The effects of Long covid on lindy hop

If you catch covid, you have a 10-30% chance of it becoming long covid. One of the most comment symptoms of long covid is fatigue.

If we work with those assumptions, what does that mean for a community of dancers?

Let me be clear: I not an epidemiologist, a health specialist, a physiotherapist, or a disease expert. And I’m not sure if this long covid symptom is true across all covid variants and communities. But I am a cultural studies researcher. I have a lot of experience looking specifically at cultural practice within a particular community of people. So let’s start with this: what could happen to a community of dancers where some of the community members are living with long covid, and those people are representative of the different groups within the community? Teachers, performers, organisers, students, new dancers, experienced dancers, old people, young people, cancer survivors, volunteers, business people, trans people, everyone.

We’ve already seen the consequences of managing covid risk: massive financial loss, spacing requiring larger (more expensive rooms), crowd size management, no partner changing, no partner dancing, mandatory masks (and the effect on vigorous exercise), no social dancing, increased workloads for organisers, etc.

But what about the effects of one symptom of covid itself, specifically, fatigue?
Fatigue is not just being tired, where you can push through. Fatigue means you sit down to eat your breakfast, but afterwards you’re so tired from eating you can’t get up from the chair. You have to sit there for a couple of hours. Meanwhile your body cramps and you’re in pain. But this exhaustion is mental as well – you cannot concentrate, cannot follow ideas, and so on. What does this mean for a dancer?

If you’re a professional lindy hopper (a teacher or performer, or someone working in film or television), living with fatigue from long covid, then you cannot dance. You cannot work. Your income is gone. You cannot perform, you cannot choreograph, you cannot practice. Your body, already affected by illness (respiratory illness being the least of it), loses muscle tone and fitness. Your memory and ability to retain choreography disappears. That ‘muscle memory’ stuff (which is actually your brain working) dissolves. Not only can you not train for the hours every day your work requires, you cannot even coach other dancers and earn an income for choreographing for other people. Living will illness, and being separated from your support networks result in serious mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. And it’s impossible to do creative work living with an illness like this.

If you’re a new dancer who has to live with long covid, then you simply stop dancing. And probably never return to it. New dancers are the bread and butter of most dance classes and dance schools today. Dance organisations often fund their social events and weekend events with income from beginner classes. Without that cash flow, the parties dry up. Work for musicians and DJs dries up. The ability to play for dancers dries up.

What does this mean for dancing in the rest of the community? Even if those dancers falling ill are local teachers rather than traveling professionals, all that accumulated teaching knowledge, which lindy hop is notoriously poor at retaining and sharing, will be lost. All that historical and cultural knowledge is taken out of the community. The musical knowledge and dancing knowledge is gone. Not only in that one person, but in all the people they taught, danced with, inspired, and provoked into rivalry.

This is a little like having the Black men removed from jazz music and dance by conscription during the second world war. Whereas jazz music and dance at that time were actually real social practices, happening in sustainable social spaces (families, neighbourhoods, thriving businesses, cross generational gatherings), modern lindy hop in many scenes is not socially sustainable. It collapses when just one or two key people in a local community disappear.

Most lindy hop communities are small*, with perhaps a few hundred dancers, and classes and events run by two or a handful of people. Lose one or two or a handful of those, and that local scene will crumble. If that scene is socially sustainable, with different aged people, a sharing of power and responsibility, etc, then it may be fine. But we have seen over the past ten years, particularly in discussions around sexual assault and racism, that the modern lindy hop world in most cities is not socially sustainable. Patriarchy (and late capitalism) is doomed to collapse under its own weight.

But is it so dire to see a community based on white supremacy and patriarchy break down? Nope. But the thing about covid is that it infects everyone. Even rich white men. The real, serious difficulty with covid is that vaccination and risk management is much harder when you’re poor, you’re disabled, you’re homeless, you’re marginalised.

When a local cultural community collapses, we also see innovative and new types of work in that local field disappear. The modern lindy hop world is dominated by the concept of historical reenactment, with the implication that the best lindy hop is old lindy hop. This ideology in practice (as many people have pointed out elsewhere) is racist, as it privileges the white people who’ve been lindy hopping the longest, and marginalises (discredits! devalues!) living modern Black culture. As Thomas DeFrantz said in his Collective Voices for Change talk, Black dance is a medium for change, for innovation, for action and activism as well as cherishing history and preserving legacy**. Long covid threatens this new and radical work.

