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:

Selling dance products by promoting self-doubt

I see this ad about a bit on fb, and it makes me so sad.

“If you want to improve your dancing, you need to know where your weak points are. If you don’t take the time to evaluate your skills, then you might not be advancing as fast as you could.”

This is classic provoking anxiety to stimulate consumption advertising. Make people doubt themselves, feel bad, then offer them a solution.

This is everything I don’t want to be as a teacher.
Why not take the time to remind yourself that you enjoy dancing, that you have strength and skills and abilities? We know that happy, confident students learn faster and more thoroughly. But we also know that anxious, self-doubting consumers spend more money on luxury items to boost their self esteem.

Boo to this. Boo.

Moving away from gender essentialism in teaching talk

In a recent facebook talk about teaching and gender in lindy hop we took the next few steps past not using gendered pronouns to describe leading and following. We then went on to look at how people gender particular dance styles or movements in essentialist ways.
Here are some comments from that discussion.

I’ve had teachers ostensibly ok with non-binary/non-bro peeps leading, then unable to even look at me when we split into lead/follow groups in class.
But there are definitely teachers around who are good at dealing with their own errors and then fixing them. eg Georgia and Kieran.
I am definitely on board with the goals of uncoupling leading and following from gendered archetypes. I’m personally not interested in switching roles mid-dance, but I do lead and follow, and think of the two roles as functioning in very different ways.

I was interested at a recent weekend workshop to hear/see Kieran talking about ‘attacking’ a rhythm to make the lead/follow element work. This is often a word associated with masculine archetypes. But he was asking leads _and_ follows to try this. Which effectively asks all peeps to try on this masculinised characteristic, ‘even’ while following. Which then reconstructs following as involving stuff outside archetypal femininity.
Even more interestingly, Georgia asked us at later point while we were playing a game where you copy your partner’smovements/rhythms without touching, to ‘not hesitate’. She asked not to pause and worry about being right, but to continue through.
Same concept as with Kieran’s comments, but different language: confidence, continuing despite lacking certainty. This is particularly important for women, who are trained to self-doubt or try desperately to ‘please’ their partner.

I think this approach – describing one skill in a range of ways – helps deconstruct the gender norms at work in our ideas about leading and following.

And I think ethnicity and class are key in this. Eg white, m/c, younger women are trained to self-doubt and not ‘attack’ movements. So we might also look at the dancing of Anne whatsit from Whitey’s as an example of a woman who really attacked rhythms.

Alex asked:

Have you seen the opposite? Teachers asking all students to try on feminized characteristics? With anything like the same frequency? I’m not sure I’ve ever considered this topic in this context, but I’m aware of the phenomenon of attempting to address gender inequity simply by offering masculinity to women and girls but not doing the same with femininity and men and boys.

And I replied:

yerp, marie n’diaye talked sbout it explicitly in the chirus line stream at herrang last year: asking people try ‘masc’ and ‘fem’ styling.

Other than Marie, nope. I know lots of men/non-woman-IDing peeps who dance femme, but no teachers asking all students to try.
Ask men to dance femme? Their penises would fall off, right?

Alex then made some more really good points:

And I guess that wasn’t quite what I was asking. If I understand correctly, the teacher you referenced above didn’t ask students explicitly to try something masculine, but he asked students to attack the rhythm and you picked up on the gender association. My guess is that it’s more common for teachers to ask students to so things or adopt characteristics associated with masculinity (attack the rhythm, be assertive, take over) than it is to ask them explicitly to “do this masc.” So I’m wondering about the presence and frequency of calls for students to take on feminine characteristics or engage in feminine activities, rather than being asked to “do this femme.”

Now that I’m thinking of it (and talking with Samantha) we do this a little. Telling our students to pretend that their partner is a terrified newbie and to take care of them is an example. I’d like to think about this more and see where else we can do this. For instance, I see plenty of people attack the rhythm. I’d like to see them treat it gentle more. Nurture the rhythm.

And like… How far can we take this? Gestate the dance. We’re just out of the intro, if you try to birth it now it won’t make it. And don’t feel like it needs to be big. You’ll tear.

Then Magnus chimed in with a good comment:

Yes, Marie N’diaye showed us examples of dancing “feminine” and “masculine”, and we tried dancing the different styles. She also talked about how some famous dancers back in the day would dance feminine or masculine opposite of gender, although they wouldn’t call it that (Cab Calloway for instance).

To me, I don’t connect these styles with feminine or masculine, these words are just cultural constructs. But it feels good to dance in a style that some people may deem feminine.

I think this is what’s key for me: these characteristics are just characteristics or qualities. They only become ‘masculinised’ or ‘feminised’ in a wester cultural setting that uses gender binaries.
I keep thinking about other cultures where there are more than two gender roles, and how these variations offer us so much more creative room than a boring old gender binary.

I also agree, Alex, that we tend to see masculinised qualities prioritised/valued in an anglo-celtic western culture. That’s pretty much the definition of patriarchy right there.

Other ways of describing stuff that isn’t masculinised that I’ve heard teachers used:

  • Lennart has described having clear rhythm as ‘eating the rhythm’. With our students, we say “eat the rhythm, swallow it down, and now it is in your belly, right in your belly.” It’s a very useful image, because it also encourages groundedness, a physical vs cerebral understanding of rhythm, an idea that the core/our pelvis is the birthplace of rhythm (how’s that for gynocentrism? :D ) and is just nice.
  • Rikard and Jenny and peeps like Ramona talk about it as ‘taking care of the rhythm’, and Lennart talks about ‘taking care of the music’. I like to say ‘make friends with the music’ and ‘take care of the rhythm’. This idea of ‘taking care’ and congeniality is really nice because it’s a nice contrast to that ‘attack the rhythm’ model. _But_ the attack the rhythm image does give you an impetus and energy that ‘take care’ does not.
  • I like to talk about dancing every rhythm or every step as though I’m teaching it to my partner, or demonstrating it so well that they can pick it up and then dance/steal it too. This of course grew from my own teaching guiding my dance practice, but we found games like i-go, you-go reinforced this model. If you are dancing as clearly as you can, as though you are showing someone, you dance really clearly, _and_ you connect with a partner. This makes dancing a way of connecting with a human (reciprocity) rather than just artistic self-expression (individualism).

I’d be super curious and really excited to see how people from different cultures describe and imagine dancing clear rhythms. I mean, the whole shift from ‘doing footwork’ or ‘good technique’ or ‘clarity of movement’ TO talk about rhythm, call-and-response, etc etc, in American/Anglo/Australian/Canadian lindy hop discourse is evidence of a clear ideological shift. A shift away from a very antiseptic lindy-as-science, towards lindy-as-art, lindy-as-social-connection. I know that it’s very tempting to see this shift as proof of a shift towards positioning lindy hop as vernacular dance (again), but I’m not convinced. All this _talk_ about dancing in class is simply another way of doing what middle class, white capitalism has been doing with dance for a century or more: commodifying dance with particular words and discourse.

Clicker training and positive reinforcement

I’ve recently been pushing to teach lindy hop using only positive reinforcement.
When the students are doing an ‘experiment with these things please’ session in class (and they do a lot of this independent, self-guided learning in class), we used to watch until we saw common errors or patterns of messed up movement. Then we’d stop and correct the students, saying things like “Instead of doing this, do that.” I had been advised by a teacher friend (Shane McCarthy in Perth) never to ‘correct’ a student in class in front of the group because it’s embarrassing and trashes their morale. But it’s taken me until just this year to realise that I never need to correct a student again.

‘Correction’ is another word for ‘telling students they’re doing things wrong, that they’re wrong.’ And this is shit for morale. Both students’ and ours. Because if you’re going to tell someone they suck, you feel terrible. Unless you are a somewhat shit person. I used to go home from class worried that I’d said the wrong thing, or taught them something bullshit.
Until I noticed that when I said, “Oh, you know what I saw that I really liked? ….” and then pointed out where someone specific had done something really nice, or in general when I saw something I liked, the students felt great, and I felt wonderful.

In our teaching pairs, we used to have a rule for reducing the amount of time we spent teaching: say one thing for follows, and one thing for leads. Thing is, these things were almost always ‘tips’ or corrections. So we were effectively making a rule: ‘say one thing to trash the follows, then one thing to trash the leads.’ Boo!
But then we started encouraging each other to say “Something that I saw that I liked…” And YES. The world got really really good. Yay!

So this year I made a rule for myself, which I’ve then asked all my teaching partners to do when the teach with me: if you want to guide students towards a particular behaviour, wait until you see a student or students doing that behaviour (or on the road to that behaviour), and then say, “I saw some people doing X. It was really nice.” You be very specific about what you saw, and if you think that student can handle the attention, name them: “I saw X and Y dancing away, then get into a tangle, and you know what they did? X said, “Can we stop for a tick so I can try again?’ And they stopped and chilled for a second, grooved til they found their timing, then they started it again. That was a really cool way of dealing with a mess.” If you see a bunch of people doing a thing, say that: “I saw a bunch of people doing X and I loved it.”

Or if you see ALL of them doing something – tell them! I tend to gush on this one: “Oh! That looked so nice and _grooving_ because you all took a bit of time to make friends with the music before you got going, and then you kept that groove!” I also like to point out how people have managed their own mistakes: “I really liked the way you guys started dancing, and it was nice, but a bit square” [demonstrate timing], “And then the music started, you all heard the musicians, and you all changed your dancing so it swung” [demonstrate swinging timing].

So now my rule is: no ‘corrections’, no ‘tips’. Just positive affirmations. If you don’t see the behaviour you need or want to see, wait. Because they’ll get there. If they don’t, then you need to show them again. And that’s ok.
Key to this is that you are looking at students looking for ways in which they are wonderful, rather than ways in which they are rubbish. It just made teaching so wonderful.

But let’s look more at this idea of positive reinforcement replacing correction in teaching.

Today, I read a book called ‘Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs’ by Karen Pryor, because we’re trying to teach our nutty, somewhat panicky rescue dog a few tricks, but also so she feels more confident and happy when we’re out, and when we’re around the house. This book is just lovely. Mostly because clicker training rewards good behaviour rather than punishing or correcting ‘bad’ behaviour. It also encourages you – the trainer – to look for goodness in your subject, not badness or errors. And hence, brings good vibes. As the book says

Once you get used to thinking the clicker way, you are much more likely to notice good behavior and reward it, instead of giving your attention to a child only when it’s doing something wrong.

More importantly for trainers, it’s much easier to maintain preferred behaviour with this method than with “physically correcting erroneous behaviour”.

Let me just note that point: it encourages teachers to actively look for good behaviour. It changes the teacher.

How does it work?
First, you encourage learning-by-exploring.
When your doggo does a behaviour close to what you want, you click your clicker and give it a treat. So if I want Frank to sit, if she stops, she gets a click and a treat. If she starts to lower her rear haunches, I click and she gets a treat. If she actually sits – click! And treat bonanza (lots of treats)! Important: you only click once, exactly as you see the desired behaviour. They then associate the click with approval for what they are doing _at that time_. You never punish or correct or tell them off. If they deviate substantially from what you want, you put the clicker and treats away. No more treats.

So we have the second point: you encourage learning by approval and positive reinforcement, not correction and punishment/disapproval.
I’ve heard of positive reinforcement, of course, but I’d never really thought about what I was doing as a teacher as positive reinforcement.

The goal: the doggo learns that their behaviour gets you to click and give you treats. So they start thinking: what can I do that will make the human click? And they start experimenting.

You can immediately see how this works for lindy hop: what can I do that will make my partner smile, and dance really well making for a good dance and fun time for both of us? You can also see that this approach forces you to shift the learners’ focus from you, the teacher, to each partners. Ha. Yes. Your ego will need to be set aside for minute!

But this approach also works for teaching: what sort of things can I try to that will get me a good result? What interesting things can we do to make the students and us happy? How much fun can we actually have in class? And I tell you, friends: it’s addictive. If you can have a little bit of fun once, you suddenly think LET’S HAVE A LOT OF FUN ALL THE TIME.
This encourages a happy, creative pupper, but also happy, creative dancer. Ta da! Lindy hop!

This book extends this approach to teaching other animals besides dogs (it was actually developed with dolphins), and then to teaching children. Apparently this method works particularly well with humans learning physical skills, because it’s so quick. Not only are you giving positive reinforcement, but you’re also physically making a nonverbal sound (clicking the clicker) when you see the behaviour you want. And retention of these skills is permanent, with learning happening twice as fast as with verbal instructions.

The question then becomes: can we use a clicker in a lindy hop class? If not, what non-vocal substitution would work?
As a clear example, when you learn African dance with drummers in class, the drummers signal a change in the exercise or step or rhythm with a very clear rhythmic sound. And if you’re doing a nonverbal warm up like i-go, you-go, the teacher moves on from one rhythm or one shape to another when you get it right. Hmmm. Close, but not quite right.

