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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I am involved with feminism

Before I went off on my trip last month I did a little interview with the blokes from ‘From the Top’, a radio show produced by ig hop in Vienna.
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They’re doing some really interesting work there, with an exciting Dancers in Residence program, the usual round of parties (with unique and A1 art) and classes, and radio show, From The Top.

The radio show is a good one. We have a bunch of lindy hop related podcasts and vlogcasts, but all of them are American, and show a decidedly American bias. To the point that I can’t actually bear to listen to most of them any more. I don’t like to hate on people’s creative projects, but I’m very tired of listening to discussions pitched as discussing ‘the lindy world’, but really only discussing a few people’s experience of contemporary urban American lindy hop. Booooring. The more I learn about lindy hop in Asia, Europe, and the antipodes (of course :D), the more embarrassing some of those American podcasts become. Bros need to travel.

An exception to this cringe is Ryan Swift’s the Track. At first glance, an hour and three quarter long podcast where two people just talk about dancing seems intolerable. Interminable. But Ryan manages to pull it off. Mostly because he chooses interesting people, but also because he’s a master of the well directed casual conversation. I am of course completely biased, because Ryan is an Internet Friend, but in this case, the bias is justified.

But From The Top is exciting. It’s short, just 20, 15 minutes. Professionally edited and presented, with good topics, well-constructed stories, and a far-reaching, open-eyed approach to truly international lindy hop culture. This is no accident. The presenter and producer Alexei Korolyov is a professional journalist, and it really makes a difference. Previous episodes have discussed Health, Well-being and Social Conventions; Being a Swing Musician Today; Regionalism vs Globalisation in Lindy Hop; and Time Traveling back to the ‘swing era’ (you can find them all here on soundcloud.) And they’re all really interesting and good listens.

The latest ep is about Gender Roles in Dance. I think it’s pretty good, but, to be honest, it’s not quite as good as previous episodes, mostly because I think it’s a complicated issue that could have done with a little preamble to define some terms and perhaps set the tone. I guess it did, in a way, but I don’t quite agree with the approach and definitions Alexei takes. But yolo, right? Despite this, I think he takes a very open approach to the issue, and has some interesting guests. This is a good piece, and it does good work.

I really liked hearing from Rebecka DecaVita, a woman dancer I’ve long admired and really wanted to hear speak about these issues. Jo Jaekyeong from Korea is an old friend of mine, and I really liked hearing her speak clearly about her experiences in Seoul, a city and scene I’m currently very interested in. I don’t know Gregor Hof Bauer or Patrick Catuz, and while Patrick’s comments were the ones I found most problematic, I was very interested to hear from some men in this discussion. And men who’d actually done some proper thinking about this issue, beyond the sort of glib jokey rubbish I’ve been hearing on the American podcasts.

It was particularly cool to hear from Gregor, who’s an out gay bloke, speaking about following. This was especially cool, because I do feel that a lot of the American and mainstream lindy hop commentary has been very coyly stepping around the issue of queerasfuck dancing, managing not to have any openly gay peeps speaking in podcasts, vlogcasts, or in public talks. I think this is one of the features of a European production: they simply are more politically and socially progressive than the American productions, so we hear a more grown up and interesting discussion. Or at the very least, this program is better journalism for its presentation of a more diverse range of voices.

I was the other interviewee on the program this month, and I wasn’t all that happy with how I did in the original interview. I feel like I crapped on too much, and could have been more succinct. But Alexei has edited the bejeebs out of me, so I come out of it sounding a lot more coherent than I actually was. Overall, it was exciting and flattering to be asked to be involved (SUPER flattering), and I enjoyed it. I admire Alexei’s work, and it was so nice to be a part of something I admire. Such an honour.

In the rest of this post, I’ll engage with just one part of the podcast, which is really just an accidental language slip. It is where Alexei says (as Laura pointed out) “Sam is actively involved with feminism”. This is a true statement.

It’s also kind of lolsome because I don’t feel like feminism is this thing outside myself (the way this statement implies). Feminism is what I am and do. To say “I am a feminist” is a way of saying “Hey, I think we need to talk about gender and power, and I’m not going to shoosh up about it.” Saying “I am a feminist” is a political act.

For a woman, speaking up like this, expressing discontent and generally disturbing the status quo by not being a quiet, conciliatory woman, is explicitly political. When a man says ‘I am a feminist’, the act itself means something quite different. Because we do exist in patriarchy. For a woman, the very act of speaking up, of dissenting, of being a ‘difficult woman’ is a political act. It’s dissension. It’s dangerous. It’s powerful. So it’s not so much that I am ‘involved with feminism’, it’s that I AM A FEMINIST. I don’t prevaricate, I don’t add caveats or qualifications when I say that. I just am a feminist.

And when I say this, it means that I think that the way we do things is a bit fucked up. I think that there are problems. I think that men have and take advantage of privileges and advantages that women don’t have. Yes, you, white straight guy. I’m speaking to you. I’m saying to you, you have advantages that I don’t. And if you’re not paying attention to that, if you’re not asking why that is so, you are just quietly maintaining the status quo. You are complicit in patriarchy. And I’m not ok with that. I’m not going to let you rest easy on that. I’m going to be the pebble in your shoe. I’m not going to sit down and shoosh. And it’s not going to be comfortable for you. It shouldn’t be. Because patriarchy is not fucking comfortable for me.

Our culture makes things easier for you, men. You have advantages. As I say in that podcast, I doubt anyone says to you, male lead, “Oh, you’re being the boy?” or even comments at all on the fact that someone of your gender is choosing to lead in a workshop. But for me, it is so common it’s normal. But it’s also a constant niggling question of my right to be in a class as a lead. It’s a continual itching doubt that I am a ‘real’ lead. Because apparently real leads are all men. And of course, women are complicit in patriarchy by doing things like policing gender roles by asking women if they are ‘being the boy’, or asking a teacher to have men give up following so they can lead (and rebalance the gender/lead-follow ratio).

So this is why I am not so much ‘actively involved with feminism’ or a feminist project. I am a feminist project. I am feminism. I am a feminist. And feminism is about dissension. It’s about destabilising. It’s about being a good goddamn pain in the arse. I’m quite used to being thought of as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘difficult woman’.
So when I enter professional relationships and interactions in the lindy hop world today, I go in reminding myself that I am awesome. It’s very important to enter these interactions with confidence. With rock solid confidence in your decisions, your ideas, your skills. A lot of confidence. You must be as iron-clad in your determination as a man would be. Even though a man doesn’t have to deal with all the niggling critiques and policing. Because as a woman, you will be confronted or bullied or tested by men.

I saw it happening in Herrang, in a range of contexts – male teachers testing female teachers, male students testing female students, male DJs testing female DJs, male everyone testing female organisers and administrators. Some things that happened to me at Herrang this year and last, as a woman DJ, that didn’t happen to male DJs:
– I had my ‘knobs twiddled’ without permission by other other DJs while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “You need to fix the levels” instead of “Are the levels ok? It’s a bit squeaky where I was?”
– Male DJs physically took up more space than I did in the DJ booth while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “Do you just DJ locally?” instead of just assuming as they do with other men that I was actually an experienced DJ who’d DJed overseas and nationally for years (and hence meant to be there).
– A male DJ described going to DJ blues as “Going to get some pussies wet” in front of me, and blanched a little when I replied “I took a few dance classes today and that did the job for me.” Apparently pussies are things you do things to, rather than things you have for some male DJs.
– Male DJs assumed I was much younger than I am, and were patronising until they discovered my real age (and dancing and DJing experience).

…and there were many more incidences. These were all from male DJs who are very nice guys, who were generally very good to work with. But these are the sorts of micro-incidences that remind me that I am a woman, and that challenge me.

And the only real way to deal with this, as a woman professional in lindy hop, is to say to yourself:

“I am a professional.”
“I know my shit. I am a fucking good DJ/organiser/manager/dancer.”
“Here are my accomplishments, here is my history, where I did a bloody good job.”
“When I speak, I know what I am talking about, so I will speak with confidence, and in declarative statements, not questions.”
“When I make my needs and requirements clear to a man, I know what I’m saying, and I don’t need to justify myself.”
“When I challenge a man for his behaviour, I am doing the right thing. I am in the right. I am justified in my call. And he should respect that.”
“When I am challenged or tested by a man simply because I’m a woman and he’s used to being an alpha in interactions with women I should feel good about stepping up and pushing back. I should – I will – push back.”
“I will not second-guess myself and my actions as an employer or manager. I will not verbally justify my decisions or authority with someone I’ve employed. I am the boss, I’m good at it, and I am here to kick heads and take names.”
“As a woman boss or employer or manager, I don’t have to become a jerkface bloke, or take on hegemonic modes of management or problem solving. I can be collaborative and gentle. I can talk about how I feel, and I can take into account my peers’ feelings. I can be emotionally honest without being manipulative. And I can still be an arse-kickingly good boss. This does not make me weak or unprofessional.”

