I’m just going to repost and post these when I come across them again, because it’s worth being reminded.
This one was taken at the Savoy. omg ladies dancing together at the Savoy.
Ok, so let’s say you want to encourage more women to lead, and more men to follow. Or at the very least, you want people to feel ok about choosing either role. How do you get brand new dancers feeling as though they can choose?
This is how we do it.
We begin each class by introducing ourselves, and we do it like this:
“Hi, I’m Sam, and I’ll be teaching as the lead tonight.”
“Hi, I’m XX, and I’ll be teaching as the follow tonight.”
That immediately makes it clear that we could be doing either role, and that our choice isn’t necessarily permanent. This is actually a very practical thing for us at our venue, because I occasionally teach as a follow (and I find that very challenging), and we have a range of female and occasionally male teachers drop in, teaching either role.
But if you’re a brand new dancer, these words ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ mean exactly nothing, because you don’t know how this dance works yet.
So we follow up with something like:
“This is a class for new dancers, and we assume you’re brand new, so you are very welcome if this is your first class. Tonight we are working charleston/lindy hop/(whatever it is we’re working on).” And then we demonstrate that. So if we’re working on swing outs, we do some swing outs.
That let’s the students see the partnership in action (though most people can’t really see how leading and following works before their very first class), and it gives them an idea of what they’re in for. It also lets them imagine that this is how they’ll be dancing during the class, which is a nice thing.
Then we do our warm up (all solo stuff).
Then we learn the basic step/rhythm for tonight – charleston, whatever. Again, on our own.
Then we say:
“Ok now you need to decide whether you’re leading or following. If you want to lead, then put your arm in the air.” Or we ask the follows to put their arms up, and then we have them pair up.
This is usually about 10 minutes into the class, so students’ very first experience with lindy hop is that being able to dance on your own is essential. They also learn that leads and follows do the same rhythms and steps. We teach them how to do the rhythm on both feet. So they learn that being able to do both ‘sides’ is really important for everyone. This, incidentally, gives people a chance to get used to being in a dance class on their own first, and it introduces them to learning, and our class culture, on their own. Before they have to do the most confronting part, which is touching someone else. Holding someone else in their arms.
If we’re teaching our level 2 class, we begin with “If you dance both lead and follow, please choose one and dance that for this class.” We don’t care what people do, so long as they stick to one for the entire class. If we have uneven numbers, we try really, really hard not to make dancers feel they need to change their role to suit the numbers. If I know someone is there to lead, and we have massively more leads than follows, I work with that – I don’t try to even the numbers. Uneven numbers is actually a benefit, and I articulate that in class. Our regular students know that if you’re on your own in a rotation, you use that time to work on your own dancing, and most people figure out it’s a real advantage.
I have had trouble when I do substitute teaching at other people’s classes, because the dancers standing out without a partner have to be encouraged more than once to keep dancing. But my feeling is: you’re here to dance. So standing about watching other people is a waste of your time. Unless of course you need a little break, which is ok.
And that’s it. It’s really that simple. If you treat it as normal, so does everyone else. And for us, it is normal. It’s important for us to identify who’s leading and who’s following in the teaching partnership, especially for brand new dancers, because they often can’t identify the role on their own.
We always say ‘lead’ or ‘follow’, and we never use gender specific terms. Because that’s dumb. And gender isn’t actually important. It’s much more important to talk about the role – leading, following – and to use the words ‘lead’ and ‘follow’, because it helps you develop an identity for each role, that isn’t about gender, but is about dancing qualities. So, in my mind, a lead leads – if I want to have a follow step towards me, I need to take a small step back (rather than yanking on our arms). If I want the follow to do a particular footwork rhythm, I need to do it too, and first, and with confidence. If I want my follow to be relaxed in their body, I need to relax my body. And so on. Similarly, following isn’t about ‘doing as you’re told’, it’s about maintaining momentum. I might say “I’m deciding what move we’re doing, but (follow’s name)/the follow is deciding how we do that move, and they’re responsible for maintaining the momentum. We’re both responsible for keeping time (with our bounce), and we’re both responsible for doing good, clear rhythms. We are both (as Ramona says), responsible for taking care of the rhythm.”
I find that avoiding gender specific language actually frees my mind and my teaching to explore the way leading and following actually work. If I can’t say ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’, I have to find other words that describe what we’re doing. And that makes me a much better teacher.
We didn’t begin with this model. When Alice and I started, we would say “Traditionally men led and women followed, but we don’t need to do that,” or something similar. And then, looking back through old photos, I realised that that was just plain wrong. Women have always led, men have always followed, and men have always danced with men, and women have always danced with women. For the same reasons they do today – a shortage of the other gender, a preference for the same sex (whether romantically or just because fronds), wanting to dance with friends, coincidence, dancing skills and preference, etc etc etc. So we stopped saying that, because it’s WRONG. And I think it’s extra wrong to tell a bullshit version of history when we’re dancing a historic dance.
So if you’re working on this stuff – good luck, and do let me know if you have other strategies! I will TOTALLY steal your ideas!
I’m sorry I’ve not posted much lately, but I’ve been TOO BUSY!
So far this year:
More contentiously, Bobby White posted this status update on faceplant recently, and someone tagged me in the comments:
Casting call: For an upcoming Love & Swing article on Swungover, I’m looking to see if there’s anyone who is open to interviewing who
(1) is a heterosexual male who has chosen to follow as his primary role in dancing.
(2) is a male, leader or follower, who has chosen to dance with “feminine” characteristics to his dancing (for whatever reason, and with whatever definition of “feminine” they choose.)
(3) is a heterosexual female who has chosen to lead for her primary role.
(4) is a female who has chosen to dance with “masculine” characteristics (for whatever reason, and with whatever definition of “masculine” they choose.)
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of anyone who might fill these descriptions, or, if you don’t mind, please like so that people will see it! (28 Feb
I have problems with the use of ‘female’ when we’re talking about anything other than meerkats.
I’m a woman who is primarily a lead, and sure, I’ll talk about it. If you can handle the snark. I think we’re friends if you want to pm me. (28 Feb)
Gee, wasn’t that snarky.
Then I added
….incidentally, your definitions of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are severely limited: there are many masculinities and femininities happening here (I reckon you need to read some Judith Butler), and these aren’t consistent across cultures. (28 Feb)
Sam, where did I define “masculinity” and “feminiity” in the above post and statement to make you think I have a limited definition? I have purposefully NOT defined them in order to see other people’s personal insight. Am I missing something? (1 Mar)
…This whole thing kind of pooped me, because it’s such OLD FASHIONED SEXISM. I just couldn’t be bothered. So I set it aside for a few days. I’d intended to just respond with a blog post, but then Bobby PMed me, so I figured it’d be rude not to reply. I was a bit snarky in those comments above, but, frankly, this comes up SO OFTEN and it’s SO EASY to find out why it’s not ok to describe women as ‘females’, for example, I just couldn’t be bothered.
But well, I had a bit of time.
Meanwhile, my twitter feed was full of unrelated conversations where women were making loljokes and laughing about blokes describing women as ‘females’ (again), so I figured it was something I needed to comment on.
Bobby asked in his PMs:
(1) How did I use “female” in a way that you have a problem with it; I felt I used it only in its scientific, factual sense, with no bias or implied meaning other than simply gender. I used “male” as well in the exact same wording. Am I missing something?
This question does make me lol a bit, because it’s such an OLD discussion.
The next question:
And (2) how did I mention gender in terms that made you think I have a limited view, especially when I clearly stated “whatever that definition means personally”to the person answering.
I’m truly curious.
Bobby was asking in the best spirit, and I figured it was worth answering. This is what I wrote:
I’m sorry, I’ve been super busy lately, so haven’t had time to write. And I don’t really have time to do any proper talk right now.
1. I’d go with Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’, as it’s most relevant. I used it as a starting place to talk about these issues in my phd. Basically, we’re talking about performing gender.