I have noticed myself that if I use words to signal my approval or to signal ‘Yes! you are on track!’ to students, the language itself interrupts their processing of information. This is no doubt because, as we know, humans can’t/aren’t much good at processing words and physical lead/follow information at the same time.
So let’s look at another example from black culture (which is where of course lindy hop began): the call-and-response “Amen!” of a congregation responding to a preacher. It is a word, but it’s used so often that it has become more of a ‘sound’ than an actual Word. It means ‘yes!’ and ‘I hear you!’ and ‘praise that/you!’
Even within a mainstream white culture, women talking in groups use non-verbal signals of approval to encourage speakers in conversation: the raised eyebrow, the exclamation of breath, a laugh-sound.

What sort of nonlingual verbal cues can we use?

The other key element in clicker training is to do with the trainers: you learn to

respond in new ways. You become used to the idea that behavior needs to be built in small pieces, not in big chunks. You stop expecting too much, too soon, and just look for what you can reinforce – and so in fact you get more results, and better.
If you see a behavior you don’t like, …instead of rushing in to prevent it or stop it, you take it as a training opportunity: what is it this learner needs to know? What’s missing? What can I add that would replace this bad behavior?… you have a better way – reinforcing what you like, instead of attacking what you don’t.
…The experience can lead to less stress and more fun in life in general.

Ah!
This is another approach that we’ve really jumped onto in our teaching. The idea of slowly building up skills in pieces. So instead of starting a class by saying, “Today we will learn the swing out!” and then proceeding to show a move, then break it into pieces, then map it out, then have them do each bit, we start with a related foundational skill. We need a few things for swing outs: a sense of timing (ie the beat), a rhythm (ie a way of moving through space predictably), and a partner. To work with a partner, we need to know how to touch them, how to communicate with them (to know what they want/like and to tell them what we want/like), and to know how they feel the music.

So we begin with the first part: how do we move our bodies? Then we move on to the next part: how do we dance with a partner? Then we get them using all these elements (rhythm, shared beat, partnering skills, movement, etc) to do a simple task – move around the room randomly, experimenting. We ask them, “What helps? What makes this easier? What was the funnest part?”
Then we ask them to do a specific task: to dance a circle. But we literally say, “Now look here.” We show them. They watch. Then we say, “Please give your best approximation of this.” They do it. Boom circles. This has taught them not only a specific move, but it’s also taught them to experiment and try. And they get rewarded for that. But the move itself also teaches them to feel and experiment with rotational momentum… or, in human words, to feel that wonderful spinny roundy feeling.
Then we say, “Please let go half way.” And they basically recreate throwing a ball on a string. A swing out. And you give them TREAT BONANZA. Both in terms of praise, but you also point out: now you have a very fun move. And you set them loose to play with it to music.

All this plus a couple of jazz steps and warms ups and things is our first class. They have learnt a swing out. But they have learnt a million other skills as well as this one move. And the skills are more important.
For us, as teachers, we’ve learnt that a swing out isn’t a ‘thing’ that you give a student. It’s a thing that they discover through guided experimentation.

You want to keep doing positive reinforcement because it gives them the confidence to try, and to make mistakes, and then to see what happens when they do it in this way or that way. Which is, of course, how the swing out was born historically.

Clicker training in brief

– click the behaviour you want, exactly when it happens
– reward/treat after you click
– only work positively: reward what you want, or actions that get closer to what you want; never punish
– work in incremental steps towards a bigger goal

Key elements of clicker training:
– encourage the learner to experiment with all sorts of things until they figure out what behaviour will get a click (and a treat)
– you, the teacher, have to look actively for things to reward/click. This often means the learner does things you don’t expect, which gets them closer to the goal
– you, the teacher, get more flexible and learn more  
– the learner is learning experiment with doing all sorts of things with the goal of changing _your_ (the teacher’s) behaviour (ie to get you to click)

Conclusion
It is epic fun for everyone, because you focus on positive outcomes and reinforcement, rather than correcting and punishing.

Interesting thing:
The clicker is absolutely key because it is an aural, nonverbal cue. It gets twice as fast learning than a verbal cue. Because it side steps the longer word-processing-learning of verbal cues. It’s _faster_ because your brain doesn’t need to untangle the words. Your brain is faster with nonverbal cues.

It also works on doggos.

Challenge: clicking is kind of harsh, socially.

An example of a pretty structured tagteaching (which uses clicker training).