Teaching: follows’ skills

Someone asked in the teaching group this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhoo, this is how I responded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When do you give consent: blues dance and historical context

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

Blues dance post following –

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

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

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

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

My response was as follows.

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

I think this statement is problematic:

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you ban someone from your dance if they don’t do anything ‘wrong’ at dances?

What do we do if a guy assaults someone outside of dancing; can we (ethically) ban him from our dances if he didn’t break our code of conduct at our events?

First: of course we can, ethically.

Secondly: it’s important to think about hate crimes (and I include rape here) as working not just as individual instances (eg raping someone; beating someone). A ‘hate crime’ isn’t just the single instance of violence. It is the culmination or total sum of a number of moving pieces.

So when I ban someone for ‘stalking’, I’m banning them for the total sum of their behaviours, which may only include ‘not taking no for an answer to dance invites’ and ‘dominates a young woman dancer’s time’ happening in dance spaces, but also include ‘constant fb messages’, ‘lewd comments’, ‘constantly pushing boundaries’, and other things in non-dance spaces.

I expand my idea of ‘dance community’ from just ‘dance spaces’ (dance halls, classes, weekend events) to social and cultural spaces. I look at behaviour not as single incidents, but as the _relationship between acts_.

So, in the context of racist hate talk, we can ethically ban someone from our dance events even if they’re very careful not to to use racist slurs or beat anyone up at dances.

We can do this by:
– Expanding our idea of what constitutes ‘dance community’ from ‘dance spaces’ to lots of other spaces: online, face to face, the parking lot outside the studio, the train home from the party, the carpool to dinner before dancing, etc. This then expands our network of personal responsibility: we owe our dance buds a duty of care, even when they’re not dancing.
– Seeing ‘racism’ not just as individual incidents like using a racist slur, but as a pattern of incidents, and the _relationship_ between incidents.

So it’s not the individual actions we call out, it’s the patterns of behaviour that we call out. And that means that we need to get specific. We need to learn how to identify and record the ‘tricky’ stuff we can’t see or measure:
– What was that joke that was borderline? Write it down, record it. How did it make people feel? What was the ratio of black:white people in the room?
– What sort of things does that person share on their fb page? Who do they tag in discussions?

….and so on. We need to be able to articulate why we feel uncomfortable about someone.

We have had to do that with sexual harassment and assault. And that is just like racism, in that it’s about people using power to control or manipulate or degrade other people.

Maybe that means it is time to stop dancing.

To be honest, dancing itself covers a multitude of sins. All that adrenaline and endorphins and social
manoeuvring can mess with our powers of observation.

YES please

I think often of the two men who intervened when they came upon Brock Turner assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford — they knew instantly that something was wrong, because she was clearly not participating. Contrast that with Evan Westlake, who in high school witnessed his two friends raping a semi-conscious girl at a party in Steubenville, Ohio. When asked why he didn’t intervene, he told the court, “Well, it wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”

I’m sure there are many differences between Westlake and the two men in the Turner case… but the one that stands out to me is that Westlake was raised here in the US. The two men on bicycles in Palo Alto were Swedes, raised in a country that teaches healthy attitudes toward sexuality and gender in school, starting in kindergarten, including lessons on not just biology but healthy relationships, destigmatizing taboos around sex, and, yes, affirmative consent. They knew that a woman who is lying still and not participating in sex is a woman who isn’t consenting. And it prompted them to take action (Jaclyn Friedman ‘I’m a sexual consent educator. Here’s what’s missing in the Aziz Ansari conversation.’)

This is of course our next task: how to let someone know, if you’re really into having a dance with them, and how to know if someone is really into dancing with you. This came up in a discussion about teachers being paid to social dance: who wants to social dance with someone who has to be paid to do it?

If we train our new dancers to always say yes to a dance, I’ll never know if they really want to dance with _me_. I want to be a dance partner people enjoy dancing with. And I think it’s very hard for many of us to admit that: that we’re hurt when people don’t think we’re nice to dance with. If people _have_ to say yes to our dance invitation, then we never have to face the fact that not everyone wants us (as dance partners).

So a good, enthusiastic “Yes PLEASE!” is as important to practice as “No thank you.”

Thinking about sexual assault and harassment as OH&S

I’ve started to get really interested in the way labour relations and workplace bullying/safety feeds into these issues. After all, the work place offers a model for describing and engaging with the patterns of power at work in these spaces. It also allows us to shift the idea of ‘work’ from strictly pay-for-labour to ‘paid and unpaid labour’, which of course lets women, POC, and other people into the discourse.

I’ve actually chosen to take the OH&S policy approach to responding to and preventing s.h. and assault in my dance work. From documentation and training to reporting and policy. Partly because I run a dance business, but also because OH&S discourse has all sorts of useful language tools: responsibility, legal responsibility, moral responsibility, mutual responsibility. I have been quite excited by this idea of ‘responsibility’, and have turned it around to become the phrase ‘we have each other’s back.’
I found that my repositioning s.h. and assault as a ‘safety issue’ for everyone, just one example that sits next to things like unsecured ladders, a lack of fire escapes, violent punters, and professional bullying, it gives the community a way of engaging with it. We can bypass the sexual stuff (with all its attendant taboos and gendered assumptions) and consider s.h. and assault as just one example of a harassment, bullying and exploitation. It also turns out to make perfect sense, to see s.h. as just one tool in an offender’s tool box. It’s very unusual, I’ve found, to see an offender _only_ s.h. They are likely to exploit in lots of other ways as well.
This approach also makes it clear something that many feminists (except perhaps Garner and Alcorn) realise. Rape and harassment aren’t so much about sex as about power. So if we set aside the ‘sex positive’ subtext (where it’s implied that I’m supposed to think about assault and harassment as sex, and if I’m against anything sexual, I’m a prude), and position s.h. and assault as a failure to ‘look after each other’ – a safety issue – we can rock on.

In my work on s.h. and assault in the dance community, I regularly have to point out the difference between a happy, consensual sexual touch/interaction and uncool stuff. This helps me move away from dichotomies of consensual and non-consensual, and repositions the whole discussion as asking the question, “Do you have your fellow dancer’s back?” I use phrases like:
– we have your back
– we’re looking out for each other

And in our training manual, I require all workers to practice realising when they need a 5 minute break (self care) and realising when their colleague needs a 5 minute break, and how to step in and encourage them to take that break (mutual care).

In our dance classes, we also spend quite a bit of time on learning to observe our partner. I often phrase this as ‘check in with your partner’, and we practice verbal ‘checking in’ (how to give it, how to respond to it), visual ‘checking in’ (what does their facial expression tell you?), and physical ‘checking in’ (what does the way they touch you tell you?, how is their body communicating their feelings?). In a dance setting, it’s quite simple to then make the next link, and say ‘a successful dance is one where both partners are working happily together, communicating well. And we have plenty of practical dance games and specific moves that require lots of ‘checking in’ with your partner, including copying, call and response, building on something a partner introduces.
I think we can make that same practical connection in non-dance spaces. eg being an audience and a speaker at at conference, managing employees and being managed, carrying a table from one room to another. etc. The key is to have practical, real time experience with these models, where people actually experience the benefits of them.

So the important parts seem to be:
– a discursive repositioning of s.a. and s.h. from ‘sex’ to ‘safety’ (and specifically OH&S)
– putting s.h. and s.a. in the same family as ‘if you see someone who feels sick, help them get a cup of water or take a break’ and ‘running a safe event includes preventing s.h., fires, and underpaying workers.’
– providing a language and model for _positive_ and happy, healthy physical contact. ie knowing the difference between sex and social dance, knowing how to talk about and ask for specific things, men in particular learning to read women’s emotions nonverbally

Most importantly, repositioning s.h. and s.a. as one point on a spectrum of exploitation helps us get past social taboos and discomfort associated with sex, and to think about the actions not as sexual, but as exploitative, violent, aggressive, manipulative, etc etc etc.

A spectrum of behaviour vs a continuum of harm

Ah, another post which is really a bunch of facebook comments masquerading as coherent prose.

A friend linked up Gay Alcorn’s Guardian post ‘Helen Garner’s The First Stone is outdated. But her questions about sexual harassment aren’t’ the other day. I was flabbergasted by the piece. It made me incoherently angry. I literally could not write or talk about it.
I wrote a furious comment, but then retracted.

A few days later, I found a way in, when a man asked a useful question.

Please, first read the article above, then read on.

I began with this response:

Nope nope nope nope nope.

Which escalated to:

I think this Alcorn article is bullshit too. I’m so angry I have to step away from the computer.

But my way in came in the form of a specific discussion about a ‘continuum of harm’. Garner and Alcorn argue that a grope is less important than a ‘rape’. They argue that there’s a continuum of harm/seriousness, and neither really understands why women don’t just ‘deal’ with offenders in less serious cases. This made me very very angry. It’s an attitude profoundly lacking in empathy, but it also suggests to me that this sort of woman is enabling and participating in rape culture by dismissing claims about the ‘severity’ of an offence.

This is what I said next:

I actually don’t buy the continuum of seriousness model, where we have ‘totally not a big deal’ at one end, and ‘horrible violence’ at the other. It simply doesn’t work in practice.

In my experience working on s.h. and assault within a community over the past couple of years, it’s the relationship between incidents and behaviour that is significant. So a whole heap of ‘minor’ things all add up, within the context of patriarchy, to a pattern of exploitation and abuse. It’s very important to recognise these ‘small’ things as part of character type, so that you can predict what will happen next.

So I like to use a ‘spectrum’ of behaviour, where it is the connections between actions that are important.
I think… no, I _know_ that dismissing something like a ‘boob grope’ as inconsequential is a way of dismissing women’s concerns, and making them question their own instincts.

At any rate, should we wait til a man violently rapes a woman, or watch for patterns of behaviour and intervene well before that point?
Garner and Alcorn seem to be suggesting the former, I argue – angrily – for the latter. In fact, I think that Alcorn and Garner’s attitudes are dangerous and betray a profound inexperience with practicalities of dealing with s.h. and assault in real communities with real people. The theory of assault is nothing like the realities of dealing with it in real settings, with real people.

Me, when I see the pattern develop, I step in. I ban men who are potential trouble, because I am not fucking waiting til they do something ‘serious’ enough to warrant a police report. And I devote a lot of my class time to teaching men and women how to identify inappropriate behaviour, and how to respond to it.
This is the deal: women under-report assault and harassment. Men don’t report it. Women question all their instincts. Offenders train women to question themselves and downplay the seriousness of offences.

Garner completely fails to see how her demanding to know all about an event, and to have access to all the details is about her presumption of privilege. Basically, the right to disclose or not to disclose information about assaults and harassment is a key – central – most important! – part of responding to reports.

In my work, we have found that protecting anonymity is SO IMPORTANT. Because women who report, and women who act as agents reporting for survivors, are threatened – physically, legally, financially, emotionally. Within my dance community we’ve had to develop complex networks of relationships to make it possible for women to make reports anonymously. Garner’s coming into a situation like that, behaving the way she did, endangers women.

Reporting to the police? I fucking laugh. That’s far too dangerous and public for almost all the women I know who are reporting assaults.

Garner can fuck off.

I’m getting so angry writing about this, I have to stop. It’s seriously triggering my own vicarious trauma from working on these issues.
Garner, Acorn, and their opinions are fucking bullshit.

Someone then asked:

What’s the difference between a continuum and a spectrum of transgression?

And this is where I really go to town.

A continuum ranges from A to E in a straight line, suggesting A leads to B leads to C leads to D leads to E in gradually increasing severity.

A spectrum thinks in at least 2 dimensions – imagine a circular field, with lots of points all across that field. Instead of progressing in a straight line, offenders commit numerous offences and do many things that in themselves seem ‘unimportant’ or less ‘severe’, but taken as a whole network, add up to a more complex understanding of sexual assault and harassment behaviour.

It’s very very important to note that most offenders defend things like a breast grope or a very tight hand hold, or repeated invitations on dates, or persistent facebook messages, or standing too close, or interrupting women, or not using their proper titles as ‘small’ things. They often admit to doing these things, apologise profusely, and profess ignorance. They target younger, less experienced, less confident, less ‘visible’ women and girls. Women and girls less likely to report and less likely to believe their own instincts.

Taken one by one, each of these is ‘small’. It’s the relationship between all of them, and the repeating, ongoing ‘snow’ of actions that add up to important character profiles.

