I got into a discussion on Jive Junction today (yeah yeah, I should have seen it coming), and I wanted to write a reply there, but I didn’t. I wrote it all out, I edited it, but I couldn’t press post. Because I felt too fucking scared.
Basically, I wasn’t paying close attention to the discussion, because I was multi-tasking at the time. I read the first post and dismissed it as yet another fucking pain in the arse post about how we’re overreacting, and isn’t lindy hop just… whatever. Then I skim read a bit. Then I just posted a few times and kind of lost track. But I probably should have paid more attention, because it escalated quite quickly.
I used to write quite personal things on this blog. I’d write about my everyday, my life, my feels. But I don’t do that so much any more because I attract quite a lot more readers than I used to. And that means more unpleasant comments, more emails, more interaction. Urk. All that shit is tiring.
Anyways, here is a personal post. I feel like I have to be logical logical logical. Calm calm calm. Sensible sensible sensible in these discussions. Like I have to fact check and edit and logic check. And then add a lump of self-depreciating, dry humour to deflect any personal attacks. When most of the time I’m actually trying not to cry, and I can’t help thinking about the shitty stuff that happens to me on a daily basis, just part of everyday sexism as a woman having the balls to be out in public on her own – whether that’s the bus, the dance floor, or the internet.
This is what I ended up posting:
Jump back. Feminist posts series of illogical, emotional, failure-to-listen-to-men posts about sexual harassment that don’t actually engage with the topic at hand and almost derails sensible discussion.
I can see the appeal of this approach. I might try it again in the future. #notallfeminists
It’s textbook trolling. I should feel ashamed. But I don’t. Not really. Well, only a little bit. Self-doubt. I have it.
This is what I wanted to write on JJ, but didn’t post:
So, whatevs, right? It’s not like there’s a shortage of random illogic in JJ, yeah? I reckon there’s some confusion about how we’re each using words. Predatory behaviour _is_ about sexual harassment and bullying, and grooming, and a whole host of other behaviours. Even the way you use the word ‘studios’ is culturally specific, Peter: we don’t even have that concept of ‘studio dance’ in Sydney, let alone Australian lindy hop, and the word doesn’t resonate with me the way it does with you. But I’ve lost track of this discussion. I tend to skim read most threads on this stuff because I can’t handle the scary sexism underlying a lot of the talk about this issue. Yolo.
As I said, I find it really difficult to read about and talk about this stuff, particularly in real time, because every time I write in detail about what it’s like to be sexually harassed, I get the shakes, because this shit happens to ME. I can’t be cool and logical because this stuff isn’t cool and logical for me. It happened to me yesterday on the bus, it’ll probably happen to me this afternoon when I go out, and it’ll keep happening to me, pretty much every day. Sexual harassment is my lived experience, it’s my every day.
Of course I’m distracted by my lived experience in my local scene – we all are. That’s the _point_. I have to start with my own experiences, and yet part of being a feminist is recognising that your own lived experiences cannot be generalised to the whole world. I’m on board with that. Are you?
Most of the time when I’m writing about these issues, I have to stop and edit millions of times before I post a comment. I had to wait a long time before I could post about Sarah’s story on my blog. And even now, I’d like to write more, but I can’t because I’m kind of scared shitless by the sort of fallout I’ll attract. I take a lot of care to be logical and calm when I write about this stuff, because I feel I have to be nine million times calmer than the randos who then move in and send me hate mail and horrible comments.
Because that’s what happens whenever I write about this stuff in a public forum – my ‘other’ inbox on fb fills up with nasty comments, I get unpleasant emails, I get messages from people who want to ‘initiate a dialogue’ about sexual assault with me, people come up to me in person at dance events and want to talk about hardcore sexual politics in lindy hop, and it can scare me silly not to mention just tire me the fuck out.
I know it’s not cool to devolve an internet discussion into poor-me-I’m-a-baby talk, but whatevs. I’m not 100% coherent and cool and logical all the time.
This is why I’m so impressed by those women who actually wrote whole posts about being sexually assaulted. Who recorded live videos! It’s so hard just writing about everyday ordinary stuff like being groped in the supermarket, having men stare at your body and try to make eye contact on the footpath, shouted at by passing cars, or manhandled on the dance floor. To speak about being drugged and assaulted! It’s beyond brave. It’s mighty.
Here is a post just about dancing and music, because even though we’re thinking and talking about gender politics and good business practices in the scene, we’re also dancers. Hopefully. This post is kind of rambly, because that’s how I roll.
This post is about the ‘rhythm centred‘ approach to lindy hop that a few teachers are really digging on at the moment. And music.
What is this ‘rhythm method’? Basically, we’re talking about prioritising the rhythms at the heart of a dance step, rather than the shapes. Shapes are important, yes, but the rhythm comes first.
This isn’t a new approach. People’ve been into this forever. People like NormaMiller, other old timers, the Rhythm Hot Shots… pretty much anyone who’s legit.
I think this is a bit like another approach that got around in the early 2000s: work from the ground up. In both cases, the emphasis is on what your body does, and on the foundation of good dancing. Committing your weight properly, understanding how you make contact with the ground, and how you initiate movement from your core. In other words, good lindy hop, as a partner dance, is like good solo dancing: you have to move your arse if you want to actually be dancing with someone.
Anyhow, I was in a class this week, taught by Bec and Alice at our regular Wednesday night intermediate class. They began the class with an exercise we’d picked up from Ramona and from the other Sea of Rhythm peeps (all of whom are tap dancers): in a circle one person does a rhythm, then the next person has to do a step inspired by that rhythm, and so on round the circle. Then the class continued with a fairly simple idea: you use a pass by (where the lead goes under the joined arms) as a ‘space’ for improvising, or adding in a rhythm. You can either do call and response (where one parter does the rhythm first, and the other copies on the next go through), or you can both do your own rhythms at the same time.
Nothing new, right? We’ve done this approximately one million times, though we might say ‘do your own jazz steps’ in that bit where you walk past each other. You might shorty george under there, or swivel around. It’s a nice, simple example of how jazz and lindy hop are structure + improvisation. But when you shift the emphasis to the rhythm, it gets a bit more interesting.
And I actually found it a bit nicer as a lead-follow exercise. Because if you focus on the rhythm, not the shape, you focus on how your feet strike the floor, and with what sort of emphasis. Where are you pausing? Where do you speed up? Is it a straight step, or is it syncopated? If you are doing call and response, you have to be as clear as you can, so your partner can recognise the rhythm and then repeat it back to you (this is my favourite). And in an under arm pass by situation, it’s not easy to see your partner all the time, so you have to feel the rhythm through your connected arms.
Of course, for this to work, you need to have a) an understanding of swung timing, straight timing, syncopation, and how to keep time while ‘paused’ (ie gotta have bounce, and b) a relaxed connection, because a hugely tight pair of arms don’t let messages (weight changes) through.
And to get those things, you need to focus on the rhythm of your basic footwork, and on leading by moving your body rather than yanking with your arms.
And, the best bit of this, is that you have to really pay attention to your partner to catch the rhythm, then repeat it back. You have to watch and listen and feel them, and then you have to watch and listen and feel them responding to see if you’re getting it right. The other best bit is that you assume from the beginning that both partners – lead and follow – can call, and both can respond. This immediately undoes the idea that follows always react and leads always initiate. It reminds you that both of you are partners, and that both good leading and good following requires listening very carefully to your partner, and responding to what they’re doing.
[Segue: if you set up this model of dancing relationships, you are undoing the bullshit power dynamic that encourages sexual harassment (which is where one partner exploits their higher position of power). In this model of dance partnership, each partner is important and powerful. You listen to each other. You respect each other. Higher power and its exploitation is detrimental to both the dancing partnership, and to the social partnership.]
Ok, so where’s the music in all this?
This is where we get amazing. This is where jazz dancing gets fantastic. We are doing polyrhythms, here. There’s the band, doing what they do. And then there’s the dancers, dancing a rhythm on the top. They might be dancing what they hear in the music, or, because lindy hop is wonderful, they might add a complementary rhythm to what they hear. Something that’s not in the music at all. Yet.
As if that wasn’t wonderful enough, if there are two of you having a rhythmic conversation like this, you’ll be adding two layers of rhythm on top of the music. Because you two aren’t in sync – you’re doing call and response. And that means that while you’re responding to your partner, they’re already adding in another rhythm. So you have to listen to and recognise that new rhythm while you’re responding with the previous rhythm! Wow!
Wait, no, we’re not done.
This is where it gets fantastic.
You don’t have to play the call and response game. You can just rock out doing whatever you like, not syncing up with your partner. So you’re doing a whole heap of rhythms all at once, on top of the music. Boom. Of course, the challenge here is to make all this actually be rhythmically sound. It can’t just be a bunch of noise and rubbish. This is why I like the call and response game: it makes you be super clear and definite in your movements. I actually like it when you have to do a rhythm, then repeat it, and then your partner repeats it. Because that way you get clear feedback about whether your rhythm is legit, and not just a bunch of banging and jumping about. If you can’t do it twice in a row, then you suck a bit and you need to clean it up. Usually that means simplifying.
The extra wonderful part of this, is that this is a game brand new dancers can play as well. And as you get more experience, and more control of your body, your rhythms can get more complex. To me, it feels like leading and following on a micro-level. Am I leading clearly enough for a brand new dancer to pick it up and follow? If not, then I suck. My partner shouldn’t have to be a superstar to recognise and repeat my rhythm.
Tell me about the music!
Right, lets talk about the shout chorus at the end of a song. Wikipedia puts it like this. The shout chorus is
characterized by being the most energetic, lively, and exciting and by containing the musical climax of the piece. A shout chorus characteristically employs extreme ranges, loud dynamics, and a re-arrangement of melodic motives into short, accented riffs. Shout choruses often feature tutti or concerted writing, but may also use contrapuntal writing or call and response between the brass and saxophones, or between the ensemble and the drummer. Additionally, brass players frequently use extended techniques such as falls, doits, turns, and shakes to add excitement.
I like ones by musicians like Sidney Bechet, old school NOLA people. Or Fats Waller usually brings good ones. That last chorus often feels more chaotic and shouty than with a big classic swing band. And there’s probably going to be some improvisation in there too. Here, check out ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ by Waller and his Rhythm, from about 2.00:
[DJing note: I often use a song with this sort of ending to build the energy in the room. From here I can ramp up the tempos and excitement level, because the shout chorus has primed the room for something more.]
Ok, so here’s my thinking: that last shout chorus is just like when you’re playing call and response rhythms with your partner. The rhythms and notes just pile on up. It sounds a bit like chaos, but it’s not, because everyone has to really listen to each other.
This is jazz.
And this is why that idea that ‘follows do what leads say’ is just rubbish. It’s not only sexist and dumb, it’s not jazz. It’s creatively BOOOORING.
Not much in the way of shout chorus to that song, aye? In fact, it’s the opposite: it’s a quieter, calmer, sparser arrangement and performance. The tempo is nice and relaxed, it swings like a gate, and it has a nice clear, consistent rhythm. Perfect for lindy hopping.
Then let’s look at Marie and Skye. They’re doing the same shapes, they have the same beat in their bodies, but they often aren’t doing exactly the same rhythm. I don’t want to say ‘footwork’ because ‘footwork’ is misleading: it suggests that it’s your feet doing the work. It’s actually your body that’s doing the work, and your foot placement and emphasis is a consequence of choices you’ve made with your body. That’s why it’s so much easier to see Skye and Maria’s rhythms. It’s almost as though Skye in particular has velvet covered feet. Velvet covered bricks, because though each step is perfectly and gently places, the commitment of weight is very solid and definite. And he understands that he has more than just one flat surface to his foot – there’s lots more to work with. And then, to make it more awesome, he lifts his feet from his hip or his knee… the movement begins higher in his body, not just with his feet.
Again, though, the rhythms that they bring, even to just the last 2 beats of a swing out, where you might triple step habitually, are very clear decisions, and they are working with the music. They aren’t just ramming some random combination of steps that they love on top of the music. They’re building it in. Watching Skye (because I’m a lead, that’s what I’m doing right now), he’s also working with all the instruments. There aren’t many of them, but he makes very clear that it’s the combination of instruments that make the band.
I really hate ‘musicality classes’ where teachers say something like ‘now dance to the saxophone!’ Because there’s a whole band there, and the sound they make is a combination of all those instruments and sounds. So why would I just take out one instrument? What I like about Skye in this particular video is that he’s moving between instruments, or dancing to all of them at once, and creating a series of shapes and patterns and rhythms that join them all together.
And Marie is with him, working with his overall pattern, but adding stuff by shifting the emphasis here and there, by adding in completely new sequences, by taking out sequences and paring things down. I particularly like the way her moments of stillness and simplicity (something I see Naomi Uyama do a lot) are essential for Skye’s busy-ness. If they were both going hardcore, you’d get more of a shout chorus effect, but for the whole song, and it’d be a bit much. It certainly wouldn’t suit this quieter, pared back song.
Ok, so you see straight away, that there’s a different rhythmic relationship going on here between these two people. I’ve written about Frida before, in reference to this same issue: she brings the shit. She also has a very active, engaged and exciting edge to her dancing that isn’t like Marie’s. Watching this, I’m struck by the way Skye becomes the ‘simpler’ dancer, when Frida adds the vajazzle. Not that he’s necessarily doing simple steps; it’s just that the layers of rhythm and timing and emphasis are different in this partnership. By dancing with a different partner to a different song, his dancing is changed. Partly because he’s a very good lead, and changes his dancing to suit the music and his partner. But also because dancing with a different partner frames his approach to music in a different way.
Theres’s something more exciting about dancing to a live band, and I think it’s because anything can happen. Jazz wants improvisation, and in a recording, the improvisation is over: the sound is fixed. But when it’s live, it’s not fixed. And when dancers and musicians work together, that degree of the unexpected increases. Much more can happen now. So there’s an edge of anticipation and risk to improvised dancing to a live, improvising jazz band. Which adds excitement. And with Frida, you know that her reflexes are so good, and she is so fast, that she can not only respond really quickly to a new lead, but she can respond quickly to a new sound in the band, and add her own thoughts to both or either. And yet still make the partnership work.
Anyway, I wanted to jot all these thoughts down while they were still fresh after a couple of days of interesting dance work. Bec and Alice also led a session in our practice group last night where they taught us how to do one particular move that Skye leads in both these videos. Bec and Alice came to practice all excited because they’d realised Skye dances that same move in many ways, with many partners. And it’s always different. Our challenge in this session was to be able to dance two versions, and to understand how changes in timing (rhythm) were about changes in how you use your body, as both a lead and a follow. One thing we realised was that if you overcommit – if you get too ‘deep’ into a pause or a stop, your timing changes, and you can’t respond as quickly. It was very interesting.
So I guess this post is about layers of rhythm, and how we can think about lindy hop as sequences and layers of rhythm, both between partners, and between musicians and dancers. Long live lindy hop. You are the best.
A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better
First I lol for using gender neutral language, when I’m deliberately talking about a woman leading.
Second, I’m reminded of a comment I get occasionally from male teachers and ‘higher profile’ dancers around the place. It’s happened a few times now, and it really twiddles my knobs*.
Take Male dancer X, who is generally a pretty nice guy, but also pretty comfortable with being an ‘alpha’ male dancer. He likes being top dog. He’s nice and ostensibly a feminist ally, but in practice, I’m not sure he’d be willing to give up that position as top dog for the sake of feminism. So he’s all for feminism, so long as he stays pretty comfortable. He’ll have your back in a fight, and he’ll never make a sexist joke, but you always leave conversations with the feeling that you’ve been (gently, paternally) reminded that you are not the top dog.
I don’t mind these guys. But I can’t really be bothered with them.
Anyways, it’s happened a few times now, that one of these guys will mosey up for a chat at a dance (because we are casual acquaintances), and we’ll shoot the shit. We’ll talk about general stuff, a bit of gossip, mostly just safe dance scene talk. Nothing too personal. But after about 5 minutes of this safe talk, he’ll say something like “Hey, I think your dancing’s really improved lately”.
It’s one of those insulting complements that makes you crinkle your brow. In the moment, you’re kind of appreciative – he means it in good will, and he’s genuinely trying to be positive. But he’s still making it clear that he’s top dog. He’s the one handing out complements. He’s the one telling you that he’s assessed your dancing.
There’s no scope for me to respond. I’m supposed to say, “Thanks, mate”, and to leave him with a warm rosy glow for soothing the feminist strop. But I can’t quite choke it out these days.
I have really wanted to respond with, “Well, I’ve always been pretty fucking good, and you were too, once, but fuck you’ve let yourself go. You should probably do some practice, mate.” Because that’s usually the case – these guys are always the sorts of guys who were once pretty ok dancers, but haven’t really done any proper work since. And their approach to dancing is still fixed pretty firmly in the time of their hayday – 2003 is a popular year for these guys. I’m not pretty fucking good, but I know these guys really can’t handle women who are confident. These little microaggression complements are about reminding me of the pecking order. And they really don’t like it when you just plain refuse to acknowledge that hierarchy.
At the end of the day, it’s massively patronising. Why don’t they say something like, “Hey, I love that blah blah you’ve got happening at the moment in your swing out. Have you been working on something new?” If they said something like that – starting positive, then asking for my opinion – they’d be making it clear that we were peers, and that my opinion was important as theirs.
So this is why I include that point about asking a woman for her opinion, rather than just complimenting her. If you just compliment, you are maintaining the status quo. But if you ask for her opinion, you’re letting her know that you value her ideas, and you see her as a peer. Yes, you may hear some opinions you don’t like, and you might – conceivably – be put in the position where your own dancing is discussed (and critiqued!), but yolo, right?
This point relates to the way I do feedback to my partners when I’m in class: I ask things like: “What did you think about that?” “Was it ok?” “Did it work?” “I’m not sure about that second part.” I want to discuss this stuff, and I want that feedback. By asking for other people’s opinions, I’m signalling that I’m ok with myself. I’m confident enough to invite critique. It can be scary-arse, but it’s important for me trying to be a good learner.
And part of me wonders if this is why solo dance is so popular with some of the strongest women dancers in Australia at the moment: in a solo class, you work to your own standard. No one compliments you or tells you you’re doing ok, nor do you have to be responsible for making someone else feel good about their dancing. You just work your tits off. And when you have a Swede teaching you, or Ramona, or another teacher who’s into the ‘rhythm method‘** and the tap-centred approach to learning, where teachers are a bit strict, you really thrive.
*That’s a DJ term, that means that someone is butting in and doing something that irritates you – ie adjusting the volume or treble when you’re DJing.
**I’m so, so sorry for this joke.
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’ve been thinking about this stuff for years and years. Partly because it came up in my PhD when I did a lot of research into volunteer labour in Australia, research which actually came from an abortive first Phd project on the CWA. There, it was made very clear that volunteer workers are mostly women. This is true in the lindy hop world: most of the unpaid volunteer labour in Australian lindy hop is provide by women.
Anyway, I don’t have time to think and write about this now – I’m just letting in percolate for a while. But here are some interesting things that have contributed to my thinking:
The part I liked about this, was the way Carl introduced the link with:
I would love to see more Codes of Conduct and instructors and organizers willing to put themselves out there by requiring them at events where they work in the dance scene.
I have a personal policy that’s related to this stuff: I won’t DJ at an event that doesn’t pay all its DJs, and I tell organisers this when they approach me about DJing. I have to say, this has reduced the list of events in Australia that I’ll DJ at. SHAME, lindy hoppers, SHAME. I’ve also started refusing to work at (or attend) gigs that hire the dodgiest teachers. That quenelle thing? Well, it’s lost you teaching gigs in Australia, mate.
We have the beginnings of a Code of Conduct for Swing Dance Sydney here in our Classes FAQ:
8. What’s your policy on inclusivity in class?
We’re also a queer-friendly group who welcome same-sex couples.
We don’t tolerate any kind of harassment, and will act quickly to put a stop to it.
We try to make our classes as accessible as possible. We have students from the age of 12 to 82, with a range of needs and interests, and we really like it that way.
We really enjoy teaching, so we’re happy to repeat instructions, to talk more slowly, to try new ways of explaining and teaching things – just ask.
If you have particular needs, don’t hesitate to book a private class (email email@example.com). link
It is totally inadequate, but it’s a work in progress. I’m also working on OH&S policies, and on teachers’ agreements. It takes a while to write all this stuff up, particularly around christmas. But I am ON IT.
Pay rates for DJs, teachers, bands, sound engineers, etc
My position on this stuff isn’t secret.
This discussion reminds me of criticism of Google’s diversity policy (May 2014), but more specifically of a follow up piece about the non-IT workers in Google. I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find the original article! ARGH! That piece caught my eye for the way it pointed out that Google didn’t count cleaners and other work in its overview of diversity in its workplaces. These workers simply don’t exist for google, because they are contractors, and because they don’t consider that sort of work part of their business model. There are all sorts of things to say about class, knowledge, power, economies of knowledge, contracting, labour relations and so on.
This last bit is important, because it shows how some sorts of labour are devalued because they are ‘unskilled’ (though cleaning – as with working the door – actually requires a particular skill set), and how devalued work tends to be associated with people of colour, and with women. In the IT world as in the lindy hop world. And this of course demonstrates how the lindy hop world echoes and restates the power dynamics of the wider community in which it is positioned.
Volunteering, the value of ‘work’, and unpaid labour Why do door staff not get paid, when DJs do?
This issue just won’t leave my brain. There’s definitely a hierarchy of labour ‘value’ in the lindy hop world. Teaching is at the top. Cleaning up after a dance is at the bottom. Different types of labour are gendered, though there are interesting regional differences. In Australia the largest dance events are run by women, most DJs are women, and most unpaid volunteers are women. Women are obviously doing most of the work in the lindy hop world, but not all of that work is lower status or unpaid. But this is not the picture in other countries, or even consistent within local Australian scenes. There’s definitely more work to be done here, and more research.
The economics of live music
I’m interested in this one. There’s a push (which is quite established now), to feature live music at lindy hop events. It’s interesting, because the smallest scenes often have the closest relationships with live bands – the only social dancing available is at local live music gigs. Which may or may not be ‘swing’ or even ‘jazz’, but they are LIVE. The biggest international events showcase live music, to the point of only using a couple of DJs for very few songs, let alone sets. DJing used to be quite important to large events, but not so much any more. But at the local level, DJing is still the backbone of dancer-run social dancing in most Australian lindy hop scenes. Because bands are expensive.
The economics of live music in Australia are shaped by all sorts of factors. Clubs Australia and liquor licensing affects which licensed venues hire bands, when, and for how much. Licensing is important because it shapes the social space: having a bar is good for jazz. Sydney and Melbourne have the largest jazz scenes, but because New South Wales and Victoria (the states) have different liquor and live music licensing laws, the scenes are quite different, and pay rates differ. Basically, if you want to hire a decent band for a dance gig in Sydney, you’re looking at $1200 minimum. Add a rider of about $100. Then add $1000 to hire a decent sound guy, so the band actually sounds good. That’s fucking expensive. If you add $1000 for the venue and incidentals, that’s $3300 right there. So you’ll need 100 people paying $35 to cover your costs. Good luck – $35 is pretty much the most that dancers will pay in Sydney, and 100 is a lot for a regular gig at that price. You can’t do that more than about 3 or 4 times a year, max.
You can hire bands for less, but the quality may vary, and you’ll be calling in favours to pull that off. The market is kind of tight in Sydney at the moment, so you can take advantage of musicians’ desperation for gigs and talk them down in price. But that kind of makes you an arsehole. Venues with liquor licences can afford to hire bands regularly (ie offer residencies) which bands will accept less pay for, but it’s the sale of liquor that finances these gigs, and liquor licenses are managed by the state, and influenced by Clubs Australia, which prioritises gambling (pokies in particular).
The pay rate for bands varies in different cities, for different types of gigs, and for different types of bands.
This $1200-$1500 rate is a corporate rate, not mates rates. So you really need to get to know your local musicians well if you want cheaper rates. But $1200 for a 6 person band is only $200 per musician for about four hours work. That’s $50 an hour for highly skilled professionals, who practice, put together charts and sets, and so on. That’s kind of shit, really. Considering most events now pay DJs about $30 an hour. And top tier teachers are paid $150 an hour to teach (plus expenses). And if you keep in mind the fact that a decent dance event requires quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between organisers (who ‘brief’ the band) and band leaders (who have to develop a set and basically change the way the band works to suit this brief), there’s all sorts of extra labour involved. All those phone calls and emails that have to be factored into the costs of the gig.
…that bit about the jam bothered me. I’ve also seen her pulling some dodgy stuff on twitter: she’s a bit of a fail when it comes to recognising her own privilege and power in discussions about class, gender, etc. Sure, she might have done all that sleeping on couches and playing for free and busking in Ye Olden Dayes, but now she’s a high profile celebrity, in a relationship with another celebrity. Her situation has changed. And she doesn’t recognise this.
I think most of us would take that sort of ‘jam’ opportunity – for all sorts of reasons. But that’s the point of understanding your own power and influence: people with less power (ie needing the profile, wanting the experience, etc) are going to take her up on that sort of offer. Imagine if she’d actually _paid_ them – how wonderful! Even better!
…and I think there’s a difference between sitting in on a jam with great musicians, particularly in the jazz scene, and ‘getting on stage with a celebrity at their gig’. Jazz in particular has a long tradition of apprenticing new musicians through jams – tap dancers do it, hip hoppers do it, lindy hoppers do it. But that’s in the context of a real jam – a community space. A celebrity’s gig is a bit different.
I quote myself here, because I think this is where I start to pull all these threads together. I’ve heard people justify not giving volunteers free entry because “It’s a privilege to work on an event.” I’ve heard people justify not paying volunteers or giving them free entry because “They are volunteers.” That heirarchy of value in labour in the lindy hop world affects who gets paid, and how. It also determines status and identity in the lindy hop world.
…and that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this thinking. I’m going to have to let it all boil around in my brain for a while. But I think all these things are related by issues of power, privilege (those two are the same, really), ‘economics’, gender, class, and race. I just need to figure out how to articulate all that.
I’ve recently had a bunch of traffic redirected here, and that means lots of first time visitors dropping in. Nice to see you!
I want to let you know about my comments policy. It’s strict. Here are the rules:
1. If you get all up in my business with aggressive, threatening, or nasty comments, your comment will be deleted. If you need to rant, get your own blog.
2. I have zero tolerance for sexism, racism or other unpleasantness. Your comment will be deleted. Your opinions simply aren’t important.
3. This is a feminist space. That means we’re assuming you’re on board with feminist principles. I am not interested in debating your ideas about feminism. If you use the terms ‘misandry’ or ‘reverse sexism’ or try to argue that a woman is being sexist, your comment will be deleted. If you can’t dig that, you need to leave. If you don’t understand why, you need to read feminism 101.
Why so strict?
Even though my positions on most issues of gender, sex, power and lindy hop are relatively moderate (I’m not a radical feminist, sadly), I regularly receive hateful emails, messages on facebook, and comments on this blog. It’s frightening and unpleasant and it makes me angry. Rather than dwell on the insecurities of men who want to bully women who use their brains, I delete them. I don’t even bother reading them. I will not be bullied out of thinking or speaking or doing. Nor will I hesitate to call the police or report your arse for harassing me.
Nor do I feel any responsibility to let people who disagree with me ‘have their say’. The world is full of forums for anti-feminist and anti-woman talk. This is not one of them. This is an actively feminist space. This is a feminist echo chamber. In this world, the rules are that gender is important, that women have things to say, that their opinions will be given greater value than men’s, and that solo dance is an essential part of lindy hop. I am the boss of this blog, and my word rules.
I’ve talked more about my policies in this post. I will not be entering into any arguments or discussions with you about these policies. If you want a forum to air your ideas, get a blog.
While I’m at it: please note that I will not engage with you on these issues in person, either. If I’m out at a dance, I am there to dance or to DJ. I rarely want to talk politics when I’m lindy hopping. I rarely want to talk about my blog or online talk in general.
If, however, you are a woman who wants to talk about activism in your scene, bring it! I am very interested.
If you are a woman interested in getting into DJing or leading or solo dance, bring that too – I am interested.
Yes, I am privileging women here. That is the deal.
Well, it’s 6.30am, and I’ve been awake since 5. My sleep cycle is well and truly borked. Curse you, jet lag. Why is that staying awake while flying around the world in a plane is more disruptive than staying awake dancing, eating, laughing, and talking in irregular patterns over several weeks?
I’m back from two weeks in Herräng (weeks 2 and 3), and a bit of time in Stockholm, and I’m taking a few days before I go back to work. It’d been ten years since I’d been to Herräng, and things had changed a bit. For one, things were more organised, which was a relief. The scale had also leapt: more places to eat, more people, more dance floors, more things to do. I was there to dance and DJ this time, rather than to ‘research’, so I approached each day in a different way.
I have lots of things to talk about, but I can’t quite keep hold of my thoughts, so I’m not sure how coherent this will be. Things I’d like to talk about, in no particular order:
the ‘how to DJ session’ in the library in week 3;
the way the insistence that Herräng is about lindy hop, and lindy hop is ‘such a happy dance’ makes it difficult to talk about problems or serious issues within the dance and event;
the somewhat disturbingly uncritical ‘spread the dance/grow the community’ discourse that dominates and justifies most activities (including a particular brand of cultural imperialism);
gender politics in the DJing and dancing culture of the camp (and the way critical engagement with this is forestalled by the ‘let’s just have a nice time/hedonism is us’ vibe);
the sheer joy and wonder of the Frankie Track in week 2;
teaching practice, and the balance between content and practice;
the effects of a coherent teaching approach in the Frankie Track versus the usual overall relationship between individual workshops at a dance weekend. I will say this: the Frankie Track was amazeballs because all the classes were linked by a coherent theme and concept: teaching Frankie Manning’s content, teaching classes in the way he taught classes, emphasising his priorities (MUSIC! PARTNERSHIP! SIMPLICITY! RHYTHM!), drawing on the old timers’ approach to learning dance generally…. and MORE;
the challenges and excitement of the beginners’ half week of tap in week 3;
the ebb and flow of energy and people and vibe over the course of a week;
economic factors and the effect of the Herräng Dance Camp’s decades of involvement in this small town’s economy and society;
the Swing Kids, Swing Teens and the way having children in the camp in week 2 provided social balance to the ‘hedonism’ of the camp, which was largely lost by the end of week 3;
hierarchies, power, and privilege in the camp;
the wheeling and dealing and networking and lobbying for work behind the scenes, from teachers, DJs, and organisers;
labour, work, gender, and knowledge in the Herräng economy;
mindfulness, computer literacy and online culture in camp (and how this had changed in the ten years since my last visit);
mindfulness, work, obsessive personalities, and the luxury of time in tap dance;
the argument that all DJs should learn to play a musical instrument if they want to be ‘good DJs’ (and the associated issues of power, time, labour, gender, and power);
sex, sexualisation, gender, and scoring a root;
the significance of Herräng’s place in Europe, and how this affected people’s attitudes to same-sex sex and gender. And how these progressive attitudes were ultimately subsumed or overshadowed by the overwhelming heteronormativity of modern lindy hop;
food, nutrition, body image, and the importance of the shared table at Herräng: my favourite part;
defining ‘swing’ music, and Herräng’s emphasis on classic swing era big band jazz, and how this affected DJing styles and set content, and dancers’ responses to music. Relatedly, the tension between modern day dancers’ learning to play music, the accessibility of small NOLA or hot combo style jazz versus the inaccessability of big band jazz for new musicians (ie dancers tend to play in small, hot combos which aren’t what Herräng values, but Herräng does value live music and independent creative projects very highly…. the tension needs a bit of discussion, I think);
As you can see, I have approximately one million things to write and talk about after my time in Herräng. One looming largest in my brains is DJing, as I was a staff DJ in week 2, and one of only 4 women out of 16 staff DJs in the 5 week camp. There were a number of volunteer DJs in the two weeks I was there, but not a whole bunch of them. A higher proportion of them were women than men.
I have a few things to say about how gender, networks of association and labour, and the professional skills required of DJs (primary of which is networking, in this case) work in Herräng, but I don’t really have the brains to articulate them properly here. In sum, though, I was very surprised by how few women DJs there were, after the last couple of years in Australia where women far outnumber men in the higher, most experienced ranks of lindy hop DJs. To the point where for the last MLX I had only one male DJ on the DJ team.
My approach to hiring DJs for events is to look for the most capable, most professional, most skilled, most useful and talented DJs, regardless of gender. They need to be not too over-exposed, and yet still have a degree of popularity with dancers (ie, be ‘in demand’). They might not be quite where they should be, in terms of experience or expanse of music collection, but I’m willing to invest in someone with promise and a good, strong work ethic.
I think that the reason I end up with more women than men, is that I actively seek out DJs, rather than waiting for them to approach me, and I put quite a bit of work into long term development for DJs. My own gender is probably significant too, though I’m often described as ‘intimidating’ by other women. But I’m very yolo about that: life is too short to worry about whether you intimidate other people. And I know other DJs and DJ organisers who are both male and very approachable.
I find that male DJs are more willing to put their hands up for gigs (to approach me for gigs) than women, and that women DJs are more critical of their own DJing, needing more encouragement, and also looking for more critical feedback on their DJing. The latter makes most women much better DJs (because they are open to improving, and open to communicating about their own DJing, and less defensive about their DJing), the former makes women less excellent at developing professional networks and ‘taking risks’ by applying for jobs they might not be ready for. They tend to play it too safe, and be more intimidated by hierarchies. There are male and female exceptions to these things, but very few. Very, very few.
My approach involves long term planning and development, including encouraging newer DJs, providing references and recommendations for new DJs with smaller events (so they can get the experience I need for the bigger events I work for), and keeping my local scene networks healthy – talking to people in different scenes to keep my finger on which DJs are looking and sounding good, and good to work with.
I’m also very keen on providing working conditions which make DJing more accessible for people: friendlier, safer, healthier, clearer (guidelines, etc), equitable pay, an open DJ recruitment process (so people know who to contact and how if they want to DJ, rather than using a quiet system of personal networks), and I am quite aggressive about getting feedback on my own work, and on the DJs’ experiences, so I can keep improving things. I think this transparency is the most important part of encouraging diversity in the DJing team: I am open about my ideas, process, and thinking.
Dargoff was the DJ coordinator for Herräng, and he was just a joy to work with. I don’t know his policies or approach to booking DJs for Herräng, so I can’t comment on them here, but I couldn’t find fault with his work. There are, however, broader systemic issues which make it harder for women to get into these higher profile DJing gigs which require active, fairly aggressive strategies from organisers to overcome. I simply don’t know enough about how Herräng works to be able to comment on this, though. And I don’t even know who organised the DJs in previous years. But I do have some ideas about international DJing culture, and most particularly DJing networks and interpersonal and professional associations which might be useful in this discussion. Again, my lack of experience here makes me reluctant to comment more. I have some ideas, but I just don’t think I know enough to start speculating.
So, when it comes to my experiences DJing at Herräng, I give it a big thumbs up, and I give all my fellow DJs, Dargoff, the huge sound crew, and the event organisers a big huzzah. It was a really great experience, and while challenging in some moments (looong sets are loooong), I would absolutely leap at a chance to do it again. I feel privileged and honoured to be a staff DJ at an event I admire so much, and I learnt SO MUCH about DJing over the two weeks I was there. I also made some new and good friends, and realised I have a lot to learn about the international DJing scene.
I also realised Australia is really isolated from the rest of the lindy hop world. This makes it harder for DJs to crack the higher echelons of DJing, but it has also had effects on our approach to labour and pay and professionalism. Overall, though, I’d say that Australia has quite a few DJs who are not only as good as, but better than some of the DJs I heard in Herräng, and that our lindy hop scene as a whole is something to be proud of. We aren’t a cultural backwater, we’re just a really distant tributary.
I was going to write about this on facebook, but I was just too damned scared.
I don’t write about provocative stuff much any more because I simply can’t handle the horrible emails, comments and hassling. Yeah, fuckwits, you won this round.
But I take my revenge by being a confident, capable woman working with other women to make safe dance spaces.
One of the reasons Blair is not called to account is fear. I interviewed a number of people in the course of researching this article. Almost all of them warned me about what would happen if I went ahead. Some were too afraid to go on the record about him because of the reaction it might incur. I was told that he would go through my social media photos, searching for images that he might be able to use to shame me, as he did with Clem Bastow. He would go back through all my published articles to find things he could misrepresent or misquote. That he would post about me and I’d be attacked on twitter and by email with vicious personal slurs. I understand this risk, fear of being trolled means many people remain silent about what he is doing. This is a problem, not for him, but for journalism (Jane Gilmore Bat Country for Old Men)
It’s worth noting that if you’re a woman commenting on racism or sexism or homophobia in the lindy hop community in a public forum, you’ll end up with a rash of fairly horrible comments, emails, and messages. We like to pretend that we are a lovely fairy floss community, but as Montreal’s recent troubles, various black face routines at international dance competitions, and reports of sexual assault in lindy hop scenes demonstrate, the dance might be happy, but the dancers are as likely to behave badly as non-dancers.
This is why I have a very strict comments regulation policy on my own blog, and I will not respond to unpleasant private messages on facebook. I also make liberal use of the block button, and delete comments without explanation. Every time I write about issues of gender on my blog I get a whole raft of aggressive and occasionally frightening comments from lindy hoppers, so I have no interest in providing a public forum for abuse.
It’s also important for lindy hop aggregators to think about how they present provocative links on their own blogs and facebook pages: they’re channeling traffic to a site which usually results in one-off visits and drive-by harassment. I get the nastiest comments when big name dancers or aggregators link up my blog with provocative framing.
I need to say this very clearly: I am not aligning myself with the ‘ambidancetrous’ discourse in any way.
I don’t like the implications that everyone should learn to lead and everyone should learn to follow. I think that that’s a dodgyarse approach to lindy hop.
I do feel that we should be able to choose whether we lead or follow or do both (or do neither – something I’m finding with our solo classes, where we get students who don’t lindy hop, but are beginning to come social dancing to solo dance only…. but only in tiny numbers so far).
I don’t think it’s ok to assume that everyone do both. Some of us have very good reasons for only doing one role: for some women, only leading (and only dancing with women) is a very important thing. For some men following is just too confronting. Some women just want to follow, all the time. And only dance with women leads. Some men just want to follow all the time, with male leads. Or female leads. And some of us can do both, but would really rather only do one tonight.
And if we aren’t ok with that, then we are arsehats. Gender is a real thing: it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to partition lindy hop off from the rest of your life (and the rest of your gendered experiences as an embodied person). And sometimes it’s just easier to be a woman who follows or a man who leads. And we have to be ok with that. While we are all capable of – and do – perform gender in a flexible way, who we are, and having particular preferences that are relatively immutable is actually ok.
I think the term ‘ambidancetrous’ is misleading, as it presumes being able to do both is the preferred or optimal state. I don’t actually think being able to do both is the preferred state. I’m actually (and I surprise myself as I write this) pretty much convinced that if you want to take your dancing to the highest level, you specialise in leading or following.
But of course, if you’re a ‘normal’ person, and not working 24/7 to get into the Harlem Hot Shots or whatevs, then doing both is totes fine. And I think the difference really only kicks in at the highest levels of dancing, when you simply don’t have enough hours in the day to devote to both leading and following: practicalities just demand specialisation.
I’m actually ok with doing both roles myself. But I do find that if I want to improve my leading – really improve – I need to spend all my dancing time leading. All my teaching, practicing and social dancing leading. And solo dancing. Because solo is BEST. But I might want to do this – I might just be so interested in and just so much enjoying leading (for example), I don’t particularly want to follow. At all. And my following just naturally might suffer a bit, because I’m not doing it as often. But then, I’m not going to say no when a leading friend asks me to dance. I’m going to follow. And I’m not going to care if I fuck up a bit and don’t do the best following job: dancing! Yay!
And I am very certain that I don’t want to have to go to every lindy hop class and have to lead and follow in each class. Sure, that’s a very interesting idea. But leading and following are DIFFERENT, requiring different skills and methods, and sometimes I just want to work on one of those. Actually, to be honest, I rarely want to do a class or workshop as a follow. I am fascinated by leading. I like following, but I’m just not as interested in doing it, as I am in leading. In classes, anyway. Social dancing is a different thing.
I also have trouble with the suggestion that leading and following in lindy hop are somehow the same. They’re not. Sure, there are similarities in posture, biomechanics, etc etc. But they work in different ways. And when you’re lindy hopping, someone’s gotta lead, and someone’s gotta follow.
Sure, blues might be a different animal and totes open to a less regulated lead/follow dynamic. But lindy hop is different. Leading and following are DIFFERENT. I don’t give a flying fuck whether it’s men or women or WHOEVER leading or following, nor do I care whether I’m dancing with a man or a woman. But I personally think you need to make a choice: in this moment, I am leading. Or I am following.
I feel this partly because the overall structure of a swing song is such that bigger understandings of structure take place over the course of a song, and leading can involve thinking ahead, not just across an 8 or two, but across phrases and the whole of a song. Particularly when the music is faster, and the overall structure of a song is more immediate than it seems in a slower song.
So, in sum, I’m not comfortable with the term ‘ambidancetrous.’ But mostly because I think it’s a clumsy word.