2. The problem with using ‘females’: we’re not doing science, here, so that’s not really the right approach. More importantly, there’s a difference between women and female: female is gender, women is biological sex. Gender is socially constructed, and sex is biological. In this context, you’re talking about people’s biological sex relates to their performance of gender, right?
Additionally, using ‘females’ in this setting makes us sound like meerkats – it’s not appropriate. There’s a wealth of feminist criticism of this, so I suggest you do a bit of googling on that one.
3. There are multiple ways of performing femininity and masculinity. Or, there are multiple femininities and masculinities, and these aren’t fixed or permanent. They are specific to particular moments in time, to particular cultures, ethnicities and demographics. Patriarchy tends to insist that there’s only one type of femininity and masculinity, and that these are the only desirable models. So femininity equates to delicate, sensual, passive, gentle, nurturing, caring, soft, hairless (except on your head), emotional, untechnological, natural, etc; masculine equates to aggressive, potentially violent, mechanical, intellectual/rational, etc etc. Both are necessarily heterosexual and interdependent.
In that setting, if you aren’t gentle/sensual/caring/etc, you’re not feminine.
Your questions implied that you see only one type of femininity and masculinity at work in the world (and in the lindy hop world specifically). When this is certainly not the case. We just need to compare Frida S and Sharon Davis to see two very different performances of femininity at work.
I personally wouldn’t engage with the discussion you’re presenting because I cannot accept the premise of the question: that there is one ‘femininity’ and one ‘masculinity’, and that women dancers must choose between these two. As a woman, and as a dancer, there’re many more interesting things going on in dance and gender than these two very limited options.
There is quite a lot of literature looking at how race and ethnicity work in these discussions which are particularly relevant for us, as we are dealing with dances which developed in black communities a century ago. This is something I’ve written about lots of times, and which I think is very important. It’s also something I have dealt with in classes with students.
As an example: hetero, middle aged men often find Leon James’ styling ‘effeminate’, and I’ve had them ask me (as I teach as a lead) “How do I style this as a man?” The problem isn’t so much that I’m a woman demonstrating a step, but that the type of masculinity Leon James performs seems ‘effeminate’ or ‘non-masculine’ to a modern day Australian man from this particular demograph. Leon tends to play with gender a bit anyway: he’s definitely not a woman, nor is he performing a femininity. He’s performing a different type of masculinity, which is quite specific to him, and to his moment in time. And there are more complex issues of race, class, and ‘theatre’ going on in his dancing.
4. There are also some problems with the way you’re linking sexual preference/identity with gender in your questions. In implying only two types of gender (masc/fem -> in patriarchal terms), and then asking for straight women who lead, and then looking for ‘female’ and ‘male’ styling, there is the implication that if you are a straight woman, it’s unusual for you to be styling ‘masculine’, and if you are a lesbian, it’s unusual for you to style ‘feminine’. Gender and sexual identity are far more complex than this: dichotomies are hopelessly limited, and there are more ways of being a dyke than just ‘butch and femme’. Lesbians don’t just map their relationships onto hetero/patriarchal models of a male/female dichotomy. In fact, straight women don’t either.
There’s lots more to be said on this. And your first response is probably, “Oh, I am actually just looking for these specific examples; I don’t have space/time to do all that other stuff.” But my response would be “We see these sorts of discussions of heteronormative/conventional gender all the time. By asking the same questions again, and by reproducing the same gender norms again, you are contributing to the maintenance of patriarchy. Why not try something new and interesting instead?”
For me, my dancing has gone a long way beyond ‘dancing male’ and ‘dancing female’. That dichotomy really is far too limited for just me and the way I think about my dancing.
When I started teaching as a lead (two years ago), I did worry about the male students not having a male role model to draw on for styling. But as a clever friend pointed out: “You don’t want students to dance like their teacher anyway, do you? Won’t they be seeking out other dancers to experiment with developing their own style anyway?” So I got over that worry.
Interestingly, I do wear trousers when I’m teaching as a lead, and try to wear a skirt or a dress when I’m (very rarely) teaching as a follow. When I’m teaching solo I just wear whatevs. I wear trousers when I lead because it sets up particular lines, and it helps me ‘get into character’, or remember that I’m leading. When I’m teaching I need to be hyper-aware of what I’m doing with my body, I need to be self-reflexive. When I’m social dancing, I don’t worry about any of that. But I find trousers give me a little mental reminder to help me remember what I’m doing. I also find leading uses a lot more forward-backward movement, while following uses more contra movement, and trousers work better for me for leading than for following.
So, for me, there is a degree of ‘butching up’ but dancing as a lead. But it’s ridiculous to say ‘men wear trousers, women wear skirts’, because HELLO, 21ST CENTURY. This is something for me, not a general comment about what women dancers should wear.
I’m quite fond of wearing waistcoats and things for dancing, but not necessarily because I’m thinking ‘masculine’. I’m thinking ‘dress up in practical fun clothes’. I wear dresses as well as trousers.
Look, basically, for, me (and I cannot speak for all women), gender is much more complex and interesting than ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. As a human being, I’m occupying a more complex place than just ‘feminine’. I am a woman, but I explore gender – femininities – in lots of different ways. As an example, in my professional role as an event organiser dealing (almost only) with men, I have to adopt particular mannerisms and approaches to make it clear that I know what I’m doing: confidence, a particular sense of humour, a way of standing, a way of making eye contact and shaking hands. None of these are particularly ‘girly’ or flittery-feminine. But I’m certainly not a man, and I’m not ‘masculine’. I’m just working with a different type of femininity. Which quite a lot of men find threatening, which is ok by me. I want a degree of intimidation when I’m negotiating work stuff with some men.
But this is just a professional persona, and one I use only at work, and only with certain types of men. As any second year women’s studies student knows, gender roles and gendered behaviour aren’t fixed, ‘natural’ or permanent: they are clothes we put on for certain settings and tasks. In the context of patriarchy, being chameleon in gender is about subversion and power for a woman. As a dancer, it’s exciting: being aware of how you change the way you move and hold yourself makes you a better dancer, and a better actor and performer.
I guess my main problem with Bobby’s article was that all this discussion was predicated on reference to a heteronormative romantic love. He’s looking for straight women and men who dance ‘unstraight’ (ie ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’) to talk about romantic love. As though it’s surprising for a straight woman to adopt ‘masculine’ mannerisms. At the end of the day, I reckon Bobby might need to meet a few more queer folk, or perhaps to spend a bit more time with straight women, to understand just how fluid and interesting gender is, and how sexual preferences don’t necessarily fit cleanly into gender binaries.
Omg I am so busy. SO BUSY.
Next Thursday I fly to Melbourne for MLX, the biggest, oldest, best lindy hop event in Australia. It’s fucking great – if you’re coming to Australia to dance, come for that. Nothing else comes close, and Melbourne is a great city. Weather is shitty, but there are good pubs. The music is THE BEST.
I’ll be head DJ for that, and the increasingly ambitious MLX program has made my job trickier this year. The number of bands: HIGH. I aim to dance until I might chuck. Yeah, that’s me running from the dance floor with my hand over my mouth. Super professional.
I get back on Monday. On the Wednesday our little teaching venue is hosting the charming singer Hetty Kate and the phenomenal guitarist Ian Date for a once-off ‘Swinging at the PBC’ gig. Every time I describe Hetty Kate as charming, or see her being described as ‘lovely’, I lol, because she is the saltiest arsekicker femme ever. We are very lucky to have them do this gig for us: Ian Date is now based in Ireland, and Hetty Kate is based in Melbourne.
That’s the very awful ad I made. I wish I could have a solid designer on my staff to whip up these ads at a moment’s notice, because I need approximately one million items a year to promote things online and face to face.
I think it’s worth pointing out that Hetty Kate has the best online presence I’ve ever seen in a jazz musician. She has a lively, interesting instagram account, which was particularly cool to follow when she was recording with Gordon Webster. She’s fun to follow on twitter, she has a fab website, which has everything a promoter needs: high-res photos, tour dates, downloadable posters, pdfs with bio information. She also keeps an up to date facebook page. And she managed a very effective pozible campaign, where she capitalised on a performing relationship with Gordon Webster to record a crowd-funded album. Working with Gordon is, of course, promotional gold in the lindy hop world – the guy has massive pull. All of this is just so great when you’re promoting her for events. Add to this the fact that she’s a very good ‘product’ – a great singer, an entertaining performer and a very together, organised professional – and she is the perfect musician to hire. If only 90% of jazz bands could figure this stuff out.
I am quite excited about this gig because I’m running it independently. It’s tagged on the end of our classes, which we teach through a big dance school, but this social dancing bit is independent. I just thought ‘fuck it – let’s have a good party.’ I don’t care if no one turns up: it will be a brilliant fun time, and I figure: here’s a present for our group. I run a lot of events during the year, but this is the first one I’ve run completely independently. Well, there are still a lot of people involved, working the door, teaching with me, helping put the band together (there’re more musicians than just Hetty Kate and Ian), etc etc etc. But this is the first time I’ve gotten up the guts to do it all on my own. WINNAH.
On the Thursday after that, the teachers for the Little Big Weekend arrive, and the classes begin.
The Little Big Weekend kicks off officially on Friday night. I’m running this one, too, but I run it for the dance school, which means they fund it, but I plan and manage it, and work with a few superawesome people to run it on the weekend. It’s not possible to run a good event entirely on your own, and furthermore, it’s not a good idea: get other people involved to save your sanity, but also to give other people a chance to get involved in event management. The more people with more skills in your local scene there are, the higher the quality of the events, the greater the range of event types and styles. Diversity is good for lindy hop.
This is the fourth Little Big Weekend (they’re biannual), and it’s the most ambitious. Leigh Barker’s band the New Sheiks is coming up to play the Friday and Saturday night gigs, and they’re part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project. The MRP is a collaboration between dancers and musicians – lindy hoppers, tap dancers, guitarists, pianists, trumpeters, fiddle players….
They will be performing at the Saturday dance, but the dancers are all coming up mostly to hang out and be a part of it all. There are only three main workshops on the Saturday, but the third one will involve the musicians playing in-class, as we look at musical and dance structure and history.
This is exactly the sort of thing I LOVE, so that’s very exciting. And it’s very very nice to finally get to work with Leigh on a project after such a long time emailing and talking online, and chatting in person. Even if the entire weekend collapses (which it won’t – we’ve sold out of workshop passes already), we are still WINNAHS because we are trying something very interesting, and right in our own creative and professional ballparks. And it will be MAD FUN.
But that’s not all there is to the Little Big Weekend. The Speakeasy kids are flying in another Melbourne act: Andy Swann’s band. He’s been involved in lindy hop almost as long as I have, and he has mad skills. That party is already fully sick (at the last one I nearly did chuck up because I was dancing too much), so I’m not sure I’m physically capable of handling it. That party is one of the main reasons we don’t have Sunday workshops: it is not physically possible after the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy is the sort of late night party where people can dance seriously hardcore lindy hop, and then find that they’re just dancing all over the place. Not ‘solo dance’, but just rocking out. And the band usually bring their girlfriends (yes, the bands are all straight men. I’m working on that, though) and friends and they get up and just rock out, and it is awesome. There’s really good food, a blues room, a nice cool, quiet room to chill out in (I rarely avail myself of that – I like to keep on rocking). When the band ends at 4am you think ‘wtf? we just got started!’
Anyway, the week after that we don’t have any classes to teach because our venue has finished for the year, but I’m off to Melbourne again for Sweet n Hot to do some classes with ‘Skye and Frida’. Seriously doods, why doesn’t anyone ever list the follow’s name first? I mean, Skye is great and everything, but Frida is freaking powerhouse. She has unmatched dancing experience, talent and knowledge. I have booked a nice, quiet single room studio space on airbnb, so I’m going to chill. Hopefully there won’t be any chucking up on this trip.
Then it’s back to Sydney for a nice, quiet christmas. Until January comes, and new plans are set in place, and shit gets even realer.
I like what I do for a job, but sometimes I worry that dancing isn’t really important enough to spend this much time thinking about. But then I remember that running a business and being an event organiser and teacher and all that is actually a lot of work, requiring skills that are useful in all sorts of businesses. And dancing brings people joy, and sends joy out into the world. I could be working in fucking retail again, for fuck’s sake. But dance is about empowering people, and I think it’s important. THE END.
To sum up, here is Norma Miller being fabulous again:
Someone replied to my posting this by pointing out that the show itself didn’t seem so bad. That was interesting, but when I read Norma’s comment, it didn’t occur to me that I should engage with her criticism of the show. Who knows what that show’s like. I was reposting her criticism because Norma Miller is exciting. She makes me feel strong and reminds me that you need to be confident and loud and powerful.
My response was:
The thing I like about this is that Norma Miller is a confident black woman who calls herself ‘Queen of Swing’ calling out some dood who made a stage show, on public media. She just doesn’t give a fuck – she has a point to make.
Every time she calls someone out or declares, with confidence, that she is THE BEST, I get excited, because women aren’t allowed to do that in lindy hop. I bet no one sends her hate mail. Or if they do, she finds them at a party, stands really close to them and gives them the biggest telling off OF THEIR LIVES.
She’s fearless. FEARLESS. And for an older black woman living in America – that shit is AMAZING. …fuck, for a woman living anywhere these days, that shit is SO INSPIRING.
So I don’t even care one bit about that show or what it’s about. This is a story about how awesome Norma Miller is.
I love her comment, because she’s obviously doing a bit of self promotion (queen of swing), she’s calling bullshit, she’s shamelessly stroppy. And that’s what’s so exciting. Women aren’t supposed to be these things. We’re supposed to be shy and meek and modest. And Norma is not.
So, I’m going to end this post with this nice little quote which I found on I hope you like feminist rants:
I think that a lot of women would like to do more organisationally things in lindy hop. We’re not all designed to be the famousinternationallindyhopcelebrity. There’s so much body image shit going on there, so much gender crap about working with male partners. But if you are ambitious, and you do have ideas, and you want to just do more than dance in lindy hop, there are lots of options. Start small, and work up. You don’t have to run events or DJ or do stuff like that. There are other cool things.
You could start a once-off performance group with two friends. I’ve done this many times, and it’s great. You mightn’t do the best performance ever, but the process will teach you SO MUCH. You could work the door at a dance. Sure, it’s not glamorous, but the people who work the door, bump in and bump out of dance events are the ones who make the whole thing possible. It’s like the office lady at uni: she is the most important person in the department. And seeing how an event works in front-of-house teaches you how important it is to have a friendly face greeting first time dancers: lindy hop scenes are built on welcoming dance spaces. You could design and make dance costumes. You could design decorations for dances. You could learn to work sound gear (please, please do this and come and work for me – I NEED you! I will CHERISH you!) There are so many interesting options!
For example, Sydney Lindy Hub is run by a woman. This cool guide is the most thorough, most comprehensive guide to swing dancing in Sydney. There are quite a few guides to jazz music for dancers around. I ran one myself years ago in Melbourne. But this one does it right. What’s so great about it? Firstly, the listings are comprehensive. You’ll find all the band gigs, all the DJed gigs, all the dancer-run gigs, all the council run gigs, all the musician run gigs, all the live music venue gigs there. This thoroughness is the result of good research skills and – even more importantly – good networking. People contribute gigs to SLH, they contribute reviews of gigs, and they are engaged with the site. This is a total WIN.
This engagement is a product of the guide’s cross-platformness (a website + FB + twitter), but also of the administrator’s style. She responds to people positively and with enthusiasm, and she’s proactive in her support of events. I never get a chance to send her my event’s details, because she’s already on it. I never get to suggest live music gigs, because she’s already there. As an organiser, I see SLH as an essential promotional tool, so it’s in my interests to engage with it (and with the administrator), but it’s also a pleasure to engage with it, as it’s so useful and productive.
I like the positive, inclusive tone of the listings. I LOVE that SLH encourages people to go out and review gigs. It’s easy to just list a heap of gigs, but it’s the dancers’ reviews that make this site so powerful. The up to date listings help make SLH a really useful social calendar as well. People organise their nights of dancing around SLH FB posts and listings.
