Check out this simple little symbol on this event flyer.
It says ‘we support safe spaces’, and it’s slipped in there next to the venue, organising body logos. This placement says ‘this is as important as who runs this event’ and ‘we are proud of this’.
It’s not the perfect little symbol, and I’d probably say ‘this is a safe space’, but it WORKS.
Just like flying a rainbow flag or having a rainbow sticker in your window, just like the pink triangle, this little symbol says “We are onto this.”
I’ll be attending EASY DOES IT…. tonight. (well, I probably would anyway, because live band, two floors dancing in a squashy bar: my favourites.
I do have a question, though: this is a public event, and the venue is a bar. How will the venue be enforcing safe space policies? Legit question, and out of curiousity, as we work closely with the PBC, and rely on their own commitment to equity and safety.
Now I’m all excited about community partnerships in working for safety and equity at dance events. I’d be curious to see how Nevermore Jazz Ball and Jenny Shirar and Christian Frommelt approach these things in their very-community-focussed event.
And as this week continues, we hear more and more brave women talk about being assaulted by Max Pitruzella. Even worse, we hear more and more men making excuses for why they didn’t step in and tell Max to stop that shit and quit being a fuckwit. It is difficult to stay positive in this climate.
One of the hard parts of feminism is that it often feels like we have to be continually angry and hating on things. But it’s not true. Feminism is very good stuff. It can bring you happiness and power.
I see the dance world’s action on sexual harassment as a very lovely part of feminism.
One of the ways I turn this issue around (and why I love teaching beginners so much), is by focussing on how to treat your partner with respect, but in practical ways. Our whole Swing Dance Sydney teaching and learning group has come up with very good, simple and practical ways to integrate respect and consent with old school lindy hop dancing. It’s easy, it’s FUN, and it makes classes rowdy, full of laughter and happiness. I do recommend.
What we did with our beginner (week 1) students this week was explain about how to ask for a dance, to introduce yourself before you touch someone, and how to make sure your partner was touching you in the right way, and to be sure your partner is ok with the way you touch them.
With the intermediates we talked about how to understand your partner’s body language as communicating their feelings: how a clenched hand and tight arm might mean an uncomfortable, worried, or nervous partner. And we talked about how to be nice so your partner feels safe. And we reminded both leads and follows that we don’t ever demand or tell our partner to do a rhythm step. We invite them to join us in that step. And that we should be totally digging their response, whatever it is! Even if they ignore us!
All of this was part of a very general discussion about having relaxed swing outs where we let go early, don’t yank in early, and take care of our own posture and rhythm. Leads don’t try to micro-lead, follows bring their shit. People dig that, because they see straight away that this type of partnership is how the jazz gets in.
Our intermediate students are already right on top of these issues. Most of them volunteer or work on our events, so they know our safety policies, and how to deal with reports, the police, etc etc. They are all very active about spreading the word to other people too.
I’m lucky. They are a very wonderful group of people. I’d hashtag this blessed but I’m too cynical for that.
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.
[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.
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.
– 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.
Here are some reasons why we need feminism in lindy hop.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
I received this charming comment from a person named ‘Henry’, whose ip address is ‘184.108.40.206’. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.