Cancelled in 2121 by the rising Omicron wave, the Belgian event Upside Down has determinedly shifted online. But though online fun is still fun, the face to face necessity of lindy hop suffers.

I mention Upside Down for a few reasons. It is rooted in live music, with the organisers working closely with local musicians. Musicians who are some of the best and most talented in Europe. These musicians lose a weekend of work. Upside Down features some of the most creative promotional design, art, and social media engagement in the lindy hopping world. But while some of this might flourish online, the face to face element (the decorations, the unusual party structures, the creative energy and excitement) does not. Upside Down focusses on its local city, and on local dancers. It’s smaller scale (a few hundred rather than a thousand), and it aims to be environmentally sustainable. It’s also responded to the Black Lindy Hop Matters movement by asking its staff and attendees to engage with race and history and social power. This type of energy and enthusiasm is staggering under the pandemic. And individual cases of long covid in key personnel could be disastrous.

The greatest consequence in the cancellation of events like Upside Down is not in the loss of the event itself. It is losing those moments of creative catalyst that result in waves of new thinking, new creativity, new activism, that spread out into the wider community beyond Ghent.

Photo of Jazz Dance Continuum dancers at Jacob’s Pillow May 19, 2021. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima.

Think of the Jazz Dance Continuum project spearheaded by LaTasha Barnes and her crew. I’m knocking on wood and tossing salt over my shoulder as I type, but imagine an actor like Barnes catching long covid? The woman is a force of nature, working in so many areas of jazz dance, and the wider creative world. She’s also a social agent of good, working with the Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Frankie Manning Foundation and beyond. And what if Julie Living in New York, or Tena Morales-Armstrong in Houston became ill? These women are the backbones of their local and wider communities (once again, fucking hats off to Black women for being true forces of nature… and hardcore professionals). If we lose these types of people, the truly innovative work will be lost.

If you’re a Black American, catching covid is a very, very dangerous thing, for you and your family. The disease is bad enough, but the American ‘health’ system has never been kind to the Black community. The people most likely to be exposed to covid (the breadwinners and caregivers in the family) are removed from the family structure. Feeding nanna or putting food on the table gets harder. And if you catch covid, you still have things like long covid to consider. Individuals are going to be devoting what little energy they have to sustaining family, neighbours, parish, school, and friends. So the Black dancers and Black culture which have begun to make a difference to modern lindy hop are once again marginalised. This is, of course, a familiar consequence of racism. Racism makes people sick. Racism reduces life expectancy. Racism destroys communities.

I’m writing this now in Sydney, where our government has decided not to enforce lockdowns or other restrictions. Our covid case numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before, and we are behind other countries in vaccination. Two years into the pandemic, the national lindy hopping community has been fragmented into local, capital city based scenes. The live jazz scenes in the bigger cities is also suffering. I fear for the future of lindy hop and jazz dance. Mostly because I think that any future ‘revival’ will be based on the white dominated communities of the 80s-2010s, as we move further and further away from the swing era.

Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Avoid crowds.

*If most lindy hop communities are small, them most teachers are teaching locally for smaller groups, most DJing is done for local crowds and smaller crowds, most of the live music dancers listen to is played by local musicians, and most of the venues they use are smaller. The budgets are smaller, most labour is unpaid, and most of this unpaid labour is conducted by women. This is is something I learnt during my doctoral research (pre 2006), but which has remained the case in the following fifteen years.
If most teaching is done locally, then the most valuable teaching skills center on attracting and retaining newer dancers, or local people (rather than margeting to the more experienced market for weekend events). This type of teaching must, by necessity be locally specific: catering to the culture, values, and people of it’s home society.

**This idea of Black dance embodying opposing forces like preserving the past and fostering innovation is not new. Embodying ‘hot and cool‘ is a feature of Black dance, as DeFrantz, Malone and countless other point out. It is, again as Malone points out, almost the stamp of a vernacular dance to take elements of the past and rework them for current needs and wants. In other words, lindy hop wants to preserve the past and innovate and create. It is the quintessential modern dance of the 20th century.