And finally, SLH is perfectly positioned in this moment in Sydney. There was a bit of a decline in organised dance events a few years ago, and SLH slipped in just as local dancers were getting really desperate for social dancing. I think that Sydney dancers’ current passion for live music (and fierce enthusiasm for seeking out new gigs) is largely due to the role SLH plays in the swing dance community. It brings people together, it’s a useful information tool, and the tone is light, fresh and enthusiastic. WINNAH!
I don’t think the administrator’s gender is particularly important in the general scheme of things, but if we are talking gender, and we are talking about how seeing other women inspires women, then I do think it’s important. For me, it’s important to know that I’m part of a network of creative, ambitious, enthusiastic women in lindy hop. It really helps to know that I can ring up a woman organiser in Melbourne to talk about how to manage employing international teachers. It’s exciting to get a call from a woman oragniser in another city who wants to do a collaborative project. And it’s just so NICE to get together with other women organisers at exchanges to just talk shit and then DANCE like fools.
And then, it’s even more thrilling to see women doing things like organising the Melbourne Rhythm Project (Ramona is a driving force there, though I think it’s a pretty collaborative project generally). It’s really creatively stimulating to get together with other DJs (male or female, though increasingly female – we have so many great women DJs pushing up to the top tier in Australia), and I am particularly fond of a woman blues DJ in Melbourne, Manon von Pagee, who has such fascinating observations about DJing for blues dancers. Which I just don’t understand. And, finally, it’s wonderful to be on a dance floor where I know there are heaps of other women leads, so that I’m just one of them. I’m with my peeps.
Men are important and great too, but when there’s so much bullshit in your everyday life, telling you over and over again that you should shut up and be invisible (so you don’t get harassed on the street, sent nasty emails, challenged in dance classes, critiqued on the dance floor), having a couple of powerful women figures out there doing shit is so important. Norma Miller, you are loud and stroppy, and I mightn’t always agree with your opinions, but by fuck: you make me feel powerful.
What? I have to talk about rape and sexual violence and a continuum of disempowerment in dance AGAIN?!
It seems, so. Because some fuckers apparently didn’t get the goddamm memo.
Boys are told from a young age that whatever they do will be excused under the “boys will be boys” mantra, and that “boys will be boys” mentality leads to what I call the “BOILING FROG” problem of women’s sexual boundaries. I call it that because if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump right out, but if you put a frog into a pot of room-temperature water and slowly heat it to a boil, the frog will acclimate as it heats and never jump out, eventually boiling to death. Similarly, when we learn as young girls to tolerate “low-level” boundary violations like the ones we often are forced to suffer in silence at school, at home and on the street – bra-snapping, boob-grabbing, ass pinching, catcalling, dick flashing “all in good fun” relentless violations that adults and authorities routinely ignore – it makes it harder for us to notice when even greater boundaries are being violated, eventually leading to the reality that many women who are raped just freeze and fall silent, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do over and over since day one. You tell me what’s more infantilizing: repeatedly letting boys (and grown men) off the hook for their behavior because “boys will be boys” and we can’t ever expect any differently, or creating a consent standard in which all partners take active responsibility for their partner’s safety, and which acknowledges the truly diseased sexual culture we’re soaking in every day.
(via let my enemies take care)
Ken Lay, chief commissioner of police in victoria, made the point that sexual violence is a men’s issue
[This is pretty much what I wrote in the post A difficult conversation about sexual violence in swing dance communities. And this is why I argue that gender neutral language is important – not because it is an end in itself, but because the language we use to discuss an issue communicates not only the way we think about that issue, but the way we think we should think and act upon an issue.]
This what should we call lindy hop entry introduced me to the term ‘dudebro lead’ and I LOLed.
And then I got angry again, that we have to HAVE this term at all.
Someone hooked up The day I taught how not to rape which reminded me that it’s worth raising these issues again and again and again, because humans do, generally, want to do the right thing. Even if they are fuckwits.
Why the fuck do I have to keep banging on about this stuff? I feel like a broken record.
But you know why I keep going on about this fucking irritating shit?
Because on Monday I was yelled by three different men in three different cars as I tried to cross a road.
On Tuesday a sound guy mansplained how to turn the volume down on a mixing desk as I was DJing, after I noted it was the same model I’d learnt to DJ on EIGHT YEARS AGO.
On Wednesday a middle aged male student arrived at our class venue, and even after my female teaching partner and I introduced ourselves as the teachers for the venue, he continued to speak to the only man at the table, and then spent the next two hours interrupting us in class, telling our female students how to dance and generally badmouthing and disrespecting them, ignoring our instructions, and finally getting angry and trying to bully us into letting him do the level 2 class next week after I’d just told him he wasn’t ready and eventually said “I’m not talking about this now. It’s your decision, but you cannot do this level 2 class again.” He had done perhaps four lindy hop classes in his life ever.
Thursday I was yelled at by two different men in two different cars as I crossed (a different) road, and then some 20-something cockwit oggled my tits before looking into my face and realising I was telling him to fuck off.
Yesterday a venue manager openly mocked my understanding of live music politics, and mansplained how promotions work. He then proceeded to explain to me who Stephen Cummings and Reg Mombassa are. I chose not to tell him I’d been at a party with Reg Mombassa on the weekend.
The other week I was told (once again) that women leading isn’t ‘normal’ and that a woman can’t really lead the way a man can, and that this robs male students of a proper learning experience. I was also told I couldn’t do public promotional gigs because it gave the ‘wrong impression’.
This is WHY I am still fucking angry about this shit. EVERY DAY something fucking irritating happens to me BECAUSE I am a woman and not a man. It just makes me SO ANGRY. SO ANGRY!
But the part that really makes me angry, that makes me so determined to keep raising these issues and NOT ignoring them, is that I am a perfectly competent, capable woman, but these constant niggling bits of shit just wear me down and make me question my abilities.
And, finally, this is why I don’t just accept that this is ‘how men are’ or ‘how things are’:
Because on Tuesday night a whole big band full of young men politely introduced themselves to me or said hi if we knew each other, and then had conversations with me and my female teaching partner just as if we were ALL HUMAN BEINGS, and more excitingly, as though we were ALL COMPETENT PROFESSIONALS. And if they wanted to flirt (with the women in the room – not me so much :D), they just flirted and it was SUPER NICE because it’s possible to communicate sexual interest in a respectful way.
Today a musician answered some of my questions about the live music industry with respect and common sense, as though it was PERFECTLY NORMAL to have questions and to share ideas with a woman in a respectful, professional way.
On Wednesday when I just decided that that was IT and I had had ENOUGH and told that unpleasant man a) he couldn’t do as he liked, and then b) that the conversation was OVER and I wasn’t interested in his opinion, no one died, I wasn’t beaten up, my (male) partner didn’t feel the need to step in and ‘save’ me, and the whole thing was just RESOLVED.
On the last few times I’ve been social dancing women have asked me to dance and the fact that I’m a woman was just NOT AN ISSUE. And this is really just NORMAL for me, as a woman who leads – it happens all the time, and it’s actually so ordinary no one even notices!
The male dancers I worked with on Thursday night were totally ok, and in fact, probably didn’t even register the fact that our training session was coordinated by women. They were just HAPPY to be a part of a friendly supportive group, getting shit done.
And I read this nice piece by a man, about bodies.
If every man I dealt with was a complete fuckwit, I would give up on all this shit. But they’re not. They’re NOT!
Plenty of men are capable of treating the people around them – whether men, women or children – with respect. And THIS Is why I have NO PATIENCE with fuckwits who’ve decided that being a woman makes me – and you! – less capable, more vulnerable, less important and generally an object to be disrespected.
We are so not done with this conversation yet. SO NOT DONE.
It’s 14*C here, but it feels 7, which is VERY COLD for Sydney. I hate the cold, which is why I didn’t like living in Melbourne, where the lindy hop is better, but the weather is not.
