The effects of Long covid on lindy hop

If you catch covid, you have a 10-30% chance of it becoming long covid. One of the most comment symptoms of long covid is fatigue.

If we work with those assumptions, what does that mean for a community of dancers?

Let me be clear: I not an epidemiologist, a health specialist, a physiotherapist, or a disease expert. And I’m not sure if this long covid symptom is true across all covid variants and communities. But I am a cultural studies researcher. I have a lot of experience looking specifically at cultural practice within a particular community of people. So let’s start with this: what could happen to a community of dancers where some of the community members are living with long covid, and those people are representative of the different groups within the community? Teachers, performers, organisers, students, new dancers, experienced dancers, old people, young people, cancer survivors, volunteers, business people, trans people, everyone.

We’ve already seen the consequences of managing covid risk: massive financial loss, spacing requiring larger (more expensive rooms), crowd size management, no partner changing, no partner dancing, mandatory masks (and the effect on vigorous exercise), no social dancing, increased workloads for organisers, etc.

But what about the effects of one symptom of covid itself, specifically, fatigue?
Fatigue is not just being tired, where you can push through. Fatigue means you sit down to eat your breakfast, but afterwards you’re so tired from eating you can’t get up from the chair. You have to sit there for a couple of hours. Meanwhile your body cramps and you’re in pain. But this exhaustion is mental as well – you cannot concentrate, cannot follow ideas, and so on. What does this mean for a dancer?

If you’re a professional lindy hopper (a teacher or performer, or someone working in film or television), living with fatigue from long covid, then you cannot dance. You cannot work. Your income is gone. You cannot perform, you cannot choreograph, you cannot practice. Your body, already affected by illness (respiratory illness being the least of it), loses muscle tone and fitness. Your memory and ability to retain choreography disappears. That ‘muscle memory’ stuff (which is actually your brain working) dissolves. Not only can you not train for the hours every day your work requires, you cannot even coach other dancers and earn an income for choreographing for other people. Living will illness, and being separated from your support networks result in serious mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. And it’s impossible to do creative work living with an illness like this.

If you’re a new dancer who has to live with long covid, then you simply stop dancing. And probably never return to it. New dancers are the bread and butter of most dance classes and dance schools today. Dance organisations often fund their social events and weekend events with income from beginner classes. Without that cash flow, the parties dry up. Work for musicians and DJs dries up. The ability to play for dancers dries up.

What does this mean for dancing in the rest of the community? Even if those dancers falling ill are local teachers rather than traveling professionals, all that accumulated teaching knowledge, which lindy hop is notoriously poor at retaining and sharing, will be lost. All that historical and cultural knowledge is taken out of the community. The musical knowledge and dancing knowledge is gone. Not only in that one person, but in all the people they taught, danced with, inspired, and provoked into rivalry.

This is a little like having the Black men removed from jazz music and dance by conscription during the second world war. Whereas jazz music and dance at that time were actually real social practices, happening in sustainable social spaces (families, neighbourhoods, thriving businesses, cross generational gatherings), modern lindy hop in many scenes is not socially sustainable. It collapses when just one or two key people in a local community disappear.

Most lindy hop communities are small*, with perhaps a few hundred dancers, and classes and events run by two or a handful of people. Lose one or two or a handful of those, and that local scene will crumble. If that scene is socially sustainable, with different aged people, a sharing of power and responsibility, etc, then it may be fine. But we have seen over the past ten years, particularly in discussions around sexual assault and racism, that the modern lindy hop world in most cities is not socially sustainable. Patriarchy (and late capitalism) is doomed to collapse under its own weight.

But is it so dire to see a community based on white supremacy and patriarchy break down? Nope. But the thing about covid is that it infects everyone. Even rich white men. The real, serious difficulty with covid is that vaccination and risk management is much harder when you’re poor, you’re disabled, you’re homeless, you’re marginalised.

When a local cultural community collapses, we also see innovative and new types of work in that local field disappear. The modern lindy hop world is dominated by the concept of historical reenactment, with the implication that the best lindy hop is old lindy hop. This ideology in practice (as many people have pointed out elsewhere) is racist, as it privileges the white people who’ve been lindy hopping the longest, and marginalises (discredits! devalues!) living modern Black culture. As Thomas DeFrantz said in his Collective Voices for Change talk, Black dance is a medium for change, for innovation, for action and activism as well as cherishing history and preserving legacy**. Long covid threatens this new and radical work.

Cancelled in 2121 by the rising Omicron wave, the Belgian event Upside Down has determinedly shifted online. But though online fun is still fun, the face to face necessity of lindy hop suffers.

I mention Upside Down for a few reasons. It is rooted in live music, with the organisers working closely with local musicians. Musicians who are some of the best and most talented in Europe. These musicians lose a weekend of work. Upside Down features some of the most creative promotional design, art, and social media engagement in the lindy hopping world. But while some of this might flourish online, the face to face element (the decorations, the unusual party structures, the creative energy and excitement) does not. Upside Down focusses on its local city, and on local dancers. It’s smaller scale (a few hundred rather than a thousand), and it aims to be environmentally sustainable. It’s also responded to the Black Lindy Hop Matters movement by asking its staff and attendees to engage with race and history and social power. This type of energy and enthusiasm is staggering under the pandemic. And individual cases of long covid in key personnel could be disastrous.

The greatest consequence in the cancellation of events like Upside Down is not in the loss of the event itself. It is losing those moments of creative catalyst that result in waves of new thinking, new creativity, new activism, that spread out into the wider community beyond Ghent.

Photo of Jazz Dance Continuum dancers at Jacob’s Pillow May 19, 2021. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima.

Think of the Jazz Dance Continuum project spearheaded by LaTasha Barnes and her crew. I’m knocking on wood and tossing salt over my shoulder as I type, but imagine an actor like Barnes catching long covid? The woman is a force of nature, working in so many areas of jazz dance, and the wider creative world. She’s also a social agent of good, working with the Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Frankie Manning Foundation and beyond. And what if Julie Living in New York, or Tena Morales-Armstrong in Houston became ill? These women are the backbones of their local and wider communities (once again, fucking hats off to Black women for being true forces of nature… and hardcore professionals). If we lose these types of people, the truly innovative work will be lost.

If you’re a Black American, catching covid is a very, very dangerous thing, for you and your family. The disease is bad enough, but the American ‘health’ system has never been kind to the Black community. The people most likely to be exposed to covid (the breadwinners and caregivers in the family) are removed from the family structure. Feeding nanna or putting food on the table gets harder. And if you catch covid, you still have things like long covid to consider. Individuals are going to be devoting what little energy they have to sustaining family, neighbours, parish, school, and friends. So the Black dancers and Black culture which have begun to make a difference to modern lindy hop are once again marginalised. This is, of course, a familiar consequence of racism. Racism makes people sick. Racism reduces life expectancy. Racism destroys communities.

I’m writing this now in Sydney, where our government has decided not to enforce lockdowns or other restrictions. Our covid case numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before, and we are behind other countries in vaccination. Two years into the pandemic, the national lindy hopping community has been fragmented into local, capital city based scenes. The live jazz scenes in the bigger cities is also suffering. I fear for the future of lindy hop and jazz dance. Mostly because I think that any future ‘revival’ will be based on the white dominated communities of the 80s-2010s, as we move further and further away from the swing era.

Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Avoid crowds.

*If most lindy hop communities are small, them most teachers are teaching locally for smaller groups, most DJing is done for local crowds and smaller crowds, most of the live music dancers listen to is played by local musicians, and most of the venues they use are smaller. The budgets are smaller, most labour is unpaid, and most of this unpaid labour is conducted by women. This is is something I learnt during my doctoral research (pre 2006), but which has remained the case in the following fifteen years.
If most teaching is done locally, then the most valuable teaching skills center on attracting and retaining newer dancers, or local people (rather than margeting to the more experienced market for weekend events). This type of teaching must, by necessity be locally specific: catering to the culture, values, and people of it’s home society.

**This idea of Black dance embodying opposing forces like preserving the past and fostering innovation is not new. Embodying ‘hot and cool‘ is a feature of Black dance, as DeFrantz, Malone and countless other point out. It is, again as Malone points out, almost the stamp of a vernacular dance to take elements of the past and rework them for current needs and wants. In other words, lindy hop wants to preserve the past and innovate and create. It is the quintessential modern dance of the 20th century.

References:

Ayah Nuriddin, Graham Mooney, and Alexandre I R White, “Reckoning with histories of medical racism and violence in the USA,” The Lancet, October 03, 2020.
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

Note: this article contains some important key references to other works on this topic. Content warning for descriptions of sexual violence, racism, medical violence… heck, all of it.

DeFrantz, Thomas ed. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

-. “A conversation with Pr. Thomas DeFrantz on African American Social Dances, hosted by Breai Michele,” Collective Voices for Change, 17 October 2020. https://www.collectivevoicesforchange.org/part-2a-defranz

Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.

—. “Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance.” Looking Out: Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural World. Eds. David Gere, et al. New York: Schirmer Books, 1995. 95 – 121.

Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. “African-American Vernacular Dance: Core Culture and Meaning Operatives.” Journal of Black Studies 15.4 (1985): 427-45.

—. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

A known offender is teaching at a local event. What do you do?

A known offender is teaching at an event in your area. What do you do?

I’d probably think local. You can’t change the entire world, but you can be useful to local people. You know you and your mates won’t go (because you know who he is and what he’s done), but do the people outside your immediate peer group know? I’d imagine newer dancers don’t.

You don’t need to risk repercussions by telling people what he’s done. You can turn the issue upside down, and ask ‘what has he done to fight the fucking power?’
In less radfem sweary terms, maybe check in with them about what to look for in a teacher at a big event. Dancing ability isn’t enough. We need more. Who are they as a _teacher_ and person?

1. Are they straight, white, men?
If so, they need to prove themselves _better_ than anyone who is queer/poc/women/enby.
-> if he has no record of working to dismantle oppression. He’s not an ally.*

2. Do they do racist/sexist/homophobic stuff in public?
– Have they performed in black face (including ‘brown’ or ‘gold’ paint), a fat suit?
– Do their routines involve gay panic/homophobic jokes?
– Do they rely on sexualised jokes for their routines’ punch lines?

I have a one-strike-you’re-dead-to-me-policy. No second chances from me. So Ksenia Parkhatskaya is on my ‘no’ list because she’s appeared in black face in performances MULTIPLE times. Doug Silton is on my no-list because he appeared in black face on stage at a huge event (2013). Dax and Sarah are on my no list because they performed in a fat suit (2011) to recreate a Black dancer’s dancing, and stated that women should dance in high heels (2011). The list goes on and on. And all of these incidents are documented in footage from high profile events.

-> One of the things that WM actually did, and is recorded on film doing, is making a nazi salute (quenelle) during his performance at ILHC in 2014.
That’s enough to convince me not to attend an event he’s at. But are the other peeps in your scene also setting that as a baseline? If not, is it because they’re not Jewish, not people of colour?

3. If they’re white/straight/men, are they antiracists, anti-homophobic, and anti-sexist?
– Are they using their privilege in good ways?
– What do they post about on fb?
– Do they only work on all-white event staffs?
– Do they have a T&C document that says ‘I will not work at events that hire [known sex offender], [known racist]’ ?
– Do they post about antiracist efforts on fb?
– Do they donate money to, attend workshops with, or otherwise support projects like CVFC – Collective Voices for Change, Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Maputo Swing, etc?
– Do they use their channels to advocate for marginalised people? ie do they suggest poc, women, queer, people for teaching/DJing/admin gigs?
– Do they give blog/media space to anti-racist actions, or do they devote that space to discussions about ‘technique’?

4. Are they white/straight, and have teaching styles and classes that are anti-racist, and advocating for students’ empowerment?
– Do they stand in the middle of the class and push you through a routine, or do they encourage students to explore ideas?
– Do they only teach moves they ‘invented’ or learnt from a modern day white guy, or do they continually name check Black dancers and musicians, giving a sense of history?
– Do they use racist/sexist language in class? eg do they use gendered language for leads and follows, sexualised jokes and metaphors, position a white man as the ‘norm’ in their anecdotes and metaphors?
– Do they ignore racism/sexism/homophobia in their classes, or do they call it out (even if from students) students in a productive way? If they ignore it, they are _condoning_ and enabling sexism, homophobia, and racism.

You’ll find that the sexual offenders, the bullies, and the bastards are fuckheads in a whole range of ways. Their sexualised violence is just one of the ways in which they exploit others.
In other words, we should all be asking ‘is this person being a force for good, or a fucking jerk?’ before we attend an event that’s promoting this teacher, musician, DJ, or MC.

Things that do not make you an ally:
– Having a photo taken with a Black dancer like Norma, Frankie, or other OGs.
– Wearing a Tshirt that features a Black dancer/musician.
– Standing by while bad shit goes down.
– Hiring one poc for your event.
– Posting a black square on your fb profile.
– Having women friends that you like.
– Having a Black friend.
– Teaching in Asia this one time.
– Knowing a gay person.

*you can’t just ‘be an ally’. You have to _do_ ally-ship.

Spreading stuff in families, workplaces, and other networks

Lock Down Smarter, Not Harder” (DANIEL REEDERS 24 AUGUST 2021) is a really great article by a very clever friend.

Of course, as soon as I read Daniel’s original tweets on this, my brain started thinking about the way dance steps/styles travel between communities. Dance steps are units of meaning, ways of communicating ideas, who we are, and what we value. In Australia our local lindy hop scenes are separated by huge distances (the two closest scenes are a 3 hour drive apart; most are ~1000km apart), so they tend to have distinct local flavours, even with The Internet. We can think of these as functioning the way a workplace does. For many of us, these are our workplaces. Our germs and dance steps circulate within that local community, which expands into our homes and family circles.

When we travel to meet each other and dance together at exchanges, we literally exchange a whole bunch of things. Dance moves, strategies for preventing sexual assault, hospitality, songs, germs. We make jokes about things like ‘exchange flu’ or ‘Herrang flu’, but this is precisely how covid works: we move out of our own bubbles (local networks) and interact with people from other networks. Boom, new dance steps, new musical trends, new germs.

Daniel’s article does some fantastic work explaining why each local network is different.

Estimating transmission rates depends on understanding the network landscape, and that’s exceptionally difficult to map in real time. You can’t do it using the abstract mathematical models that dominate our public debate.

You and I, lindy hoppers, could do a very good job of explaining the internal relationships of our dance communities. The number and types of classes and parties. The formal dance troops gathering regularly to practice. The casual ‘sessions’ where people get together to jam and practice. Regular live music gigs where we interact with nondancers, venue staff, and musicians. Friendships. Romances and hook ups. Employer/employee gigs. After-dancing snack spots. And so on.

When I was doing my doctoral research, a big chunk of it was ethnographic mapping of local and global dance scenes (pre fb and youtube). To get an accurate picture of how a scene worked, I had to do participant-observation, and then have community members engaged in the ‘mapping’ process. I went from very big survey samples, to a series of smaller focus groups and discussions. Because each human is different, and each local community reflects not only the society in which they function, but also the particular dynamics of each local scene.

If I went in with the assumption that every local scene relied on live bands for social dancing, I’d have no way of describing places like Seoul. If I went in with the assumption that every scene had only male-female dance partnerships, I’d miss… every single dance scene that actually exists 😃
The way lockdowns are enforced in Australia at the moment, there is the assumption that every local community works in the same way. This ‘way’ reflects a particular type of family and culture: white, middle class, suburban, patriarchal.

As Daniel says, the structures within a local network are even more complex than a dance scene. Particularly migrant, outer-suburban communities. People taking turns bringing elders food. Sharehouses where everyone works at least 2 jobs in an ‘essential’ industry. Crowded apartments where more than one family share a shower, kitchen, and common areas. Informal childcare arrangements. And so on.
In the white nuclear family model where four people live in one house in the relative isolation of a suburban house, the father/husband goes to an office job, and the mother/wife stays home to look after the kids. This fits very nicely with the lockdown model. You can order people to work from home, to order groceries online, and stay home together, getting some sun in the garden every day.

Extended family networks don’t look or act like this. So they need different models. Curfews, cops on corners, and other draconian lockdown features won’t (and can’t) stop these people meeting.
The truly interesting part of Daniel’s article is where they point out that a relatively limited number of germs circulate within a smaller network. Even if you’re caring for nanna, living in a crowded house, or going dancing every week, practicing with your buddy, you’re only interacting with a set number of predictable people.

The difficulty comes when you go to work. In workplaces we see a number of the contained networks overlap. People from different networks interact and share germs. And not just on a one-to-one basis, where one father-worker shares their germs with another father-worker and his nuclear family. Boom. Exponential sharing.

In a dance scene, this might be a dance class where not only does everyone learn the new dance step from their partner, but everyone learns how to dance with a million other people. ‘Learn how to dance with’ = become more open to sharing and learning ideas (both physical ideas and creative ideas). Then they get onto the social dance floor and this sharing of moves and movement goes superexponential.

If workplaces are where smaller networks interact, then workers need safer workplaces:
– Shorter shifts, so they are exposed for less time;
– Better pay, so they need work only one job, and at that job for fewer hours (ie 8 hours a day);
– Paid sick leave, and leave for testing (or on-site testing) so they can go get those covid tests;
– Job security, so they aren’t fired or lose income if they miss a shift.
But none of these things are present in casualised work, or workplaces that have been de-unionised.
As a sort of extension of my doctoral work, I’ve found that a top-down response to sexual assault and harassment in a dance community is highly ineffective. Simply having a code of conduct where organisers lay down the ‘don’t rape people!’ rule does not prevent sexual assault.

Again, if we want to control a negative factor, we need to get highly specific, we need to give individuals the power to make decisions about their own lives and actions. Rather than a top-down, blanket order to ‘stop touching each other!’ we need to give people the freedom to avoid contact in ways that preserve their local support networks (families, or peer groups), and even more usefully _use_ their local networks to spread information, resources, and support. The agility of the Sikhs delivering meals safely. The authority of an aunty putting teenagers to work. The collaboration of girlfriends stepping in to divert a creeper from a new dancer. And so on.

Capitalism, patriarchy, however you like to think about these bigger, authoritarian hierarchies, are bad for people’s health.

Doing antiracism in lindy hop

image source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01883-8

I’ve been chasing down as many of the antiracist groups in the lindy hop world as I can find. I want to make a list here, so people can have it as a resource. And by people I mean me, and by have, I mean share.

I’m thinking the groups that are specifically anti-racist in ideology and practice (rather than groups that have inclusive policies but other goals – eg Mobtown, Swingopedia, etc), and groups that focus on Black dance.

So far I’ve thought of:

  • Balboa In Color
    (FB group for balboa dancers of colour, focussing on balboa)
  • Black Lindy Hop Matters
    (based in Baltimore, USA, including Black board members, focussing on linking up Black jazz dance resources)
  • Black Lindy Hoppers Fund
    (based in the USA, Black board members, focussed on fund raising for Black artists and presenting dance workshops)
  • CVFC – Collective Voices for Change
    (international group, including Black board members, focussing on presenting anti-racism talks)
  • Guardian Baltimore
    (based in Baltimore, USA, Black board members, focussing on Black dance culture and history as a site for social change)
  • HellaBlackLindyHop
    (based in USA, Black board, focussing on Black dance orsm)
  • Integrated Rhythm podcast (based in USA, including Black board members, focussing on discussing race and Black experience in jazz dance.) NB no website/fb, but podcast link
  • MOVE TOGETHER: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice
    (based in the USA, including Black board members focussing on hosting discussion forums and fund raising)
  • Obsidean Tea (based in the USA, Black staff, focussing on Black culture and dance today)

I’ve also been thinking about what we do with all this information. There’s lots to read and learn, but integrating it in our teaching practice can be harder. Especially if you’re not teaching at the moment.
I’ve been thinking that it’s good to combine one of the practical dance classes with one of the talk-and-think classes. eg the Harlem Renaissance link from Guardian Baltimore with a tap dance class from Josette Wiggans; Black Lindy Hoppers Fund with Collective Voices for Change. There are also some great Black DJs doing sets at various online parties (Global Online Social, Track Town Swing’s online party, etc etc), and they frequently speak a few words between songs. And of course, there’s the Blues In a Flat fundraiser/collab with Maputo Swing.

I’m feeling it’s essential to get up and do something, rather than just thinking or listening. Thinking and listening quietly is a very Anglo-European (settler) approach to learning. Getting up learning-through-being-and-doing is a cornerstone of Black dance culture. Most of the modern lindy hop world prioritises white ways of learning, where the ‘lesson’ is spelled out explicitly. It’s worth undoing that by taking a class or dancing to a set with Black artists, to undo that.

So my feel, generally, is that simply ‘adding Black history’ to your dance class isn’t anti-racist. It doesn’t change anything. To be really anti-racist, you need to make radical paradigm changes. And the most important one of those is for teachers to take classes and to focus on learning. Because the idea that a teacher is beyond learning is not only a BIG problem, it’s also really dull.

As I write this stuff, I’m super conscious of who is reading, and who I am, writing. I am a white woman. So I need to engage with that in my own thinking and practice. It’s a sad fact that most of the members of this group are not Black. So most of us have a lot of work to do; most of us need to be questioning everything we think we know about lindy hop and about teaching.

But what if you are a Black teacher or dancer? I know that there is an argument for decolonising your own thinking, as a Black artist. That might mean unlearning the ways of teaching you’ve learnt as a student in white-run classes. Which carries with it all sorts of risks. And I do not want to encourage Black dancers to doubt themselves!

I feel supremely uncomfortable writing those sorts of suggestions, as a white woman aware of my power and privilege. But perhaps Audre Lorde’s piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is the best piece to read for more on that. I’d like to end by saying to Black dancers: trust yourself, and trust your history and culture. You know much more about it than someone like me does. And I’m happy to clear a space so you can do what you need to do.

nb this is a useful unit drawing together some of these ideas in Black feminist thinking.

Sexual assault in the Australian jazz industry

Gender Inequality in the Australian Music Industry (Part Two) is a bit of a clunky piece, but it’s so unusual to read a male Australian jazz musician commenting on this issue, it’s worth a look. Note that that they contacted 50 musicians, and only 3 replied.

I’ve worked with a lot of jazz musicians over the last twenty years. Very few of them have been women or enby. And the misogyny and sexism has been stunning. Far worse than any other industry I’ve dealt with. I’ve been harassed by musicians while I’m DJing while I’m MCing and while I’m actually running the event. Yes, they think it’s ok to harass their freaking BOSS. This is because it is a male-dominated industry, and an industry dominated by older white men. I remember one particular evening having a conversation with a band leader who insisted there was no sexual harassment in the the Sydney jazz scene, then five minutes later I was dodging the groping hands of a musician in that guy’s band.

Individual sexual offenders (rapists and men who commit acts of sexual violence) are not the biggest problem with Australian jazz. It’s the other men who turn away from these men and refuse to believe women when they tell them about their physical experiences. It’s the older men who are the bigger problem. And by ‘older’ I mean over 30.

Get it to-fucking-gether Australian jazz musicians.

I actually think that the young men in the music scene would rehabilitate the older people in the music scene a lot better. Nowadays, I think there’s a lot more ‘wokeness’ happening in the music scene, but young men still need to work with young women, play music together, and get the fuck over it.

The jazz music industry is a subset of the wider society in which it is positioned (like the jazz dance community). But the Australian jazz music industry is _even more_ patriarchal than Australian society generally: it’s overwhelmingly white, male, and able-bodied.
Luckily (sadly) we’ve been openly discussing sexual assault and harassment in the wider community since at least the 1980s. So we have a range of practical and discursive strategies, resources, and support services available to us. I’d argue that the Australian jazz industry actively suppresses anti-discrimination actions and thinking.

But.

It can certainly be addressed _now_. The international jazz dance scene started working on this issue about 8-10 years ago, and we’ve had very good results. The practical strategies of the BLM movement has helped even more.
But most of this work is being done by women, and woc.
With the jazz music world, it’s going to need to be men who step up. And a lot of (older white) men aren’t going to like it, because it will mean stepping aside.
At one point in the linked article, it notes that there’s idea (myth) in the jazz world that ‘if you can play, you’ll get the gig,’ as though success is merit-based. That’s untrue. The JM case is a perfect example: a young straight white guy was literally mid-court case, and the patronage of an older white guy got him an exemption and gig.
The adage should be ‘if you’re a white guy with white patrons, you’ll get the gig. Even if you’re a violent criminal.’
The Australian jazz world is very much invested in the myth of creative genius winning out. ButAustralian jazz is not a meritocracy. It is white patriarchy.

The next step of course, is for you, musicians, and your friends to make a list of practical things you can and will do to improve things:
– don’t laugh at sexist jokes. Practice stamping them out in a non-vibe-killing way
– learn to see sexist acts; don’t look away
– step in when you see a bro do sexist stuff
– be inclusive; involve women and enby folk in jokes, drinks, hangs so they can get into professional networks
– swap drinking/drugs sessions for stuff that is less risky for vulnerable people: eating, talking, dancing, basketball, etc

My feel is: explore how you can do _positive_ things. Practice them at home or with your mates. Then do them. Musicians are creative people. You can do this.

Black music, white bands: Racist discourse in lindy hop institutions

Eric Heveron-Smith
fb post 25 June at 05:47

A question was posed on a Facebook group called Swingopedia, and I have decided to finally voice my answer. Hey, it’s quarantine, I don’t have any gigs to lose right now…

“I’ve noticed that music trends in the global swing dance community have changed, since I started in 1995.
I’ve heard a mix of Big Band, RnB, Groove, Soul, Hip Hop, lounge/elevator jazz in early 2000s, Gypsy Swing, Ragtime etc. I’ve even heard Madonna!
What do you believe constitutes swing music and what style of music should we be swing dancing to?
Also should musicians only play recreations of original classics by Basie etc or should they be creating their own music?”

I got a lot of opinions about this. I’m a bass player, trombonist, and singer. I’ve been playing the Lindy Hop scene since 2004, with Solomon Douglas, Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble, and basically anyone else you can think of. I co-founded Moonshine Rhythm Club. As much as I love playing with all the musicians in this scene, my opinion and my approach to music definitely diverges from a lot of them. And I think it also addresses the lack of a serious Black presence in lindy hop.

Here’s what I think:
The way we approach this music, AND this dance, is not at all in the spirit of those who created it.

Let me unpack that just a little bit. Back in the day, musicians were inventing new music that they dug, and that made people want to move their bodies. So they drew big crowds of people who invented new ways to move their bodies to it. That’s it. Does it feel good? Does it make you want to move your body? Then move your body. How? I dunno, let’s make something up together. Does it sound good? Is it fun? If not, whoops, nobody showed up to your gig.

Today, we have a historical dance taught with a preservationist mindset, and we play historic music with a preservationist mindset, or we almost reverse-engineer what music needs to be played so that we can dance this specific dance to it.

We are starting to see more new, original swing music, and I love that. But it still falls within pretty strict guidelines. We are also starting to see more swing audiences actually caring about the music itself, not just as a utilitarian function to dance to; I would definitely credit Michael and Jonathan and the Lindy Focus community for encouraging that, and I think the transcription projects have been a big part of that. It’s been really cool playing at Lindy Focus the past few years and seeing crowds of people standing by the stage just DIGGING the music.

But when you think about what was happening in the 30s and 40s with music and dance, it was a popular movement, and an organic thing. You wanna know what happened to Black musicians and audiences? They didn’t stop playing music, and they didn’t stop dancing. They created new genres, and they created new ways to dance to them. Every single decade up to the present. How can you expect to attract Black musicians and dancers to a scene that is frozen in time?

So ok, what am I proposing instead? I don’t have all the answers, for sure. And yes, I am still a musician that loves playing vintage jazz, and loves playing for dancers. But I look at musicians like Kansas Smitty’s, Bria Skonberg, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Gunhild Carling, and so many others that play amazing, badass, swinging, move-your-body music, and who aren’t even CLOSE to cutting-edge far-out modern jazz, and I hear crickets from the lindy hop community.

Here is my point. There is SO much music out there that swings. Modern stuff. Stuff that feels really good, deep in your body, and makes you want to move and groove. And because it doesn’t fit the specific historical constraints of the dance that this community commodifies and REPLICATES, lindy hoppers want nothing to do with it.

Like, how can you ask the question “what constitutes swing music” or “what style of music SHOULD we be dancing to,” and then turn around and act bewildered that you don’t have more BIPOC in the scene??

I envision a world where the historical preservation of swing music and dance can meet the modern world, where there are all kinds of dances being done to all kinds of killer music. You don’t have to drop the preservation stuff, you SHOULDN’T stop studying and presenting and talking about the history of jazz and swing and lindy hop. But what you have done is put walls around this whole situation, and it keeps you in, and it keeps a whole lot of other people out. It’s religion, in the restrictive sense of the word. And if you ever manage to notice how many badass vintage jazz musicians don’t bother with the swing dance scene anymore, it’s because they don’t fit. They got too big for the walls.

Personally, I would love to be able to continue playing swing music for lindy hoppers. But I can’t tell you how many frustrating gigs I’ve had where either the audience barely noticed there were real musicians on stage, or I was playing with really poor musicians, but nobody really cared because they fit the constraints of the dance. I think my favorite gigs are where some people are dancing (whether it is a dance or not, because they feel it in their bodies), and some people are listening (because they actually hear and enjoy the music), and I can stretch out with my fellow musicians beyond the artificial, misinformed, dance-centric constraints of “around 3 minutes song length, not too fast, not too slow.”

Oh yeah, I thought I was wrapping up, but that’s another thing I gotta address. Not every song has to be danceable for every person. That’s another aspect of the utilitarianism of music in the dance community. You think that because all we have are 3-minute songs from the swing era that that was what musicians did live. I can’t possibly believe that’s true. Not gonna go too deep down that rabbit hole, but here’s something to think about: as soon as the long-playing record was invented, Duke Ellington released a 12-minute version of Mood Indigo, and it is glorious. My favorite version of that song ever. SO swinging, so beautiful, makes me want to move, makes me want to play.

Jazz is a living art form. It’s an improvisational art form. The very best times I’ve had playing jazz with people, we’ve found our way to the special spark, the moments that make people look up and shout, the moments that inspire dance. If I’m hired to perform a utilitarian function for your specific dance style, and I’m fired when I go outside the specific constraints, you’re not gonna get my best. You’re not gonna get the magic, the spark. You are missing out. (I have a couple dancer friends in Rochester who figured this out years ago, and started going to the international jazz fest there and checking out all sorts of amazing music. They GET it.)

Music and dance have been co-created since humans have existed. In my opinion, the lindy hop community is creating neither one right now. I don’t think it has to stay that way; but you’ve gotta tear down the walls, if you want it to change.

(Disclaimers. 1. Even though I’m speaking somewhat harshly about the scene, I still love parts of it, and I love a lot of the people in it, and when I play at Lindy Focus and walk around those hallways, I’m proud and glad to be part of it. 2. I’m talking about some historical stuff in here, but I am far from a swing historian. Michael Gamble, Jonathan Stout, Jon Tigert, and a bunch of other musicians and dancers probably know quite a bit more than me about the specific history of the music and dance. The depth of my musicianship is what makes me feel like I have something to offer with this commentary.)

I have problems with the American-centredness of this post. He is generalising from what he sees in the US (at huge events) to the entire world. And it just doesn’t hold up. I’d argue that the ‘mega-event’ is a very different animal (and product) to smaller events that focus on a regional audience, or even hyper-local audience. The usual issues apply to a huge event: you need to entertain trillions of people, you have to appeal to the widest audience (rather than niche audiences), you have a lot of money at risk, you need to do quality control. You and and should (perhaps) use this big budget opportunity to do more big band gigs. The events he’s talking about are largely in the US, and these are unlike things you see in other countries (with the exception of Camp Swing It, which is MASSIVE). So you end up with a relatively homogenous, palatable menu of music and dance held in a boring big hotel, isolated from the local host community.

Because he’s generalising from big US events, he ignores all the smaller, more interesting events. There’s no Upside Down here. No Rhythm Korea. No Jazz BANG. He also conveniently ignores the work being done by Black event producers. Teena Morales, anyone? She’s been running the biggest events in the US for years. And she runs the Houston Jazz Dance Festival, which has all-Black musicians and teachers, and is firmly positioned within the modern Black community’s culture.
He says:

“But when you think about what was happening in the 30s and 40s with music and dance, it was a popular movement, and an organic thing. You wanna know what happened to Black musicians and audiences? They didn’t stop playing music, and they didn’t stop dancing. They created new genres, and they created new ways to dance to them. Every single decade up to the present. How can you expect to attract Black musicians and dancers to a scene that is frozen in time?”

Well, they’re at Teena Morales’ event, doing dances that actually relate to them, with people who make them feel welcome. But let me address this issue: how to attract Black dancers to lindy hop. I’m guessing he means the US? This issue is a lot like the issue of attracting people of colour to other institutions. It won’t work if you don’t deconstruct or analyse whiteness itself:

As result of the invisibility of whiteness, diversity initiatives are often about including diverse bodies into the mainstream without critically examining what that mainstream is” (source: Diversity Means Disruption ; I speak more about this here: A Lot of White People Will Be Uncomfortable).

And if we’re going to deconstruct whiteness, we also need to deconstruct patriarchy, because white supremacy is built on the dominance of heterosexual masculinity.

If I follow that thinking, to truly change the nature of jazz and music in the lindy hop world, do we need to kill off the mega-event?

Here’s the thing. Covid19 has already done this. This is another thing that I see missing from so much of the online talk about lindy hop culture: this moment of change/crisis is the result of a global pandemic. Push has come to shove. BUT, white people have the time and energy to dig into ‘racism’ because they are in iso, or because their usual lives have been disrupted. Black people and marginalised people are busy trying not to die, whether they’re killed by disease, an dangerous ‘healthcare’ system, or the police.

So why does this white male musician assume that things will go on as they did before? They’re not going to. The world has changed irrevocably. The mega-event is not coming back any time in the next few years. That means the the existing market/audience for the mega-event will have disappeared (we know the lindy hop ‘generation’ is only about 5 years long). We also know that all the necessary infrastructure for a mega-event will also have disappeared: international airlines have folded; the arts are in disarray, from sound engineers to restaurants; international guests will not be visiting the US with its unchecked covid. It would also be horrifically selfish for dancers to attend a mega-event… lindy hop = superspreader.

So I think the question has to be,
What will jazz music and jazz dance look like in a covid19 world?
At first I was all ‘no one wants jazz dance during a plague’ and then I remembered that people really want music and dance during hard times. Who gets to dance will be the issue.

My government has taken advantage of the virus to introduce frightening laws, and expand awful powers. The same company that runs our offshore-detention camps for refugees is in charge of the quarantine hotels. Poor, refugee, and migrant people have been detained in housing commission towers for fear of covid spread. The federal police have expanded search and detain powers. … and so on.
The people who are suffering most from this are the Black members of our community.
I haven’t quite gotten there in the thinking, but I think that it’s obscene to consider running a mega-event in this climate. I mean, I have huge, massive ethical problems with fundraising for white people to transcribe Black recordings so white people can play them for white audiences in THIS moment. It’s a great promotional gig, but how does it fight white supremacy?

So if we can’t do mega-events, what do we do?
The same thing marginalised events and dance communities have already been doing: smaller scale events that cater to the local community’s needs and interests. And by local community, I mean the musicians, sound engineers, DJs, dancers, teachers, performers of a particular city. There’s no budget to fly in the same old crew of white men. So we get local. And that, as with governments*, means we have a more diverse body.

We subsidise local dancers on lower incomes with volunteer spots. We see a more sustainable labour model generally. And we see greater diversity in event types and event staff and attendance. The thing about smaller events, is that they often don’t enforce those rules about what bands should play. For all sorts of reasons. But you’ll get the odd funk number, you’ll get 10 minute songs, and you’ll get a range of tempos. Because the organisers don’t have the ‘knowledge’ to control the music like that. And they don’t particularly prioritise that issue – they’re trying to find the light switch or get the key for the late night party.

I think that this ‘definition’ of ‘good music’ is a matter of power and privilege, not objective value or ‘truth’. As the OP says, insisting on ‘good songs for dancing’ gives us a boring menu, and promotes a conservative palate. This in turn gives us boring dancing. None of those sparks of real creativity and emotion.

I think that DJing plays a big part in this. The lack of diversity in the highest profile DJing ranks is a direct result of some serious gate keeping: DJs are selected for their social skills (do they network like a white man?), their availability (do they have the money and time to drop everything for a weekend gig? Or do they have kids and family to care for?), and then, finally, their music taste (how do they talk about songs – loudly in a crowd, or with a quietly brilliant set at 11pm?). This type of musician hierarchy and power structure marginalises anyone who’s not a straight white guy.

If we want to see more diversity in the songs being played by musicians, we need more diversity in the cohort of musicians.
Which means WHITE MEN NEED TO STOP RAPING AND HARASSING EVERYONE ELSE.
And
WHITE MEN NEED TO STOP _EACH OTHER_ DOING THIS SHIT.

* Local governments have more women, poc, and other marginalised groups represented. As we move up tiers of government (state, federal, commonwealth, etc), we see diversity disappear and white patriarchy at work.

….RE sexual assault in the jazz music scene:
That’s my next job. I was starting work on it before covid, by deliberately setting up gigs and sessions that promote women musicians (ie sessions that are safe workplaces). But it’s been derailed. I figure we can use the methods we’ve developed in the dance world to tackle the music world.
One of the things we’ve found in Sydney, is that if we address sexual harassment and assault, we get a safer, more diverse scene generally. More people of colour, more queer folk, more trans folk, more kids.
This why this OP musician needs to address his own power as a white man in America. He is one of the obstacles we need to deconstruct.

Michael Gamble
fb comment on above post
25 June at 10:30

Hey friend, we have talked about this a bunch, and I know we have a lot of common ground, so i feel comfy talking about this “publicly” with you. I also wanna say I appreciate that going out on a limb can be stressful, and I respect you getting into it regardless.
That being said, I think you’re coming at this from a strange angle, one that on the surface looks extremely relatable (I see a “successful” post/video/blog/etc on this topic about once a month for, I dunno, the past 15 years or so) but to me totally falls apart when you zoom in. My issue is that the thing you’re critiquing isn’t some firm opinion that anyone holds, it’s just the emergent properties of a bunch of different people’s subjective taste. And I’m pretty sure you’re ok with it on the micro level, you just don’t like the overall effect, yeah?
Like, I play music in a style I like. To you it’s narrow, but for me it’s actually a wild experiment in combining elements of different swing era rhythm sections with elements of early new orleans & chicago looser collective improv, moving familiar riffs to new contexts, and yes, paying homage to inspiring classic (but never heard live by current audiences) recordings. There’s a ton of room to play there for those of us that are deeply in love with the performers, arrangers, and composers of that era, and importantly, the current dancers, instructors, and organizers are also deeply educated fans of a wide range of old styles, and enjoy playing in that space – that’s why they hire these bands. (They’ve been geeking out on these rare recordings that they and their friends uncovered over the course of years of musical archeology, and look!-> someone’s playing that live?? Hell yeah I’m gonna hire them, that’s a dream come true!!) And unless I read you wrong, you probably think that’s cool, you just wish that wasn’t ALL there is, or something?
Here’s where I point out that there are a million other places to play music, to dance, and to explore like, every iteration of every art under the sun. The WCS scene has much more modern taste. The Blues scene, and especially the Fusion scene know how to break the mold and push boundaries. (also, there was a generation of Bebop dancers at the Savoy, and there is a push within the modern lindy movement to explore that.. which I think is great. Just FYI!) Do you know about those? The swing scene isn’t this philosophy-driven “preservation movement” in the way you’re making it out to be; it’s a loose collective of folks that happen to have a lot of taste in common. That’s…it. Trying to say their taste should be different is just… weird to me.
Like, there’s nothing stopping anyone from experimenting with other flavors like those scenes do, or like another theoretical new scene could do. There are plenty of folks that don’t dig Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb, Billie Holiday & Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rushing & Count Basie. I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where what we’re doing is the only thing.. and it’s not!
I think that’s my other issue with this type of takedown —> do you realize how small the modern swing scene is? Like, compared to virtually any other hobby or “art scene”? It’s a niche within a niche within a niche. We are people who love what, in our evaluation, is actually a very broad range of dance and music forms that one could spend many lifetimes studying and never master. We’ve carved out a little space to do our thing. And still people feel the need to tell us to stop. All. The. Time.
Last thing: I see “this” being the thing that’s blamed for lack of blackness in our scene very casually, on a regular basis. Y’all, the causes of that are soooo much worse than this one singular artistic impetus. Our scene alienates black folks in basically every way that appears on the racism bingo card. Don’t make vintage music the scapegoat for this. Our scene has historically welcomed and elevated racist individuals and ideas for as long as I can remember, to our shame. Also, though it is somewhat rarer (remember: niche within a niche within a niche), there are a lot of great black musicians that play great swing and early jazz. Mostly we honestly just can’t afford them. (yet) And yes, also the overall whiteness of our scene makes it a less attractive place to seek work, which makes sense. THAT is something we can change. I can’t even remotely pretend to speak for any black person in this, but I think at the very least you are making a ton of assumptions about what’s causing what, and there’s a lot more going on.
(and here’s my social media caveat – my life is nuts right now and I totally don’t have time for an extended FB debate, AKA what the hell am I doing?? Regardless, I do love you, Eric Heveron-Smith!)

I’d add this as an example of Michael’s missing some of the political point:
“My issue is that the thing you’re critiquing isn’t some firm opinion that anyone holds, it’s just the emergent properties of a bunch of different people’s subjective taste.”

There’s a chunk of literature about how ‘individual taste’ isn’t about individual subjective choice, but about cultural forces. So while these aesthetics might seem ‘subjective choices’ from the inside, they’re clearly part of broader patterns and structures of patriarchy and white hegemony. As soon as we see patterns, we can look for the forces that are invisible to the dominant group because they are so ‘normalised’.
ie we have normalised the idea that a bunch of white people playing Black music at an event promoted as ‘preserving the past’ is a good thing. We haven’t engaged with the idea that white people are gaining cultural power from this work, that modern Black musicians are marginalised, and that only seeing white people on stage supports the myth that Black people don’t like jazz or do it well.

This is another difficult bit for me:
“There’s a ton of room to play there for those of us that are deeply in love with the performers, arrangers, and composers of that era, and importantly, the current dancers, instructors, and organizers are also deeply educated fans of a wide range of old styles, and enjoy playing in that space – that’s why they hire these bands. (They’ve been geeking out on these rare recordings that they and their friends uncovered over the course of years of musical archeology, and look! someone’s playing that live?? Hell yeah I’m gonna hire them, that’s a dream come true!!)”

My feminist brain is saying “Who is ‘those of us’? And ‘their friends?’?”
Who is running these large events?
Who is managing the music?
It’s mostly white people, and mostly white men.

My follow up question would be, “If white men are doing the music stuff, what jobs do women do on these events?” and “What jobs to people of colour do on these events?” Are they handling the low-profile stuff like catering or volunteer management or budgets? Events like Focus spend a lot of time convincing people that music is the most important part of an event. The jobs men do. When punters might say, “Actually, the person who met me at registration and made me feel welcome was the most important person I met this weekend.”
The dominant discourse of modern lindy hop prioritises and values the work that white men do most highly.

Here’s another issue:
“The swing scene isn’t this philosophy-driven “preservation movement” in the way you’re making it out to be; it’s a loose collective of folks that happen to have a lot of taste in common. That’s…it. Trying to say their taste should be different is just… weird to me.”

This is a misleading premise.
This isn’t how ideology works. If it’s a fascist state, it might. But hegemony in the modern capitalist patriarchy works in a different way. We don’t have a scene spokesman standing at a mic declaiming, “We will only enjoy bands from 1935-1945. We will only dance to bands from the US.”
…wait. :D

But hegemony is more subtle. We get this message that ‘preservation is prime’ from a whole heap of sources and texts:

  • The only bands that get hired at mega-events are preservationist bands led and staffed by white men. Each of those independent messages tells me that big organisers don’t value the work of women or people of colour. It also suggests, implicitly, that the only _valuable_ or ‘good’ musicians are white men.
  • The only DJs who play those mega-events are white. And often white men (those the latter is changing, I’d argue that most of those white women DJs (myself included) are people who engage with dance in a particular way: assertive, relatively ambitiously, etc -> characteristics usually ascribed to hetero white men).

…and so on.

I’m interested in how this works in places like Seoul. There we see white bands flown into the country for big gigs. And they’re the same bands we see at American mega-events. But we also see local gendered and ethnicised relationships of power at work. Interestingly, Sage Minn’s band, one of the very few in Seoul, has women members. I wonder if it’s because they’re playing western music, Korean mores and values don’t apply in the same way? I actually saw a fab conference paper about pop culture in Seoul a few years ago that discusses this.

“Like, there’s nothing stopping anyone from experimenting with other flavors like those scenes do, or like another theoretical new scene could do. There are plenty of folks that don’t dig Ella Fitzgerald; Chick Webb, Billie Holiday; Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rushing; Count Basie. I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where what we’re doing is the only thing.. and it’s not!”
…so you can do all that other stuff, just not here?

“I think that’s my other issue with this type of takedown —”
This is where this post gets a bit defensive. The original post was actually really gentle (I thought). But you know that saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
If you’re used to adulation, a little light supposition feels like a take down.

“Last thing: I see “this” being the thing that’s blamed for lack of blackness in our scene very casually, on a regular basis. Y’all, the causes of that are soooo much worse than this one singular artistic impetus.”
This is a deeply problematic comment. I’ve seen this quite a lot in white discussions about racism (I actually did a Masters on it). If we only define racism as white cops killing Black kids, or KKK lynching Black men, then anything ‘less’ can be positioned as ‘not-racism’.
But we know that racist discourse is far more complex. All those white DJs and white bands and white MCs? That’s racism.

Here’s an example:
“there are a lot of great black musicians that play great swing and early jazz. Mostly we honestly just can’t afford them.”
This is racism.
In this sentence he is literally saying that he/we** do not value Black musicians enough to pay them what they’re worth.

It’s racism because of what is not said, and because of the implicit valuing of ‘historic’ Black work, and devaluing of contemporary Black work. We’ll only raise a zillion dollars to fund the transcription of work by dead Black men; we won’t shell out some of that money to pay living Black men and women a living wage.

More importantly, this statement presented with no facts or evidence, will become a ‘truth’ repeated all over the scene. It will become what we describe in cultural studies as a ‘myth’: a valuative statement that is repeated so often it becomes a ‘fact’ with huge, powerful status.
The effect of this type of cultural myth is that other events and organisers won’t book Black bands or artists because ‘they’re too expensive’. And the myth will grow.

But why. Why is a Black musician more expensive? Does he mean that he’ll only hire a brilliant Black musician, but won’t hire a less awesome Black musician, and is quite ok hiring mediocre white men musicians?

I can’t continue down this reasoning: mediocre white men. Oh to have your confidence and power.
**The way he elides ‘we’ and ‘I’ is telling – he positions himself with an important ‘many’/majority, rather than taking responsibility for his own choices. This establishes his position as part of a powerful ‘many’.

“and here’s my social media caveat – my life is nuts right now and I totally don’t have time for an extended FB debate, AKA what the hell am I doing??”
While I have sympathy for him, I’d like to remind the white world that Black Americans have been fighting like demons while their society rapes and murders them with official sanction. Women work on sexual harassment and assault issues while they are being harassed every day.
This is why we call it disruption: it disrupts the status quo. And if you’re a white man, it’s often the first time you’ve had to do this work while also managing your daily dramas.

As a final note, I’m gonna quote Audre Lorde:

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change (source: Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

In this context, I mean that accepting the premise of the original post is misleading. Following the instructions of a powerful white man will not help us deconstruct racism. We need to do something completely different.

I’m going to direct you to this post.
Diversity Means Disruption.

Why hire First Nations people into your mostly white structure and expect/want/demand everything to remain basically the same?
… diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives … are often shallow exercises as they are seldom created to challenge and disrupt whiteness within and outside the sector. We cannot change institutional racism without first changing institutions and without disruption, nothing will change.

Covid19 provides an opportunity for this disruption. Or does it? In the US and here in Australia, people of colour are disproportionately affected by the virus and its effects. They’re too busy fighting racism to think about jazz. Here is a really clever twitter thread, where the writer Abu Owaisi connects up the Victorian government’s locking 9 housing commission towers, the SES removing donated goods, white journalists’ influential commentary, and the devaluing of work by migrant community groups.

So, allies, time to dismantle the master’s house. Let’s do something completely new.

how do you get women leads?

Sydney now has a very strong culture of ‘anyone can lead or follow if they like, and it’s ok if you just want to do one and it happens to align with your gender ID’.

There are a number of reasons for this – a queer swing dance school who also run a big event; women leads on the floor; women teachers who teach as leads; people being publicly intolerant of anti-social behaviour; a growing ‘be good to each other’ discourse in event promotion, etc.
And where I write ‘women’, please include transwomen. I’ve noticed it’s easier for normcore folk to include transmen in their ideas of ‘men’, than it is to include transwomen in their category ‘women’.
It’s also been super important to see how welcoming and supportive our scene has been of people who’ve transitioned while being in the scene. ie they first presented as one gender, then transitioned to another. On the whole, teachers and dancers have been openly supportive, and more importantly, no-big-deal about changing pronouns, etc. It may have been harder for them one-on-one (all new things are tricky), but on the whole, it’s been ok. Not perfect, but ok. More work to do there.

Note: if a scene is ok with women leads and men follows, it is more welcoming to transpeople and queerpeople. Because a scene that has flexible ideas about gender and dance is a more welcoming, safer place.
If my leading has ever helped pave the way for a shy dyke lead or transwoman follow, then I feel very proud. It was worth it.

etc etc

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed, is that this general trend has been working in concert with peer-motivated anti-sexual-harassment actions. ie women are more likely to say no when a creeper asks them to dance, and they will also step in and check in on other women if they see creepers maccing on them.
There’s also been a scene-wide ‘fuck that; we do not tolerate harassment or assault’ public discussion from teachers (even if the organisational policies haven’t been in place).

And _this_ trend has seen us get a more ethnically diverse cohort of dancers. In part because one of the main creepers was targeting asian women. Boy, did he get his arse handed to him. And because women of colour just get fucked off by carrying the double burden of racism and sexism.

I noticed that once he and his gross mates were absent from events, we saw an increase in men following. It seems that this racist creeper was also intimidating other men _implicitly_. And that the men who liked to follow also liked women who lead (or the women who’d had a gutful of that creeper).

So when we addressed all these issues – sexuality, ethnicity, gender, etc – at the same time, we saw a general improvement in the vibe of parties and classes. People felt more comfortable being themselves.

And then it snowballed, and we saw exponential improvements.

So if your goal is ‘more women leads’, you need to address a range of issues. You’ll get a bunch of lovely good results as a consequence.

But speaking as a woman lead, things that were important for me:
– Teachers who openly said ‘women are leads as well as men’. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I remember the handful of times I’ve heard teachers say it in the last 20 years. But don’t be afraid to be pro-active on this. Not just saying ‘anyone can lead’, but “Women can lead.”

– Teachers saying to me “Don’t ever stop leading.” A woman teacher said this to me quietly one night after class, and it was the most important thing anyone has ever said to me about dancing.

– Seeing women teachers lead socially.

– Seeing other women ask women teachers to lead them socially.

– Having women teachers ask me to dance (and lead)

Things I wish people had done:

– Stepping on students in class who say ‘you’re being the man/boy?!’ with surprise.
I’ve never heard a teacher say this, but it would be solid gold if they said “hey, follows, don’t say this to your partners. It makes them sad.”
I’ve only ever been at two weekend events where no one has said this to me. In 22 years of lindy hop classes and workshops. Each time someone expresses surprise and expects me to justify leading, it wears me down just a little bit. So a) fuck you women follows, and b) teachers, get your students’ backs.

– Never used gendered pronouns in class, or used gendered language and concepts to describe leading.

Things that shat me to tears:
– Male teachers who try to make me try a move as a follow in class, when I’m leading. Sure, it might help my learning, but would you ask a male lead to do this, even if you knew they followed? And also, whatever your norm is, do this thing: treat women leads like they are leaders, not follows who sometimes lead.

– Teachers who kept ‘forgetting’ to use gender neutral language.

– Teachers who use sexy jokes in class, because most of those jokes were heterocentric and/or relied on the idea of a lead being a straight man.

‘real’ tradwives of britain

Ok, so I’m taking the time to go back through this article properly.

1. It’s not very well written, and needs some solid editing. There are random threads that should have been snipped off. eg the bit about paleo diets. What did she want to say there? Was it a thing about the commodification of a mythic ‘essential human past’? Then why not say so?

2. She does not address ethnicity or race in any way. Fail. This is a substantial flaw, because most of the current day multi-generational families, home-businesses, and so on are are marked by class, and by race.

3. She says the ‘tradwives’ trend is dumb, because ‘tradwives’ want to be like the ‘wives’ of the 1950s. She says ‘why not aim to be ‘tradwives’ of the 1300s because it’s more legit?
I am struggling to get on board with this. I’m a fan of things like contraception and not being my lord’s chattel.

4. Her fangirling about the 1300s seems to be a response to a twitter thread defending the word ‘spinster’ as referring to single women who were economically independent that’s recently done the rounds, but which has since proved to be full of shit.
A cleverer response thread was doing the rounds, but I can’t find it right now. So here’s a post about a more accurate etymology of spinster.
The upshot is that it wasn’t that great to be a woman in the 1300s, even one working with her sisters in a shared workspace.

5. She continues, getting to the real meat of her piece: no more laws! They’re harshing our feminist collective mellow!

How, then, can a suburban family with a tiny garden transform their private home into a 14th-century-style household economy? The digital economy offers some help on this front: Pettitt herself extols the virtues of ‘tradwife’ while running a digital business from home. But more could be done to support a blossoming of tradewives (or tradehusbands).

She might have said ‘how can white ladies with white husbands and wee little white kiddies earn money from home?
Well, it’s not going to happen in Australia with our NBN. Or in rural centres in Australia. Or even, increasingly, in our urban centres.
To run an online business you need:
– good, and reliable electricity, and internet infrastructure
– reliable hardware (computers and so on)
– LITERACY – reading and writing – and NUMERACY
– to get that last one, you’ll need to have attended a decent school, to have been able to study at that school (and not stay home to work in your family’s business, or be waylaid by unwanted pregnancies or caring for other family members)
– you’ll need to have reproductive independence: access to safe and affordable contraception.
…and so on.

That’s all before we get to the actual business part of the business. ie the things you make, and the way you run your enterprise.

[edit]WE KNOW that reducing poverty is directly tied to the education and reproductive independence of women and girls. Get girls reading, get them on the pill (or otherwise able to control when and how they have babies), and they have more social and economic power. This is, clearly, not as simple as I make it sound. But we know that poverty in general is a direct result of capitalist patriarchy.[/]

But this lady is pretty sure it’s that interfering government getting in the way of nice white ladies forming child care collectives.

My DOOD. That’s some neoliberal bullshit right there.

She also thinks that it’d help to get rid of other forms of pesky government interference: the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is the one she latches onto.

She also has a thing about the restrictions of residential and commercial property use. It should be done away with! And why not?! Haven’t we all wanted a commercial meatpacker next door, or panel beaters across the street?

…at this point, I’m wondering if she’ll start talking about sex work, which seems the logical extension of her point: safe, collective spaces run by women, enabling them to work off the streets, and control their own incomes (and bodies).
But she doesn’t go there. She’s thinking about nice middle class white lady internet businesses.

This bit is just plain bucolic:

And surely it is not beyond the wit of policy wonks to come up with a means for tradewives to cooperate on collectives such as craft or market gardening, which could be done in the company of small children.

Such whimsy.
6. She ends by asking:

But if we can build on the emancipatory desires of women since the 1960s, taking our inspiration not from the 1950s but the 1350s, perhaps we could rethink the split between home and work and support a rebirth of the far older tradition of ‘tradewives’. We might even find this brings with it a renaissance of community connection and social capital across our struggling villages and small towns.

Ok, so we’re going to do some feminist deconstruction of capitalism and industrialisation. Sure. How do we do that, fren?

I’m not sure what she means, exactly when she talks about ‘community connection’ and ‘social capital’. She’s pretty sure she wants it, but what does she _mean_? Neighbours talking to each other? A return of incumbent lords and serfs with everyone knowing their place?
It’s not a good piece, and I don’t think she makes any good points. Besides a weak-sauce dismissal of 1950s ‘housewifery’.

She has not looked into the everyday lives of women who _do_ work from home.
She provides no real evidence that ‘tradwives’ is even a thing. Yes, there are lots of blogs by women deciding to stay home and knit sweaters for their home schooled kiddies. But most of them have husbands in very well paid jobs. And most of them are white living in north america. And there’s a hashtag. But I’m going to need more research, mate.

She doesn’t look at the live of migrant women in Britain working in cosy ‘domestic collectives’ supplying garments for the garment trade, doing phone sex (or sex work generally) off-site, or flogging cleaning products for Amway. There certainly aren’t any brown women in her stories, and there aren’t any already struggling with poverty and racism.

So, in sum, I declare this article:
Rubbish.

Eat Your Jazz: Herräng’s ‘no’ list and the advantages of limitations

The now-infamous ‘Herräng no list’ came up in my interview with Ryan for his podcast. I’m not sure how it developed, but this ‘no list’ was a complement to the ‘yes list’, which sadly gets a lot less attention. These lists were playlists on spotify developed as a general guide to the type of music you may or may not choose to play at Herräng. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ titles are typically Swedish. Functional. :D

The first year I DJed at Herräng (2015?), there was an actual booklety thing, setting out the same sort of information, but as a pie graph, with percentages.

Last year I made up a new version of this pie graph for myself. You can see it at the top of this post.

That’s three ways of saying the same thing: this is the type of music we’d prefer you play, as a staff DJ at Herräng. This is a fairly specific description, and it aligns nicely with Herräng’s branding as ‘vernacular jazz dance’ blah blah.

The rules for DJing at Herräng are as you’d expect:

  1. Play swinging jazz from the 1930-40s (with a smear of 50s)
  2. Don’t just lean on the standards

So really it should be a ‘do’ list, not a don’t list.

Does it sound like there are a lot of rules for DJing at Herräng? Not that I’ve noticed. In fact, DJing at Herräng is lots of fun because our bosses simply assume we know all this and won’t play any bullshit, then they just set us up with a time slot or a task, and say “GO.” And then we just go sick. There’s a microphone, there’re lighting switches, there’s a dance floor full of Europeans in a democratic socialist country with far too much daylight. NO RULES TIL BROOKLYN

Advantages of each of the ‘rules’:

Point 2.
You have to really work on your set, not just play your easy-win faves. This makes you work harder and play more interesting sets.
This is especially true because we are on staff for a week, playing every night. One set in a weekend means you can phone it in, but 7 or more sets in a week means you really have to stretch.
This makes the whole week more interesting for dancers, because they’re hearing a wider range of music (within a genre): they get a deeper taste of swing music. But it also makes it more interesting for DJs, and much more creative. You’re more likely to take risks. Here is the good bit. More risks = potentially more errors. But really good DJs know how to recover from errors, and how to avoid them.
So while a DJ’s collection is on display, their skills are too.

I actually love it. I come away from the event with a much better understanding of my collection, having played far more than my usual ‘safe’ songs. And I’ve heard sets that are far more than just a handful of Naomi Uyama and Gordon Webster favourites.

Point 1.
This seems obvious. Playing from the swing era makes for good swing dancing. I see far better lindy hop at Herräng, in part because the music makes it easier to lindy hop.
Less jump blues. This is one that caught me by surprise. I hadn’t realised how much I leant on 40s jump blues. Louis jordan, Big Joe Turner, and others. Wonderful, but when I pushed myself to limit the number of these in my set, again they improved. How? a) different rhythmic emphasis and structure to the songs, b) less vocal driven, more ensemble driven melodies and structure, and c) a shift away from jump blues = shift towards small and big band swing. More complex songs and arrangements. Much more interesting for dancing lindy hop.

So the point isn’t that the no list stops you playing songs. It’s that the no list asks you to start playing a whole heap of other songs. Songs that are just much better for lindy hop and balboa.

I know I come away from the event a much better DJ. Two thumbs up from me.

I need some help paying my bills

In which I uncomfortably ask for your help… https://www.gofundme.com/AustralianSafeSpacelegalFund

As you may or may not know, in addition to ranting about stuff on facebook, I also do a bunch of practical things about sexual harassment and assault in the swing dance world. These include:
– developing policies and processes for my own events,
– consulting with and responding to questions from people in other scenes about issues in their own scenes,
– intervening in actual situations where I see women being harassed,
– etcetera.

All this can be risky. There are plenty of physical threats and intimidation, but also legal threats. It seems angry men don’t like being told they can’t assault women and girls by a woman.

I like to do all this work properly. So I have a law firm that specialises in defamation law give me advice on:
– how to write guidelines for our events,
– how to notify people that they’re not welcome at our events,
– how to enforce our codes of conduct.

This protects me, my partners, my contractors and employees, and my volunteers from law suits.

And it costs a bit of money. A whole bunch of money.

I’m at the point now where I need _your_ help. I don’t feel comfortable asking, but I figure, if half this work is reminding us we can ask for help when we need it, then I should learn that lesson too.

If you have a few bucks to donate, you can contribute to my gofundme. All this money will cover ongoing legal fees. I’m happy to talk about and give details of these fees (as far as I’m legally able).

[photo of dancers by Dave from WW photography.]