References:

Ayah Nuriddin, Graham Mooney, and Alexandre I R White, “Reckoning with histories of medical racism and violence in the USA,” The Lancet, October 03, 2020.
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

Note: this article contains some important key references to other works on this topic. Content warning for descriptions of sexual violence, racism, medical violence… heck, all of it.

DeFrantz, Thomas ed. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

-. “A conversation with Pr. Thomas DeFrantz on African American Social Dances, hosted by Breai Michele,” Collective Voices for Change, 17 October 2020. https://www.collectivevoicesforchange.org/part-2a-defranz

Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.

—. “Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance.” Looking Out: Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural World. Eds. David Gere, et al. New York: Schirmer Books, 1995. 95 – 121.

Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. “African-American Vernacular Dance: Core Culture and Meaning Operatives.” Journal of Black Studies 15.4 (1985): 427-45.

—. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

A known offender is teaching at a local event. What do you do?

A known offender is teaching at an event in your area. What do you do?

I’d probably think local. You can’t change the entire world, but you can be useful to local people. You know you and your mates won’t go (because you know who he is and what he’s done), but do the people outside your immediate peer group know? I’d imagine newer dancers don’t.

You don’t need to risk repercussions by telling people what he’s done. You can turn the issue upside down, and ask ‘what has he done to fight the fucking power?’
In less radfem sweary terms, maybe check in with them about what to look for in a teacher at a big event. Dancing ability isn’t enough. We need more. Who are they as a _teacher_ and person?

1. Are they straight, white, men?
If so, they need to prove themselves _better_ than anyone who is queer/poc/women/enby.
-> if he has no record of working to dismantle oppression. He’s not an ally.*

2. Do they do racist/sexist/homophobic stuff in public?
– Have they performed in black face (including ‘brown’ or ‘gold’ paint), a fat suit?
– Do their routines involve gay panic/homophobic jokes?
– Do they rely on sexualised jokes for their routines’ punch lines?

I have a one-strike-you’re-dead-to-me-policy. No second chances from me. So Ksenia Parkhatskaya is on my ‘no’ list because she’s appeared in black face in performances MULTIPLE times. Doug Silton is on my no-list because he appeared in black face on stage at a huge event (2013). Dax and Sarah are on my no list because they performed in a fat suit (2011) to recreate a Black dancer’s dancing, and stated that women should dance in high heels (2011). The list goes on and on. And all of these incidents are documented in footage from high profile events.

-> One of the things that WM actually did, and is recorded on film doing, is making a nazi salute (quenelle) during his performance at ILHC in 2014.
That’s enough to convince me not to attend an event he’s at. But are the other peeps in your scene also setting that as a baseline? If not, is it because they’re not Jewish, not people of colour?

3. If they’re white/straight/men, are they antiracists, anti-homophobic, and anti-sexist?
– Are they using their privilege in good ways?
– What do they post about on fb?
– Do they only work on all-white event staffs?
– Do they have a T&C document that says ‘I will not work at events that hire [known sex offender], [known racist]’ ?
– Do they post about antiracist efforts on fb?
– Do they donate money to, attend workshops with, or otherwise support projects like CVFC – Collective Voices for Change, Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Maputo Swing, etc?
– Do they use their channels to advocate for marginalised people? ie do they suggest poc, women, queer, people for teaching/DJing/admin gigs?
– Do they give blog/media space to anti-racist actions, or do they devote that space to discussions about ‘technique’?

4. Are they white/straight, and have teaching styles and classes that are anti-racist, and advocating for students’ empowerment?
– Do they stand in the middle of the class and push you through a routine, or do they encourage students to explore ideas?
– Do they only teach moves they ‘invented’ or learnt from a modern day white guy, or do they continually name check Black dancers and musicians, giving a sense of history?
– Do they use racist/sexist language in class? eg do they use gendered language for leads and follows, sexualised jokes and metaphors, position a white man as the ‘norm’ in their anecdotes and metaphors?
– Do they ignore racism/sexism/homophobia in their classes, or do they call it out (even if from students) students in a productive way? If they ignore it, they are _condoning_ and enabling sexism, homophobia, and racism.

You’ll find that the sexual offenders, the bullies, and the bastards are fuckheads in a whole range of ways. Their sexualised violence is just one of the ways in which they exploit others.
In other words, we should all be asking ‘is this person being a force for good, or a fucking jerk?’ before we attend an event that’s promoting this teacher, musician, DJ, or MC.

Things that do not make you an ally:
– Having a photo taken with a Black dancer like Norma, Frankie, or other OGs.
– Wearing a Tshirt that features a Black dancer/musician.
– Standing by while bad shit goes down.
– Hiring one poc for your event.
– Posting a black square on your fb profile.
– Having women friends that you like.
– Having a Black friend.
– Teaching in Asia this one time.
– Knowing a gay person.

*you can’t just ‘be an ally’. You have to _do_ ally-ship.

Doing antiracism in lindy hop

image source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01883-8

I’ve been chasing down as many of the antiracist groups in the lindy hop world as I can find. I want to make a list here, so people can have it as a resource. And by people I mean me, and by have, I mean share.

I’m thinking the groups that are specifically anti-racist in ideology and practice (rather than groups that have inclusive policies but other goals – eg Mobtown, Swingopedia, etc), and groups that focus on Black dance.

So far I’ve thought of:

  • Balboa In Color
    (FB group for balboa dancers of colour, focussing on balboa)
  • Black Lindy Hop Matters
    (based in Baltimore, USA, including Black board members, focussing on linking up Black jazz dance resources)
  • Black Lindy Hoppers Fund
    (based in the USA, Black board members, focussed on fund raising for Black artists and presenting dance workshops)
  • CVFC – Collective Voices for Change
    (international group, including Black board members, focussing on presenting anti-racism talks)
  • Guardian Baltimore
    (based in Baltimore, USA, Black board members, focussing on Black dance culture and history as a site for social change)
  • HellaBlackLindyHop
    (based in USA, Black board, focussing on Black dance orsm)
  • Integrated Rhythm podcast (based in USA, including Black board members, focussing on discussing race and Black experience in jazz dance.) NB no website/fb, but podcast link
  • MOVE TOGETHER: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice
    (based in the USA, including Black board members focussing on hosting discussion forums and fund raising)
  • Obsidean Tea (based in the USA, Black staff, focussing on Black culture and dance today)

I’ve also been thinking about what we do with all this information. There’s lots to read and learn, but integrating it in our teaching practice can be harder. Especially if you’re not teaching at the moment.
I’ve been thinking that it’s good to combine one of the practical dance classes with one of the talk-and-think classes. eg the Harlem Renaissance link from Guardian Baltimore with a tap dance class from Josette Wiggans; Black Lindy Hoppers Fund with Collective Voices for Change. There are also some great Black DJs doing sets at various online parties (Global Online Social, Track Town Swing’s online party, etc etc), and they frequently speak a few words between songs. And of course, there’s the Blues In a Flat fundraiser/collab with Maputo Swing.

I’m feeling it’s essential to get up and do something, rather than just thinking or listening. Thinking and listening quietly is a very Anglo-European (settler) approach to learning. Getting up learning-through-being-and-doing is a cornerstone of Black dance culture. Most of the modern lindy hop world prioritises white ways of learning, where the ‘lesson’ is spelled out explicitly. It’s worth undoing that by taking a class or dancing to a set with Black artists, to undo that.

So my feel, generally, is that simply ‘adding Black history’ to your dance class isn’t anti-racist. It doesn’t change anything. To be really anti-racist, you need to make radical paradigm changes. And the most important one of those is for teachers to take classes and to focus on learning. Because the idea that a teacher is beyond learning is not only a BIG problem, it’s also really dull.

As I write this stuff, I’m super conscious of who is reading, and who I am, writing. I am a white woman. So I need to engage with that in my own thinking and practice. It’s a sad fact that most of the members of this group are not Black. So most of us have a lot of work to do; most of us need to be questioning everything we think we know about lindy hop and about teaching.