Most women actually tend to dismiss all these individual things as ‘unimportant’. More significantly, they may not even recognise that men are doing these things to them – eg a woman might feel ‘uncomfortable’ talking to Mr X, but not realise it’s because he’s standing too close, touching her ‘accidentally’, making a lot of eye contact, asking for too much personal information, choosing to speak to her in smaller rooms with no windows, etc etc etc.
It’s easy to apologise for a ‘small’ thing: “Oh, sorry! I didn’t realise! I’ll never do it again. I’m so sorry. Is it ok? Do you feel ok? Let me make it up to you.”

So we have a second important point: women are trained to doubt their very good instincts, men are trained to take the assertive role in these interactions.

A third point: women are trained not to notice or give weight to these many ‘small’ actions/offences.

A fourth point: women are trained to prioritise politeness, male comfort, and avoiding social awkwardness above their own discomfort. So they won’t move away, let alone speak up or ask a man to stop.

A fifth point: women and men lack a language for talking about these minor things, let alone major things.
Women are discouraged from using precise terms to talk about their own bodies: vulva, breast, bottom, stomach, small of the back. This means when they try to articulate where they were touched, they are imprecise: “He touched me down there” rather than “He brushed his finger tips across my vulva”; or “He boob swiped me,” rather than “He trailed his whole hand across my left breast as I turned away from him.” This social awkwardness combined with lack of _words_ makes it difficult for women to explain why they felt uncomfortable, why it hurt, why they didn’t want him to do these things. So when they report these ‘small’ things, they blush, tremble, stutter, hesitate. All signs that suggest ‘fabrication’ or ‘dishonesty’ if you’re looking for a lie.

A sixth point: offenders are really fucking good at hiding what they do in plain sight. I’ve stood and watched a man holding a woman in his arms while dancing, knowing he was groping her, but not being able to see it. I had to trust the woman’s report that he held her too tight, wouldn’t let her go, squeezed her fingers, pressed her groin against his leg. So ‘minor’ things in combination are easy to hide, and also work in concert to make a woman a) doubt herself, b) feel utterly trapped, c) make it impossible for her to report. What does she report? “He touched my hand in passing that one time? He sent me a lot of fb messages?”

A seventh point: other men are discouraged from calling men out on their behaviour, especially when it’s smaller stuff: “Lighten up, mate, it’s just a joke.” They’re trained to dominate space, and to prioritise their own feelings. So they don’t ‘see’ when a woman is trying to get away from a man in a public space in a non-confrontational way.

And, finally, I have seen that offenders invest a lot of time in all this ‘small’ stuff, training women to be quiet, isolating them from friends and help. And then, they escalate. They most commonly seen to escalate to becoming a ‘boyfriend’ who may not actually declare the relationship, but insist it’s casual or just for fun. And within that relationship they often escalate the violence of sexual encounters, and use a lot more controlling, gaslighting, and isolation techniques.

All this is why it’s super important to remember that rape is something that usually happens in the home, domestic or work space, by men women know well.
When we position rape as ‘violent attack on the street by a stranger’, it’s inexplicable (what was she wearing? why did this happen?).
But rape isn’t a bear attack or an earthquake. It’s not an inexplicable natural disaster. It’s often a very carefully planned and executed act of control, and just one expression of a whole continuum of control and exploitation.

So when we want to ‘look’ for sexual assault and harassment, it’s not useful to ‘look’ for the most ‘extreme’ incidents (which are usually defined in terms of phallic power, often literally in terms of vaginal penetration). If we want to find (and stamp out) sexual assault and harassment, we need to look for the ‘little things’, and then the relationships between these little things.|

This is how it’s essential to consider rape and harassment within the context of patriarchy. Everything about that story in the First Stone establishes this as a serious example of sexual harassment. If I was investigating that incident, I’d look for other, non-sexual(ised) incidents of his exploitative and controlling behaviour. Did he use women’s real titles? Did he take them to dinner a lot, or pay for a lot of drinks? Did he only hold meetings in his own office? Did he fail to pursue delayed pay or conditions for employees? Did he ask people to work late?

And so on.

I also need to add that I didn’t really understand how all this worked until I worked on it my dance community myself. I started seeing clear patterns in women’s reports and men’s behaviour. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t articulate or pin down about what made something ‘dodgy’. Luckily dance gives me a good vocab for talking about how to touch someone. But still, it was super difficult, and I still feel like I’m not quite there. I’m missing something. Most telling, I find my own empathy for women reporting assaults, and my own vicarious trauma change the way I think about and respond to reports.

I just don’t think that Alcorn and Garner had or have this understanding of the practical experiences of working on these issues. Too much office time, not enough observation and listening time.

Of course, if you’re reading along as a dancer, and as someone who’s read my other posts, you’ll realise that this is why I get so niggeldy about gender specific language in classes, about the types of photos of dancers we see at events, and whether the lead or the follow is listed first in competition couple announcements.

The ‘continuum of harm’ model is too simple. It suggests only two options: bad or not bad. Which is a) intellectually dishonest, and b) actively disempowering women and survivors of assault. It forces them to decide, ‘Was I raped/harassed or not?’ when the question should be ‘Is that man’s behaviour threatening others?’

Should teachers ask to be paid for social dancing?

A well known and relatively high status teacher, Åsa Heedman posted this (public post) on faceplant yesterday:

Today I learnt that some Lindy hop teachers take an extra charge for 1) showing up at the dance evening and 2) charge even more for dancing with the students. Ridiculous! Organizers in the world: don’t support this, it is not gonna help creating a good Lindy scene.

There were a range of responses, from wholehearted approval of the sentiment to profound disagreement.

Me, I got opinions. Of course. Let me premise yet another poorly written post with the point that I feel that sexual harassment is just one point on a continuum of exploitation and misuse of power in the lindy hop world. So if we want to get rid of assault and harassment, we need profound restructuring of institutions and social conventions throughout our scene. Teachers and teachers’ working conditions are just one of these. The premise here, of course, is that teachers are at once powerful and influential people, but also disempowered and exploited in many of their teaching roles.

One of my general comments was this:

I reckon it’s fine for teachers (and other workers) to charge what they like. The market will let them know what it can bear :D
But i also think it’s totally fine to discuss pay rates and who charges what. If we didn’t, then pay inequities (eg male teachers being paid more than female) and exploitation (eg workers not increasing their rates annually, not being fed or housed properly, or overworked) wouldn’t come to light.

