So far as skills for playing band break sets go, I usually have a few rules:
- Don’t go into the hardcore high-energy territory. Keep the vibe bubbling along, but never quite climaxing. The band should be the peak;
- Don’t get too low energy – keep the room bubbling along;
- Play something with a ‘building’ energy just before the band goes on (like that brilliant version of One o’clock Jump), so that the band go on stage to an amped up, excited crowd;
- Don’t play songs the band will play. So this means introducing yourself to the band, getting a set list, and getting an idea of the type of music they’ll play;
- You’re not the star here, your job is to be the support act for the band, warming the room for them, keeping the dancers interested, and generally helping the band have a good gig. So don’t show off, don’t do any stunt DJing, don’t be a jerk, be on time, be easy to work with, MC if you have to, keep you eyes on the band and be ready to play with zero notice;
- Introduce yourself to the sound engineer, the MC, the band leader, and the stage manager. Be helpful and useful, and do a soundcheck if you can;
- Don’t play hi-fi stuff, especially not hi-fi 50s bands like Basie’s, because no modern band will sound as good;
- Complement the band’s style, but don’t echo it too perfectly. eg SSAS often play a lot of Ellington, so I try to stay away from the Ellington favourites;
- Don’t go nuts on tempos; keep the music accessible and don’t tire out the crowd before the band comes back;
- Don’t play anything too crude or too memorable. A band break DJ is just filling in music, keeping the vibe going while the band literally take a break. So don’t outshine the band.
And finally, all this holds true if the band is good. If the band really sucks, then you follow all these rules, except you play really good songs that give everyone a chance to dance.
I think my favourite set was the last one, where I did band breaks for the Stockholm All Stars. I was feeling very tired, but also very relaxed and willing to try songs and combinations I never use. The room was super crowded and hot during band sets, but it emptied out during the breaks, except for a few hardcore dancers. I was trying to keep the music low-key, and not compete with the fun vibe of the band. Nothing hi-fi.
I was quite proud of the June Christy/Mildred Bailey transition. Both are really great bands, and the vocalists have brilliant timing.
I played quite a bit of Chick Webb this Herrang, and really leant on the big bands generally. I especially like that version of Tain’t What You Do because it’s so _good_ (Webb’s band is just GREAT), you see dancers consider shim shamming, then just give in and swing out. Because it’s the best. It was also fun to see dancers get into that Big Apple song (my current fave), and to try out ‘big apple’ steps and claps and things to it. You can see that I was working with a few female vocalists, which I don’t often do.
There was a lot of Basie played in camp this year, which I got a bit tired of, tbh, but I also started to really enjoy Lester Young’s weirdness, especially in the later years. I enjoyed adding in the ‘odder’ later stuff of artists like Slam Stewart, JC Heard, Buck Clayton, etc. You can see bop on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. My general rule with this sort of more ‘interesting’ swinging jazz is to not play it during the high energy/crazy parts of the party, and to not play it in beginner hour. Instead I play it in more contemplative parts of the night, when peeps are more relaxed, and there are more experienced or experimental dancers around. ie band breaks, late shifts, etc.
Look, the bottom line is that 30s and 40s classic swinging big and small bands doing proper swinging jazz (not jump blues or early rnb, not nola, not hifi, not 50s stuff) makes for brilliant lindy hop, balboa, and jazz dancing. It swings like a gate, it’s structurally predictable enough to improvise over, and it’s technically bloody sophisticated. When you add in the talents of people like Teddy Wilson, Billy Holiday, and Benny Goodman, you just can’t go wrong.
I’m also enjoying working with a range of tempos. Not just super fast, not just ‘medium tempo’. All the tempos. One of my goals this Herrang was to get West End Blues into a set at some point. It’s the best jazz recording ever. I did get it in there (in a slow drag set), but to me it felt like a continuation of the DJing I was doing in other sets. In part because I had a strong feel for Louis Armstrong this July. I played a stack of him in Vienna, and then in Herrang. I noticed that when he was with a good, solidly swinging band his playing just sparked light into the dancers. He was a true gift to the world.
Anyway, this is what I played.
Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home 137 1938 Pee Wee Russell’s Rhythm Makers (Max Kaminsky, Dicky Wells, Al Gold, James P. Johnson, Freddie Green, Wellman Braud, Zutty Singleton)
The Jumpin’ Jive 145 1939 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Clyde Hart, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer, Fred Norman)
The One I Love (Belongs To Someone Else) 150 1945 June Christy and The Kentones
Lover Come Back To Me 154 1941 Mildred Bailey acc. by Herman Chittison, Dave Barbour, Frenchy Covetti, Jimmy Hoskins, Delta Rhythm Boys)
Wacky Dust 150 1938 Chick Webb Orchestra (Ella Fitzgerald, Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan (v), George Matthews, Nat Story, Sandy Williams, Garvin Bushell, Hilton Jefferson, Teddy McRae, Wayman Carver, Tommy Fulford, Bobby Johnson, Beverly Peer)
D.B. Blues 155 1945 Lester Young and his Band (Vic Dickenson, Dodo Marmorosa, Red Callender, Henry Tucker Green)
‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That Cha Do It) 160 1939 Chick Webb and his Orchestra (Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Vance, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan, George Matthews, Nat Story, Sandy Williams, Garvin Bushell, Hilton Jefferson, Teddy McRae, Wayman Carver, Tommy Fulford, Bobby Johnson, Beverly Peer)
Don’t Be That Way 147 1938 Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra (Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russel, Johnny Hodges, Allan Reuss, Al Hall, Johnny Blowers, Nan Wynn)
One O’Clock Jump 175 1941 Metronome All Star Band (Cootie Williams, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Toots Mondello, Coleman Hawkins, Tex Beneke, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Buddy Rich)
Strictly Instrumental 132 1941 Harry James and his Orchestra
Big Apple 166 1937 Teddy Wilson and his orchestra (Harry James, Archie Rosati, Vido Musso, Allan Reuss, John Simmons, Cozy Cole, Frances Hunt)
I Want The Waiter (with the water) 151 1939 Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra
Get Up 144 1939 Skeets Tolbert and his Gentlemen of Swing (Carl Smith, Otis Hicks, Clarence Easter Harry Prather, Hubert Pettaway)
Trav’lin’ All Alone 170 1937 Billie Holiday Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey, Lester Young, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones)
Savoy Strut (WM 1001-1) 158 1939 Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Cootie Williams, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer, Buddy Clark)
Free Eats 163 1947 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Emmett Berry, Snooky Young, Harry Edison, Ted Donnelly, George Matthews, Eli Robinson, Bill Johnson, Preston Love, Rudy Rutherford, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones)
Love Me Or Leave Me 162 1947 Pat Flowers and his Rhythm (Dan Perri, Charles Green, Arthur Trappier)
Don’t Be That Way 136 1938 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Edgar Sampson, Jess Stacy, Allen Reuss, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer) 2:36
Leap Frog 159 1941 Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Gene Prince, George Washington, Norman Greene, Henderson Chambers, Rupert Cole, Carl Frye, Prince Robinson, Joe Garland, Luis Russell, Lawrence Lucie, Hayes Alvis, Sid Catlett)
September Song 160 1948 Harry James Band Live
I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise 163 1945 Eddie Condon and His Orchestra (Yank Lawson, Lou McGarity, Edmond Hall, Joe Dixon, Joe Bushkin, Sid Weiss, George Wettling)
Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home 137 1938 Pee Wee Russell’s Rhythm Makers (Max Kaminsky, Dicky Wells, Al Gold, James P. Johnson, Freddie Green, Wellman Braud, Zutty Singleton)
Frenesi 147 1940 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshal, Gus Bivona, Skip Martin, B Snyder, Georgie Auld, Jack Henderson, Fletcher Henderson, Bernie Leighton, Mike Bryan, A Bernstein, Jaeger)
The Goon Came On (GG) 144 1944 Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra (Joe Thomas)
Swinging jazz is really formulaic and predictable. This is mostly because of the constraints of the recording industry: the 3 minute pop song is all that fitted on one side of a record. Which makes it great for improvising with. Live music is very different, and was very different.
This is partly why dancers should dance to live music: it’s less predictable, and you really have to pay attention, in case someone adds something.
This predictable formula is also why peeps get so shitty with DJs who play awkwardly phrased songs in comps: you have to really work hard to ignore the structure of a standard swing song.
I actually like to sit down and draw out the structure of a song if I’m thinking about choreographing or using it for a routine. It really helps me understand to see a ’32 bar chorus’ written out – that’s 16 lots of 8. Which is 4 phrases. You can teach that in an hour. My ‘thinking brain’ likes me to do this to help me become conscious of some things in a song. Especially with tap. But my ‘dancing brain’ gets confused and flustered if I try to count or think about the markers of phrases and choruses consciously, so when I’m dancing (esp social dancing), I don’t think ‘here comes the phrase!’ I listen to the music, and let the musicians tell me when a phrase is over or a chorus is beginning. eg a solo might go for a phrase, or a particular musical theme might go for a chorus.
The shim sham is 4 phrases (3 basic phrases + an added phrase), and that helps me think about the relationship between dancers and bands in the olden days. A dancer would get up and do a chorus, then bow out.
You can also hear it in a standard swing ‘pop’ song: the main ‘story’ of the song is in that chorus.
A really standard pop song will play 4 choruses, with some intro or outro stuff or perhaps a bridge or something somewhere.
If you’re listening to a nola type song, or something like Fats Waller’s Moppin And Boppin, you can clearly hear the choruses, with a final shout chorus:
– there’s an intro-type bit with drums (Fats shouts out “You want some more of that mess? Well here tis, Zutty take over – pour it on ’em!”) and then Zutty plays about 3 phrases (2.5 really).
– then the band kicks in with the main ‘theme’ of the song for a chorus, with everyone playing together sensibly.
– then there’s a chorus with lots of solos
– round about halfway Slam Stewart does 16 phrases (a chorus) on the bass with some humming.
– Then Zutty Singleton does a chorus on the drums.
– Then there’s a final chorus where everyone joins in, which ends up feeling a lot like a ‘shout chorus’. A shout chorus is a big, exciting end part, where all the musicians get crazy. If I’m DJing, I know that if I hear that shout chorus, I need to get my next song sorted.
Because it’s Fats Waller, that ‘starting sensibly then getting crazy’ vibe is a clever play on the predictable 32 bar chorus structure: he takes you on a journey.
All of this feels really nice and balanced:
– 4 choruses plus a shout chorus at the end and an intro at the beginning.
This is the structure that makes swinging jazz so nice to lindy hop to: it’s predictable. It means a dancer can step up with a band and take a chorus and know when/where to come in.
I’ve been doing some work with a band lately where I have to MC/narrate stuff during a song, and while I know all this with my brain, in the moment I get a bit flustered, so I watch the band leader who cues me with a nod. A band that plays head arrangements (vs using sheet music) develops a nonverbal language of nods and so on that cues each other in. There was actually a whole language of nonverbal cues that big bands used to use, but of this language isn’t used any more and is lost :(
Ways to learn this stuff:
– with paper and pen;
And, much more usefully, with your body, so you can turn off your counting brain and let it work on choreography or being creative:
– Dancing the shim sham to different songs. You figure out which songs are blues phrased pretty quickly :D And you realise why Ellington was so wiggedy wacked.
– Calling the freezes, slow motions, and dance! in a shim sham. It feels really natural do to it on the phrase, but a whole phrase at 120bpm is boring, so you do it at half way points.
My rules for DJing are pretty simple, and I’ve written about them many times before:
- Make it easy for everyone to have fun.
- What you play is not as important as the combinations you play them in.
- These combinations are dictated by the crowd’s feels, not how you feel in your pants.
But how does that work? If any of the following phrases don’t make any sense to you, have a read of this post How I think About DJing afterwards.
You don’t need fancy technology, and there’s no substitute for listening to your music and getting to know it well.
I DJ using itunes on a mac + cog and an external soundcard for previewing.
I always choose songs on the fly.
Work a tempo wave, and work an energy wave.
It’s ok to play favourites.
Play solid, swinging jazz from the 30s and 40s, and A bit from the 50s.
If you fuck up (clear the floor), follow up with an apology song (i have a list of tried and true favourites).
If you don’t social dance a lot, you’ll be a rubbish dancer.
Only play songs you love.
Only play jazz. If you don’t love swinging jazz, don’t DJ
Watch the dancers. Stop looking at your computer. Watch the dancers. Learn to read how they feel from how they dance. Don’t leave the booth while DJing (because you can’t watch the dancers). Watch the dancers. Learn their feels.
And most importantly, be a pro. Be on time, bring all your gear, be helpful, accommodating, and polite, and ask the organiser what they want.
Know how to play a birthday jam, learn to use the mic, and buy everything Basie up til 1955.
Herräng DJ fashion report:
Last year we saw the lindy hop community shift abruptly from hot pre- and early swing to hi-fi new testament Basie and Ellington (finally). But this year in Herräng we saw a shift back to something more like the middle: the late 30s and early 40s swinging big band. Including those led by Ellington and Basie.
Don’t throw your copies of Newport away just yet, but do try to pick up a copy of some of Basie’s work with Columbia in the 30s-40s, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to buy all Ellington, all of it. Heck, get all the Basie too.
But this season expect the best lacquered DJs to be playing from the classic swing era, both big and small bands. Four solid beats to the bar, my friends, and no cheating.
The other week in Herrang at the Bad Taste party, I was given permission to go off-piste. I’m usually very reluctant to go the stunt DJing route, but I’d spent the hour before my set in the DJ office listening to all the types of music that comes from New Orleans, but never gets played in the New Orleans parties.
It had gotten me thinking about the other rhythms that were part of African American vernacular dance in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, yet are carefully avoided by places like Herrang. Not to mention hip hop and street dances of today, which have much closer roots with black dance history than the contemporary lindy hop community.
I’d also spent most of the weekend tapping in one tent, while drummers and dancers from
Ghana Guinea (thanks for the heads up, Bert) banged out insistent rhythms in the neighbouring tent. And scatting. And learning to understand, remember, and reproduce complex rhythms.
There’s a very interesting book called The Games Black Girls Play by Kyra Gaunt.
If I cut down the blurb for the book, we can summarise it as a book about skipping, clapping, and rhythmic games that black girls play in America.
…the games black girls play — handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope—both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking…
…these games contain the DNA of black music…black girls’ games …teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.
I’ve written about this book before in a post about double dutch skipping and gender.
One of the points Gaunt makes in that book, is that clapping, skipping, and rhythmic girls’ games teaches black girls complex rhythm recognition, reproduction, and improvisation skills. Both with their brains and their bodies.
When I was DJing that party, I had songs like this in my head:
Step Clap Go ad for clothes for teenaged girls from Target featuring Bad News From the Bronx steppers.
I’d also gotten a little angry in a history talk that failed to name or mention most of the women in the lindy hop partnerships, and also did some serious racefail that a couple of the Frankie Manning ambassador kids picked up. I know Herrang may like to talk about black dance and history, but it’s a very white place. And also quite a patriarchal one. So when women, girls, black kids, black women, and especially black girls speak up, they’re usually very quickly silenced.
With all this swirling through my brain and muscles, it’s inevitable that I ended up playing the clapping song:
I actually played it three times. And got into trouble for it from Lennart. But it felt quite wondefully cathartic to break the rules like that, to be openly defiant, and to say FUCK YOU to all the stifling genderfail, safespace fail, patriarchal white washing of black dance history that was going on. If we’re going to valorise lindy hop as a black vernacular dance, we are doing a very bad thing if ignore all the history of black dance after lindy hop. All the black culture after lindy hop that living generations of black kids and adults participate in and own. I’m absolutely not ok with being part of the strange exoticism of some white lindy hop culture that deliberately places this culture well beyond contemporary black cultural practice. A white woman playing a song for a bunch of white european lindy hoppers isn’t really revolutionary, but I was playing a song by a black woman, a song which is an adaption of a black girls’ rhythm game. And I was repeating it.
As a DJ, I think the stunt worked well. I played the song three times, but in between each playing, there was a stack of solid, hardcore swinging jazz. All upenergy, and all solidly within the ‘will make you dance the lindy hop’ genre.
What happened with the crowd? The first time they were quizzical, but tolerant. The second time they started losing their shit. The third time they were out of control, and I could see them literally leaping into the air all over the room, jamming, rocking out, even swinging out.
It was a punt, and three times was definitely enough (even in a week where playing the same song multiple times was the stunt de jour), but it did what I wanted it to do. It was in ‘bad taste’, it played on the crowd’s crazy/nervous masquerade night costume vibes, and it definitely took advantage of the hilarity of that night’s cabaret performances. The burlesque cleaning show in particular.
I would never do this on an ‘ordinary’ night of dancing at Herrang. It did remind me a lot of the crazed Twist party from a few years ago. Particularly a few songs later when they all formed a caterpillar, as my french friend called a congo line. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t encourage it, and I was a bit scared when my boss turned up halfway through the second song and asked what was going on. I definitely didn’t plan for the whole room to turn into one looping snake of chanting, dancing, scatting congo line dancers. But what I do think happened is that the perfect storm of conditions led to the sort of natural chaos that happens in Herrang sometimes:
– over-excited dancers wearing costumes that make them feel crazy
– the uptempo fun swing songs let them feel relaxed
– the clapping song said ‘the rules may be broken’ and was also exciting
– the repetition of the clapping song said ‘unexpected things will happen’
– the burlesque act with its mix of sexual and off-kilter humour stimulated people’s excitement
– it’s a _masquerade_ party, which means that people are masked/feeling permission to be other than their usual selves
– it was mid-week, when people are tired and also very relaxed.
Anyway, it was a very interesting moment. Me, I’m now obsessed with rhythm dances in a whole new way. Yes, it’s possible to get even crazier about this stuff.
Last night while I was sleeping, Jon posted an interesting and provocative post on fb.
You can read it here.
Jon made some good points about why spotify isn’t a good tool for DJing, and I agree with all of them. Except the first one:
OK Swing Dance DJs,
Do yourself a favor, and stop using Spotify as your primary DJ source.
This is what I wrote, long after everyone else had discussed the issue to death.
Most dance scenes are small, and have just a handful of people running and teaching classes, DJing, booking venues, doing advertising, running the door, running parties, booking visiting teachers, running weekend workshops, researching insurance APRA and other music use licenses, dealing with sexual harassment policies AND SO ON.
When it comes to music, something like spotify – which takes a bunch of hours and $$ out of the equation – can make or break a small event.
It’s a tool, like any other, and it can be a tool for levelling entry to DJing.
When I started DJing, there weren’t any legit streaming or download sites or tools. We bought CDs. It was fucking expensive, because a CD cost $30 in Australia. I was lucky enough to get in just as the $US dropped, and CDs on amazon were $10 a pop.
Even now, if I buy a CD from a band, it’ll cost me $20. If a band knows what they’re doing, they’ll do it old school and distribute free promo copies of their album to DJs who can then play it and encourage local sales.
I did a bunch of research for my phd on the issues surrounding women’s participation in swing DJing, and I found that money, time, and confidence were the barriers.
A tool like spotify, which people know how to use (because they use it for fun, even if the UI sucks), can afford, and feel confident using, and can afford can be the step up into DJing that women and other marginalised users need. No imposing music nerd shops, no expensive, heavy, space-eating CDs, no ‘take a punt because we don’t preview albums’ limits.
So I say YAY SPOTIFY.
Most of the DJs in the international lindy hopping world never do or ever aspire to DJing at huge events all over the country. They DJ locally for no pay and little respect.
If you are into DJing hardcore, you will move on beyond spotify, because it simply doesn’t fulfill your needs. For all the reasons listed above.
[Jon replied to my post with this good point:]
I understand that people have hurdles. And if its a “no swing scene or spotify” decision, then its no question. Use Spotify.
But the minute “you” want to be taken seriously, its time to get off spotify and start collecting.
[I was struck by the way this post exemplified some of our assumptions about DJing in the dance world. I was reminded of this book about Horace Tapscott, which essentially points out that sometimes being super famous isn’t as important as community.]
But what if someone doesn’t want to be ‘taken seriously’? And who’s doing the judging? Members of a male-dominated high profile, high-power group?
My DJing rule is ‘make it easy for people to have fun’ not ‘you must own all the technology to DJ your local event’.
Me, I don’t use spotify for DJing because it’s not adequate (UI sucks, and I can’t add my tags).
It’s not the size of your collection that counts, it’s how much pleasure you and your friends get from it.
I really feel as though we (as a scene) have this discussion every few years. Last time it was itunes. The time before it was DJs sharing hard drives of music.
In my brain, of course I’m all about buying music, paying APRA fees, using good tools, being a professional, etc etc etc.
But in practice, when we police the ‘right’ way to DJ, we see so many potential DJs think ‘oh, that’s too serious for me. I’m not a real DJ,’ and give up.
I’ve seen DJs do fantastic sets from spotify. The fact that musicians get screwed by spotify doesn’t change that. Most DJs I know don’t have proper APRA or POCOS licenses, don’t follow the laws about format shifting, use youtube videos of songs, etc etc etc.
I think it’s more important to tip our argument sideways, and say “Stop looking at your computer and fussing about software, and start looking at the dancers, getting better at reading their feels”. And I know that this is something you do, Jon, which is why I enjoy your DJing so much. But there are plenty of DJs reading along in this thread who don’t have those skills, and will interpret discussions about tools as metrics for valuing DJing.
As Kevin suggests above: if you’re not watching the crowd, you might as well hit shuffle. And to be frank, there are plenty of DJs who’d be better replaced by someone’s very good collection on shuffle. And there are quite a few very good DJs who are such unpleasant people it’s simply not worth hiring them, because they make everyone miserable.
The collection is the least important part of DJing. But it’s an easy way for DJs to compare size and girth, and much easier to quantify than dancers’ happiness. So we talk about collections.
And you know I’m going to say the least useful thing ever, but: bands > DJs.
I was thinking about replacing some of my favourite 50s songs with earlier versions (when I DJ). eg Basie’s 50s Roll ‘Em Pete with this Joe Turner and Pete Johnson 1938 version. But this is too boogie, and not swing enough for lindy hop… or is it?
…this is related to my ongoing concern that I play too much jump blues.
I often play the 1950s Joe Williams/Basie version(s), both live and recorded, because the boogie factor is pared back, and the bigger band setting gives it a proper swinging feeling. It’s super dooper fun…
I also play this version with Big Joe Turner, because Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson. I usually play the Basie if I want to transition from shouters to big band, or this one if I want to go the other way.
…incidentally, the Hornsgatan Ramblers played a version of Jumpin The Blues (as sung wonderfully by Rikard Ekstrand) in Seoul, which was quite excellent. And they’re super old school nerds, so I’m a bit reassured.
I have never played or even heard this Chuck Berry version of Roll ‘Em Pete before, but it does make the move from boogie to jump blues to rock n roll very clear.
[note: this is a discussion that began as a fb post, then outgrew itself as I commented on my own post zillions of times.]
The list of people I’ve blocked on fb over the years correlates with the list of men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and harassment. This behaviour doesn’t happen in isolated incidents.
As R said on fb, “Scary stuff!”
…and yet kind of helpful. We can learn to identify the common traits of offenders.
This is one reason why we should be asking questions about events that don’t pay workers, don’t provide clear, written terms of employment/agreements, and don’t address other issues of equity and justice.
There is also often a correlation between exploiting workers (whether volunteers, paid employees, or contractors) and sexual harassment and assault. Which makes sense when you think of harassment and assault as being about power and control, instead of just being about sex (or even being about sex at all).
I’ve also noted that an insistence on not writing down terms and agreements also correlates with exploitation and harassment. If you don’t write down the terms of the agreement, then the worker (or the less powerful person in the relationship) can’t refer back to it to respond to questionable behaviour. It is much easier to gaslight someone (“It didn’t happen! You’re imagining it! You’re overreacting! It was just a joke!”) if you don’t have a clearly articulated list of what the job does and does not involve.
Incidentally, this is another reason why I actually explain what we define as sexual harassment in our code of conduct. So that people who just ‘have a feeling’ can follow up those ‘feelings’ with reference to a list of specific behaviours. When you have a list like this, and it’s in writing, and available to everyone, it’s much harder for someone to gaslight you, or pass off their behaviour as a ‘misunderstanding’.
I really like a code of conduct to be very specific.
And why I insist that people read it before they accept a job with me. If they read it, then we all know what’s on and what’s not on. And we remove that airy-fairy, amorphous confusion that benefits the people with social power (eg the power to physically intimidate).
A code of conduct is a way of empowering less powerful people. It gives them the tools to articulate their concerns, and to say, “Hey! STOP! I don’t like that!”
If you rely on ‘common sense’ or ‘the rule of law’ to determine how dancers treat each other, you assume that all parties have the same ‘common sense’ or the same understanding of the law and willingness to abide by this.
Which is obviously not the case.
In my case, I don’t think ‘the law’ actually does a good enough job of articulating behaviour I think is wrong or inappropriate. Nor does it deter men from offending.
And because dancers come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and share different values, we don’t have a ‘common’ sense of how we should treat each other. And it’s patently obvious that offenders do think it’s ok to harass and assault people.
So we need a clear outline of these values or sense or laws.
The truly terrifying thing is that I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a network of mutual protection between male offenders in the lindy hop scene.
As J said on fb, “I want so badly for you to be wrong about this…” Me too. But it’s logical. In many cases offenders don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong, so they don’t quash that behaviour in other men, and don’t manage their events to prevent it.
These thoughts were prompted by my going through my events for the rest of the year, and my DJing and traveling for next year. What are my limits as a punter and DJ. What events will I avoid? Do I need a written agreement and code of conduct to attend an event? If there is no explicit code, what sort of broader set of guidelines and strategies will I accept in substitute? If I do refuse to hire known offenders, how do I find out who these offenders are, if women are unwilling to publicise this knowledge, for fear of their own safety? And how do I develop the networks that can help provide this information?
All terribly cheering thoughts in this last, busy part of the dancing year.