But what if you are a Black teacher or dancer? I know that there is an argument for decolonising your own thinking, as a Black artist. That might mean unlearning the ways of teaching you’ve learnt as a student in white-run classes. Which carries with it all sorts of risks. And I do not want to encourage Black dancers to doubt themselves!

I feel supremely uncomfortable writing those sorts of suggestions, as a white woman aware of my power and privilege. But perhaps Audre Lorde’s piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is the best piece to read for more on that. I’d like to end by saying to Black dancers: trust yourself, and trust your history and culture. You know much more about it than someone like me does. And I’m happy to clear a space so you can do what you need to do.

nb this is a useful unit drawing together some of these ideas in Black feminist thinking.

Balancing safety with community impatience online talk

Now we’re opening up in Sydney, I’m seeing an (understandable) impatience to ‘return to normal dancing’ that has some problems. People pushing to social dance in public bars, talk that normalises dancing, misreading public health guidelines in ways that support their POV. After all, to _have_ social dancing, individuals need dance partners. As many as possible.
A consequence of this public talk has been an increasing ‘normalising’ of the idea that it’s fine to ‘return to normal’ dancing. If enough people are talking about whether the band is playing at x venue, or what time doors open at y venue, the more marginalised questions like ‘is it _safe_ to dance at all?’ become.
A big challenge for fb group moderators has been dealing with these complex social and medical issues while themselves under covid stress. It’s hard to parse the govt’s covidsafe info and public health restrictions, it’s even harder to do that _and_ juggle your own worries about safety, the increasing frustrations and arguments of other people, _and_ a year of shitty stress. Tensions are high, and there’s no clear model for handling these issues.
Or is there?

This is a fascinating article about the role of internet discussion boards in the gay community during the AIDS crisis. There’s a chunk about how these were moderated to prevent the spread of misinformation, and to encourage collaboration.

What about solo jazz classes in Sydney?

It’s still very high risk, because:

  • we’re still very close to each other (we need a lot more space than other activities)
  • the puffing and huffing spreads more respiratory droplets than normal breathing
  • we spend more time indoors together (two risk factors)
  • you have to clean up the space before and after the class, which is a lot of work
  • you need to have staff to manage crowding and lines

…and so on. This is why the actual _class_ is high risk. All this, and then the business has to handle contact tracing and other covidsafe regulations. The teaching model that was happening before covid barely (if ever) managed to handle insurance and other safety stuff. This added layer of work is too much for most dance businesses.

But in addition, the businesses that ran classes before have all been devastated by the shutdowns. No support from the government means businesses have failed or had to close down. Teachers have had to look for other work. So the _businesses_ have had to pause.

There’s no money to fund class expenses: advertising, insurance, rent/room hire, etc etc. All dance classes take a financial risk on this stuff, and then if numbers aren’t solid, they make a loss. Solo jazz has always been a higher financial risk because it doesn’t attract as many students as lindy hop.
I’ve run a dance business, and taught for my own business and others. Including the first weekly solo jazz class in Australia (brag! brag!). At this stage the safety issues of covid are a big deterrent, but it’s all the other administrative issues that are the real killer. We don’t make much money from single classes; to make money you have to run a bunch of classes and/or big classes. That’s not going to happen during this moment.

But hold on. We need a vaccine, and we need 100% take up, before we start teaching classes safely.

Things you can do to get lindy hop happening again:

  • Hassle your local MP to get arts bailout packages for small businesses like dance schools;
  • Make sure you and your family and all your friends are ready to get vaccinated, and then get vaccinated. If you’ve got anti-vaxer friends, or an anti-vaxer yourself, you’re a big health risk for all of us;
  • Don’t spread misinformation about covid (because that leads to outbreaks which slows things down again);
  • Support teachers, DJs, and other dance professionals who are working online: always pay for classes (even if they don’t ask for money), share and recommend good classes and organisations, drop supportive notes to people who are doing this work;
  • Encourage support for local venues where people run classes: independent venues (like our beloved Ruby’s), bars where live jazz lived (because it’s another important part of the lindy hop ecosystem).

Drawing a line from pathologising Black bodies to lindy hop

What if Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss?

Women, and particularly women of colour, are less likely to have their health concerns addressed by medical professionals. Doctors and health care workers are more likely to emphasise weight loss as a ‘cure’ for various ailments than any other therapy.

This interesting article discusses how medical discourse pathologises fat or unskinny bodies, and works to control the appearance of women. If we go a step further and think about how this ‘ideal’ female body is marked by race and presented as ‘healthy’, we can also see how Black women’s bodies are therefore positioned as unhealthy. And of course, a woman who doesn’t fit this skinny white ideal is also branded lazy, weak-willed, even amoral.

If we think about Grey’s brilliant piece about vintage wear in the jazz dance world, we can see how an emphasis on ‘vintage aesthetics’ (which aren’t vintage at all, but contemporary bodily values mapped onto an imaginary past) not only penalises Black women’s bodies, but punishes Black women’s pride and joy in their embodies Blackness. In other words, a Black woman who feels happy and good when she’s dancing is punished for this joy by modern lindy hop culture. Her ‘weight’ is seen as a moral failing, and her body shape literally doesn’t fit into the ‘acceptable’ costumes (and choreography) of ‘popular’ white lindy hop.

Most importantly, she’s taught to mistrust her own joy and pride. She is told that her body is proof of a moral failing. That pleasure she finds in her body is misplaced. She is encouraged to doubt herself and her body, and to punish herself with starvation.

You can see, of course, how a person in this state of mind, doubting her thoughts, mistrusting her body’s feedback, is perfectly positioned for sexual and physical abuse.

This article is good for the way it discusses Dr Metz’ respect for and centering of her patients’ thoughts and feelings, rather than arbitrary medical rules.

They talk a little more about Towne’s diet as Metz thoughtfully frames the conversation, asking, “Does your body give you feedback after you eat that?” instead of offering prescriptive advice about what to eat or avoid, as a different doctor might have. (source)

I’m going to go a step further, and ask you to think about how the way lindy hop is taught repeats these patterns. Are we given arbitrary rules about how to hold our partner’s hand, or are we asked to experiment with what feels good, and trust our own bodies and feelings?

And then I’m wondering: how can we truly decolonise lindy hop, and other popularised Black dance, when we are pathologising the Black bodies and Black ways of being in the world that created them?

References:
I’ve written more about the issue of ‘vintage wear’ and dance in Vintage fashion and lindy hop: let’s add race, 14 February 2018.

Virginia Sole-Smith, What if Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss?, Scientific American, July 2020.

Grey Armstrong, Dance Communities and Time Travel, February 2018.

Do some teacher training!

Ok, dancers, another thing you can do, while you’re not allowed to lindy hop because you might kill someone.

Do some teacher training, on your own or with your teaching team:

  • Learn about the history(s) of dances, and how you will integrate that into your classes so it’s fun and useful, and not just a bunch of lecturing at students;

Do an online lecture/tutorial with a dance historian, to get all your ducks in a row and learn about a particular moment in history, or a particular dance.

  • eg I once did a private with Loggins to learn the difference between two-step and other dances.
  • You could do a session with Teena Morales-Armstrong about black dances from the 50s onward (Hand dancing? Fast Dancing?) so you can stop saying shit like ‘black dance stopped after lindy hop in the 50s.’
  • How about a session with Marie N’diaye about chorus lines and what they actually _did_ in their working days?
  • Do a session with a teacher like Anders Sihlberg about how to structure a class, how to move from a particular move or technical thing to a whole class that’s actually fun;
  • Do a session with someone like Sylwia Bielec about how to train your staff and structure a syllabus
  • It’s usually really hard to get these people to stay in one city for an hour so you can drain their brains. Take advantage!

    There are other fun topics you could work on:

    • Developing a solid OH&S policy that actually addresses sexual harassment in a sensible way (oh, and germ safety :D );
    • Putting some affirmative action policies in place, so that you can actually get some diversity on your teaching team: people of different ethnicities, different body shapes, genders, etc;
    • Sketching out a funding plan for the next few years to take advantage of any funding that’s coming up (think arts, sport, health, economic development, small business, etc)

    And so on.

    how do you get women leads?

    Sydney now has a very strong culture of ‘anyone can lead or follow if they like, and it’s ok if you just want to do one and it happens to align with your gender ID’.

    There are a number of reasons for this – a queer swing dance school who also run a big event; women leads on the floor; women teachers who teach as leads; people being publicly intolerant of anti-social behaviour; a growing ‘be good to each other’ discourse in event promotion, etc.
    And where I write ‘women’, please include transwomen. I’ve noticed it’s easier for normcore folk to include transmen in their ideas of ‘men’, than it is to include transwomen in their category ‘women’.
    It’s also been super important to see how welcoming and supportive our scene has been of people who’ve transitioned while being in the scene. ie they first presented as one gender, then transitioned to another. On the whole, teachers and dancers have been openly supportive, and more importantly, no-big-deal about changing pronouns, etc. It may have been harder for them one-on-one (all new things are tricky), but on the whole, it’s been ok. Not perfect, but ok. More work to do there.

    Note: if a scene is ok with women leads and men follows, it is more welcoming to transpeople and queerpeople. Because a scene that has flexible ideas about gender and dance is a more welcoming, safer place.
    If my leading has ever helped pave the way for a shy dyke lead or transwoman follow, then I feel very proud. It was worth it.

    etc etc

    One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed, is that this general trend has been working in concert with peer-motivated anti-sexual-harassment actions. ie women are more likely to say no when a creeper asks them to dance, and they will also step in and check in on other women if they see creepers maccing on them.
    There’s also been a scene-wide ‘fuck that; we do not tolerate harassment or assault’ public discussion from teachers (even if the organisational policies haven’t been in place).

    And _this_ trend has seen us get a more ethnically diverse cohort of dancers. In part because one of the main creepers was targeting asian women. Boy, did he get his arse handed to him. And because women of colour just get fucked off by carrying the double burden of racism and sexism.

    I noticed that once he and his gross mates were absent from events, we saw an increase in men following. It seems that this racist creeper was also intimidating other men _implicitly_. And that the men who liked to follow also liked women who lead (or the women who’d had a gutful of that creeper).

    So when we addressed all these issues – sexuality, ethnicity, gender, etc – at the same time, we saw a general improvement in the vibe of parties and classes. People felt more comfortable being themselves.

    And then it snowballed, and we saw exponential improvements.

    So if your goal is ‘more women leads’, you need to address a range of issues. You’ll get a bunch of lovely good results as a consequence.

    But speaking as a woman lead, things that were important for me:
    – Teachers who openly said ‘women are leads as well as men’. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I remember the handful of times I’ve heard teachers say it in the last 20 years. But don’t be afraid to be pro-active on this. Not just saying ‘anyone can lead’, but “Women can lead.”

    – Teachers saying to me “Don’t ever stop leading.” A woman teacher said this to me quietly one night after class, and it was the most important thing anyone has ever said to me about dancing.

    – Seeing women teachers lead socially.

    – Seeing other women ask women teachers to lead them socially.

    – Having women teachers ask me to dance (and lead)

    Things I wish people had done:

    – Stepping on students in class who say ‘you’re being the man/boy?!’ with surprise.
    I’ve never heard a teacher say this, but it would be solid gold if they said “hey, follows, don’t say this to your partners. It makes them sad.”
    I’ve only ever been at two weekend events where no one has said this to me. In 22 years of lindy hop classes and workshops. Each time someone expresses surprise and expects me to justify leading, it wears me down just a little bit. So a) fuck you women follows, and b) teachers, get your students’ backs.

    – Never used gendered pronouns in class, or used gendered language and concepts to describe leading.

    Things that shat me to tears:
    – Male teachers who try to make me try a move as a follow in class, when I’m leading. Sure, it might help my learning, but would you ask a male lead to do this, even if you knew they followed? And also, whatever your norm is, do this thing: treat women leads like they are leaders, not follows who sometimes lead.

    – Teachers who kept ‘forgetting’ to use gender neutral language.

    – Teachers who use sexy jokes in class, because most of those jokes were heterocentric and/or relied on the idea of a lead being a straight man.

    Ways climate change is affecting lindy hop in Australia

    – We don’t run events in January and February as it’s too physically hot, and December is on the way out.
    This means that we’ll lose a quarter of the calendar year for big weekend events;

    – Musicians can’t make gigs because they’ve lost their homes in bushfires.
    This means that our world standard jazz scene is losing talent and experience, and dancers are losing potential bands and musicians;

    – Bushfire smoke reduces air quality to the point where it’s dangerous to dance in unfiltered air.
    This means that regular classes are cancelled, and dancers must reduce practice schedules and venues;

    – Classes are cancelled during heat waves.
    This means that interruptions to the class program loses students, and reduces the number (and diversity) of people in the scene;

    – Public transport (ferries) is cancelled due to smoke haze.
    This means that people need to drive to class, or find other modes of transport;

    – We can no longer use spaces that don’t have air conditioning.
    This means that we have to move into more expensive venues, often ones working within Clubs Australia with gambling and precarious hire arrangements, and we lose our smaller local venue relationships.

    – Flights are cancelled because of extreme storms or reduced visibility.
    This means that dancers and musicians have their flights rescheduled so they miss events. This in turn reduces numbers at events, band cancellations, and costs attendees in lost registration fees and missed competitions.

    – Bushfires and dust storms decrease the lifespan of sound equipment.
    This means that gear needs to be stored in safer (more expensive) storage, and needs to be replaced more often, draining the coffers of organisers and societies.

    What is gliding?

    Basically, it’s just moving around the dance floor in closed, doing whatever rhythms you like.

    “Just grab your partner and move over the floor”

    I’ve been in classes with all sorts of teachers, who’ve taught it in different ways. Because it’s so simple, you can adapt it to teach all sorts of skills and concepts.
    eg when we teach our week 1 beginners, they do solo jazz warm up, then solo rhythm work, then we change gear completely, and get them to partner up and try gliding. We usually start with music on, but with no specific rhythm. We literally just demo what we want them to do, then say ‘try this’.
    After a few minutes or a song, and they’ve rotated a bit, we do the “here are some things we saw that were really cool,” and we focus on the things we want to see more of – eg stopping to apologise when you kick someone.

    That last one is REALLY important, not just for good social skills, but also because it encourage them to think about where their body is in space, in relation to other moving objects. This is the great thing about gliding: you move all over the floor. So students have to learn about moving through space without bashing into people. And if they _do_ hit someone, they have to recognise that, stop and see it as significant, then make contact with the other people in the room to apologise. And then they reset with their partner to start again.

    Then we may point out that someone has started adding in the rhythm from earlier (someone always has), and we ask everyone to try it.
    We add in the rock step around about here, after a bit of practice on this, because someone always asks “How do you change direction?” And we introduce the rock step as a good direction changing tool.

    Having them all over the floor is also great, because when you say “Please ask someone else to dance,” they learn to move around and ask new people to dance. If you’re using a small floor (joy), it really feels like a laughing, happy party. And that gives them a good taste of how much fun dancing is. It’s also a relatively simple task, so they get confident and have good feels. Teaching win.
    And so on.

    The specific limitations or tasks you ask them to consider really depend on what you’re teaching. eg I’ve done this in higher level classes where we’ve been asked to _not_ rock step, or to use only a specific rhythm. Heck, peabody is just gliding, but at SPEED.
    In terms of dance nerdery, I really like gliding both partners are moving in the same direction at the same time. There’s not the obvious compression and extension that you get when you introduce rock steps. This is a kind of ‘pre-lindy hop’ historical moment (in my brain).

    When you add in rock steps (and hence compression/extension in closed, if you like nerd concepts), they level up their physical abilities, and also move through dance history, away from that ‘always flowing in one direction’ type of dance. They start experimenting with staying in one spot on the floor. Once you have that physical limitation, you can see how swing outs happened: if you can’t have fun moving across the floor, you need to have fun on the spot. And rotating on the spot (a good circle) is a way to have energetic fun in a small space.

    You can signal this historical stuff if you want, which makes them think about dance in social context. Or you can signal the technical stuff, which makes them think about dance as biomechanics. Or you can signal the music changes, and have them think about the dance as music.
    And so on and so forth.

    [We do find that after a chunk of this they want some clear structure or a solid ‘move’. Promenades are a good option here, or flip flops.
    eg at 0.53 Asa and Daniel bring the flip flopping shit. Actually, this video is great for lots of closed position ideas.]