Sydney is beautiful. It is that city you see in the tourism ads – beautiful beaches a short city bus trip from the CBD. It has all the culture stuff Melbourne does, only people in the galleries and bars and music venues are wearing thongs or tshirts and their scarves are affectations not necessity.
I really don’t have much to write about right now. I’m a bit busy – got a few events to run (three at last count), classes tonight to prepare for, practice tomorrow to think about. But I do have a new CD or two. I saw lovely Leigh at Unity Hall on the weekend and he gave me his band‘s new CD ‘Australiana’. It’s not danceable music at all, which is really quite nice.
My copy of the Midnight Serenaders‘s new CD ‘A Little Keyhole Business’ arrived, and it’s not so great, which is disappointing. I reckon their second album is the best. But they’re a fun band, and I bet they’re superfun live, so it’s nice to support them.
I’m waiting on a CD or two from a Very Famuss Musician to arrive. Their publicist asked if I wanted one, and I assume she wanted me to review it or talk it up or whatevs. I’ll write a review when it gets here, and we’ll see what it’s like. I have to say: there’s nothing more exciting than a Very Famuss Musician you admire asking if they can send you a copy of their CD. Even if it is their publicist asking.
[Meanwhile, I’m listening to the New Sheiks’ new CD ‘Australiana’ right now, and it’s so very good. I had thought about writing a post about the way I/we listen to music across genres, and how musicians play across genres, and how that’s important, but I don’t have the brain for it right now.]
The little red counter on my email icon keeps ticking over. People are responding to the storm of emails I sent out yesterday. I’d finally gotten it together after a couple of weeks of dodgy health, and did some admin work. Working those contacts. The biggest part of my workload is maintaining contacts. With musicians, with venues, with other event organisers, with sound engineers, with visiting (or possibly-visiting) dance teachers, with local dancers, with artists and designers… there’s really a lot of leg (and mouth) work to be done. Lots of people to talk to and telephone and email. And nothing’s harder when you’re feeling a bit rough than getting it together to have a sensible conversation with someone you don’t really know.
I’ve stopped reading a lot of the blog posts and bits and pieces discussing gender in the lindy hop world. Mostly because most of them aren’t terribly good. I don’t think everyone should learn to lead and follow. But I do think every lindy hopper should be able to solo dance competently and confidently. You can draw your own euphemism if you please. I don’t see the point in arguing for women leads. If you can’t accept the fact that women are as competent leads as men, then you probably don’t know much about lindy hop. Or men and women. And you aren’t worth my time. Women should just lead if they want to. The end. I reckon it’s more important for the male leads to realise just how much better most of the women leads around them are, and lift their game. More importantly, particularly in scenes with fewer leads than follows, the male leads need to get up off their arses and lift their game: the women dancers around them are so much better than they are, they’re turning to solo dance out of desperation. Desperate for a challenge. In sum, the best way to maintain the heteronormativity of lindy hop is for men to be really fucking good leads. Right?
No, I’m not convinced either.
I haven’t done a heap of DJing lately. The Roxbury, one of Sydney’s only proper dancer-run lindy hop events has folded forever. Sad times. That was my favourite DJing venue. There’s still Swing Pit, but I quite liked having an event I could go to and have no responsibilities – just turn up late if I wanted, dance as much as I wanted, leave when I wanted. And if there was a problem with the sound, I didn’t have to fix it.
I did buy a copy of Ellingtonia, the Duke Ellington discography. It’s great, but the format of each entry is kind of annoying – instead of listing each musician by name, their initials are used. This sucks, because it means you have to flick back to the guide to figure out who’s who. Makes sorting your music collection really tedious. But then, I think it was hand-typed. It’s certainly self-published. So typing out every name would’ve been a bum.
Duke Ellington, aye. Just when I think I’ve gotten over him, I hear something new, and he draws me back in. I’m really enjoying him in 1941 atm. Again. My current favourite songs is ‘Goin’ out the Back way’ from ’41, which I heard a DJ playing in a smallish dance comp somewhere in the states or Canada. It’s the perfect lindy hopping song. Which of course is the perfect solo dancing song.
Solo dancing has really changed my perception of tempo and speed. Nothing’s too fast when you’re dancing on your own. Which I guess relates to the challenges of following: when you follow, you can’t really change the ‘speed’ or ‘tempo’ at which you and your partner are dancing. The lead gets to decide how many steps you both take. Whether you swing out like crazy people or just step gently through some nice rhythms. When you dance on your own, you get to decide everything. But this has also informed my leading lately. And I’m simply not a terribly talented follow. I would quite like to be a brilliant follow, but it just doesn’t gel for me. How even does following work?
Perhaps my biggest problem while following is that that I just forget I’m not leading, and I introduce steps or rhythms which are ignoring what the lead is doing. And that’s not cool, whether you’re leading or following. So, you know. Leading. That’s where my brain is at. I actually think that you have to decide whether you’re a lead or a follow, if you really want to level up your dancing.
Sure, you can do both and that’s cool. But if you want to get really good at one, you have to dance that one exclusively for a while at least. Because there’s a significant part of your dancing which isn’t conscious decision making. It’s an unconscious response to what’s going on. When I’m leading, I’m responding to what the follow is doing (where their weight is, the tension in their body, the shapes they’re making, the rhythm or timing they’ve got going on), and I respond by initiating something that develops their theme. When I’m following, respond by responding. Sure, I can bring my shit, but someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. They’re different roles, and particularly when you’re dancing at higher tempos, you gotta have a clear idea of who’s doing what. This opinion could really just be an expression of aesthetic preferences: I like to see a clear lead and follow in a partnership, not a muddied, blurry mutual exchange. Not because of politics, but because of physics and biomechanics. And rhythm.
Lennart Westerlund says this thing: “yes, you have the steps, but you do not have the rhythm. I cannot see the rhythm.” He said this about a million times while he was here, and eventually someone in a small teachers’ session asked him “Can you demonstrate the difference? I don’t understand what you mean by ‘see the rhythm’.” So he danced a phrase or two where the rhythm wasn’t clear. Then he danced a couple of phrases where it was very clear. It was quite stunning: I felt all my muscles jump and leap in a real, physical Pavlov’s lindy hopper effect.
So when I watch someone dancing, I don’t want to see a sort of vague blurring of steps. I want to see the rhythms, the shapes, the transfers of weight. I don’t just want to see which foot a dancers weight is on, I want to be able to see which part of the dancer’s foot is on the ground, and whether or not their weight is committed to that particular part of the foot. I want to see muscles recruited efficiently, and turned off when they’re not needed. I really want to see a nice, swinging timing. And I want to feel that leap and jump in my own muscles as I watch. So, I guess I want to see someone lead, and someone follow. I don’t care if you’re taking turns in each role during the dance, but you can’t both drive. Someone has to lead, someone has to follow. Doesn’t mean the follow isn’t also contributing (and I’ve gone into how in detail before). Means that you’re doing lindy hop, which prefers requires participation from each dancer.
Lennart says that too: “someone is leading and someone is following.” I don’t think he cared who was doing what (if he did, he was tactfully discrete with his opinions :D ), he just wanted to see a lead and a follow. But Lennart also made another lovely point: “I don’t want to be speaking all the time. That is boring. I want to hear what my partner has to say.” All of that is of course wrapped up in his phrase, “We must make friends with the music.” What a lovely thought: that we come together, as partners, through friendship with art and the creative work of other people.
To be honest, I’m still working through the concepts Lennart Westerlund introduced me to in May. Was it only two months ago? But Lennart’s relaxed, gentle approach to rhythm and timing has changed my brain. He could be dancing very simple, gentle, relaxed figures, but stuff them full of highly complex rhythms and timing. It’s a fabulous idea, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years, and which guides the content of our classes. I’m sure the more ‘intermediate’ dancers find it terribly boring and naff – they just want ‘new moves!’ when I’m thinking ‘moves shmooves – give me an outline and I’ll fill it in with far more interesting stuff.’
