(Dee Daniels Locke, teacher at HJDF, pic from the event’s fb PR, photo by Ben Hejkel).
While bunches of white people were organising dance events to celebrate the white revival of lindy hop day with a bunch of white teachers this year, Tena Marales-Armstrong was bringing the shit in Houston.
The Houston Jazz Dance Festival is run by Tena, a black woman living in America, it features poc in all the promo material, and it stars a team of black teachers (and Mike Pedroza, so I guess we’re talking poc :D ), TWO BLACK WOMEN MCS, a black DJ, and a black band. It’s a part of Tena’s bigger event, the International Swing Dance Championships, a project which celebrates the living dances of black communities in America today.
This is vernacular dance.
Let’s stop and talk about Tena Morales-Armstrong. She’s not only a great dancer and all round impressive woman, she’s also the co-manager of some of the biggest events in the lindy hopping world. ILHC. Swing and Soul. Lindyfest. International Swing Dance Championships. The modern dance world likes to talk a lot about competition winning dancers, young and flexible performers, popular teachers. But the people who help build these careers are the business people and organisers behind the huge events that employ them. Tena is one of these people, and she is important.
Let me spell it out.
A black woman runs some of the biggest name lindy hop events in the world, and she is running an event with an all-black list of artists, as part of a dance event which proves, definitively, that lindy hop didn’t die and need reviving. It just grew up into hand dancing, fast dancing, Houston Two-Step, Chicago Stepping, Detroit Ballroom… living, healthy black dances in black communities.
And I want to go back to that teaching team.
Latasha Barnes, Mike Pedroza, Josh McLean, Dee Daniels locke, Michelle Stokes, Laurel Ryan, Alexis Davile, Cyle Dixon, Nel Lopez. Two of those (Alexis and Cyle) were junior lindy hoppers at ILHDC a few years ago. Michelle and Laurel were the MCs (I saw them MC at Focus. They are the BEST). These are some big names, here. Just try getting Latasha for your event any time in the next twelve months. The woman is seriously popular at the moment. So this isn’t just a random grouping of dancers. This is some top shelf talent.
If you are interested in the ‘decolonising lindy hop’ project that’s gaining ground in the US, you should probably have attended this event. Yes, it’s all very nice and well to attend a panel session at Lindy Focus, or to drop some cash on the Frankie Manning Foundation. But actually putting money down on an event like this – black owned, black run, black attended, black community – is important. I so wish I could have gone. It kills me that I couldn’t. So, NEXT YEAR. I will put my money where my mouth is.
On the face of it, nothing. There is nothing wrong with teaching a class where students experiment with ‘gendered’ movements. In fact, a class like that is very powerful and empowering, because it teaches us how gendered movement is constructed and learnt through the way we hold our bodies, the speed of our movements, how we occupy space, the way we hold our head, our gaze and eye line, etc etc etc.
I’ve seen a number of classes where this has been done very cleverly, and very well. Once Marie N’diaye was teaching a chorus line class at Herräng, where students were taken through the ways in which chorus lines in the 30s were gendered: how to emphasise your hips v your shoulders, how to turn your head, present a particular profile, focus on shapes or sizes of movements. I’ve also seen ‘girls’ hip hop’ classes taught by a man at a local street dance studio, where the students were taken through very femme movements and choreography employed by women dancers in music videos.
All of these classes make it clear (implicitly) that gender is something you can perform. That you can put on gender and take it off again, like a suit of clothes. And this idea of ‘performing gender’ is borrowed from Judith Butler’s book ‘Gender Trouble’. This is very important. Let me make it clearer: Butler (and other feminists and transpolitics writers) lay out very good cases for the idea that gender is something we _do_, not something we _are_. We learn to behave in ways which align with a particular gender role. This gender role is constructed by the culture in which we live. And the gender we choose is often chosen for us, by our families, our schools, our communities.
Right here and now, we can borrow from black feminists, who point out that there is no single way of being ‘female’ or ‘male’, and that these gender identities are culturally specific. So authors like bell hooks in We Real Cool point out how the dominant masculinity in modern American culture is _white_. It’s informed by race as well as gender. And then authors like Thomas Defrantz in Dancing Many Drums go further, pointing out how black masculinity isn’t just regulated by white ideas of what it is to be a man, but by heterocentric ideas of what a man should be.
In sum, gender is made.
Gender is not just about skin colour or the food you eat. It’s about class, it’s about sexuality, it’s about age, it’s about who we are and how we live every day.
And there are ‘dominant’ ideas of gender in different cultures. By dominant, I mean ‘most preferred’, or ‘seen most often’ or most favoured’. In some cultures there are more than two acceptable gender identities. But within western capitalist heterosexuality, there are only two. In this limited world, there is a dominant, hegemonic masculinity. This idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ is culturally specific. I like this term ‘hegemonic masculinity’ because it asks us to talk about class – capitalism – as well.
An ‘ideal masculine’ varies between cultures. If we’re talking about lindy hop, then, we need to allow for the fact that lindy hop today is a cross-cultural, international activity and community. There are different types of masculinity. Many cultures go another step further, and order different gender identities (or ways of being masculine or feminine) in hierarchies. Or, some ways of being a man or being a woman are considered ‘better’ than others.
So what is the ‘hegemonic masculinity’ at work in today’s lindy hop? The answer is going to be different, depending on which country and which city and which local community you’re considering. Let me start with Australia, because that is where I live. And let me start with white, mainstream culture. Here, hegemonic masculinity is:
white (anglo-celtic, coloniser)
Where did I get this list?
Well, if we have a look at a few things in my culture, we can find answers very quickly:
The nation’s political leaders (prime minister, cabinet ministers, etc);
The people with the most money (millionaires, industrialists, business owners);
Religious leaders in the most popular religions (bishops, ministers);
The most commonly-seen and employed actors and entertainment figures.
All of these people are male. And until very very recently, openly heterosexual (often ‘proved’ by having a wife and children), white, able-bodied. Rich. Coloniser.
You can do the same sort of exercise with the dance world. What are the most powerful roles in the modern lindy hop world? How many of these roles are filled by men, or filled by women? And what types of men and women fill these roles? How does your local scene compare with what you see in the videos and websites for huge international American, European, or Asian events? How does your national scene compare with these?
But what about women?
Hegemonic masculinity cannot exist without a dominant model for ‘femininity’. This ‘ideal woman’ is:
white (anglo-celtic, coloniser)
But she is dependent on a male partner, as she is also
physically weak or vulnerable
economically weak or dependant
Her heterosexuality is proven by her ability to have children, and her physical appearance (her sexual appeal). This ‘appeal’ is again contextually dependent. In Australia, she is slim, long-legged, pale-skinned, long (straight) haired, has small feet and hands, clear skin, ample bosom (but not too ample), hips (but not too broad)… and so on.
In fact, her body is an impossible ideal. Women are trained to pursue this impossible ideal at the expense of all else. They are trained to spend more time on how their body looks, than on how it works. To spend more time thinking about what they look like, than on what they can do. They spend time in the gym working on their body’s appearance, rather than their body’s functionality.
From here this ideal femininity and masculinity can also be defined by how they behave, or how they act. Men are active, physically tough, powerful, defensive and offensive agents. They take up physical and aural space in public. Women are passive, acted upon, vulnerable, hurt, weak. They make themselves small and speak softly so they don’t take up space. These two models are used to justify the relationship between the ideal male and ideal female: the female requires a strong man to protect her. The strong man requires the vulnerable female to give him children (and incidentally prove he’s not gay :D ) and keep his home. The active, fierce man is complemented by the passive, emotional, gentle woman.
And so on.
All of the things I am writing here are old news to anyone who’s done any feminist reading. I myself have two theses and a bunch of articles drawing on extensive field work and textual analysis to prove these ideas. In fact, my doctoral thesis looked at how this stuff plays out in the lindy hop world.
Let’s go all the way back to that first question:
What is the problem with teaching ‘traditional’ gender roles in lindy hop?
Nothing. While some feminists would disagree with me, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being vulnerable or small or pale or delicate. Or strong and bold and heterosexual. But I do think there’s a very big problem with a) these models being presented as the only ways of being a man or woman, b) with ‘man’ and ‘woman’ being the only options, and c) with these dichotomies (either-or options) being the most preferred models.
In lindy hop today, we see traditional white, heterosexual gender roles rewarded and valorised across cultures.
Take a look at the winning ‘couples’ at ILHC, the Savoy Cup, or any of the other big competition events. Who wears the dresses? How does each partner move independently, and in reference to their partner? What is their ethnicity? What angles and lines do their bodies make?
The competition finalists and winners are almost exclusively white, heterosexual-presenting, and adhere to these very conventional gender roles. We can make occasional exceptions, we might even see one same-sex couple. There may be a few women wearing trousers. But taken as a whole the repeating, and therefore dominant elements do nothing to reconstruct or challenge the gender norms. We never see women leads in winning couples. We never see men as winning follows. In fact, we rarely see a deviation from this gender binary: man/woman. How dull. How dangerous.
What’s the problem with this?
If these winners align with the dominant values of their community, is there anything particularly wrong with this?
This is where things get really interesting.
What exactly is the problem with these two gender roles?
These two roles encourage particular types of behaviour. That’s a very general comment, so let’s get specific. I’m going to take an issue that’s very important: safety.
How do these roles contribute to sexual assault and harassment in the modern lindy hop world?
I’m going to assume that you agree with me that sa and sh are bad things. Remember, this isn’t a universal belief. There are plenty of people who don’t believe that sh and sa are actual real things. I believe that they are. I believe that they are bad, not only for the people involved, but also for the community as a whole.
sa and sh physically hurt people, but they also discourage women from entering high profile or well paid roles (DJing, teaching, MCing, organising). This means that sh and sa limit the way our communities grow and do things. It makes us ordinary.
Let’s take that dominant feminine identity and apply her to lindy hop.
The follow role is associated with the feminine
We only have women or femme folk teach as follows at big events, we see workshops in ‘feminine styling for follows’ (but rarely other gendered options).
Follows are ‘quieter’
She doesn’t initiate moves or outshine the lead. She doesn’t interrupt or speak louder than the lead in class.
Follows are objects that things happen to
She doesn’t turn or spin; she is spun. She doesn’t decide where to move; she is moved. She doesn’t choose moves; the moves are chosen for her. She isn’t an equal partner; she makes the lead’s moves ‘work’.
Follows ‘look beautiful’ – they have long legs, small hands and feet, a slim build (with bosom, but not too much), they have pale skin, they have long straight hair
She wears clothes that exaggerate these elements – dresses and skirts, form fitting trousers, high heels (to make her legs seem longer and her feet smaller), make up. She dances in ways that exaggerate these elements – she points her toes and straightens her legs and arms, she extends her neck and drops her shoulders, she opens her arms with the palms up and open.
SHE IS WHITE. SHE HAS STRAIGHT HAIR. SHE HAS PALE SKIN. SHE HAS A SMALL ARSE AND THIN THIGHS. SHE HAS SMALL MUSCLES, NOT BIG, STRONG MUSCULATURE.
Follows are helpful, polite, and unaggressive
She does as she’s led, she doesn’t abort moves. She spins as many times as the lead wants. She turns in the direction the lead wants. She doesn’t interrupt the lead’s moves, or distract from him. She is passive and helpful. She does not solo dance alone. She looks at the lead all the time. She does not say no to dances. She does not stop dances mid-way. She doesn’t tell men to stop hurting or touching her. She will compromise her rhythm or timing for the sake of the lead’s rhythm or timing.
Follows are vulnerable; things happen to them, which they need to be protected from
She is vulnerable to kicks and accidents on the dance floor, and has to be protected by her lead. She is vulnerable to sh on the dance floor, so she needs a man to protect her. She doesn’t say no to dances. She must be walked to her car.
The follow is dependent on a (male) lead
She doesn’t say no to a dance; she cannot solo dance (she’s too afraid, she doesn’t know what to do). She cannot dance with a woman; only men can/are lead properly. Dancing with a woman would make people think she was a lesbian. She gains her worth from her heterosexual relationship with a man. She doesn’t tell a harasser to STOP; she reports him to a (male) organiser.
And so on and so on.
But remember: you cannot have this ideal femininity without an ideal masculine, and vice versa. Because in this story, the ideal fem or masc is heterosexual. Without a man, a woman is a lesbian (or a failure). Without a woman, a man is gay (or a failure).
We can do the same exercise with men and this ideal masculinity.
Can you do that? I’m a bit tired of typing, so I’ll leave you to make a little list. Write it down. What are the ways ‘leading’ is gendered hegemonic ‘masculine’?
These are all things that happen on the dance floor. But the modern lindy hop culture encourages us to see dance floor behaviour as the ideal model for off-floor behaviour. The most influential and powerful people at events are teachers and competition winners – people valued for their dance skills.
What happens when we extend this idea that a woman never says no to an invitation to dance? She is, in effect, told that she cannot say no to a man wanting to touch her. That she should smile and facilitate all the things that he wants to do to her body.
I wish that I could dismiss this as an exaggeration. But if we keep in mind the whole rest of the culture in which lindy hop is embedded, then we see that it’s not only unlikely, it’s also very difficult for a woman to say ‘NO’ to a man’s desire to touch her body. On and off the dance floor.
Here, look: this is how a dominant gender model informs lindy hop culture, and how this gendered dancing enables sexual assault and harassment.
Let’s go back a step.
Because I can’t stop there. I can’t stop at this feminist analysis. I need to do some feminist activism as well. I need to do and say something that will make it possible for me to go to lindy hop events. Make it possible for me to dance.
What are the problems?
1. We are using only white, middle class, mainstream Australian culture as a source for gender identities.
2. We haven’t considered this dance in historical context. What was happening in terms of gender in the 1920s and 30s?
3. We haven’t considered this dance in historical cultural context. What was happening in terms of black gender in the 1920s and 30s?
4. We haven’t considered this dance in contemporary cultural context. What is happening in terms of black/Asian/poc gender in Australia today? What is happening in terms of black gender in America today?
There are ways we can rethink gender in lindy hop: by actually watching and listening to black dancers.
In other words: thinking intersectionally about lindy hop (decolonising lindy hop; taking it out of white hands) will help us prevent sexual assault and harassment. I’m saying it clearly: there’s a problem with white, middle class, mainstream masculinity and femininity. And it has done bad things to lindy hop. Bad things to black lindy hoppers as well as white.
So, as a white women, I need to get my learn on.
For me, the first thing I have to do is sit down and listen. Stop talking. I need to watch and see what black dancers are already doing. I don’t ask them to come and give a lecture or wait at my beck and call in a dance class. I look at their work now.
Let’s look at those examples I listed above, where we had men dancing the ‘femme’ role. Let’s look at vogueing. Here, at first glance, we have ‘men’ performing that dominant femininity. But that sentence doesn’t go anywhere near explaining all the things that are happening. For a start, the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and ‘female’ and ‘masculinity’ seem awfully limited.
Who are these people dancing? Would they describe themselves as men? As women? As trans? As nonbinary (enby – N.B.)? As soon as we ask these questions, and we ask these people these questions, we get a sudden explosion of gender and identity. I like to imagine that a black and white binary drawing (man/woman, male/female, strong/weak, good/bad) just opens up in a massive rainbow spectrum of colour and identity. Strength, weakness, power, vulnerability, creativity, gentleness, violence, beauty, ugliness.
Right here, we see a whole range of ways to do femininity or masculinity. Lots of different ways to be a man or a woman. Or to be a person that doesn’t want to fit into this binary.
Queer studies gives us lots of ways of to think about gender and human relations.
Let’s go back again. Remember where I mentioned Tommy Defrantz? Where I talked about the kneebone bent?
Defrantz is a queer black dancer, whose book looks at black dance history in America and asks ‘where is the queer black masculinity here?’ He himself offers us a very different way of moving his body:
Dood is extremely gay. He is so gay. He is the gayest. And he’s out. And he’s black. And he’s political. He’s also a dancer. A street dancer. A concert dancer. An academic. A thinker. An activist. He is all these things at once, AND he’s a man. This is a different way of embodying masculinity. Look at him while speaks the language of tertiary academia, the academy, territory of white masculine power.
But listen to his higher pitched voice. Look at the way he holds his hands close to his body, taking up less space. The way he shifts from foot to foot, implying uncertainty or a lack-of-obstinant-determination. Then watch all that change as he STAMPS into the ground with the buck dances. The way he embodies this role of the ‘buck‘: aggressive, fierce, determined, sexualised, large. And then he shifts again, demonstrating the wing dances, which he morphs until THERE! we see vogueing, and the ballrooms of 1980s queer black Harlem.
In this single two minute clip Defrantz takes us through a hundred years of black dance and black masculinity. He shows us how rhythm can be style. He shows us how rhythm can be black masculinity. And because he can then take it off again, he shows us – all of us, whatever our gender – that this masculinity can be put on and taken off at will! Imagine a black woman putting on that identity for a moment. Buck dancing!
But what if we actually look at a black woman dancing lindy hop. First ‘vanilla’, then ‘with sauce’. Here, Cookie (Angela Andrew) shows us how to dance as a follow, as a woman, as a black woman. Her skin is black. Her hair is up in a turban. She wears loose trousers and shirt. She addresses the camera. She is with her partner, but she is also taking creative space, saying I AM HERE with her clarity of rhythm. HERE I take a triple step and make it a stomp off. HERE I pause, I stop moving, I hold the time in my body and groove it on down. And HERE I suggest a rhythm to my partner, and because he listens to me, because he is open to my contributions, he takes it up and he joins me. We are together in this moment as equals.
And what is the next step?
I actively choose not to hire teachers who run workshops which prioritise gender norms, or who exploit those gender norms. That means that I don’t hire teachers who’ve been reported for sexual assault or harassment. I don’t hire their friends who’ve stood by them and not called them up on their behaviour.
I do not hire teachers who’ve done publicly racist or antisemitic things. Nor do I hire their friends who’ve stood by them and not called them out on their behaviour.
I hire dancers of colour. I pay them good cashmoney for their work. I choose to hire teachers who are either actively engaging with gender, in a critical way, or I choose to hire teachers who are implicitly engaging with gender in an active way. Simply through being and dancing gender in different ways. This means that I can hire white teachers who talk the talk and attempt to walk the walk, and I can can hire dancers of colour who are teaching me about being gender simply by dancing-while-black.
More importantly, I can take their classes. Yes, that means you, dancer who thinks they’re too good to take classes any more. Be humble. Show you are willing to learn from this person of colour. Say, with your open face and willingness ‘I value what you have to teach.’ Be present in that class, be mindful. Learn. Assume that you don’t know how this works. Learn. Be open. Learn.
I think this is important: it’s not ok for me to ask teachers or dancers to articulate exactly what they are doing that makes them ‘black’. It is my job to learn to see how ethnicity informs who we are and how we move. It is my job, as a white woman, to stop seeing ‘whiteness’ as a default ‘norm’. It is my job to take my assumptions about what ‘good lindy hop’ is, and to see how my own privilege as a white women has shaped this set of values. All of this jargon – frame, connection, musicality, tone, leading, following – all of it is language circulated and controlled by white teachers, and commodified in formal dance classes. It is, truly, the colonisation of black dance.
It is my job to learn how to learn in new ways. To learn how to be in a class with a teacher and see how their movements, their ways of holding their bodies, of taking, of looking at students and each other, of being inform their dancing. Whether they are black or white, hispanic or asian. If dance is culture, then I need to do more than just ‘have a class with a black teacher’. I need to learn how my entire understanding of dance and classes is informed by my own ethnicity.
Here is a list of people you may choose to hire, who are not skinny white heterosexual women and men. Some of them are lindy hoppers, some tap dancers, some do dances traditional to their peeps, some are musicians. I haven’t even really gotten into Asia with this list, and it is totally not exhaustive.
And please note: being the old black/queer/asian in the village can be tiring and intimidating. Why not hire two! Or three! Or ALL of them!
Men propositioning women in class, touching too much, touching inappropriately, and all that other gross harassment stuff sucks. But you can totally resolve this!
We always begin the ‘touching’ part of class (ie after warm ups, etc) by saying, ‘this is a partner dance. I’m the follow, x is the lead.’ Then we demo some lindy hop, and explain that the lead is suggesting a move/rhythm and the follow is deciding whether or not they’ll get on board and do it.
Then we say, “Now you need to choose: do you want to lead or follow. Make that choice. Next, we need to find a partner. Watch us do this thing”
And then we do the little ‘asking someone to dance role play’:
eg I approach pete, and say
S: “Hello, I’m Sam. Would you like to dance?”
P: “Hi. I’m Pete” (we offer each other hands and shake hands). “Yeah, sure. Do you prefer to lead or follow?”
S: “Following, ,please”
And then we move to join the circle.
Then we say, “Please find a partner and have that conversation.”
Then they do it. We let them take a bit of time to do this.
Things they learn here:
Don’t touch someone without knowing their name and asking them to dance (we repeat this MANY TIMES in class, verbally, and we teachers always ask permission before touching students in class).
Don’t assume someone leads or follows, ask instead.
All this stuff may scare off your Difficult Men. If not, there’s more!
Then we teachers get into the middle of the circle, gather them all reeeeeally close, and say something like “Now, we’re going to touch our partner.” And they all giggle. But we get into closed and say, “This is how we’d like you to hold your partner” (it helps if the follow says it). “Please observe us, then have a go.”
We don’t tell them to do anything, or say anything, we just demo it.
Ramona says: “The museum is open. Please come and have a good look.” If they don’t have it, you can say, “The museum is still open. Please come and look at the display again.”
They get into closed position
Then we say, “Because we’re all different sizes and shapes, we need to see if we have this comfortable for our partner.”
Then we do the ‘am I touching you right’ role play:
S:”Pete, is my left hand too far around your shoulder?” And Pete visibly thinks, then takes my hand and moves it, saying “I think it’s a bit too far around for me.” And I say “Cool, ta.”
Then Pete does the same.
Then, and this is KEY: You say “Please have this conversation with your partner.” And you leave them to talk about it and try it until you see them move into non-touching related talk. This is THE MOST important part – they really need to actually practice verbalising asking someone to change how they touch their bodies, and practicing responding to this. So don’t rush them. Intermediates will try to brush off their partner with ‘it’s fine’. Don’t allow them to do this; ask for real conversations.
After the first two or three times they rotate, we say, “Remember, each human is a different size and shape, so you need to figure out if the fit is right. Please check in with your partner.” And they have that conversation.
Anyway, all this skills up your students to:
ask permission to touch,
ask for feedback on how they’re touching someone,
actually practice giving that feedback (they are told explicitly that they can’t just say ‘yeah fine’. They have to stop, think, feel, then articulate their feels).
practice responding to feedback,
Think about the way their _whole bodies_ touch someone, not just their hands (we often drop this in when we’re talking about how follows are touching the leads with their backs).
This will skill up your women to deal with the too-touchy men, and it’ll train the men in how to touch respectfully.
You won’t need to police the students all the time. You can step in when they’re all dancing and experimenting for extra one-on-one comments, but mostly they police themselves and each other.
Best of all, the truly dodgy bros will get the shits and stop coming to class, because they can’t get away with any bullshit.
We do other follow up stuff in class to compound these skills:
eg when they finish practicing to music we say (Because we always see it): “I really liked it when one person in a couple got in a mess, said, ‘hey, can we start again?’ and both people stopped and grooved before starting again.”This emphasises what we _like_ and how they can handle these issues.
We might also say, “I saw some really nice, relaxed bodies. I could see people holding each other comfortably, and asking their partner if what they are doing is ok.”
I often say, “If you’re not sure if you’ve got it right, ask your partner – they’re a specialist in how their body works.”
The teachers often ask each other things like, “How did you know I wanted you to stop there?” as a way of modelling how to talk to each other, how to avoid ‘leader first’ language (so we ask the follow how they knew, which requires follows think actively about what they’re doing, not ‘just following’, etc etc).
I think using positive language (telling them what you liked) is better than ranting at them about what not to do. Because you’re just repeating the bad stuff and that’s all they’ll remember. So just repeat the good stuff. We also add in ways follows can eject from dances or moves if they don’t like it, and how leads should respond (let the follow gooo, let her gooooo).
The radio show is a good one. We have a bunch of lindy hop related podcasts and vlogcasts, but all of them are American, and show a decidedly American bias. To the point that I can’t actually bear to listen to most of them any more. I don’t like to hate on people’s creative projects, but I’m very tired of listening to discussions pitched as discussing ‘the lindy world’, but really only discussing a few people’s experience of contemporary urban American lindy hop. Booooring. The more I learn about lindy hop in Asia, Europe, and the antipodes (of course :D), the more embarrassing some of those American podcasts become. Bros need to travel.
An exception to this cringe is Ryan Swift’s the Track. At first glance, an hour and three quarter long podcast where two people just talk about dancing seems intolerable. Interminable. But Ryan manages to pull it off. Mostly because he chooses interesting people, but also because he’s a master of the well directed casual conversation. I am of course completely biased, because Ryan is an Internet Friend, but in this case, the bias is justified.
But From The Top is exciting. It’s short, just 20, 15 minutes. Professionally edited and presented, with good topics, well-constructed stories, and a far-reaching, open-eyed approach to truly international lindy hop culture. This is no accident. The presenter and producer Alexei Korolyov is a professional journalist, and it really makes a difference. Previous episodes have discussed Health, Well-being and Social Conventions; Being a Swing Musician Today; Regionalism vs Globalisation in Lindy Hop; and Time Traveling back to the ‘swing era’ (you can find them all here on soundcloud.) And they’re all really interesting and good listens.
The latest ep is about Gender Roles in Dance. I think it’s pretty good, but, to be honest, it’s not quite as good as previous episodes, mostly because I think it’s a complicated issue that could have done with a little preamble to define some terms and perhaps set the tone. I guess it did, in a way, but I don’t quite agree with the approach and definitions Alexei takes. But yolo, right? Despite this, I think he takes a very open approach to the issue, and has some interesting guests. This is a good piece, and it does good work.
I really liked hearing from Rebecka DecaVita, a woman dancer I’ve long admired and really wanted to hear speak about these issues. Jo Jaekyeong from Korea is an old friend of mine, and I really liked hearing her speak clearly about her experiences in Seoul, a city and scene I’m currently very interested in. I don’t know Gregor Hof Bauer or Patrick Catuz, and while Patrick’s comments were the ones I found most problematic, I was very interested to hear from some men in this discussion. And men who’d actually done some proper thinking about this issue, beyond the sort of glib jokey rubbish I’ve been hearing on the American podcasts.
It was particularly cool to hear from Gregor, who’s an out gay bloke, speaking about following. This was especially cool, because I do feel that a lot of the American and mainstream lindy hop commentary has been very coyly stepping around the issue of queerasfuck dancing, managing not to have any openly gay peeps speaking in podcasts, vlogcasts, or in public talks. I think this is one of the features of a European production: they simply are more politically and socially progressive than the American productions, so we hear a more grown up and interesting discussion. Or at the very least, this program is better journalism for its presentation of a more diverse range of voices.
I was the other interviewee on the program this month, and I wasn’t all that happy with how I did in the original interview. I feel like I crapped on too much, and could have been more succinct. But Alexei has edited the bejeebs out of me, so I come out of it sounding a lot more coherent than I actually was. Overall, it was exciting and flattering to be asked to be involved (SUPER flattering), and I enjoyed it. I admire Alexei’s work, and it was so nice to be a part of something I admire. Such an honour.
In the rest of this post, I’ll engage with just one part of the podcast, which is really just an accidental language slip. It is where Alexei says (as Laura pointed out) “Sam is actively involved with feminism”. This is a true statement.
It’s also kind of lolsome because I don’t feel like feminism is this thing outside myself (the way this statement implies). Feminism is what I am and do. To say “I am a feminist” is a way of saying “Hey, I think we need to talk about gender and power, and I’m not going to shoosh up about it.” Saying “I am a feminist” is a political act.
For a woman, speaking up like this, expressing discontent and generally disturbing the status quo by not being a quiet, conciliatory woman, is explicitly political. When a man says ‘I am a feminist’, the act itself means something quite different. Because we do exist in patriarchy. For a woman, the very act of speaking up, of dissenting, of being a ‘difficult woman’ is a political act. It’s dissension. It’s dangerous. It’s powerful. So it’s not so much that I am ‘involved with feminism’, it’s that I AM A FEMINIST. I don’t prevaricate, I don’t add caveats or qualifications when I say that. I just am a feminist.
And when I say this, it means that I think that the way we do things is a bit fucked up. I think that there are problems. I think that men have and take advantage of privileges and advantages that women don’t have. Yes, you, white straight guy. I’m speaking to you. I’m saying to you, you have advantages that I don’t. And if you’re not paying attention to that, if you’re not asking why that is so, you are just quietly maintaining the status quo. You are complicit in patriarchy. And I’m not ok with that. I’m not going to let you rest easy on that. I’m going to be the pebble in your shoe. I’m not going to sit down and shoosh. And it’s not going to be comfortable for you. It shouldn’t be. Because patriarchy is not fucking comfortable for me.
Our culture makes things easier for you, men. You have advantages. As I say in that podcast, I doubt anyone says to you, male lead, “Oh, you’re being the boy?” or even comments at all on the fact that someone of your gender is choosing to lead in a workshop. But for me, it is so common it’s normal. But it’s also a constant niggling question of my right to be in a class as a lead. It’s a continual itching doubt that I am a ‘real’ lead. Because apparently real leads are all men. And of course, women are complicit in patriarchy by doing things like policing gender roles by asking women if they are ‘being the boy’, or asking a teacher to have men give up following so they can lead (and rebalance the gender/lead-follow ratio).
So this is why I am not so much ‘actively involved with feminism’ or a feminist project. I am a feminist project. I am feminism. I am a feminist. And feminism is about dissension. It’s about destabilising. It’s about being a good goddamn pain in the arse. I’m quite used to being thought of as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘difficult woman’.
So when I enter professional relationships and interactions in the lindy hop world today, I go in reminding myself that I am awesome. It’s very important to enter these interactions with confidence. With rock solid confidence in your decisions, your ideas, your skills. A lot of confidence. You must be as iron-clad in your determination as a man would be. Even though a man doesn’t have to deal with all the niggling critiques and policing. Because as a woman, you will be confronted or bullied or tested by men.
I saw it happening in Herrang, in a range of contexts – male teachers testing female teachers, male students testing female students, male DJs testing female DJs, male everyone testing female organisers and administrators. Some things that happened to me at Herrang this year and last, as a woman DJ, that didn’t happen to male DJs:
– I had my ‘knobs twiddled’ without permission by other other DJs while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “You need to fix the levels” instead of “Are the levels ok? It’s a bit squeaky where I was?”
– Male DJs physically took up more space than I did in the DJ booth while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “Do you just DJ locally?” instead of just assuming as they do with other men that I was actually an experienced DJ who’d DJed overseas and nationally for years (and hence meant to be there).
– A male DJ described going to DJ blues as “Going to get some pussies wet” in front of me, and blanched a little when I replied “I took a few dance classes today and that did the job for me.” Apparently pussies are things you do things to, rather than things you have for some male DJs.
– Male DJs assumed I was much younger than I am, and were patronising until they discovered my real age (and dancing and DJing experience).
…and there were many more incidences. These were all from male DJs who are very nice guys, who were generally very good to work with. But these are the sorts of micro-incidences that remind me that I am a woman, and that challenge me.
And the only real way to deal with this, as a woman professional in lindy hop, is to say to yourself:
“I am a professional.”
“I know my shit. I am a fucking good DJ/organiser/manager/dancer.”
“Here are my accomplishments, here is my history, where I did a bloody good job.”
“When I speak, I know what I am talking about, so I will speak with confidence, and in declarative statements, not questions.”
“When I make my needs and requirements clear to a man, I know what I’m saying, and I don’t need to justify myself.”
“When I challenge a man for his behaviour, I am doing the right thing. I am in the right. I am justified in my call. And he should respect that.”
“When I am challenged or tested by a man simply because I’m a woman and he’s used to being an alpha in interactions with women I should feel good about stepping up and pushing back. I should – I will – push back.”
“I will not second-guess myself and my actions as an employer or manager. I will not verbally justify my decisions or authority with someone I’ve employed. I am the boss, I’m good at it, and I am here to kick heads and take names.”
“As a woman boss or employer or manager, I don’t have to become a jerkface bloke, or take on hegemonic modes of management or problem solving. I can be collaborative and gentle. I can talk about how I feel, and I can take into account my peers’ feelings. I can be emotionally honest without being manipulative. And I can still be an arse-kickingly good boss. This does not make me weak or unprofessional.”
I also think it’s essential to be supportive of other women. And to remember that men who push or challenge are often feeling a lack of self confidence. The difficult male DJ is feeling doubts about his ability, and not sure you’re a decent manager. So you need to convince him, through your confident manner, that you are capable, and that he can trust you to set reasonable limits and be his guide and manager. Yes, it sucks to have to mother these fucktards (god, emotional labour, much?), but just assume that they’re little babies and need to be babbied.
When you’re working with other women, you need to let them know that you think they’re legit. Sisterhood is powerful, but collaboration is mighty. Lindy hop teaches us how to work with other people in close, emotionally intense partnerships. We can definitely take that to our off-dance-floor professional relationships.
So, yes, I am involved with feminism. In the most intimate of ways. I am a feminist.
I’m reading through Kyra D. Gaunt’s book ‘Games Black Girls Play’ again (!!) and there’s a fun bit about double dutch, or skip rope with two ropes.
There’s a section where Gaunt goes to jump with the Double Dutch Divas (or Shout Sister Shout). She talks about two things that were really interesting: a) call and response, or crowd participation, and b) how to get into the ropes.
One thing I’ve always disliked about predominantly white, middle-class, or mainstream staged performances (of any kind), is the lack of support the audience gives, or can sustain, when someone is singing or performing. Even when invited, they don’t seem to understand that clapping encourages a better performance – it gives life to the moment – which gives positive feedback to the performers during the performance. All those in the room who were not turning ropes or jumping have their eyes turned to the center action, while their bodies are vibing to the beat. Our mouths generously shout alrights, umphs, andyeahs though not to distract her focus or detract her from the moment (p 172 Games Black Girls Play.)
I’ve written about call and response and audiences in Live music: listening or doing, and about call and response one million times before. But I like the way Gaunt talks about this group of older women using call and response to encourage each other, and to include everyone.
At last, it was my turn. I was thirty-seven years old and there was no question that I was a black girl, with our without knowing how to double-dutch. Since I knew I would be entering the ropes sooner or later, I had been watching how Lady Di, Faith, and Spirit entered them. When I was a kid, entering the ropes was always my stumbling block….
Lady Di got into the ropes effortlessly. It seemed she and the others didn’t even think about it. But there had to be a ‘rhythm method’ that protected them from getting hit by the oscillating ropes. I watched Di put her hand out in front of her body as she moved up to the perimeter of the ropes and felt the gaps between them. Her whole body moved with the action – reminding me of the young girls rocking back and forth toward the ropes before they entered (p 174 Games Black Girls Play.)
This section really caught my attention, because I’ve always felt like going into a jam is like getting into a skipping rope. You have to find the rhythm, put it in your body, before you get in there. And I’m always pretty strict about when I go in – I need the general vibe of the jam to be right. I don’t want to cut someone else’s lunch, especially if they’ve been getting ready to get in for a while. I want to match the feel of what I do with what’s happening in the song (I don’t just mash my favourite steps on top of any old part of the song). It really feels like getting into a skipping rope.
I always think it’s a shame that so many lindy hoppers today don’t use the jockey step before they get into a jam.
Watch the couple behind and a little to the right of the dancers in the jam (the man is wearing a pale hat and pale trousers and a dark shirt) from about 0.44. They’re doing a sort of step-tap rhythm, which is a sort of jockey:
The ‘jockey’ is named for that idea of ‘jockeying’ in place – “…probably relates to the behaviour of jockeys manoeuvring for an advantageous position during a race…” (from my computer’s dictionary).
This gets your body and brain ready to dance – it puts the rhythm in your body. It also signals to everyone around you that you are getting ready to dance – you are literally jockeying with the people around you, looking for a good position (musically and physically) to get into the jam.
Any old how, just thought I’d plop this all in here while I’m thinking about it.
Hey, happy International Women’s Day, friends. In previous years I’ve listed women dancers (2011, 2012, 2013, and in 2014 I was distracted). This year I’ve been too busy to do daily posts, but I did write this on the facey today:
Happy international women’s day, everyone!
IWD has a nicely worker-centred history (https://unwomen.org.au/iwd/history-international-womens-day), and it’s about celebrating the achievements of the ordinary women around you.
I’m lucky enough to get to work with many, many _extra_ordinary working women in the lindy hop and jazz scene, so I’d like to say THANK YOU to them for be inspiring and encouraging and occasionally mighty fierce!
Thanks to Laura, Bec, and Alice, my co-teachers, who pull out great material and fun, challenging classes. Thanks to Sharon, who said YES to our new Harlem project.
Thank you to Ramona for showing me just how exciting it can be as a woman whose body is an instrument and a source of joy.
Thank you to Marie N’Diaye, for showing me how a fierceness of intellect and of spirit can make for the gentlest and most beautiful dancing.
Thank you to Sylvia Sykes for saying ‘lead or follow?’ when I asked her to dance.
Thank you to Loz for being _determined_ to dance and inspiring me.
Thank you to Lexi who simply expected me to run a business of my own.
Thank you to the women who come to our dance classes and overcome shyness to shake it like queens on the dance floor.
Thank you to Sugar Sullivan for correcting her gender-specific language in one of my first Herrang classes, and saying “Because anyone can lead.”
Thank you to Naomi, Loosha, Justine, Alice, Kat, Manon, Allie, Loz, Fatima, Leru, Superheidi, Bec, Barb, Shaz, Sarah, Naomi, Giselle, Tina, Heather, Mary, Christine, Kate, Kate, Kate, Michelle, Di, Sharon, Peta, Georgia, Jen and the many, many other women DJs who challenge me to bring the shit.
Thank you to Claudia for backing my mad schemes.
Thank you Sarah and the other women who spoke up about sexual assault in our community.
Thank you to Justine for the wickedest sense of humour and solidest DJing and managing skills.
Thank you to that shy young trans girl at fair day who wanted to know about lindy hop but was almost too shy to speak.
Thank you to Marie at the Chicago studio for answering all my emails. Thank you to Hetty Kate for marrying humour and a wicked sense of fun with the best music of all.
Thank you to Eleonora, Jan, Jenny, Elizabeth, Liz, Nurani, Nicola, Julie, Amanda and all the other venue managers who answer all my questions.
Thank you to the women musicians I haven’t met, and won’t, but whose music makes me dance til I drop. Thank you to Lexi, Tina, Kerryn, Megan, Cheryl, Kara, Karen, Leigh, Peta, Sharon, Trish, Trish, Kate, Kate, Cheng, Marybeth, Justine, Olivia, Becky, Sarah, Melinda, Mel, Trudi, Sandy, Vivi, Bethany, Tania, Luna, Fiona, Alice, Lauren, Evelyn, Sing, Sophie, Emma, Nikki, and all the other hundreds of women who organise dance events.
Thank you to the women dancers I meet all over the world who immediately make me feel welcome.
Thank you to the women jazz dancers who came before us and invented this thing.
Thank you to Shorty George’s unnamed partner in After Seben who actually did the swinging out.
Thank you to Norma for demanding “Where’s your swing out?!”
Thank you most of all to the hundreds of women who work at the door of dance events, and who tidy up afterwards, who move chairs and arrange tables, who arrive early to set up, who host visitors, who make sandwiches and beds, bank money and count out floats, figure out how to manage events for the first time on their own, chauffeur guests, design flyers and send emails and answer questions and make all this possible, every night of the week, all around the world.
Since I wrote this, I’ve thought of one million more women I want to thank. Thank you to Anaïs for that big brain and that wonderful dancing. Thank you to Kira for showing me burlesque can be empowering. To women DJs I missed. To the formerly male-identified dancer who chose our dance last night on mardi gras weekend to come out onto the dance floor as a woman. Gaby and Anaïs and Marie the women dancers who are putting together chorus line projects. The women who come social dancing for the very first time. The women who ask me to dance because they want me to lead. The queer women dancers who’ve come out recently in the lindy hop scene because they feel safe and proud of who they are. The older women who come dancing and rock it on the dance floor with the finest young men they can find. Women band leaders like Laura and Naomi and Hetty Kate and Georgia who bring it on the stage. Nicole who kept a public record of her physical transition. The women who are more than happy to just rock out solo style on the dance floor. Those fierce, ambitious women dancers who move on to teach internationally because they are so determined to be GOOD at this…. there are just so many. So many of them! I can’t even begin to name them all!
In my everyday work in the lindy hop community, I deal with far more women than men. Though men have most of the higher profile spots (playing in bands, teaching guest workshops), women by far provide the bulk of labour in the lindy hop community. In Australia, they are most of the volunteers, they are most of the organisers, and they are most of the DJs. They’re often also most of the dancers. Despite this, we are encouraged to compete for male dance partners, and discouraged from leading and dancing with other women. Lindy hoppers very rarely point out to each other that most of the labour in the lindy hop world is provided by women, and we tend to privilege the male dancers from the swing era. This last point prompted my Women’s History Month posts in the past, and of course my Women Jazz Dancers site.
I think it is important remind ourselves of all the different forms of labour that go into a jazz dance and jazz music community. I hear some men argue that the real ‘art’ of jazz or authentic ‘artistic life’ can only be defined as living form music and dance, as a dance teacher or performer. But that is just complete bullshit. I’ve written about that in Heroes of Jazz and Other Visible Mythologies.
In the simplest terms, there can be no jazz at all without all the invisible labour provided by women. There can be no jazz dance performance or party without a woman to work the door, to clean the floors, to cook the food, and serve the drinks. There can be no jazz musicians working endless gigs without a woman to care for their children, wash their clothes, cook their food. And if these women are not in their lives now, they were there when they were children and young adults studying their art.
Art is not the product of individual creativity and genius. Art is the work of a whole community.
There’s recently been a fairly loud and emotional discussion about sexual violence in lindy hop. I don’t want to rehash it here, because I find it very upsetting. Rehashing this stuff in detail disempowers me. I don’t want to discuss the male teacher named in this discussion, because I don’t want this to be all about him. Again. I want to take that power away from him. I want to find power in this, for me, and for other women.
This article is particularly relevant to the current discussion about assault and safety for women in the lindy hop scene.
I am deeply disturbed by comments emphasising how we might ‘protect’ women and girls in our communities. I think it is problematic (to say the least) to perpetuate this idea of femininity as vulnerable (and passive), and masculinity as dangerous (and active).
It’s important to remember that most sexual assaults happen in privates spaces (dance halls, practice rooms, bedrooms, lounge rooms and so on), and most women are assaulted by people they know. ‘Rapists’ aren’t wild bears or volcanoes: they aren’t forces of nature that we have to protect women from. They are people who need to fix their behaviour.
We need to remind women that they are powerful and capable of caring for and protecting themselves, and for making decisions about their bodies and lives.
So I think that one of the most effective tools for making safe spaces in lindy hop is is empowering women. Some practical tips:
Do use gender neutral language in class (ie follow does not = female by default). I have heard many male teachers resist this, saying that it’s ‘too hard’, or ‘not important’. Believe me: it is important. If you are a woman leading in that class (or thinking about leading), it makes you feel part of the group. It makes you feel like a lead.
Follows are not passive; following is an active process (ie leads don’t ‘tell follows what to do’, and follows don’t ‘carry out’ leaders’ creative ideas)
All partners should take care of each other (ie it’s not that ‘leads look after follows’, it’s that we all should look after each other). eg follows are responsible for floor craft too.
List the female dance partner in a teaching team first. This is ridiculously rare in lindy hop, and we need to make up for lost time by over-representing women as the ‘first’ member of the teaching team.
Teach female students how to say “No thank you” if they are invited to dance, but don’t want to. Teach yourself how to say this.
Don’t use sexualised humour in class. This makes it clear that classes are learning spaces. If all the sexy jokes in the world were gender-win, it’d be ok. But most of the sexualised jokes teachers make in class use gender stereotypes that disempower women.
Have female role models in your scene: women MCs at big events, women musicians (!!), women organisers, women teaching on their own, women DJs, women publicly making decisions and solving problems (ie female managers), women doing physical labour (beyond cleaning, aye?), women eating well-balanced meals with enthusiasm at shared tables (and not talking about ‘being bad’ when they eat delicious food).
Value other types of work, particularly the types of work dominated by women. Working the door is as important as DJing. Make that clear. Name all your volunteers in your PR copy.
Talk about old timer dancers who are women. Al, Leon, Frankie: they’re all wonderful. But so are Norma, Sugar, Josephine, Dawn, Big Bea.
Research women dancers and teach their material, in their names. And that means more than just another class on swivels. Talk about women choreographers, troupe leaders, and managers.
Teach solo dance. Women dancing alone is an act of agency and power in a partner dancing world. And teach a variety of styles: sexy, sweet, powerful, aggressive, humorous, gentle, sad, athletic, witty, cerebral….
Congruently, men in lindy hop need to be taught some things too:
Work on your own strategies for speaking up when you hear a sexist joke. You know you should call that guy on it, but what exactly will you say or do? Will you walk away? Will you laugh along?
What are your limits, when it comes to ‘blokey’ or ‘boys own’ behaviour? Sexy jokes? Talking about women you see in the room in a sexual way? Competing with other men to ‘get’ a woman? Know your limits, then act on them.
Defer to female opinion and example: if you’re in a discussion, listen to women before you speak. In all matters, not just sexual safety. Once you’re good at it, then start working on ways of expressing your opinion in a collegial way.
Don’t call women girls unless they are actually girls (ie under 13). It’s patronising. Don’t call women or girls ‘females’, unless their gender is what you want to discuss: eg “Female dancers are as capable of leading as following” is as good as “Women dancers are as capable of leading as following” but “Females are good leads too” is not ok. Women are not meerkats.
Encourage women to take up leading. Encourage women who lead. Encourage women to comment on leading. A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better. If a woman chooses to lead in class, don’t make a big deal about it, and make it easy for them to stay in that role (deal with uneven follow/lead ratios in other ways – eg talk about how if you’re standing out, this is a chance to work on your dancing)
Seek out women DJs. They may be harder to find, but don’t default to the usual male DJs at your events. Men are more likely to speak up, so you need to keep your eyes and ears open for women DJs.
Proactively encourage women DJs, women leads, and women organisers.
Use your online time to support women, and to support other men. Men are less likely to chime in with a supportive comment on a general thread about dance than women are. Men generally speak up more often, but they aren’t as likely to just say something like “Hey, great idea!” and then leave it at that.
Support men who are doing good gender work: compliment or say ‘yeah!’ when you see guys doing good stuff.
Support male follows: don’t make that sexy “wooo!” noise when you see two men dancing together. When you make that noise it announces to everyone that you are uncomfortable with two men dancing together. Probably because you think that two men dancing together is a sexual thing. Which means you probably think partner dancing is a sexual thing. Which means you need to check yourself.
When you thank the teachers for a class, say thank you to the female teacher first.
There are a bajillion ways we can be better humans in lindy hop. They don’t have to be formal policies or official responses. Be the change you want to see: men should assume that if they’re not pro-actively changing things, they are part of the problem.
The nice thing about all this, is that being a better human is really quite nice: you get to be nice to people, and that makes you feel good. Doing genderwin stuff can be an empowering thing for you. If it feels a bit hard (eg some guys say using gender neutral language is too hard), then remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer: we love hard things! We love challenges! We dance the most complex, wonderful dance in the world, because we love complex, we love challenge, we love creative solutions!
The point of this, of course, is that feminism is good for all of us. Change can be confronting. But that’s why we love break steps, right? Because change is exciting and stimulating too!
A final note: it’s ok to have heroes. It’s totally ok to fansquee for a big name dancer. Having a crush on your dancing hero (no matter what your sex or theirs) is also ok. It means that you are inspired by what they do.
But don’t stop there. Use the inspiration they bring to become a better dancer yourself. Tell them you love what they do, but stop there. Then move on and tell someone else you love what they do, even if they aren’t a big name dancer.
And remember that if we are all to be held accountable for our actions, we need to be sure that we all have the power, the agency, to make our own decisions, and to control our own bodies and actions.
I have written about these issues many, many times here on this blog. I am an old school feminist, and I believe in the idea of patriarchy, and in discourse and ideology. The bottom line is that I believe that if you want to prevent sexual assault, locking up rapists is not the solution. The solution is in dismantling ‘rape culture‘, or a culture of sexism and patriarchy. I know! It seems like so much work! Good thing we have jazz to sustain us, aye?
Here are some of these posts:
Dealing with problem guys in dance classes (Dec 2012). This is an important one, as it outlines how we (two women teachers) developed strategies for dealing with sexist, disruptive, and dodgy behaviour in class. It’s important because it’s an example how we moved from policy to practical strategy, informed by feminist thinking.
I’m working on a new project at the moment. Or rather, I started working on this project years ago. It’s still not finished, as you’ll see. But I figure: get it up now, or it’ll never see the light of day.
It began with my Women’s History Month posts in 2011 and has been sloooowly, sloooowly proceeding from there. Eek. Now I look at it, this is three years’ worth of work. Not consistent work, by any means, though. But work, none the less.
In March 2011 I started posting a different woman jazz dancer every day on facebook, and then cross-posted them to my blog each day as well. People dug them, and I found I was learning a LOT about jazz dancers.
The next year, I decided to do the same for the 2012 Women’s History Month. Except this time I posted a different woman jazz musician every day of the month.
In 2013 I went back to women jazz dancers, posting a different woman every day for Women’s History Month in March 2013, some repeats from 2011, some new.
All these women jazz dancers posts took quite a bit of research. I started with the obvious ones, but as the month progressed, I needed more. So I hassled my jazz researcher friends (people like Peter Loggins), and I started hunting down women in film clips.
Well, I built a website to showcase all my Women’s History Month posts, but it was a bit rubbish. For a start, it wasn’t using responsive design, so you couldn’t look at it on a mobile. But that wasn’t really my fault – it predated my experimentation with responsive design.
This past month (December 2014), I decided to update the website, make it properly responsive. This overhaul was inspired by workshops and conversations with Marie N’Diaye over the Jazz BANG weekend. Marie’s chorus line project in Stockholm is really exciting. She really opened my mind about women chorus line dancers, and I decided I needed to share the research I’d put into this project.
And I had put a lot of research into this. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste.
Women Dancers From Jazz to Bebop is a reference tool. It’s not an exhaustive biographical tool. It really just provides the names, birth dates, and any film and stage show appearances I could confirm. If I could find a photo, I’d include that too. I cross-checked all the details as thoroughly as I could, and if I couldn’t confirm something by double-checking it, I made that clear.
I found quite a few errors in references like the internet Movie Database, and found new uses for my music discographies. Fully nerd. But I wasn’t alone – I really did irritate all my dance historian friends, chasing down names and asking them who such and such is blah blah film was. I couldn’t have pulled this off without their help. You can read all my thank yous on the ‘About’ page of the website, but once again, I have to give Peter Loggins mad props: he has endless patience, and just gives and gives and gives.
The updated Women Dancers website has a better colour scheme, and you can actually read it on a mobile. Or a desktop. Or an ipad.
Why doesn’t this site host film footage itself?
One basic reason: too resource hungry. It takes too much room and time to host footage. And it’s a copyright nightmare. I’ve crossed some lines using photos, but it’s hard to make this site useful without pictures of the dancers – you have to know who you’re looking for when you start looking at archival footage.
How could you use this site?
Take a name from the index page, see what films she appeared in, then do a search for it on youtube. Then watch her dance, and teach yourself the steps she’s doing. You will probably suck a bit, but everybody sucks at first. Don’t stop there – practice, practice, practice. Get your learn on.
How will I use this site?
If you have a look through the index page, you’ll see that quite a small proportion of the dancers actually have live pages in their name.
This is because it takes aaaages to
a) research each woman, and then
b) code up a page for each woman.
I know, I know, I should have used a blogging tool for this bit, but I didn’t. I fail.
I’d like to use the sources in this site to do more research on good solo dancing. I’d like to get a bit more involved in some sort of chorus line project, and I’d like to put the research to practical use in our weekly solo jazz classes.
I had planned to build the database myself, as I was learning how to make databases in the postgraduate diploma of information management that I was enrolled in at the time (yes, another postgraduate degree – a grad dip in info mgmt, completed December 2011 or 2010 – I can’t remember which.) But I didn’t. The site itself really reflects the sort of site and reference tool design that dominated that course. A bit too much under-funded, ugly public service website design.
I’ll probably continue to tinker with the site, adding names and pages as I get time and inspiration. Do feel free – please do! – to send me new names and details. But I’ll need some sort of references or sources to cite before I add them to the site, I’m afraid.
In the mean time, I hope you find this site useful – get dancing, you women!