Category Archives: music

Being legit: music, intellectual property rights, and licences

APRA. The Australasian Performing Right Association Limited.
This is just one Australian body regulating the intellectual property rights of musicians and people involved in the music industry.
It’s not the only body that could apply to the swing dance world’s intellectual property rights issues. But it’s the obvious one.

The next important step in running a dance business or putting on a dance is dealing with music intellectual property rights. In other words, if you use someone else’s music at your dance, you have to have a licence.

Luckily, APRA have a list of licence types.
NOTE: APRA is an Australian organisation, and this stuff varies between countries, so you’re going to need to look it up yourself if you’re not in Australia.
ALSO NOTE: Do NOT take this post as a legit, final word on how to do this stuff. I’m just randomly speculating as I skim through the APRA site. You need to do some proper research yourself, and contact APRA for more help.

Let’s have a bit of a look at the licences you’ll need for running a dance business in Australia.

It’s quite complicated. Basically, APRA have a heap of different licences for using music, depending on how you use it, how many people in the room can hear it, whether they’re dancing or not, how it’s reproduced and copied, where it’s played, whether it’s featured music or background music, and so on. Their site offers advice for specific users, describing which of these licences you’ll need. So, for example, there’s not so much a ‘nightclub licence’, but there is a set of licences that apply to people who play music in their nightclub.

  • Classes
    If you are a dance school (or otherwise teaching classes – however you choose to think of yourself), you’ll need to pay an annual fee for a licence. There are three types of licences APRA sees as relevant to the work that dance schools do.

    1. Public performance. If you use music in class.
    2. Reproduction of music. If you copy music and give it to your students (eg for a performance).
    3. End of Year concerts.

    If you teach one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year.
    If you teach more than one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year plus $34.28 a year each extra day. So if you’re teaching two days a year, you need to pay $102.82 per year. And it increases for every day after that.

    Note: I know some people say they don’t need an APRA licence because they are an educational body, but if you are taking money for classes, then you need a licence.

    • Sam’s critical engagement with this
      I suspect this is definition of ‘dance class’ dependent on a ‘ballet class’ idea of dance schools, where dance is necessarily performance. A particular ideology of dance pedagogy informed by western, middle class concepts of learning and teaching which are teacher-centred, chalk-and-talk approaches where students are ‘injected’ with knowledge, rather than developing knowledge themselves. I wonder how vernacular dances and classes like African dance with drummers are licensed?

      In the former, the people drumming (providing music) are often also students participating in the class as drumming students, rather than as ‘featured musicians’. They don’t play set ‘songs’ so much as series of rhythms and rhythmic patterns (I guess that’s the definition of a rhythm – it’s an audible pattern, rather than random noise).
      In the latter, particularly if you use the ‘Lennart approach’ with lots of self-guided learning (I’ve talked about it ad nauseum in posts like Student Centred Teaching – some rough ideas), classes can become what is essentially social dancing (rather than strict choreography).

      And how would you classify a class like this one we did with musicians at Jazz BANG, where the ‘teaching’ was more a discussion, and where the ‘students’ were at once the people playing the instruments, the people listening (who also stood up and danced), and even the ‘teachers’ playing the music, talking, and demonstrating.

      I wouldn’t like to try to argue your way out of a fine using this logic, though.

  • Parties with live or DJed music
    This is an interesting one.

    Let’s assume you’re using an established venue (not just a ‘space’ that you fit out for a party).
    If you’re using a venue that regularly uses live music (eg the PBC where we run our live music parties), then the venue is responsible for providing the licence (Hotels/pubs/taverns/bars licence).
    But if the music is a DJ or other featured recorded music (not just background music), there’s another licence they need to look at (Featured or Recorded Music licence.)

    Wait. It gets more complicated. If the venue is using music specifically for dancing (ie they have a dance floor), then they also need a Recorded music for dance use licence.

    There are additional licences required for copying music onto your ipad or phone from CDs, and how many devices you play music from affects the cost of that licence.

    If you are running a private event at a licensed venue like a pub, then you will need an event licence on top of all this.

    • Sam’s critical commentary
      You can see how it makes sense to use an existing venue for your dance classes and events. And how important it is to develop a very good working relationship with event managers. If their management is handling most of the APRA licensing (not to mention the liquor licensing and noise zoning issues), then you don’t have to. That’s why you pay rent to them – not just for the use of the space, but for all this administration. This is also why you have an obligation to run sustainable events that bring money into the venue.
      We’re lucky enough to be working with a venue that has a strong commitment to local community arts practice. The PBC is a community-run venue with a board and membership that anyone can be a part of (I’m a PBC member), and the members vote on everything from what colour carpet to buy to whether to get solar panels or not. They’re also really nice people with lefty politics.
      I see it as our responsibility to run classes that are in keeping with the PBC’s broader ethos of being a good citizen (ie treating people with respect), of being engaged with decent arts practice, and with being accessible for all peeps.

      But it is in the APRA laws about music for dancing where we see Australia echoing the totally rubbish laws in New York about dancing. If you are playing music specifically for dancing, you have to pay a particular licence.

      What if you are playing jazz? This is an interesting one, because if you’re a lindy hopper, this is dancing music, straight up, no question. But if you’re a jazznick, a jazz fan, it’s listening music. It’s even art music. Despite the history of the music, its original function and intention, jazz has largely shifted in cultural meaning and function to ‘music for listening’, art music. Not functional music.

      But I guess the key issue would be whether you had a dance floor set up and cleared. Whether you briefed the musician on what they should play and how they should play it. How you promoted the event, and to whom.
      This issue is one I want to think more about, because I’m getting more involved in promoting the live music events I’m part of to ‘non-dancing’ crowds – eg the Sydney Jazz Club, a particular musician’s fans.

      The last is particularly relevant with musicians like Adrian Cunningham, Tuba Skinny, and Andy Baylor, who have substantial fan bases who aren’t dancers. They’re music fans who want to come and sit and watch the musicians. It’s interesting to note here that if your band is paid more than $2500, and they’re performing in a hall or function space, the event holder will need another licence in addition to the venue’s licence. This becomes relevant when you’re hiring a big band, which typically costs more than $2500 (about $3000 if you’re looking for quality).

      In reference to the final point above, having bands in residency becomes a good idea for the venue, because they are no longer featured performers, but part of the regular night. So you can avoid some licensing issues. Perhaps. Do not quote me.

  • Events
    This section should really be part of the section above, but I think we usually draw the distinction ourselves, even within the dance scene, between ‘regular social dancing parties’ and ‘special events’. So a weekly DJed party or social dancing event is quite different to a special christmas ball.

    The event licences are super complicated, and there are lots of different licences applying to an event. Things like whether you use live music or DJed music, whether food is involved, whether it’s a free or ticketed event are all important.
    You’d think that a DJed lindy hop party would count as a ‘dance party’, but it doesn’t, because

    Dance parties [licences are]…
    For Dances or Dance Parties that are one-off or occasional events, charging an entry fee, and playing APRA Works for dancing as the primary form of entertainment at the event. It does not extend to:
    …. 2. private function, or an event which features ballroom or similar traditional dancing;

    That bit about ‘traditional dancing’ caught my eye. Is lindy hop a ‘traditional’ dance? If they’re including ballroom, I guess it is. But lindy hop isn’t codified the way conventional ballroom dancing is (though we all know ‘ballroom dancing’ was a vernacular dance at heart… and after all, lindy hop has a long association with ballrooms)….

    Looking at the list of licences on the APRA page, it’s impossible to figure out exactly how a lindy hop party would fit into this system. You’d have to call up APRA and find out. Good luck with that.
    This is the next thing on my list of jobs. Wish me luck with that, will you.

    • Sam’s commentary.
      This issue of ‘regular social dancing’ vs ‘special balls’ is a tricky one. In my position with my last employer, my role involved running a number of ‘special events’ (not the fortnightly social dancing party) during the year. Last year I ran seven ‘special’ events for the business (in addition to the four independent parties I ran). Some of them were things that are run annually, some were one-off things, and some were part of big workshop weekends. Interestingly, the annual things have been run for years and years, both here in Sydney and in Melbourne, so you could argue that they’re not really special events any more, but regular events. They’re certainly very formulaic (or they were before I started messing about with them).
      I don’t think the distinction between regular and special events is actually all that important for APRA licensing, but it does assume more importance when you add things like insurance to the mix. Typically, your regular dance school insurance covers you for events which you run primarily for your own students (ie they’re not ‘public’ events, but ‘private’ parties). But when you start running events which target audiences beyond your own students, the insurance policy has to change to accommodate this.

So different dance events are regulated by different laws (I’m using the word ‘laws’ a bit inaccurately here): tax laws, insurance laws, intellectual property laws, liquor licensing laws, industrial relations laws, residential zoning laws, and so on. When you remember that these laws are different in different countries, states and local councils, you get this fascinating little nexus in lindy hop. I get very excited about this, and wish I’d done more cultural policy studies in my PhD work.

It’s all very interesting. As someone setting up a new business, it can be overwhelming, but most of it isn’t that hard. Because you can get help, and it’s actually useful help. Just call the various organisations up.

When you are planning a business, you need to think about:

– tax
– APRA licensing
– insurance
– industrial relations (OH&S in particular, but also agreements and contracts with contractors – teachers, bands, volunteers, sound engineers, and DJs)

You can sum all this up with a nice, clear Code of Conduct that sets out:
– your social policies (eg how you deal with sexual harassment)
– your industrial policies (eg whether you pay DJs, teachers, etc, and how much you pay them; how you deal with volunteers; your terms for hiring international teachers, etc etc)
– your creative policies (eg how you value choreography and credit choreographers)
– your cultural policies (eg whether you’re into historical dance and music, and how you acknowledge these sources)

I like to aim for being sustainable – culturally, economically, socially, sustainable. That means that I’m aiming for doing things in ways that let me carry on doing things for a long time. If you are screwing people over, if you can’t pay your bills, if you’re risking people’s safety, you are eventually going to implode your community, business, and scene.
I also like to aim for longer term development. I don’t just want to go dancing now, and to put new dancers on dance floors now. I want to see lindy hop music and dancing changing and growing and becoming more creatively sophisticated. Because it’s more interesting that way. And jazz is complicated. So we need to continually level up to keep up with it.

You can do a one-off party and not bother about this stuff. You can even run a bunch of parties and not bother about this stuff. But once you do start doing these things regularly (or even irregularly, but more often), you’re going to need to start thinking about best practices. Not just to stop you copping a massive fine or getting up on some sort of charge. Lindy hop is a social dance, and that means you’re working with people. Lots of them. Planning your projects effectively means you are less likely to fuck people over. And that’s my priority: to not fuck people over.

Buy this CD now

Trust me. It’s fantastic. And some of the recordings are live.

Chic 7 & Friends cover web

Tom Baker’s Chicago Seven and Friends’ album ‘Dixieland Jazz’

This album features a veritable who’s who of Australian jazz greats:

Tom Baker, Don Heap, Lynn Wallis, Roger James, Paul Finnerty, David Ridyard, Paul Furniss, Pat Qua, George Washingmachine, Pat Qua, David Parquette.

Lynn Wallis is my favourite Australian drummer. He blows my pants off. He used to be in the great little band Virus with a top shelf guitarist John Scurry. If you ever get a chance, go see this bro play. He’s getting a bit fragile these days, so make it soon. Though he lives with his mum, who’s about a million years old, so he could just keep on playing forever.

The other guy I’d like to note on that CD is Paul Furniss, who is a really nice clarinetist. Nice in the sense of being a lovely person, and nice in the sense of being a really great musician with a lovely touch. He’s on a few great Australian recordings, and in bands like the Ozcats (sadly disbanded after their leader passed away a day or so after he did a memorable set for dancers in about 2009), on Monica Trapaga’s recording, Carol Ralph’s recording, and son on. Most importantly for ME he was a guest in the band we hosted the other week at our Swinging at the PBC party the other night. And it turns out his wife’s BFF is a student in our classes, who luuurves jazz as much as we do, and has mad dance skills.

Anyhow, I discovered this album after I googled Paul, when Andy Baylor suggested including him in the line up for the Swinging at the PBC gig (which is something we’ll be doing more regularly in the future… or perhaps a few more than the two we did in 2013 and two in 2014 – we have one on Wed 14th Jan, btw, to launch our new business Swing Dance Sydney). These Swinging at the PBC gigs are really nice. A small, friendly venue (which now has a piano!), with great acoustics, a great bar and kitchen, and community-run with NO POKIES. That’s where we teach our Wednesday lindy hop classes, and I love it.

…anyway, back to Paul. I googled him, and I found this fantastic live recording of Woodchoppers’ Ball which is actually on this CD.

This song is just too good. It’s my pick from the CD. But then I’ve also played their version of ‘Tar Paper Stomp’ a few times lately. Yes, I’ve been DJing ‘In the Mood’. But it is a CRACKER. I also recommend ‘Curse of an Aching Heart’ and ‘Careless love’. The whole track listing:

Weary Blues
Mable’s Dream
Ory’s Creole Trombone
Tar Paper Stomp
Curse Of An Aching Heart
Bugle Boy March
I Ain’t Got Nobody
Georgia Swing
Bogalusa Strut
Black Bottom Stomp
Skylark
Wrought Iron Rag
Careless Love
Wood Choppers Ball

No surprises, for an album called ‘Dixieland Jazz’. But the musicianship is really special, and I think it gives you a good idea of the sort of approach Australian jazz musicians take. Informed by the NOLA tradition and the NOLA revival movement in the states, but with a unique Australian flavour. If there’s one thing Australians do well, it’s laconic humour. And that’s what this album has.

Totally fabulous dancing. Great listening.

WHATEVER. How do I buy it?

Go to the online store and click the add to cart paypal button, then follow the instructions. The CDs are about $20, which will seem exy to Americans, but that’s actually very reasonable for an Australian recording – it just costs more to do music here.
Mine arrived within a couple of days, but it was only traveling inside Sydney.

I don’t know what the other recordings are like, but I imagine the ‘live at the straw’b’ CD is good, and the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band is one of those groups that was a legend when I first started looking at booking bands when I was living in Melbourne. Unfortunately they were impossible to book when I was finally ready to get them (because they’d moved to Sydney).

Will you make sure you let me know what you think of the other CDs if you buy them?

How to run a lindy hop party

Ok, so here’s a sample approach to running a lindy hop event in Sydney. It has a bit of planning involved, but I’ve found you do need some plans. If you play the whole thing by ear, you will screw someone over.

This is a long post. Every now and then someone comments that they find my posts too long. To them I say: sucks to be you, bro.

Budget
You need to keep track of your spending. Even if you’re not legit, and are just treating this like a private party, you will need to be sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay the bills. Even if it’s a little dance.
So what’s in your budget? Everything. I put everything in it. Because it’s things like petrol to drive a sound system to a gig that get left out, when they’re actually a fairly big expense. Put everything in your budget. I usually do an ‘estimated income/expense’ budget, and then fill in the ‘actual income/expense’ parts as they’re finalised.

Here’s a draft budget for a little DJed gig in a venue with a sound system in-house already.

Expenses:

  • Venue hire: $150 (5 hours @ $30 per hour) -> make sure you include bump in and bump out time, usually an extra two hours. So for a 3 hour event, you’re paying for 5 hours venue hire.
  • Venue hire bond/deposit: $0 (you’ll get this back after the gig, but you still need the cash up front for a lot of venues, especially council or church or big corporate venues).
  • Cash Float: $140 (for a smaller event, $200 for a bigger one) -> in $5 notes (that’s important). You get this back, but you need the cash up front.
  • DJ pay: $75 (3 hours @ $25 per hour).
  • DJ rider: $20 (soft drink or chips or whatevs) -> you don’t have to do this, but I’ve found it’s a very cheap way to make your DJs happy.
  • Stationary and extras: $50 (envelopes to put pay in, cash box, paper for printing out signs, dodgy hand flyers, and running sheets, clean up kit, etc)

[NB: I have also started adding in the cost of public transport or Goget hire for my event management. That’s an added cost for me (especially car hire), and I need to count that in there, as transport is an ESSENTIAL part of any event. Same goes for including petrol and parking. I use Goget rather than cabs, because they are less stress, and are actually free after midnight.]

=> That’s $435 right there. Which is ridiculously cheap for a dance event.
So you will need 44 people paying $10 each to break even. I’d allow 50, because shit happens. That’s if you’re not paying tax or being legit. This is totally achievable in Sydney. I actually like to aim higher, so I have a little cushion, and perhaps a bit of profit to make into a nest egg, or heck, to just cover your time. If you’re lucky. I find my smallest mid-week events are usually about 60 people. My larger independent weekend events pull about 90-100. And the bigger events I ran for my previous employer, with the promotional pull of a big dance school, can sit on about 140.