I’ve noticed that the very best lindy hoppers in the world (the Swedes, and Skye) tend to use a lot of quite simple figures, but their timing is supremely complex. And that complexity is dictated by the music. People like Ellington. ‘Rockin in Rhythm’, your phrasing is so difficult. Yes, they do use complex moves as well, but the fundamental assumption of good lindy hop is that a simple shape (a swing out, a tuck turn, a circle) is also something highly sophisticated if you make it so.
The thing I like about this relationship between simple and complex, is that these guys looks so relaxed when they dance. Everything they do looks easy. Until you try to reproduce it. There are quite a few dancers around at the moment who are quite fabulous, but their dancing looks so overwrought. They look like they’re Working. So. Hard. I want it to look so easy; I think ‘oh, I can do that’ and then I try, and realise that it’s not humanly possible. And of course, the relationship between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ is a little like the relationship between ‘hot’ and ‘cool’. I’ve written about that a lot, so I won’t go into it again. Except to say, that the most important part of lindy hop is being relaxed in your body, until you need to turn a muscle or muscle group on, then that part of you is on.
I think that this is part of what makes the ‘swing’ happen. Don’t rush. We’re not rushing. We’re cool. We’re not hurrying. It’s uncool to hurry.
I didn’t mean this post to become a big spiel about dancing. I’m doing a LOT of reading at the moment. Stacks and stacks. I’m on GoodReads as dogpossum if you want to talk books. One of the things I am reading more of at the moment is comics. I’ve always been a bit of a low-level fan, but I’m frustrated by how quickly they read. I need more bang for my buck – at least more than an hour from a book.
I’ve been reading Wonder Woman lately, particularly the Gail Simone series starting with The Circle. LOVE.
I quite like the New 52 Wonder Woman
And I REALLY like the New 52 Batwoman. The art is just gorgeous.
I wasn’t struck on the New 52 Batgirl (boring).
But of course, the new Ms/Captain Marvel is THE BEST EVER.
And I am totally on this bandwagon:
I’ve also been reading Saga, which I quite like, but I’m just not a Vaughan fangirl.
I’m a fan of trade paperbacks because individual comics just don’t last long enough. And, to be honest, I find the writing in a lot of comics that I’m reading jus doesn’t come close to the good SF that I read. And I read a lot of SFic and SFant.
But Wonder Woman. She’s the best. Especially when she’s drawn by Cliff Chiang.
Writing this post, I realise I’ve heaps more books and music and television too talk about! But I have things to do.
…so if you want to talk about Hemlock Grove or Teen Wolf or The Fosters or The Returned or Top of the Lake, assume I’m interested!
Lauren* hooked me up with this amazing clip
Yes, the first recorded film with sound featured two men dancing together.
*I only have Lauren’s email address to identify her, sorry – no linky.
I am so trashed. I am so wrecked. My poor, poor body. We raised > $2000 for the Taree Women and Children’s Refuge last night at One Billion (Jazz Dancers) Rising. It was an event run by a gang of women (with some male helpers) – which is really business as usual in the Sydney lindy hop scene – at the Petersham Bowls Club. It had lots of sponsors. It was really, really good. I had a massive amount of fun. I heard some guy say at some point “We should do more fundraisers!” and I agree.
I still have nine million things to do this week.
This week on FB some guy gave me a patronising telling off and then a mansplain about why I shouldn’t just complain about blokes doing dodgy stuff in the dance world, I should speak to them about it. In a thread that I had begun with the comment that I was done with mansplainers ‘helping’ female DJs.
Why thank you, Elder, it hadn’t occurred to me that speaking to people about these things directly, or doing something about these things might be helpful. Where would I be without you to explain where I went wrong with my irrational ladytalk?
For fuck’s sake.
I am done. I am so done. imma gonna ride my happy post-successful-event mellow right outta this town.
I cannot be fucked getting back into that whole thing about …whatever it was. I feel obliged to respond and continue, but, honestly, I cannot be bothered. I do want to write about gendered language and dance at some point, but then, I’ve done that a lot already. It’s kind of first year undergraduate stuff, and I’ve gone over it and over it a million times before, here on this blog and elsewhere. Feminism 101 has a piece on it. And I think Feminism 101 gives me a good reason to not do that ‘mother’ thing for people asking why we need to use non-gender specific language:
The first reason FF101 exists is to help ensure that discussions between feminists don’t get continually derailed by challenges from newbies and/or antagonists to explain and justify our terminology and conclusions to them, right now! Substantive challenges can be valuable, but constantly having to explain basic theory over and over, when an interesting discussion was underway, gets really frustrating. There’s a time and a place for discussing the basics, and disrupting a discussion on other feminist topics is not that time and place.
Gender-specific language was not the most important part of Ladies first: Sometimes we are triumphantly cycling to victory in our sports bras, though it was the first part. So if you need help with language use, check out Feminism 101.
Before I decided I couldn’t be fucked, I asked a scholar friend for a basic intro to this stuff. I can’t believe I did this: google could have given the solution as quickly. I could have written something. I am a lazy arse. But my friend Kerryn is a complete gun. Her guide to language is below. As you can see, this is not the final point in our discussion. It’s a first step in the discussion of why we shouldn’t assume all or most leads are male and all or most follows are female. In generalising we make exceptions to these difference invisible or a weird aberration. And in assuming follow = woman (and lead = man) we’re just wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. And there is no historical evidence to support this thinking. Women have ALWAYS led. Men have ALWAYS followed. An AWFUL LOT of women lead, know how to lead, demonstrate leading, teach as leads in class. I don’t know a top rank female lindy hop teacher who can’t lead, even if she doesn’t identify as a lead. Because it’s part of being a good dancer. It’s just that an awful lot of retrosexists like to rewrite history to make the female lead and the male follow invisible. And dodgy language use perpetuates this myth.
…but I have to stop. Time is getting away from me. And this post is harshing my mellow.
Kerryn Goldsworthy, a very clever friend who is more than qualified to write about this sort of thing did this for me:
A Very Basic How-To Article for Using Non-Gender-Specific Language.
(For Sam Carroll, as requested)
1) The traditional, ie pre-feminist, grammar rule is that ” ‘he’ includes ‘her'” (as in, say, ‘Man is a mammal: he is a warm-blooded animal and he gives birth to live young’), and that masculine pronouns — he, him, his, himself — should be used in cases where both sexes are being talked about. Any woman can see that this is palpable nonsense, and reinforces the notion that women are lesser, and relative, creatures.
This is the underlying principle of non-gender-specific language: to avoid the implication, in your use of language, that women are a lesser variation on the theme of, and a sub-set of, men. Avoid any language reinforcing the notion that — as Simone de Beauvoir once said — ‘There are two kinds of people: human beings and women.’
2) Therefore, such phrases as ‘he or she’, ‘him or her’ and ‘his or her’ are perfectly acceptable, and a much more accurate reflection of reality. ‘She or he’, ‘her or him’ and ‘her or his’ are also acceptable, particularly if you want to make a point.
3) Sometimes, however, these phrases may look barbaric to you. In which case, rewrite the sentence in order to avoid the problem.
Examples: ‘Each winner took home his or her choice of wines.’ = ‘All the winners took home the wines of their choice.’
4) There is a newish thing called the ‘singular “they”‘, designed to avoid non-gender-specific language, as in ‘Each teenager decided what music they wanted.’ This is also (IMO) barbaric. ‘They’ is by definition a plural pronoun, and ‘singular they’ is therefore an oxymoron. Again, as in (3), rewrite the sentence.
The names of some occupations are gender-neutral: writer, teacher, factory hand. Others are not: actor/actress and waiter/waitress, in particular, still persist. There is no difference between the work these people do, and therefore no earthly reason why they should be differentiated by gender. But a lot of this sort of usage has died out and a good thing too: words once in use but no longer common include ‘poetess’, ‘authoress’ and ‘chanteuse’, as though it’s necessary when talking about artists to say which sex they are. It’s not.
‘Goodwill to all mankind’ presumably means you don’t care about the women. ‘Jobs for the boys’ presumably means that none of the women are being given jobs they haven’t competed for and don’t deserve. ‘The sales counters are being manned by the casual staff’ presumably means that all the casual staff are blokes. Acceptable alternatives are, respectively, ‘humanity’, ‘nepotism’ and ‘staffed’. If you can’t think of a non-gender-specific alternative, use your thesaurus and be creative.