One of the most interesting comments on this post was by Alba Mengual:

Asa i completely agree. On the other hand we have had a contract sent to us that specify “that we must show up to the evenings and dance with the students” and i felt i didnt want to sign it (even if i do it allways) because i do it for the LOVE not because of a professional obligation. Also..how about if i only go 1h to the party bc im tired? Will i get not paid because i breached the contract? .and how many students is enough?? To have this in my contract kills my soul and my love for what i do…i want to have joy at night inviting people and sharing..as i do in any party bc i love dancing…and not feel that im working..really really for me its a big difference

This was my response to Alba’s point, and to the issue overall:

I think Alba’s reluctance to sign a contract where she’s obliged to social dance a lot (has to social dance) is justified. She has a right to say no to dance invitations. Everyone does. I think that it’s not only important for her well being, but for her to model self-care like that.

I always clarify with teachers whether they charge for social dancing. I’m ok if they do.
When I write up agreements for events where I have booked teachers, I always specify the terms:
– whether or not teachers are expected to come to parties
– whether or not they’re expected to social dance
– whether or not they’re expected to arrive at the beginning or stay til the end.

As long as both the organisers and the teachers (ie employer and contractor) understand and agree to those terms, it’s fine.

From an industrial relations/workers’ rights point of view, I don’t mind whether teachers require payment for social dancing or not, and if they do require payment, they should set that out very clearly in their terms and conditions document.
Similarly, organisers need to state very clearly in their own terms if they want teachers to arrive dead on time, dance every song only with students, and only leave at the end of the event.

-> These points are very, very important if I’m talking with non-Australian teachers. Especially if they come from a culture where workers’ rights are strongly protected (eg Sweden) or not protected. Or just plain different to Australia. I have legal obligations to not only protect contractors’, volunterers’, and workers’ rights, but to be sure they understand their rights.

Personally, I say this in my agreements with teachers:
– you’re not obliged to attend parties, but it’d be nice if you did;
– you’re not obliged to social dance, or to turn up at the beginning, or to stay all night;
– you’re definitely not obliged to come to late night parties.
-> I tell them to prioritise their health, and if that means they need to take a longer break between classes and parties, that’s good. If they need to leave earlier to get more sleep, that’s also good. If the sound levels are an issue, if they have kids to look after, etc etc – all those things are more important than their coming to a party.

I just make sure I hire the best bands I can find, bands that makes people want to DANCE. Or sit and watch and listen. Or have a drink or two and talk to people!
I also make sure I hire teachers who enjoy social dancing. And then I make sure that their working conditions and experience makes them feel like dancing.
And I also try to say clearly in my event PR “please welcome guests to sydney – invite them to dance, say hello” etc etc. And that means teachers, musicians, visiting dancers, volunteers, etc.

I also have terms in my agreements with teachers about drinking (ie don’t teach drunk; don’t drink while you’re working because OH&S; abide by the code of conduct).
The code of conduct makes it clear that drinking to excess while working or in a position of authority is not ok; and I’m clear about sexual relationships with students at events.

Åsa then replied:

Sam Carroll, it sounds like you are one of those organizers that teachers really appreciate to cone and teach for. Great! That’s the kind of circumstances that bring out the joy, please come but you don’t have to. But as you are also good with that some people charge for attending social dance I just want to ask you how you handle the fact that maybe one teacher is getting paid for being at the social dance and the rest is not. Is that fair? Is then that teacher getting paid while somebody else is not. For the same kind if “work”?

That’s a tricky one, Asa. It’s a bit like asking ‘how do you feel if one teacher is being paid a higher rate than their partner for teaching’, or ‘one dj is being paid more for their djing than another.’
There’s actually lots of work done on negotiating contracts and collective bargaining by unions. When you are part of collective bargaining via a group like a union, you may accept a lower pay rate so that everyone can be paid and have better conditions. Bosses of big businesses often work to dismantle unions and pressure workers to sign individual contracts. This saves bosses money, and gives them greater negotiating power.
So individual teachers have a right to charge different rates, after all, we don’t have unions, nor do many events observe local industrial relations laws.

I feel that it’s better to go legit as an organiser, as it offers you legal protection if things go wrong (so you can call the police if a teacher assaults someone at your event), and you pay tax in return.

Similarly, if teachers ‘unionise’ (ie talk collectively about terms and pay and so on), they can push organisers to provide better pay andconditions or risk a strike/boycot by teachers.

We are seeing the beginnings of this collectivism now after the public talk about teachers assaulting people. Some teachers are saying, “I will not work at events that don’t have a code of conduct”. This is a way of saying, “i won’t work at events that don’t respect health and safety laws.”

Similarly teachers saying “you must pay me to social dance,” is a way of saying “you must respect the fact that social dancing is physically and socially hard work; you must allow me sufficient rest time after classes; etc etc.” You can still love your work and be paid for it. In fact, there’s a theme in the lindy hop world that you shouldn’t charge or be paid for wonderful, creative work you enjoy. Why not? You can love your job and be paid for it.

So when i read that some teachers charge for social dancing, i ask myself, “what experiences have led them to this action?” Perhaps this is a response to poor working conditions:
– too little rest time between long days of classes
– very late nights
– not getting enough sleep or rest (because they don’t have real beds or doors that close)
– terrible parties with awful music
– a scene vibe that encourages dances only to dance with ‘the best’ dancers instead of people they like,
…and so on.

So this pattern in teachers’ pay rates tells us a lot – far more than just ‘they want money.’ There’s nothing wrong with wanting money. But there is something wrong with exploiting workers.

Btw, i have to give specific props to Ramona Staffeld on this issue. She is brilliant to work with: she’s very clear about her terms (and explains why), she tells me when i’ve erred, she’s super professional. She balances self care with an intense, hedonistic love of social dancing, AND she’s a brilliant teacher and dancer. And just plain nice.
Working with her has made me a better organiser. But it’s also led to my doing wonderfully fulfilling creative work with musicians, tappers, and lots of other volunteers and contractors.
I actually don’t do late night parties, but i do always book bands. Musicians who love to socialise with dancers. And Ramona’s generosity of spirit is what leads her to yell approval at a band mid-song, make friends with them, and get up and jam with them. So our evening parties tend to be very rich and intense, whether you’re dancing or talking!

I know i work well with clear structure, but Ramona has also taught me how to let loose and just revel in the jazz as well.

