Happy International Women’s Day: equity and inclusiveness can be easy

As you may or may not know, I’m teaching lindy hop with a female friend. That means that the students have two female teachers, one leading and one following. So far it hasn’t seemed to make any difference to their learning or relationship with us – beginners are too busy worrying about their feet to actually notice that the leader teacher has boobs. One of the nicest parts about our class has been that we see regular women leaders and a male follower – all very serious about learning.

One of the things we worried about when we started planning classes which welcomed – normalised! – female leads, male follows and generally genderflexed approaches to dance roles was how we’d handle some problems. We welcome women who don’t feel comfortable dancing with men (for whatever reason), and we also welcome men who’d rather dance with men. But we weren’t sure how we’d make clear who was leading, who was following, and who wanted to dance with whom.

My first instinct is ‘everyone dance with everyone else – we’re a safe, welcoming place’, but I also understand that many women simply don’t feel safe or ok being touched by men. And that some men would really rather dance with other men, because the opportunities to social dance like this with other men are so few and far between. So how were we to accomodate all these variations in partnering?

Well, we haven’t solved those particular problems (we are currently just encouraging everyone and hopefully modelling a dancing partnership where each partner is treated with respect, and dancers learn to touch in a respectful way), but other problems have turned up. For as long as I’ve been leading, I’ve never been in a class where no one has remarked on the fact that I’m a woman leading (rather a man). Until this past weekend at the Sweet n Hot workshops, where nobody commented, and even I forgot that I was doing something unusual. Until I had to ask (reluctantly, and with trembling-scardycatness) for the teachers to use gender neutral pronouns because I was getting confused. Generally, though, I’m placed in a position where I have to respond to endless, endless comments about the fact that I’m a woman. I’ve always replied with lighthearted explanations.

I suspect that the students in our classes have had similar experiences. We usually mention the fact that we welcome students in either role, though we are still figuring out a way to do this that doesn’t imply that male leaders and female followers were/are ‘normal’, because they have always been just one option of many. But students are obviously still dealing with curious comments.

I’ve realised over the last couple of weeks, though, that the students have figured out their own solution. They just write ‘leader’ or ‘follower’ on their name tag, underneath their name. Simple, and effective. Why haven’t I ever thought of that? #doofus

Happy International Women’s Day! Some problems need big, complicated, difficult solutions. But others just need a little practical thinking.

Women’s History Month: some thoughts at day 6

It’s women’s history month again, and I’m listing a different woman musician from the first half of the century every day (as I explain here). Last year I did a different woman dancer every day, and that was super great fun. I’m enjoying the women musicians, but I haven’t really had a chance to research or push myself, as I’ve been away at a dance event for most of this month. And today, I’m still feeling a little tired and rough, so I’m not really ready to push myself. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I did decide in that first post of the month that I’d only dance as a lead this month, as a way of exploring International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month and what it means to be a woman dancing. Well, actually, I just decided that on a whim, without much thinking at all. I don’t follow much these days as I’m really trying to get my leading up to snuff, and the best way to get better at dancing is to dance. And as every lead knows, the real challenge comes on the social dance floor, when you need to come up with a series of moves, connect with your partner and attempt some sort of creativity all at the same time.
We won’t even mention the battle to maintain the fitness and aerobic capacity lindy hop demands.

I have to say, it hasn’t been hard, because I get to dance with amazing dancers, most of whom are my friends. And I’ve learnt so much in the past month or two it’s kind of scary – I suddenly find myself stretching and expanding my skills, pushing myself to try things that I’d never have tried before. But it’s certainly meant a bit of rethinking the way I operate socially at exchanges and dance weekends. My weekend pretty much felt like this:

I mean, the biggest change for me this past weekend in Melbourne was simply spending very little time with men. I have lots of lovely male friends, but I only danced with two of them this weekends, and I discovered that I just didn’t end up spending as much time catching up with blokes as I usually do. :( I think that’s mostly because I’d be chatting to some chicks, and then a song would start and one of them, or I would say “let’s dance!” and then we would, and then afterwards I’d end up mixing with chicks and chatting. Rinse repeat. This of course means that the men in the dancing scene need to man up and start with the following, because I refuse to miss out on their dancing wonderfulness! Good thing Keith and I got to DJ together, or I’d hardly have spent any quality time with a bloke at all this weekend. And that is UNACCEPTABLE.

Workshops on Sunday were fun. I learnt a LOT. And I did a private class with Ramona on Friday, which kind of broke my dancing for a bit, and then suddenly it all came back together and I was a dancing machine on Saturday night. Blues dancing: still a bit too dull for me atm. But then, only boring people are bored, and that’s doubly true of dancers – only a boring lead is bored. I need to woman up.

The DJ Dual with Keith went really well. In fact, I had the most fun DJing I’ve had in ages and ages. We ended up trading three songs until the last moment when we played alternative songs. I think we would have liked to continue for another hour or so, trading single songs, as we got more confident and figured out the skills and tactics we needed. But we’d been DJing for an hour and a half by then, so we might’ve gotten a bit tired. And I had to go in the jack and jill, and I’m not sure it would have been ok for me to DJ the competition I was in. Overall, it was nice to have a bit of a challenge, and it was nice to work with a friend I like and have lots in common with musically. But he is a bit of a sly dog, and wouldn’t tell me what he was playing next, most of the time, so I had to keep on my toes. But that was actually even more fun. DJ Dual: LIKE.

NB There were THREE women leads in the jack and jill competition, and one got through to the finals (in a group of six leads)!!11!1 That photo above is one I lifted from Faceplant – sorry I can’t remember whose it was. It’s of the J&J, I’m in there, and so is at least one of the other female leads.


I ended up catching up with lots of internet friends over the weekend as well. Which is always a bit of a push, but well worth it. The best part was walking into a cafe, saying “Hello, I’m Sam, nice to meet you!” and then barrelling into an hour of solid, hardcore talking as though we’d known each other for years. Which we have, really. Just not in person. This trip I went for smaller catch ups, rather than bigger groups, because I wanted to get a chance to actually connect with everyone and I often don’t get that at bigger meet ups. But that also meant I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to. Oh well, good thing I go to Melbourne regularly! I’m planning another trip in May for the Frankie Manning birthday celebrations, so I’ll see if I can fit in the people I missed this time. But that sucks, because you’re still missing people! And then there are all the dance people I want to see off the dance floor! This is, of course, why exchanges are so much fun and so challenging – so many friends descend on one city for just one weekend you really need an enormous dance floor to connect with them all!

Righto, I’d better write up today’s jazz woman!