WHAT THE FUCK Your understanding of following in lindy hop is fucked up or, Sam loses her shit.

There’s a discussion going on on facebook where people are really being WRONG.
Good thing I’m here to set them straight.

This discussion is, in the broadest terms, about how teachers can help their follow students contribute more to the partnership.
Of course, we all know that this question is predicated on a false paradigm. We all know that lindy hop is not about leaders laying out a series of moves and follows completing them perfectly. And we all know that a follow’s creativity is not based on (her) ability to slot jazz steps into the spaces between moves or into the moves themselves.

We know this, don’t we?

I have gendered this deliberately, because this is an old partner dance paradigm based on white, middle class gender and social conventions, and having very little to do with vernacular dance.

The original poster had three questions, and I answered them. The questions were expanding on a class exercise where the leads had been tasked with ensuring their partner had the best dance ever (engaging with them, etc etc), and the follows with bringing creative work and play to the dance. It apparently blew their students minds, and everyone had a really great time, including teachers.
Here I respond to the questions the OP asked at the end of their post:

1) Why were the followers so baffled at first when we gave them this assignment?
Patriarchy. Women are trained to put others’ needs before their own. That includes helping leads look good by being perfect follows.

2) Why were the leads so confident at first that they were already doing it?
Patriarchy. Men aren’t trained to put others’ needs first.

3) And how can we add in these little “life lessons” (as one of our students called it) throughout all of our classes in every level?
I have three teaching rules: Take care of the music, take care of your partner, take care of yourself. That last one is as important as all the others, especially for follows. I might extend that to include:
– follows are responsible for carrying the rhythm too;
– follows, don’t compromise your own rhythm and timing for the lead;
– connection isn’t just about follows being able to ‘hear’ a lead’s leading. It’s about leads hearing and feeling the follow,

or, as with an older woman this week in a private,
– if you have a sore knee, don’t ever push through. Stop, take a break. Ask for a pause. Give yourself credit for knowing what you need.

I think that the problem here isn’t ‘how do we get followers to do X and leads to Y (within our existing dance paradigm’, but rather ‘what the fuck are you doing? This isn’t lindy hop. You need to get back to class and relearn how this thing works.’ Of course, I’ll not be posting that on fb in a civil discussion, no matter how much I might like to.

Anyways, the thread continued, with each post more baffling and frustrating than the last.

Then there came this post:

There are many ways to approach this, but I think it’s very difficult to be expressive when you don’t have a jazz step vocabulary that’s in your muscle memory. I like teaching specific ways to play with specific basic steps. Practice that particular variation whenever that step is lead (leaders can do the same thing to work on their own style, but hopefully not at the same time) Over time, that variation will feel natural and eventually your body will simply respond to the music and/or energy of the lead to plug in whatever move in your vocabulary feels right. And you’ll also be able to utilize that vocabulary in other situation besides the ones you specifically practiced. I think that’s the best way to start. With more advanced students, you can give exercises that require the follower to get creative with certain patterns.

There is so much wrong here.
I just … I cannot. I can’t even. Why. How. What even is this? It’s not lindy hop.

But of course, I replied:

I don’t think follows ‘having a voice’ = follows slotting jazz steps into the shapes a leader proscribes.

I vigorously reject this paradigm. Lindy hop is far more complex and interesting and also far simpler and more enjoyable.

But that person doubled down with:

….You need a vocabulary before you can be creative….

And then I responded:

I totally disagree, and i think that lindy predicates innovation and making shit up. And total noobs are brilliant at being creative without a body of jazz vocab. And i’d much prefer they let the music and their partnership move them, than they just pulled out rote moves.

This poster responded, tripling down, so I bowed out.

But I want to make this point:

If we insist that students (women, follows) cannot improvise or be creative without having first consumed and perfected a body of vocabulary, we are setting up troubling power dynamics. We are saying: you can only get this vocab from me, the teacher. This sets us up as a powerful authority.
If we insist that the only way of being creative in lindy hop is via set vocab, we are also saying ‘your individuality and the steps and shapes you invent are not important to lindy hop. are not lindy hop.’ So while we are establishing our own power and status as teachers, we are also deconstructing students’ own power and confidence. And devaluing their skills and creativity.

It’s also flying in the face of black vernacular dance history and culture. ie it’s wrong. It’s not lindy hop.

In contrast, I believe that humans come to lindy hop classes with a vast body of skills, experience, and qualities that make for brilliant lindy hop.
They know how to interact with other humans. Even if they aren’t much good at it, almost every person in a dance class can figure out how to work with a partner. Particularly if you explain or demonstrate how to do it. So rather than my setting up a weirdo language-based technical jargon filled example of partnership, I might say ‘please hold this person in your arms the way you would a dear friend’. Or I might say ‘you dance one 8, then they dance one 8, and I want you to imagine your are demonstrating it so that they can memorise it.’

They will then use their eyes to make contact, they will orient their bodies towards their partner, they will stand close enough to see and hear each other. They will apologise if they kick their partner or anyone else. They will negotiate who will go first and who will do what role.

Additionally, humans are phenomenal pattern matchers. I’m astounded by how good first time dancers are at identifying patterns, then memorising and recreating them. And they get very good very quickly at doing this with increasingly complex patterns. And rhythms, of course, are just patterns. They learn very quickly how to use their senses – their eyes, ears, bodies – and their brains to identify, learn, and echo back rhythms and patterns.

This is of course brilliant for learning a partner dance. They can learn a basic rhythm from a teacher demonstration in 3 minutes. They can learn how to dance with another human in 5 minutes. And then they can map it onto a partnership with another human they’ve just met, negotiating social discomfort to create a shared rhythm and pattern. That is AMAZING. And 90% of the time the teachers (you) only need to step in once or twice to set them in the direction you’d like to see (eg consensual, cooperative, etc).

And then, humans are also incredibly good at translating this pattern matching business into finding and keeping the beat in a song. They maintaining that beat as they do other tasks. While touching someone else. And learning other, more complex rhythms across various spatial planes.

