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.

You can exploit yourself!

I’ve just had a look at the latest Swingnation video podcast, because a friend said I was on it. Yes, this was a vanity watch.

It’s kind of interesting, but I think I’d have liked to hear a bit more engagement with the issue from the three blokes, as they have such wide-reaching experience as teachers, punters and organisers. I’m glad Mike Pedroza said he has a written document setting out his teaching terms: I LOVE LOVE LOVE teachers who have these. And I have very little patience with the ones who don’t, but who do have a long list of preferences RE food, or teaching hours, or airlines.


I’m also not sure Mikey understood the point of my post: this was just a brief overview of some of the areas I’ve been working on. It should not – AT ALL – be considered a comprehensive overview of setting up a dance business! But I will disagree with Mikey: this stuff isn’t very complicated. It’s just quite laborious. But if you’re not prepared to do a little work, you probably shouldn’t be setting up a business.

I also want to make it clear that there’s a difference between a legally binding contract and a written agreement. And there are also differences between Australian states, let alone different countries, so this post of mine shouldn’t really be considered a guide for setting up a dance business in America or France or anywhere other than New South Wales, Australia.
Here, mind you, a written agreement does have legally binding ramifications. It is, essentially, a type of contract. But the strength of this contract can vary, and your lawyer’s knowledge of Australian (NSW!) arts law will be key to determining how you write, discuss, and enforce this sort of contract. Which is why I recommended the NSW Arts Law Centre for Sydney people – they can give you advice about lawyers and contracts, and they provide samples for written agreements.

That Swing Nation ep reminded me of this great video of Shawn Lavelle discussing budgets for big dance events, which I watched when someone like Jerry posted it on Wandering and Pondering. There was some interesting discussion happening there, but I can’t remember any of it, nor can I find the link. Mostly because I’m sitting in someone’s lounge room on stolen wifi waiting for a ride to my next accommodation for MLX, at the end of the week after Sea of Rhythm. I’m also listening to loud jazz on headphones, sniffing some lovely vegan muffins baking, and carrying on half a conversation.

So, here: no coherent thoughts.

Anyways, I thought Shawn’s talk about budgets was really great. I’d been meaning to make a post covering those sorts of issues ages ago, but I’d just not ever gotten around to it. Mad props, bro.

I think that more people should run dance events. I really wish they would!

My original post was partly to make it clear to people that you have all the skills and experience you need to set up as a sole trader to run your own dance class, DJing business, or performance troupe. I think that a lot of dancers get into tricky or exploitative professional relationships because they don’t feel they are clever enough or experienced enough to set up their own legit business.

I am here to tell you: you are.

You don’t have to get involved with dodgy deals to become a jazz dance performer, teacher, DJ, or event organiser. You can exploit yourself!

Sea of Rhythm rambling

I’ve just had a LOVELY weekend at Sea of Rhythm, a new dance event held in Melbourne. Run by Rhythm Tap, a group who do the sort of tap that lindy hoppers like, the program was intended to bring together dancers who were interested in dances of the African diaspora. Not that the event was pitched like that. It was literally pitched as a ‘sea of rhythm’ event, where dancers would come and immerse themselves in rhythm-based dances for a weekend. That meant African (Senegalese) dance and drumming, lindy hop, rhythm tap, historic solo jazz dance – all the good stuff!
I’ve been to a few of these sorts of weekends before, but this one was different for a couple of reasons. The most important of which was that the teachers and performers weren’t just random people from around town. They were top shelf dancers and teachers. The other key reason for the success of the weekend, was that the teachers were all approaching dance from the same ideological position. They see dance as an embodiment of music, or more specifically, they approach all dance as rhythm first.

This approach to dance has become quite popular in the mainstream lindy hop community lately (and isn’t that a strange thing to write – ‘main stream lindy hop’), but it’s something the Swedes have been talking about forever, and they’ve been talking about it because they’ve always worked very closely with the old timers – Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Norma Miller and so on. And the African American dancers always put the music first. Lindy hop hasn’t been well served by that deviation into ‘smooth’ and heavily technique-focussed teaching in the early 2000s. That movement away from hot jazz, and that strange emphasis on ‘connection’ took us a little too far from the roots of lindy hop.

I’ve very interested in talking about ‘rhythm’ as a teaching tool. I think that it’s very useful for teaching beginners the essentials.

