A half-arsed report on our sexual harassment responses

[note]This was a post on the facey, which I’ve started writing up here.[/]

Remind me to write up a report on how our new reporting and preventing sexual harassment and accidents process went at LBW.

Short version: it worked.

Mid-length version: we put together a door handbook, reporting forms, and a process for reporting incidents. We ‘trained’ managers in the process, and we let volunteers know about the process via the handbook, email, and in person talk.

Long version: how online discussions, reports of assaults made by very brave women and girls, and getting angry and upset led to the development of policies, of material codes and rules, and then practical processes and documents. A success story.

Things we needed:

  • An online version of our code of conduct, easily accessible from one click on event website, and well publicised on facebook.
  • A brief paper version of the code printed on the back of the event program which was packed into registrants’ envelopes.
  • A full version of the code printed and put into the event handbook.
  • Paper incident report forms in the event handbook.
  • A process for making reports (including a quiet place to do the, who should do them, and how, etc etc).

Most importantly, we needed good will from all the volunteers, staff, and managers. And that was the easy bit. Everyone was really keen to make this work, and really just saw this as an extension of our Swing Dance Sydney rules:

  1. Look after your partner
  2. Look after the music
  3. Look after yourself

What a lovely group of people.
This is by no means a finished project, but it’s actually turned out to be a very interesting and productive one.

13344581_10153611377823483_2930802524378605505_n

Packing the code of conduct (on the back of the program) into registrants’ envelopes.

 

 

 

13315547_10153611381933483_5111295868712487877_n

A first version of our event handbook, which contains lots of things, including: event program in plain text, door count sheets, cash count sheets, incident report forms, code of conduct, guide to identifying wrist bands, various paper signs, etc etc. All in one central folder.
There were two copies of this handbook, and each has a plastic slip on the front for adding notes or action items when handing over shifts or responsibilities.

13315680_10153611382133483_8751312588924837771_n A first draft of our incident report form, which drew on examples provided by lots of useful people who work in places that have decent reporting processes for accidents, etc.
These forms are in our event handbook.

 

13339482_10153611382288483_6080499492564714442_nThe longer version of our code of conduct, in paper form. It explains what counts as sexual harassment, and s.h. is just part of the ’emergency’ and ‘incident’ part of the handbook, after what to do if there’s a fire.

 

13319936_10153611382293483_5897772960599469148_n The paper version of our code of conduct on the back of an event program. Which is available at the door at events, in registrants’ rego packs, and as a promotional item distributed to venues in the week or two before the event.

Having it so readily available is an attempt to normalise this sort of talk and material. So ordinary that everyone has read it.

 

[Note] That was the original post. Then there were some comments. Here are some of them.[/]

Tal Engel: Can you elaborate on the phrase “it worked”? Are there any incidents you’re comfortable discussing where the system came into play?

We had no reports (thankfully, but also – maybe we had incidents but no reports?), so I can’t talk about that issue.

But I think ‘it worked’ relates mostly to the ‘consciousness raising’ part of the exercise, to quote old school activism. So by having lots of people involved in the process, from stuffing envelopes to handling a handbook, we gave people access to the code, and to the process. We demystified our process, but we also demystified sexual assault and harassment a bit. I hope.

I also wanted to make it clear that these things are _all_ of our responsibilities, and something that happens in our public places between friends, not in dark car parks by strangers.

It also ‘worked’ as a practical skills development process for me, and for the rest of the group. So actually putting together a handbook took some practice and real thinking – far more than I had expected. And it took several drafts to create something more accessible. Still needs work I reckon.

It also worked as a way of engaging all the staff in thinking about events as community spaces, where problems (whether they’re someone needing a bandaid, or someone needing a quiet place to sit and talk) are solveable.

…I think one of the most effective parts of this whole process was the online discussion of this process on our facebook event page.

I just matter of factly laid out the deal. But this also dovetailed with the way I engage with people on the event fb page: prompt replies to queries, but professional in tone. I also use my real name and face on event pages (rather than the event’s home page ID), so that our events have a ‘face’ and a name behind them. This makes it easier for people to see who they’re ‘talking to’, but also says ‘hey, I respond to your concerns’, which hopefully sets up an example of how I might respond to reports of assaults.
More importantly, this public talk in a public forum also addresses the lurkers, who are the vast majority of readers. They might never post on the page, but they read how I engage, and see what I do.
I’d really, really hope that this also normalises modes of discourse for this topic. ie just as having other women leads in your scene encourage other women to lead, having someone addressing these issues clearly, personally, and professionally might also encourage similiar responses.

What I really hope is that people will do as I do when I go to an event: see the best stuff other people do and then copy shamelessly in an attempt to be as good at it as they are. So hopefully people will see what I did, steal the good bits, and improve on it all, fixing the bits I’m not good at.

13087454_10153541191933483_297896331261212459_n Related to this ‘putting a face and name to an event’ stuff, is having badges for volunteers. It’s something for volunteers and staff to know when they’re on duty (you take it off when you’re off duty), but it’s also a clear way of identifying staff (and you need to tell punters about this). If I had more money, I’d have done Tshirts :D

I’d add that this wasn’t a particularly difficult process. It just took a while. And we had to approach it as an iterative process: where you don’t just do it and then, boom, it’s finished. You see each version as one step in an ongoing process.

I think that it was very important to be very angry and determined to do this. If I hadn’t be so angry, and if I hadn’t wanted so much to look out for my peeps, I probably would have given up ages ago.

I think this process makes it very clear that a simple code of conduct squirrelled away on a website is pretty much useless on it’s own.

Some of the most important parts of this process were:

  • Having a lateral power structure (rather than a top-down power pyramid dynamic thingy), where everyone had a role to play, and power to do things and make decisions – from volunteers and people making reports to musicians and managers. To me, this is THE most important part of this process. If it’s just a boss ‘saving’ women, then we’re not changing anything; we’re reinforcing the status quo.
  • Getting people involved by asking for help, by posting about my sticking points on fb (eg posting that I needed a reporting form but had no clue where to start gave me a bunch of useful comments and messages, plus actual examples of other people’s forms).
  • Letting go and letting other people do stuff.

[note]After some other discussion, I got to this point…[/]
What I’d really like to do is get together with other organisers and peeps at some weekend event to talk through what we do and what they do. There’s already a very healthy network of people sharing ideas, but I want MORE!

[note]This is the bit I want to emphasise. I’ve learnt most from seeing what other people are doing. And I want MORE of it.[/]

As an example, I learnt a lot from talking to Ben Beccari about handbooks and practical emergency response stuff. He’s doing a Phd in disaster response, so he’s kind of mad skilled. I also talked to people like Liam Hogan about how the SES does stuff here. And I had examples from friends of reporting strategies (I’d better not name them in case it’s meant to be confidential :D ). I also followed up ideas with my femmo stroppo mates (like Kerryn, Zoe, Kate, Penni, Tammi, Liah, Naomi, Daniel, and MANY more) for their suggestions and ideas, which came from their big brains, and also their experience as activists at community and local levels.