Humans are fucking mind blowing.

So if you set up the exercise/task correctly, either partner in a lindy hop couple is more than capable of being creative within the partnership right from their very first class. They don’t need to learn X number of core jazz steps. In fact, if you’re not careful, they will invent their own. _Especially_ if you tell them a little story about how jazz steps were often invented from day to day life (pecks, crazy legs, cool breeze in the knees, pimp walk, fish tail, boogie forward).
If you have already done a 3 minute solo jazz warm up, they will already have a bunch of jazz steps under their belt.
If you have encouraged them to experiment and feel ok, they will experiment and create new steps and rhythms.
If you point out which things they already do well (all this stuff), they will feel confident enough to share these new ideas with their partners and the group.

And all this long before you get to set moves or lindy hop shapes!
In fact, if you get to this points and you see your lindy hop ‘moves’ as limits or restrictive shapes, then you really need to rethink your lindy hop structures as well. Because this is the wonderful thing about lindy hop: it is DESIGNED TO ACCOMODATE ALL THIS INDIVIDUAL AND COLLABORATIVE INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY!

The goddamm swing out is DESIGNED, BUILT specifically to accomodate individuality. The closed circle is literally broken open to let individual partners improvise. THIS IS LINDY HOP.

So I don’t fucking know what’s going on here. How can you even dance a dance that tells one partner they have no right or room to be creative? WHY WOULD YOU EVEN DO THAT DANCE?!?!?!?

It’s totally ok for students to not be good at making things up or creating things. They can learn – they’re there to learn! In fact, I think that this is one of the most important parts of a lindy hop class: we learn to be ok with not being perfect at things, and we learn to learn from our peers and from ourselves. We let the music guide us, not strict studio dance class rules.

But in my experience, humans are really REALLY good at making things up.
They are so good at recognising complex patterns, internalising them, and then recreating them. Humans can always find the beat in a song! Then they can keep it as they do complex tasks on different spatial planes (ie walking in time)!

Creativity and innovation don’t need to be specific, reproduceable dance steps. It can be the way you hitch a shoulder, a little extra bounce in your step, or a hugging your partner a bit closer in the best bit of the song.

If you do a jazz warm up, students’ll have 3 minutes worth of neat jazz steps.
If you tell students the stories of how a particular jazz step was born, you’ll probably have to fight to stop them inventing their own. I mean, pecking, crazy legs, cool breeze in the knees, boogie forward, broken leg, fall off the log. Who doesn’t want to get in on that action? Create a step that reflects their own day to day life?
When the step has a story, they will really enjoy ‘telling that story’ to their partner, and their partner will listen. So both of them will make space in open or closed or without touching to ‘do some jazz’.

But even better, if you play good music, and just ask them to ‘groove a bit before dancing’, and then ‘keep that groove with you all the time’, they will become fantastical innovative creative forces.

The very nature of lindy hop is innovation and improvisation. The swing out itself is an historic, literally breaking open of a fixed shape to let in the improvisation. A swing out asks each partner to be ok with being on their own for a bit. On their own, but with a partner. Improvising or not.

This is how vernacular dance works: it adapts and changes to meet people’s needs.

What does it mean to be a ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ follow? No, seriously, what does it mean?

I’m getting pretty curious about how these ideas and words circulate.

I haven’t heard a decent international teacher use the idea of ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ follows in years. But I still hear it at a local level.
This makes me think that either local teachers aren’t updating their learns regularly by taking classes/workshops (for whatever reasons – cost, time, inclination, etc), or those mid-level traveling teachers who do a _lot_ of teaching are still using the term and concept.

Anyways, now I’m starting to think about these quick-fix jargon type words (frame, light/heavy follows, compression, extension, etc), I’m wondering what people really mean when they use these terms.
It doesn’t seem to be used in reference to leads, which immediately makes me suspicious.

There seems to be this persistent myth that follows are 90% responsible for connection, which is then related to the idea that a good follow ‘just follows’, which suggests that following is magical unicorn trait. That tied to this inexplicable ‘heavy/light’ thing suggests some scary stuff about body size/weight and gender.

To turn it back into a teaching issue, how exactly does using this term and concept help people learn to dance?
What exactly are teachers trying to communicate to their students when they use this language?
I mean this as an honest question.

What is the difference between a ‘light’ follow and a ‘heavy’ follow?
The former responds really quickly to a lead, with no delay? The latter takes longer to respond? If this is the case, then how do we account for a follow takes the ‘right’ amount of time (eg 8 counts)? And then, how is this time measured?

Is it about time?
It really feels as though this idea of light/heavy follows is about response time. And this idea of ‘response time’ is separated from the idea of ‘time’ in a rhythmic/musical sense. A beat is a beat is a beat. The band sets the ‘time’, and if a follow is keeping that time, then they are always ‘in time’ and never ‘too late’ or ‘too early’…

Unless it’s all about responding to the lead. In this case, then it’s not that follow is too late or too early, but that the follow is not keeping the same time as the lead. This is a) bullshitly control stuff, or b) both partners neglecting the music, because we both have a responsibility to take care of the music.

Or is it about weight, mass?
But if it’s not about time, then is it about actual physical weight? That seems weird, because as a fat chick, I can easily make my hand float in my lead’s hand to ‘feel light’. It has nothing to do with my physical body weight.
Even so, I don’t think that the actual weight of a hand (or a body) is the issue, as we aren’t dead weights, we are active bodies, moving ourselves. Unless leads are asking follows to be dead weights physically wrenched around the floor. But that’s dumb.

Or is it about touching someone?
So perhaps it’s meant to be a way of talking about connection, in the physical and emotional sense? ie the difference between a limp hand that’s just being held by someone else, or a situation where two people are actively holding each others’ hands?

