Travelling to teach: unsolicited advice from the inexperienced

Someone in our great teaching fb group just asked

do you have advice for gaining a reputation as an instructor outside of your local/regional scene?

Of course I had a long reply!

I can’t comment as a high profile teacher, but I can as an event organiser. I tend to seek out teachers who offer something unique, are great dancers, are nice people, and are great teachers. So comp-winning videos aren’t enough reason for me to book someone.
So I’m an example of a particular type of organiser with a particular brand and clear idea of what I want in teachers.
It helps to know the organiser types, and which ones you want to work with. eg experienced dancers from small friendly scenes; new organisers from small scenes; right on up to very experienced dancers and organisers running huge international events with huge teaching staffs.

So when I look for teachers, I look for:
– A clear set of terms (their pay rate for teaching, performing, competing), food and accommodation requirements, minimum hours, etc. And good PR photos. This stuff tells me they are professional and organised, and it makes my job SO much easier.

– Evidence that the teacher is working on their own teaching and dancing all the time, not just trotting out the same old classes in sixty different countries every year. I am not interested in a package deal; I want a teacher who is growing and developing. There are a couple of exceptions (people like Syliva Sykes for example could get away with this), but I’ve done workshops with the same teachers a couple of times in a year in different countries and had the exact same class taught in exactly the same way, despite the different crowd. It’s ok to have a type of class or to teach similar material, but each time they teach it should be adjusted to the class and event, and be a bit better. This is actually why I don’t just hunt down the A list teachers for my own learning or events; I don’t want a cookie cutter experience. I’ve been dancing too long for that.

– Personal anecdotes about learning from them, from people whose opinion I value (eg teachers I know who’ve taken classes from them).

– Personal anecdotes or recommendations about their personalities from people who’s opinion is valuable (eg from people who notice whether a teacher is kind and interacts as a real person, v a person who is a bit star-struck and thinks ‘dancing with everyone’ makes a teacher a nice person).

– Opinions or recommendations from other guest teachers (this is a good one – they can (subtly usually) let you know what person X is like to work with, or if they’re a very experienced person, they can point out a talent you might not have noticed)
-> be super careful on this, because no teacher wants to be known as a gossip. So don’t push for details. Just pay attention when they talk about events.

– Videos of comp performances, choreography, demos, etc that show me interesting dancing (ie they’re not just repeating what every joe is doing), the sort of dancing I value (and you know what that means), and some historical reference points.

– My own good experiences with that teacher in their class, or just interacting with them socially.

– My own observations of that teacher’s interactions with other people. eg I’ve seen a few big name teachers be total jerks at events when they’re not working, so even though they are ok when they are ‘on’ and working, I still won’t hire them.

– Teachers who talk to anyone and everyone, not just people who can get them stuff (ie not just other teachers, organisers, etc; they talk to all sorts of people). It’s ok for teachers to be shy or less gregarious, but I have no time for arse kissers or professional shmoozers.

– Teachers who offer the right material for my local scene at the right time. Not necessarily in terms of ‘the right teaching to get my scene better’, but more ‘the right vibe that will sell tickets and make people happy now’.

– Teachers who offer more than just classes. So I like teachers who are doing interesting research, are DJs, are musicians, like working with musicians, give good talks, etc etc. They don’t have to do these things at my event, but it does offer something more.

– The right interests and class content to suit my own projects. eg I was talking to a very high profile teacher about working at my event, but eventually chose not to work with them, not because they wouldn’t bring crowds (they so would), not because they were rubbish, but because their values and interests didn’t mesh with what I was doing. eg I look for teachers who want to try new things, work with musicians in interesting ways, and perhaps do unconventional class structures. This often doesn’t gel with the top name professional teachers who have a very set way of teaching and working at events (and that’s ok).

So I guess I’d recommend:
– Thinking about how you’d like to work as a teacher, out of the classroom. eg do you want huge events? Do you want to travel internationally? Do you want to travel to places like Asia v Europe? How much time do you want to spend traveling (eg coming to Australia takes at least a week of travel jet lag and work)? etc etc

– Be yourself, and work to your own values. Don’t try to be ‘fashionable’, unless you just want to get gigs quickly.