…I keep adding names, but there are too many. So many people had excellent ideas.

[note]end[/]

So, that’s what I have from that post.
I’ve written about what we’ve been doing in a few other posts already:

*1. I think a code of conduct is important because it sets out your goals and ideals in plain language. I go into why codes are important in this post.
2. ‘Cultural change‘ is about changing the way we do things. The way we think about teaching and teach, the way we think about learning and learn, the way we think about social dancing and social dance, the way we think about partners and treat our partners, the way we think about ourselves and treat ourselves. All of this stuff changes what we do and think about what we do. I like to mix feminism with historical example: I have clear political goals, but I want to use and stay true to the creative and practical examples of the swing and jazz era.
3. Developing strategies for practical change means confronting men about their behaviour, training staff, and banning offenders. But in a thoughtful, organised way, not a random, ad-hoc way. Our practical actions (what we actually do) must be guided by solid thinking and a sense of consequence. We need to be safe, we need to confident, we need to be organised.

**In this one I wrote this paragraph, which really sums up my whole purpose:

There have been some scary moments, but, for the most part, it’s actually been a very exciting and positive experience. Sitting down and thinking about what we want to do, and talking about the good things we want to see has been very exciting. It makes us feel good. This is what activism is about: you start by getting angry. You do some learning, and then you start doing things which make you powerful.

***One of the most important parts of dealing with sexual harassment, is women having the confidence to speak up. To speak in public. Male perpetrators rely on women and girls being too frightened to speak up and challenge them. To tell people about the things that men are doing. They threaten women and girls into staying silent, and they rely on broader social forces which discourage women to keep them quiet.
When those women first wrote about Mitchell’s violent criminal acts on this blog, one of the responses was that they should have made private complaints, spoken to the police, been more polite. More careful.

Their speaking up was very important. Very, very important. And this is one of the reasons I’m not entirely for male feminists. I think that the very act of speaking up is a political act, and one of the key parts of being a feminist. We are told sit down and shut up. And when we stand up and say no, we are doing a radical thing.

And this is where I’ll end this post.
We have to speak up. A private email or private discussion between a woman and her attacker or an organiser is an extension of the conditions that made that assault possible in the first place. We are supposed to push issues of sex and interpersonal violence between men and women into the private sphere. It’s not supposed to be appropriate for public discussion.

In simpler terms, I know that if I send a private email to a man who is a sexual offender or one of their offenders, he’s much more likely to try to bully me, frighten me, attack me. I do my talk in public now, because it’s safer. I want witnesses. Just as I don’t ban or warn offenders in person unless I’m in a public place with plenty of witnesses.

And I know this, because it happens. So I say: speak up. Be sure you have buddies to get your back, but speak up. And by buddies, I’m saying ‘sisterhood is powerful’. This is what that expression means: when we work together, women and girls are far more powerful than most men would like to think. We can protect each other and ourselves.

And after all, that’s what all this is about: women protecting themselves and each other.

Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

I believe that our dance community is generally well behaved, and I am not sure we need a codified response. Just be respectful to everyone, respect their space, dont abuse your position, much the same as in everyday life. Dancing gives no extra rights to misbehave. But we are all adults, right?

I get people like the thought of a code of conduct because it makes people feel better but all i see is another paper in a system that should be a far more simple system of either make that person leave, call the police that’s against the law common sense.

I feel that as a bunch of adults we as a community should not need a code of conduct to dictate that we obey the law.

These are a few quotes from recent online discussions about sexual harassment policies. They are taken out of context. My aim here is to show the language that’s used to defend these positions. These are actual examples of quite common phrases used in these discussions.

The number of people publicly saying ‘we don’t need codes of conduct’ or sexual harassment policies in lindy hop is increasing, the further we get in time from the stories about Stephen Mitchell. I’m not entirely sure what their motivations are. But we can read these statements as suggesting, ‘I don’t think rape and attacks are important enough to change the status quo.’ I wonder if their opinions would be the same if people were being knifed or bashed or kicked. I don’t think they realise that rape involves physical pain and violence, as well as intimidation and threats. Sexual harassment or grooming of girls and women by predators involves systematic intimidation, threats, isolation, and manipulation over a long period of time. Or perhaps they simply don’t think violent attacks on women are important.

There have been a number of high profile rape and assault cases in the international lindy hop scene over the years, and sexual harassment is an ongoing issue. The consequences (besides horrible stuff happening to our friends) include drops in class numbers and event attendees (ie financial consequences), and a loss of community knowledge (ie social sustainability declines as people with experience leave). And yet many dancers are still reluctant to take clear, positive action to improve the safety of their friends and peers.

We need to be more proactive in preventing and responding to this issue, because men in our dance community don’t seem to grasp the fact that raping women and girls is not ok. Offenders know that their actions are illegal, immoral, and disrespectful. Offenders also know that no one will call them on their behaviour. They do these things with no real-world consequences. They know that other men will not challenge their behaviour. They know that women feel alone and vulnerable.

Me, I’m done with that bullshit. Reading all those accounts of girls and women assaulted by Steven Mitchell and other men, I was galvanised. I am an organiser. But I am also a human being, who cares about her friends. I simply can’t look away or pretend this isn’t happening. Does this make me braver than the men who don’t speak up? Probably. But I can’t do this on my own. Codes of conduct are about collective responses: we work together to look after each other.

My focus now is on the way men don’t call other men on their behaviour. Calling out offenders is left to organisers, and to women. As the comments I’ve quoted above suggest, there is an assumption that sexual harassment is a problem for organisers and women, and no one else. Me, I think it’s a problem we should all be looking at. Most particularly men, because it is men who commit most of these offences. Interestingly it is when I call out men for not stepping up that people get angriest with me. Because, I think, this is the matter that most destabilises the status quo. Or as we femmostroppos like to say, this is the point at which we address patriarchy in the most explicit way.

Why are codes of conduct important?
You may choose to have a ‘statement of intent’ or a ‘manifesto’ or a set of ‘rules’. This document or blob of words is not implied or hinted at or common sense. It is a clear and explicit statement of your values, and your limits.