I also think it’s essential to be supportive of other women. And to remember that men who push or challenge are often feeling a lack of self confidence. The difficult male DJ is feeling doubts about his ability, and not sure you’re a decent manager. So you need to convince him, through your confident manner, that you are capable, and that he can trust you to set reasonable limits and be his guide and manager. Yes, it sucks to have to mother these fucktards (god, emotional labour, much?), but just assume that they’re little babies and need to be babbied.
When you’re working with other women, you need to let them know that you think they’re legit. Sisterhood is powerful, but collaboration is mighty. Lindy hop teaches us how to work with other people in close, emotionally intense partnerships. We can definitely take that to our off-dance-floor professional relationships.

So, yes, I am involved with feminism. In the most intimate of ways. I am a feminist.

Beginner dancers are perfect

So, we continue with our project to actively prevent sexual harassment in our lindy hop scene.
You can read about our three part strategy here. Our Code of Conduct has come together, we’ve been working on our in-class teaching tools for at least 3 months now, and we have begun doing some direct intervention with offenders. 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.

Reading and writing this makes me feel good:

Statement of Intent
We believe in jazz music and dance. We believe in the best throw-down, heart-stopping lindy hop, and that every song should be a solid sender that makes you leap to your feet. We believe that every dancer and musician has a right to good feels.

We are stepping UP. We do not tolerate harassment or bullying, and are actively working to prevent sexual harassment in the swing dance scene.

You are WITH us on this. In joining us on the dance floor or agreeing to work with us as a teacher, DJ, musician, sound engineer, volunteer, performer, or event manager, you agree to treat all participants with care and respect and to abide by our code of conduct. You also accept that all minors must be accompanied by an adult.

Code of Conduct
1. There’s room for all of us on the dance floor.
2. We’re looking out for our peeps.
3. Talk nice.
4. Your body is important.
5. Be ok with people saying no.
6. You can say no.
7. Play safe.

And last night in a particularly large, boisterous, fun, beginners’ class, we had some really great feedback from students on our ‘how to give feedback to your partner’ tool.

We decided a while ago that we needed to directly address how to give feedback to your partner in class. We’d had some in-class ‘teaching’ from experienced students, we’d seen that people were already figuring out how to work collaboratively in our intermediate class, and we’d decided that we needed to tool women dancers up with the skills to say ‘no!’ to dodgy touching from male partners. We wanted to create a culture of respect for our own and our partner’s bodies, and of being ok with articulating your limits and and boundaries.

So we got serious.

All of us teaching in the teaching team (there are 4 of us teaching in varying partnerships) had begun talking about how to touch your partner the right way. We usually just explained it as “Don’t put your hand too low because it’s weird and creepy,” which is a very common approach. But that didn’t feel like enough. And it’s really not addressing the whole range of ways we can touch each other. And we were generally shifting away from just listing ‘rules’ in our teaching anyway. We wanted people to find out for themselves why we might do things in a particular way, and we wanted them to be aware of their own actions and how they communicated with their partners. Because just telling someone isn’t teaching or learning. Figuring things out for yourself is learning. Good teaching is about facilitating learning, not dictating rules.

I can’t remember how it happened exactly, but I know in our class we were just in a beginner class one night, and we’d had a few conversations earlier in our teaching team about what women should do when men touch their boobs or hold them too tight. We knew we should just SAY “Stop that!” but we all knew how difficult that could be.

So anyway, we were in class. And we got to a part where we’d usually say “Don’t put your hand too low here, leads…” blah blah. Instead we posed it like a question: “So what do we do if our partner’s squeezing our hand too tightly or their hand is too low?”
And then we sort of role played it:

Teacher A: Hey, you’re squeezing my hand a bit – can you can loosen your fingers a bit please?
Teacher B: Oh, sorry, I didn’t realise! There, is that better?
Teacher A: Yep, that’s great, thanks!

We try to make it a really casual, no worries, no stress sort of exchange, to model how giving and receiving feedback is no big thing.

It’s always funny to watch, and people laugh. We don’t do it in a preachy way, we do it a lol way, because it’s actually really funny and kind of strange to role play this stuff.
But then we said to them, “Ok you guys, I want the leads to say to the follows, “Is my hand ok here, should it be higher or lower?” and then follows, tell them. And then, the magic: they immediately had a very loud, engaged conversation with their partner! ALL of them!

It was SO EXCITING!

After that point, we could just say, “Ok, can you check in with your partner to see if the connection is ok, please?” and they’d just DO it! It was very, very exciting. Very exciting.

Since then we’ve streamlined it a bit. When we first say, “Can you just check in with your partner,” they often assume it’s a sort of rhetorical question. But then we say, “No, can you actually do it right now, please.” We say, “Can you ask your partner, ‘how does that feel for you?’. Newcomers to our intermediate class often just reply to their partner “Fine”, but if I hear any of those rote politeness answers, I say, “No, I want you to give your partner actual feedback on how that actually feels.” And then they do. Because it’s not enough to just tell them they can do these things. You have to actually have them PRACTICE it. You have to push through the ‘polite don’t cause trouble ‘fine’ response’, particularly for women responding to men. You have to make it clear that ‘fine’ isn’t enough – your partner wants actual feedback, so you have to figure out how to give useful feedback.
It’s exactly like when you explain how to do a particular move. Explaining to them, then them nodding is useless. You have to explain, then they DO it, immediately afterwards.

This has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in my teaching, ever. Stops me talking too much. Makes them masters of their own dancing and bodies. It’s something that might stress you if you’re the sort of teacher who’s used to micromanaging a class, and standing in the middle of the circle being the centre of attention. But you have to – step out of that circle. Let them make mistakes and then figure it out themselves.

In an extension of this, I’ve also started talking to the follows about how they touch the leads, and what this can say to the leads. My favourite thing at the moment is to talk about how the follow’s left hand on the lead’s right shoulder is an important way for the follow to give feedback to the lead. I often use the expression, “This is how you reassure the lead. The way you put your hand on their shoulder tells them that you have confidence in them, and that you trust them.”

I started talking about this in a class where I was explaining how I danced with very new dancers, or with leads who were freaking: I just relaxed my body as much as I could, and tried to communicate to my partner that I was totally chilled. Because if I touch them with stress, they get stressed.
When I talk about it in class, I say this “This is the hand of reassurance” to the follows, and they usually then reply with “Oh, if I hold my hand like this” and they scrunch up their hands or let their arms hover, “It says I’m feeling scared or don’t trust them.” If they don’t see that connection, I explain it (in a nice way). The goal here is not to tell students “Don’t hold your hand like that,” but to say to students, “The way you touch your partner communicates how you feel to them,” and then letting them figure out what they want to communicate to their partner.
I had a moment like this in class last night. An older woman was doing the arm-hover, fingers-pinch left hand, and she was also doing some really disconnected footwork which was making it tricky for the leads to lead. So I explained the ‘this is how we reassure the leads’ thing. And she figured out straight away that she needed to think about how she was communicating with her partner.
This is especially good for follows because it stops them getting into that ‘the leads not doing it right’ loop, and it makes them think about themselves as an active part of the partnership. I never say this bit, but it also improves their connection so the leads can feel their weight changes and be more effective leads.
Of course, all this does actually make the leads relax and feel more confident. :D

This was really an extension of a talk we’d had in the intermediate class about how connection between partners isn’t a one-way street where leads signal to follows. It’s a two-way, and constant communication, where follows return the energy the lead gives, and leads constantly listen to the follow, to see how they’re balanced, what they’re digging, whether they’re going to bring some improvisation.
If you’re engaged with your partner as a living, thinking, feeling human like this, you’re also going to be doing empathy, and less likely to sexual harass them, or throw them into unwanted dips or lifts. It makes me quite tired to have to keep doing this, but we have to teach men how to think of women as active agents, capable of making their own decisions. We have to teach men that they aren’t the boss, and they aren’t always right. They have to work in cooperation with women, not in control of them. Fraternity not patriarchy. The ‘reassuring arm’ is a way of saying to men, “You don’t have to feel insecure in this new equal relationship. We don’t have to have a boss and a submissive in this team; we can be equals and it’ll be ok. Your partner is with you; we can both rock feminism together.”