After this, there are a number of posts arguing against having contracts at all.
And I’m not ok with this.
Here is an example from Matthias Müller:

We never signed contracts with our teachers and made great experiences with it. The better you treat the teachers, the less you have to fix by contract and the more you get rewarded by them.
So, thats the big thing for me: Don‘t blame anybody for anything, this is the free market. But choose well and reflect your own setup as an organizer…

I replied:

I disagree vehemently with this, @Matthias. Clear agreements are important. There is a clear correlation between no-contract (no code of conduct) events and underpaying, exploitation, sexual harrassment, bullying, and straight up bullshit.

..i’m also deeply suspicious of any organiser who pushes contractors _not_ to have agreements. All the ones like that i’ve worked with (as dj and head dj) have been fucking dodgy, and later proved to hire and cover up for sexual harrassers and rapists. Dodgy approaches to OH&S issues are a big alarm bell for me.

A contract or agreement is just a way of writing down clearly what you have all agreed on.
Note: the events that hired Steven Mitchell here did not have written agreements with all contractors, and have been the very worst for not paying teachers or djs, overworking staff, etc etc etc.

It is possible to have a contract and still be good friends, guests, hosts, and so on. An agreement just ensures clarity.

At this point, Carla LaRue Heiney commented. I enjoy her contributions. She makes interesting points, and is very thoughtful.

What if we shift our paradigm here….
When I was teaching with Kevin St Laurent and we put in our contract that we needed a “real bed”with a door that closes to the room, people thought we were crazy, but it was because we were trying to take care of ourselves so that we could do the best job possible and also be present. We valued social dancing with the students at the evening parties, but we also valued getting some sleep and eating healthy.
I remember people talking about us and gossiping that we had certain things in our contracts. We had to do this because we honestly were not taken care of and I don’t think it was anyone trying to really “get away” with something, but rather a new scene and people trying to figure it all out still. I don’t think we even knew what we really needed until we had been traveling a bit and realized how poor sleep conditions and lack of time for things manifested in sick instructors, grumpy instructors and more.

So, we talked to some other professionals and we decided to have a contract that just stated what we wanted and needed and nothing too crazy, we hoped. Real bed, private sleeping areas, 3 meals a day, down time, maximum number of hours teaching etc. I am wondering if these newer contracts and requests from both sides are not just another attempt at people trying to take care of themselves and simply need refinement. To me, personally, I think of how nice it would be if some of the dances were earlier or didn’t go quite so late, but that is the mom in me talking.
I have also hired instructors are are known not to social dance as often as others because I still highly valued their instruction and take on the dance and the other things that they added. I tried to balance this choice with hiring instructors who were known to be on the social dance floor throughout the night. And I also made a lot of mistakes along with some good choices, hopefully, too.

The big thing is, let’s try to figure out why and not try to think negatively about the organizers making those requests and the teachers asking for certain things. I am all about choices and freedom and understanding. There is always something to learn.

This point is most important, I think: “The big thing is, let’s try to figure out why and not try to think negatively about the organizers making those requests and the teachers asking for certain things”.

Later, Tonya Morris added this comment:

You know, when Sugar Sullivan taught in Seattle, we couldn’t keep her away from the dance floor at night…one night she ended up in a ridiculously fast jam at the end of the night with Peter Loggins doing first stops and swinging out hard. I kept offering to bring her home and she looked at me like I was crazy. That’s the epitome and spirit of Lindy Hop…just saying.

My response to this:
Different lids for different pots, right?

I’d also like to think that the ‘spirit of lindy hop’ is to take care of each other, to stop and listen to a band and watch a solo, really enjoy the company and conversation of a new friend, to buy a friend a drink, or lend an ear to someone in need.

I’m really uncomfortable with this ‘that is the spirit of lindy hop’ talk. We are all different people, and we do things in different ways, enjoy different things. I don’t want to have this one, singular, and disturbingly evangelical ‘spirit’ of lindy hop.
I want ‘Sam’s spirt’ which involves dancing like a fool, DJing sometimes, being the butt of musicians’ jokes, meeting new friends, designing flyers, reading about jazz history, looking at Australian modernist art, talking about labour relations, making applique banners, swapping photos of historic buildings, listening to CDs with friends, learning about mic stands…. lindy hop brought me all this. I think all these things are important.

And I do think that a scene that thinks the ability to dance non stop for sixty million hours is the highest human quality is a danger. That’s how we got people like Steven Mitchell and Max Pitruzella exploiting this ethos.

This conversation is continuing on faceplant right now.

But I think it’s worth summing up the key issues:

– teachers having terms and conditions
– some teachers specifying their social dancing time/pay
– other teachers and dancers feel this is ‘not in the spirit of lindy hop’
– I feel that this ‘spirit of lindy hop’ rhetoric is an ideological tool ripe for exploitation (to mix a metaphor). The nebulous ‘spirit’ of a community disappears diversity, and discourages solid, clearly written contracts oand terms of agreement.

Continuing:
– some teachers and organisers feel that agreements and contractors kill the ‘spirit of lindy hop’.
– I strongly disagree: clear contracts and agreements are a useful tool for avoiding exploiting workers, and they empower disempowered people.
– some people feel that social dancing is the ‘true’ spirit of lindy hop.
– I feel that it’s just one part of being a lindy hopper and lindy hop culture. I feel that valorising this quality is what led us to the bullshit power dynamic that enables gross exploitation and abuse of less powerful people by more powerful people.

A key point, here is that I want to reframe this as a discussion about labour rights and relations. Unions and collectivism are a useful ideological and practical tool for countering the ‘artistic individualist/ mysterious creative spirit’ rhetoric that is often used to justify exploiting workers, or to avoid transparency in work practices. We have clear proof that this avoidance of legit industrial practice contributes to and enables sexual assault and harassment and exploitation in the lindy hop community. To the point where if I see an organiser or teacher actively arguing against contracts or agreements, I am deeply suspicious. I suspect serious misconduct.

I’m very uncomfortable with some dancers’ resistance to the idea that lindy hop is, and can be a ‘business’. The people most critical of this concept seem to be those who have gained social and cultural power from lindy hop. So we see high profile teachers and some organisers using this argument. I smell bullshit here. I also see no problem in making a business of lindy hop. In fact, formalising arrangements and being financially responsible and sustainable is one way to avoid injustice. We have models to avoid hardcore patriarchal capitalism in lindy hop business, and there are quite a few very good dance businesses around the world which use them.

And look. It’s fucking hypocritical so say that it’s not in the spirit of lindy hop to run a dance business, when you benefit financially, socially, and personally from being employed by those businesses. So fuck off with that bullshit.

I also want to introduce more discussion of cultural and business law and policy into this discussion. Yes, this stuff tends to exclude people. And that’s exactly my point. Learning about these things empowers us. As I said in reply to another person’s comment:

I guess I just don’t think teachers’ social dancing is any more important an issue than all the others that go into running an event. This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but while who you hire to teach is very important, the teachers are just one element of the weekend. And can be replaced.
In fact, an event often _needs_ to change up its teaching line up to continue to attract attendees. And that’s why teachers need to stay competitive as workers and artists: they need to be good at what they do, improving their skills, and acquiring new skills (including how to conduct themselves professionally).

The much more important things involved in running an event are:
– is the event financially sustainable (ie are you going to be bankrupt by running it)?
– are there enough people to actually run it on the weekend?
– do you have venues hired?
– do you have music hired – DJs or bands?
– are people safe at your event (eg do you have cables run safely, is the building sound, do you have fire escapes – do you have an OH&S policy?)

So I put whether or not teachers social dance into the ‘teachers’ conditions’ folder in my head (and literally in my computer), which is just one of many other folders. Teachers’ working conditions are no more important than volunteers’ working conditions, or musicians’ working conditions, or DJs’ working conditions, or the sound engineers’ working conditions, or my own working conditions.
So I can a) only allow teachers a certain amount of time, and b) I can’t help but see common issues across all the contractors’, workers’, and volunteers’ folders.

Basically, and this is something we’ve been talking about in the lindy hop scene for a few years now, teachers aren’t magical fairy artists. They are creative workers and employees, _as well as_ artists and humans and inspirers and mentors. So they deserve no more or less time and attention than any other person at the event.

This issue may vary between different countries, but here in Australia our government policies are fucking over the arts. This is having material effects on the lindy hop scene:
– our community venues are getting more expensive and harder to find (because they are govt funded and maintained), and private venues are EXPENSIVE, but also restricted by new laws (like the lockout laws, and noise restrictions);
– our musicians are going overseas (because the arts grants and school music programs which pay their bills have been cut so severely);
– agencies like APRA, PPCA and so on (which administer copyright and music licensing) have fewer funds for outreach and support for smaller organisations;
– visas increase in cost each year, and require a lot of skill and knowledge to secure, because our govt is slowly closing its borders to anyone who’s not white and middle class;
…and so on.

All this means, that if you want to run a weekend dance event, you have to run it as a legit business. Because there aren’t enough funding or resources to run events on the cheap.
If you _do_ want to run your business as a non-profit, you really need to get your act together and learn a lot about tax law, business registration and administration law and so on.
Either way, you need to be a bit savvy about cultural and business policies and laws. It’s hard work.

A lot more goes into running a dance weekend than booking a teacher. And if we want to be able to invest the thousands of dollars hiring a teacher requires, we have to get our shit together. We have to run this professionally.

Should Gordon Webster’s band play the pie/cake song? No.

This is a post drawing together some thoughts that I had in a discussion with some friends. These were good friends, in a private discussion, so I won’t present their words here, just my own. But I want to give them credit for their thoughtful comments.

Here is the nub of the discussion: should Gordon Webster play the song ‘I Like Pie, I like cake’?
Background: he recorded this song with Steven Mitchell on vocals, in the early stages of the band’s push to popularity. The album included some very, very good musicians, was recorded live, and is super super popular with dancers.

Now that who and what Steven Mitchell has done is being spoken about publicly, most dancers and DJs have decided not to play that recording. But what about Webster? Should he still play the song, even without Mitchell on the lyrics?

My response is: no. No. No.
Why?

Apparently Webster plays it almost every gig he does. When a friend commented in real time, that Webster was playing it at that moment at Snowball in Sweden, one of the biggest events in the lindy hop calendar, I was shocked. I couldn’t really believe it was happening. Surely that’s a no-brainer? Don’t play a song made famous by a rapist?

So I just assumed that there’d been a confusion with the organisers, a problem with the person who briefed him. As I said in that online discussion:

If they [the organisers] didn’t tell him ‘no pie/cake song’, then it’s their issue. But if they did brief him, and he played it anyway, the band organiser should have had a list of ‘consequences’ for breaches of the code of conduct, and know how to handle the situation.

If he did it at my gig, I’d be fucking ropeable.
Though, to be honest, Webster doesn’t impress me with his understanding of these issues. Especially after hearing that ep of The Track where he talked about it.

After a few other general comments, a man asked:

why can’t he play that song?….. Is it because of the connection with SM, that he shouldn’t play it?

I was, frankly, flabbergasted. What do you think? But then I reminded myself: not everyone is elbow deep in safe space policies. And it also made it clear: men who aren’t doing this work, aren’t thinking about it a lot, are able to think about other issues, and do other work. It’s clearly a limitation on their own work, to not understand these issues, and, at heart, a failure of empathy. But it also limits them creatively.

But let’s look at my response. The following is cut and pasted from the discussion, removing names to protect anonymity, and hopefully edited for coherency :D

Yes [it is because of the SM thing], because Steven Mitchell is recorded with the band, on Webster’s biggest selling album, and because Mitchell was always at the front of the band showboating with that song. It’s impossible to separate the two in people’s minds.

Most events have that recording of the song on their banned list, as it’s
a) grossly insensitive to play a song by a man who sexually assaulted girls and women for years, and
b) when we play that song, we are saying ‘I think this is a good song, and I don’t care about other people’s feelings’.

We should draw the line somewhere.
I choose not to play it because Mitchell groomed and sexually assaulted girls and women, using his power to force them into horrid relationships and situations with him. It makes me feel ill to hear him sing. It makes me angry to hear people applaud it or celebrate it by dancing.

So should Webster play that song, even if Mitchell isn’t singing?
I say no.
Mostly because it shows very poor taste (as though he’d rather get the props for playing a popular song than respect the women Mitchell assaulted) and very poor judgement (it implies he doesn’t care or is too cavalier to realise how playing this song might imperil future gigs or his reputation). But also because it shows us that he simply puts his own ego and feelings ahead of the girls and women who were assaulted, and of all the other women, girls, boys, and men who have been sexually assaulted or deal with harassment and the threat of sexual violence every day.