Codes of conduct are important because they:
a) Are a public symbol telling people that your organisation is not ok with sexual assault and will act on reports;
b) Make explicit implicit or implied ‘common sense’ standards and rules. So that we can actually be sure we all have ‘common’ (or shared) values and ‘rules’.
c) This then gives teachers/employees/contractors within the organisation a set of clear guidelines: what are our ‘goals’? What is our position on this? This then guides future policies and actions;
d) It gives students and punters a clear outline of what the organisation’s policy is;
e) Give you an ideological guide for developing policy;
f) Give you a clear list of ‘rules’ to set in your agreements with contractors like musicians, DJs, and teachers. Basically, I say “by working for me, you agree to read and abide by this code. If you can’t agree with it, then you do not work with me or attend my event.”

b is especially important, because the vague or implied ‘common sense’ rules (instead of explicit rules) are used by offenders as an excuse – eg “I didn’t know it wasn’t ok.” It’s also increasingly clear that some men and women simply don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment. So women don’t know that they can trust their instincts, and men don’t know that what they’re doing is sexual harassment.

My code of conducts make it very clear: if you can’t agree to not rape people, you are not welcome at my dance or in my community.

Since our organisation Swing Dance Sydney instituted a code of conduct and clear oh&s policies, dancers who identify as queer or trans, young women, decent men, have said that they feel welcome at our events, or at the least the idea of our events makes them feel welcome. Basically, we are making our events openly hostile and uncomfortable for male sexual offenders, and much friendlier and more welcoming for everyone else.
Our events are also much better as a result of all this work. We’ve just put on better events because we’ve had to think through how we look after people, how we develop and design guidelines and practices, and then we implement and communicate them to workers. This means that there are fewer fuck ups in the program, fewer technical errors, and less general bullshit. Because we’ve gone over these bloody things so many times we’ve caught most of the common problems and fixed most of the crap.

I don’t think codes are enough on their own, but they are important. I have adopted them for all my events, in both paper and digital forms.

But I have also developed:
1) Practical strategies for responding to complaints (eg banning offenders, then training staff to respond when those banned offenders turn up at events).
2) In-class teaching strategies to effect cultural change (ie making it clear that sexual harassment is not ok; skilling and powering up women to give them confidence; teaching men how to touch women with respect).
3) In-person strategies for talking about our code (eg I do speeches at our events that are both funny and important).
4) Skills for dealing with offenders myself.
5) Policies and training that skill up our volunteers and staff so they can step up.

I have already has SERIOUS and marked responses to these policies. I have banned serial offenders. I have responded to women’s complaints/requests for help. I have skilled myself up in confronting frightening, aggressive men. I have dealt with musicians, DJs, and dancers who sexually harass.
Our classes are much better, and we’ve seen students developing good lindy hop, the confidence to improvise (and not micromanage their partners), and we see great social dancing.
I have learnt how to address and teach follows in ways that actually articulate what following is. None of this ‘just follow’ crap for me. This has helped me and my students see how follows (and implicitly, women) are not just objects to be moved about by leads.
Our door staff are more confident and capable. Our musicians are more engaged with us as people (not just punters). And the parties are heaps more fun.

Our events are better. I think that this is the most important part: by taking greater care with one particular issue, and for one particular group, all our punters are better taken care of. Our events and projects are simply better, because we have had to think through these issues and implement strategies. It’s pushed us to become better at what we do; we don’t just continue to do things as they’ve always been done. I actually think this last point is the marker of working with an ambitious, motivated group of people. And they put this sort of energy and focus into their dancing too, which makes the dancing so much better as well.

Relatedly, the ‘common sense’, or ‘we’re all just decent people’ discourses that inform labour relationships (DJing, teaching, volunteering) within the lindy hop world often facilitate exploitation. The implicit hierarchies of power enable exploitation (and sexual harassment), but do not necessitate the reciprocal duty of care and responsibility that goes with formal declarations in other hierarchical social systems.

Basically, the ‘we’re all decent people’ and ‘common sense’ approaches haven’t stopped sexual assault and harassment in lindy hop. They’ve enabled it. So either we change it to help people, or we let things stay the same and accept that we are enabling rape.

Breaks

jazzbreak

link

Often instrumental blues used ‘riffs,’ also – single rhythmic phrases repeated over and over, as a background to the melody, or as the melody itself. Jazz today uses riffs. It also uses ‘breaks,’ which come from the blues. At the end of a phrase of melody or words, there is a little pause, during which one or more instruments break away from the melody and make up some fill-in music (pg 20).

This is why I get angry when I watch dancers ‘hit’ all breaks by standing still. If a musician or band leaves you some space, you should fill it. Not every time, but often enough to show you’re listening. This is also why we teach our beginners about break steps in their first or first class. First you set up the rhythm, then you break it. You aren’t just dead weight in this song; you have to bring something to the party, because you are part of the band. When someone calls, you respond.

Teaching and joy

We’re doing some quite interesting classes on our Wednesday nights at the moment. They are all by-request, which means the topics are quite varied. We did a ‘big apple contest’ class open to everyone (most excellent fun), we’re doing a ‘Social dancer’s history of jazz’ class next week (open to everyone again), a ‘steals’ class the week after, and this week we’re doing a class on how to combine 6 and 8 count steps.

I’d ordinarily avoid a class on ‘steals’ because it feels like one of those gimmick classes. But as one of our other teachers said, “If we want to foster those lindy hop traditions like birthday jams, we have to teach them how to steal.” And because our classes are more like structured self-guided learning a lot of the time, it’s the perfect chance for people to experiment with the concept.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. Especially when I thought about it as just another example of how to understand phrasing, and to read another dancer’s body and feels. So while we’ll be looking at how to get into a birthday jam and ‘steal’, we’ll be talking about how to prepare for the beginning of a phrase, how to read a couple’s dancing to see if it’s time to interrupt or not (eg don’t butt in on a big rhythm break), how to ‘cut in’ in a respectful, efficient way, etc etc. And it’s really just a dancing game that teaches us how to partner dance.

The one we’re doing this week is about combining 6 and 8 count moves. More specifically, a follow requested we look at how follows know whether a move is 6 or 8 count. I’m always a bit surprised by these questions, because I simply don’t think about it when I dance. When I lead, I am absolutely not thinking ‘Here is an 8 count move, now I’m doing a 6 count move.’ I just move through space responding to my partner and to the music. If a triple step is nice here, I put it in. If I need to turn or move quickly, I use a triple step. If I’m hitting a break, I might add in a bit of rhythmic flourish. I leave it to the follow to decide whether they need to triple step or kick ball change or step or kick or whatever. This isn’t 2003: I don’t micro-lead. As if I ever did.
But then I thought about what I do when I’m following. Again, I don’t think ‘6’ or ‘8’ as I’m moving through steps. But what I do do, is use the steps that get me through the shapes most efficiently (or most pleasingly). So I might use a triple step to move quickly through a turn (I rarely spin), I might use a kick/bounce combination to get through a pivot. And so on. Again, I use what gets me through the space I need to cover. I’m moving through the music (ie through time) at the rate my partner asks. And a 6 count move is just moving through a shape 2 beats faster than in an 8 count.

What it made me realise was that perhaps we’d over-emphasised the ‘basic rhythm’ as an 8 count. Perhaps we’d given the impression that an ‘8 count move’ has to be a particular rhythm. When we all know that a move can be any count, and we regularly use 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 count steps in our lindy hop. So there may be a couple of issues here that we need to address.
First, that the steps you dance (ie the rhythm ‘blocks’ – triple steps, steps, etc) are really whatever gets you through the shape most efficiently (or pleasingly). As a follow, your lead begins the move, suggesting a speed at which to move through the move. Because the connection is a two-way thing, the lead can ‘ask’ you to maintain that particular speed throughout the move, particularly if they hear something in the music and have something planned. But a good lead is listening to the follow, and a good following listening to the lead, so you’re paying attention to the connection. And if the lead asks you to maintain that initial speed and direction (or intensity!) it’s nice to do that. Because lindy hop is a partnership. But as a follow, you get to finish the move, and if that means you take 2 more counts than they’d suggested, that’s ok. So long as you keep to the ‘spirit’ of the move, or the vibe the lead is setting down.

[NB Ramona talked about this in classes the other week: the lead begins the move, the follow finishes it. So leads need to let follows finish the move.]

[Other NB I’m beginning to be convinced that leading and following are very different things. It’s not just the same issues of biomechanics applied differently. Leads have a different timing to follows; leads are closer to the beat, a little ahead, the follows a little behind. So to me, the lead is the cab of a semi trailer, and the follow the long trailer. So as a lead, you need to account for that delay when you lead – the follow will get there a tiny bit later than you. I’ve also discovered that it’s this that I find really, really difficult to change when I swap between roles. I’m beginning to think I need to specialise in just one role to really improve. And you have to be as good as Ramona to do both really well.]

I think this is where the real problem comes for a lot of our follows who go social dancing with leads who work in other paradigms. Those leads think ‘ok, I’m doing move X’ and then they set it in motion, but are already thinking about or moving on to the next move before the follow has completed the first move. They don’t allow for the follow’s slight delay in addition to the ‘time’ it’ll take to do the move. In other words, they can’t think beyond their own experience of time during a song.
This means that you get a lot of leads who rush follows through (for example), the final triple step of a swing out, so the follow starts rushing in on 1, instead of really using that last triple step to get momentum into their body. Even more upsettingly, you get a swing out that stops and starts in hard breaks at 8 and 1. And of course the ‘swing’ falls out completely, as everyone rushes rushes rushes to get through the move.

Secondly, the rhythm blocks you use are both functional and creative. So a triple step is great for moving through space quickly (eg on the turn of a swing out), but also wonderful because it’s a syncopated, swinging rhythm that works so nicely with swinging jazz. It’s not like a cha-cha-cha rhythm. Triiii ple-step. Or tri-PLE-step. Varying the accent on a triple step is super fun, and understanding the difference between a triple step and step-stomp-off is also super fun.

Thirdly, this ‘8 count’ structure is something dancers enforce on the 4/4 timing of jazz. The musicians don’t think in 8s. The 2, 4, 6, 8 is a structure that we either build into the song, or we force on top of it. I think it’s better to build it in. So we listen to the music, and find ways to emphasise what’s going on in the song, using our different rhythm blocks, combined over particular lengths of time. And we use even numbers/counts because that’s where the emphasis is in swing. I prefer to think about a song as one long series of beats in time. Some of the beats are emphasised. Some groups of beats are emphasised. Some musicians only play some of the beats. And so on.

So the most important part of dancing is that you carry that consistent beat within your body all the time. All your movements must come from this, both in a creative sense, but also in terms of biomechanics. You use the ‘bounce’ or engagement of core muscles to make a pivoting kick work. You use the ‘groove’ to connect with your partner and the music.

Anyhoo, because I find it so difficult to understand why people have trouble distinguishing between 6 and 8 (or want to distinguish), I’m really looking forward to the session. We have some fun exercises set up, and that group has lots of opinions, so I’m really keen to learning more about how they’re thinking about music.

Teaching. Could anything be better? No.

more about safety

Screen-Shot-2016-02-18-at-5.46.41-pm I’ve been fussing over what to put on a paper version of our code of conduct to have at all our classes and parties. Until I realised I could just use the ‘back’ of the Jazz with Ramona program I developed.

SORTED.

When I get more time I’ll break up the text a bit or add some amusing line drawings or something.

btw, I’m fine with people using the content from this document.
BUT it is far more important to develop your own, so:

  • It reflects the culture of your organisation,
  • You actually understand and really believe everything in the document (ie haven’t just cut and pasted something out of obligation).
  • It works well as part of your broader safety strategies – how does it relate to your online policy document/page? Do all your staff understand it, and have they been trained in (and know how to) apply it? Do YOU know how to use it when you have to actually ban/warn/press charges against offenders?

It’s a gloriously light-touch way of teaching

This is the most important thing I’ve learnt about teaching dance:

As Jane Williams-Siegfredsen, the author of a book on Danish forest kindergartens, puts it: “There’s this thing where the pedagogue needs to stand back sometimes and not always jump in and help the child. They need to let the child overcome problems themselves. We learn so much more from doing that.” (Kids Gone Wild 23 Feb 2016)

I really enjoy this approach to teaching. You give the students a task (use your rhythm to move around the room), and then you let them do it. You don’t interrupt them to ‘fix’ things, you just let them do it, and fix it themselves. They learn so much from this approach.
After you do the exercise, you get together in the group and say “Ok, what did you observe? What was hard? Easy?” You take questions, and you tell them things you saw that you really liked. “I liked the way X and Y stopped and grooved on the spot a bit when they got out of time. I didn’t get run into once, because you’re all being very safe and keeping your feet under your body – I loved that.” And when they ask questions (they will), they say things like, “How do you know when the lead is going to start moving?” and then you add more info about how to be in closed position and how to give and receive information through your body to your partner. After you give that new information, they must dance on it immediately. And you must only say one thing – to the leads, and to the follows.

It’s a gloriously light-touch way of teaching, and I adore it. You don’t see ‘perfect’ dancing right away, but you see people learn to communicate, to lead and follow, and to social dance to music. Most importantly, they keep their own individual style and you can see their personalities come out. It’s also nice because it teaches them to see difficult stuff not as a ‘problem’ or ‘getting it wrong’, but something to figure out and explore with a partner. To me, this is most excellent learning and teaching: you’re helping people figure out that they have the skills they need to learn, and you’re with them as they get started on the lovely long process of dancing.

What are we actually doing about sexual harassment?

We at Swing Dance Sydney have developed a several-prong approach to this issue over the past few years. Everyone we know has been asked for advice or suggestions, and it’s definitely a collaborative project. It takes time, thought, and research. I looked up other organisations’ codes of conduct, and govt bodies’ s.h. prevention strategies. including the human rights commission’s definitions of s.h.

