Black music, white bands: Racist discourse in lindy hop institutions

Eric Heveron-Smith
fb post 25 June at 05:47

A question was posed on a Facebook group called Swingopedia, and I have decided to finally voice my answer. Hey, it’s quarantine, I don’t have any gigs to lose right now…

“I’ve noticed that music trends in the global swing dance community have changed, since I started in 1995.
I’ve heard a mix of Big Band, RnB, Groove, Soul, Hip Hop, lounge/elevator jazz in early 2000s, Gypsy Swing, Ragtime etc. I’ve even heard Madonna!
What do you believe constitutes swing music and what style of music should we be swing dancing to?
Also should musicians only play recreations of original classics by Basie etc or should they be creating their own music?”

I got a lot of opinions about this. I’m a bass player, trombonist, and singer. I’ve been playing the Lindy Hop scene since 2004, with Solomon Douglas, Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble, and basically anyone else you can think of. I co-founded Moonshine Rhythm Club. As much as I love playing with all the musicians in this scene, my opinion and my approach to music definitely diverges from a lot of them. And I think it also addresses the lack of a serious Black presence in lindy hop.

Here’s what I think:
The way we approach this music, AND this dance, is not at all in the spirit of those who created it.

Let me unpack that just a little bit. Back in the day, musicians were inventing new music that they dug, and that made people want to move their bodies. So they drew big crowds of people who invented new ways to move their bodies to it. That’s it. Does it feel good? Does it make you want to move your body? Then move your body. How? I dunno, let’s make something up together. Does it sound good? Is it fun? If not, whoops, nobody showed up to your gig.

Today, we have a historical dance taught with a preservationist mindset, and we play historic music with a preservationist mindset, or we almost reverse-engineer what music needs to be played so that we can dance this specific dance to it.

We are starting to see more new, original swing music, and I love that. But it still falls within pretty strict guidelines. We are also starting to see more swing audiences actually caring about the music itself, not just as a utilitarian function to dance to; I would definitely credit Michael and Jonathan and the Lindy Focus community for encouraging that, and I think the transcription projects have been a big part of that. It’s been really cool playing at Lindy Focus the past few years and seeing crowds of people standing by the stage just DIGGING the music.

But when you think about what was happening in the 30s and 40s with music and dance, it was a popular movement, and an organic thing. You wanna know what happened to Black musicians and audiences? They didn’t stop playing music, and they didn’t stop dancing. They created new genres, and they created new ways to dance to them. Every single decade up to the present. How can you expect to attract Black musicians and dancers to a scene that is frozen in time?

So ok, what am I proposing instead? I don’t have all the answers, for sure. And yes, I am still a musician that loves playing vintage jazz, and loves playing for dancers. But I look at musicians like Kansas Smitty’s, Bria Skonberg, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Gunhild Carling, and so many others that play amazing, badass, swinging, move-your-body music, and who aren’t even CLOSE to cutting-edge far-out modern jazz, and I hear crickets from the lindy hop community.

Here is my point. There is SO much music out there that swings. Modern stuff. Stuff that feels really good, deep in your body, and makes you want to move and groove. And because it doesn’t fit the specific historical constraints of the dance that this community commodifies and REPLICATES, lindy hoppers want nothing to do with it.

Like, how can you ask the question “what constitutes swing music” or “what style of music SHOULD we be dancing to,” and then turn around and act bewildered that you don’t have more BIPOC in the scene??

I envision a world where the historical preservation of swing music and dance can meet the modern world, where there are all kinds of dances being done to all kinds of killer music. You don’t have to drop the preservation stuff, you SHOULDN’T stop studying and presenting and talking about the history of jazz and swing and lindy hop. But what you have done is put walls around this whole situation, and it keeps you in, and it keeps a whole lot of other people out. It’s religion, in the restrictive sense of the word. And if you ever manage to notice how many badass vintage jazz musicians don’t bother with the swing dance scene anymore, it’s because they don’t fit. They got too big for the walls.

Personally, I would love to be able to continue playing swing music for lindy hoppers. But I can’t tell you how many frustrating gigs I’ve had where either the audience barely noticed there were real musicians on stage, or I was playing with really poor musicians, but nobody really cared because they fit the constraints of the dance. I think my favorite gigs are where some people are dancing (whether it is a dance or not, because they feel it in their bodies), and some people are listening (because they actually hear and enjoy the music), and I can stretch out with my fellow musicians beyond the artificial, misinformed, dance-centric constraints of “around 3 minutes song length, not too fast, not too slow.”

Oh yeah, I thought I was wrapping up, but that’s another thing I gotta address. Not every song has to be danceable for every person. That’s another aspect of the utilitarianism of music in the dance community. You think that because all we have are 3-minute songs from the swing era that that was what musicians did live. I can’t possibly believe that’s true. Not gonna go too deep down that rabbit hole, but here’s something to think about: as soon as the long-playing record was invented, Duke Ellington released a 12-minute version of Mood Indigo, and it is glorious. My favorite version of that song ever. SO swinging, so beautiful, makes me want to move, makes me want to play.

Jazz is a living art form. It’s an improvisational art form. The very best times I’ve had playing jazz with people, we’ve found our way to the special spark, the moments that make people look up and shout, the moments that inspire dance. If I’m hired to perform a utilitarian function for your specific dance style, and I’m fired when I go outside the specific constraints, you’re not gonna get my best. You’re not gonna get the magic, the spark. You are missing out. (I have a couple dancer friends in Rochester who figured this out years ago, and started going to the international jazz fest there and checking out all sorts of amazing music. They GET it.)

Music and dance have been co-created since humans have existed. In my opinion, the lindy hop community is creating neither one right now. I don’t think it has to stay that way; but you’ve gotta tear down the walls, if you want it to change.

(Disclaimers. 1. Even though I’m speaking somewhat harshly about the scene, I still love parts of it, and I love a lot of the people in it, and when I play at Lindy Focus and walk around those hallways, I’m proud and glad to be part of it. 2. I’m talking about some historical stuff in here, but I am far from a swing historian. Michael Gamble, Jonathan Stout, Jon Tigert, and a bunch of other musicians and dancers probably know quite a bit more than me about the specific history of the music and dance. The depth of my musicianship is what makes me feel like I have something to offer with this commentary.)