That’s all here in Sydney, with a competitive live music and events scene. Other cities run huger events. But remember: 20 people is a party. That’s good shit. You don’t need to be huge to be successful. I’ve run bigger events in Melbourne that pull in hundreds of people. I don’t actually like it so much – my latest plan is for a mini-event in a mini-venue. Fun!

Ask yourself: is your venue big enough for 50 people? 90? 140? Can you afford a larger one? How will you handle too many people arriving? I’ve actually had that problem: it’s exciting to have hundreds of people turn up, but it’s not safe to mash them into a tiny venue. And they will only remember having a shitty, crowded, hot time.

Some people run their events assuming they’ll make enough money on the night to cover their costs, so they don’t bring any extra cash. I don’t do this. I always bring enough cash to cover my expenses, just in case. So I have a little envelope with the DJ pay all divided up and ready to go. And I think about how to protect my cash against theft. Because shit happens. I also make sure it’s all in useful denominations – $5 notes for the float, etc etc. I usually try to divide it up ahead of time, because it’s really hard to count cash in a dark, loud, sweaty room full of dancers at 3am when you are totally exhausted.
Important: pay everyone promptly, and correctly. Do NOT wait for them to ask you for cash. Don’t be a dick.

Items:
aka ‘stuff you need’

  • Door kit (desk lamp; cash box or pencil case or something to put the cash in; mints and a bowl for them; door sheet to keep a tally of the number of punters arriving (I usually divide it up by door shifts, so I have an idea of when most people arrived, and when we were most likely to have door cash count problems); cash count sheet (so you can count all the money quickly on the night, then do a second count a day or two later when you’re recovered – put it all on one piece of paper); door list to record all the comps getting in for free; sign with the event price on it; a copy of the running sheet for you, for the DJ, for the door; pens, pencils, sticky tape, gaffa tape (the real stuff), scissors, blue tac; a sign up sheet for your email list; hand sanitiser); your emergency plan.
  • Clean up kit (roll of strong garbage bags (don’t use cheapies, they’ll make you cry), chux cloths).
  • Toilet paper. Trust me – you will be glad you have it.
  • Sound gear (RCA cable to connect laptops to the sound gear – always bring your own), power board, extension cord, small torch (yes, this is important), adaptor plugs for the RCA cable.
  • Desk lamp, for the DJ or the door desk. Better to have than not have.
  • Plastic cups, bottle opener, chocolates, bottles of water for you and the DJ, your own drinks/snacks, especially if you are doing BYO drinks.
  • First aid kit. If you’re doing this a few times, buy one. At least buy some ice packs – good for injuries, heat distress, etc etc. I buy mine from the St John’s Ambulance people because they are a good cause, and their products are the best quality. Don’t scimp on first aid gear.

-> all this can cost about $50, maximum $100. But once you have all this junk, you’re covered for the future events.
Special note: Don’t get the cheap gaffa tape. I’m SERIOUS. The cheap stuff is impossible to clean off, and yet it doesn’t stick properly. Use good gaffa to do things like tape down trailing cables, stick fabric to mirrors (extra important in a dance studio venue). And then it comes off easily, and doesn’t make a mess. It’s also easier to tear.

Running sheet:
Make one. DO IT. And start it well before the weekend. And put EVERYTHING in it. I’ve been at events that don’t include everything in their running sheets, and it’s total bullshit.

Things to include:
– Venue hire confirmation.
I’ve been involved in approximately one million dance events where the organiser hasn’t confirmed the venue, and we’ve turned up to a locked or double booked space. I usually ring and inquire and leave my details and name, then I make the booking, then I ring and email to confirm (this is when I usually ring to ask about key collection – about a couple of weeks or a month out), then I ring and email to confirm again the day before the gig. This last one is when I double check key collections or organise a key collection time.
A note: if a venue organiser gives you a sad story about being double booked, implying that they’d like you to change your booking, don’t do it. Be properly sympathetic and understanding, but don’t let them push you into changing your date. It will be a massive pain for you, and it’s important to learn to be strong when dealing with venue managers, bands, sound guys, etc etc. You are the boss of this gig. I find that older men try this on me quite regularly. So I just put on my no bullshit, polite but capable voice and body language whenever I deal with people.
Sadly, the cheaper end of the venue hire scale (where we lindy hoppers tend to live) is where the dodgiest venue mangers also live. Learn to smell their bullshit a mile off. Follow your instincts – if you feel like they’re dodgy, they probably are. Run away.

– Event start and finish times
– Bump in start and finish times, bump out start and finish times
– All the specific details for the bump in and bump out.
List exactly what has to happen. DJ set up. Door set up. Rubbish pick up. Toilet tidy. etc etc. You’re less likely to forget something important this way.
– Door set up and tidy up times (the door close time is often before the end of the event).
– Sound gear set up start time (be detailed).
– Leaving home to travel to the venue time.
– Time to arrive home after the event – if it’s 4am, will you make that 8am key return time?
– When to collect the venue key (even if it’s the day before)
– When to return the key (especially if it’s the day after – will you be up at 8am to return a church hall key?)
– Any gear collection/delivery times.
Getting sound gear delivered? When will it arrive? Allow extra time for fuck ups and late delivery. Do you need to collect anything on the day? Bag of ice? DJ? Lights? Slab of beer? Add that into your running sheet. This one is REALLY important, and something most people forget.
– Volunteer shifts: start and finish times, who does what, etc.
Include door shifts, bump in, and bump out times. This one is IMPORTANT. Don’t play it by ear. Roster your volunteers into spots that suit their skills and preferences. Are they great with people? Put them on the door. Are they fantastically organised? Get them to handle the first door shift. Are they rubbish with people, but very diligent and responsible? Put them on tidy up.
– DJ shifts.
Which DJ is DJing when? Don’t do this randomly – they’ll have set preferences, and will be best suited to some shifts. If they’re a crazy hardcore fast DJ, don’t put them on first. If they’re good at blues and lindy, maybe put them later in the night so they can do both. If they’re great at making dancers feel relaxed and comfortable, put them on first, so they can warm up the crowd.
Circulate this information well ahead of time.
– Cash drop times.
If you make heaps of cash, do you have a time set for when you’ll collect that extra cash and squirrel it away safely?
– Door close.
When will you close the door? Set aside time to do a quick cash count and door tally. It probably won’t be accurate, but it’ll give you one extra layer of accountability.
– Performances.
Allow 5 minutes for every 3 minute performance. It takes time to do announcements, applauding, getting performers on and off stage.
– Comps.
Even a jack and jill needs to be slotted into a running sheet. If you are running a comp, even a little one, you’ll need a whole other running sheet and plan for that. If you do this stuff, keep it short and sweet.
– Any snowballs or welcome dances or birthday dances or any of that stuff. Most DJs can just pull a song out of their bum, but newer DJs can’t.
– Any important announcements.
If there’s an after-party, announce it at a set time, and put that in the running sheet, so you won’t forget. Welcome people to your party at about half an hour in, or an hour in. That way people will know who you are, and they’ll feel welcome. MCs are actually great for helping a party flow. But keep your speeches short, light hearted, and friendly. DJs can do this, but that’s not their job – it’s an MC’s job.
– Introducing and back announcing DJs.
Put it in your running sheet, so you won’t forget.
-> I recommend putting these things between DJ sets, so you don’t mess up a DJ’s flow.

Emergency plan:
This is my latest addition to my door kit. It is very very important. It’s like a birth plan when you go to have a baby – you won’t be in a good position to make good decisions when it happens, so plan ahead.

I include:

  • Contact phone numbers for the local police station (as well as the emergency number 000) – the NSW police have an easy search box on their site. This will be very important to have on hand if you have randoms turn up at 1am.
  • Contact phone numbers for an ambulance – even if it’s just 000, it’s important to have it written down.
    -> I write all this on a little card that is stuck to the back of the door sign, so people can see it ALL the time.
  • Put your first aid kit right there on the door table in plain view. Do NOT hide it. It tells your punters you are serious about safety, and it makes it easier to find.
  • Make a plan for accidents: what will you do if someone falls and can’t get up? Think ahead, and plan out what you would do. Would you call an ambulance? When would you make the decision to call the ambulance? Would you move them? Would you stop the music?
    Make a plan now, because you won’t be able to when it happens. If you are running the event, it is your responsibility to think of this stuff. Write out this plan – don’t just think about it. Write it down, and have it in an accessible place, and tell the door volunteers about it.
  • NEVER assume that because X ‘is a doctor’ that they will handle an emergency at your gig. That is a big mistake: you don’t really know if they are competent, and you don’t know if they’ll be there and willing to help out.
  • Do you have the venue manager’s phone number? Why? Five reasons:
    1) One MLX I turned up at the late night venue to set up, at about midnight, to find someone had knocked a pipe in the kitchen (which was also the band room) and water was gushing into the room. We couldn’t reach the venue manager, we didn’t have the brain to call a plumber, so we just taped that shit up with gaffa tape. Seemed legit.
    2) Another year I turned up at the late night venue and the security code did’t work, and the alarm went off. So I had to call the event coordinator, who then called the venue manager. Meanwhile, I got to say hello to a particularly unappealing security guard. And his gun.
    3) Earlier this year an alarm went off during a huge dance with heaps of people and a big band, right in the middle of a students’ performance. The venue manager came running to fix the alarm, and luckily we didn’t have to interrupt the performance. Much.
    4) One MSF I was just pulling into my accommodation’s drive way, after a 30 minute drive home, when the first late night DJ called to tell me he’d arrived at the venue and there was no sound gear in the main lindy hop room. None. So I called the event coordinator, and she called the venue manager. Meanwhile, I had the ‘blues’ DJ in the other room play ‘lindy hop’ music at slower tempos until they got the situation in the other main ‘lindy hop’ room fixed. Thing I learnt: DJ coordinators need to be on-site at the beginning of every party in the weekend. Even if it’s the second night.
    5) Last year at Canberrang there was a fire alarm, fire engines came, and everyone had to empty out into the street in the middle of the night. To sub zero temperatures. Someone actually contracted pneumonia.

    Shit like this always happens, so be prepared. And buy good gaffa tape

Promotion:
This is a tricky one, and depends on what you want to achieve with your event. Decide ahead of time: do you want millions of people? Do you want just a few people? What is your ‘vision’ for your event? Are you planning a solid old school scratchy hot jazz party with hardcore lindy hop? Is this a late night beer-and-cake party with lots of shouting and a wide ranging style of music? Think carefully – all your PR decisions will be shaped by these ideas.

Things to think about:

  • what tone will your PR talk take? Will you be friendly and chatty?
  • will you use lots of in-jokes (and alienate peeps who don’t know you)?
  • will you be professional and kind of distant?
  • will you be talking to new dancers, who need a lot of things explained to them (eg ‘social dancing’, ‘hardcore lindy hop’, ‘hot jazz’, etc etc)
  • will you be talking to experienced dancers who travel a lot?
  • are you addressing blues dancers, lindy hoppers, balboa dancers?
  • How will you contact people?
    I like a three-pronged approach: paper flyers (cheap photocopies are actually cool for smaller or more ‘indy’ dance parties), word of mouth (your volunteers talking about their gig, for example, you talking to all sorts of people, your teaching friends mentioning it in class, etc etc), and online. Online is a big one (facebook is most powerful, but twitter, instagram, a designated website, and EMAIL are very powerful too), but face to face is actually your most powerful promotional tool.
  • Make a PR plan.
    You don’t want so spam all your friends on fb 6 weeks before the event, then go silent for six weeks. Plan it out. Designing, making, printing, and distributing flyers takes time – more time if you have less experience. Are you friends with lots of peeps on facebook? Do you have good relationships with teachers in your scene? Do you have access to an email newsletter?
  • Only tell people useful information.
    Don’t just randomly spam them on facebook with useless shit. They want to know: when it is (so perhaps a post about why Saturday the X of X month is a great date is important), where it is (a post about the venue itself – use a photo! – is great), what music will be on show (who are the DJs? tell people! use a youtube link to a song that really captures the vibe you want for your event), and what will actually happen at the event (is there a comp? are you byo or selling drinks? Do you want peeps to bring a plate to share? Tell people!)
  • Use a friendly, open, yet professional tone.
    You can be personable, but don’t tell everyone all your personal information. Be accessible and friendly, but not stalkery and creepy.
  • After the weekend:
    Follow up on your FB event with a nice note thanking your volunteers, DJs, and other workers by name (ALWAYS do this). Post some photos. Link to other people’s photos. This is PR for your next event. It’s also just a fun thing to do. Part of the fun of lindy hop is remembering past events that were really great.
  • Don’t play the martyr card.
    Don’t ever beg people to come, cry about having spent a million dollars on food or the venue or whatevs, and don’t shout that no one is buying tickets for your party. Nobody will like that, and it will make them cranky, and they will AVOID your parties. Also that is weird shit – don’t do that.
  • Be honest and open, and run events that actually meet people’s needs.
    Just because you want a late night blues party with a hip hop DJ dropping phat beats, doesn’t mean other people do. And perhaps someone else is already doing this, but better than you ever could. Know your scene, know what they want. And do not ever try to ‘educate’ or ‘give people what they need’. That’s patronising shit. Stop that.

All this stuff is important, even if you’re just running a small dance in a studio. You have bills to pay ($500 remember), and you want people to come to your party. So find a way to get them interested.

The venue:

  • Clean up
    It will take longer than you think. Will you be up for it at 4am? Plan it now, because you will be too tired to think straight then.
  • Set up.
    • It will take longer than you think. Just opening the doors, turning on the lights, and walking about being excited will take 15 minutes. It’ll take 15 minutes to set up the door. And other 15 minutes to set up the DJ table (if all the gear is in place, and ready to go. which it rarely is). If you’re decorating, allow at least an hour.
      If you’re doing all that by yourself, it’ll take 1 hour and 45 minutes. If you have volunteers, you’ll still need to explain what to do, and trouble shoot as you go along. Allow AT LEAST one hour bump in time for any event. Longer if you’re decorating.
    • Do you actually know how to set up sound gear? If you don’t, you’ll need to organise someone to come in and do it for you. Do NOT just assume the DJ will do it. They are there to DJ, not do tech support.
  • Rubbish disposal.
    This is a big one. One wheelie bin probably won’t cut it. If that’s all you have, you’ll need to be sneaky and see if you can put rubbish in other properties’ bins. But don’t get caught or fuck shit up for the venue manager.
    Does the venue have a skip? Where is it? Can you find it in the dark? When you look at the venue, go and physically touch the bin and see if you can open it – don’t rely on a verbal description from the venue manager. Ask the venue manager: “Are we expected to empty the bins into the skip?” Some venues are ok with you leaving the full garbage bags on-site. Most aren’t. Remember: dancers make a LOT of rubbish. Mostly empty plastic water bottles.
  • Lights.
    Where are they? Can you turn them off? Could you do it when you’re totally exhausted, at 4am, in the dark?
  • Cleanliness:
    • Is the venue clean before you start your gig?
      We use one great studio that often has quite dirty toilets, so we need to allow time to clean them before the gig. If you’re cleaning toilets, you can’t expect volunteers to do it without checking with them first. Allow time for this. Some volunteers have never actually cleaned a toilet before. inorite.
    • General cleaning.
      Say to the venue manager – “Will we be expected to clean the venue after use? What does that specifically involve?” If that means vacuuming the whole joint (I’ve had to do that) at 4am, perhaps that is too sucktown for you and your meagre volunteer resources. If you do have to clean extensively, put that time in your running sheet. DO IT NOW.
    • Venue manager contact details: get a phone number, and test it then and there. You will need it 5 minutes before the gig starts and you can’t get the front door open.
  • Electricity.
    Where are the power points? Take a photo. Does the venue have 3phase power?
  • Sound gear.
    Look at it, test it, try it out, take photos.
  • Furniture.
    What is there in the venue? Are you allowed to use it? Or move it? You will need a DJ table and chairs, a door table and chairs, and probably something for your punters to sit on during the night. Look at it all in situ, take photos of it, measure it, count it.
  • How big is the venue?
    Measure it. Take photos of EVERYTHING.
  • Toilet paper.
    Is there heaps? I usually allow about 5 rolls per cubicle, if there are 6 cubicles for the venue. So allow about 30 rolls. Yes, it’s a lot. But dancers use it for all sorts of stuff besides wiping their bums. Ask the venue: do they supply it, or do you? If it’s on-site, where is it? Physically touch the rolls, so you know it’s not locked in cupboard somewhere.
  • Soap.
    Bring some.

Once you’re at the venue and the party’s started, there’s more work to do. If you’re running this party, you have to manage this party. That means that you can’t just dance like a fool all night and then suddenly think at 4am “Oh shit, we have to clean up.” When you are running a party, you have to keep part of your mind on the the mechanics of the whole thing.

You need to keep an eye on:

  • The DJs.
    • Introduce them, thank them individually, pay them promptly.
    • If you need to give them feedback, or to get them to change it up during their shift, ask them, specifically: “Hey mate, peeps are looking to dance, but they’re having trouble getting into it. Could you please drop a favourite like ‘Easy Does It’ in there in the next couple of songs?” Don’t give vague advice or vague comments like “Everyone is really tired.” That’s an observation, not actually useful advice.
    • Don’t hover. Do not hover. Don’t hover. DJs are working, and unless they give you open body language that says ‘hey, talk to me!’ they won’t want you hovering – just let them do their thing. I find event managers do this quite a bit: they just. can’t. let. go. I personally find it absolutely maddening.
    • Don’t kiss DJ arse. Yes, they’re great, but too much sucking up is weird. Say thank you, and tell them “You rock!” when they pull something awesome, but mostly just them do their thing. Don’t micromanage.
  • The volunteers.
    Have they turned up for their shift? Are things going ok at the door? Have you had a crazy amount of people turn up, leaving your door people with one million dollars in small notes to deal with? Have you thought of a cash drop process to deal with this? Who’ll do it? Where will you keep that money? Have you thanked a volunteer coming off shift? Did you check in with the new shift of door volunteers? Are you being patient and kind during bump out, even though you’re absolutely shagged and kind of grumpy?
  • The punters.
    You need to keep one eye on the people in the room. You might be having the best time ever, but is everyone else? Are they sitting about talking? Are they dancing like crazy fools? Are they only dancing to the slow songs?

    My usual plan: I want people to have a lot of fun. If I’m running a dance, I want them dancing. Sometimes that means crazy fun, sometimes that means calm, gentle fun. I rarely aim for calm, gentle fun, because lindy hop. But a blues event is probably looking for calm, intense fun.
    If people are sitting down, why? Is it because they’re tired? Did you notice whether people were dancing the last five songs, and have only just sat down? Or have they been sitting down all night? Is the room too hot? Too cold? Too crowded? What time is it? All these things will help you decide what to do next. If you want them up and dancing, you might have to suggest (politely) to the DJ that they play a favourite – ‘Splanky’ or ‘Easy Doest It’ or whatever songs works as a nice friendly invitation to dance for your scene.
    But be prepared to change your ‘plan’ for the party: you might be aiming for crazy fun, but they might want to dance slowly, talk more. You might have wanted old scratchy super hot jazz, but they might be responding to sugergroove at moderate tempos… or getting their funk on with Aretha. You might have wanted calm, quiet chatting and slow dancing, but have ended up with a room full of adrenaline junkies shouting at each other and swinging out like fools.
    Go with it.

Managing people:

  • Means being able to delegate in a rational way. You need to look at a situation, assess the priorities, and then delegate jobs to deal with each issue. You can’t just do everything yourself. If you plan things ahead of time (eg estimate that it will take one hour to hang decorations), you’ll be able to put volunteers to work in a sensible way.
  • My rule: be polite to all people at all times. If you are cranky, take a time out. Be nice. Smile. Laugh. Problems are interesting challenges, not fucking terrible tragedies. Thank people. Don’t get all up in their grills hassling them and micromanaging them, though – let people be competent, trust them and delegate. Take responsibility for dramas or problems: the buck stops with YOU, so step up and take responsibility. Tell volunteers to handball difficult punters to you immediately. Be a manager, not a pain in the arse.
  • btw, if you are managing an event, you can’t DJ. It’s just the way things are. You probably shouldn’t teach or perform, either. Who’ll trouble shoot while you’re showing off?

MOST IMPORTANTLY:
Respect your volunteers and DJs. You can’t actually do this without them. They are actually more important than you are. Be polite at all times. Listen to them. Don’t micromanage, but don’t just assume they know what to do all the time. Explain clearly and simply what you want from them. Listen to their suggestions, and take them on board.
Volunteers are the people who help you promote your event. Just by telling their mates that they’re volunteering, they’re telling them that they think this event is important and good enough to be a part of. So make them happy bearers of good news, not shitty people with a gripe to share.
Also: just be a decent person, ok? Get over your issues, your insecurities, and just BE NICE.

And finally, enjoy this. Enjoy the real-time challenges and pressures. Enjoy the excitement. Enjoy the problems! Enjoy working with people. Be flexible, and able to amend your plans on the fly. Take suggestions and advice. You could be wrong – how exciting! New ideas that you don’t have to come up with!

I know a lot of people reading this will be all “Oh, that’s overkill. Chill out, man!” especially if they’re thinking about a smaller event.

You don’t have to do this sort of stuff. But I do. Because I’ve been doing this for fourteen years now, and I find that it’s when things aren’t planned out properly that people get screwed over. Me or other people. And it’s really stressful.
I’ve found that developing these sorts of processes with smaller events helps you prepare for running larger events. A large exchange, for example, is like running 6 or 7 huge parties in one weekend. Except you’re getting progressively tireder and physically trashed. So your plans are even more important.
If you have comprehensive plans, you can hand over your event to someone else. We developed this approach in the early days of the Melbourne Jazz Dance Association running the Melbourne Lindy Exchange. We were all volunteers, so we needed to be able to drop everything with no notice if our day jobs got intense, our families needed us, or our health failed. So we developed a good way of documenting our planning, and then sharing our planning. These days I use google docs to share documents: version control is gold. I use it even for little parties, so I can circulate DJ rosters, keep track of budgets, and so on.

And if you do document your plans, you can develop templates for future events. I tend to reuse running sheets, because the basic structure of a dance event doesn’t actually change very much – we still have to bump in and out, roster DJs and bands and volunteers. Same goes for budgets: complete budgets help you remember what to pay for, but they also help you remember what to actually buy in the first place. I often annotate budgets with notes about where I bought cheap beer, whether they delivered, etc etc etc. And running sheets with contact details for venue managers, DJs, and so on are just gold for subsequent event planning.

I think that planning out an event ahead of time can also help you decide whether this is something you want to do. It’s quite a lot of work the first few times, because you don’t have the time management skills, the patience and the people management skills. So it helps to see just what you’re getting yourself in to before you actually put down the cash and do the PR.
I think that your sense of scale also changes after you’ve done a lot of events. I now think of a ‘small’ band night like our Swinging at the PBC gigs with international and interstate bands as relatively small and simple projects. My idea of ‘big’ these days is a five day weekend event with half a dozen bands, international teachers, heaps of venues, stacks of volunteers and DJs. But if this your first time, a DJed party at your house might be ‘big’.
I’ve also found that the hugest events mean that you can’t give lots of attention to the tiniest things – being a proper host and welcoming or farewelling people as they arrive or leave the party. Making cute paper invitations. Planning a birthday jam for a friend. So a ‘small’ event can actually be quite detailed, and really much nicer… can you see why I’m moving away from larger events these days?

I think that a well-planned smaller, local event is much more important to a local scene than a huge exchange. It’s the everyday, cheaper, accessible local stuff that skills dancers up to run events, to social dance, and to be part of a socially sustainable community. So they are much more important. They also run on smaller budgets, at greater personal financial risk, make smaller profits, and are kind of relentless in the way they demand labour and time over and over again, from relatively inexperienced folk. But this is where we learn to DJ, we learn to be social dancers (not just social dancing, but being dancers in a social space), we learn to work with bands, we learn to create professional networks and relationships. So it’s worth putting time and care into them.

such jazz

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One of my favourite Sydney bands, the Squeezebox Trio is doing a little fund raising… is it fund raising? Whatevs. It’s magical.

The bit of text accompanying this gem on fb:

It has happened…The Defining moment of our generation is here…

The Squeezebox Trio 2015 ‘Nude’ Calendar…
Available from: thesqueezeboxtrio3@gmail.com …

And it will blow the minds of anyone who enters your house for 1 year…

For the sweet price of $20

Naked…

If you like jazz, and you like jazz musicians, you might consider buying one of these from here. Or even buying some of their music.

Band breaks at MLX14

MLX14: Friday evening band breaks from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

Straight Life Count Basie and his Orchestra 1953 Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings (Mosaic disc 03)

Ain’t Misbehavin’ Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf

Stompin’ At The Savoy Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf

Easy Does It Big Eighteen (Billy Butterfield, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers, Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Vic Dickenson, Lou McGarity, Dicky Wells, Walt Levinksy, Hymie Schertzer, Sam Donahue, Boomie Richman, Ernie Caceres, Johnny Guarnieri, Barry Galbraith, Milt ) 1958 Echoes of the Swinging Bands

Splanky Count Basie and his Orchestra 1957 The Complete Atomic Basie

Wham Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Emmett, Berry, Lawrence Brown, Al Sears, Leroy Lovett, Lloyd Trotman, Joe Marshall) 1952 A Pound of Blues

Don’t You Miss Your Baby Jimmy Witherspoon and Panama Francis’ Savoy Sutans 1980 Jimmy Witherspoon and Panama Francis’ Savoy Sultans

Jersey Bounce Ella Fitzgerald acc. by Lou Levy, Herb Ellis, Joe Mondragon, Stan Levey 1961 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!

B-Sharp Boston Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950

Good Queen Bess Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 1940 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 10)

Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript

Tar Paper Stomp Tom Baker’s Chicago Seven (Tom Baker, Don Heap, Lynn Wallis, Roger James, Paul Finnerty, David Ridyard, David Parquette, Paul Furniss) 2004 Dixieland Jazz

A Viper’s Moan Willie Bryant and his Orchestra (Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole) 1935 Willie Bryant: Chronological Classics 1935-1936

Flying Home Benny Goodman Sextet (Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool, Lionel Hampton) 1940 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 1)

Sent For You Yesterday Benny Goodman China Boy
Ain’t Misbehavin’ Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf

Honeysuckle Rose Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) 2010 Live In Philadelphia

Truckin’ Paul Asaro And The Fat Babies (Andy Schumm, John Otto, Beau Sample, Jake Sanders, Alex Hall) 2012 What a Heavenly Dream: The Fats Waller Rhythm Project

Fat And Greasy Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, C.E. Smith, Eddie Anderson, Fred Robinson, George Wilson, Rudy Powell, Gene Sedric, George James, Emmett Matthews, Fred Skerritt, Hank Duncan, James Smith, Charles Turner) 1935 I’m Gonna Sit Right Down: The Early Years, Part 2 (disc 02)

My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone The Great Nina Simone

Easy Does It Big Eighteen (Billy Butterfield, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers, Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Vic Dickenson, Lou McGarity, Dicky Wells, Walt Levinksy, Hymie Schertzer, Sam Donahue, Boomie Richman, Ernie Caceres, Johnny Guarnieri, Barry Galbraith, Milt ) 1958 Echoes of the Swinging Bands

C-Jam Blues Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 1998 Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke

Sea of Rhythm rambling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MRP

Leigh’s shared a video of the Melbourne Rhythm Project musicians and dancers warming up.

The thing that interests me about this aspect of the MRP, is that dancers and musicians get to work together in everyday spaces, not just performances or parties. They get to be a part of each others’ ordinary work and social activities. Which means musicians get to be a part of the particularly collegial work environment of lindy hop jazz dance, and dancers to be a part of musicians’ focussed work practices and group improvisation.
I think it’s this stuff that makes these projects special. It changes cultures of jazz dance and jazz music in everyday, ordinary ways. And vernacular dances and music are everyday cultural practices.
…the final performance on the night seems almost incidental to this important stuff.