Each step has kind of developed from the one before. And we keep going back and revising and improving things.

For example:

  • We developed a code of conduct, referring to lots of other examples.
  • Then we needed definitions of sexual harassment for that code, so we all knew what we were talking about.
  • Then we had to give students FAQs for making complaints, knowing their boundaries, etc.
  • Then we had to be available for students to talk to us, and we had to follow up on our hunches and ask students about things we’d seen. Which meant we needed casual social spaces and opportunities for talking with our students – like non-dancing parties.
  • Then we had to just get rid of horrible harassers.
  • Then we had to have consequences for banned people.
  • Then we had to have processes for enforcing bans.
  • Then we had to tell our door people what to do if banned people turned up.
  • Then I told other organisers in our city that we’d banned X, and I keep them updated each time I get another complaint about anyone.
  • Then we had to find out what our legal rights were.
  • Then we had to practice doing this ourselves.
  • Now I’m asking myself ‘how long is a ban? if it’s forever, how do we maintain it if the personnel and staff change?’

And of course, this has to be an interactive design process: you have to keep getting feedback on the process, and changing and improving things. Soz, but it’s never done.
My current project: a report log, and way of keeping track of issues.

batwoman-wonderwoman
This is my experience:
As a woman, it is scary as fuck to tell a big, imposing bully of a man he is banned from your event. Or to warn one. So I had to develop the bravery to do it, and contingency plans to make sure I was safe (eg I told my male friends – don’t leave me on my own for the next hour or two; I don’t want to seem vulnerable if he gets nasty). I also practiced giving warnings and bans – I wrote little scripts and then practiced them with my buddies. And I told my buddies when I was going to do it, and what their job was.

So you need to skill yourself up, look after yourself, work with other women, and develop strategies, and PRACTICE. It’s hard to overcome a lifetime of training which tells women to avoid conflict because they’re vulnerable. You have to teach yourself that you are tough. It’s helpful to think of people like Norma Miller, who was a black woman running a dance troupe in the 50s. You have to truly believe that you are the best person for this job, and that you are RIGHT.

I’m glad I do this, as I’ve had men get nasty with me in public at events (I particularly enjoyed that one time a man I’d warned earlier about non-consensual aerials trying to shout at me while I was DJing. NOT).

Documents (ie rules):
1. We have a code of conduct on our site. But I’m pretty sure no one reads it.
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So I made an abridged, paper version which is now available at the door to events on the back of a paper program (and everyone picks up a paper program, and gets one in their rego packs), which I talk about when I’m MCing at every party and workshop day at an event. I actually say it explicitly: “Have a read of this code. There’s info here about what to do if you get injured, if you feel unsafe, or if someone’s hassling you.” And I’ve actually turned to one of the (big blokey male) band members and said, “X and I were talking about this earlier, and now X knows what to do if he feels unsafe.” And we all loled, but it was very effective – no awkward shyness or silliness. I just added it to the talk about where the first aid kit is and how to get a drink of water.
The online version has actual descriptions of what counts as sexual harassment. That part is THE most important.

2. We have a parties FAQ which explains what to do if you get harassed.

3. You have to tell people you have docs – don’t hide them away on your website. And just be very casual and matter of fact about it – of course we have a code of conduct, don’t you?

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Processes:
1. I warn people who break the rules if they seem to be a bit clueless (eg air steps on the social floor, boob swiping, etc.) I encourage other people to warn other people (especially men! Men are 90% of the problem, so they should be 90% of the solution – it’s not a ‘women’s issue’!)

2. I ban people who are serial offenders, and tell them so to their face, making it clear that they cannot attend any of my events (I name them all), and if they turn up I’ll call the police. I don’t engage in discussions or conversations – I just tell them straight up. And I do it at public events in public places because my own safety is important. And I put on my invisible ‘I am an arse kicking fierce superhero’ cloak. I literally pretend that I am as tall and strong and immovable and implacable as Wonder Woman.

3. Once they’re banned, I put their name and description (and photo if I have it) on the door at our events, and circulate it to volunteers who’ll be working at events.

4. I explain the process to volunteers should these banned people turn up: Say “hello, Sam would like to speak with you, please wait a minute while I find her.” then find me and i’ll deal with it. They all work the door in pairs, so one is left at the door waiting. They’re to do some ‘important paper work’ while they wait, and not engage the bloke. Then I come and call the police immediately. No arguments or engagement.

-> I tell everyone about all these documents and processes. Since I started telling people I ban offenders, and since our volunteers started learning the process, I’ve had a scary number of people make complaints about the people I’ve banned/warned: knowing you’ll deal with this shit gives people the guts to speak up. I keep all complaints anonymous and confidential. None of this ‘right of reply’ bullshit.

Cultural change:
Of course we use gender-neutral language, stamp on homophobia, etc etc. Because we are adults, and this shit is necessary. And we don’t tolerate any of that stuff in our classes or at our parties. You simply CANNOT address these issues if you, for example, always refer to leads as ‘he’ or ‘gentlemen’. It’s a shitty barrier to fixing things up.

1. How we teach beginners. We talk about how to ‘make connection’ with a partner (eg in closed) not in terms of ‘your hand always go here’ but in terms of ‘you want to find the middle of their back, so ask them ‘is this right?’ Then we get them to practice this little conversation. Boom. Winners – it teaches them that each partner is a different size and shape, and you need to adapt to that. As opposed to having rules for ‘correct’ connection, we make it clear that ‘connection’ is about working with another human. There’s lots of this sort of thing – from talk about making confident mistakes to saying ‘start when you feel ready’ instead of counting them in.

2. We only have women teachers atm, so we start classes with “I’m Sam, and I’m leading tonight,” and “I’m X and I’m following tonight” and then we demonstrate what that means. Then we say “Choose whether you want to lead or follow. You could change next week, but please stick with one role for this class.” Then we let them choose whether they’re leading or following, then we send them to find a partner.

3. When we ask them to partner up, we say “Introduce yourself first; don’t touch anyone if you don’t know their name” and we act out asking someone to dance, shaking hands, and introducing ourselves. BOOM. They just do this themselves all the rest of the class.
-> etc etc etc

4. We give the follows specific information about what they’re doing in class, and we phrase it in a way which is about agency, self-determination, and power. eg I say to follows “You are the BOSS of your own body. Don’t compromise your posture or timing or rhythm for the lead’s. This is a class, so you should be both talking to each other, resolving these issues verbally.” I often to say to follows and leads “Both of you have a responsibility to keep time and maintain a rhythm. So if you’re stressing, listen to your partner’s body and let them help you find the beat again.” And then we explain how connection is a two-way line of communication, talking about how follows send info to leads and vice versa. Using very simple things like “Check in with yourself – is your hand a tight claw of fear? What does this say to your partner?” etc etc etc.

5. Women DJs, Women teachers, women MCs, women solo dancing, women leads, women follows, male follows, male leads, male DJs. We have them. We just do this shit ourselves – you have to be the change you want to see. And we just treat it as normal. None of this bullshit “Traditionally, men did X in lindy hop” talk because that’s untrue, made up bullshit. We just DO this stuff.

6. Actively supporting new DJs, dancers, organisers, etc. In all sorts of ways. Whether they are men or women – we just step up and be useful, even if that means coming along and being a punter. A culture of creative support and curiosity is good for a community, and it undoes patriarchal cultures which are particularly obstructive for women.

7. Be ambitious and motivated. Aim to be really fucking good at all this. If you’re a woman lead, aim to be really GOOD at it. If you’re running an event, run the BEST event. And just see undoing patriarchy (which is what fighting sexual harassment is) as part of being really fucking good at what you do. So be good at it.

I have to repeat: you can’t do this on your own. Everyone has to play a part in looking after everyone else. Me, other teachers, the students in class, your dance partners, other event organisers, volunteers at events, DJs, band members, sound engineers. If you talk to each of these people individually, involving them in the process somehow, making their role clear (eg the volunteers working on the door), then they will be invested and will do their bit. Or you get to leverage the guilt – because only a cockface would argue that this stuff isn’t important :D

just so good to each other

I’m writing this at 1.30am, when I should be asleep, but I am not, as I just got home from dancing, and you know what that means. No sleep for one hundred years.

Sitting in the kitchen, eating my toast just now, and reading a couple of very interesting articles hooked up by friends on the facey, I was struck by just how important dancing is to me for making friends from other countries. Tonight I’d spent a good ten minutes talking to a really nice guy from Spain, Alex, who’s been living in Sydney for a while, and has a few months left on his visa. We’d discussed the two kisses of Spain compared to the three of France. Three is too many, we had all agreed earlier, but two is just enough. And I’d told the story of catching a cab with the rowdy Argentineans in Stockholm, who were enraged by the Swedish hotel’s bar closing before midnight and not having any music. Where were we to drink?! Gas had a flight to catch at 6am, and we had no time to waste! Alex explained that some things are very important, and should not be laughed about.

A little earlier that evening Alice asked if I’d be coming to eat Korean food with our two visiting Korean Blokes (YES) one of whom had texted me earlier in the day to ask if I would like to have lunch this week (YES).

These things are all very important to me. I love, love, love that I live in a big, busy city that receives lots of visitors from overseas. I love that lindy hop gives visitors a way into our community, language, and culture. I love that I can travel to Seoul or Stockholm or San Francisco and meet up with people I don’t know, and don’t even share a language with, and dance with them, share a table with them, and be welcomed.

This is why I’m quite keen to revive the sappier lindy hop traditions at my own parties and events. Tonight we were relaunching Harlem, our (now) twice-a-monthly party, and I’d taken care to find out who was visiting from out of town (7 Canberrans, 1 German, and not counting our semi-resident Koreans and Spaniard), and who was leaving (Bec, who is off to Adelaide soon). I wanted to have a welcome dance, so that we would all know who was new in town, and to dance with them. I wanted to farewell Bec, and let her know that we would all miss her and wish her well.
Because the farewell/welcome/birthday dance tradition has largely disappeared in Sydney, except for occasional and under-participated efforts, I took a moment to explain how these work. There were new dancers in the room, and they’d only had one dance class (that night), so they wouldn’t know what to do. People who’d been around for a while mightn’t realise that the point was to conquer any nerves, and rush in to dance with ours guests, not leave them feeling unloved. I encouraged everyone to crowd close, and to rush in to dance with our guests – welcome them! And it went really well. Was really nice. It was particularly nice to segue into a snowball, one of my most favourite lindy hop traditions.

Afterwards, Alice, my teaching partner, declared that we needed to explain the welcome dance at our classes this Wednesday and teach our students how to cut in and join the dance. She wasn’t having any of our students not joining in a welcome jam. She’s right. And I know our students would love the game of it.

Earlier in the night, we’d taught two classes. An intermediate class exploring the ‘Frankie Sixes’ (or ‘Frankie’s Sixes’), which is a very nice series of 6-count steps. You’ve probably done them before, and they have the flow and energy characteristic of Frankie’s choreography: they just feel good. I think that this is one of the most important parts of Frankie Manning’s legacy. He was a great choreographer, and we need to keep his choreography alive, because it teaches us how to do great lindy hop, and how his creative ideas worked. This is the language of lindy hop; this is how you put all these words together in an exciting, creative way. Needless to say, the students felt feels, and we felt feels, and it was grand.

Then we taught a beginners class basic 6 count moves. We used our usual social-dancing-first approach, and it was just lovely. There’s nothing like a group of first-time dancers to remind you just how great this dance is. Every time, a handful of people will take the time to tell you that this is the most fun they’ve ever had. And you can say, “Yes it is! And I still feel that way about it!” This was my second first-time-beginner class this week, so I’m feeling very spoilt. I also had a conversation with a few of the intermediates who’d taken that beginner class too. I said that it was so nice watching the experienced people in the class, because they were just so nice to the new people. And one of the guys said, “Dancing with beginners is just so good. They remind you of how much fun it is to start dancing.” He was right. Beginners remind you of just how good dancing is. Just how wonderful music is.

As the class came to an end, I decided to try something new. We always end with a song where we social dance what we’ve learnt in class. By this stage the students feel happy and confident, and really enjoy just dancing without worrying about getting it right. It’s a nice bookend to our warm up, which is also about just dancing and not worrying about getting it right. One of our students used to say, “The best part of these classes is the last fifteen minutes.” He’s right: the rest is good, but the last fifteen minutes are where it all happens.

The very best part of these beginner classes is standing and watching them all dance and smile and laugh as they social dance together. They treat each other so well, and are so good to each other. It makes up for all the horrible things I read in the news every day. These are people who will welcome a stranger into their city and home.
As the song progressed (Easy Does It, of course), I moved around the room and invited the people who’d arrived for social dancing to join in on the dance floor. And they did. And when we called out “Change partners”, the students went and found someone new to dance with. And they gradually drew all the new people onto the dance floor, and it was quite the most wonderful thing that I’ve ever seen.

These students had only taken one class, but they were happy and laughing and smiling and relaxed, and quite ok with making mistakes and not being perfect. And you could see the other social dancers, the more experienced dancers light up and feel quite welcome and lucky to be dancing. I was so proud. I thought, ‘Frankie would have liked this.’ He would have laughed that big laugh, and told them to keep dancing.

Negotiating consent

Jesse has linked up this interesting piece from the Lindy Affair blog: Unapologetic consent: your obligation to offer it and your right to revoke it. I wish it hadn’t happened this way, but one thing I do like about the dramas of this year is the way dancers are moving into more complex engagements with ideas like ‘consent’.

My favourite part of this piece:
“Some teachers require students to ask each other to dance as they go around the classroom; I really love this practice.”
I love it too! I think we need to do it in our classes.

In our very first class of the 6 week block, we generally have all the stoods social dancing all over the floor by about 20 minutes in. Because they’re not in a circle, we call ‘find a new partner’ instead of ‘rotate’. The noise level gets INCREDIBLY HIGH and it’s HEAPS of fun. One of my chief delights is watching brand new dancers take about 3 minutes of chitchat and introductions before they actually start dancing. It’s a little negotiation of consent before they touch a stranger. It takes a while, and slows the class, but I love it, because it’s about good social dancing skills. We often describe what we’re doing as ‘being at a really good party’, and then point out stuff that makes it a good party – conversation, fun music, dancing, laughing. And most beginner students already know how to be at a party, so we just utilise those skills in our classes.

I think that when we do fast rotations in class, and just yell ‘rotate’, expecting students to dance immediately without introductions, we are training basic social skills out of them. And that’s bad.

I think our approach with the new dancers needs a bit of work. While we do say repeatedly ‘introduce yourself before you touch someone’, and we talk about how to talk about touching your partner, I think we should articulate the ‘how to ask for a dance’ stuff. I’d also like to change the pacing so they don’t feel a need to rush to ‘find a partner’.

Feminism is just about being decent to other people. And lindy hop.

Ok, so I have been very busy lately, so not much time to write.
Ran a weekend event in mid-October, just planned a big one for mid-May next year (so. many. venues.), begun planning a small one for February, blocked out the 2016 classes (adding another class night, expanding the regular party schedule from monthly to twice a month), planning out the promotion and advertising for 2016, and had a small think about the DJing I’m doing in November in Melbourne and in Sweden over christmas. This is the busiest time of year. I’ve been working on a website revamp for the business, and I made a fully sick legit facebook page for DJing. And I still have a few postcards to design and get printed.

As well as all that, I’m back in the teaching rotation for lindy hop on Wednesdays, which is grand. I’ve had a chance to teach with another friend for the first time at her venue, and that was great. So I’m full of ideas. The recent revival of the discussion about sexual harassment in lindy hop has also prompted a reminder about how we need to fuck up bullshit gender dynamics in lindy hop from students’ very first class.

The main idea in all our teaching with Swing Dance Sydney is to skill up students for social dancing. Which means we need them to develop independence, and to be capable and confident on the dance floor on their own. Which is pretty much the opposite of a traditional class. Things that we focus on in our classes:
students being able to take care of the music:

  • find the beat on their own;
  • count themselves in and start dancing to the music on their own;
  • understand phrasing (at least in a basic way) in swing music;
  • being able to put the swing into their dancing;
  • master a basic rhythm;
  • dance that rhythm to the music.

Students being able to take care of their partner:

  • get into closed position with a partner;
  • talk to their partner and negotiate a comfortable closed position with them;
  • figure out that each partner is a different size and shape, with different feelings about being close to other people, etc etc, and then adjust their closed position to work with that. By talking to them;
  • introduce themselves to a new partner, and get into closed position in a respectful way;
  • leads initiating moves when they’re ready, rather than in a fixed sequence all the time, so they lead when both partners are ready;
  • move around the dance floor in closed position with their partner, using that basic rhythm, in time, and with swinging timing, to the music;
  • adjust their connection to make this movement happen as a unit;

Students being able to take care of themselves, and be mindful/present:

  • both partners are responsible for their own sense of timing (groove/bounce/pulse/whatevs) and their own sense of rhythm, and both partners respect that in their partner;
  • no one sacrifices their posture, physical comfort, safety, timing, rhythm or sense of music for their partner. And no one asks them to;
  • follows are active in the partnership. They way they touch their partner sends information to the lead. And the lead learns how to listen to that information;
  • …which means that it’s not just the lead’s job to stay in time, to find the beat, to keep the rhythm. Both partners do this, and the lead can listen to the follow to get it together;
  • when you begin dancing with someone, you use closed position to become a partnership: you collaborate to find a shared sense of groove.

We do all this in the very first class, and everyone is very good at it. We see very, very good social dancing right in their first class. They learn to move around on the dance floor in their first class, and they develop perfect floor craft by the end of the class. This week we told the students it’s just like being at a very good party. And they just applied what they knew about parties to make this work: apologising when they bumped people; avoiding bumping people; introducing themselves to new people; taking care of their partner and people around them; listening to and enjoying the music. And talking. So. Much. Talking. The noise level is incredible.

Now, I have to make it clear. I might sound like a big old hippy, but I’m not really. At least not in class. Everyone wears shoes, students choose to lead or follow at the beginning of class, and they stick to that. We only teach with real, swinging jazz. We only teach historic dance steps, and we talk about the history of the dance. We don’t use a lot of jargon or technical dance talk. I try to NEVER use the words ‘frame’ or ‘tension’. When we first get them partnered up, we say “Get into this position” and then we just let them do it. Then we say “Check with your partner to see it’s comfortable” and then we model how we’d ask and reply to our partner, and then we get them to do that. We don’t count them in using numbers, we scat. And over the course of the class, we move from getting them started to saying “Start when you’re ready”, though I love Lennart’s line, “Start when you feel it is the right time.”

We began teaching this way to actively reduce and remove the conditions that made sexual harassment possible. We wanted women dancers empowered, and male dancers ok with that. But what we’ve actually found is that we’re just making it easier for everyone to be properly social when they dance. It is AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING.
I mean holy SHIT! In one hour, they develop perfect floor craft on our tiny dance floor. They have gorgeously relaxed connections. They are confident and happy, making friends and laughing and talking really loudly. They can count themselves in, find phrases, and express knowledgeable opinions about whether a song is nice or not.

So, we’ve just found that teaching this way makes for better dancing and dancers. My mind is just blown.
I looked at them dancing this week and realised: traditional lindy hop classes spend a lot of time and energy ruining people’s natural ability to hold a person in their arms and move to the music. It’s like we’re trying to reverse engineer swing outs (or whatever) as though we’d never seen one before. When we should just start with what we all know how to do already: enjoy music and hold someone in our arms. And then take the natural or most obvious route to the end goal. Want a swing out? Do a circle to generate momentum, then let go. Any old count will do – if you insist on letting go on count X (in a beginner class), you end up with people fucking each other up on the dance floor, and being rough with each other. If you count people in 5 6 7 8 all the time, they rely on you to get them started, rather than learning to get their own body ready, getting their partner ready, and then dancing when they’re both ready. If you only teach them using fixed sequences of steps, they social dance that way too – they dance in figures. But they also (and this is WORSE) they dance as though getting through the figure is the most important thing. And as though having the best and most number of figures is most important. When it’s not! The music is!

Anyhoo, all this thinking is a result of some learning I’ve been doing:

  • Peter Loggins spent an hour with a couple of us at Herrang explaining what two step dances are, and how he teaches/taught in New Orleans in bars. Basically: simple is best, and the goal is just to get moving to a band. He said something quite provocative: “lindy hop is not a social dance.” I thought this was interesting, as the idea of a ‘swing out’ as the ‘basic’ step is quite problematic. I prefer Frankie’s point that the promenade is the most important move in lindy hop: closed position, moving in time with a partner to music, using a nice rhythm. But I felt a light go on when Loggins talked about teaching and dancing in crowded bars in New Orleans: music first. Don’t kick over the tip jar. Tip the band. Buy a drink. Be able to dance with randoms (ie dance, don’t do figures). Enjoy the music. Interact with the people around you like a real social person (ie don’t dominate the dance floor, obscure the band, or put dancing before real social interaction).
    All of these things are on one hand reasonable rhetoric around live music and dance culture. But on the other hand, if you begin teaching like this, and dance like this yourself, you develop very good floor craft, you focus on your partner, you dance to the music instead of pushing through figures. You become a very good dancer. And a better person.
  • The Frankie stream/Harlem Roots stream at Herrang this year and last year taught me that figures are less important than rhythms. I was kind of excited about this because it taught me you could dance with ANYONE if you approach lindy hop like this. You can do simple figures with anyone and have a good time, and you can enjoy it too, because you can add it fun rhythms to keep you interested. And because you’re focussing on your partner and the people around you, rather than pushing through a series of figures, your floor craft is better, you can dance to any tempo, with anyone. Basically, you rule.
  • The idea of ‘rhythm first’ is important. Not just because it’s about understanding music and actually dancing. It also helps your partner feel what you are doing with your body. ‘Clear rhythms’ can be another way of saying ‘clear weight commitments and transfers’ and ‘engaged muscles recruited in the most efficient way.’ And if you do all this, your partner can feel what you’re doing.
  • I am very, very VERY STRONGLY committed to the idea of both partners contributing to the dance. It’s not just a matter of follows ‘just following’ or leads ‘leading’. It’s two people dancing together. Gotta learn to dance on your own so you know who you are, and you have some sense of rhythm and timing. Then when you dance together, dance together, and trust each other. You don’t have to do exactly the same rhythms: that is some boring and dull shit. It’s also the opposite of jazz.
    But you do have to be ‘together’ in Frankie’s sense: you are in love for three minutes. They are the centre of your world. If you’re just pushing through figures, who cares who you’re dancing with, as long as they can lead/follow that sequence of figures. If you’re just jumping about randomly while holding someone’s hand, it’s fun, but that’s not really jazz either.
    But if you’re dancing simpler shapes with rhythms that are dictated by the music, you have to keep checking in with your partner – looking at them, listening to them, responding to them. And because it’s jazz, it’s not formal turn taking: we can both speak at the same time, and we can say different things. Hello polyrhythms, hello layers of rhythm, hello lead and follow contributing different pieces to a rhythmic whole.
  • Rikard said while teaching with Jenny at Herrang: “I trust Jenny to know how to improvise. I trust her to do something interesting.” I think this mutual trust is essential, to being a human or a lindy hopper. As a lead, I don’t have to micro-manage my follow. I can let them do what they need to do. And that’s a relief. And interesting – who knows what they’ll do! I’d better pay attention! I’d also better look at them, listen to the messages they send to me through the connection, and respond to what they’re doing.
  • I throw out the idea of ‘hijacking the lead’ by follows, because it reveals a profound limitation in understanding of how leading and following works. It assumes that the status quo is the lead ‘driving’ and the following ‘along for the ride’. No. No. No.
    I throw out the idea of ‘lindy hop like a conversation’ where leads and follows take turns ‘doing variations’. No. No. No. Lindy hop is a relationship between two people for three minutes, and we both participate in it. We might take turns, but we can also contribute all the time. We have to – we have to be present, if we want to respect and properly engage with our partner. As a human being.

So, by stripping out all the bullshit ‘technique’ and jargon talk, and all that shit about dancing as science or specialist skills, it’s much easier and fun. If we approach lindy hop as just something we can do, we empower students, we take the focus away from the teachers, and we create a more equitable power dynamic. As teachers we are discovering jazz with students, not holders of knowledge that we dole out.

Some direct consequences of this approach for me as a teacher:

  • You can’t teach as much content in classes. In fact, content is much less important, and you focus on other teaching goals or priorities. And you realise it’s not the number of moves you have, but the way you dance with another human that’s important;
  • You take longer to do things in class. Which is nice;
  • You talk less, and play more music while teaching. Which is grand;
  • You ‘correct’ students less, which means they feel better about themselves. Remember, every time you correct someone’s dancing, you’re effectively telling them they’re doing it wrong;
  • If you let them dance steps in any sequence, taking as long as they want, starting when they want, and giving them ages with a partner and lots of music, they solve a lot of their own problems themselves. They just figure it out, with their partner or on their own. Which means you talk less. So hold yourself back: don’t jump in and ‘fix’ them. They’ve got this;
  • I’ve shifted to asking them “What was hard? What was easy? What made it easier?” after they’ve danced a bit, and they tell us. Because they’re relaxed. And they ask us questions. My favourite thing when they ask a question like “Where does my right foot go?” is to say “You watch us dance and tell us” and then we do and they do. Or we reply “What an interesting question. Let’s all dance on it and observe ourselves and what we do.” And then we do, and they do, and then we come back together and we say, “Ok, what did you notice?” and they answer their own question. I LOOOOOOOVE THIS APPROACH! Because it tells students they know a lot. They know more about their bodies than we do. And that they can figure out the answer to questions by experimenting.
  • A direct, and most pleasing consequence of all this, is that you get intermediate students who are ENGAGED in classes, and more than willing to figure out how something works on their own.
    You also get students who go social dancing and smile into their partners’ face. I love seeing our students on the social floor. They laugh and smile, they’re relaxed and happy, and they look like they’re dancing. When I see them social dancing, I think ‘Frankie would be proud.’ I look at them and I see joy. I see people being good to each other, and happy. Because they feel confident and relaxed, and ok with just being themselves on the dance floor.
  • I’ve had to step up and make social dance spaces for our students. They have to be friendly, relaxed, and familiar. So we just started having regular social dancing at the end of our beginner blocks. We ditched our intermediate class in those weeks, and we party on. This was something all the teachers wanted, because we all wanted to spend more social time with students, and because we saw that they found full on social nights intimidating. They needed a next, interim space for practicing dancing. So we did it. And we all LOVE it. It’s just like a real party: talking, eating, laughing, and dancing. Not just dancing.

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