Look after yourself, friends

Hello friends,
With yesterday’s report of another high profile dancer – Max Pitruzella –  sexually assaulting a woman, you may be feeling pretty awful. Terrible. Despondent. It’s exhausting stuff, and it can make you feel unsafe and afraid.
Remember you can call Lifeline any time on 13 11 14. https://www.lifeline.org.au

Something I’m trying to remember: if women are reporting assaults, it means they feel safe enough to speak up. There probably aren’t more assaults in our community than any other, but it is becoming clear that reports are met with positive action. Men who have been assaulted: you are not alone; men assault men as well. You may not want to make a public announcement, but you deserve safety and support. Please reach out to someone.

So take care of yourselves this week. If this incident is triggering anxiety, depression, flashbacks, or distress, do please reach out. You can speak to your GP, who can then referr you to a therapist under a mental health care plan. These appointments will be covered by medicare.
Treat this as you would another dancing-related injury, and act early. You deserve to feel happy and safe.

Patterns in behaviour: towards a discursive understanding of sexual harassment in dance

[note: this is a discussion that began as a fb post, then outgrew itself as I commented on my own post zillions of times.]

The list of people I’ve blocked on fb over the years correlates with the list of men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and harassment. This behaviour doesn’t happen in isolated incidents.

As R said on fb, “Scary stuff!”
…and yet kind of helpful. We can learn to identify the common traits of offenders.
This is one reason why we should be asking questions about events that don’t pay workers, don’t provide clear, written terms of employment/agreements, and don’t address other issues of equity and justice.

There is also often a correlation between exploiting workers (whether volunteers, paid employees, or contractors) and sexual harassment and assault. Which makes sense when you think of harassment and assault as being about power and control, instead of just being about sex (or even being about sex at all).
I’ve also noted that an insistence on not writing down terms and agreements also correlates with exploitation and harassment. If you don’t write down the terms of the agreement, then the worker (or the less powerful person in the relationship) can’t refer back to it to respond to questionable behaviour. It is much easier to gaslight someone (“It didn’t happen! You’re imagining it! You’re overreacting! It was just a joke!”) if you don’t have a clearly articulated list of what the job does and does not involve.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I actually explain what we define as sexual harassment in our code of conduct. So that people who just ‘have a feeling’ can follow up those ‘feelings’ with reference to a list of specific behaviours. When you have a list like this, and it’s in writing, and available to everyone, it’s much harder for someone to gaslight you, or pass off their behaviour as a ‘misunderstanding’.

I really like a code of conduct to be very specific.
And why I insist that people read it before they accept a job with me. If they read it, then we all know what’s on and what’s not on. And we remove that airy-fairy, amorphous confusion that benefits the people with social power (eg the power to physically intimidate).

A code of conduct is a way of empowering less powerful people. It gives them the tools to articulate their concerns, and to say, “Hey! STOP! I don’t like that!”

If you rely on ‘common sense’ or ‘the rule of law’ to determine how dancers treat each other, you assume that all parties have the same ‘common sense’ or the same understanding of the law and willingness to abide by this.
Which is obviously not the case.
In my case, I don’t think ‘the law’ actually does a good enough job of articulating behaviour I think is wrong or inappropriate. Nor does it deter men from offending.
And because dancers come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and share different values, we don’t have a ‘common’ sense of how we should treat each other. And it’s patently obvious that offenders do think it’s ok to harass and assault people.
So we need a clear outline of these values or sense or laws.

The truly terrifying thing is that I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a network of mutual protection between male offenders in the lindy hop scene.
As J said on fb, “I want so badly for you to be wrong about this…” Me too. But it’s logical. In many cases offenders don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong, so they don’t quash that behaviour in other men, and don’t manage their events to prevent it.

These thoughts were prompted by my going through my events for the rest of the year, and my DJing and traveling for next year. What are my limits as a punter and DJ. What events will I avoid? Do I need a written agreement and code of conduct to attend an event? If there is no explicit code, what sort of broader set of guidelines and strategies will I accept in substitute? If I do refuse to hire known offenders, how do I find out who these offenders are, if women are unwilling to publicise this knowledge, for fear of their own safety? And how do I develop the networks that can help provide this information?

All terribly cheering thoughts in this last, busy part of the dancing year.

Photography at dance events

This interesting article, Photographers Upset by ‘Ask First’ Stickers at BDSM Folsom Street Fair, is getting around the fb at the moment. It caught my eye for its focus on how photographers feel about being told no, they can’t just do whatever they want with people’s images. I’ve had more than one (male) photographer get the shits with me when I won’t let them have free entry to my dance event, and won’t let them take a zillion photos. They tend to assume that just because they have a big camera and a website, I’ll be desperate to have them take photos of my event, slap them online, so they can make money from them.
Soz, no, mate. That’s not the case.

I’ve been thinking about photography at dance events lately. There are a few photographers around the scene who use the title ‘photographer’ or ‘videographer’ to get free entry to gigs, to take lots of photos, and then wack them up on their sites, without honouring (or making explicit) a take-down policy.

Male photographers (they are always male) have approached volunteers at the door on the night at my events, asking if they can ‘take photos’ for free entry. Hoping, of course, that the volunteers will be flattered into saying yes.
HA. NO WAY, mate. All staff at my events are well versed in their rights, and in the rights of other dancers. Our OH&S policy is all about empowering peeps, and they know exactly what to do if bloke asks a dodgy question at the door.

Me, I hunt down photographers and ask them to take photos if I like their work. I’m absolutely not going to say yes to your last minute request to ‘take official photos’ just to get PR for my event. Because I will certainly have already seen your work, and if I haven’t contacted you, I don’t rate your work or your professional behaviour.

Friends are an exception: I’m happy to talk to newer photographers, or photographers who want to get a feel for working with dancers. But we talk about this well before the event.

For what it’s worth, better etiquette is:
– email organisers ahead of time to inquire about photography at an event
– outline your take-down policy, your approach, your ethos
– be ok if they say ‘no’
– if you want to do lots of photos, you will need either a) a professional role, or b) to pay for a camera permit/licence/ticket to the event
– ask in person (not through a third person like a door person on the night (!!!!)
– if you get a ‘no’, SUCK IT UP, pay the ticket price
– have, publicise, and honour a ‘take-down policy’ for your website.

A take-down policy:
– where you make it easy for subjects in photos to contact you and request you ‘take down’ the photo from your website
– you honour these requests immediately, no matter the reasons
– is important for respecting dancers’ choices about how their bodies are seen and ‘used’
-> are practical in a relatively small scene like the lindy hop world.

Common sense:
– don’t be taking up-skirts or down-neckline photos. Yes, we do see undies in lindy hop, but get your shit together on this one.
– if it’s a very personal moment (eg someone crying, a couple in an intimate embrace, etc), then think twice before publicising this photo.

Why we (still) need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

Here are some reasons why we need feminism in lindy hop.

First:
This year a number of high profile, influential male dancers have told me in conversation that women fake rape reports to threaten men’s reputations.
Response:
This is untrue. If a man says this to you, he cannot be trusted, and you should have a care for your safety, and for the safety of other women and girls. You should be suspicious of the men he hires or works with. You should keep an eye on his dance partners and students.

More importantly, we must always respond to a report of sexual assault as someone asking for help. So help.

Secondly:
I’ve also been told that it’s ‘common sense’ not to rape people, so we don’t need to do any more than rely on men following ‘the law’.
Response:
If this was the case, there’d be no sexual assault. And because we believe women who report assaults (and because women know that sexual assault is both common and very close to us all the time), we believe that men rape.
The law and legal systems of various countries fail women repeatedly. This is why we need to be specific and to clearly set out our rules and limits. And enforce them. We must evict dangerous men from our scene, and we must all work to protect and encourage vulnerable people.

Thirdly:
Women are feeling brave enough to report rapes. This week another high profile woman dancer reported a rape and series of assaults to the police.
Response:
These women are telling us that they need our help. So we help.
Laws do not prevent rape.
We are not done. Men are still assaulting women. So men need to change their behaviour, and we need to demand that they do so. There is no excuse.

Fourthly:
I received this charming comment from a person named ‘Henry’, whose ip address is ‘192.108.24.24’. The post was Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies.

Are you mental? Men have a greater responsibility to call out others for sexual assault because we happen to have the same gender? This kind of neo-feminist bullshit has no place in the swing world. If you want to prevent sexual assault then teach women how to recognize the signs of manipulation and sexual intimidation and tell them to speak out. Stop acting like the fucking victims you want the world to treat you as.

From the language, I’m assuming this is an Australian.

This comment really is the reason we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies. Because men blame women when they are assaulted. Because men are not held accountable for their own behaviour, nor do men feel accountable for the behaviour of other men.

Response:
If you come across this man, avoid him, and put him on your mental ‘watch list’. If a man speaks to you with such aggression and threatening language about sexual violence, avoid him, report him, and put him on your ‘watch list’.

Because men still believe this, and are willing to tell women this (even with cowardly anonymity), we need codes of conduct and sexual assault strategies. Here, friends is one of the ‘signs of manipulation and intimidation’ that lead to sexual assault. A man demanding we take responsibility for the offences of men. A man telling us that it’s our fault we were assaulted, because we ‘didn’t read the signs’ and ‘speak out’ before we were raped.

A straight up rantfest

So here’s the thing that’s bothering me today.
When the whole Mitchell issue became public, a lot of lindy hoppers decided all ‘the Russian’ dancers were rape apologists because some organisers in Russia kept hiring and defending Mitchell.
Lately a few people are circulating the rumour that the Ninjammerz ‘started’ an event in Sth Korea specifically to compete with the ILHC after the video of their anti-semitic routine was removed from youtube by the ILHC committee. This rumour has led to implications that all ‘the Korean’ dancers are blind Ninjammerz fans.

Here are the facts:

Russia is a fairly big country, and it has a fairly diverse scene. There are large scenes in both Moscow and St Petersburg and in other cities. Even within those cities, there are are the usual factions, groups, and diverse opinions.
I have met and worked with many of the Moscow Swing Society dancers over the past 3 or 4 years, and they are not only aware of these issues, but actively work to prevent and avoid bullshit gender dynamics. Even more importantly, they are hardcore into the ‘Harlem Roots’ approach to lindy hop, which focusses on history, respect for O.G.s, respect for your partner, respect for the music. And good community vibes.
Similarly the ‘eastern bloc’ lindy hop scenes are diverse, politically, socially, culturally.

‘South Korea’ is home to zillions of lindy hoppers, in Seoul, Busan, and other cities. The internal politics and opinions are as diverse as any large scene would be. In my experience with Korean dancers, there are plenty of politically active peeps who are also actively involved is dismantling bullshit power dynamics.
The Busan Swing Festival was running long before last year’s ILHC, and has hired a range of teachers from different backgrounds. It is certainly not a ‘rival event’ founded by the ninjammerz. What a load of bullshit.

So the next time I read a lindy hopper babbling that ‘all Russians are sexist rape apologists’ or ‘all Koreans are racist anti-semites’ I will give them SUCH a telling off. Because these comments are clearly ethnocentric and edge into racist territory.

There is always something you can do, and always a chance to say something.

I was having a conversation with some friends the other day about why I’m so fucking fierce about stamping out sexual harassment and assault. Or rather, why I continue kicking up shit and being a pain in the arse. Even when it’s scary to confront famous, powerful organisers and dancers. Even when the consequences for me mean losing DJing gigs or teaching gigs or other real world stuff.

I think about those stories my women friends tell about being assaulted by Steven Mitchell over many years, as girls and then as adults. Other dancers who knew Steven Mitchell often say, “I didn’t know what he was doing,” or “I was never in a position to say something,” or “I didn’t have a chance to do anything.” The girls telling their stories say, “You had so many chances. There were so many times when you could have done something, I was begging you, silently, to step in and help me. And you didn’t.”

And as I was talking to my friends the other day, I said:

I think about that. That those girls say there were times we could have helped them. But we didn’t. I think about how we might have been standing about after a dance, talking and laughing, and one of us offered that girl a ride home. But Mitchell interjected, “Oh, it’s on my way – I’ll take her with me.” And we just accepted that, because she didn’t object. It seemed like a sensible solution, we might even have thought that he was a nice guy for keeping an eye on younger dancers.
I think about that girl. Not saying anything. Not objecting. But silently wishing, praying one of us would reply, “Nah, Steven, it’s cool – us girls are gonna hang.” It would have been that easy. But we didn’t. I can imagine her panic and dread as the conversation continued, and she knew she was going to have to get into a car with him. Go home with him. And she wanted, desperately to say something. But she was too afraid. And she can’t understand why no one does anything. Never does anything, each time there’s a chance.

I think about her terror. I think about how often those ‘chances to do something’ happened, but we didn’t do anything.

When I was telling my friends this imaginary story (this is an imaginary story), I teared up, and I got so full of rage and sadness and fury. I could have done something. We could all have done something. There were so many times we could have done something. We can do something. Now.

This is why I don’t just sit back and let other people deal with these issues. This is why I make myself be brave enough to challenge teachers who do dodgy things. This is why I demand events address safety and talk about sexual assault. Because of that girl. Those girls, who are trapped and desperate for us to take all these opportunities to do something to help. It might make me nervous to speak up. It might make me scared. But it does not in any way compare to the way those girls are feeling. My fear is nothing like theirs.

That’s why I keep being a goddamm pain in the fucking arse. Because there are plenty of chances to speak up, to do something, and if you don’t, you are just letting those girls get in that car to be raped and hurt and terrified. When you could have just said one small thing.

It’s ok to say no; be ok with people saying no to you.

Hey, you can just say no to an invitation to a dance. “No thank you, but thanks for asking,” is a nice response. You don’t need to give anyone a reason or excuse. Sometimes a lindy hopper just don’t want to dance.

You can also be ok with someone saying “No thank you,” to your dance invite. Just smile and say “No wuckers,” then find someone else to dance with. If you get a couple of knock-backs in a row maybe check people’s body language before you ask?

Also: sometimes people just don’t want to dance with you. Be ok with that. If you practice being ok with that, you’re actively undoing the bullshit power dynamics that make women feel they have to dance with rough, creepy, or just plain nasty people. You’re being totally awesome.

Radical Feminist Stream at Herrang

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Are you going to be in Herrang weeks 2 and 3 (ie in the next two weeks)?

If so, a few of us are planning to meet up and share tips and experiences for the sort of work we’re doing in our own scenes on sexual assault and harassment. Or – more likely – we’re going to meet up and have FIKA! and make friends. Because arse kicking chicks need their sisters.
We’re also hoping to do some practical sessions for developing skills. Everything from learning how to say no to a dance, to how to kick someone out of an event. Maybe we’ll get someone awesome like Naomi Uyama to talk about being a woman band leader, or something equally awesome. ImagINE A WHOLE LIBRARY TALK PANEL ON FUCKING ACE WOMEN IN DANCE!?!?!!?!

If you have ideas or want in, drop me an email on dogpossum@dogpossum.org, or grab me in person. Week 3 will be the big week (traditionally radical feminist week at Herrang), but there will be plenty of opportunities to scream GIRLS TO THE FRONT! ALL THE GIRLS TO THE FRONT! in week 2 as well.

See you soon!

ps if you’re bro who’s going to be at Herrang in these weeks, here are some radical things you can do to be more awesome:

  • When you’re at the library talks or in class, don’t be the first to ask a question; let women ask questions first;
  • Take time (not when she’s dancing, doofus!) to ask a woman lead for a tip on what she’s doing that’s awesome;
  • Always list the female teacher in a teaching couple first;
  • Take a complete beginner class as a follow, and CONCENTRATE on learning. As though you’ve never danced before;
  • Don’t rape anyone;
  • Don’t let anyone else rape anyone.

“It shouldn’t just be one person’s responsibility to deal with fuckers.”

Bullying and power

First off: soz this post is a bit shitly written. Still dealing with jetlag in Germany.

This is an interesting little piece about Finland’s anti-bullying program KiVa: Anti-bullying program focused on bystanders helps the students who need it the most (Feb 1st 2016).

Reading it, I was struck by one key factor: children are encouraged to take a position of mutual responsibility. To think and care about others, and to take responsibility for their own behaviour. In other words, they are encouraged to see how they can be powerful in a social situation, and how being powerful and feeling powerful can prevent bullying. This makes particular sense in the case of bullying, where (we’re reminded), bullies target less powerful peers to make themselves feel powerful and in control.

