that they are the bosses of their bodies, and his antisocial behaviour has had consequences.

If those women had chosen instead to make a complaint to a powerful person, who had then ‘warned’ that man, then those women remain disempowered, and the organiser has the power.

Of course, in this environment, knowing when to do formal bans, warnings, and escalation of responses is a more complex issue. And this is where I (and a few friends all over the world) are now: how do you use official roles and processes in a flatter power structure?

Hence my interest in understanding the difference between conflict (which I think is inevitable and ok – especially as it teaches us how to manage conflict in healthy ways) and bullying/harassment.

Conflict or bullying?

As we move on with our responses to sexual harassment in the dance community (and I’ll brag about just how well Australia is doing), we’ve come across some stumbling blocks as well. This is something I wrote on fb today, thinking about how we think about conflict. I’ve written many times about my own approach (and why I’m ok with swearing).

What is the difference between bullying and just arguing or conflicting with someone? This issue is particularly relevant in the lindy hop world atm, as we are developing shared definitions of harassment, abuse, violence, and so on. Understanding the Difference Between Bullying and Conflict is a nice little reference for kids (which is always a good place to start, as it means the language is good and simple and helpful). I’ll draw on it below.

1. What is conflict?

Conflict is a struggle between two or more people who perceive they have incompatible goals or desires.
Conflict occurs naturally as we interact with one another. It is a normal part of life that we will not always agree with other people about the things we want, what we think, or what we want to do.
Most conflicts arise in the moment because people of the same relative amount of power see the same situation from two different points of view.

2. What is bullying?

Bullying behavior is very different from conflict. It is behavior that is intended to cause some kind of harm. The person doing the bullying purposely says or does something to hurt the target of his/her behavior.

There is always an imbalance of power (physical or social) or strength between the person doing the bullying and the target of the behavior. The person doing the bullying make be physically bigger or stronger or may be older or have greater social status or social power than the person being targeted.

Not bullying:
The last part – about imbalances of power – is the most important.
So if, for example, I and a woman teacher of my age and relatively similar status in the dance world have a shitfight on facebook, it’s not bullying; it’s conflict.
Unless one of us persists in attacking – again and again and again – even after the other has backed off.
It’s not bullying if we exchange a few barbs and then move on.
It’s not bullying if we both have access to influential modes of discourse (ie we speak and people listen), or if we both have similar financial or social influence in the same space.

Is bullying:
If, however, I started hassling a brand new woman dancer who was much younger than me, commenting on all her fb posts, sending her fb messages, and telling her she’s wrong, disagreeing with her, calling her names, being aggressive and patronising, then it is bullying. Because my status as a teacher, experienced dancer, DJ, organiser, and general Speaker of Opinions mean I have more support and power in the dance scene than she does.

Kate responded to my fb post with a link (and some qualifications) to this piece, The Bully Label Has to Go.

It’s a good follow-up piece. I responded

But the label is not likely to stick to anyone in a position of organizational power; it will stick to the person that those in organizational power want to eliminate — the whistleblower who is “too negative,” the high performer who is “too demanding,” or the target of discrimination who is “always complaining.”

This bit is interesting. I’ve been thinking about the effect s.h. activism is having on the women and men I know in the dance scene. Basically, it’s exhausting them. Because they face vicarious trauma (reading and hearing and listening to stories of quite horrific stuff), it sometimes feels like this is an un-stoppable behaviour in men; there’s so much resentment and refusal to act or change bigger organisation and institutional structures to make positive change.
So I’ve been seeing more and more of my activist friends all around the world, men, women and glorious other, reduced to illness, exhaustion and tears. Most of whom were never activists before, but are mostly just caring teachers who want to do something to protect their students.
Me, I’m bloody knackered, and increasingly less tolerant of people who refuse to accept that assault and harassment are happening and their behaviour or school or event contributes to it. I’m also made very angry by the more powerful members of the scene complaining when their privilege is curtailed by tactics of resistance. This line is in on my mind a lot these days: When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression

As a feminist, I’m so used to being dismissed as ‘never happy’ with the way things are, I hardly even notice it any more. But I’ve been expecting more serious repercussions for being vocal. More serious than the usual hate mail, threats of violence, verbal attacks and implied threats I get in person, by email, fb messages, blog comments, etc.

I genuinely figure it’s only a matter of time before some doodbro decides to ‘shut me up’. Especially lately, as I’ve realised just how prevalent men covering for sexual offenders and violent offenders is. At first I’d thought it was just me being paranoid, but I’ve actually realised lately that powerful white men are covering for offenders, because those offenders will work for free, for reduced wages, in shittier working conditions, etc etc etc.

Help the helpers

Hey there fronds. Are you working on sexual assault and harassment, safe space, and other issues relating to shit stuff that men to do women, children, and other men at dance events?
 
You may be feeling pretty fucking bad at the moment, what with Turmp, Max Pitruzella, Steven Mitchell, shit going on in your own scene, etc etc etc.
 
It can be a mix of total awful hearing terrible stories about awful men doing awful things, and total amazing fighting the power, kicking heads and taking names.
Either way: emotional roller coaster.
 
Please be looking after yourself and each other.
Keep an eye out for the symptoms of reactive depression, anxiety, and other illnesses, as well as just generally feeling poo. These don’t mean you are ‘nuts’ or going to be ill forever. It means you’re ill and run down and need to take care of yourself.
 
Me: I find working on this stuff pretty bloody depressing. I feel frightened for my own safety, for my friends’ safety, and very, very angry. I get particularly angry with men, because most of the people working on these issues are women, while almost (99%) of the people offending are men.
 
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Why are we once again picking up after you shits?
 
Me again: while the rage can keep you warm, it often dies down into depression (where I personally despair of humans), anxiety (being afraid of my email inbox as i receive another raft of vicious hatemail), frustration and irritation (fucking dancers, not being able to step up and help each other), and a general disinterest in dancing. The millionth time I read the same organisers or dancers list a million reasons why they can’t act on an issue (whether it’s paying people properly, banning a known rapist, or stepping in to tell some jerk to stop hurting women on the dance floor), I just feel like screaming. And then making good use of one of those bags of warm dog poo.
 
Things I do to manage these very normal feelings:
– set limits (what will I read, what won’t I read, how often will I read about these things)
– set limits (what am I prepared to act on? when will I stop acting?)
– set limits (no, I won’t talk to you about X, I’m sorry, because I haven’t the strength)
– set limits (soz, no known rapists, sexual assaulters, harassers or stalkers at my events. No excuses, no explanations, you’re just out on your arse)
– set limits (if I do think I might lose my shit and physically attack the next man I see hurt a woman on the dance floor, I take a deep breath, tell a friend I’m going in, and tell him politely to quit it. Talk before punching.)
– set limits (never too many beginner dancers; never too many dogs to pat, never too many early nights)
 
– get help. Talk to a GP (I love mine), talk to a counsellor (hey, they teach you how to respond to these issues). Talk to a professional rape counsellor so you know how to manage these issues and when to handball them to a professional. Tell a friend you feel terrible.
 
– pat more doges.
 
– remind yourself of the wonderful women you know. Then send them a message telling them that you think they’re wonderful. They need it, and it means you’ll be spending less time thinking at dumbfuck men, and more time thinking about wonderful people.
 
 

If you’re someone reading along who doesn’t help out on these issues, it’s time you did. And you should begin by finding out how. I’m talking to you, men. This isn’t our problem; men assaulting women is the problem. That’s you, and your male friends. If you don’t step up and do something, say something, you are complicit.
So share the load, hey?
And a general fb post where you offer to walk women to their car or to ‘talk’ to a doodbro on request is not helping. That just maintains the status quo. Instead, you could talk to doodbros when you see or hear them being dicks. Check yourself: what sort of jokes are you telling? How’s your gendered language? How do you proposition someone? Have you volunteered to help out at a dance event lately (no, not DJing or MCing, something actually essential)? Did you take your trash to the bin at the end of the night? Did you say ‘thanks’ to the vollies or staff at a local dance? Did you recommend a woman for a gig you wanted? Have you asked a woman dancer to show you that cool trick they just did?
 
Hell, start walking known or suspected offenders to their cars. Because they’re the ones who need watching. THEY’RE the ones who are trouble, not women.
 
 
Here is a useful resource: https://www.livingwell.org.au/professionals/confronting-vicarious-trauma/

Sydney is winning, you know

IMG_9080Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 1.45.17 PM

Check out this simple little symbol on this event flyer.
It says ‘we support safe spaces’, and it’s slipped in there next to the venue, organising body logos. This placement says ‘this is as important as who runs this event’ and ‘we are proud of this’.
It’s not the perfect little symbol, and I’d probably say ‘this is a safe space’, but it WORKS.

Just like flying a rainbow flag or having a rainbow sticker in your window, just like the pink triangle, this little symbol says “We are onto this.”

I’ll be attending EASY DOES IT…. tonight. (well, I probably would anyway, because live band, two floors dancing in a squashy bar: my favourites.

I do have a question, though: this is a public event, and the venue is a bar. How will the venue be enforcing safe space policies? Legit question, and out of curiousity, as we work closely with the PBC, and rely on their own commitment to equity and safety.

Now I’m all excited about community partnerships in working for safety and equity at dance events. I’d be curious to see how Nevermore Jazz Ball and Jenny Shirar and Christian Frommelt approach these things in their very-community-focussed event.

 

Feminism as happiness

And as this week continues, we hear more and more brave women talk about being assaulted by Max Pitruzella. Even worse, we hear more and more men making excuses for why they didn’t step in and tell Max to stop that shit and quit being a fuckwit. It is difficult to stay positive in this climate.
One of the hard parts of feminism is that it often feels like we have to be continually angry and hating on things. But it’s not true. Feminism is very good stuff. It can bring you happiness and power.

I see the dance world’s action on sexual harassment as a very lovely part of feminism.

One of the ways I turn this issue around (and why I love teaching beginners so much), is by focussing on how to treat your partner with respect, but in practical ways. Our whole Swing Dance Sydney teaching and learning group has come up with very good, simple and practical ways to integrate respect and consent with old school lindy hop dancing. It’s easy, it’s FUN, and it makes classes rowdy, full of laughter and happiness. I do recommend.

What we did with our beginner (week 1) students this week was explain about how to ask for a dance, to introduce yourself before you touch someone, and how to make sure your partner was touching you in the right way, and to be sure your partner is ok with the way you touch them.
With the intermediates we talked about how to understand your partner’s body language as communicating their feelings: how a clenched hand and tight arm might mean an uncomfortable, worried, or nervous partner. And we talked about how to be nice so your partner feels safe. And we reminded both leads and follows that we don’t ever demand or tell our partner to do a rhythm step. We invite them to join us in that step. And that we should be totally digging their response, whatever it is! Even if they ignore us!
All of this was part of a very general discussion about having relaxed swing outs where we let go early, don’t yank in early, and take care of our own posture and rhythm. Leads don’t try to micro-lead, follows bring their shit. People dig that, because they see straight away that this type of partnership is how the jazz gets in.

Our intermediate students are already right on top of these issues. Most of them volunteer or work on our events, so they know our safety policies, and how to deal with reports, the police, etc etc. They are all very active about spreading the word to other people too.

I’m lucky. They are a very wonderful group of people. I’d hashtag this blessed but I’m too cynical for that.