Basically, Webster playing this song tells me that he doesn’t think. And his continuing to play this song, even after being made aware of the issues, tells me that he puts his own ego before ethics, and that he’s tone deaf (in a social sense, not musical sense).

As an organiser, that tells me he’s trouble.
As an organiser, I’d get right up in Webster’s face (after the gig) for playing that song. I’d be so fucking angry, as I would definitely have told him not to play it. Webster playing it at my gig would be tarring my reputation, but it would also be his disrespecting me, publicly, as a woman and as his employer.

In fact, his continuing to play that song absolutely guarantees I’d never book him.

I’m also wondering if the band booker/manager for Snowball gave Webster clear guidelines on this. Playing the song in Australia would technically constitute sexual harassment and bullying, which is illegal (and could get an event manager into serious trouble). There are a range of issues at work here, including the scope of the band booker’s brief (ie what exactly are their powers and responsibilities), and whether there is a clear policy in place for dealing with sexual harassment and/or difficult behaviour from musicians. These aren’t questions I can answer for this event. But with events I run, I have clear guidelines for the bands (leaders and musicians), and scripts that I use for addressing issues with bands. Because I’ve had to in the past.

After this comment, some other friends made interesting observations. I want to maintain anonymity here, as this is a thoughtful group of people exploring difficult issues in a safe and private conversation. So I’ll paraphrase.
This from a very interesting comment:
– Webster still plays this song, every gig, even after the Mitchell issue became public
– People have spoken to him about the issue
– He has spoken to other people (including women who have spoken publicly about being assaulted by Mitchell)
– He knows it’s not ok to use the recording where Mitchell sings
– I’ll quote this bit: “he feels that he and the lindy hop scene can and should reclaim the song for themselves. It’s a theme for the band, not the person, despite the previous recordings. ”
– Sarah Sullivan’s (Stevens first public accuser) band also plays that arrangement specifically for the point of reclaiming the song.

I’ve heard these points from a few people now, phrased in roughly the same way. I think these are key issues, and worth addressing. So here are some things I said.

There’s a huge difference between Sarah (a woman, a survivor) playing this song, and Webster (whose band recorded it with Mitchell) playing it. The power dynamics are completely different. If Webster had a reputation as a clear ally, and if he wasn’t such a showboat, I’d consider it.

I feel that as a powerful, white, straight man, Webster’s speaking to other people about it isn’t really convincing. Who’s going to tell him to stop? In what settings does he have these conversations? At gigs where he’s the headline act, the ‘star’? Who’s he speaking to? Women? Men? Who? Women who’ve been assaulted by Mitchell?

[Let me digress here, to explain why ‘talking to people’ isn’t an adequate reason for continuing to play this song]
It’s difficult for many women to confront men like Webster, on a topic like this, in confronting circumstances. The very emotions of this issue make it difficult for many of us (whether we have been assaulted or not) to articulate why we don’t think it’s ok. Our culture discourages and punishes women who rock the boat and critique powerful men in public spaces. And Mitchell took great pains to make sure his targets were disempowered and unable to speak up against a powerful man.

Dance events aren’t really conducive to serious talk, and where else would ‘ordinary’ dancers have access to Webster? Not too many people would dare to confront or disagree with a ‘star’ at a big gig. Not too many people, other than other powerful people.

And here we have the point: who are these ‘other powerful people’? Who are the MCs, the organisers, the DJs, the high profile teachers? We still see men over-represented in these roles.
And it’s clear that other men covered up for Mitchell, and enabled his actions. Other teachers, organisers, MCs, influential people. ‘Other powerful people.’ While they may be quick to condemn Mitchell now, these men are not as quick to dismantle the social structures that enable injustice. And dismantle their own power.
Playing a song made famous by a sexual offender is an articulation of power, and it is an injustice. It is part of the discursive and industrial structures that enable sexual offenders. It tells us that the stories and songs of powerful men are more important than the stories and safety of women and less powerful people.
Who says what and where is a matter of power.
Who sings what song, and where, is a matter of power.[/]

Listening to that ep of The Track, Gordon’s clearly not aware of the way his own power and status work in his interpersonal and professional relationships within the scene. Though he may have changed his thinking since then, I’m just not convinced his judgement is sound on this one. And continuing to play this song tells me that he’s not aware of the nuances at work.

The thing is, Webster worked with Mitchell for so long, taking him to cities where he assaulted and harassed women. This makes Webster complicit in Mitchell’s actions, even if only through neglect or awful coincidence. As a band leader, he was in a position to call Mitchell on his other inappropriate behaviour (and Mitchell was always a difficult, demanding, pain in the arse). He could have disrupted the continuum of exploitative behaviour Mitchell was operating within. He could have removed Mitchell’s literal platform for self-promotion and self-aggrandising. But he chose to put him on the stage, at the gigs, again and again.

And I’m not really ok with a white, powerful, influential man ‘reclaiming’ something. That’s a concept that works as a way to ‘speak truth to power’. Sarah can do it, a woman can do it, even a band that’s not associated with Webster can do it. But the song was ‘his’ to begin with… He had and has the power, so what’s he ‘reclaiming’ it from? His own poor decisions? His own association with a man who has always had a reputation for inappropriate behaviour, let alone assault? Better to make reparation and let the song stay unplayed.

At the end of the day, as a powerful person, he should be making choices that are beyond doubt. By choosing to hang onto a song because it gives him props as a pop anthem, he’s treading on dangerous ground. With his history of association with Mitchell, he needs to be beyond doubt in his actions. And this choice is very dubious.

At this point in our discussion, I thought, ‘What am I doing? Why am I defending this position? Surely it’s clear, that choosing not to play this song is the right choice?’ I really felt as though I was going to a lot of effort to prove something that should be self-evident. To articulate that lurch in the guts that was a combination of rage and frustration and fear and sadness. Now I realise that that ‘self-evident’ emotional, empathetic response isn’t shared by people who do not experience sexual harassment and assault. Men aren’t trained to see and respond to these things the way men are. So they need it pointed out; it isn’t self-evident to them.
And this is the kernel of my discomfort: I feel as though we keep having these discussions. And it’s always women who are doing the explaining. Where are those male allies to step in and do this work? Why aren’t men willing to just accept that we actually know what we’re talking about? It’s so, so tiring. And as long as women continue to do all this work, the social structures that enable injustice remain in place. Women spend time and labour on this, instead of other creative work.

[edit: same goes for issues of race. How come it’s poc doing all the hard emotional labour, and white people (especially white men) so unwilling to just trust their word, believe black people?]

So then I felt like I had to excuse or explain my ‘shouting’ and long comments. I always feel like this. As though I need to excuse or explain why I’m so worked up. That there’s something wrong with getting worked up. But because this was a group of friends, I just posted my feels. And then I realised: this is the core of it. The feels. This is what I wrote:

I am so adamant about this because I’ve seen the havoc these men wreak. After the last year working with women reporting assault, I’m just… I cannot articulate just how evil these men are. It’s not ‘just’ a matter of ‘attacking’ a woman once. It’s systematic, ongoing control of every aspect of their lives. These women are terrified, seriously fucked up, and it’s just so so bad.
These women contact me saying ‘I just want to know if X is going to be there. If he is, I won’t go.’ They’re just so afraid, that if they see these guys they dissolve into panic – it’s real trauma. And the things these men do to them. It’s horrific.

And it’s now very clear that these men all cover up for each other, support and defend them. That’s the part that’s really upsetting me. I keep running into organisers and DJs and teachers and musicians who actively protect men who are known rapists and cruel bastards, because they’re also doing these things! They hire each other for gigs, they bully women into disappearing quietly, they provide environments that encourage exploitation in all sorts of ways.

It’s all so awful that I can’t read any more reports. I haven’t been assaulted, but I am regularly harassed, because I’m a woman. And now that I’ve heard these stories, that are just so common, I’m just heart sick.

So I just can’t believe that someone like Gordon Webster wouldn’t do something as simple as stop playing a song. It’s such a little thing for such an influential person, but it’s such a big gesture.

Reading these comments again now, I’m reminded of the arguments people make for watching and posting videos of Max Pitruzella, another reported rapist. People go to great lengths to defend this choice. And I’m not convinced.

In sum, then, I don’t think Gordon Webster should play the ‘pie/cake’ song with his band. He should stop playing it. For as long as he continues to do so, and for as long as men defend his playing it, I will be suspicious of him and his motivations. They are not my allies.

what is inclusivity? what is a safe space?

Shelby recently asked on fb:

Dance friends!

What is inclusivity?

Also, what is a safe space?

I know what these are in general sense but curious of what people’s functioning definitions are rather then these ne terms that thrown around in the ether but don’t have a definition tied to it but rather have actions connected to these terms.

This is what I said.

I use these words in different ways in different contexts, but in my dance work:

What is inclusivity?

I usually talk more about ‘being inclusive’ (ie doing something, rather than a noun), because it’s tied to activism – actions – in my head.
Basically, it means doing what you can, changing things, to include all sorts of people. The assumption is that mainstream spaces (ie lindy hop classes, parties, workshops, etc) are dominated by white, middle class, heterosexual, urban, able bodied people. This isn’t an accident, but a result of how the space is designed and functioned.

So when we make things ‘more inclusive’, we change the space. That can include:
– the language teachers use; the type of teachers (eg hiring POC, same-sex couples, etc etc);
– where a space is (in a middle class area, or out west in a more diverse community?);
– how a space is advertised (changing images and language to be more welcoming to a wider range of people);
– the make up of bands (from all white men, to ….heck, anyone else).

Before we can make these changes, though, we need to study the space itself, and note it’s characteristics: who’s missing from this space? Which voices are heard? Who is speaking? There’s lots of literature about this stuff to draw on, so we needn’t invent the wheel. This is also my background: looking at communities of cultural practice and finding out who they are.

I don’t think every single person is welcome at all dance events. As an example, I don’t allow known sex offenders or violent people into my events. They are clearly not welcome.
As another example, we have women-only dance classes in the Sydney scene, run by and for women who don’t feel safe with men, or want to dance just with women. For all sorts of reasons. That’s cool.
We also have lgbqt classes, which welcome straights and allies, but also make it clear that these classes prioritise queer language and politics. So anyone coming needs to be cool with that, and might find it challenging at first.

So when we say inclusive’, I’m thinking ‘a place or policy that actively works to resist and undo patriarchy.’ It’s not a neutral ‘everyone is welcome’ policy. It’s an explicitly political policy to undo the privileging of straight, white, middle class men in lindy hop.

What is a safe space?

I don’t use the phrase ‘safe space’ very often, but I do talk about ‘safety’ in my dance work. When I talk about safety, I’ve specifically chosen to position my work on preventing sexual harassment and assault as part of ‘occupational health and safety’ work. Why? Because I run a business, and there’s a lot of good literature and resources on this exact issue, coming out of feminist activism and also union work.

So when I talk about ‘safety’ I’m talking about:
– prosaic stuff like avoiding injuries and accidents by removing dangers. But this is useful because a ‘danger’ can be a known offender that we ‘remove’ for the safety of workers and punters.
– I like to position sexual assault and harassment as potential injuries, as this makes them ‘ordinary’ and desexualises them to a degree. This allows us to get past some of the social taboos around talking about sex or bodies or gender in our community.
– I like to push the idea that ‘safety’ is all of our responsibilities. So I use the phrase ‘we have each other’s backs’ and ‘look after each other’ a lot. The three main ‘rules’ of my business’s dance classes are: ‘look after your partner, look after yourself, look after the music.’
-> this idea of mutual responsibility is central to my feminism: it’s about communitarianism and collectivism (rather than individualism); it’s about care and nurturing; it’s about empowering people by giving them responsibility for each other.
-> very central to this is giving people concrete ways to ‘care’ for each other – eg our code of conduct has a section on ‘how not to harass someone’. At events I say, “If you see someone who needs help, offer to help them to the registration desk” (and this is said over the mic to punters, but is also written in our handbook for volunteers and staff). They have explicit ‘scripts’ for asking for help or for offering help.

At the heart of this approach, is my belief that to make spaces more inclusive and safer, we need to undo patriarchal power structures. ie we need to undo the ‘top-down’ pyramid of power, where we have one ‘boss’ at the top, and then layers of people with less and less power. I aim for a flatter power structure, and more rhizomatic systems of responsibility. When I say ‘rhizome’ I’m talking about a model where everyone is connected to each other in complicated ways and relationships, not just looking up to one boss or down to employees. Change is the most important part of this: we are capable of change, and we should aim to change and learn and try new things.