This is the next step in my approach to responding to and preventing sexual harassment and assault in lindy hop. At this stage a lot of the work on this stuff in lindy hop has focussed on the role ‘organisers’, teachers, and other powerful people can play. But I see this emphasis as just rehashing and shoring up heirarchal power structures. When what we really need to be doing is deconstructing patriarchy – which is a very hierarchal system of power that privileges straight, white men.

Having a ‘boss’ (a teacher, organiser, or other powerful person at the top of a hierarchy) responsible for dealing with offences and offenders isn’t so great. Instead, we need to rethink relationships between individuals. In this little piece about bullying and Finland, kids are powered up and encouraged to take responsibility for situations (even if that just means understanding why they don’t/can’t step in). In the context of sexual harassment in lindy hop, we want to power up women, so they will speak up, but we also want to power up men to take responsibility for each other’s actions.

This is one of the reasons why I really dislike the expressions ‘scene leader’. We should all be scene leaders, all be engaged with community development and safety.

And I think that this is why some people will never truly get on board with wiping out sexual harassment: it means that some people will need to give up on autocracy. Which they’ll be reluctant to do, as so much of contemporary lindy hop culture is focussed on having clear hierarchies of power and status. Competitions have winners and runners up, and these competitions are then presented as defining factors in a dancer’s social and economic status. ‘International’ teachers are flown in to teach one-off workshops (and then fly out, taking no responsibility for what’s left behind). Even social dancing and ‘likeability’ is categorised with ‘people’s favourite’ awards for social dancers and general competitors. DJs are divided into ‘staff’, ‘head’ or ‘volunteer’ DJs. And so on.

If we are to get really serious about sexual harassment and assault in lindy hop, white blokes are going to have to give up power. Male DJs will have to openly and deliberately ‘give up’ high profile gigs for female DJs. Male MCs will have to ‘give up’ high profile gigs for women MCs. Male dancers generally will have to get used to the idea that they can’t just walk into workshops at a cheaper price because there’re ‘too many follows’.

There’s simply too much to be gained from these prosaic structures. These formalised systems of power privilege straight white men, and I can’t see many of them giving up this power any time soon.

Sydney’s last minute lindy exchange (10-13 May 2016)

We recently did something cool in Sydney.

The Sydney Swing Festival was cancelled at the last minute, for a range of reasons, and the local Sydney dancers were concerned visitors would be left with nothing to do. One woman in particular, Christine, started a facebook group. Her first post on the 2nd of June was this simple:

This group is to share local Sydney events and contacts with people who are travelling to Sydney for the (now cancelled) Sydney Swing Festival.
Please add anyone you think would like to be in the loop.
Locals: please share your knowledge and extend your hospitality for any social activities underway.
Visitors: let us know what you need (link).

At about the same time, there were a few conversations getting about on facebook messenger, with people beginning to Make Plans.

And then everyone jumped in and got involved. It was GREAT.

By that evening we had a rough program for the whole weekend. One week before the event.

By the Monday before the event, we had a solid weekend of dancing sorted out. Including three live bands, DJs, picnics, late night parties. All organised by a bunch of different Sydney people. Including:

It was one of the best exchanges I’ve been to. Certainly the best one I’ve been to in Sydney in years. Each event was run by a different group of people, all of whom put their hands up at the last minute to make the weekend fun. It was put together in a week, so there was no long term stressing. All the promotion was word of mouth or via facebook. I did run up a dodgy paper version of the program that people could print out themselves, but it wasn’t really necessary. All sorts of people volunteered lifts between venues, hosting for guests, generally took care of each other. There were heaps of volunteers running the door, bumping in and bumping out at events. And all the organisers worked together to be sure everyone had DJing covered, etc etc.

I booked one of them – Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band – who I’ve worked with before heaps of times, and who are just about to become THE band of the year, booked for all (and I do mean ALL) of the major Australian lindy hop events this year. They were also playing Saturday night, and I was a bit worried that they’d be a bit samey too nights in a row. But NO. On the Friday we had George Washingmachine play violin with us, and OMG. You know those 50s Ellington live recordings with Ray Nance playing violin? That’s what it was like. They played C Jam Blues. Oh. My. God. This band. I just can’t gush about them enough. Fuck. Holy fuck. They are 100% four on the floor solid swinging jazz. Andrew is a big Basie fan, and he knows his shit. He works with VERY good musicians, and they play riff arrangements, not from scores. Anyhoo, they also played Saturday night, but with a trombonist, not violin. Andrew on drums, and then a bass and Peter Locke on piano. Shit was HOT.

The Sunday band was the Unity Hall Jazz Band, also full of amazingly good musicians. But more a hot jazz band than a solid swinging band. Which was a great contrast.
I wasn’t impressed by any of the DJing, which is a shame, but then, I’m a hardarse. I thought Sharon’s band break DJing on Saturday was grand, and well chosen to complement the band. But otherwise…
Ah well. The bands were so good, and I danced so much to them, it was all ok.

If you went to everything, it would have cost you $86. Which is ridiculous. Because everything was pulled together in one week. And as a serious music nerd, the music was fantastic: three REALLY good bands. Two of whom were left out of pocket by the cancelled event, but were ‘rescued’ by the last minute gigs. Why was it so cheap? Because there weren’t any of the extra expenses that make a weekend more exy: no printing or publicity design work; only one event for each organiser to pay for; very few volunteers on the roster; no flights or accommodation expenses; no sound engineers (we cobbled it together on the night); no paypal fees to cover; etcetera and so on and so on.

As I said, it was the best exchange I’ve been to in ages. Great live music. Good will and good company. I only had to organise one party, then I could just party on, Wayne. There were 6 different groups involved in running events during the weekend (3 of the 4 other Sydney lindy hop groups were involved in other ways – promotion, attending, etc), and the good will and general enthusiasm was most excellent.
It was like going to an old school lindy exchange.

One of the interesting challenges that I saw come up, though, was how to coordinate a code of conduct/oh&s process that covered the whole weekend? One of the groups have an existing code of conduct and safety strategy. We have our Code of conduct, and one or two of the others also have various policies. Some don’t. The issue then becomes, how to create continuity in safety and OH&S policies at an event like this one?

My first instinct would be to have a team of ‘safety officers’ who are present at each event, and are clearly trained in how to respond to OH&S issues (eg injuries, assaults, etc), and are clearly visible at each event. You’d also have to be sure each of them was vetted and cleared. I actually think that this approach would have been quite successful over the weekend.
Since we instituted our policies, I’ve found that while I haven’t had any reports of sexual harassment, I have found that people are more likely to look out for each other, and actually come to the door peeps or me asking for things like a quiet place to sit down; a snack to deal with low blood pressure; ice packs for injuries; bandaids or pain killers for minor problems. This has been a very nice result: people don’t suffer in silence, and other people watch out for each other.

So I’m wondering if we could make up a ‘safety pack’, delegate and train a team, and then set it in motion, with the go-ahead of the organisers. You could even offer to fill this role at other events for organisers at other events.
You’d need:

  • a first aid kit with things like ice packs, band aids, panadols, bandages, etc (and know how to use it);
  • a snack kit with things like sweets, biscuits, bottles of water, etc (and know how to use it);
  • a reporting system (eg a report form, and record keeping system);
  • a delegated ‘quiet space’ to make reports, or for people to have a quiet sit down;
  • a clear set of guidelines for the team, and for the organisers, so that everyone knows what the terms and responsibilities are;
  • a simpler, paper version of the guidelines so all the punters knew the deal;
  • a website or facebook page with all this info, so that organisers could advertise it before the weekend, and punters knew where to go and what to do if they got in trouble;
  • training for all the team;
  • vetted team members.

I’m finding that the volunteers on my teams are actually so experienced now, they know what to do. And punters are getting just as good: if they see someone, or dance with someone who’s feeling rough, they know what to do. And they do it.
I think a scheme like this would also give general people a way to step up and take care of each other.

Anyhoo, the weekend was GREAT, and it really invigorated the Sydney dancers. You could see people saying, “YES!” and getting involved. And it was also a really GREAT event – lots of good dancing, good company, and good fun. It really showed just how diverse, and how amicable the Sydney lindy hop scene is.