Bounce (that’s the beat, or the time of the song) teaches us how to swing and stay in time, but also teaches us how to find a common point of reference for our partnership, so we can stay in time together. It’s also a powerful tool for teaching people to engage their cores (and relax their upper bodies as a consequence), and to improve their fitness (because it’s physically more work). It’s also – I very strongly believe – the most basic way for two people to dance together. You can just hold each other in your arms and bounce on the spot, and you’re dancing. It’s also (to get a bit essentialist here – I apologise), quite primal to bounce up and down to music with another person. Watching Josette Wiggins tap this weekend, heavily pregnant, I kept thinking: that is the point of this. We know how to do this, right from birth.

I also have quite a manically obsessive hatred of dancing that rushes the beat. Especially since taking tap classes. It really, REALLY shits me to have people in class rush the beat and make a basic rhythm speed up. Teaching, we see beginners do that at first (because humans do), but everyone of them can stop doing it within half an hour of their first class. If I’m in an intermediate or advanced lindy hop class and people speed up, I want to SCREAM. Because the people who do this are the people who don’t bounce.

Tap dancers don’t bounce, but they do have a shared sense of time. Bouncing is kind of a cheat, because it makes it easier to feel and find that shared sense of time. Tappers have that sense of time in their brains and bodies.

Teaching ‘steps’ or ‘footwork’ as rhythms instead is very exciting. Straight away, the students learn that rhythms are central to what we do, not just an add-on to the shapes or ‘moves’. And lindy hop is special: the syncopation of the triple step is so important.
After the speeding up of basic rhythms, I really hate it when people flatten out a syncopated rhythm. I think it’s something to do with tighty whitey dancing: lindy bro leads are the absolute worst for rushing the beat and flattening out syncopation. I know that follows tend to be a bit more behind the beat, but PLEASE: TAKE CARE OF THE RHYTHM! It feels so naff – why are you rushing?
I feel as though this issue is related to the tension between hot and cool in African American and African dance. Be cool. I’ll need to think more about that, though, before I can articulate it properly.

Scatting is essential. Again, the Swedes have always done it, because the old timers have always done it. Norma Miller rants about it. And I’ve transitioned almost completely to teaching entirely without counts in class. It’s a joy. I scat all the time now, to the point that I can’t actually turn it off when I dance.
I generally find that ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’ even with ‘ands’ in there simply aren’t complex enough tools for describing what happens in jazz dance. The beats don’t divide evenly into single beats or half beats. Just syncopation alone is far more complex. There’s a difference just between the timing of a stomp off and a triple step that counts can’t reflect. I find it much more useful to use sounds that sound like the way a movement feels. Which I guess is like reverse-engineering dancing to music. So if we do start with the music first, a musician plays a series of notes in a particular way, and then I find a way to make that sound visible with my body. Counts don’t really come into it.

I suppose what I’m really talking about is a profound ideological shift in approaching dance. From a very anglo-western, ‘scientific’ concert/performance approach, to a more ‘African’ or African American vernacular approach. From thinking about dance and music as things to be performed, watched and consumed, to things that should be created, participated in, enjoyed, eaten up and shared.

I wrote about ‘pavlov’s lindy hopper‘ a little while ago, where I talked about how watching other people dance does things to your brain: it fires you the bits of your brain that perform those movements. Particularly if you’re familiar with those movements. Dancers often talk about not watching dance clips before bed because it fires you up.
I suspect that scatting works this way. When we scat, we physically make the sound that the music makes, and that triggers something in our brains. So we move from just ‘observing’ or ‘consuming’ music, to participating in music. If dancing is a way to participate in music, then scatting is the natural bridge between the two. Or more usefully, it’s the olive oil that marries the flavours.

WHAT does all this have to do with Sea of Rhythm?
Well, I think that this is the HEART of what was happening. We know that tap dancing is a way for dancers to ‘join the band’, to make the sounds that they are dancing, rather than just ‘making sound visible’, they ‘make visible sound’. In the African dance class on the weekend, I think that this process was made very simple and clear.

We began by sitting in a circle, with our feet in, and this was called the ‘circle of life.’ Now, if you’re immediately made uncomfortable by that sort of talk, you might want to get a grip. It’s not so much hippy talk as a different way of talking and thinking about the role of music and dance in everyday life, from another culture. Anyone who’s been to a lindy hop class knows how important circle formations are to group dynamics. When I was tutoring, I’d make all the students sit in a circle, because it made it much easier to manage behaviour problems: people wouldn’t be able to sit in the back and dick around. They had to be right there, facing everyone, and accountable for everything they said and did. They had to be part of the group. And anyone who’s ever done a big apple (called or social) knows how circles make you feel. And of course, ring shouts make the roots of Africa so clear. All the tap classes over the weekend used circles as well – we’d stand in a circle and take turns doing step or a time step. And haven’t we all seen how a jam circle works? What it does to our brains and bodies to be leaning into a circle when the music is hot?

In our African dance class, we all sat in the circle of life, and our teacher was there, with us, part of that circle. Our teacher, but one of us. He explained what we’d be doing, and what his background was, and how things worked.
Then we moved to another part of the room, where the drums were set up in a circle. We all took a drum (or shared one), and began learning some simple drumming techniques. Our teacher would say something like ‘the rain is coming, gently’, and he’d tap a gentle tappity tap, and we’d just join in. And so on. The important points: he’d just begin, and we’d just join in. Then we stood up and started learning a routine. Our teacher would drum and we’d dance. I didn’t have any moments of feeling shy or uncomfortable. It was really fun, and we all felt really excited by this stuff.

I knew that this would be fun and exciting, but I didn’t quite anticipate what it would mean to have my teacher drum. He could vary the tempo, the length of time we spent doing each step, and how we felt. It was very exciting. And because we’d first learnt to drum the rhythms ourselves, it was as though we’d skipped scatting and gotten straight to the heart of it.

This was really the message of the whole weekend: we have to take care of the rhythm. It was also made very clear that we each had a responsibility to make the rhythms clear and sharp. Each of our teachers worked on us with this: our tap teachers, our African teacher, our solo jazz teachers, our lindy hop teachers. You have to properly understand the rhythm, before you can dance it. Or rather, you can only really understand the rhythm if you dance it.

This meant that the entire weekend the focus in all the classes wasn’t so much on ‘learning a move’ and then perfecting it, as learning a rhythm (or creating one!) and then figuring out just how many different ways you could dance it. Of course, the unspoken (and occasionally spoken) emphasis here was on individual personality and creativity, but in a collective environment. It’s quite an exciting approach, because mixed level classes suddenly become a real advantage: here is a room of people who are really diverse and different, which means you have a WHOLE ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE to inspire you, that you can suck inspiration from, who’ll fire up your creativity. How will you make this rhythm work with someone who’s never danced before? Or when I was was dancing with a pre-teen boy tap dancer in a beginner lindy class: how do I make this work with someone half my height and feeling weird about holding a grown woman in his arms?

I think it goes without saying that all weekend there was this absolute TRUTH that there is no distinction between ‘solo dancing’ and ‘partner dancing’. Even when we were dancing alone – or perhaps most when we were ‘dancing alone’ – we were actually part of a group, dancing together. This is where that whole thing about speeding up the tempo comes in: we were a group, so we all had a responsibility to take care of that rhythm and not speed it up or flatten out the swing or syncopation. Tap made this particularly clear, because we could hear the differences, and we had to bring everyone with us. It was a marvellous tension between uniformity and diversity. We had to be together, but we also had to be uniquely ourselves. We had a responsibility to contribute to the group, and to be responsible for our own actions. This approach meant that respecting each other was just taken for granted.

And the best part is that when we come back to our lindy hop, we can still throw down and do solid, hardcore lindy hop. No hippy stuff; just fucking hardcore lindy hop. All this stuff sort of fills in the backgrounds and body of our dancing.

It was quite a magical experience, really. It reminded me so much of the Frankie stream at Herrang. This is what it means to be a jazz dancer.

Making a Dance Business: it’s not that hard, actually

I’ve started my own dance business, Swing Dance Sydney, and I’m looking into various legal and financial guidelines for running this sort of business.

So far I’ve discovered some very interesting things. The least surprising of which is that most Australian lindy hop teachers aren’t operating under safe or even legal conditions. Not that surprising, right? When I started looking at this stuff, I was a bit nervous, because I’d been led to believe that all this stuff is really complicated.
It’s not.
It’s really easy to set up your own dance business, and run it legally and safely, and there are lots of great free resources to help you.

Key areas to consider:

Business Name
Registering a business name. It’s easy. You need a tiny bit of money, a name, and a bank account. Boom. Done.

Business Structure
You’ll need a business structure: will you be a sole trader? An incorporated company? A non-profit? Each makes different demands, and some are simpler than others. There are advantages to some (eg non-profits have access to supercheap community venue hire; sole-traders are really simple to set up – the easiest), and disadvantages to others (non-profits are quite complicated and require AGMs, a minimum number of executives, etc).

Contracts and/or Agreements
If you are working with other people – ie DJs, a teaching partner, a venue, a visiting teacher, another teaching team in your school or business – you will need to have either contracts or agreements. These shouldn’t be verbal. They should be written down. A written agreement has quite a lot of power, and is really important for helping you keep track of who needs to be paid what and when, what you all expect of each other, who should be doing what work, and when it all needs to happen.
I already use written agreement with DJs: I write DJ briefs. I’ve explained why I take a professional approach to managing DJs in this post, where I make it clear that being a professional employer not only helps you run top shelf events, it also helps you run equitable events and secures diversity. In other words, if you don’t do things like a pro, we’ll be able to see it, because you won’t have any women DJs in your team.

A sample copy of my DJ brief:
Page 1
Page 2
I can send you and editable version if you like. And as you can see, I’ve cut out my phone number and the name of the event from this version. I try to take a light hearted tone in these things, because I’ve found DJs can get bloody huffy if you preach at them. I often add a ‘brown M and M clause’ to my briefs to check and see who’s read it. This is often a photo of a pony.

I also use a very brief brief :D with bands, where I lay out the basics. I sent this one last week to the leader of a band I’m hiring this week:

Hi [band leader name],
Just checking in to see you’re ok at your end for this gig.
Now that I’m past the big October weekend, I’ll start ramping up the promotions, so you may get a bit of spam on facebook – just turn off notifications in the event settings if you don’t want them.

Please let me know how many mics you’ll need, so I can sort that out.

We won’t have a sound guy, which will be a pain sometimes, but we can be casual at this gig, as it’s a smaller crowd. And there tends to be a lot of audience/musician interaction at these gigs as well, which is nice.

I’ll pay you $[pay rate] on the night, before the gig, and put a tab on the bar and in the kitchen for your drinks and food. The kitchen does good vegetarian stuff, but let me know if anyone needs vegan/wheat free.
Make sure you bring CDs to sell! We can handle that at the door for you.
And do let me know if you want some friends put on the door.

Just to double check the running order for the night:

5.30 venue opens, and we can do the bump in. I’ll arrive to do the set up.
6.30 we have a dance class, so we’ll need to have the band bumped in by then (you can eat dinner in this spot, or later or earlier!)
7.30 the class ends, so you can begin, though we can just pipe in some DJed music if you want to start at 8pm (we can be casual about timing)

8.10 band break 1 (if you start at 7.30)
8.30 band set 2
9.10 band break 2
9.30 band set 3
10.00/10.10 finish

10.30 the venue has a sound curfew, so we’ll need to have the sound finished by then.

Thanks, and see you in a few weeks!

Sometimes when I write these, I feel a bit uncomfortable for being such a stickler for formalities. But over the years my experience with organising DJs and volunteers, working with venues, hiring teachers and sound engineers, and even just sorting out dance troupes’ performances at a regular dance have made me realise that you do need to set all these things out clearly. It’s when you don’t state things clearly that a) people fuck up, b) there are misunderstandings that make people ANGRY, c) you get screwed over, d) people try to bully you into doing stuff you don’t want to do. If someone objects to an agreement like this, I don’t work with them. Flat, that’s my rule: you don’t accept this agreement, it’s not on.
As an organiser, it helps me to have a summary of a negotiation or bargaining process, and it also helps all of us stay on the same page. I have had people try to renege on these deals, and I have had people try to bully me into not using these agreements, or into deviating from them. No. I won’t do that. There’s quite a bit of bullying in the lindy hop world, and I have zero tolerance for it.

It turns out that you’re legally required to have these agreements when you run businesses in the arts. UNSURPRISE.

The Arts Law Centre of NSW provides templates for agreements on their website, which is fantastic: it can help you figure out how you should word things so everyone is protected, legally.

If you pay people or deal with people in situations where money changes hands (that’s you, dance people), you’ll need to think about tax (income tax, GST, etc).
Most dance business won’t need to worry about GST. You don’t have to collect if it your net income is less than $75000 per year (ATO reference). So you don’t need to deal with BAS forms or any of that rubbish, in most cases. Easy.

Contractors, Employees, and their ABNs
If you’re paying people, they’ll need to be a) employees, or b) contractors. If they’re contractors, and businesses themselves, you’ll need to collect their ABN. If they don’t have one, you can have them sign a non-declaration of ABN form (technically a ‘Statement by a supplier (reason for not quoting an ABN to an enterprise)’ form: ATO reference.) This is cool, and applies to most of us doing day-to-day work in the dance world: if you’re a hobbyist (ie this isn’t your main job), or if you’re being paid less than $75 for the work.
But what if they’re a band, and you’re paying them more than $75? Then they’ll need to give you their ABN. If they don’t, you have to withhold (and pay!) up to 46.5% of the value of the pay – as a non-declaration tax! EEEK! So, bands: get an ABN.

Insurance, Workers’ Compensation and OH&S
If you are dealing with the public, you’ll need insurance. This sounds tricky, but it isn’t, really. You can organise public liability insurance for your dance school for $300 or less with one phone call, effective within 24 hours.
Once again, there are approximately one million great resources for dealing with this stuff.

Public liability
The most basic insurance you’ll need is public liability insurance. This protects you from other people’s legal action, and nothing else.

Accident Insurance
You can also insure your students against accident, for a reasonable rate (about $4 per student per year, which you can absorb if you’re a club and the students are paying annual fees). You can also insure your teachers against accident.

Work Cover and Workers’ compensation
Ok, this is where we need to kiss the unions right on their faces for a) all this wonderful stuff, and b) also providing fantastic information about doing the right thing by your workers.

Firstly, who counts as a worker?
Anyone you pay money to. So teachers in your school, DJs or bands at your dances, sound engineers at your gigs. And even, conceivably, volunteers who receive payment in kind (ie free entry). So if you’re running a party or teaching classes with someone, you need to think about this stuff.

If you are paying workers (whether employees or contractors), and you are paying all of them more than a total of $7500 per year, then you MUST have Work Cover.
[EDIT: this doesn’t apply to you if you’re a sole trader – only pty ltd companies need to consider work cover. If you have questions about this, give Work Cover a call – their numbers are on their websites, they’re very nice, and each state is different.]

If an employer pays workers more $7500 per year in total for all wages, (in this next bit I draw and quote directly from WorkCover):

…they are required by law to have a workers compensation insurance policy (Work Cover ref)

In the event of a workplace injury or disease, the insurance policy will provide the worker with weekly benefits, medical and hospital expenses, rehabilitation services, certain personal items (eg. clothing and spectacles, if damaged in a work-related accident), and a lump sum payment for permanent impairment.

An employer is a business (including an individual) that employs or hires workers on a full-time, part-time or casual basis, under an oral or written contract of service or apprenticeship (Work Cover reference).

Occupational Health and Safety
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your workers. These involve a number of things, summed up as a) keeping the workplace safe; b) educating workers about safety; c) documenting injuries, d) reporting injuries; e) actively working to prevent injuries.

So let me make that clear: if someone has an accident at your dance or in your class or at your event, you are LEGALLY REQUIRED to make a record of it.

After all this fun stuff, you’ve really only got two other important things to do: get a PR strategy happening, and make a business plan. Which are the fun bits!

big apple

I will write a post about the Big Apple Contest we ran at Jazz BANG quite soon.
We had to teach classes and train the big apple caller and choose music and plan an entirely new competition format and do all the things. It was epic.
But I am a bit ill, so I am too tired.

But I will say this: Lance Benishek is a top shelf human being, and he made it all possible. Without him, we wouldn’t have done ANY of it, and then we wouldn’t have discovered my new most favourite thing. We wouldn’t have introduced our students to their new favourite thing, and we wouldn’t have discovered all that old newspaper stuff about the big apple in Australia.

Lance, you are awesome.

“What made Basie’s band so great?” Musicians and dancers explore the answer together

We did a superfun session at Jazz BANG that got dancers and musicians talking and demonstrating together.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.28.46 PM

(This is Kat Galang’s photo from the session. She has a really good eye for catching the feels of a situation. Look at that first year Con student having his mind blown by lindy hop. <3 ) The session was described like this: "This is a combined stream workshop, with all participants working with Marie [N'Diaye], Lennart [Westerlund], and musicians led by Andrew Dickeson, dummer and teacher in jazz history at the Sydney Consevatorium of Music. “What made Basie’s band so great?” In this session, musicians and dancers explore the answer together.”

We also invited Thomas Wadelton to join the session, bringing his talent and teaching experience as a top shelf tap dancer to the mix. On the day itself, we also invited Georgia Brooks, talented vocalist and dancer to jump in. Andrew brought two of his students with him to pretend to be Freddy Green and Walter Page.

The session was fantastic. Andrew explained how the Basie rhythm section worked, and then they demonstrated, piece by piece. He also explained what Jo Jones did on the drums that was so important, and how Walter Page approached assembling a rhythm section like this.
Then Marie explained what she liked about this feel, Andrew invited her to show us what the groove felt like, and she did.
Then Lennart talked about why the band was important to dancers, talking about the old timers’ opinions of the band.

Then Lennart and Marie did a bit of lindy hop to the band and we squeed.
Then Thomas explained what he liked about this rhythm section, and more importantly demonstrated with some tapping. That bit was exciting, because we could see and hear how Andrew managed the band (telling the guys when to play and when not to to), making the tapping + band work as one unit.
That was extremely exciting.

At this point I got excited and asked Georgia if she wanted in, and at first she was shy and they realised: nicest people ever and she was in. Andrew was all “Yeah! More the merrier!”
We took a moment, I spoke to Marie and Lennart, and Marie had a plan for demonstrating why boogie woogie and non-boogie swinging stuff feel different, so she spoke to Andrew about the plan, we got the whole crowd up on their feet, and then there was a great bit:
the band demonstrated a boogie rhythm, and we all dance to it (solo of course)
then Georgia joined in and they played a proper swinging song and we all danced and it was amazeballs.

I was sitting near some of the musicians from the Squeezebox Trio who’d come to watch, and they had a moment of “DANCING! HOW?!” and then they just relaxed and got it.

It was all very exciting and interesting. My favourite part was seeing how the musicians and dancers took my very rough plan and made it work. Andrew and his students had prepared some very good material, and Lennart and Marie (even at the end of a long, tiring weekend), just came through like guns. I think my other favourite bit was seeing Andrew and Thomas deciding they were bffs in rhythm.
I loved seeing Andrew manage that band in real time. Because my favourite part of jazz is that it’s improvised, and musicians and dancers are actually really excited and stimulated by new and unexpected things, and that’s what gets their creative juices flowing. For me, I was quite excited by my role as organiser (though I wanted to take a very light touch, and to let them do the coordinating and managing, I had to keep an eye on time, and make sure everyone had a chance to talk and demonstrate). It felt really stimulating and exciting to see just what might happen that we didn’t and couldn’t plan for. I like to embrace Lennart’s ‘we will see what will happen’ approach to events, and while it’s a bit scary and challenging for someone as control-freaky as me, it’s also exciting and wonderful.

I would LOVE to do more like this, and the feedback from the attendees was a) they wanted more dancing in that session, b) they wanted more of these sorts of session.
I am 100% in for that sort of plan, the only barrier being cost. Having musicians in the class means you have to pay five people for a workshop, not just one or two. Which makes that session cost as much as a live band. Which is expensive. But if I can find a way to absorb the cost, I will. Because it was THE BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE.

It wasn’t the first time I’d organised a band-in-dance-class session. We did something similar at the Little Big Weekend with Leigh Barker and the New Sheiks (who are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project with Kieran, Ramona, Thomas and other great dancers). But the focus there was a bit different, and we really drew on the way that band works together as a group, and the less traditional, more unusual work they’ve been doing with dancers. This session with Andrew and Marie and Lennart and Thomas was a bit more historically focussed and traditional, which was a really nice complement.

It was really good to have the two different sessions to compare. They were both about how musicians and dancers work together, but they took very different approaches. Leigh’s work is very much grounded in historical authenticity, but the approach the group takes is much more contemporary, in everything from funding to working and labour practices. Which makes sense, because this isn’t 1940, no matter how much we may wish it was.

The final point from all the musicians in both sessions is that working with dancers brings something new to playing. But Andrew said something that I thought was quite cool: he said (and I paraphrase) that playing for dancers who just dance through the same steps in the same way each time is really BORING. And he’d rather they just didn’t. And I agree: if you’re just going to dance the same way all the time, why are you dancing lindy hop and not ballroom dancing? You’re certainly not listening to the music, and you’re not responding to each partner as a unique person.
This point dovetailed nicely with the points Marie and Lennart made all weekend: first you take care of the music, and you take care of your partner. There’s no ‘correct’ way of doing anything (this foot could go here or there, it doesn’t matter), but you must take care of the rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t tight and present, then you’re in trouble. Each of us gets to the rhythm in a different way, and our bodies are all different, so the way we move will be different, and our visualisation of the rhythm will be different. Cherish that.

I think it’s a bloody good motto for dancing and life: take care of your partner, take care of the music.

I’ve continued this thinking with a post about Count Basie and his influences over here. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.
I think that that whole philosophy as change-is-good guides everything I do in dance. I am so NOT interested in just doing things the same way all the time. It’s so BORING. I like change. It scares the pants off me, but I love it.