I have problems with the American-centredness of this post. He is generalising from what he sees in the US (at huge events) to the entire world. And it just doesn’t hold up. I’d argue that the ‘mega-event’ is a very different animal (and product) to smaller events that focus on a regional audience, or even hyper-local audience. The usual issues apply to a huge event: you need to entertain trillions of people, you have to appeal to the widest audience (rather than niche audiences), you have a lot of money at risk, you need to do quality control. You and and should (perhaps) use this big budget opportunity to do more big band gigs. The events he’s talking about are largely in the US, and these are unlike things you see in other countries (with the exception of Camp Swing It, which is MASSIVE). So you end up with a relatively homogenous, palatable menu of music and dance held in a boring big hotel, isolated from the local host community.

Because he’s generalising from big US events, he ignores all the smaller, more interesting events. There’s no Upside Down here. No Rhythm Korea. No Jazz BANG. He also conveniently ignores the work being done by Black event producers. Teena Morales, anyone? She’s been running the biggest events in the US for years. And she runs the Houston Jazz Dance Festival, which has all-Black musicians and teachers, and is firmly positioned within the modern Black community’s culture.
He says:

“But when you think about what was happening in the 30s and 40s with music and dance, it was a popular movement, and an organic thing. You wanna know what happened to Black musicians and audiences? They didn’t stop playing music, and they didn’t stop dancing. They created new genres, and they created new ways to dance to them. Every single decade up to the present. How can you expect to attract Black musicians and dancers to a scene that is frozen in time?”

Well, they’re at Teena Morales’ event, doing dances that actually relate to them, with people who make them feel welcome. But let me address this issue: how to attract Black dancers to lindy hop. I’m guessing he means the US? This issue is a lot like the issue of attracting people of colour to other institutions. It won’t work if you don’t deconstruct or analyse whiteness itself:

As result of the invisibility of whiteness, diversity initiatives are often about including diverse bodies into the mainstream without critically examining what that mainstream is” (source: Diversity Means Disruption ; I speak more about this here: A Lot of White People Will Be Uncomfortable).

And if we’re going to deconstruct whiteness, we also need to deconstruct patriarchy, because white supremacy is built on the dominance of heterosexual masculinity.

If I follow that thinking, to truly change the nature of jazz and music in the lindy hop world, do we need to kill off the mega-event?

Here’s the thing. Covid19 has already done this. This is another thing that I see missing from so much of the online talk about lindy hop culture: this moment of change/crisis is the result of a global pandemic. Push has come to shove. BUT, white people have the time and energy to dig into ‘racism’ because they are in iso, or because their usual lives have been disrupted. Black people and marginalised people are busy trying not to die, whether they’re killed by disease, an dangerous ‘healthcare’ system, or the police.

So why does this white male musician assume that things will go on as they did before? They’re not going to. The world has changed irrevocably. The mega-event is not coming back any time in the next few years. That means the the existing market/audience for the mega-event will have disappeared (we know the lindy hop ‘generation’ is only about 5 years long). We also know that all the necessary infrastructure for a mega-event will also have disappeared: international airlines have folded; the arts are in disarray, from sound engineers to restaurants; international guests will not be visiting the US with its unchecked covid. It would also be horrifically selfish for dancers to attend a mega-event… lindy hop = superspreader.

So I think the question has to be,
What will jazz music and jazz dance look like in a covid19 world?
At first I was all ‘no one wants jazz dance during a plague’ and then I remembered that people really want music and dance during hard times. Who gets to dance will be the issue.

My government has taken advantage of the virus to introduce frightening laws, and expand awful powers. The same company that runs our offshore-detention camps for refugees is in charge of the quarantine hotels. Poor, refugee, and migrant people have been detained in housing commission towers for fear of covid spread. The federal police have expanded search and detain powers. … and so on.
The people who are suffering most from this are the Black members of our community.
I haven’t quite gotten there in the thinking, but I think that it’s obscene to consider running a mega-event in this climate. I mean, I have huge, massive ethical problems with fundraising for white people to transcribe Black recordings so white people can play them for white audiences in THIS moment. It’s a great promotional gig, but how does it fight white supremacy?

So if we can’t do mega-events, what do we do?
The same thing marginalised events and dance communities have already been doing: smaller scale events that cater to the local community’s needs and interests. And by local community, I mean the musicians, sound engineers, DJs, dancers, teachers, performers of a particular city. There’s no budget to fly in the same old crew of white men. So we get local. And that, as with governments*, means we have a more diverse body.

We subsidise local dancers on lower incomes with volunteer spots. We see a more sustainable labour model generally. And we see greater diversity in event types and event staff and attendance. The thing about smaller events, is that they often don’t enforce those rules about what bands should play. For all sorts of reasons. But you’ll get the odd funk number, you’ll get 10 minute songs, and you’ll get a range of tempos. Because the organisers don’t have the ‘knowledge’ to control the music like that. And they don’t particularly prioritise that issue – they’re trying to find the light switch or get the key for the late night party.

I think that this ‘definition’ of ‘good music’ is a matter of power and privilege, not objective value or ‘truth’. As the OP says, insisting on ‘good songs for dancing’ gives us a boring menu, and promotes a conservative palate. This in turn gives us boring dancing. None of those sparks of real creativity and emotion.

I think that DJing plays a big part in this. The lack of diversity in the highest profile DJing ranks is a direct result of some serious gate keeping: DJs are selected for their social skills (do they network like a white man?), their availability (do they have the money and time to drop everything for a weekend gig? Or do they have kids and family to care for?), and then, finally, their music taste (how do they talk about songs – loudly in a crowd, or with a quietly brilliant set at 11pm?). This type of musician hierarchy and power structure marginalises anyone who’s not a straight white guy.

If we want to see more diversity in the songs being played by musicians, we need more diversity in the cohort of musicians.
Which means WHITE MEN NEED TO STOP RAPING AND HARASSING EVERYONE ELSE.
And
WHITE MEN NEED TO STOP _EACH OTHER_ DOING THIS SHIT.

* Local governments have more women, poc, and other marginalised groups represented. As we move up tiers of government (state, federal, commonwealth, etc), we see diversity disappear and white patriarchy at work.

….RE sexual assault in the jazz music scene:
That’s my next job. I was starting work on it before covid, by deliberately setting up gigs and sessions that promote women musicians (ie sessions that are safe workplaces). But it’s been derailed. I figure we can use the methods we’ve developed in the dance world to tackle the music world.
One of the things we’ve found in Sydney, is that if we address sexual harassment and assault, we get a safer, more diverse scene generally. More people of colour, more queer folk, more trans folk, more kids.
This why this OP musician needs to address his own power as a white man in America. He is one of the obstacles we need to deconstruct.

Michael Gamble
fb comment on above post
25 June at 10:30

Hey friend, we have talked about this a bunch, and I know we have a lot of common ground, so i feel comfy talking about this “publicly” with you. I also wanna say I appreciate that going out on a limb can be stressful, and I respect you getting into it regardless.
That being said, I think you’re coming at this from a strange angle, one that on the surface looks extremely relatable (I see a “successful” post/video/blog/etc on this topic about once a month for, I dunno, the past 15 years or so) but to me totally falls apart when you zoom in. My issue is that the thing you’re critiquing isn’t some firm opinion that anyone holds, it’s just the emergent properties of a bunch of different people’s subjective taste. And I’m pretty sure you’re ok with it on the micro level, you just don’t like the overall effect, yeah?
Like, I play music in a style I like. To you it’s narrow, but for me it’s actually a wild experiment in combining elements of different swing era rhythm sections with elements of early new orleans & chicago looser collective improv, moving familiar riffs to new contexts, and yes, paying homage to inspiring classic (but never heard live by current audiences) recordings. There’s a ton of room to play there for those of us that are deeply in love with the performers, arrangers, and composers of that era, and importantly, the current dancers, instructors, and organizers are also deeply educated fans of a wide range of old styles, and enjoy playing in that space – that’s why they hire these bands. (They’ve been geeking out on these rare recordings that they and their friends uncovered over the course of years of musical archeology, and look!-> someone’s playing that live?? Hell yeah I’m gonna hire them, that’s a dream come true!!) And unless I read you wrong, you probably think that’s cool, you just wish that wasn’t ALL there is, or something?
Here’s where I point out that there are a million other places to play music, to dance, and to explore like, every iteration of every art under the sun. The WCS scene has much more modern taste. The Blues scene, and especially the Fusion scene know how to break the mold and push boundaries. (also, there was a generation of Bebop dancers at the Savoy, and there is a push within the modern lindy movement to explore that.. which I think is great. Just FYI!) Do you know about those? The swing scene isn’t this philosophy-driven “preservation movement” in the way you’re making it out to be; it’s a loose collective of folks that happen to have a lot of taste in common. That’s…it. Trying to say their taste should be different is just… weird to me.
Like, there’s nothing stopping anyone from experimenting with other flavors like those scenes do, or like another theoretical new scene could do. There are plenty of folks that don’t dig Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb, Billie Holiday & Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rushing & Count Basie. I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where what we’re doing is the only thing.. and it’s not!
I think that’s my other issue with this type of takedown —> do you realize how small the modern swing scene is? Like, compared to virtually any other hobby or “art scene”? It’s a niche within a niche within a niche. We are people who love what, in our evaluation, is actually a very broad range of dance and music forms that one could spend many lifetimes studying and never master. We’ve carved out a little space to do our thing. And still people feel the need to tell us to stop. All. The. Time.
Last thing: I see “this” being the thing that’s blamed for lack of blackness in our scene very casually, on a regular basis. Y’all, the causes of that are soooo much worse than this one singular artistic impetus. Our scene alienates black folks in basically every way that appears on the racism bingo card. Don’t make vintage music the scapegoat for this. Our scene has historically welcomed and elevated racist individuals and ideas for as long as I can remember, to our shame. Also, though it is somewhat rarer (remember: niche within a niche within a niche), there are a lot of great black musicians that play great swing and early jazz. Mostly we honestly just can’t afford them. (yet) And yes, also the overall whiteness of our scene makes it a less attractive place to seek work, which makes sense. THAT is something we can change. I can’t even remotely pretend to speak for any black person in this, but I think at the very least you are making a ton of assumptions about what’s causing what, and there’s a lot more going on.
(and here’s my social media caveat – my life is nuts right now and I totally don’t have time for an extended FB debate, AKA what the hell am I doing?? Regardless, I do love you, Eric Heveron-Smith!)

I’d add this as an example of Michael’s missing some of the political point:
“My issue is that the thing you’re critiquing isn’t some firm opinion that anyone holds, it’s just the emergent properties of a bunch of different people’s subjective taste.”

There’s a chunk of literature about how ‘individual taste’ isn’t about individual subjective choice, but about cultural forces. So while these aesthetics might seem ‘subjective choices’ from the inside, they’re clearly part of broader patterns and structures of patriarchy and white hegemony. As soon as we see patterns, we can look for the forces that are invisible to the dominant group because they are so ‘normalised’.
ie we have normalised the idea that a bunch of white people playing Black music at an event promoted as ‘preserving the past’ is a good thing. We haven’t engaged with the idea that white people are gaining cultural power from this work, that modern Black musicians are marginalised, and that only seeing white people on stage supports the myth that Black people don’t like jazz or do it well.

This is another difficult bit for me:
“There’s a ton of room to play there for those of us that are deeply in love with the performers, arrangers, and composers of that era, and importantly, the current dancers, instructors, and organizers are also deeply educated fans of a wide range of old styles, and enjoy playing in that space – that’s why they hire these bands. (They’ve been geeking out on these rare recordings that they and their friends uncovered over the course of years of musical archeology, and look! someone’s playing that live?? Hell yeah I’m gonna hire them, that’s a dream come true!!)”

My feminist brain is saying “Who is ‘those of us’? And ‘their friends?’?”
Who is running these large events?
Who is managing the music?
It’s mostly white people, and mostly white men.

My follow up question would be, “If white men are doing the music stuff, what jobs do women do on these events?” and “What jobs to people of colour do on these events?” Are they handling the low-profile stuff like catering or volunteer management or budgets? Events like Focus spend a lot of time convincing people that music is the most important part of an event. The jobs men do. When punters might say, “Actually, the person who met me at registration and made me feel welcome was the most important person I met this weekend.”
The dominant discourse of modern lindy hop prioritises and values the work that white men do most highly.