I’m down with that final scenario: when we dance with someone, we _both_ hold each others’ hands, and we both hold each other in our arms. Including follows. We are actively present with our partner. We are here, now.
But even here, we have moments when we aren’t 100% on. When we’re tired, or laughing too much to stand up properly, or when we’re holding our loved one, or … etc etc etc.

Can we just throw this term out the window?
Again, I think that I’m most interested in the idea of partnership as active, responsive, ever-changing, mutable. A ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ partner sounds like a fixed state. I don’t want to be a static or fixed state. I want my partner to know how I feel all the time, and vice versa. Because this is communication, not a leader giving follows directions.

Lindy hop ‘rules’ I loathe

Jon T said on fb the other day:

Telling people hard and fast rules … just creates unnatural motion and stress

‘Rules’ in lindy hop create the idea that there are wrong and right ways to do things. My only class rules are ‘take care of the music, take care of your partner, take care of yourself.’

Here are some rules that came up in a discussion:

…follower should offer their hands to the leader if possible all time, since they can’t know, what comes next and when the leader needs this hand. Also not having elbow behind the body, cause this simply hurts.

I’ve heard this elbow rule repeated a zillion times over the past years. I suspect it came out of a class on sugar pushes that someone influential taught in the mid 2000s, and it’s just stuck in people’s brains, which they’ve then passed on in their classes when they started teaching.

I can think of a million points in lindy hop where my elbow goes behind my body: hand to hand charleston, tandem charleston, texas tommy, when I’m jazzing….

I’m also unsure of the ‘follows should offer their hand to the leader all the time’ rule.
Why? Sometimes I don’t want to stop jazzing.
Sometimes I have to scratch my arm while I’m dancing.
If a follow has jazzfeels, they may need their hand to express that. It’s all good.

…in our beginner classes we do a lot of telling leads to ‘not be afraid to be firm, give clear directions’ and follows to ‘help the leads learn to lead, by not doing the move for them, but really giving some resistance until the direction is clear’.

I’m a bit scared reading this directive to leads: ‘not be afraid to be firm, give clear directions’. If you’ve never danced before, ‘firm’ often translates to ‘omg that’s rough and you’re hurting me’ or ‘I am the boss’. There are also gendered associations at work here (eg a man being ‘firm’ with a recalcitrant woman). Nope.
If you are always working with the assumption that all leads are just invitations to do a particular shape, then ‘firmness’ isn’t helpful.
‘Clarity’ might be more useful. Or ‘purposeful’. I use phrases like ‘if you’d like your partner to do x rhythm, then you need to dance it as clearly and purposefully as you can, as though you are teaching a stranger a completely new thing you’ve just invented and want to share with them’.

I’m also a bit unsure of this: ‘help the leads learn to lead, by not doing the move for them, but really giving some resistance until the direction is clear’.

  1. It’s not a follow’s job to help a leader learn to lead. Yes, we are a team, but we are all responsible for our own bodies.
  2. What does ‘resistance’ mean to someone who’s never danced before? It could be translated as ‘fight the move’ or ‘resist’ or ‘don’t do it’. All troubling concepts in a teamwork environment. Maybe, if you extend that ‘invitation to dance’ idea, a follow dances and continues a rhythm or momentum or whatever they’re doing until the lead suggests something new. They suggest a new rhythm or direction or whatevs, and the follow decides whether to do it or go that way or not. Both are legit options.
  3. I find this conceptual framework deeply troubling. It sets up leading and following as antagonistic, whereas I much prefer the idea of us as a partnership, a team, sharing ideas, rather than executing steps perfectly.

…put a little weight in your partner’s hands…

I honestly have no idea what ‘put a little weight into your partner’s hands’ might mean. It sounds suspiciously like the ideas of ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ follows, and who cares about that stuff. It’s rubbish.

…it’s def8natley important to explain to people when and how to collapse their frame if they feel they need to, for safety or comfort.

In principle I agree, but I’d never explain it like that. I often say to follows, “If a lead is holding you too tightly or you feel uncomfortable, or you’re just not into it, let go!” And I say to the leads, “If your partner lets go of your hand, _don’t try to keep hold of them!_ Let them go! Let them goooooo”.
And of course, the idea is that if a follow lets go, it’s because they don’t want to hold your hand. Or it slipped out of your hand. Or whatevs. Its a signal to you, so look at them, and see what they feel. Are they solo jazzing? Are they angry? Are they crying? What? Just ask them, and they’ll tell you.

The lesson for leads, here, is that they need to be ok with follows saying ‘no’ to physical contact, and that they need to pay attention to follows all the time. It’s not a one-way line of communication.

I think that follows are often told to maintain the physical contact _at all costs_, and this scares me.
If I’m going to get hurt, I eject! Get on out of there! It’s ok to just let go! It’s ok to step out of your partner’s arms. You might not be ready to say “Stop! I don’t like it!” but the best and simplest option when you’re worried a person might hurt you is to step out of physical contact. BOOM.

Honestly, the more I think about this line of thinking, the more upset I am.
I think we should teach leads and follows that discomfort, pain, or fear are _not_ something we should tolerate or hide. Leads: don’t be hurting people! Follows: don’t hide your pain to salve a lead’s pride!

What is ‘frame’ and do I want to use it when teaching?

Frame, a key element in lindy hop. With the diversity in students we use several different methods of showing/feeling/explaining what frame is. Still I notice that we have some students who we don’t seem to reach.
What are the ways you use to explain frame to your students?

I’ve been thinking about this issue since I read a post about it on fb. Miro’s comment, “I don’t know what frame is and we never use this term in our classes. Can you please explain what is your understanding of frame?” really stuck with me.

I think I’d like to turn the original question around, and ask “What do you want to teach in your classes that you’re grouping under the word ‘frame’?”

Again, this is where planning classes in terms of ‘goals’ and ‘values’ is so useful.
What do you want to _achieve_ in this class?
What stuff do you group under the term ‘frame’?
Why are these things important to you?
How can you get students experimenting with these things in class without you spending 10 minutes on a long explanation?
…or, what are some fun dance steps that employ this principle, or a single step with a bunch of variations (eg turns) that you can work on in class, with gradually increasing levels of difficulty, until students have a sense of how it works?

Discursive differences: rhythm-first and ‘technique’
I know quite a few teachers who focus on old timers, and/or who’ve been teaching for a very long time, learning originally from old timers insist that they “don’t teach technique.” This is patently untrue, as of course they teach technique, they just don’t use jargon or frame it as ‘technique’. An insistence on a solid rhythm, for example, and how to do it, is of course a discussion of technique.

So I think there’s a general trend in some of the modern lindy hopping world to revisit the roots of lindy hop… or rather to imagine how an OG might have learnt or taught other people (primarily by show-and-do), and to abandon verbal descriptions and language-oriented classes.

There are, of course, lots of problems with white middle class people imagining how black working class people from previous generations learnt and taught. I mean, why not just go to a street dance class today, or join in on a cypher if you want to learn how black kids learn to dance?*
I also think there is some low-key racism going on, imagining that black dancers just ‘naturally have rhythm’, rather than their devoting extensive hours and focus to developing physical movements and techniques. Learning to dance, or developing a dance style is a matter of craft, far more than it is an act of ‘creative inspiration’. The inspiration might get you on the floor, but it’s hundreds of hours of good, solid work and craftsmanship that keeps you honing your art.

So while I’m all about ‘natural movement’ and all that, I’m also very much aware that becoming a really fucking good dancer requires lots of work, and lots of iterative experimentation. I mean, Remy’s great, but he didn’t get that good just by stepping onto the dance floor. Dood practices a LOT. Endlessly.

*Because doing that would be admitting that a black kid in urban Baltimore knows more than a white middle aged, middle class person running a dance class.

So what is ‘frame’ anyway?

If I was to take this idea of ‘frame’ and untangle it, within this ‘rhythm first’ teaching paradigm (which I guess i do belong to, with some equivocations of course), what would I think of as ‘frame’?

It’s a hard one, because i simply don’t think of dancing that way any more. Sure, I was on board in the early 2000s when all the (American) kids were wiggly hopping and focussing on technical exercises and some mystical ideal lead/follow dynamic. But these days I aint got time for that. I want to have fun.

So I’m guess the idea of ‘frame’ is to do with how we communicate movement between partners?
I notice in a lot of discussions of ‘frame’ the focus is on follows, with the attendant idea that a ‘good dance’ is about a lead transmitting movement/leads to a follow, who then perfectly executes them? That sounds very boring to me. The idea that we need to develop a perfect way of holding our bodies and muscles (whatever that may be) so we can be a conduit for a lead’s creative vision makes me want to go do some crocheting.

I mean, it’s also not historically useful. If we look at footage of the OGs in the olden days, we see lots of bodies that isn’t technically ‘perfect’ in a 2000s sense of frame. But it gets the job done, and it’s bloody good dancing.

So, if we rework the concept to sit more comfortably with a more equitable and interesting idea of leading and following as partnership, the goal of ‘frame’ is to share musical ideas. Cool. But also not cool.

How do we communicate ideas to our partner?

I have a lot of tools available to me for sharing musical ideas: my eyes and ears, as well as my sense of touch. I can literally call out a move, or tap or clap out a rhythm, or demonstrate a rhythm for my partner to see. All this in addition to what they may feel when we are touching.

I think this sense of touch is really important in lindy hop, but I also think a lot of peeps who are really into the idea of ‘frame’ neglect all these other, truly social ways of communicating. It’s ok to talk to your partner, for example. I can shout out “charleston!” in a big apple, and it’s all good. I can scat a nice melody as I dance. etc etc etc.

I also like to rethink concepts of ‘momentum’ and ‘energy’ in musical terms. So while I might use ‘frame’ as a way to explain how a partner maintains or increases and decreases a rate of movement in concert with their partner, I have another tool. Music.
Rhythms are, in dance, a way of explaining how a body moves through time and space. ie, how long it takes to move a body part.

Rather than using a bunch of words or abstract exercises to teach students about ‘momentum’, I could have them experiment with a stomp off and a triple step at various tempos, figuring out how much weight to commit on a stomp off without getting ‘stuck’, and explore the things these two steps have in common and and how they are unique.
I could use a bunch of words to explain these similarities and differences, but then I’d have spent a bunch of time and brain making a dance step into words. When I don’t really need to do that, not to teach, and definitely not for my own dancing.

The advantages of see-and-do vs talk-heavy teaching tools

I am increasingly convinced that verbalising dance (ie teaching with heaps of words) slows down learning and teaching. It privileges some people (the ones who are good at words, and translating words into ideas into visualising movements and then into actual movements). It’s not really helpful if my goal is to get people moving their bodies and laughing. And when I’m actually social dancing, breaking down a lead (if I’m following) into words and concepts and then back into actions is far too slow a process for actual dancing.

If we only have an hour each week, I don’t want to give all my attention to touch. I also want to avoid verbiage, and find quicker tools for sharing a concept. I want to play a lot of music, I want to have a lot of fun. I want students to feel confident and enjoy what’s happening.
This is why instead of using complex jargon and explanations, I like reminding people that they have a lot of useful skills for social dancing. They know how to hold someone in their arms, they know how to hold hands with someone they love, they know how to lead someone to the snack table to get a plate of food. So I don’t need to explain these things in incredibly technical detail.

I keep thinking about the way I’ve had teachers explain a handhold in lindy hop. Lots of talk about ‘energised fingertips’ and precise position of fingers and palms and stuff. But I _know_ how to hold hands with people I like. As a teacher, I’m actually less and less interested in telling people how to actually hold hands and which fingers go where. I honestly don’t care. They should hold hands in a way that makes it work, doesn’t hurt, is culturally appropriate for them, and feels right.

I want to let go of jargon like ‘frame’ because it slows down learning, it privileges a very white, over-thought idea to dance, and it steals time from historically-grounded classes. And we talk too much.