Forms such as ‘foreman’, ‘chairman’ and so on are a bit of an issue because people like to argue the toss about them. The Wikipedia entry for ‘chairman’ is extremely interesting on this point.
The main thing is to remember that if you are referring to a group or activity that includes both sexes, masculine pronouns and any form of the word ‘man’ are all best avoided.
Isn’t Kerryn great? I’m so grateful.
And now, I have more work to do. Pity me, as I prop my eyelids open and take Bechet intravenously to help me make it through.
Last weekend I DJed my first proper lindy hop set since November, and it was super fine. It was the first set of the night at Imperial Swing, a social gig put on by Swing Out Sydney. TOTAL FUN. It’s a great venue, and the sound system is pretty damn special. The DJ after me – Kat – is now my new favourite DJ. She was ON FIRE. Here’s the set list, because a friend asked for it. I aim to please.
Anyways, this set is pretty much what I think of as a ‘potato chip’ set: these are the sorts of songs you can just eat down by the handful. Nothing too crazy or confronting, lots of familiar stuff (C Jam Blues!), lots of energy. I was aiming for a high-energy party feel, and wanted to keep the tempos kind of reasonable as the crowd included some very new dancers. I figured familiar was also good, as many of the regular dancers who’d arrived were feeling a bit unsure of themselves in a queer space, so I wanted to help them find their feet. And, you know, we overplay C Jam Blues because IT’S A GREAT SONG.
title year artist album name song length (links -> where you can buy the album direct from the artist)
Blue Monday 1957 Jay McShann and his Band (Jimmy Witherspoon) 125 Goin’ To Kansas City Blues 3:40
Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 1945 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra 135 Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings 3:21
C-Jam Blues 1999 Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 143 Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke 3:34
Blues In Hoss’s Flat 1958 Count Basie and his Orchestra 144 Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] 3:13
The Spinach Song 2004 Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards) 165 Anybody’s Baby 4:57
Percolatin’ Blues 2011 Smoking Time Jazz Club 135 Lina’s Blues 4:14
I Like Pie 2012 Gordon Webster (with Aurora Nealand, Jesse Selengut, Gordon Au, Dan Levinson, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Steven Mitchell) 162 Live In Rochester 5:38
Sales Tax 2012 Leigh Barker and the New Sheiks (Matt Boden, Don Stewart, Alastair McGrath-Kerr, Eamon McNelis, Heather Stewart) 132 The Sales Tax 3:43
Good Rockin’ Tonight 1959 Jimmy Witherspoon with Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis 160 The ‘Spoon Concerts 2:27
Don’t You Miss Your Baby 1980 Jimmy Witherspoon and Panama Francis’ Savoy Sutans 145 Jimmy Witherspoon and Panama Francis’ Savoy Sultans 3:56
Milenberg Joys 2010 Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) 194 Live In Philadelphia 3:45
It’s Your Last Chance To Dance 2007 Preservation Hall 179 The Hurricane Sessions 4:31
Mr Gentle and Mr Cool 2005 John Hallam and Jeff Barnhart 173 Mr. Gentle and Mr. Hot 3:23
Tempo de Luxe 1940 Harry James 130 New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln, 3:19
Savoy 1942 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra (Trevor Bacon) 166 Anthology Of Big Band Swing (Disc 2) 3:05
St. Louis Blues 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 183 Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 4:46
Keep On Churnin’ 1952 Wynonie Harris 146 Wynonie Harris: Complete Jazz Series 1950 – 1952 2:56
I Ain’t Mad At You 1960 Mildred Anderson 158 No More In Life 3:04
Here’s what I was thinking as I was DJing:
‘Blue Monday’ is a song I often start sets with. It’s an easy tempo, has lots of energy, and a very simple structure. It worked well for me here as the music in the free lesson before the dance was mostly neo, and I needed a good transition to my more old-schooly music. Also: shouting.
‘Hey! Ba-ba-re-bop’. You know why I played this.
‘C Jam Blues’. By this point I had a lot of energy happening, and the room had settled into proper social dancing after the class. I decided I wanted to come in pretty hard with the energy (rather than easing into things), as I only had an hour. There were enough people in the room who could dance comfortably, so I figured I’d ring Pavlov’s Bell and get the kids jumping about a bit.
‘Blues In Hoss’ Flat’. I love following C Jam Blues with this. It’s the perfect Ellington-Basie one-two punch. BAM! Things were cooking at this point. A mass of people arrived in a big flow, so I needed to get really serious.
‘The Spinach Song’. Enough of that big band wall of sound! I wanted to get to some NOLA action eventually, so I needed a good transition. This song is a brilliant transition from that Kansas city blues shouter sort of vibe that ‘Blues in Hoss’s Flat’ sets up. It also echoed the Witherspoon song. But the instrumentation leans a bit more towards old school.
‘Percolatin’ Blues’. I felt as though the previous song was the crest of the first energy hill, so I needed a chillout song. Those previous songs had kind of battered people emotionally with their big, intense feelings, and I needed to give people an in to the dance floor if they’d not gotten up yet. So I dropped the tempos and the intensity so peeps could dip their toes in if they’d just arrived or finally recovered from the class and felt ready to try again. This was about twenty minutes into the set, which is the end of the first third, where I’m usually thinking we’re cresting.
Ok, enough with the molly coddling. Time to pump the energy up again. I’d said I’d play this in talk on FB, and it’s still massively popular. Personally, I’m totally over this version of ‘I Like Pie’. I’m tired of the mugging lyrics, and I’m tired of the fairly boring chorus. But each time I listen to it, I fall in love with Gordon’s piano. That shit is hot. Anyways, this was a crowd-pleaser.
But things were kind of loud and intense, and I saw quite a few tired people looking for a break after two longer songs. So I did ‘Sales Tax’. I think I made a slight misjudgement with this one. I needed to keep the energy up, but with a slightly different sound. Anyways, it wasn’t quite right. It was around this point that I realised there was some serious problem happening with the sound system. The sound was too loud at the front and not loud enough at the back. The sound guy had disappeared, so I couldn’t ask him.
‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ – a live version. I went with more Witherspoon because I wanted to kick things up with some higher tempo shouting live fun. But I was quite distracted by the technical problem, so I’m not sure it was the perfect choice (though as the song progressed it turned out to be the perfect choice). But about 30 seconds in, a seriously loud alarm started beeping in the DJ booth. The dancers couldn’t hear it, but it was LOUD. The sound guy came running down and tried to fix things. Apparently someone had turned off all the music in the pub. On Saturday night in an inner city queer pub. Nice one. It WASN’T ME.
Anyways, I was kind of shaken by that, so I just lined up the next song I had in mind, and had to physically move myself out of the way, away from my laptop and the sound gear. So the next Witherspoon – another Witherspoon – was a random choice. I’d almost played it instead of ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, but didn’t. It turned out to be a really good choice, but I felt as though I’d lost control of things for a second there. Anyways, by the end of the song, the alarm was off, I was back at the laptop and it was time to get into things again.
By the end of that song, it was time to hit that crest again. The energy really chugs along in that Panama Francis band’s version of a standard, but Witherspoon adds a really interesting alternative to the Jimmy Rushing version we hear all the time. And I was feeling a bit smarty pants, referring back to that Basie song with Witherspoon again.
‘Milenberg Joys’. I much prefer this to the Pie and Cake song. It rocks. It pulled the energy (and tempos) up. I’d have gone faster again, but the crowd wasn’t quite up to it. There were still a lot of new dancers, and the dancers who’d been around for a while didn’t really have the skills to tackle the massively higher tempos. The room felt hot, though, and people were kind of going crazy. There were quite a few glazed crazy-eyes in the room, which was pleasing.
So I did the obvious thing after this with Preservation Hall. I’m kind of over this song. I think it’s overplayed, and unlike C Jam Blues, I don’t think it’s quite versatile enough to warrant the overplaying. But it provided a nice climax to the energy in the room. And, long song. is long.
‘Mr Gentle and Mr Cool’ is a lovely, lovely song that an Adelaidean DJ, Jarryd, put me onto. I’m obsessed with it. It actually reminds me of the Preservation Hall Hot 4 album in the piano, so in my mind it was a lovely match to the song before. I’m not sure peeps who don’t know that Pres Hall small group album would have caught the connection, but, who cares! Anyways, it’s a chillaxed, more complex song, but it still has some tempo on it, so it doesn’t let things die.
By this point I was done with that modern NOLA sound. I needed something older and funner. I’m a bit nuts about this Harry James song. It was recorded live at the World’s Fair in 1940. It starts really mellow and kind of sweet. But mid-way it picks up with a bang! and becomes a fucking brilliant dance song.
I’m interested in the World Fair from that year for a few reasons. Firstly, there’s footage of people dancing together at the Fair. And they’re all women. WIN!
The Fair did, of course, feature lindy hoppers from the Savoy doing performances, but apparently this was a pretty shitty gig. Reading through my copy of The Man Who Recorded the World, a book about Alan Lomax, I discovered that he’d designed the music bits of that World Fair as a series of ‘everyday’ music spaces – jook joints featuring blues music, town halls playing bluegrass, etc etc etc. He’d wanted to recreate the contexts he’d recorded music in during his ethnographic work. But the Fair organisers reneged on his plans and forced the ‘mock Savoy’ into the plan, and abandoned Lomax’s much more interesting ideas. I suspect this shift was partly to blame for the shitty time the Savoy dancers had at the Fair (I have, incidentally, written a bit about this stuff in the post a snot-addled, animated wander through san francisco).
More usefully to dancers on the night, ‘Tempo deLuxe’ is what I think of as a ‘builder’ – it starts mellow and gets crazy. A good transition from the mellower song before to the fun I wanted to do next.
‘Savoy’ is, of course, a song about the Savoy Ballroom. See what I did there? It’s also a stock standard. And a jolly good song with lots of fun in it.
I’ve been playing that version of ‘St Louis Blues’ for years and years and years. It’s truly fabulous, AND it was recorded live at the Savoy ballroom. See?
Ok, so things feel exciting in the room. I was building energy for the dancers, but also because we were about to have a performance by Pretty Strong Woman, who does weight-lifting burlesque stuff. And I like to set up the energy for performers.
After all that Savoy stuff I went with Wyonie Harris because the crowd had quite a few rock n rollers, and I wanted to at least throw them part of a bone. Not much of a bone, though. Mildred Anderson was a similar token effort. Both of these are great songs, but they lean towards jump blues, and I find them great cross-over songs when I’m playing a mixed lindy hop/rock n roll crowd. These two are a bit slower, too, so they’re more accessible.
And then I was done!
Fun times! And as I said, Kat played a cracker of a set after me. She really did brilliant work. And I danced like a fool til the rock n roll/neo DJs came on at midnight, and then I went home. After I saw Kira Hu-la-la do a brilliant motorhead type burlesque show. Oh, how I LOLed at her clever jokes. GOATS: THROWN!
This is yet another post about Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’
The gender-flex of this routine is more an essential part of the original video than a fan-response to the choreography. The Single Ladies video was choreographed by Frank Gatson and JaQuel Knight and, to quote wikipedia “incorporates J-Setting choreography”.
J-setting (to quote wikipedia again)
…is a highly stylized modern lead and follow style of hip hop dance, characterized by cheerleading style sharp movements to an eight-beat count music. Popular in southern U.S. African American gay clubs, like the vogue-style before it, it became popular by exposure in a pop music video…
In 1970, former majorette Shirley Middleton became troupe leader of the Jackson State University cheerleading group, The Prancing Jaycettes. Middleton wanted something different, and so threw away their batons, and began dancing in formation. Based on a classical cheerleader eight-beat style, the signature thrusts, pumps, and high kicks were developed into a lead-and-follow “wave” through the troupe.
However, the style was strictly reserved for women only until 1997, when male troupe baton twirling member DeMorris Adams, was asked to fill in for an injured female troupe member. After this, although the performing troupe was still female, the crowd supporters started to grow from the colleges gay community.
The wikipedia entry references “The Big Idea: J-Setting Beyond Beyoncé”, Vibe.com (February 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-22) and I think it’s worth adding the clarification from that piece: “The Prancing Jaycettes were the female dance line of the infamous JSU marching band”. Marching bands are important in the history of black vernacular dance in America, and the inherently competitive, battle challenge of marching bands (and cheerleaders and step and… so on) is important here. I do recommend searching for the ‘prancing j-settes’ on youtube for an idea of what was going on.
The Vibe piece adds another great little note:
He was not alone in his adoration of the Prancing J-Settes. “The young men would be on the sideline during practice watching and learning,” recalls Anthony Hardaway, a gay activist and historian from Memphis who was a student at JSU from 1990 to ’94. “My friends would be on the side doing the dance alongside the girls.” However, their imi-tation was not seen by all as flattery. “Teachers and coaches would run the gay boys away,” Hardaway says with a laugh, “because when it was time for the games, the gay boys would be in the stands doing the routine and outperforming the girls on the field.”
There’s something totally excellent about the thought of young, fabulous black boys being shooed away because they might a) engayen the football players (lol in the current Australian AFL climate), and b) outshine the girls. Is there any better battle challenge, any greater call to arms than this?
Here, check this out:
Of course, J-setting has changed since the 1970s, which is the way all vernacular dance works. It responds to trend and fashion to retain relevancy.
Let’s look at JaQuel Knight for a second:
Knight’s muscularity changes the choreography a bit, as do his flat shoes (which change the line of his legs and the movement of his hips). It’s interesting to compare his movements with Dana Foglia beside him. Her hips and legs in high heels give us the more Single Ladies type lines. I’ve written about this before in reference to Balanchine and the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, so I won’t go into it again. But this video gives us a fabulous modern day example of the gendering of these types of bodily aesthetics.
But wait, I’m totally off-track. Let’s just look at the essentials of J-setting for a second. This is a call and response type battle/dance. The troupe has a leader who ‘calls’ the steps, which the rest of the troupe then ‘respond’ to by repeating the steps. This is key. The lycra leotards and athletic wear are also key markers of J-setting. Now think about this as something that was happening in gay clubs, and think about gay men’s bodies in these settings. That’s some seriously subversive shit right there. All sorts of complex gendering going on. Sure, those guys are ‘dancing woman’, but they’re also very masculine in their aggressive posturing. But if cheerleading is also clearly about battle and competition, then aggression isn’t as gendered as all that… it’s just played out in gendered terms.
The call and response of j-setting works in slightly different terms in this video with JaQuel Knight, in a teaching context:
In summary, then, J-setting began with marching band dance troupes, and with women dancing. It was taken up by black gay men, partly because of the influence of a male dancer in the troupe, but more probably because the j-setting was totally fabulous, totally competitive, and totally awesome. It retain(s) its competitive element in a gay club context. Here, look at this:
(I included this dodgy quality clip because it gives you an idea of what it’s actually like doing this stuff in real-life settings: the lighting is shit, there are errors (those these guys are tight), it’s not clean and pretty).
J-setting moves out into the wider community, to the point where Beyonce wants to get into that action. Big name j-setting dancers are involved in choreographing the Single Ladies routine.
But wait. There’s more. The Single Ladies routine is referencing a Bob Fosse choreography, which most peeps know as ‘the Mexican breakfast’ dance (there was a fair bit of discussion about this, and this video is kind of interesting for its discussion of Fosse). You can see the Bob Fosse Mexican Breakfast choreography here, but ignore the subtitles.
So, to sum up, Kanye was onto something. The Single Ladies video could be the best video of all time. OF ALL TIME. And J-setting is exciting because it offers a model for competition and battle in dance which isn’t using the standard krumping/hippity hop model. This is really interesting.
My previous posts about this video:
what again?! I’m still crapping on about dance, power, etc