Here’s another issue:
“The swing scene isn’t this philosophy-driven “preservation movement” in the way you’re making it out to be; it’s a loose collective of folks that happen to have a lot of taste in common. That’s…it. Trying to say their taste should be different is just… weird to me.”

This is a misleading premise.
This isn’t how ideology works. If it’s a fascist state, it might. But hegemony in the modern capitalist patriarchy works in a different way. We don’t have a scene spokesman standing at a mic declaiming, “We will only enjoy bands from 1935-1945. We will only dance to bands from the US.”
…wait. :D

But hegemony is more subtle. We get this message that ‘preservation is prime’ from a whole heap of sources and texts:

  • The only bands that get hired at mega-events are preservationist bands led and staffed by white men. Each of those independent messages tells me that big organisers don’t value the work of women or people of colour. It also suggests, implicitly, that the only _valuable_ or ‘good’ musicians are white men.
  • The only DJs who play those mega-events are white. And often white men (those the latter is changing, I’d argue that most of those white women DJs (myself included) are people who engage with dance in a particular way: assertive, relatively ambitiously, etc -> characteristics usually ascribed to hetero white men).

…and so on.

I’m interested in how this works in places like Seoul. There we see white bands flown into the country for big gigs. And they’re the same bands we see at American mega-events. But we also see local gendered and ethnicised relationships of power at work. Interestingly, Sage Minn’s band, one of the very few in Seoul, has women members. I wonder if it’s because they’re playing western music, Korean mores and values don’t apply in the same way? I actually saw a fab conference paper about pop culture in Seoul a few years ago that discusses this.

“Like, there’s nothing stopping anyone from experimenting with other flavors like those scenes do, or like another theoretical new scene could do. There are plenty of folks that don’t dig Ella Fitzgerald; Chick Webb, Billie Holiday; Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rushing; Count Basie. I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where what we’re doing is the only thing.. and it’s not!”
…so you can do all that other stuff, just not here?

“I think that’s my other issue with this type of takedown —”
This is where this post gets a bit defensive. The original post was actually really gentle (I thought). But you know that saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
If you’re used to adulation, a little light supposition feels like a take down.

“Last thing: I see “this” being the thing that’s blamed for lack of blackness in our scene very casually, on a regular basis. Y’all, the causes of that are soooo much worse than this one singular artistic impetus.”
This is a deeply problematic comment. I’ve seen this quite a lot in white discussions about racism (I actually did a Masters on it). If we only define racism as white cops killing Black kids, or KKK lynching Black men, then anything ‘less’ can be positioned as ‘not-racism’.
But we know that racist discourse is far more complex. All those white DJs and white bands and white MCs? That’s racism.

Here’s an example:
“there are a lot of great black musicians that play great swing and early jazz. Mostly we honestly just can’t afford them.”
This is racism.
In this sentence he is literally saying that he/we** do not value Black musicians enough to pay them what they’re worth.

It’s racism because of what is not said, and because of the implicit valuing of ‘historic’ Black work, and devaluing of contemporary Black work. We’ll only raise a zillion dollars to fund the transcription of work by dead Black men; we won’t shell out some of that money to pay living Black men and women a living wage.

More importantly, this statement presented with no facts or evidence, will become a ‘truth’ repeated all over the scene. It will become what we describe in cultural studies as a ‘myth’: a valuative statement that is repeated so often it becomes a ‘fact’ with huge, powerful status.
The effect of this type of cultural myth is that other events and organisers won’t book Black bands or artists because ‘they’re too expensive’. And the myth will grow.

But why. Why is a Black musician more expensive? Does he mean that he’ll only hire a brilliant Black musician, but won’t hire a less awesome Black musician, and is quite ok hiring mediocre white men musicians?

I can’t continue down this reasoning: mediocre white men. Oh to have your confidence and power.
**The way he elides ‘we’ and ‘I’ is telling – he positions himself with an important ‘many’/majority, rather than taking responsibility for his own choices. This establishes his position as part of a powerful ‘many’.

“and here’s my social media caveat – my life is nuts right now and I totally don’t have time for an extended FB debate, AKA what the hell am I doing??”
While I have sympathy for him, I’d like to remind the white world that Black Americans have been fighting like demons while their society rapes and murders them with official sanction. Women work on sexual harassment and assault issues while they are being harassed every day.
This is why we call it disruption: it disrupts the status quo. And if you’re a white man, it’s often the first time you’ve had to do this work while also managing your daily dramas.

As a final note, I’m gonna quote Audre Lorde:

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change (source: Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

In this context, I mean that accepting the premise of the original post is misleading. Following the instructions of a powerful white man will not help us deconstruct racism. We need to do something completely different.

I’m going to direct you to this post.
Diversity Means Disruption.

Why hire First Nations people into your mostly white structure and expect/want/demand everything to remain basically the same?
… diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives … are often shallow exercises as they are seldom created to challenge and disrupt whiteness within and outside the sector. We cannot change institutional racism without first changing institutions and without disruption, nothing will change.

Covid19 provides an opportunity for this disruption. Or does it? In the US and here in Australia, people of colour are disproportionately affected by the virus and its effects. They’re too busy fighting racism to think about jazz. Here is a really clever twitter thread, where the writer Abu Owaisi connects up the Victorian government’s locking 9 housing commission towers, the SES removing donated goods, white journalists’ influential commentary, and the devaluing of work by migrant community groups.

So, allies, time to dismantle the master’s house. Let’s do something completely new.

Playing jazz music in the age of COVID

So we know that musicians need/want to work. And we also know that their work (and creative practice) involves risky behaviour. So how do we make sure musicians minimise risk, for themselves and their audiences?
The best model is really to have musicians develop safe work practices, then peer-pressure their colleagues into doing things the safe way. Then as a group presenting these safe methods as a solution to employers.

Because the laws of each city and country vary, and advise given is varying, musicians need to take the facts about covid spread, and adapt them to produce their own working model.
I think that sex workers are a great parallel. They know that STIs like HIV/AIDS are a real risk in their work. But they also know how to minimise risk. They’re good at hygiene. They set boundaries with clients. They’re good at disclosure when necessary. But all of course, only if they work within a safe workplace, and aren’t disempowered by their work being criminalised. If they are empowered by legal protection, they can set rules that minimise their risks, without having to also worry about police (arrest or blackmail/’protection’.)

In the case of both sex workers and musicians, we know that abstinence isn’t a good option :D Both groups want to and need to work in their chosen industry. We can also assume that both groups are specialists in their work and workplaces, and can develop safe (or harm minimising) work practices.

So if we work with this as a model, what can musicians do to minimise the risk of getting and spreading covid?

We know how to prevent the spread of covid, and it has parallels with HIV/AIDS:

  1. Wear an effective prophylactic
  2. Know how to use and dispose of prophylactics properly
  3. Practice good hygiene (washing hands, and washing hands properly; cleaning tools properly)
  4. Avoiding disease-specific transmission.
  5. Being able to set rules and then enforce them, even with bullying employers or clients.

In terms of a musicians’ work:

  1. Wear a mask. And it has to be an effective mask that still allows them to do their job. So while a sex worker could choose to wear a hazmat suit, they go with condoms and dams instead. Similarly, musicians must choose which type of mask does the job, but doesn’t impede their work.
  2. Know how to put on, wear, and then remove and dispose of masks without touching them. This takes training.
  3. Regular hand washing. Not dumping spit from a brass instrument onto the floor. Cleaning instruments regularly and properly. Not sharing mics. Keeping mics clean and stored correctly. Wiping down mic stands. Not touching audience members or other musicians.
  4. Understanding that covid spreads via respiratory droplets, which are spread by snot and spit in the air (as aerosol transmission) or via surface contact (wiping your nose, shaking hands, then than person touching their own nose). So this means not touching your face while you play gigs. It also means keeping 1.5m from other people, and having the right ventilation.
  5. This is the most important one. Once musicians have some good processes and rules in place for themselves and their groups, they then present them to employers as a list of solutions that they take as a requirement for a gig. They’re in a good position to do this atm, as venues are desperate to make $$.

When you write it out like this, you can see some obvious challenges. eg not touching other people in your band? Hard. So perhaps you develop a ‘bubble’ (to use NZ’s powerful language), and you only play with people who are inside that bubble. Any new people who come along to sit in with your bubble must take additional precautions.

None of these things are set out as ‘rules’ in government guidelines. But they take what we know about the virus and minimising risk, and then apply it to this specific case.

But once we have these sets of industry-specific guidelines (‘safe jazz’ vs ‘safe sex’), we need to communicate them to all the musicians, and we need individuals to adopt and enforce them themselves.
Peer pressure! Because jazz is so male dominated, and so dominated by straight white men who are already very good at enforcing hierarchies and specific behaviours, they could actually be really good at this. At this stage, though, I’m seeing jazz musicians normalising unsafe behaviour by talking about what they’re currently doing, by teasing or shaming musicians who do stricter harm reduction.

So, musician friends, how are you minimising risk while playing at the moment?
Here are things you’ve listed already:

  • 4. DOING OUTDOOR GIGS
    This is a good one. But does wet weather contingencies (eg awnings overhead) maintain the harm reduction of not having walls or ceilings?
  • 1 and 2: WEARING MASKS
    Another useful one, but it’s being applied inconsistently.
    – Some of you have said that the audience have to wear masks, but only if they’re not eating or drinking.
    – Are venue staff wearing masks?
    – Are musicians wearing masks? And then, more importantly, are they wearing effective masks (ie clean and effective), and
    – are they _not_ touching or contaminating masks?
    – Do they dispose of masks correctly?
    – If you’re wearing masks while traveling to and from gigs (which Chris has illustrated), are these same guidelines being applied?
    Good options:
    Venues provide masks for musicians, punters, and staff. They are a requirement in booking the gig.
    Bands provide masks for the whole group.
    Bands spend time before the gig refreshing training about how to use a mask safely – eg how to put a mask on or take it off if you’re playing sax :D And when that’s impractical, how to use a mask while traveling together to gigs.
    Disposing of masks safely is super super important. Are they being chucked on the floor of the band’s van like an old coffee cup? Or disposed of properly.

…and so on. You can see where I’m going with this.

THE most important part will be having high status, high visibility musicians practicing safe jazz, and then being really cool while they do it. :D

Will we be running dance events in May 2021

We’re still in iso here in Sydney. And while Morrison is talking about and early opening, even if the states do go ahead, we will see a second wave before the end of 2020.

Even if we do get out of iso, we will be adhering to safety measures (washing our hands, covering our mouths, not touching people, keeping 1.5m apart) for a much longer time.
Dancing is a high risk activity: all that touching, but also the respiratory droplets blown everywhere by all the panting and puffing and open mouths. Not to mention musicians and their germ-blower instruments.
We won’t be lindy hopping (or solo jazzing) until we get a vaccine, and we’ve seen that vaccine work reliably.

Beyond that, we don’t have the infrastructure to support weekend events. Private venues (eg dance halls, etc) are just devastated by the iso restrictions. Public venues (town halls etc) will either be closed and repurposed, or under extremely strict rules (eg no more than 10 people at a time, hardcore hygiene and cleaning, etc). The people who run events will still be recovering financially (eg we still have outstanding debts from Jazz Bang), and will need to develop new seed money sums, or new sponsorship options.

Music and the arts generally are fucked in NSW and Australia. No sound engineers, lighting specialists, etc etc – all those people who support the artists on stage. They’ll have all started looking for other work and have other commitments to support families and pay rent.

Insurance will become a serious issue. I’ve already had emails from my insurer about new conditions. I personally don’t want to risk legal action for endangering people. And if we start doing things like taking temperatures at dances, we take responsibility for health, and open ourselves to legal action. And I know I don’t want to have to face the Worksafe issues of putting volunteers and staff in unsafe conditions.
Beyond that, the market for big dance events will change. The bulk of the market for these events are those ‘intermediate’ dancers – people who aren’t new, and aren’t super long time dancers (though JB is an exception on this – this older/newer group is our market). We’ll need to find new ways of targeting those markets.

But those avenues of advertising and market development will have changed. Dance schools will have gone out of business, and/or teachers will have had to redirect their energies to things like working from home, new jobs, etc. If we do start up classes again, it’ll take a few years to get up to speed and redevelop the labour force (unpaid volunteers, primarily) to run regular and big events. It’ll be like starting new scenes.

Five years is a long time in dance world. That’s a generation of dancers. I’ll be 51. All our dancers generally will be older – the difference between 22 and 27 is huge when it comes to family and day job commitments.
And of course, my greatest fear is our OGs. Older black Americans. Black americans are four times more likely to die of COVID19 than white americans. And older people are even more vulnerable. I personally cannot countenance the thought of dancers starting dancing again and deliberately endangering the communities that gave us these dances and music.

I’m wondering whether we’ll see people super-keen to do dancing after covid19, or if we’ll see people too afraid to touch other people after covid19. To be honest, I suspect (considering things my epi friends say), we won’t have ‘after covid19′ for many many years. It will be how we live. A seasonal disease that we manage with degrees of isolation and quarantine until a vaccine is found, and then administered to the entire population.
We may be able to start doing smaller events in privates spaces (eg our homes) in 2021, but only mid-way through.

But it’s not all tears.
I’ve been thinking about alternative models for delivering jazz dance and jazz music. Unlike the 1980s, before we saw this new generation of dancers, we have the internet. It’s the perfect tool for delivering audio and audio-visual content. And if we get to the point of small groups gathering in private spaces, we’ll have bands again. And if we can get a few dancers in there, then the bands will be able to learn and relearn playing for and with dancers. So I think the pre-pandemic move towards smaller events will stand us in good stead in the coming years. We’ll get really really good at doing small, quality events that value safety like Jazz BANG.

The saddest thing of all, is that jazz is social. It invites us into each other’s company. To hold each other close. And breathe wet air in each others’ faces :D

I’d like to see the Australian Ballet do THIS

Dance people! Argh! You’re home, you can’t dance or see your mates, you are going nuts. What can you do?

If only we had a pool of highly motivated, experienced volunteers and managerial types with time on their hands. If only we had an extensive network of local, national, and international people who liked doing community stuff. If only we had fb groups and email lists and instagram accounts! IF ONLY.

Wait. We DO.
The international lindy hop community is fully sick on the whole organisation thing.

Need a group of tired and confused people sorted into groups quickly and efficiently? Have I got the class-levels-audition judge or competitor marshall for YOU.

Need someone who can organise food and beds for hundreds of people? Have I got the housing coordinator or catering team for YOU.

Need someone who can balance a tight budget, weedle cash out of reluctant individuals, or write a shit-hot grant application? I have the event organisers for YOU.

I haven’t had a chance to think about this properly, yet, but I do know there are a lot of worried, disheartened people in my immediate community looking for something to _do_ to help. Why not put your big brains to work?

Here are a couple of things I’ve come up with:

Hassle our MPs:
– If the dole (newstart, pension, etc) is increased to a liveable wage, we’ll all be better off when we lose a lot more jobs. People with an income spend money, and that means they feed money into the economy. Which is good for all of us, not just those of us who sell bread or run restaurants.

-> So we want to hassle our members of parliament about this. Write letters. Send emails. Get tapping, folk.

Support our local charities:
– Local charities like The Exodus Foundation and Addison Road Community Centre have had a huge increase of people coming in for help in the past month. They need food, basic health stuff (TP, pads, etc), and they need volunteers.
– Lots of us are going to be needing these services soon.

-> So we need to take our extra groceries down there in person. This will give us a chance to scope out the place, and get familiar. Which will make it easier to…
-> Volunteer at places like Exodus or Addison Road. They always need people to do jobs like making food, cleaning up, driving cars, washing things, and so on.

It kind of sucks at the moment, but things will probably get worse. BUT there are things we can do. And the international dance community is kind of crazily competent. I mean, we operate huge cultural events with virtually no government funding. I’d like to see the Australian Ballet pull off the shit _we’re_ capable of!

Time to stop dancing, Sydney

Time to cancel your partner dance classes, Sydney. Gotta flatten that curve.

I know. I’m usually all in favour of curves. The more the better. But not this time.

Our government is only enforcing a ban on gatherings of 500 or more people at the moment. But they’re normal people, not lindy hoppers or (god forbid) balboa and blues dancers. Who don’t seem to recognise personal space boundaries.

As partner dancers we touch a lot more than non-dancing crowds.

We are generally pretty good at sharing germs, but in this moment, we’re going to be too good. Let’s aim to be rubbish at sharing germs. Aim low, Sydney, aim low.

COVID-19 is spread through ‘respiratory droplets’ (drops of wet stuff from our mouths and noses), and through physical contact. When we dance, we often have our mouths open as we laugh and smile, we sweat a lot, we are constantly touching our faces, wiping off sweat, etc etc. Then we wipe those droplets into our orifices, and all over our environment. We blow them onto chairs and tables and sinks and phones and bags and dance shoes. And then it can live there for a few days.

Soz, but solo jazz will not stop us germing all over each other. Solo jazzers are epic respiratory droplet distributors.

Dancing one metre or even two metres apart isn’t going to cut it. Yes, that snot goob flew out of your nose and onto a chair or door handle or table. And someone else will touch it. Or that time you laughed, and threw your head back? You sprayed mouth goobs all over the room. And that sweaty towel you rubbed over your eyes and mouth and nose and face? You’ve just left it on the table. Or your bag. And now you’re touching someone’s hand. EEEEk. Even in a time of un-pandemic, that’s gross.

The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid transmission through direct contact. No touchy.
And no blowing respiratory droplets onto other people.

Don’t panic!
Here are the important rules:

  • Wash your hands a lot. With soap and water, for 20 seconds.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • If you’ve just come home from overseas, you have to quarantine yourself at home for 14 days.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and then wash your hand immediately. With soap and water
  • Stay in contact with your dance buddies using the Internet.

What is social distancing?
Social distancing is an effective measure, but it is recognised that it cannot be practised in all situations and the aim is to generally reduce potential for transmission.
While practising social distancing, people can travel to work (including public transport). For non-essential activities outside the workplace or attendance at schools, universities and childcare – social distancing includes:
– avoiding crowds and mass gatherings where it is difficult to keep the appropriate distance away from others

THIS ONE: THIS IS US, DANCERS:
– avoiding small gatherings in enclosed spaces, for example family celebrations
> WE ARE GERMY. LIKE FAMILY IN AN ENCLOSED SPACE.

THIS IS ALSO US!
– attempting to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between themselves and other people where possible, for example when they are out and about in public place.
>GOOD LUCK KEEPING 1.5M BETWEEN YOU AND A BALBOA DANCER, FREND.

AND US AGAIN!!
– avoiding shaking hands, hugging, or kissing other people
> JUST TRY NOT TO SHAKE HANDS IWHT A LINDY HOPPER. I DARE YOU.

– avoiding visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants, or people with compromised immune systems due to illness or medical treatment.

Teachers:
Don’t freak about losing your students or your venue or any of that stuff.
You will lose money. That’s going to happen.

BUT

You can keep in contact with your students using fb groups, and by starting a ‘community’ (discussion on your fb page).
Keep posting on your fb page, and engage people in conversation online.
Post little videos of yourself talking about dance (keep it short!) and your tips for practicing at home.

AND

Prepare for your triumphant return by rebooting some aspects of your business (ever wanted to rejig your teaching strategies? Now’s the time). Rethink your business plan. Start developing a lovely new promotional strategy.

MOST OF ALL

Keep in contact with other teachers and organisers, and get some virtual hand holding and support. Sydney is a ridiculously friendly scene, considering how many different schools and businesses our dance community has. Heck, we’re pretty much the only city in the world that could develop a shared response to sexual assault and harassment. Remember that time in 2016 we ran a replacement exchange when SSF had a stumble? We put together an ENTIRE weekend of parties with a week’s notice. And it was GREAT.

How to plan an event cancellation

How to go about responding to COVID-19 in Australia?

A good starting point would be to collate:

  • number of cases per state/australia
  • sources for daily updates from gov
  • legal recommendations from gov (eg we still allowed gathering in groups atm).

  • Then each organisation should develop a long term plan and a short term. Even if it’s as simple as ‘we won’t close anything now, but we will reassess in (x) days. When we get to (x) we will decide.’ Then make a rough outline of jobs to be done for either closing or not closing.

    Another issue: is your insurance up to date, and does it cover loss profits, health care, etc etc?
    I’d also have a look at finances: do you have any bills to pay, any money owed to you.
    And just go over your refund policies for classes and events and things.
    -> basically get your affairs in order, so you can make informed decisions.

    I’m getting a few queries about our events this year, so you will soon, too, I guess.
    I personally feel I have a responsibility to present and promote a sense of calm capable professionalism, so I’m planning my responses carefully:

    • I do my usual ‘hello, thanks for your email, i will reply by [DATE]’ (usually a week) reply to emails if I don’t have a comment ready.
    • I am developing a task calendar of what we’ll do when
    • I’m planning out what we’ll say in our public comments, and in our correspondence to various contractors, staff, and volunteers.

    Luckily, we have an extensive and useful safe space policy (more than just a code of conduct), and I’m just rolling our hygiene and response-to-pandemic issues into that. We already have a developed tone (a way of speaking to people about this stuff), and we have developed a good sense of mutual trust, so I feel local dancers trust us to make sensible decisions.

    I don’t want to create a sense of panic, so I’m being very careful with tone (light, but also knowledgeable), I’m using solid resources (eg WHO, Dept of Health, etc, _not_ newspaper or mass media articles), and I’m planning ahead.

    I’m also thinking long term. What will we need to do to redevelop our local scene _after_ this, what will we need to do to support local bands and DJs, and what can we do to support local venues (our scene is rooted in a few key commercial spaces: Ruby’s, a dancer-run dance hall, but also a lot of live music venues).

    Afterwards
    So I’m looking at what we might need to do to restart local parties, and how we might promote our events in a post-pandemic community where people are afraid of gathering in groups. I’ve learnt a lot from talking to Christchurch organisers about how they dealt with fear after the earthquakes.
    This is changing so quickly, and the panicked tone of a lot of online talk from the US and European dance world is making me feel a bit antsy, and I can see it affecting the Australian dancers, too, so I’m also limiting what and how much I read online. Official, reliable sources only for me.
    Whatever you plan to do, it’s worth planning those public responses before you have to give them, so you’re not emailing and FB commenting in real time (ie in stress time).

    Sharon and I met last Wednesday (9 March) to discuss this issue. We decided to cancel Jazz BANG. We also discussed things we could do to foster the local scene.
    Today I put our plan to cancel into motion, sending off emails, etc.

    I noticed that some of the content in our email copy had to be rewritten because things had changed so much in the past week. Last week we thought we could continue to run local dances each week. This week we have no classes or parties running in our businesses for the foreseeable future.

    To actually put the cancellation into action, we had quite a long to-do list. It’s taken us a week of hard work (including international phone calls with teachers) to get to this point. But so much has changed in a week, we’ve had to rework some of the plans we made a few days ago. And it has been stressful, miserable work. Sending out these emails today has made me cry. And I’m not a big cryer. All our hard work, all the things we had planned, all the new stuff we were going to do.

    But then, the thought of contributing to the spread of the disease is what decided us: I can’t bear the thought of making this situation worse. Of sending friends and loved ones home sick, to spread the illness through their own families and communities.

    So please start looking at your cancellation plans now. If the international example is anything to go by, we will be locked down for many months. China is still locked down after two months, and their response has been better than Australia’s.
    I’m finding this stressful and just heart breaking. All that hard work gone. All those artists out of work. Our businesses imperilled. Please reach out to your friends for a bit of hand holding and affection before you think you need it.

This totally sucks.

We had almost sold out of passes. We had some truly epic things planned with live music and performances. We had wonderful teachers booked. The band and DJ line up was fresh and exciting. We’d spend thousands of dollars already. But the thought of sending our friends home with an infection is even worse.


Hello dear friends,

We’re very sorry to have to write this to you, but we (Sharon and Sam) have decided to cancel Jazz BANG this year, due to the health crisis presented by the COVID-19 virus.

While the Australian government has not banned public gatherings yet, we cannot be sure of the situation in May. We don’t want to risk the health of our volunteers, bands, and guests – our _friends and families_. So we have decided now to protect the health and safety of the people we care about.

What’s been happening behind the scenes?
– It’s become harder to guarantee our international teachers’ access to Australia, as the government restricts entrance to the country and enforce 14 day quarantines.

– We know that transmission of COVID-19 is facilitated by lots of people coming together in big groups and touching each other. We hate the thought of spreading illness ourselves.

– We are concerned that international and interstate guests won’t be able to return home after the event, or will be quarantined when they return. Or even worse, that they will take infection home with them.

– We have already committed a certain amount of our own money to Jazz BANG, but we are at a pivotal point. Cancelling now, we reduce our potential losses. A huge loss in May would make it very difficult to run local parties and classes in the future. So we have decided to focus on protecting the economic sustainability of our local community now.

What does this mean for you?
Registrants:
If you have already registered for a Jazz BANG pass (and we have almost sold out of all passes, even at this early stage), we will begin refunding through Trybooking from Monday 23rd March.
Why the delay? Cancelling a big event takes almost as much work as planning one, and we have a loooong to-do list.

Musicians:
We are bitterly disappointed that we won’t be able to work with you, or to show you off to the dancing world. If you have recordings available for sale, please do send us the details and we will go hard on promoting them.

DJs:
We were looking forward to working with new friends and old. Please keep us in mind for the future when you are planning your calendar. We would love to have you back in Sydney.

Volunteers and staff:
We have been overwhelmed (again) by Sydney dancers’ enthusiasm and determination to be a part of running a big party. We were also looking forward to working with you, and seeing just how epic your work can be. Thank you for your generosity. You humble us.

Again, we are writing with heavy hearts, but with the belief that we are making the right decision.

Your friends,
Sam Carroll and Sharon Hanley.

BOO a cancellation

Hi everyone,

I’ve decided to be responsible and cancel the party on the 21st March:

———

Dear friends,

I’m very sorry to have to write this to you, but I have decided to cancel this party on the 21st of March.

As we all know, the COVID-19 virus is moving into our communities. It is spread through ‘respiratory droplets’* (drops of wet stuff from our mouths and noses), and through physical contact. The best way to prevent its spread is to avoid transmission through direct contact.
That means: not touching lots of people or blowing respiratory droplets onto them.

While our government have not yet asked us to stop gathering in large groups, it would be responsible to remove another opportunity for us to germ on each other :D

It’s a very great shame, and I was looking forward to hearing the band, seeing you all, and dancing like a fool. But I think – this time at least – it’s best to be sensible.

*I know it sounds like a great name for a dance troupe, but: too soon.

how do you get women leads?

Sydney now has a very strong culture of ‘anyone can lead or follow if they like, and it’s ok if you just want to do one and it happens to align with your gender ID’.

There are a number of reasons for this – a queer swing dance school who also run a big event; women leads on the floor; women teachers who teach as leads; people being publicly intolerant of anti-social behaviour; a growing ‘be good to each other’ discourse in event promotion, etc.
And where I write ‘women’, please include transwomen. I’ve noticed it’s easier for normcore folk to include transmen in their ideas of ‘men’, than it is to include transwomen in their category ‘women’.
It’s also been super important to see how welcoming and supportive our scene has been of people who’ve transitioned while being in the scene. ie they first presented as one gender, then transitioned to another. On the whole, teachers and dancers have been openly supportive, and more importantly, no-big-deal about changing pronouns, etc. It may have been harder for them one-on-one (all new things are tricky), but on the whole, it’s been ok. Not perfect, but ok. More work to do there.

Note: if a scene is ok with women leads and men follows, it is more welcoming to transpeople and queerpeople. Because a scene that has flexible ideas about gender and dance is a more welcoming, safer place.
If my leading has ever helped pave the way for a shy dyke lead or transwoman follow, then I feel very proud. It was worth it.

etc etc

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed, is that this general trend has been working in concert with peer-motivated anti-sexual-harassment actions. ie women are more likely to say no when a creeper asks them to dance, and they will also step in and check in on other women if they see creepers maccing on them.
There’s also been a scene-wide ‘fuck that; we do not tolerate harassment or assault’ public discussion from teachers (even if the organisational policies haven’t been in place).

And _this_ trend has seen us get a more ethnically diverse cohort of dancers. In part because one of the main creepers was targeting asian women. Boy, did he get his arse handed to him. And because women of colour just get fucked off by carrying the double burden of racism and sexism.

I noticed that once he and his gross mates were absent from events, we saw an increase in men following. It seems that this racist creeper was also intimidating other men _implicitly_. And that the men who liked to follow also liked women who lead (or the women who’d had a gutful of that creeper).

So when we addressed all these issues – sexuality, ethnicity, gender, etc – at the same time, we saw a general improvement in the vibe of parties and classes. People felt more comfortable being themselves.

And then it snowballed, and we saw exponential improvements.

So if your goal is ‘more women leads’, you need to address a range of issues. You’ll get a bunch of lovely good results as a consequence.

But speaking as a woman lead, things that were important for me:
– Teachers who openly said ‘women are leads as well as men’. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I remember the handful of times I’ve heard teachers say it in the last 20 years. But don’t be afraid to be pro-active on this. Not just saying ‘anyone can lead’, but “Women can lead.”

– Teachers saying to me “Don’t ever stop leading.” A woman teacher said this to me quietly one night after class, and it was the most important thing anyone has ever said to me about dancing.

– Seeing women teachers lead socially.

– Seeing other women ask women teachers to lead them socially.

– Having women teachers ask me to dance (and lead)

Things I wish people had done:

– Stepping on students in class who say ‘you’re being the man/boy?!’ with surprise.
I’ve never heard a teacher say this, but it would be solid gold if they said “hey, follows, don’t say this to your partners. It makes them sad.”
I’ve only ever been at two weekend events where no one has said this to me. In 22 years of lindy hop classes and workshops. Each time someone expresses surprise and expects me to justify leading, it wears me down just a little bit. So a) fuck you women follows, and b) teachers, get your students’ backs.

– Never used gendered pronouns in class, or used gendered language and concepts to describe leading.

Things that shat me to tears:
– Male teachers who try to make me try a move as a follow in class, when I’m leading. Sure, it might help my learning, but would you ask a male lead to do this, even if you knew they followed? And also, whatever your norm is, do this thing: treat women leads like they are leaders, not follows who sometimes lead.

– Teachers who kept ‘forgetting’ to use gender neutral language.

– Teachers who use sexy jokes in class, because most of those jokes were heterocentric and/or relied on the idea of a lead being a straight man.