– Cultivate networks. And by that, I mean socialise like a real person, not in a fake shmoozy way. Don’t try to be super-social if you’re not; it’s ok to be shy or quieter. Just be a real person. Oh, and don’t be a dick. Be a nice person. You want to work with people you like and who share your values, not just with any old stooge. And go to the type of events you want to work at, or to the type of events that attract people you want to work with. So your crowd at ILHC isn’t like your crowd at Lindy Bout.

– Cultivate contacts. There are people in the scene who recommend teachers for gigs, are regularly consulted by organisers about teachers’ reps, and are generally very useful people. But they mightn’t be famous teachers or organisers or DJs. They could be that woman in her 60s who social dances, does classes, and doesn’t hobnob. But everyone seems to know her, and she’s been dancing for 20 years, and done every type of class or party under the sun. She’ll be the type of person who’ll know whether a teacher is a nice person or not, or have been privy to rumours about misconduct.
Think long term about this – you might meet them this year at LoneStar, but not see a gig come your way for two years. A good contact takes their time and doesn’t offer their recommendation lightly.

Things that put me off:
– Gendered language in classes, inappropriate behaviour, etc. You’d think it’d be obvious, but teachers who drink to excess, who hit on lots of people, who swear too much, who are disrespectful or sexist or racist or homophobic, who take advantage of organisers or other dancers, etc are shithouse.

– Aggressive self-promotion by teachers.
I’m regularly approached by teachers at events wanting to talk about coming to teach in Australia. I usually don’t mind if we are already friends or have some sort of rapport; it seems the logical extension of our relationship if we ‘click’ professionally. But I do get random teachers who approach me when I don’t even know them, trying to pressure me into booking them. It makes me supremely uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure it’s a cultural thing. I often close the conversation with a vague comment about already having booked someone. And then I run away. So putting organisers on the spot is a bad idea. If I am interested in someone coming to my city, by the time I mention it to them in person, I’ve decided I WANT them.

– This is a culturally specific thing, but in Australia we are quite uncomfortable with ‘tall poppies’ who self-promote aggressively. It can be ok for an American to list all their accomplishments and send an email to other Americans soliciting a gig. But for many Australians this can seem too aggressive and arrogant.
As a heinous example, we often get single American men (usually blues teachers) approaching non-organisers with a ‘deal’ where they fly to Australia if the local person organises a gig.
This generally makes experienced organisers pretty uncomfortable, and it can exploit inexperienced people who don’t know how to say no, or feel flattered. These guys often arrive acting as though they’re literally a great white savour bringing dance to the colonies. When they really aren’t very great dancers and aren’t good teachers. They often do a bunch of gigs in the region, which tells me they don’t have any/many regular bookings, and have a wide open schedule with no local business or teaching commitments. All this stuff is mighty suspicious, and we often find out later they weren’t on the right visa, were sexually inappropriate, and did things like buy or use drugs inappropriately or illegally, borrowed money from dancers, or used dancers for their homes or resources.

I’ve noticed, working with Korean organisers, that there are cultural differences that are hard to discover until you’ve tripped over them. Even just working with translators requires a particular set of teaching skills and personality.
So research the dance and culture of new countries and scenes before you go there. And go to a scene to dance as a punter before you start trying to get gigs there.

-> so maybe talking about general dance stuff with organisers, casually saying that you like the sound of scene X in their city, and are interested in traveling more is ok.

Flat vs heirarchical power in safe space discourse

Following on from my last post, Conflict or Bullying?….

There are technical definitions for harassment, abuse, and bullying in various government or medical literatures. But I’m finding these aren’t as significant as the perception of these differences within the dance world.
For context, the last two years since Steven Mitchell was openly outed as a serial rapist and sexual offender, have seen dance scenes around the world leap into action to develop policies, processes, and practices which respond to and prevent sexual assault and harassment. This could be referred to as ‘safe spaces’ discourse in the scene (even though many people don’t use that phrase).

Now that we’re two years in, particularly in Australia, where we’re actually a little ahead of the game, we’re seeing people moving to a next stage. How to maintain these processes how to support and care for safe space workers, how and when to lift bans or enforce stronger measures. We’re also seeing organisations exploring formal legal options and advice, and in Australia, there is a general movement towards coordinated efforts. A sort of loose national consortium or more accurately loose network of communication. This means that various bodies and individuals who run events, teach classes, or are active in their local scenes are talking about these issues and sharing information and resources.
In an activist sense, we’ve moved from agitate to educate and are now into organise.

We can say that there is, on the whole, a very general (though not comprehensive) agreement that we need to address sexual assault and harassment in the scene in an active way. This is quite a different culture than the one I wrote about in 2011 in A Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities.
I think this is a very good thing.

We are also seeing another interesting (and occasionally frustrating) issue developing: dancers are beginning to talk about and act on a range of anti-social behaviours, but they don’t always (rarely?) share the same understanding of ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’, ‘conflict,’ and so on.
Two of the key issues seem to be: what do we take responsibility for responding to (as institutional bodies)? How do we respond to various behaviours? And what is our scale for ‘anti-social’.
So, while we’re all on board for ‘improving safety’, now we’re seeing clear differences in how people think ‘we’ (as a community) should respond, who this ‘we’ is, and when it should happen.

I’ve seen two general groups of thinking:
1. Peeps who would like to preserve a hierarchical, top-down power structure, where we have powerful people (organisers, teachers, etc) who respond with authority to incidences and reports.

2. Peeps who would like to see broader cultural change to undo some of these hierarchies, so we have a flatter community power structure, and more people feeling powerful enough to intervene in unsafe situations, or to stand up for themselves and others.

I’m in the latter group.
I’ve noticed that people in the first group are very focussed on processes of reporting, ‘punishment’ (from ostracising/banning to police intervention), and essentially maintaining the status quo.

People like me, who are in the latter group are much more focussed on doing things like changing the way we teach dance, and on building class cultures where students do stuff like ask each other to dance in class (and know how to say yes or no, and how to deal with either response), know how to say ‘please move your hand’ or ‘I’m not ok with that’. For a lot of teachers, one of the important parts of this approach is to rethink the lead-follow dynamic, from changing the emphasis on heteronormative gendering (where men lead and women follow) to shifting from moves-based dancing (where leads lead a zillion moves in a row and follows execute them), to movement-based dancing (where both partners interact in a more collaborative way, with an emphasis on rhythm and the music rather than executing moves. The ‘ambidancetrous’ movement is a part of this latter group, but also what I think of as ‘gentle teaching’, where classes are less focussed on mini-routines, teacher-centredness, and class ‘levels’. A ‘gentle teaching’ approach focusses more on social dancing skills in class (eg students counting themselves in, lots more music in class, etc etc etc).

I’ve talked a lot about teaching, but there are other projects that have similar goals (cultural change) and aren’t focussed on teaching. A good example is a very wonderful shift away from school-organised parties in Sydney, and towards individual- or friend-organised parties. This has meant that we’ve seen lots of smaller, more collaborative parties in the last couple of years, where the people putting the events on work with friends and aim to have fun. My favourite part of this is the collaboration with musicians. Whether they’re blues musicians, gypsy jazz bands or swing bands. From a nerdy music POV, I’ve seen that these bands rarely work from written scores; they tend to do more improvised stuff, and there’s more to-and-fro between musicians in the band, and between musicians and dancers. It also seems that musicians like these gigs a LOT more than the other type of gigs.

I really like the second as an example of cultural change, as we see a move away from centralised hierarchies (with power and decision-making centred on one or two people) to localised, flatter hierarchies (where decision making can by done by anyone, and anyone can run a party, and we attend because we think it sounds fun, or because they’re our friends, rather than because we feel institutionally obligated).

One of the interesting parts of the second approach is how Sydney (as my working example) has integrated safe space practice and discussion into this culture. If we are localised (rather than centralised) and we have lots of people making decisions, how does a code of conduct work?
Things I’ve seen in Sydney:
– people share resources and ideas
– people are saying ‘I am personally responsible for my friends’ and my own safety’. And I see men saying this too. So individual people are feeling engaged, rather than relying on a powerful person at the top of a hierarchy to ‘fix things’.
– there’s more communication between individuals running parties, but also between people who are working on events in other capacities. eg the people who managed the door at Jazz with Ramona this past weekend also manage the door at other parties and events, and they are taking their experiences with both groups’ safety policies and growing a practical, tailored approach that works in both spaces.

I really like all this stuff.

But a clear consequence of these two general groups of thinking has been some clashes in ideas about who should do what. And about what ‘counts’ as harassment, bullying, or conflict.

So, right at the end here, I’m actually in favour of shunning or ostracising in some cases. The most obvious of these is when groups of women say ‘no thank you’ when a known groper asks them to dance. They feel confident enough to say no without justification. And they are making it clear to him that they are the bosses of their bodies, and his antisocial behaviour has had consequences.

If those women had chosen instead to make a complaint to a powerful person, who had then ‘warned’ that man, then those women remain disempowered, and the organiser has the power.

Of course, in this environment, knowing when to do formal bans, warnings, and escalation of responses is a more complex issue. And this is where I (and a few friends all over the world) are now: how do you use official roles and processes in a flatter power structure?

Hence my interest in understanding the difference between conflict (which I think is inevitable and ok – especially as it teaches us how to manage conflict in healthy ways) and bullying/harassment.

Photography at dance events

This interesting article, Photographers Upset by ‘Ask First’ Stickers at BDSM Folsom Street Fair, is getting around the fb at the moment. It caught my eye for its focus on how photographers feel about being told no, they can’t just do whatever they want with people’s images. I’ve had more than one (male) photographer get the shits with me when I won’t let them have free entry to my dance event, and won’t let them take a zillion photos. They tend to assume that just because they have a big camera and a website, I’ll be desperate to have them take photos of my event, slap them online, so they can make money from them.
Soz, no, mate. That’s not the case.

I’ve been thinking about photography at dance events lately. There are a few photographers around the scene who use the title ‘photographer’ or ‘videographer’ to get free entry to gigs, to take lots of photos, and then wack them up on their sites, without honouring (or making explicit) a take-down policy.

Male photographers (they are always male) have approached volunteers at the door on the night at my events, asking if they can ‘take photos’ for free entry. Hoping, of course, that the volunteers will be flattered into saying yes.
HA. NO WAY, mate. All staff at my events are well versed in their rights, and in the rights of other dancers. Our OH&S policy is all about empowering peeps, and they know exactly what to do if bloke asks a dodgy question at the door.

Me, I hunt down photographers and ask them to take photos if I like their work. I’m absolutely not going to say yes to your last minute request to ‘take official photos’ just to get PR for my event. Because I will certainly have already seen your work, and if I haven’t contacted you, I don’t rate your work or your professional behaviour.

Friends are an exception: I’m happy to talk to newer photographers, or photographers who want to get a feel for working with dancers. But we talk about this well before the event.

For what it’s worth, better etiquette is:
– email organisers ahead of time to inquire about photography at an event
– outline your take-down policy, your approach, your ethos
– be ok if they say ‘no’
– if you want to do lots of photos, you will need either a) a professional role, or b) to pay for a camera permit/licence/ticket to the event
– ask in person (not through a third person like a door person on the night (!!!!)
– if you get a ‘no’, SUCK IT UP, pay the ticket price
– have, publicise, and honour a ‘take-down policy’ for your website.

A take-down policy:
– where you make it easy for subjects in photos to contact you and request you ‘take down’ the photo from your website
– you honour these requests immediately, no matter the reasons
– is important for respecting dancers’ choices about how their bodies are seen and ‘used’
-> are practical in a relatively small scene like the lindy hop world.

Common sense:
– don’t be taking up-skirts or down-neckline photos. Yes, we do see undies in lindy hop, but get your shit together on this one.
– if it’s a very personal moment (eg someone crying, a couple in an intimate embrace, etc), then think twice before publicising this photo.

Sydney’s last minute lindy exchange (10-13 May 2016)

We recently did something cool in Sydney.

The Sydney Swing Festival was cancelled at the last minute, for a range of reasons, and the local Sydney dancers were concerned visitors would be left with nothing to do. One woman in particular, Christine, started a facebook group. Her first post on the 2nd of June was this simple:

This group is to share local Sydney events and contacts with people who are travelling to Sydney for the (now cancelled) Sydney Swing Festival.
Please add anyone you think would like to be in the loop.
Locals: please share your knowledge and extend your hospitality for any social activities underway.
Visitors: let us know what you need (link).

At about the same time, there were a few conversations getting about on facebook messenger, with people beginning to Make Plans.

And then everyone jumped in and got involved. It was GREAT.

By that evening we had a rough program for the whole weekend. One week before the event.

By the Monday before the event, we had a solid weekend of dancing sorted out. Including three live bands, DJs, picnics, late night parties. All organised by a bunch of different Sydney people. Including:

It was one of the best exchanges I’ve been to. Certainly the best one I’ve been to in Sydney in years. Each event was run by a different group of people, all of whom put their hands up at the last minute to make the weekend fun. It was put together in a week, so there was no long term stressing. All the promotion was word of mouth or via facebook. I did run up a dodgy paper version of the program that people could print out themselves, but it wasn’t really necessary. All sorts of people volunteered lifts between venues, hosting for guests, generally took care of each other. There were heaps of volunteers running the door, bumping in and bumping out at events. And all the organisers worked together to be sure everyone had DJing covered, etc etc.

I booked one of them – Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band – who I’ve worked with before heaps of times, and who are just about to become THE band of the year, booked for all (and I do mean ALL) of the major Australian lindy hop events this year. They were also playing Saturday night, and I was a bit worried that they’d be a bit samey too nights in a row. But NO. On the Friday we had George Washingmachine play violin with us, and OMG. You know those 50s Ellington live recordings with Ray Nance playing violin? That’s what it was like. They played C Jam Blues. Oh. My. God. This band. I just can’t gush about them enough. Fuck. Holy fuck. They are 100% four on the floor solid swinging jazz. Andrew is a big Basie fan, and he knows his shit. He works with VERY good musicians, and they play riff arrangements, not from scores. Anyhoo, they also played Saturday night, but with a trombonist, not violin. Andrew on drums, and then a bass and Peter Locke on piano. Shit was HOT.

The Sunday band was the Unity Hall Jazz Band, also full of amazingly good musicians. But more a hot jazz band than a solid swinging band. Which was a great contrast.
I wasn’t impressed by any of the DJing, which is a shame, but then, I’m a hardarse. I thought Sharon’s band break DJing on Saturday was grand, and well chosen to complement the band. But otherwise…
Ah well. The bands were so good, and I danced so much to them, it was all ok.

If you went to everything, it would have cost you $86. Which is ridiculous. Because everything was pulled together in one week. And as a serious music nerd, the music was fantastic: three REALLY good bands. Two of whom were left out of pocket by the cancelled event, but were ‘rescued’ by the last minute gigs. Why was it so cheap? Because there weren’t any of the extra expenses that make a weekend more exy: no printing or publicity design work; only one event for each organiser to pay for; very few volunteers on the roster; no flights or accommodation expenses; no sound engineers (we cobbled it together on the night); no paypal fees to cover; etcetera and so on and so on.

As I said, it was the best exchange I’ve been to in ages. Great live music. Good will and good company. I only had to organise one party, then I could just party on, Wayne. There were 6 different groups involved in running events during the weekend (3 of the 4 other Sydney lindy hop groups were involved in other ways – promotion, attending, etc), and the good will and general enthusiasm was most excellent.
It was like going to an old school lindy exchange.

One of the interesting challenges that I saw come up, though, was how to coordinate a code of conduct/oh&s process that covered the whole weekend? One of the groups have an existing code of conduct and safety strategy. We have our Code of conduct, and one or two of the others also have various policies. Some don’t. The issue then becomes, how to create continuity in safety and OH&S policies at an event like this one?

My first instinct would be to have a team of ‘safety officers’ who are present at each event, and are clearly trained in how to respond to OH&S issues (eg injuries, assaults, etc), and are clearly visible at each event. You’d also have to be sure each of them was vetted and cleared. I actually think that this approach would have been quite successful over the weekend.
Since we instituted our policies, I’ve found that while I haven’t had any reports of sexual harassment, I have found that people are more likely to look out for each other, and actually come to the door peeps or me asking for things like a quiet place to sit down; a snack to deal with low blood pressure; ice packs for injuries; bandaids or pain killers for minor problems. This has been a very nice result: people don’t suffer in silence, and other people watch out for each other.

So I’m wondering if we could make up a ‘safety pack’, delegate and train a team, and then set it in motion, with the go-ahead of the organisers. You could even offer to fill this role at other events for organisers at other events.
You’d need:

  • a first aid kit with things like ice packs, band aids, panadols, bandages, etc (and know how to use it);
  • a snack kit with things like sweets, biscuits, bottles of water, etc (and know how to use it);
  • a reporting system (eg a report form, and record keeping system);
  • a delegated ‘quiet space’ to make reports, or for people to have a quiet sit down;
  • a clear set of guidelines for the team, and for the organisers, so that everyone knows what the terms and responsibilities are;
  • a simpler, paper version of the guidelines so all the punters knew the deal;
  • a website or facebook page with all this info, so that organisers could advertise it before the weekend, and punters knew where to go and what to do if they got in trouble;
  • training for all the team;
  • vetted team members.

I’m finding that the volunteers on my teams are actually so experienced now, they know what to do. And punters are getting just as good: if they see someone, or dance with someone who’s feeling rough, they know what to do. And they do it.
I think a scheme like this would also give general people a way to step up and take care of each other.

Anyhoo, the weekend was GREAT, and it really invigorated the Sydney dancers. You could see people saying, “YES!” and getting involved. And it was also a really GREAT event – lots of good dancing, good company, and good fun. It really showed just how diverse, and how amicable the Sydney lindy hop scene is.

Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we actually doing about sexual harassment?

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

Documents (ie rules):
1. We have a code of conduct on our site. But I’m pretty sure no one reads it.
Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 5.46.41 pm
So I made an abridged, paper version which is now available at the door to events on the back of a paper program (and everyone picks up a paper program, and gets one in their rego packs), which I talk about when I’m MCing at every party and workshop day at an event. I actually say it explicitly: “Have a read of this code. There’s info here about what to do if you get injured, if you feel unsafe, or if someone’s hassling you.” And I’ve actually turned to one of the (big blokey male) band members and said, “X and I were talking about this earlier, and now X knows what to do if he feels unsafe.” And we all loled, but it was very effective – no awkward shyness or silliness. I just added it to the talk about where the first aid kit is and how to get a drink of water.
The online version has actual descriptions of what counts as sexual harassment. That part is THE most important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

how to exploit people


I’ve had a couple of emails this week alone asking me if my business would like the opportunity to work for free. I said no.
But I know a lot of DJs work for free for ‘experience’ or ‘exposure’, I know newer dancers perform for free for ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’, and I know teachers work at big events within Australia for ‘experience’. None of whom receive free entry to the event or any equitable compensation (eg a free pass). One of the bigger areas of exploitation in the dance world is administration – running large events or regular classes.
All of this is pretty much bullshit.

I’m particularly annoyed by the way volunteering is used to gain free labour from dancers, without providing safe, reasonable working conditions. Volunteering is a good thing in many cases (and the lindy hop community needs it to work), but you have a responsibility as the employer (because that’s what you are) to provide safe, equitable, and just working conditions and terms for all the people who work for you. Volunteers, employees, and contractors.Simply justifying this lack of pay as ‘growing the scene’ or doing it ‘for the scene’ is not ok.

If you really want to ‘grow the scene’ you pay people so they can then invest some of that money back into the scene (or you know, paying their electricity bill). A healthy, growing community is sustainable, economically and socially. In other words, you want to retain skilled workers (rather than overworking them and burning them out) so you can retain their knowledge and abilities and help your community improve what it does.
You want to offer people opportunities to develop these skills and interests, so that they can move on to run their own projects, develop their own ideas, and help your community become a more interesting, diverse creative space. In other words, you’ll get better dancing, DJing, and events in your scene if people stick around longer, and feel good about what they do. Eventually people get tired of being screwed over, and they drop out.

More importantly, when you exploit people, you are facilitating conditions which make it possible for your workers to be abused in other ways. Including sexual harassment and bullying. So when you say, “Oh, you should DJ/teach/manage the door for free because I want you to, and I’m just doing this ‘for the scene’,” you’re telling people that they should do unfair, unsafe, unpleasant, exploitative things ‘for the scene’ just because someone powerful or ‘important’ asks them to.

Whenever I hear the phrases ‘grow the scene’ and ‘doing this for the scene/community’, my alarm bells ring. Volunteers, workers, dancers, DJs, teachers, students ARE the scene. So you should – you have a responsibility protect their interests and rights.