I find that even the most ‘unsexist’ of men can find this difficult, because they have a lifetime of gender programming to overcome. You can often talk the talk, and your brain can understand that you have to think of women as equals, but it’s much harder to undo the unconscious ways of using your body and occupying space that the privileges of patriarchy give men. Manspreading: it is about patriarchal colonisation of space. Lindy hop: it teaches you how to be a feminist.

This is turn developed from a conversation about bounce and finding a shared sense of bounce or time or rhythm with your partner: you spend time in closed at the beginning of a dance, where you have all that physical contact in a moment of chill. Here, you both work to find a shared sense of bounce and timing. No one sacrifices their bounce or rhythm, you just work to find a compromise. A shared sense of music which is a combination of you both. We all know this is magic.
I don’t think we talk enough about how follows contribute to the partnership. I still treasure a moment where Naomi Uyama explained her role when she’s following is to maintain the beat and rhythm when a ‘storm of rhythm is coming at you’ (she was teaching with Skye): she stays cool. I also like Ramona’s line: follows, don’t ever sacrifice your rhythms for the lead’s.

Anyhow, all this stuff is something we can talk about with beginner dancers, and we SHOULD, right from their first class. Because classes are about teaching us how to social dance, right? We use Lennart’s approach to teaching lindy hop, where the beginner classes teach you to social dance right from the start. The students count themselves in, they decide which steps to do in which order, they can stop and restart whenever they like. None of this ‘calling steps’ and dancing fixed sequences. And you let them dance for a loooong time with the same partner. Last night they danced a WHOLE Song with a partner, just 20 minutes into class, and it was FANTASTIC! They dance really well, and learn how to do floor craft (we encourage them to move around the dance floor), how to apologise, how to stop and start, how to lead and follow, what to do when you confused. We stop them every now and then to give tips, but we keep it practical – how do you improve your communication? What do you do if this happens?

Any how, students can do this immediately, from their very first class. And they fucking LOVE this type of class. You can see them approach a problem (‘why isn’t this working?’), work together to resolve it, then resolve it and literally cheer together. The noise level is incredible. The laughing and talking and shouting out with excitement. It’s just wonderful. And we just float around the class giving tips and feedback. Our focus is always on safety and mutual respect, and we resist the urge to tidy or ‘fix’; we give them a lot of time to figure things out with their partner. And they make their own fun, they find that real joy in solving problems together, and then just enjoying music, being awesome and victorious.

So, giving them tools for giving and receive feedback is essential to this approach. And, honestly, they love it. And once you’ve shown them once, they just do it themselves during the class. And then you can continue to dismantle the conditions that enable sexual harassers.

To finish off this long story, last night after class I was chatting to some of the students, and they said that they particularly loved that part of the class where we explained how to give feedback, and then had them try it. They said it was really FUN, and really helpful. This surprised me. I don’t often think of this as fun, I think of it as practical. But they really liked it.

And you know, it’s true – it is fun. When we first say “Ok, do it,” in class, there’s this sudden rush of noise and really enthusiastic conversation that’s quite surprising. It’s not angry talk, it’s this loud, cheery laughing talk. It’s as though people have been waiting all day to actually talk to someone in a meaningful way. I know follows like it, but leads like it too. And they are really good at it. They’re respectful and nice to each other.

Humans are just so fucking amazing.

Jazz is fun

I had a little ramble on Leigh’s fb page today. So here it is, where it should be, on my blog, not someone else’s fb page.

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Hey, I have to share this photo of our class last night. This was a group of about 40 people, most of whom had never really heard jazz or swing before. It was really exciting when a student asked us to explain who the song we were dancing to was by, and what it was called, because he wanted to go and buy it so he could listen to it again. Right then and there, someone was interested enough to stop a class and ask for details so he could own that music himself.

I love jazz music for its own sake, but jazz dance really is a direct route to jazz love.

I get esp cranky at the implication that jazz is something you sit politely and quietly to or watch. Art should be something anyone get involved in. Whether you’re sitting and listening or up and dancing. Jazz is wonderful because it invites engagement – musicians improvising, audiences shouting out in reply, dancers making it visible.

….there’s something really wonderful about a room full of people discovering jazz for the first time. And the truly magic part of a beginners’ dance class is that this group of people are actively taking hold of jazz and using it, exploring it, figuring out how it works in a practical way. For the very first time! And with such enthusiasm! They learn about swinging timing, about the beat, about phrasing, about breaks, about improvisation in a very relaxed, fun way, by moving their bodies.
It’s kind of the opposite of an institutionalised ‘art’ practice – it’s about taking a music and seeing how useful and practical it can be. Does it make me move? Is it fun? Will it make me happy? Can I work with this? It’s a very rigorous, demanding engagement with music which makes _everyone_ both an art user and _maker_ – audience and creator. And it happens in an ordinary space (the Petersham Bowlo :D), by ordinary people, saying “Hey, musicians, what have you GOT for me? Step up!”
These guys don’t have any time for music that doesn’t bring the feels or the energy, or _something_.

….the creative stuff is wonderful, but the best bit – the bit that makes jazz worthwhile – is that it makes people laugh out loud, talk really loudly, and actively engage with everyone in the room in creative play. It just brings the good goddamm feels.

All this to a recorded song. When it’s a live band. Well. That is just wonderful. There isn’t anything better.

Let’s get material about sexual harassment

As part of my 3-part response to sexual harassment in the lindy scene, I’ve started getting keen on the idea of visual assets. ie paper postcards, a useful website, etc.

My 3-part response:
1. Develop a code of conduct.
This is basically a set of ‘rules’, but also a clear statement of intent.
– the in-progress code of conduct and sexual harassment policy I’m developing

2. Working towards cultural change through:

Teaching in a way which explicitly helps women feel confident and strong, and provides tools for men looking to redefine how they do masculinity.
– using tools like the ones I outline in Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer and Uses of history: Frankie as teaching tool

Teaching in a way which implicitly discourages sexual harassment, by encouraging good communication between leads and follows.
– I am keen on the rhythm centred approach as a practical strategy. Less hippy talk, more dancing funs.
– I like simple things like talking to both men and women about being ok with people saying no to you.

3. Developing strategies for actually confronting men about their behaviour.

– I talked about how I do this in class in Dealing with problem guys in dance classes
– I’m working up to addressing the more nebulous issue of sexual harassment by practicing on more concrete stuff like telling men to stop pulling aerials on the social floor
– Talking to and about men confronting other men. Because it’s men who are doing the dodgy stuff in most of these cases, and we need to ask men to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether those actions are harassment, or condoning/enabling harassment by not using their power to speak up.

Working on this, I’ve discovered that a bunch of words is next to useless. We need simple graphics, pictures and posters. Using a range of resources (the AFL’s response to sexual assault is particularly powerful and useful), I’m thinking that we need to add a few things to the prevention/response strategies. I’m considering making up a simple, powerful website and postcard outlining what’s ok, and what’s not. They have to have a light-hearted, fun vibe (because lindy hop), but they also have to be very useful and not too twee. The tone of these texts should suit the vibe of my business, but also give an idea of national and international lindy hop culture (as if there was such an homogenous thing!)
These two assets could work in concert with a poster or sign, and with a practical training program for teachers, door staff, and ‘safety officers’ (ie the people you go to when you need help).

Luckily, lindy hoppers have already gotten on to this. We actually have a discourse of ‘etiquette’, which is the way we manage and control social interactions in our scene. We also talk a lot about ‘floor craft’, which is another way of managing how we take care of ourselves and others on the dance floor. The basic message of both is ‘Look out for others or you won’t get any dances.” Lindy hop has a powerful shaming tool at its disposal, and we should make greater use of it.

I think we can just tweak these two sets of ‘rules’ a little to make them a bit more powerful and directly address sexual harassment and assault. A lot of dancers don’t want to address rape and sexual harassment explicitly because it’s a downer (and lindy hop is supposed to be all happy clappy all the time), and it’s a bit of a social taboo to talk about sex and sexual violence in an explicit way. And it’s really difficult to talk about sexual assault and violence without actually talking about breasts, vulvas, vaginas, penises, bottoms, and how we touch and use them.
Added to this are the broader social myths about women’s bodies, women’s sexuality, and men’s sexuality. The bottom line in responding to sexual harassment and assault is that you have to accept that it’s about power and violence more than it’s about sex and sexuality, and you have to accept that patriarchy exists. A tall order for people who ‘just want to dance’.

But I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when there’s fab stuff like this around:

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This is an etiquette guide produced by Holy Lindy Land, the Israeli lindy hop community. Which of course you should know about, because they sent an open letter of peace and friendship to the lindy hoppers of Palestine, which makes me cry like a little baby with the love. (You can read more about the two scenes’ work in this lovely piece).

I like this poster because it does simple things like replace my awkward description

Avoid ‘boob swipes’, touching a partner’s bottom, groin, upper legs – you know the deal. If you accidentally do so, apologise immediately. If you do this repeatedly, you will be warned, if not ejected from the event.

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I think that lindy hop could also do with some of the sharper edged humour that would help us get real about sexual harassment.

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There was a most excellent swing memes thread on yehoodi years ago, where most of the images are sadly missing now :( I’m especially fond of Good Guy Greg.
And of course tumblr brings the gif with people like lindy hop problems.

But these are, of course, not ‘official’ responses to sexual harassment. They are very important, because they give us a way to comment on issues, and also to ‘talk back to power’ if we don’t think organisations are stepping up.

I’m thinking something by an artist like Tomeito would be pretty useful:

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At any rate, I’m working on it. Slowly but surely…. :D

Resources:

  • Mobtown ballroom code of conduct (casual, human tone to the talk)
  • the SES (State Emergency Services) position sexual harassment as an occupational health and safety issue rather than a ‘women’s issue’ or ‘sexual issue’, and have some EXCELLENT training material available
  • AFL (Australian Football League) have Respect and Responsibility, a hardcore response to s.h. and assault which targets men (because it is a male-dominated sport), and uses the Australian discourses of ‘mateship’, ‘team’ and community responsibility (or club-loyalty) through the language of the sport (‘taking the tackle’ etc) in a powerful way. Their posters are great. I admit it, my Uses of History: Frankie as Teaching Tool in-class strategies are an attempt to do the same thing. To use the language and model of our most important and powerful cultural imagery as a strategy for dealing with sexual harassment.
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (for identifying and defining s.h., and researching the legal status of s.h.). My federal government’s current push to destabilise and ultimately destroy the AHRC is making me very angry.
    AHRC’s ‘know the line’ campaign, which feels a bit naff to me, but uses a strong poster campaign and website/poster tie-in.

Uses of history: Frankie as teaching tool

A discussion came up on the facey the other day about how leads can deal with rough follows. It caught my eye, because I’d just had a dance with someone the night before which was particularly rough. I was leading, and the follow really moved herself through steps in a fierce way which left me feeling a bit sore. It also dovetailed nicely with my ongoing thinking about how to prevent sexual harassment in lindy hop.

On that last topic, I’m approaching this with a different strategies:

  • Developing a clear code of conduct for behaviour
    – (in progress)
  • Teaching in a way which helps women feel confident and strong, and provides tools for men looking to redefine how they do masculinity.
    – using tools like the ones I outline in Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer
  • Teaching in a way which encourages good communication between leads and follows.
    – I am keen on the rhythm centred approach as a practical strategy. Less hippy talk, more dancing funs.
    – I like simple things like talking to both men and women about being ok with people saying no to you.
  • Developing strategies for actually confronting men about their behaviour.
    – I talked about how I do this in class in Dealing with problem guys in dance classes
    – I am totally ok with telling men to stop pulling aerials on the social floor because it’s a clear ‘rule’, but more ambiguous stuff is stumping me
    – I’m trying to figure out how to do it in other non-class settings
    – I’d like to find a way to skill up men so they can do this stuff too; ie it’s not just women’s jobs to deal with men sexually harassing women.

I seriously believe that feminist work needs to be practical. High theory and abstract conversation is very important, but for me pragmatic feminism means actually doing things. It’s important because it powers me up and makes me feel strong, but it’s also important because you know – actually DOING something. It can be quite hard and scary sometimes, because you are agitating, you are disturbing the status quo and you will attract some shit. Men don’t like to be told they’re doing dodgy stuff (and lefty men get particularly upset by this), especially when it’s a woman telling them. They often respond with physical intimidation, which is scary. And there can be social consequences for women which suck in a social dance community like lindy hop.
So, for me, I try to do this work in a way which isn’t too confronting or frightening for me. And which isn’t too confronting for other people. Feminism by stealth.

Where does Frankie Manning fit into all this?

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock (or are just new to lindy hop), Frankie Manning was one of the best dancers, choreographers, and troupe leaders of the swing era (1930s-40s). He’s generally positioned as ‘second generation lindy hop’, and credited with inventing the first public air step with his partner Freda Washington.
More importantly for modern lindy hoppers, he came out of retirement in his 60s to ‘teach us how to dance’. He taught people to lindy hop from the 80s until he passed away at 94 in 2008.
He wasn’t (and isn’t) the only old timer to do this. But most significantly, he had a very joyful, accessible approach to dancing, he didn’t mind that we all sucked, and he was prepared to work with complete amateurs, even though he really didn’t have any experience teaching total noobs or of teaching in a formal classroom context.

So Frankie holds a special place in many modern lindy hoppers’ hearts, and many of us take his example as near-gospel.
There are a range of problems with this approach, and I talk about them in Uses of history: a revivalist mythology. I basically say that I think we should be wary of uncritically using Frankie and his approach when we teach and talk about lindy hop. There are a host of political issues to consider when we appropriate his image and approach, both in terms of race, ethnicity and class, but also in terms of gender. Basically, he wasn’t perfect, and we have to be careful we don’t literally use him and his work for our own ends. And we have to be careful about how we use historical discourse in our classes.

So that’s my disclaimer, really: the next bit of this post is written with an awareness that I am a white, middle class woman writing in a developed, urban city in the 21st century. I am taking the words and teaching of a black, working class man of the early 20th century and using them for my own ends. I try to couch that with respect to Frankie’s memory, by name checking him and giving him credit for his work. I direct students to footage of his dancing, and to his own words.
I also make it clear that I am framing his work from my own POV and goals as a teacher and dancer. I didn’t know Frankie, and I only met him a few times and learnt from him a few times. So I tread lightly in his memory, and I try not to speak for him. But I am inspired him – by his dancing, by footage of his classes, by the mark he left on dancers who I learn from now and admire very much. I try to work with respect for his memory and for his work; he is an elder in our community, a custodian of knowledge, and important.

So here is something I wrote on the facey.
It’s about how I ‘use Frankie Manning’ in class to counter misogyny and sexism and to promote a type of connection that privileges creative collaboration, mutual respect, joy in dancing, and flat out badarse dancing.

I have trouble with rough follows every now and then. Especially ones who’re in troupes or do a lot of performing. They’re used to really physically strong leads (I don’t have the upper body strength of a man). I’ve had some bad shoulder and back twinges lately, despite my best efforts to improve my own technique, core stability and so on. As with dealing with rough leads when I’m following, I figure a rough follow is a partner who isn’t listening or paying attention to me because they’re stressing. At least I hope that’s what it is – it’d break my heart if rough follows were deliberately rough.

So the first thing I do if my partner is a bit rough, is to get us in closed position and tell a joke. But not too close a closed position, especially if they’re a woman who’s obviously weirded out by dancing with another woman. I’ll try to do something to distract the follow from being fierce and doing what they think I’m leading. Once we’re both chilled, and paying more attention to each other, I do super simple steps with a lot of emphasis on jazz feels and call and response – they do something, I echo it. That helps us both get on the same page. Then I build it out from there, adding in open position, etc etc.

So my first response to a rough follow is to become a really clear, yet incredibly gentle, responsive lead. And I make my basics the very best I can, so they feel confidence in me.

I’ve been using Frankie Manning as a good guide for safe dancing lately when I’m teaching. He would usually teach from the lead’s perspective, so I find it very helpful as a lead working to make a dance with a follow really comfortable and nice.

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That means I’m emphasising:

Looking into your partner’s face.
This is the most important thing I know about lindy hop. LOOKING into your partner’s face. It was the one big thing I learnt in the Frankie track at Herrang last year (where all the classes were taught by people who’d worked closely with Frankie). Once I noticed it, I was stunned by how infrequently partners look into each other’s faces.

It’s good for your alignment and posture relative to your partner, but it’s also good for making you connect with another human as a person, it helps you learn to observe your partner and recognise when they feel pain/scared/happy and it’s good for making you lol.

-> follows are less likely to throw themselves through steps if they’re looking at your face and seeing you flinch in pain. They’re also distracted from the move by the genuine human connection, so they stop pre-empting or rushing or panicking.

Call and response rhythms as fun steps.
They make you pay a LOT of attention to your partner, visually and physically, so you can ‘hear’ what they’re doing rhythmically. This is good for interpersonal communication (how is my partner feeling?) and learning how to recognise physical signals (what does a suddenly-tight arm tell me when I combine it with their facial expression?)

-> this is the next level of looking at your partner. So follows stop pre-empting and are really there with you. And because you’re really listening to them (everyone calls, everyone follows), they feel like you’re listening to them, so they feel more confident and worry less about ‘getting it right’ and rushing or hurting you.

Your partner is the queen of the world.
We say this a lot: your partner is the queen of the world (whether they’re leading or following, male, female, whatevs). This means that you have to look at them (and we model how to be impressed by/respond to your partner positively), and the ‘queen’ should then feel confident enough to bring their shit.
This teaches you to be connected emotionally with your partner, and to recognise how your positive response to a partner’s dancing can make them feel good and then bring their best shit.

-> follows bring incredible swivels and generally become the queen of the world. They pay more attention to you as a lead, and they feel like you’re really listening to them, so they reciprocate.

Scatting.
Brilliant for improving your dancing, but when your partner is scatting, you can hear them, so you’re connected with them in an additional way.

-> makes follows lol.

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Frankie thought the most important lindy step was the promenade*.
It’s in closed position, it requires lots of communication to walk together without kicking each other, and it has lots and lots of variations with lots of different emotions. It teaches you to communicate with someone, and you have to look into each other’s faces a lot, and be ok with that.
You get to hold someone in your arms, which means you have to be respectful.

*Lennart says so, so it’s probably true :D

-> I find some follows aren’t so ok with being so close, so I have to pay really close attention to them to find the ‘comfortable’ distance/connection. This makes me do my very best dancing. I try to put me in front first, so the follow feels more comfortable (follow first means they’re walking backwards – eeek!). I do pecks to make them lol, or rhythmic variations. I respond to the variations they bring.

You’re in love for 3 minutes.
Doesn’t have to be romantic love. But for that 3 minutes, this person is the most important person in the world. You look at them, you lead steps you think they’re like, you do your best to realise the step or move their aiming for, you work to make this dance work.
To me, this is excellent mindfulness. It makes it hard to be rough with your partner. And when someone is feeding all those good vibes back at you, you smile and do your very best dancing.

-> follows become the queen of the world. They listen to you, and even better, they bring things to the dance.

I think it’s worth looking at a video of Frankie teaching to see how he did this stuff:

Frankie Manning’s Class part 2

I don’t think his approach is 100% excellent. He does drive the class, he uses gendered language, etc etc. But he is the ‘star’ teacher, and his teaching partner partner is his assistant – this is very clear. He uses gendered language because he is explicitly thinking about male leads and female follows, and his talk about respectful dancing uses this gendered dichotomy. I’m not excusing this, I’m pointing it out. And here I can make this point: while I dig a lot of what Frankie is doing in this video, he’s not perfect, and I actually find that reassuring. He wasn’t a saint, he was a real person, and when we idolise dancers, we need to keep that in mind: we don’t excuse their faults because we love their dancing.

A couple of things I like about this class:

at about 4.44: “If you find yourself falling, and he does not stop you from falling…. take him with you.” I LOLed when I heard this. But it’s a nice, simple way of saying ‘look out for each other!’ and reminding women that they aren’t passive objects here.

11.48: Frankie tackles inappropriate contact “Fellas, don’t take advantage…. we are just dancin’
Nuff said, really.

With all this talk about Frankie, I think it’s worth pointing out:
When you watch footage of younger Frankie (ie in his 60s, and 20s), he seems quite ‘rough’ or ‘strong’ compared to modern dancers. Is this in conflict with this ethos of mutual respect in lindy hop?

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(photo credit: I found this pic via an image search on google, and it’s hosted by Swungover, but chrome crashed and I couldn’t find the page again! argh! So I don’t know who the photographer is!)

This is a tricky one, but I think it’s where we’re really done a disservice by the lack of attention to the original women lindy hoppers who danced with Frankie teaching us today. I suspect that women followers were a different breed too. When you watch historic footage, you see that they fiercely took space, and matched their partner’s intensity. So Frankie might have had a partner who was confident enough to take space, and to be a little less submissive and a little more determined to shine.
I have no evidence for this, and it probably reveals my own lack of dance knowledge and skill. But I’m wondering if we need to have a look at old footage in a new way. I’m thinking of the way Janice Wilson used to talk about Ann Johnson, and the fierceness of her swivels. And of course, you have to think of Norma Miller when you think about fierce women lindy hoppers.

At any rate, this brings us back to the idea of how we might use history when we talk about lindy hop partnerships. And I have no real, final answers, of course, just a bunch of poorly practiced ideas.

Be ok with people saying no to you

This post is a three-parter.

Part one: Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?
Part two: Be ok with people saying no to you.
Part three: Part two a: How To Get A Date With A Lindy Hopper, by Sam (currently entrenched in a happy, healthy 13 year relationship with a lindy hopper)

So my current issue or Small Item Of Note is working on the idea that we all have to be ok with people knocking us back when we ask them to dance.

There is this persistent idea in the lindy hop world that we should always say yes to every dance invitation. So that we can make everyone feel welcome and everyone feel comfortable in our scene.

My thing is this: I don’t want everyone to feel comfortable. I want those men who exploit this idea to feel very uncomfortable. I want them to think twice before they ask a woman to dance. I want them to hesitate. In fact, I don’t want them in the room at all. They are not welcome. THEY ARE NOT WELCOME. This behaviour will NOT be tolerated.

If women feel ok about saying ‘No thanks’ to dance invites, they will say no to dance invites. And when the men who ask them to dance risk a ‘no’, they will do their best to make sure they are desirable dance partners. They’ll behave well. They won’t grope or hold a woman too tight. They won’t pressure them for their phone number or stalk them on facebook. They won’t become aggressive arseholes telling women off because they said ‘no thanks’. They’ll figure out that if they act like arseholes, they’ll get their just desserts: no one will dance with them. They won’t be welcome.

Right now, reading this, I know some of you women will be thinking, “But what if no one ever asks me to dance again? What if they’re too scared to ask me, if they think I’ll say no?” It’s just like dating, right? Some men are going to be too afraid to ask you. And that’s ok. You don’t have to make it easy for every man to get all up in your face asking you for a date or dance invitation. You’re not there for their pleasure. You’re there for you. But you’ll also find that plenty of other men will be totally ok with asking you, even if they know you might say no.

And – wrap your brain around this stunner –

you should be ok with asking men to dance.

The idea that only ‘gentlemen ask ladies to dance’? Throw that in the BIN. It is bad news. BAD, bad news. You can totally ask anyone to dance! Ask that man! Ask that woman! Dance on your own! They may say no, they may say yes. You don’t know until you ask!

So let’s workshop this sucker.

You want to dance. So you approach person X because they look a) friendly, b) nice, c) unsweaty, d) like a great dancer, e) your best friend. Whatevs it is that attracts you.
You rock on up, smile, look them in the eye and say “Hi, would you like to dance?”

Ok, there are two possible responses:

“No thank you”
or
“Yes please.”

If they say “No thank you,” say “Hey, no worries, maybe later?” and then move on and ask someone else to dance. If they say “Yeah, sure,” in reply to that, here’s a tip:

it is not a legal contract requiring them to dance with you later. It could just be social pleasantries, a way of being nice and helping you save face.

Here’s another tip: someone can say “No thanks,” to you every single time you ask them to dance. And that’s ok. You need to suck that up. Because they just don’t want to dance with you. THEY DON’T WANT TO DANCE WITH YOU. Their reasons are none of your business. Just deal with it.

Another tip: if you keep asking, and they keep saying no, there is something wrong with you. BACK OFF, BUDDY. STOP ASKING. It’s CREEPY.

Wait, even scarier: what if they say “Yes please”?
Tip: you get on out there and be a decent human being so they may say yes to you again in the future. And because there are heaps of other people in the room too, and they’re watching you dance. Yes, they are. It’s social dancing, yo – we are all watching each other! Because we are in a public place.

Tip: if you are a decent human being while you dance, there is a good chance SOMEONE MAY ASK YOU TO DANCE. INORITE?! OMG!

Tip: if you are not a decent human being, you’re going to get a) boycotted by prospective dance partners, b) told to stop being a dick by other people.*

‘Decent human being dancing’:

  • Don’t touch any breasts, bums, groins, thighs (hips are ok), necks. I know you might think doing this ‘by accident’ is ok, but it’s not – if you are paying attention to your partner, you will never accidentally ‘boob swipe’. PAY ATTENTION.
  • Don’t hurt anyone (ie treat them like they’re humans you could hurt – no wrenching, yanking, pulling, pushing, pinching, punching, lifting, dropping, kicking). NO aerials without previous, off-dancefloor enthusiastic vocal consent. None of this ‘I thought she was up for it’ talk. NO. STOP.
  • Don’t talk about sex, don’t ask for their number (it could be ok to give them yours, but they’re not obliged to use it), don’t ask them on a date (until you have met them more than once), don’t talk about how your bf/gf/wife/husband doesn’t understand you and then ask them for a date.
  • If you wouldn’t do it to someone in the street, don’t do it to someone here on the dance floor.

Right now I can hear some of the sadder members of our community saying

“But how do you get a date with someone in the scene if there are so many rules?”

Firstly: I am sighing at you, manbabies. You need to get some social skills, you really do.

Secondly: being a grown up decent human being: there are rules. Get fucking used to it. Level up and stop being such a fucking sook.

Thirdly: How To Get A Date With A Lindy Hopper, by Sam (currently entrenched in a happy, healthy 13 year relationship with a lindy hopper)

*That’s you. Anyone can tell someone to stop being a dick. You don’t have to be a teacher or a famous person. You can just be you. Tell that person to stop that. It’s ok. It’s legit. You can be a man or a woman – just say it: “Hey man, better quit touching women’s bums when they’re dancing. It gives them the shits and it’s making me cranky.”

Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?

This post is a three-parter.

Part one: Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?
Part two: Be ok with people saying no to you.
Part three a: How To Get A Date With A Lindy Hopper, by Sam (currently entrenched in a happy, healthy 13 year relationship with a lindy hopper)

So, since that incident a few weeks ago when the lindy hop world were faced with incontrovertible evidence that sexual assault happens in the lindy hop world (and that it might in fact happen everywhere), we’ve seen a series of responses:

  • Shock and disbelief.
    People simply couldn’t accept that someone they admired/hired/learnt from/loved attacked people. So they got angry about it and blamed the victims of his actions for their distress. Either explicitly or implicitly.
  • A lot of talk about ‘victim blaming’ and what it meant.
    A lot of the people who were shocked and disbelieving were doing ‘victim blaming’ but weren’t ok with admitting it. Understandably. First your hero does something shocking and awful, then you’re accused of attacking the victims of shocking and awful actions.
  • People and organisations rushed to slap together ‘Codes of Conduct’.
    Some of these are wonderful, some are token gestures. I personally feel that it truly is a token gesture if you don’t
    a) have a clearly achievable process for enforcing them (or responding to breaches of these codes),
    b) make broader cultural changes, and
    c) address the fact that the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment are often the most-popular, most-liked, most-powerful people in a community. In other words, the people putting together these Codes of Conduct are quite likely to be the perpetrators. YOU could be sexually harassing someone. I have yet to see a strategy or code of conduct which deals with this issue.
  • People, organisations and individuals start talking about sexual harassment as a real thing, and not just as ‘feminist ranting’ or ‘feminist paranoia’. And they found this realisation – that it’s all true – deeply upsetting.
    Some of them have been doing brilliant work – truly wonderful Codes, response strategies, and so on. It’s been truly inspiring to see.
  • Women are speaking up.
    The women who are experiencing sexual harassment and assault are speaking up. Just in my city alone, I’ve had so many women tell stories about frightening, intimidating, harassing behaviour by men, that it just makes me want to cry. But I will NOT be overwhelmed! Men are not volcanoes or wild bears, forces of nature that we have to protect women from. Men are capable of policing their own behaviour. And it is so NOT my job. So, you men: get ready to be noticed, and to pick up your act.

All these things are great. But I don’t think they address the real causes of sexual harassment in a community: the culture itself. The power dynamics. The everyday behaviour that makes sexual assault a possible and forgiveable action. In other words, we haven’t developed broader strategies for dismantling rape culture in the lindy hop world. Mostly because it’s fucking hard. But also because it’s difficult to see how ‘small things’ that seem ok contribute to making sexual assault possible, if not easy.

I think that many of us were convinced that the lindy hop community was this magical space where hatred and violence and assault and so on didn’t exist. Because we’re lindy hoppers! We’re nice!
Those of us who have a background in feminism or gender studies, or who are, well, you know, women know that sexual harassment and assault have always existed in the lindy hop world. And have been talking about it for a while.
This community is a subset of broader ‘home’ communities and cultures. Who we are on the dance floor is a reflection of who we are and how we behave in the wider world. We simply don’t just leave all that behind when we dance with people. So because sexual assault happens in our houses, it also happens in our dance venues.

And you know what: most of the sexual assaults and the sexual harassment that happen in the lindy hop world are perpetrated by men on women.
So this is my next point, and it’s going to be controversial:

MEN. Stop raping women. Stop sexually harassing them. No, don’t give me you’re #notallmen talk. If you aren’t calling other men out on their behaviour, you’re condoning it. You are enabling rape and sexual harassment. You are an accessory to it.
So, actually, ALL MEN have an obligation to stop raping or to stop other men raping. It is your JOB. It is your DUTY. And it is your RESPONSIBILITY.

Yes, women do sexually harass men. But MEN do most of the assaulting and harassing. So let’s start right here: STOP it.

Right now it’s pretty much heart breaking to think of this. Especially if you haven’t ever really had to face this before. Especially if you’re in a position of power or relative ‘safety’, you’re a teacher or organiser.

But don’t be disheartened! Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer. You are capable of amazing things!

If I stop and think about this stuff for too long I get utterly depressed. I love jazz dance and music so much, it’s almost unbearable to think that there are people I dance with (and like!) who are out there harassing and assaulting my friends. I feel guilty and awful and powerless. But then I remind myself.

Start small.
Make incremental changes.
Change what you can.
Encourage people to be better.

I wrote this a while ago:

I think that we need to bloody well open our eyes and engage with the everyday places in our lives where we can make a difference. On the bus. At the shops. In cafes. On the dance floor. Make eye contact, hold doors open, step in when someone needs a hand, ask your employer if they do maternity leave, even if you don’t need it yourself. And I also think it’s a good idea to make it as fun as you can.
Getting angry is useful. But in and of itself, it’s not productive. You need to be an agent for positive, constructive change, as well as a mighty smashing force of rage. Find small ways, everyday, where you can fuck shit up. Or at least vibrate at very low frequencies until you rattle that patriarchal bedrock to bits. (I vant to be alone)

And I try to remind myself: the small things are actually the important things. We dismantle rape culture in small ways. It’s something that we all can do. And the very process of talking about and taking acton on these issues can empower women and dismantle rape culture!

Wait, what we do?

Part two of this talk: Be ok with people saying no to you

My dance work, right now.

Who wants an update on the things I’m doing right now in dancing? Yeah, we all do!

Late last year my teaching partners and I decided to relaunch our weekly dance classes as an independent business. We used to teach with a big dance school, Swing Patrol (which is run from Melbourne), but we wanted a more local focus, and to have greater creative control over our projects and direction as an organisation. And business.

So in 2014 we announced Swing Dance Sydney (boring name, right? But it gives good googles), and then on the 14th February 2015, we launched our new business with a party. Right now, three months in, things are going very nicely.

We were, obviously, nervous about the new plan. Despite the fact that we’d been running our classes successfully for three years and had lots of experience with other dance stuff. I was particularly nervous, as I’m the general manager for the business (which is registered in my name). I do have a lot of experience running dance events and projects (you can see them all here), but it’s still a challenge, right?
Anyhow, I did a lot of research into tax, registering a business, labour relations and so on (you can read a bit about that in Making a Dance business and The business of lindy hop), and discovered that going legit isn’t that difficult.
I’ve actually found the whole process really empowering – it’s made me feel confident and capable. There is this idea in the lindy hop world that not declaring your teaching/DJing/event income, or not getting proper insurance, or not registering a business name is a way of saving money or fighting the man or whatevs. But I’ve discovered that you don’t actually lose money, and you do actually safeguard your business and your own body (insurance!) If you are teaching for someone else, friends, you MUST discover whether they have work cover for you. They are breaking the law if they don’t, and you are missing out on important insurance that will cover injuries, etc.

So what does my business do?

1. We teach dance.
We teach weekly classes in lindy hop. We also teach solo dance, but these are on hold for the moment as I hunt down a new venue. We miss the solo real bad!

swingingatthepbc

Though I’ve listed the classes first, this is only one part of what we do. And I’d like to rework the business ‘brand’ or identity to reflect the broader interests of the people involved.

2. We run irregular parties with live music on a Wednesday night called Swinging at the PBC.

I adore these. We have run 5 already, and have another planned for the 8th April, and I’m looking at one for May for Frankie Manning’s birthday. I began just by using visiting bands, but now I’m branching out, and using this as a chance to foster relationships with local musicians.

We teach in a licensed venue (the Petersham Bowling Club), which has a fantastic approach to live music, to servicing and participating in the local community, to environmental responsibility, and to fostering creativity. That’s us, that last part. They let us put on bands whenever we like, and they help us promote them. They are also really great people that we love working with. Most importantly, the venue has a bistro, an outdoor area (because bowling), and a good vibe – it feels friendly.

I am currently very keen on running social dancing in proper social spaces. I know it’s great to have heaps of room or a great floor in a studio or hall, but in those spaces there is nothing to do but dance. If you’re not dancing, you feel like you’re missing out. Or you’re just plain bored. There’s nowhere to escape the music and talk. This vibe encourages the idea that you have to say yes to every dance, that if someone says no to your dance invite you suck, because heck, isn’t that why we’re all there?
In a proper social space, you make it clear that dancing is only one of the things we do here – we also talk, we eat, we drink, we take a breather outside, we play pool or pinball, we lean on the bar and people watch. Because it’s the Peebs, it’s also totally ok to sit and read a book! If someone does ask you to dance, you can say “No thanks, I’m just enjoying this nice cool beverage,” or “Sorry, I’m waiting on a pizza!” or even, “Hey no thanks, I’m not dancing tonight – just chillin’.”

When you get used to hearing people say no thanks to your invites, you get used to the idea that it’s not all about you. People have all sorts of good reasons for not dancing. And you have to be ok with that. Especially you, men: you’re not the centre of our world. But you women, you can also be ok with the idea that if you’re not dancing, you’re still ok. You don’t have to dance (or be a ‘good dancer’) to be having a good time at a party.

We already know how to be in a pub or a bar or a restaurant, so we don’t have to teach people how to beahve at a social dance in these spaces. When we use a proper social space, we make dancing more accessible to ‘non-dancers’; we encourage people in, and we embed our culture more comfortably into the wider community. This whole approach undoes the weirdo shit that encourages ‘rock star’ dancer behaviour, makes it easier for women to enforce their own personal limits and bodily autonomy, and encourages dancers generally to think of dancing as just one of the things we do, not the most important thing. And, most importantly, it makes our dance scene more accessible for musicians.
Incidentally, I’ve noticed that having a smaller dance floor makes for better floor craft – our students keep their feet under themselves, are less likely to kick you, and are better at judging the end of the ‘string’ (ie the amount of stretch or distance between partners). A big or uncrowded space makes you less economical in your use of space, right?

These parties attract between 60 and 90 people, cost $15, and run 6.30-11pm.
The early night is good for a week night, the smaller crowd is good for socialising (in this smaller venue), and I approach these events as regular, and so contributing to the infrastructure of the local dance scene.
You would dress neat casual, you’d come for dinner, you’d expect to talk and hear very good music.

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3. We run monthly DJed parties (first Saturday of the month) called Harlem.

This is a collaboration with another organiser/teacher friend, Sharon Hanley who runs Swing Time Australia. We decided to run a regular DJed night because we missed DJing together (we used to DJ at her fortnightly event Swing at the Roxbury), and we missed it!
We decided to have a DJed night (rather than live music) because we wanted to DJ. I was keen to have an event with decent DJed music that focussed on classic swinging jazz. There are two other regular DJed events in Sydney, but the music is patchy at one, and the other is more a neo-swing/rock n roll event. I feel that it’s important to play the original music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s because Count Basie is important. Duke Ellington’s band is important. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is important. It’s also cheaper (and less risky) to be our own DJs.

This event is also run in a licensed venue that has a restaurant. The space isn’t tiny, but the dance floor isn’t enormous. The space is a ‘mixed use’ space, with chairs and tables and a dance floor (and a great piano!), and it’s near public transport and has parking. And it’s not a shitty, grotty divey nightclub.

Again, this is a regular event. People have asked if we’ll be running it fortnightly, but, to be honest, we’re both busy with other projects as well. And I figure this way we leave a space open in the calendar for someone else to run something – diversity is important! Sharing the workload is too :D

These parties attract between 70 and 100 people (I expect this to get larger), cost $10, and run 8pm-midnight.
This is a slightly larger crowd, but not enormous. A ‘ball’ in Sydney can attract between 150 and 200 people, so we’re actually at the higher end of the scale. A really big cross-scene event can attract 700 people in Sydney, but we aren’t targeting the whole neo-swing/rock n roll/lindy hop/vintage cross over crowd.
We are encouraging vintage wear for Harlem, a slightly dressier vibe than the PBC gigs, and you would again come for a drink, perhaps dinner, and a night out, talking, dancing, socialising.

4. We do private classes, wedding privates, and corporate gigs.
For the money, and to offer extra learning opportunities for students. But we don’t promote them aggressively.

And that’s what Swing Dance Sydney does now. I’ve been looking at running a larger weekend event (Jazz BANG), but I’m still sorting that out.
I did consider running a big evening dance and workshop day for Frankie’s birthday, but I’ve since moved on from that idea. I figure it’s more important to consolidate the Swinging at the PBC nights as proper party nights, and to use our venue in a more concentrated way. It’s a good space, it’s super cheap to hire, and it’s well serviced.

In my previous role as and event organiser and administrator for Swing Patrol, I ran about 5 huge events every year. While they were fun and successful and everything, I began to feel they were big events for the sake of big events, and that the focus (financial, energy, creative, etc) on these resulted in neglect for regular social dancing. In other words, these big events became THE thing, and the focus of the whole organisation was on its hierarchy. It positioned the school as THE organising body, discouraging dancers from thinking of themselves as organisers and trying their own smaller projects. Even more simply put, the only model for ‘a dance event’ was a huge big thing that required the machinery of a big organisation to work. And this leviathan replaced or overshadowed other, more sustainable smaller projects. Really, though, as a keen social dancer, I want to be able to social dance every week, if not multiple times per week. A big, expensive dance every couple of months doesn’t meet that need.

I feel that regular, smaller scale events or parties do more to develop the social dancing skills and culture of a dance scene. Its social and cultural infrastructure. This is what vernacular dance IS. It is everyday, ordinary dancing. Emphasising less frequent big events makes social dancing seem like a ‘special’ or unusual thing, and makes most dancers’ experience of lindy hop be a pedagogic, or formal-class type experience. Boooring. This also tends to result in centralised power and status. Teachers become the most important and powerful people in a scene. Dancing becomes ‘rare’ and ‘special’ so it becomes the only focus for a party or ‘dance night’. And this power dynamic is conducive to abuse. Sexual harassment, bullying, exploitation of workers and so on thrive in this sort of environment.

Into the future.
I have a few other plans up my sleeve. In fact, I’ve always got far more plans than I do time or energy.
I’d like to expand my work with bands. This is proving tricky, as it’s expensive to pay bands. The social distance between dancers and bands (we just don’t move in the same circles here – we don’t socialise together!) also makes it difficult to initiate collaborations. Hence my interest in properly social social dancing events and spaces.

I’m doing more DJing this year. I’ve neglected it lately for my organising/administrative work, and I MISS it. I miss the music. I miss fussing over music. I miss the creative challenges and satisfaction of DJing for a crowd. My skills got rusty and I got mournful for it. So I’m back in the game. Harlem is a key part of that. But so is traveling more overseas (because my health finally allows it!)

I’m seeking out interesting dance events.
I’ve been dancing for eighteen years now, and I’m not satisfied by dance events which just slap a couple of dances on the end of 4 hours of chalk-and-talk workshops. I want interesting, creative programs of events.

I think dance events should think more like arts festivals, and offer a more interesting program. As per my thinking about regular social dancing spaces, I think dance weekends need to offer programs and spaces that are more social, but also more creatively interesting and challenging. I want musicians involved. I don’t want teachers to just throw a stack of moves at me in class. I want mixed-level classes that push me to learn new ways of learning. I want to social dance during the day. I want to go to interesting cities. I want events that offer me new ways of interacting with teachers and students and DJs and bands.

This new thinking about dance events is pushing me inexorably towards alternative funding sources. So I’m looking into grants and public funding sources for dance events. I’m not keen on kickstarter or pozible for funding – I want to see what sorts of state, local, and federal funding sources are available.

Feminist work?
I used to worry about being a woman lead and a woman lead teacher. Now I just couldn’t give a fuck. It’s so normal to me now, I just get on and do what I do. I’m also a woman DJ. And a woman event organiser. And a woman website designer. And a woman thinker and writer and reader. I figure it’s much more powerful to treat all this as normal. It’s much more frustrating and confounding for idiot sexists if I just do not accept (or even acknowledge!) the premise of their attacks.

I think of it this way: if you are up and dancing, you are automatically winning. Doesn’t matter how much your dancing sucks. And if your critic is sitting on their clack or crying and shitty about what you’re doing, you are winning twice. You are pwning them. Ha ha, suckers.

I am also thinking that a revised approach to ordinary social dance spaces is part of a feminist project. Because it undoes that teacher-centred, lead-centred, can’t-say-no power dynamic which is fucked up and bad news. Not only do we need to skill up women and remind men to be grown up humans, we also need to construct socially sustainable social spaces that make it easier to be the best we can be.

For me, personally, it’s very satisfying and stimulating to work with other women in an international community that is so male-dominated in so many ways. I really enjoy my professional relationships with women and men in the Sydney dance scene (and overseas and interstate) too. I think that for me, it’s important to be feminist by doing feminist things. I’m a woman too, and I think that it’s important to skill me up too. And to find ways of working that are creatively and personally satisfying. Fighting the good fight is really tiring. So I try not to have to do it in my everyday work. This means that I just say no to working with dicks. It also means that I have to fight an instinct many women have – that we should feel guilty about feeling good and confident.

I’m also very conscious of the fact that I am lucky enough to be able to think this way. I am a white, middle class woman living in an affluent city in a wealthy country. I have access to opportunities that many people do not. And I try to remember this, and to do my best not to let my own pleasure and satisfaction come at the expense of others’.

So, that’s what I’m doing these days. I hope you’re doing dance work and dance fun that you find exciting and stimulating and deeply pleasurable too!

Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer

There’s recently been a fairly loud and emotional discussion about sexual violence in lindy hop. I don’t want to rehash it here, because I find it very upsetting. Rehashing this stuff in detail disempowers me. I don’t want to discuss the male teacher named in this discussion, because I don’t want this to be all about him. Again. I want to take that power away from him. I want to find power in this, for me, and for other women.

Here is something I wrote on facebook today, in response to Gwen Moran’s piece How We Can Help Young Girls Stay Assertive. This piece described Deborah Ann Cihonski’s article ‘The experience of loss of voice in adolescent girls: An existential-phenomenological study’. I don’t know what that original research is like (haven’t read it yet), but it’s an interesting place to start.

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This article is particularly relevant to the current discussion about assault and safety for women in the lindy hop scene.

I am deeply disturbed by comments emphasising how we might ‘protect’ women and girls in our communities. I think it is problematic (to say the least) to perpetuate this idea of femininity as vulnerable (and passive), and masculinity as dangerous (and active).

It’s important to remember that most sexual assaults happen in privates spaces (dance halls, practice rooms, bedrooms, lounge rooms and so on), and most women are assaulted by people they know. ‘Rapists’ aren’t wild bears or volcanoes: they aren’t forces of nature that we have to protect women from. They are people who need to fix their behaviour.
We need to remind women that they are powerful and capable of caring for and protecting themselves, and for making decisions about their bodies and lives.

So I think that one of the most effective tools for making safe spaces in lindy hop is is empowering women. Some practical tips:

  • Do use gender neutral language in class (ie follow does not = female by default). I have heard many male teachers resist this, saying that it’s ‘too hard’, or ‘not important’. Believe me: it is important. If you are a woman leading in that class (or thinking about leading), it makes you feel part of the group. It makes you feel like a lead.
  • Follows are not passive; following is an active process (ie leads don’t ‘tell follows what to do’, and follows don’t ‘carry out’ leaders’ creative ideas)
  • All partners should take care of each other (ie it’s not that ‘leads look after follows’, it’s that we all should look after each other). eg follows are responsible for floor craft too.
  • List the female dance partner in a teaching team first. This is ridiculously rare in lindy hop, and we need to make up for lost time by over-representing women as the ‘first’ member of the teaching team.
  • Teach female students how to say “No thank you” if they are invited to dance, but don’t want to. Teach yourself how to say this.
  • Don’t use sexualised humour in class. This makes it clear that classes are learning spaces. If all the sexy jokes in the world were gender-win, it’d be ok. But most of the sexualised jokes teachers make in class use gender stereotypes that disempower women.
  • Have female role models in your scene: women MCs at big events, women musicians (!!), women organisers, women teaching on their own, women DJs, women publicly making decisions and solving problems (ie female managers), women doing physical labour (beyond cleaning, aye?), women eating well-balanced meals with enthusiasm at shared tables (and not talking about ‘being bad’ when they eat delicious food).
  • Value other types of work, particularly the types of work dominated by women. Working the door is as important as DJing. Make that clear. Name all your volunteers in your PR copy.
  • Talk about old timer dancers who are women. Al, Leon, Frankie: they’re all wonderful. But so are Norma, Sugar, Josephine, Dawn, Big Bea.
  • Research women dancers and teach their material, in their names. And that means more than just another class on swivels. Talk about women choreographers, troupe leaders, and managers.
  • Teach solo dance. Women dancing alone is an act of agency and power in a partner dancing world. And teach a variety of styles: sexy, sweet, powerful, aggressive, humorous, gentle, sad, athletic, witty, cerebral….

Congruently, men in lindy hop need to be taught some things too:

  • Work on your own strategies for speaking up when you hear a sexist joke. You know you should call that guy on it, but what exactly will you say or do? Will you walk away? Will you laugh along?
  • What are your limits, when it comes to ‘blokey’ or ‘boys own’ behaviour? Sexy jokes? Talking about women you see in the room in a sexual way? Competing with other men to ‘get’ a woman? Know your limits, then act on them.
  • Defer to female opinion and example: if you’re in a discussion, listen to women before you speak. In all matters, not just sexual safety. Once you’re good at it, then start working on ways of expressing your opinion in a collegial way.
  • Don’t call women girls unless they are actually girls (ie under 13). It’s patronising. Don’t call women or girls ‘females’, unless their gender is what you want to discuss: eg “Female dancers are as capable of leading as following” is as good as “Women dancers are as capable of leading as following” but “Females are good leads too” is not ok. Women are not meerkats.
  • Encourage women to take up leading. Encourage women who lead. Encourage women to comment on leading. A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better. If a woman chooses to lead in class, don’t make a big deal about it, and make it easy for them to stay in that role (deal with uneven follow/lead ratios in other ways – eg talk about how if you’re standing out, this is a chance to work on your dancing)
  • Seek out women DJs. They may be harder to find, but don’t default to the usual male DJs at your events. Men are more likely to speak up, so you need to keep your eyes and ears open for women DJs.
  • Proactively encourage women DJs, women leads, and women organisers.
  • Use your online time to support women, and to support other men. Men are less likely to chime in with a supportive comment on a general thread about dance than women are. Men generally speak up more often, but they aren’t as likely to just say something like “Hey, great idea!” and then leave it at that.
  • Support men who are doing good gender work: compliment or say ‘yeah!’ when you see guys doing good stuff.
  • Support male follows: don’t make that sexy “wooo!” noise when you see two men dancing together. When you make that noise it announces to everyone that you are uncomfortable with two men dancing together. Probably because you think that two men dancing together is a sexual thing. Which means you probably think partner dancing is a sexual thing. Which means you need to check yourself.
  • When you thank the teachers for a class, say thank you to the female teacher first.

There are a bajillion ways we can be better humans in lindy hop. They don’t have to be formal policies or official responses. Be the change you want to see: men should assume that if they’re not pro-actively changing things, they are part of the problem.

The nice thing about all this, is that being a better human is really quite nice: you get to be nice to people, and that makes you feel good. Doing genderwin stuff can be an empowering thing for you. If it feels a bit hard (eg some guys say using gender neutral language is too hard), then remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer: we love hard things! We love challenges! We dance the most complex, wonderful dance in the world, because we love complex, we love challenge, we love creative solutions!

The point of this, of course, is that feminism is good for all of us. Change can be confronting. But that’s why we love break steps, right? Because change is exciting and stimulating too!

A final note: it’s ok to have heroes. It’s totally ok to fansquee for a big name dancer. Having a crush on your dancing hero (no matter what your sex or theirs) is also ok. It means that you are inspired by what they do.
But don’t stop there. Use the inspiration they bring to become a better dancer yourself. Tell them you love what they do, but stop there. Then move on and tell someone else you love what they do, even if they aren’t a big name dancer.

And remember that if we are all to be held accountable for our actions, we need to be sure that we all have the power, the agency, to make our own decisions, and to control our own bodies and actions.

NB:
I have written about these issues many, many times here on this blog. I am an old school feminist, and I believe in the idea of patriarchy, and in discourse and ideology. The bottom line is that I believe that if you want to prevent sexual assault, locking up rapists is not the solution. The solution is in dismantling ‘rape culture‘, or a culture of sexism and patriarchy. I know! It seems like so much work! Good thing we have jazz to sustain us, aye?

Here are some of these posts: