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:

Another teaching/DJing rant

There’s a discussion about DJing for dancers happening on the facey, and I’ve been doing some pretty hardcore ranting. I need to spend less time in Jive Junction – it’s making me too stroppy.

Anyways, I was ranting about how new DJs often don’t actually play any decent music, and then I was thinking about how that’s usually because they don’t understand what makes a good song, and then I was ranting about teaching lindy hop and how classes need to teach people about the music and how that then helps us get decent DJs.

I wrote this today, and I want to keep it here, because, for once, I actually wrote something with some degree of brevity. Well, brief by my standards.

I’m always a bit sad that people don’t make it easy to love swing music in classes. This music is super fun and super funny, and it makes you feel really good.
Things I wish teachers did more in class (besides just playing more and better music) with beginner students:

  • Play the song the whole way through, and let people dance to it the whole way through.
    How’re you gonna learn to recognise 32 bar chorus or 12 bar blues structures if you don’t hear the whole songs all the way through a lot? How’re you going to learn that swing is _so_ formulaic (and so quite ‘safe’ and unscary to dance to) unless you get to hear the whole song’s whole structure in a safe place like a class?
  • Stop teaching strict patterns or sequences in class.
    If you teach a range of developing steps or feels, then let students dance their way through them in their own time, for a whole song, they get really good at social dancing straight away. They learn to work with a partner, to relax and enjoy the music, to lead and follow, to see how steps work together. They get on top of the ‘moves’ and then start to add their own flavah flave because they’re relaxed. They start listening to the music to find something new and interesting. Then they win lindy hop.
  • Use just one or two songs in class, and play them over and over again, from the beginning to the end.
    It can be a different song each class, but if you work with one song over a whole class, you start to know it really well, and get comfortable with it. You make friends with it. And it has to be a good song, or you’ll go nuts. Classic swing is robust enough to be listened to so many times – hence its overplayedness.
    I think the ‘teach a set sequence of steps’ thing means you then have to do things like push the tempos up to make it interesting. So you then work through a heap of songs in the class, and you don’t get to the song the whole way through.
  • Talk about the song while you’re teaching.
    eg make a joke about a tinkly vibraphone solo, or use Fats Waller’s nicely complicated 4th 8 in a phrase to demonstrate how the break steps in the shim sham hit the breaks in a song. Use different types of music to demonstrate different types of bounce/pulse.
  • Let students count themselves in.
    Do it the first couple of times, but then let them do it. Humans can do this, even in their first class. And it is SO EXCITING to see it!
  • Start students dancing at the beginning of phrases in class.
    So they can hear where phrases start and end. Again, humans figure out how to do this in one class.

If you teach this way, you realise that musicians like Buble or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy don’t do what you need them to do. You realise that My Baby Just Cares For Me (Nina Simone’s) is a great teaching song because it has that nice steady bass line and those weirdo tempo changes. And you realise that Splanky isn’t so great for the very first moments of a very beginner class because its dynamics are so intense, but it is great for dancing it out later in a class.

Being legit: music, intellectual property rights, and licences

APRA. The Australasian Performing Right Association Limited.
This is just one Australian body regulating the intellectual property rights of musicians and people involved in the music industry.
It’s not the only body that could apply to the swing dance world’s intellectual property rights issues. But it’s the obvious one.

The next important step in running a dance business or putting on a dance is dealing with music intellectual property rights. In other words, if you use someone else’s music at your dance, you have to have a licence.

Luckily, APRA have a list of licence types.
NOTE: APRA is an Australian organisation, and this stuff varies between countries, so you’re going to need to look it up yourself if you’re not in Australia.
ALSO NOTE: Do NOT take this post as a legit, final word on how to do this stuff. I’m just randomly speculating as I skim through the APRA site. You need to do some proper research yourself, and contact APRA for more help.

Let’s have a bit of a look at the licences you’ll need for running a dance business in Australia.

It’s quite complicated. Basically, APRA have a heap of different licences for using music, depending on how you use it, how many people in the room can hear it, whether they’re dancing or not, how it’s reproduced and copied, where it’s played, whether it’s featured music or background music, and so on. Their site offers advice for specific users, describing which of these licences you’ll need. So, for example, there’s not so much a ‘nightclub licence’, but there is a set of licences that apply to people who play music in their nightclub.

  • Classes
    If you are a dance school (or otherwise teaching classes – however you choose to think of yourself), you’ll need to pay an annual fee for a licence. There are three types of licences APRA sees as relevant to the work that dance schools do.

    1. Public performance. If you use music in class.
    2. Reproduction of music. If you copy music and give it to your students (eg for a performance).
    3. End of Year concerts.

    If you teach one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year.
    If you teach more than one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year plus $34.28 a year each extra day. So if you’re teaching two days a year, you need to pay $102.82 per year. And it increases for every day after that.

    Note: I know some people say they don’t need an APRA licence because they are an educational body, but if you are taking money for classes, then you need a licence.

    • Sam’s critical engagement with this
      I suspect this is definition of ‘dance class’ dependent on a ‘ballet class’ idea of dance schools, where dance is necessarily performance. A particular ideology of dance pedagogy informed by western, middle class concepts of learning and teaching which are teacher-centred, chalk-and-talk approaches where students are ‘injected’ with knowledge, rather than developing knowledge themselves. I wonder how vernacular dances and classes like African dance with drummers are licensed?

      In the former, the people drumming (providing music) are often also students participating in the class as drumming students, rather than as ‘featured musicians’. They don’t play set ‘songs’ so much as series of rhythms and rhythmic patterns (I guess that’s the definition of a rhythm – it’s an audible pattern, rather than random noise).
      In the latter, particularly if you use the ‘Lennart approach’ with lots of self-guided learning (I’ve talked about it ad nauseum in posts like Student Centred Teaching – some rough ideas), classes can become what is essentially social dancing (rather than strict choreography).

      And how would you classify a class like this one we did with musicians at Jazz BANG, where the ‘teaching’ was more a discussion, and where the ‘students’ were at once the people playing the instruments, the people listening (who also stood up and danced), and even the ‘teachers’ playing the music, talking, and demonstrating.

      I wouldn’t like to try to argue your way out of a fine using this logic, though.

  • Parties with live or DJed music
    This is an interesting one.

    Let’s assume you’re using an established venue (not just a ‘space’ that you fit out for a party).
    If you’re using a venue that regularly uses live music (eg the PBC where we run our live music parties), then the venue is responsible for providing the licence (Hotels/pubs/taverns/bars licence).
    But if the music is a DJ or other featured recorded music (not just background music), there’s another licence they need to look at (Featured or Recorded Music licence.)

    Wait. It gets more complicated. If the venue is using music specifically for dancing (ie they have a dance floor), then they also need a Recorded music for dance use licence.

    There are additional licences required for copying music onto your ipad or phone from CDs, and how many devices you play music from affects the cost of that licence.

    If you are running a private event at a licensed venue like a pub, then you will need an event licence on top of all this.

    • Sam’s critical commentary
      You can see how it makes sense to use an existing venue for your dance classes and events. And how important it is to develop a very good working relationship with event managers. If their management is handling most of the APRA licensing (not to mention the liquor licensing and noise zoning issues), then you don’t have to. That’s why you pay rent to them – not just for the use of the space, but for all this administration. This is also why you have an obligation to run sustainable events that bring money into the venue.
      We’re lucky enough to be working with a venue that has a strong commitment to local community arts practice. The PBC is a community-run venue with a board and membership that anyone can be a part of (I’m a PBC member), and the members vote on everything from what colour carpet to buy to whether to get solar panels or not. They’re also really nice people with lefty politics.
      I see it as our responsibility to run classes that are in keeping with the PBC’s broader ethos of being a good citizen (ie treating people with respect), of being engaged with decent arts practice, and with being accessible for all peeps.

      But it is in the APRA laws about music for dancing where we see Australia echoing the totally rubbish laws in New York about dancing. If you are playing music specifically for dancing, you have to pay a particular licence.

      What if you are playing jazz? This is an interesting one, because if you’re a lindy hopper, this is dancing music, straight up, no question. But if you’re a jazznick, a jazz fan, it’s listening music. It’s even art music. Despite the history of the music, its original function and intention, jazz has largely shifted in cultural meaning and function to ‘music for listening’, art music. Not functional music.

      But I guess the key issue would be whether you had a dance floor set up and cleared. Whether you briefed the musician on what they should play and how they should play it. How you promoted the event, and to whom.
      This issue is one I want to think more about, because I’m getting more involved in promoting the live music events I’m part of to ‘non-dancing’ crowds – eg the Sydney Jazz Club, a particular musician’s fans.

      The last is particularly relevant with musicians like Adrian Cunningham, Tuba Skinny, and Andy Baylor, who have substantial fan bases who aren’t dancers. They’re music fans who want to come and sit and watch the musicians. It’s interesting to note here that if your band is paid more than $2500, and they’re performing in a hall or function space, the event holder will need another licence in addition to the venue’s licence. This becomes relevant when you’re hiring a big band, which typically costs more than $2500 (about $3000 if you’re looking for quality).

      In reference to the final point above, having bands in residency becomes a good idea for the venue, because they are no longer featured performers, but part of the regular night. So you can avoid some licensing issues. Perhaps. Do not quote me.

  • Events
    This section should really be part of the section above, but I think we usually draw the distinction ourselves, even within the dance scene, between ‘regular social dancing parties’ and ‘special events’. So a weekly DJed party or social dancing event is quite different to a special christmas ball.

    The event licences are super complicated, and there are lots of different licences applying to an event. Things like whether you use live music or DJed music, whether food is involved, whether it’s a free or ticketed event are all important.
    You’d think that a DJed lindy hop party would count as a ‘dance party’, but it doesn’t, because

    Dance parties [licences are]…
    For Dances or Dance Parties that are one-off or occasional events, charging an entry fee, and playing APRA Works for dancing as the primary form of entertainment at the event. It does not extend to:
    …. 2. private function, or an event which features ballroom or similar traditional dancing;

    That bit about ‘traditional dancing’ caught my eye. Is lindy hop a ‘traditional’ dance? If they’re including ballroom, I guess it is. But lindy hop isn’t codified the way conventional ballroom dancing is (though we all know ‘ballroom dancing’ was a vernacular dance at heart… and after all, lindy hop has a long association with ballrooms)….

    Looking at the list of licences on the APRA page, it’s impossible to figure out exactly how a lindy hop party would fit into this system. You’d have to call up APRA and find out. Good luck with that.
    This is the next thing on my list of jobs. Wish me luck with that, will you.

    • Sam’s commentary.
      This issue of ‘regular social dancing’ vs ‘special balls’ is a tricky one. In my position with my last employer, my role involved running a number of ‘special events’ (not the fortnightly social dancing party) during the year. Last year I ran seven ‘special’ events for the business (in addition to the four independent parties I ran). Some of them were things that are run annually, some were one-off things, and some were part of big workshop weekends. Interestingly, the annual things have been run for years and years, both here in Sydney and in Melbourne, so you could argue that they’re not really special events any more, but regular events. They’re certainly very formulaic (or they were before I started messing about with them).
      I don’t think the distinction between regular and special events is actually all that important for APRA licensing, but it does assume more importance when you add things like insurance to the mix. Typically, your regular dance school insurance covers you for events which you run primarily for your own students (ie they’re not ‘public’ events, but ‘private’ parties). But when you start running events which target audiences beyond your own students, the insurance policy has to change to accommodate this.

So different dance events are regulated by different laws (I’m using the word ‘laws’ a bit inaccurately here): tax laws, insurance laws, intellectual property laws, liquor licensing laws, industrial relations laws, residential zoning laws, and so on. When you remember that these laws are different in different countries, states and local councils, you get this fascinating little nexus in lindy hop. I get very excited about this, and wish I’d done more cultural policy studies in my PhD work.

It’s all very interesting. As someone setting up a new business, it can be overwhelming, but most of it isn’t that hard. Because you can get help, and it’s actually useful help. Just call the various organisations up.

When you are planning a business, you need to think about:

– tax
– APRA licensing
– insurance
– industrial relations (OH&S in particular, but also agreements and contracts with contractors – teachers, bands, volunteers, sound engineers, and DJs)

You can sum all this up with a nice, clear Code of Conduct that sets out:
– your social policies (eg how you deal with sexual harassment)
– your industrial policies (eg whether you pay DJs, teachers, etc, and how much you pay them; how you deal with volunteers; your terms for hiring international teachers, etc etc)
– your creative policies (eg how you value choreography and credit choreographers)
– your cultural policies (eg whether you’re into historical dance and music, and how you acknowledge these sources)

I like to aim for being sustainable – culturally, economically, socially, sustainable. That means that I’m aiming for doing things in ways that let me carry on doing things for a long time. If you are screwing people over, if you can’t pay your bills, if you’re risking people’s safety, you are eventually going to implode your community, business, and scene.
I also like to aim for longer term development. I don’t just want to go dancing now, and to put new dancers on dance floors now. I want to see lindy hop music and dancing changing and growing and becoming more creatively sophisticated. Because it’s more interesting that way. And jazz is complicated. So we need to continually level up to keep up with it.

You can do a one-off party and not bother about this stuff. You can even run a bunch of parties and not bother about this stuff. But once you do start doing these things regularly (or even irregularly, but more often), you’re going to need to start thinking about best practices. Not just to stop you copping a massive fine or getting up on some sort of charge. Lindy hop is a social dance, and that means you’re working with people. Lots of them. Planning your projects effectively means you are less likely to fuck people over. And that’s my priority: to not fuck people over.

The business of lindy hop

Zack Richard’s great post about running lindy hop businesses. Hooked up by Jerry @ Wandering and Pondering on the facey. Of course. He was linking to the #improvrespect piece, but I couldn’t give one fig about that discussion, so I didn’t even finish that piece. But he did remind me that Zach writes good stuff, so I flicked back through his earlier pieces and found this one.

I’m interested in the way we use ‘be like Frankie’ as a model for ethical business practice. He’s a pretty good role model for dance stuff. But it’s unusual to see one person become so important as a model for sustainable business practice. It does worry me a bit; smells like a cult to me. And there are some dodgy gender things at work here. And I do worry that the reality of the man is lost in the idea of the man that’s used to sell ideas. But I guess that’s how history works: the reality of the person is subsumed by the idea of the person.

…any way, Zack outlines some ideas that fit nicely with my own point of view, but he frames them in terms of Frankie’s legacy, and the history of lindy hop. Which are very interesting approaches. I like the ethics outlined in this approach, but the cultural studies scholar in me is a bit suspicious. A bit uneasy. At any rate, if you’re just looking for content, and not engaging with narrative and ideological practice in a critical way, it’s a great piece. I definitely recommend reading it.

This bit caught my eye:

Yes, we must be wary of the “ballroom studio model” that hires undertrained and underpaid staff who painfully review fifteen years old instructional videos and then regurgitate washed-out, dumbed down material to the students. To that we say: whatever their level, keep your teachers and yourself well informed and inspired to strive for betterment. Turn to Frankie and his constant need to create and top himself.

I really had no idea (naïvely, it seems) that other scenes had the same problems we do here in Sydney. It’s a relief to see that our problems aren’t unique, and that other people have thought about solutions for them.

Don’t be a poo: cross promotion in lindy hop

This is a post about cross-promotion, and the reciprocal benefits of not being weird about it.

Quite a few swing dance teachers and event organisers won’t mention, let alone promote, other swing dance organisations in their own city, because they don’t want to ‘promote’ another dance business. I’m always a bit surprised by this attitude, because it’s quite clear that when you cross-promote other dance businesses, you do good things for your own business. And when other people do well – particularly in term of lifting their profile in the wider community – we all benefit.

This was made particularly clear by a random facebook comment made by Duncan, administrator of Swing Out London, recently. He noted that S.O.L. (a really impressive online guide to the huge London lindy hop scene) had seen a huge spike in hits in that week, and he was wondering why. He hadn’t done any new promotion, and nothing had really changed on the site. Another commenter noted that a large London dance school had recently had some massive publicity through a tv show. I suspected that show’s audience had immediately googled ‘swing dance London’ (rather than the specific school’s name), and hit on the well-maintained, SEO-happy S.O.L, which does all the things a good swing dance website should.

Swing Out London had benefitted directly from the success and high profile of another dance project. And we can assume that so did all those other dance businesses listed in its guide.

S.O.L. is one of those projects which we should all support. It has a very clear, and well-managed listings policy, that helps users find what they’re looking for – lindy hop and other jazz and swing era dances – and it helps make clear the differences between jazz and swing dance and ‘other’ dances. This is good for people who are ‘selling’ jazz dances, as opposed to west coast swing, jive, or rock n roll. It’s also non-partisan, which means that it lists any event, so long as it fits into the swing and jazz era dances.

Yes, it might be promoting your ‘competitors” events, but you actually benefit from being listed along side your competitors. It means that you are grouped together under ‘quality’ or ‘relevant’ events, which means that punters will come to your event with expectations that match your promotional strategies and product. You’re not going to send unhappy tango dancers off into the night to bitch about your gig.

This seems counter-intuitive for people coming from a traditional business model. How could it possibly help my bottom line to encourage people to spend their money with another business?

There are a number of ways we can benefit from cross-promotion.

Punters develop expectations about your business that actually match your product and services. So, again, you won’t get people turning up expecting tango, and going home cranky to badmouth you on facebook. You’ll get punters plugging into a network to find products like the one they got at X’s event the other week. When punters start branching out beyond your little domain, they are effectively saying “I want MORE OF THIS.” So why not feed the addiction? :D .

It’s good for peace of mind. This is the reason I’m quite happy to cross-promote, and why I actively support events, teachers, bands, and DJs that I think are great. It just makes me feel good to say “I think X does GREAT work!” It’s also easier to openly support other people, than it is to pretend they don’t exist. Or to actively work to sabotage the success of their project (which is what refusing to promote or acknowledge other peeps does).
I won’t, however, promote, support, or draw attention to events that I think are rubbish. If I think a particular organiser or event is dangerous or unsafe or ethically wrongtown, I will critique it publicly. But if I just think it’s a bit un-excellent, I’ll just move on. I find that I benefit from honestly supporting stuff that I think is great. I get sent free tickets or free CDs, or I even just develop good friendships with people whose work I admire. And I usually just don’t bother trying to suppress my excitement or pleasure in something new and fantastic that I’ve found: I WANT to tell people about these things. And it’s just plain exciting to blabber about a new CD that I love, or a new party I’ve been to. As a DJ, I want other people to play CDs I love, so I get to dance to them! I want other people to hire bands I love, so I get to dance to them! I want other organisers to do well, so I get to go to their parties as a punter, with no responsibilities!

You are a lindy hopper/jazz fan/vintage nut, too. If you’re not, I’m not sure why you’re in this business. If you love lindy hop, and someone else runs a successful, top quality party, you get to go dance! If you love victory rolls and trading 1930s hand-painted ties, and someone else runs a swap meet with great products and stalls – you get to trade ties and win! If you lead a hot jazz band, and someone else runs a successful (and great) jazz band that gets lots of gigs, they’re not only feeding a hunger for good music in the community, you get to go to good gigs!

=> these scenes are all small. We all benefit directly from the success of others.

As a business, it does really good things for your reputation to be seen as open and willing to work with other organisers, teachers and businesses in the swing dance world. Conversely, being a dick and refusing to mention other businesses (either in classes, or in online conversation), or even demanding students and troupe members never attend other classes or parties (yes, this really happens!), makes you look like a dick. A number of organisations just in Sydney have reputations for being dicks because they won’t cross-promote. Word gets about, and people remember the sourness and ill-will that comes with petty refusal to wish someone else well. Particularly in the lindy hop world. And the strongest selling point we have for lindy hop is its capacity for joy.

But if you are out there in the public eye, saying wonderful things about other people, everyone will remember: you are a good stick. You said good things. You are filled with good will. And that will trickle down into your own projects. Much more importantly, saying wonderful things makes you feel good. It’s much nicer to be positive and supportive than to be nasty and selfish. Be good to yourself, ok?

If we really are a community, we all benefit from stronger, more diverse, more prolific cultural and business activities in that community. If I run parties, I benefit from another dance school teaching heaps of classes and prioritising social dancing skills in their classes. Because those peeps will then go on to social dance. If I’m a jazz band leader, I benefit from dance classes that use jazz in class. If I run dance classes, I benefit from great social dancing parties, because they give my more advanced students in particular a place to dance and get the jazz feels. If I’m a teacher, entering a high-profile dance comp with a great reputation and good media profile is really good for my profile! And so on.

But what if I have a dance business that tries to offer all these things to ‘my’ students? Wouldn’t my profits suffer from the ‘competition’? Nah, mate. Swing dancers like new and interesting things. A scene with a wide range of music, activities, events, classes, competitions, and organisations caters to that need for the new. It also helps retain dancers. And we need to retain dancers, so we can add to the ‘brains trust’ that is the average ability level and dance knowledge in the scene.

What if my party/class/event is on the same night as someone else’s? Wouldn’t their event automatically count as competition for mine? Only if you’re offering exactly the same product or experience as that other person. And why would you offer an identical product, when we’ve just noted how much dancers like new stuff? This is the interesting part of jazz dance: we are built to enjoy innovation and improvisation. So we are constantly looking for more stimulation. The more experienced a dancer is, the more interested they are in new things. They want to be inspired. Hopefully!

So you’re really only in trouble if your product doesn’t change, if it’s static. And let’s be serious: you’ll die of boredom if you teach the exact same classes, run the exact same events, play the exact same music every night forever. Think of other people’s projects as stimulation and impetus for your own development. Have you taken a lindy hop class yourself lately? Have you danced with anyone new lately? How’s your own dancing going? Are you teaching at your best? How’s your music collection? Bought a new CD lately? Been to a weekend event lately? Hired a new band?

I know that working within a recreationist community makes it feel as though we need to hang onto the past and never change things. But let’s think about what lindy hop and vernacular jazz music and dance are all about: they are about utility. About innovation. About improvisation. About change. No, you don’t have to start swinging out to One Direction to be ‘new’. You can still recreate a historic solo jazz routine from archival footage, muscle twitch by bone twist. But you also need to remember the purpose of jazz dance: to challenge and be new. To ask questions. You can use new venues, new bands, new class content, new teaching tools!, dance with new people, travel to new places, have new ideas. Jazz can accommodate that. It wants that.

If you haven’t been doing these things, you can guarantee your teaching/DJing/dancing/choreography/events are getting boring. And you won’t do your punters any favours by trying to keep them ignorant of other, more interesting stuff in the scene. You’ll just lose their attention, or do bad things to their dancing. Nobody wins. Being aware of, cross-promoting, and participating in other people’s projects will be good for you, and for your projects. Not to mention making it clear that you’re not only not afraid of and not threatened by new things, you embrace them!

Be like the tap dancers in a jam: keep good solid time. Get into that circle of life. Be accountable for your own actions. Recognise the actions of others, the value and effort of their work. You’ll be pushed to improve yourself. You’ll do better work. We’ll all benefit.

Don’t be a poo.

Another shit-stirrer post about teaching

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about why people teach, and what they get out of it (for obvious reasons).

There is this idea in the lindy hop world that we should all sacrifice lots ‘for the community’. As though ‘the community’ was this really huge thing, larger and more important than all of us, and yet somehow not including us at all. I’m not sure where this idea that we should sacrifice our own health and spare time for the sake of other people’s dancing came from. I sometimes think it has to do with the revivalist impetus: that we have to keep lindy hop alive no matter what. Which is problematic for so many reasons. Starting with a) It wasn’t actually dead before busy white people started getting into it in the 1980s; b) If the communities that developed it have moved on to other things, perhaps a vernacular dance has lost its utility, and social dances should be useful and relevant above all else.

This is what I think:

  • communities must be sustainable. Culturally, socially, economically, environmentally… and so on.
  • The people in the community are that community. That includes the teachers and volunteers and event organisers and so on… all the people who are working their bums off to ‘keep the dance alive’. This means that their lives and work have to be sustainable: they have to earn enough money to pay their bills; they can’t ruin their health and relationships and lives with overwork; they have to find joy their work – it cannot be a burden. ie NO MARTYRS.
  • The ‘community’ is not a discrete bubble. All ‘communities’ overlap and interact with other ‘communities’. So the ‘lindy hop community’ is also a part of, or overlapping with, the ‘jazz community’, and the ‘vintage lifestyle’ community, and the ‘live music industry’, and the ‘wider local community’, and the ‘national community’, and so on. We are no better or worse than the people who don’t dance lindy hop. Lindy hop doesn’t make us special; we are already special. And so are the people who don’t dance lindy hop.

I know that a lot of lindy hop teachers I’ve met and worked with in Sydney and Melbourne feel as though the value of their teaching is assessed by the number of students in their class. As though they somehow fail to be good or important or useful teachers if they aren’t funnelling hundreds of new lindy hoppers onto the floor every year. I used to feel this way. But now I don’t.

I think that we all realise that huge classes are not good learning or teaching environments. Students don’t get the time or attention they need from teachers, nor do they develop the social bonds that help make a good community. Their learning and sense of ‘group’ is focussed on the teacher, and often, on the larger school identity. Rather than on the smaller, more important relationships with other people in their class, and on the social dance floor. Further, classes that focus on rote learning, on running through a sequence of steps over and over again until the students have it ‘perfect’ is not great learning.
It’s as though this sort of class deliberately undoes the culture and practice of social dancing. If you are pushing through a rote sequence of steps, no matter what, you cannot stop and listen to your partner, you cannot adjust your dancing to work with your partner and make it work, and you definitely cannot listen to and respond to the music. And that is very sad. It is also the opposite of lindy hop: this is not preserving a vernacular dance.

I see students come out of dance classes unable to ‘start’ dancing on the social dance floor until someone ‘counts them in’ or helps them ‘find one’. As though there was this rule that we HAVE to start dancing ‘on one’, or that steps have to perfectly align with an 8 or 6 count sequence. More importantly, those same students haven’t learnt how to make a real connection with a dance partner, because their attention in class is so focussed on the teachers; they’ve never learnt that it’s ok to just bop about on the spot with a new friend, chatting, and enjoying the music. They feel that they have to execute that series of prescribed moves perfectly if they are to be ‘good dancers’. And of course, those prescribed moves are only available (for a price) from a dance class.

This isn’t the students’ fault. Or even the teachers’, really. It’s the fault of a pervasive ideology of ‘learning through memorisation’, and a push to acquire huge class numbers as an indicator of ‘success’ – primarily financial. It’s also accepted that the retention rate of any class will be low – that people will find lindy hop really hard in their first class, and that they won’t ever come back. And, to be blunt (as though I was ever anything else), I’d be scared off by a huge class focussed on rote-learning a series of strictly ‘perfect’ steps.

The saddest thing about all this, is that this is not what lindy hop – or jazz – is all about. It makes me sad that teachers feel they have to push their classes to become bigger and more ‘successful’, instead of taking time to enjoy the time they spend with students in class. They are so intent on acquiring the ‘sexiest’, most ‘sellable’ steps from the latest round of competition videos, that they forget that dancing is actually lots of fun, particularly when the steps are simple and the focus is on the music and your partner.

I’ve recently shifted my own focus – in a very determined way – to classes which are all about social dancing. That means great music. That means learning to work with a partner – and not just for a 30 second rotation in class, but for a whole song in class. I don’t teach fixed patterns of steps; I teach a pattern, and then build on it, encouraging the students to figure out their own combinations. With Marie and Lennart’s example in mind, after the first few partner rotations in class, I don’t ‘count students in’ any more. I let them find their own way into the music. To me, these are the real skills social dancers – lindy hoppers – need. Nobody needs that latest trick that Famous Dancer X pulled out in a comp. A competition is not social dancing; the skills are quite different.

The nicest part of this shift in focus is that I find teaching so much more satisfying, and so much less anxiety-making.

So why am I writing this post now? It’s because this story about Stefan Grimm has been making the rounds in my academic network. I used to work in academia, but gave it up because it just wasn’t any fun. The students were neglected by shitty class environments, the research wasn’t fun any more because it was squeezed into restrictive grant-getting processes.

Reading this piece about universities as anxiety machines, I was struck by the similarities between the ‘dance class industry’ and universities. And not just because they’re both centred on pedagogy (or are they? What university still prioritises learning – whether through research or teaching?) The discussion about unpaid labour (normalised by the idea that ‘that’s what you do to get ahead’), sounds a lot like the exhaustion and exploitation in the lindy hop world justified by ‘doing it for the community’. The

…normalised surveillance of performance in class through attendance monitoring, learning analytics, retention dashboards and text-based reminders about work/labour/doing, and in the entrepreneurial demands of attending careers fairs and employability workshops and cv clinics, and in attempting to find the money to eat and live.

…sounds a lot like lindy hop today.
Get bigger classes. Where are you on the leader board? Have you hunted down the latest marketable step or move from the latest round of competition videos on Youtube? Did you go to that workshop and ‘collect’ moves?

And for ‘professional’ lindy hoppers (as though we aren’t professional unless we are traveling the world every weekend), the pressure is far higher. Not teaching on a repetitive injury? Not working hard enough. Not disguising disordered eating as ‘eating healthy’, ‘the paleo lifestyle’, or, most ironic of all, ‘keeping well’? Not truly committed to dance. Haven’t taken up a dozen ‘strength and maintenance’ exercise regimes on top of your lindy hop training? Just aren’t trying hard enough.

…this form of overwork and performance anxiety is a culturally acceptable self-harming activity. …My culturally acceptable self-harming activities militate against solidarity and co-operation that is beyond value…

(all these quotes are from ‘Notes on the University as anxiety machine’)

This is, of course, the bottom line. Because teachers (especially the highest profile ones) don’t spend quality time with anyone other than other teachers for extended periods of time, this stuff is all normalised. And they aren’t allowed the time and quiet to question the working conditions of their ‘jobs’. They are expected to work and work and work ‘for the community’. And if they do ask event organisers for things like, oh, a quiet room with a door that closes and a real bed to sleep, there is this niggling perception of them as ‘difficult’.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, really. Beyond arguing that we should shift our focus to more socially sustainable practices. And we should question the ‘for the community’ ethos that justifies socially and physically unsustainable work practices. Also, we should teach lindy hop like a vernacular dance, not like you’re going to be sitting an SAT test.

Mickey Davidson speaks about Norma Miller

Louis Satchmo Armstrong Jazz Camp Faculty Interview — Mickey Davidson

Anaïs Sékiné hooked this up on the facey and I think it’s grand.
As I said there, I really like the bit where she says that young people have a responsibility to preserve artistic heritage. I think that’s a cool thing: it tells young people they are important and capable of looking after something important. That dance and art are important, and not just a right, but a responsibility.

And as I listened more, I got more excited. This is such a great interview! I like the bit about having to have ‘clean rhythms’. I think I might have given the impression in my post about Sea of Rhythm that tappers are kind of slack about timing, and that anything goes. No. WRONG.
Being disciplined was quite central to all the classes at Sea Of Rhythm, working with African and tap dancers. There was a strong emphasis on being really tight in your rhythms. And we all had to dance in front of the WHOLE group, quite often, and if you weren’t right, if you weren’t tight, you were told, “No, do it again.”…. “No, not right, try again.” It was very different to lindy hop classes, where there’s a lot of kid-glove action, and students are really babied a lot.
…I think this is my favourite part of a ‘rhythm based’ approach to teaching and learning lindy hop: you need to step up and be precise. And then you’re allowed to improvise. But improvisation is NOT just making shit up: it’s clear, concise decisions.

…and I liked Mickey’s story about being apprenticed to Norma: having to fetch coffee and do jobs. That’s a real dance apprenticeship, that teaches you how to be part of the group, before you get to dance. This reminds me of a story an Indian temple dancer told me about learning to dance: she had to be apprenticed to a master for a long time, doing tasks like making food, cleaning, taking care of the master’s needs. This was at once a matter of learning humility, but also a matter of learning the day to day movements that would later inform her dancing. How to move like a temple dancer, even before you learn to dance.