Language is important: decolonising dance jargon

‘Gliding’* came up in a fb discussion about great things to teach brand new dancers.
Gliding is just moving around the dance floor in closed position without any particular rhythm, with or without music. In our classes, we want them to experiment with working with a partner in closed, with no pressure to perfect a rhythm or shape.

Gliding teaches them:
– closed partner connection
– floor craft
– the joy of being with a partner with no pressure to do a rhythm
– confidence to experiment on their own
– how to change direction (as a lead and/or follow).

In this discussion, there was a comment by someone using a lot of dance industry ‘jargon’. And a couple of words that I wasn’t entirely sure were being used correctly.

…or, more generously, were being used in ways I wasn’t sure I understood.

Anyhoo, I asked for clarification. And got some more jargon. Partly an ESL issue, but also partly… a confusing thing.

The biggest problem I had with this comment, was the author’s correcting our use of the word ‘gliding’:

…gliding is a modern subculture term, progressive ( in line of dance) would be the common teaching terminology.

I immediately felt very uncomfortable with this correction. Because Frankie Manning used the term ‘gliding’ to describe a more organic, natural movement about the floor (distinct from a very clear straight line). So I asked for clarification. And felt it was… massively patronising and also WRONGTOWN and full of some bullshit white elitist crap. So I figured I’d just ignore it, because life is too fucking short.

Luckily Damon Stone was feeling patient. I’m sorry I didn’t step in; it’s not cool to leave all this hard work to POC.
This is Damon’s great answer:

It feels like you are using te[rms] from one subculture of “ballroom” and applying to all other dances done in ballrooms.

The terminology of different American ballroom chains at one point differed from each other and there are still terminology differences between American and International ballroom studio associations.

When you compare both style technique, composition, and terminology between ballroom studios and the people who created the dances it isn’t uncommon to find slight to wild variations between those created by African American or Latinx peoples.

Progressive definitely implies line of dance, gliding doesn’t. Frankie definitely used the term in my lessons and classes with him to indicate dancing within a general space as opposed to on the spot or line of dance.

You absolutely could glide in line of dance and yes the earliest version of lindy hop appears to be rooted in a progressive structure but, in my experience, that was not how Frankie wanted it done.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with using American or International ballroom terms of you get a lot of dancers with that background, if you teach in a that type of studio and how your lindy hoppers will also study that style of ballroom, but this dance also has a language developed by its own originating and innovating dancers, keeping that terminology in the dance is a great way to pass along parts of the culture.

I’d be super careful about correcting someone’s terminology if it can be traced to people who danced at the Savoy even if it was terminology they added to the dance well after the Savoy was torn down.

I did end up chiming in (of course I did). Paraphrasing Damon’s clever (and patient) comment, I added:

I want to emphasise this idea: if we use the language of the white-run and owned ballrooms and dance classes of the day (and now), instead of the language of black dancers who invented and owned this dance, then we are recreating and reinforcing white colonisation of black dance. An insidious sort of appropriation of black culture for white profit.

In more practical terms, a lot of the language and ‘technique’ of OGs who danced on crowded dance floors reflects the practicalities of a crazy packed dance floor. You have to behave like social creatures when you social dance.
An insistence on straight lines, slots, fixed figures, etc etc is often profoundly anti-social as ‘rules’ don’t account for crowds of humans with varying skills and attention. Not to mention actual live music.
I think that this is one of the most important parts of vernacular dance. It changes and improvises to account for the needs of real humans in social spaces <3 It _belongs_ to the people dancing it, not to a rule book and codified pedagogy. *Do a search for 'gliding' here in this blog and you'll find a bunch of posts.

What if an employer only offers pay for the leader/male teacher, not the follower/female teacher?

how to respond respectfully and educationally?

Definitely address this, as it will have issues later on.
I’d use a friendly, bright and breezy writing style, yet with a core of iron.
eg

Hi [name],
So nice to hear from you. We’d love to teach at [event], and I think [name] and [name] would be a great fit for this class, as they have plenty of teaching experience, and are particularly good with new dancers.
Let me clarify a few of the details:
– the class begins at [time], and the social dancing begins at [time], but and the doors open at [time]
– the venue is [name] at [address]
– both teachers will be given free entry to the social dancing afterwards
– there is now pay available for the teachers (how exciting! This is such a good sign of the success of your hard work!), and it is $X in total.
-> related to the pay, I see that you’ve specified that only the teacher who is leading will be paid, and the teacher who is following will not be paid.
We actually pay all our teachers equally, as we ask our teachers to address leading and following as unique and practical skills in their own right.
Are you ok with both our teachers being paid, and at the rate of $XX each?

Hoping to hear from you soon,
[your name]

I think it’s cool to ask for a particular pay rate for both teachers. I’ve come across this sort of issue in other contexts – eg as a DJ I’ve been offered pay, but not free entry, so I’ve responded with ‘as I’ll be liaising with the band and your staff, preparing beforehand, and bringing my usual equipment, so I see this as a working gig. This means that I’ll be part of your staff, rather than a paying guest.’ etc etc etc.
With this approach, if they want to persist in not paying the woman/follow, they’ll have to say so explicitly, and why. This may force to them to confront their assumptions. It’ll also force them to take a slightly more confrontational approach, and this sort of organiser usually likes to maintain an air of casual hail-fellow-well-met chilllaxedness. You’ll still have the ‘chill’ vibe, but they’ll have to decide whether to stay chill or come across as a bastard. :D

It’s usually a matter of the organiser being inexperienced (as sounds the case in your story), and not really understanding dance event culture. They may be approaching running events as a hobby and assume everyone else does too.

I think it’s really important to address this as early as possible, as this ‘casual hobby’ approach is often used to justify not paying all sorts of people, not having an OH&S policy, not being careful about fire safety, and of course, not being professional about preventing sexual harassment and assault.

-> ie I’ve observed that when an organiser is ‘casual’ about one issue, and exploiting people in one way, they are often ‘casual’ in other areas and exploiting people in other ways. So we see sexual harassment by staff happening at events that are also too casual about pay, about setting definite volunteer shift lengths, etc etc etc.

So your being strict, particularly as a woman (sorry, I’ve just assumed you ID female :D ), will set a very good example. Especially if you are chillaxed, friendly, but firm.

Relatedly, but a bit off track, a lot of church groups with conventional gender roles have a long history of women doing unpaid, unrecognised labour. There’s actually a stack of literature on women’s volunteer work in church groups in Australia and the US :D
So you’ll be dealing with that culture as well as some of the less pleasant elements in the lindy hop world.

Your approach could vary depending on who’s writing the email. eg if it’s a man who’s also a minister (ie in a position of power), and you’re a woman, he may be used to being the higher status, more powerful person in these conversations, so you may need to put a bit of low-key work into presenting yourself as a capable professional in person as well. eg I do stuff like pitch my voice lower, not giggle, I speak calmly and professionally, I initiate conversation and ask questions, rather than waiting to be spoken to in conversations, I offer my hand to shake when we meet, and at subsequent interactions, I try to arrange it so that he seems me managing other people, or working in a professional role with other people.

I dunno if you do this stuff already (sorry if this sounds patronising), but it’s always a good thing to practice. I put a lot of work into my professional role and modes of interaction, and that helps me delineate when I’m ‘working’, and when I’m a punter. Which helps me switch off and have fun when I’m not working :D

I have to continually revisit this stuff. eg I noticed when I was watching telly a little while ago that white American male characters don’t make eye contact while talking. So then I observed white Australian men talking. No eye contact, unless they want to get aggressive. So now when I talk with new male colleagues, I don’t make a lot of eye contact. I also avoid smiling too much – I have a neutral face with a little head tilt that says ‘I’m interested in what you’re saying, but I’m not committing to engagement. Convince me.’
I also stand with my weight event distributed on both feet, I often put one or both hands on my hips, and I square up to a new man and make a solid bit of eye contact when we first meet and shake hands. I always come in first with “Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m your DJ/event manager/MC for tonight.” Then I smile and say something like “Nice to meet you [name].” I think of this as making sure they know that I know who they are.
Then I usually guide the conversation on to the next issue, and keep it professional.
If I’m talking to someone who is my boss, I don’t guide the conversation, unless they’re not covering the issues I need.

It’s all very gendered and I definitely adopt postures and behaviours I think of as masculine. If I’m working with very femme women, I use a different approach.

Basically, I’m learning a lot about body language from my doggo Frank :D

Dealing with men who use classes to pick up

Men propositioning women in class, touching too much, touching inappropriately, and all that other gross harassment stuff sucks. But you can totally resolve this!

We always begin the ‘touching’ part of class (ie after warm ups, etc) by saying, ‘this is a partner dance. I’m the follow, x is the lead.’ Then we demo some lindy hop, and explain that the lead is suggesting a move/rhythm and the follow is deciding whether or not they’ll get on board and do it.
Then we say, “Now you need to choose: do you want to lead or follow. Make that choice. Next, we need to find a partner. Watch us do this thing”
And then we do the little ‘asking someone to dance role play’:
eg I approach pete, and say
S: “Hello, I’m Sam. Would you like to dance?”
P: “Hi. I’m Pete” (we offer each other hands and shake hands). “Yeah, sure. Do you prefer to lead or follow?”
S: “Following, ,please”
And then we move to join the circle.

Then we say, “Please find a partner and have that conversation.”

Then they do it. We let them take a bit of time to do this.

Things they learn here:

  • Don’t touch someone without knowing their name and asking them to dance (we repeat this MANY TIMES in class, verbally, and we teachers always ask permission before touching students in class).
  • Don’t assume someone leads or follows, ask instead.

All this stuff may scare off your Difficult Men. If not, there’s more!

Then we teachers get into the middle of the circle, gather them all reeeeeally close, and say something like “Now, we’re going to touch our partner.” And they all giggle. But we get into closed and say, “This is how we’d like you to hold your partner” (it helps if the follow says it). “Please observe us, then have a go.”

We don’t tell them to do anything, or say anything, we just demo it.
Ramona says: “The museum is open. Please come and have a good look.” If they don’t have it, you can say, “The museum is still open. Please come and look at the display again.”

They get into closed position
Then we say, “Because we’re all different sizes and shapes, we need to see if we have this comfortable for our partner.”
Then we do the ‘am I touching you right’ role play:

S:”Pete, is my left hand too far around your shoulder?” And Pete visibly thinks, then takes my hand and moves it, saying “I think it’s a bit too far around for me.” And I say “Cool, ta.”
Then Pete does the same.

Then, and this is KEY: You say “Please have this conversation with your partner.” And you leave them to talk about it and try it until you see them move into non-touching related talk. This is THE MOST important part – they really need to actually practice verbalising asking someone to change how they touch their bodies, and practicing responding to this. So don’t rush them. Intermediates will try to brush off their partner with ‘it’s fine’. Don’t allow them to do this; ask for real conversations.

After the first two or three times they rotate, we say, “Remember, each human is a different size and shape, so you need to figure out if the fit is right. Please check in with your partner.” And they have that conversation.

Anyway, all this skills up your students to:

  • ask permission to touch,
  • ask for feedback on how they’re touching someone,
  • actually practice giving that feedback (they are told explicitly that they can’t just say ‘yeah fine’. They have to stop, think, feel, then articulate their feels).
  • practice responding to feedback,
  • Think about the way their _whole bodies_ touch someone, not just their hands (we often drop this in when we’re talking about how follows are touching the leads with their backs).

This will skill up your women to deal with the too-touchy men, and it’ll train the men in how to touch respectfully.
You won’t need to police the students all the time. You can step in when they’re all dancing and experimenting for extra one-on-one comments, but mostly they police themselves and each other.

Best of all, the truly dodgy bros will get the shits and stop coming to class, because they can’t get away with any bullshit.

We do other follow up stuff in class to compound these skills:

  • eg when they finish practicing to music we say (Because we always see it): “I really liked it when one person in a couple got in a mess, said, ‘hey, can we start again?’ and both people stopped and grooved before starting again.”This emphasises what we _like_ and how they can handle these issues.
  • We might also say, “I saw some really nice, relaxed bodies. I could see people holding each other comfortably, and asking their partner if what they are doing is ok.”
  • I often say, “If you’re not sure if you’ve got it right, ask your partner – they’re a specialist in how their body works.”
  • The teachers often ask each other things like, “How did you know I wanted you to stop there?” as a way of modelling how to talk to each other, how to avoid ‘leader first’ language (so we ask the follow how they knew, which requires follows think actively about what they’re doing, not ‘just following’, etc etc).

I think using positive language (telling them what you liked) is better than ranting at them about what not to do. Because you’re just repeating the bad stuff and that’s all they’ll remember. So just repeat the good stuff. We also add in ways follows can eject from dances or moves if they don’t like it, and how leads should respond (let the follow gooo, let her gooooo).

From practical cultural change to broader ideological change and back again

I’m just rewriting a draft teachers’ agreement and editing my teachers’ agreement template for dance events. This is my new favourite bit:

Teachers’ expectations of organisers:
– Provision of safe, clean teaching environments without unnecessary crowding, and including head mics (where necessary), sound gear, venue coordinator to manage the workshops.
– Will teach workshops of no more than 80 participants.
– Will teach classes of no more than 30 participants.
– Will teach for no longer than 1.5 hours without a 15 minute break, and a minimum 1 hour break after 3 hours of teaching.
– Flexible workshop hours to allow for nursing and care of infants.

I’m not there yet, but it’s looking pretty good.

The nice thing about working with teachers who are nursing mothers (this is my second time), is that their needs (eg breaks for nursing, being flexible in class start times, asking students to work independently, or while teachers are nursing/caring for infants) translate to good conditions for everyone.

If we make nursing mothers’ requirements our ‘norm’ for teachers’ requirements, we end up with much better working conditions for everyone – students and teachers!
I’ve found the same when managing DJs’ working conditions, when working on safe space policies, and band’s conditions.

The invisible straight white able bodied cisman norm doesn’t really benefit anyone. Not even straight white able bodied cismen without dependents.

I’ve also found that asking teachers to prioritise self-care (eating real food at regular intervals, taking rests, taking time out, drinking water, having at least 3 hours between classes and parties, going home when they feel like it, only dancing at parties when they feel like it, etc etc) models good stuff for students.

This is especially important for women, where we’re seeing a bit of body dysmorphia coming into play: young women who don’t eat enough for their high-impact lindy hop and solo jazz dancing. When we see women teachers eat well, with enthusiasm, and with great pleasure and none of this ‘I’m being naughty’ talk, we see that eating well and self-care are part of being a professional dancer. Something we owe ourselves, and our bodies.
It’s also important for young men to see men practicing self-care, and to see women practicing self-care, and prioritising self-care above the interests of others.

You can see how this all feeds into a safe space policy, right? And how I build safe space stuff into an OH&S policy?
And of course, it all comes under our statement of intent at Swing Dance Sydney: Take Care of yourself, take care of your partner, take care of the music.

If you tip this list of points upside down, you’ll see that a way to get to safe space policies is to begin with:

A value statement (or statement of intent).

Then to see how this translates to general policies like ‘good working conditions for teachers’.

And finally to practical, real-life actions like ‘teach for no longer than an hour without a break’ or ‘we all sit down together for a meal’ or ‘if you don’t want to dance when someone asks you, just say no thank you.’

I think that this last practical level is where we do cultural practice (ie actual practical cultural change), whereas the two higher levels is where we do ideological change.

The real challenge then comes in keeping track of all these policies and processes. I can remember most of them, but the person who comes after me might not know why we instituted a ‘classes are no longer than one hour’ rule. So we need to document.
And of course, to be really good at this, we need flexibility. Iterative design. So after this Jazz with Ramona 5-7 Oct 2018 weekend, I’ll get some comments and feedback from Ramona, her partner John, peeps in the classes, etc, and I’ll rewrite these guidelines again.

How I describe connection in lindy hop

Someone on the facey asked ‘how do you describe/explain connection?’ and this is what I said.

I don’t often talk about connection in class. I usually use the word to include a whole bunch of stuff:

  • the human/social connection between partners (mutual respect and collaboration).
  • the physical contact (ie where we are actually touching each other)
  • the rhythmic connection (ie our shared relationship to the music, our shared sense of groove v two people just randomly grooving independently).

ie my three ‘rules’: take care of your partner, take care of the music, take care of yourself.

But my favourite description is: We are a team, and if partner X does something cool, it’s a win for both of us in the team. I also like the Jenny/Rikard description of lindy hop as a rally car: the lead is reading the map, and pointing out that there is a turn up ahead, but the follow decides whether to take the turn, how fast to turn, whether to stop and reverse, etc etc etc.

I don’t talk about all the technical body stuff in class if I can help it, as a one hour dance class is not the place to learn about turning on your pelvic floor – we go to pilates for that.

But if I want to improve the way two dancers are ‘connecting’, I will ask them to do a few things that have effects on their biomechanics:

– Look at each other (because the gaze actually affects the way we hold our heads on our necks, how we orient our torsos, and all the way to our feet. eg when the lead bows to the follow on the beginning of a swing out, if the lead looks at the follow, they won’t collapse their head and shoulders by looking at the ground, and they won’t create a strange off-set connection by looking to their right shoulder).

– Ask them to observe how they are touching their partner, and what messages this contact sends their partner (eg I ask the follows to observe their left hand on the lead’s shoulder – are the fingers making a claw? what message does that send their partner?) I don’t ask them to change what they’re doing, but to observe their own bodies. There’s nothing at all wrong with telling your partner you are freaking out by having your fingers clench into a claw on their shoulder; it’s important to communicate like this.* I also ask them to observe _themselves_ rather than their partner at first, because follows are often pressed to think of their bodies as a conduit for the lead’s ‘vision’ of a move, erasing their own sense of self and volition.

– Find a shared sense of groove with the music. So first we may do some grooving alone (usually with purpose in a game where groove is a side effect, not the stated goal), then we work on dancing _together_ and finding a shared sense of groove, where we don’t sacrifice our own sense of timing or rhythm, but we don’t ignore our partner’s. One of the consequences of this approach is that they really ‘listen’ to each other, using their sense of touch, and also their visual sense.

– Looking at each other, and doing lots of call and response work. I think that a lot of hardcore technical classes neglect the sense of sight. But we use our eyes for so much communication, it’s ridiculous to abandon it. And also we are social humans use rely on body cues and nonverbal visual communication all the time. Lindy hop is about visual communication with a partner too.
So I am quite against exercises where you close your eyes.

*This is why I am impatient with technical discussions of ‘connection’ that encourage us to adopt a ‘perfect’ physical connection via biomechanics. A ‘perfect’ connection prioritises ‘perfect’ leading and following, and suggests that a perfectly executed move is the end goal. I would much rather people reminded themselves that they know how to communicate with their bodies, and to trust their own physical reactions and accept them. So I want to see dancers smiling or laughing or frowning or jiggling with excitement or stopping dead or whatevs, _not_ maintaining a ‘perfect’ connection at all costs.

Gendered language in class

I’m ok with talking about gender and using gendered pronouns in class. I just like to be sure I’m not just using the same two boring pronouns all the time, and that I’m using people’s preferred pronouns.

I’m not ok with gendering leading and following, or skills related to leading and following.

This is partly why I’m not ok with some elements of the ambidance movement: I don’t want to do away with all gender.
But I do want to do away with the essentialist coupling of skills and ideas with two gender ‘norms’.

How then do I work to deconstruct gender in lindy hop when I’m teaching?

1. Use the words ‘leads’ and ‘follows’ (or the role name, and I’m with Dan when it comes to avoiding leader/follower) rather than ‘ladies and gentlemen’, ‘men and women’, ‘she/her/he/him’ etc etc.

2. Use people’s actual names rather than the role. It’s nicer generally, but it also encourages us to think of people as individuals, not roles. I try to use my teaching partner’s name.

3. Rather than talking about or around your teaching partner (eg “The follow will do this,”) speak to your teaching partner, asking them to describe what they’re doing (eg “How do you know I’m asking you to move forward, Alice?”).

Then there are trickier, less obvious things.
1. Always ask permission before you touch someone. It’s quite common for leaders to simply ‘grab’ a follow in class/their partner to demonstrate on them as though they were an object. I always try to ask them if I can touch/demonstrate. And I always apologise if I’ve just thoughtlessly grabbed them.
I started doing this after we started asking students to always introduce themselves and ask someone to dance before touching a new partner. It rubbed off on me :D
This stops us treating our partners like objects/just ‘the follower’. And this issue happens more with leaders grabbing follows than vice versa.

2. Conceptualising lindy hop as something other than ‘leader says, follow does’.
We are currently using ‘call and response’ and both partners can do it. We also use ‘leader invites follow to do X, follow decides whether to do X, how fast to do X,’ etc etc etc.

3. Don’t use words that position follows as objects.
eg never using words like ‘push’ to describe what leads do: ‘the leader pushes the follow’. No. This a) not technically accurate, and b) disrespectful.

4. Always try to talk about and think about your partner as a human with feelings and emotions.
When we get really technical, it’s easy to reduce our partner to an object force/momentum happens to, or a subject who generates force/momentum. We are real people with real feelings. So while physics is at work, our feelings and emotions are much more important. So we use language that describes what’s happening from that POV first. In nerd terms, this means using ‘external cues’ rather than ‘internal cues’.
eg. I ask Alice if she’d like to go to the snack table, then I take her hand and go with her to the snack table. vs ‘I hold her hand with my fingers in X position, then I engage my core, prepare, and then lift my left foot, swing it back 20*, place it back behind me, and then she engages her core and activates her frame…..’
The technical jargon encourages us to talk about our bodies and partners as technical objects, not as real live humans. It also slows down learning :D

5. Speak and act as though your partner and other dancers have opinions, and that these opinions may differ from yours.
We often try to hide the way we ‘make the sausages’, but it’s more useful for learners to see us discuss things, perhaps disagree, share different ideas. So ask your partner and students what they think and feel. Allow yourself to learn from your students and be surprised and delighted by this new information.

-> all this stuff is about deconstructing not just a gender binary, but a hierarchy of gendered power with straight white bro at the top.

And what of historical accuracy in all this?
I think it’s important to talk about gender in a historical context when we talk about lindy hop. So while a gender neutral pronoun is very much something white, middle class Australian teachers are experimenting with, that’s not how black dancers might have spoken of each other in the 30s.

Again, though, I like to take care about generalising. While some dancers today would have us believe that the 30s were a time of rigid gender norms, that’s not entirely true:
– There were women leads and men follows (and every gender ID ever) in the olden days,
– There were queer dancers and musicians (I’m currently reading about queer culture in NY in the 20s-40s… helllooooo genderflex ID and jazz dance!) and genderflex lindy hoppers fucking up the patriarchy then. Lester Young, anyone?
– Some of the most supportive teachers I’ve had have been black OGs, who’ve used gender neutral language and openly said they support women leads/male follows/genderflex dance IDs.

So when we talk about ‘ungendering’ lindy hop, that’s perhaps not helpful. It’s more that I want to widen my understanding of gender (and sexuality) in dance to more than just straight men leading and straight women following. The world is huge, and jazz asks us to improvise and innovate.

I have written about this many times before: