Not everything I believe is true.

I’m still thinking about the the issues that came up in the teaching dance fb group.
Specifically the importance of fixing meaning.

It’s nice to advocate for the idea of gender or identity in dance as fluid and defying a fixed meaning. The sentiment that ‘anything is true’ is very appealing. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how having a fixed, authoritative meaning is important for radical or resistant politics. Of course, if this idea of fixed or essential identity is used by dominant ideology, by patriarchy, it doesn’t go well for queer folk and people of colour.

I would like very much to quote some of the comments and attribute sources from this fb discussion, but I’m not sure how these people would like their words used out of context, so I’m going to have to go all stealth on you. Sorry, and I’ll add names and attributions on request.

There are two points of view which really caught my eye. One of them was raised by a friend who is a little/lot/enough genderflex, and who posited that the leading and following are not as distinct as we like to insist. This was in response to this piece Why Leading Is Not More Difficult Than Following, and How to Make It True from the always-dodgy-and-a-little-bit-shit clickbait site Joy In Motion. That piece has been giving me the living shits.
This friend’s post began:

Regarding the “leading is not harder” article, ambidancing pedagogy, leading and following being different skill sets, and whether we should use lead/follow as nouns or just verbs.
I think I think about all this really differently, like super differently*. I completely agree that leading (as a verb) and following (as a verb) are different skill sets to learn, practice and use, but I really struggle with the conflating of skill set and role within the dance – the rigid assignment and division of these skill sets by role.

And it continued with some really great thinking and passionate points.

In sum, the key points were:
– leading and following are abilities/skill sets
– these skills aren’t welded to the role or lead or follow; they are transportable
The implicit ideology at work here (which all the people in that fb group are familiar with if not on board with), is that leading and following aren’t innately gendered, but are practically gendered by cultural context.

So this position can be read as an argument for skills/qualities being culturally associated with specific gender roles, but not innately gendered or associated with leads or follows.

Not a particularly controversial point, and it’s one I agree with.
I’ll say here, though, that this is as far as I’ll go on this one. I know there are people who argue that the role of lead and follow are essentially the same, and that we then just negotiate who does ‘some leading’ and ‘some following’ within each partnership. I don’t 100% dig on this, just as I don’t 100% dig on much of the ambidancetrous discourse floating about, particularly within the blues and fusion scenes.

I personally feel that within lindy hop, as a dance out of history, there are specific biomechanic, structural, and role-related qualities which defining leading and following. So while a follow may initiate a move or rhythm, I believe that ‘leading’ – being a lead – is about initiating and suggesting movements. The individual lead may enact this potential in different ways – from the leader who really asks the follow to do as they ask, to the leader who assumes a more open role of suggesting movements or shapes or speeds that the follow then chooses (or chooses not to) execute.
I believe that the acts of leading and following are different. And within lindy hop, we give those ‘leading’ elements to the leader role, and the following elements to the follow role. These have been historically gendered, but I am not on board with any bullshit about women being innately ‘better’ at following or men innately ‘better’ at leading. That’s patently not true.

My own physical understanding of leading is that it is not like following. I believe leaders in lindy hop have a different relationship to the beat than follows. They tend to be closer to the beat, while the follow is a little behind. By the nature of ‘following’. Though of course decent jazz dancers can adjust and play with this relationship to time and the beat. And should!
here are various characteristics of led and followed movement that mean the lead is often the pivot point or centre of a smaller point of rotation than follows (though obviously not always). As an example, the follow and lead move around a shared pivot point, and when things are working well, both move equal amounts. But many traditional or ‘heritage’ lindy hop moves or figures use the lead as a physical pivot point.
Leads often do more movement on a vertical plane, and follows more on a horizontal. I feel a bit shaky on this one, as this is purely a regional cultural thing, or specific to particular historical dancers. eg Jewel McGowan’s swivels rotate on a horizontal plain, while Frankie Manning’s swing out often uses a very vertical layout where he kicks back behind him. But it’s hard to pin this one down, as we can immediately think of a hundred exceptions to this rule. I wonder as well if the way we operate on vertical and horizontal planes is more informed by the biomechanics of particular lifestyles and particular cultural agents and individuals, than by some essential physics. In other words, we all live such individual lives and lifestyles with such unique bodies, and so few of us operate at our physical peak or potential, that our dancing cannot help but be individual and defy grouping at a very essential level.

Specific leads like Frankie Manning use the space within the reach of their own arms as ‘their space’ on the dance floor that they share with their partners, and while they are aware of and work with their partner’s body and reach and limits, this ‘space’ is primarily defined by the way the lead suggests and initiates movement within that specific range. The space might move across the floor, but is defined by that particular person’s body, range of motion, step size, gait, etc etc etc. When things are working well, it fits the lead and follow well, and a lead makes adjustments to their dancing and space to accommodate the follow and their creative expression and physical presence.

But let’s set all that aside. This is all stuff that I’m wading through in my own brain, mostly in relation to my own dancing. I have been lindy hopping for twenty years now, and I don’t suck. But I am certainly not operating anywhere near my physical peak, nor do I make best use of my body’s potential. I don’t train, I don’t care a heap about technical accuracy, and I tend to be driven my music and improvisation than by making an effort to refine what I do. So I tend to dance in a way that gets the job done for me, now. So the way I lead now is not the way I led when I was 23. I’m older, fatter, less fit, and more ornery now. But I’m also a better dancer now, and more efficient in my movements (because lazy), and I have pilates and yoga and lots of other experience under my belt.
But in my experience, following uses my body in different ways than leading. I have a different connection with the ground in each role. And most importantly (and elusively), my muscles and unconscious physical responses are completely different when I lead and follow. So if you look at my body and the way my muscles are engaged or look ‘in neutral’ as a lead vs as a follow, they’re completely different. I find that if I work on one role intensively, avoiding the other, I get much better at that role. And my unconscious reactions change. If I then swap bak (especially if I’m going from leading to following), my following tends to suck a bit. I tend to take the initiative more, initiating movements in a way a follow doesn’t. Because it interrupts what the lead is doing.
So I don’t know if my opinion on all this is just anecdata limited by sample size of one human’s first hand experience.

Which is exactly my point. Each human’s experience is the most important thing in their world.

So when my friend makes their point about leading and following being skills rather than innate qualities, they are mapping their own lived experience onto lindy hop. And that is vitally important. To make that statement is so, so important. Because it is a lived expression of their sense of self and of identity.
And there is nothing we can say that can make that untrue, or to disprove that.

So while I might go on and on about how leading and following are completely different, it doesn’t make my friend’s points any less true.

And I quite like that. I find it quite exciting to hold that idea in my head: my ideas can be 100% true at the same time as my friend’s somewhat contradictory ideas can also be 100% true.

This gets even more interesting when we look at a reply to this post from a black American woman. She and my friend discuss this issue in the most civil, most interesting conversation. They have fundamentally different understandings/experiences of identity, but they are listening and discussing. And both understand that these two different approaches are both valid and ‘true’, may conflict in theory, but in practice can quite happily live alongside each other on the dance floor.
Here are some excerpts from the second person’s responses:

I can’t disagree more. They are roles for a reason. Just because I have a voice as follow doesn’t make me “leading”. It means I have voice. Equal but different voice. Being able to do both is valid but saying they’re are no rules only dancing is not how this dance works. There are fundamental ideas of what makes a dance in black culture and how our culture shows up in them. Changing that is creating a new, and valid, but different dance.

The roles are tied to what you do in the world. I would never disrespect my partner by doing their time and ignoring my responsibilities as a follow.

If you take that out, it might as well be a dance from a different culture and therefore different rules and values. Aka a different dance

I dance both roles equally and teach with out gender (mostly blues now but hey). I have found most people who desire to share movement initiation either 1 feel like bored/limited in following and want to affect the dance more or 2 they are trying to upend the “follow is passive” concept. But both issues stop existing if you approach the rules in the cultural context of those who created it. I love all that comes with leading and all that comes with following. But I feel no need to mix them. My teammate/partner has that covered in this dance. A dance with different values and my feelings change

This is how I got to that post Muddling through thoughts about ethnicity and dance and gender. Alex had chimed in to say “I think there’s a lot of room for reasonable people to disagree on this”. And I agree with him. As I was writing that previous post, I was struck by just how comprehensively my experience and understanding of lindy hop is informed by my experiences as a white middle class woman living in urban Australia in the late 20th and early 21st century. I could see the privilege just leaking out of the screen each time I wrote ‘we’ when what I should have written was ‘me.’

For me, lindy hop is, ultimately, a discourse. It is a place and site and act of discussion and negotiation of ideology – ideas about the world. And some of those ideologies do not play well with others. In my brain, the part of me that did all that work on discourse analysis and models of public discourse for my phd, it’s ok for all these ideas to swirl about. It’s ok for me because being able to float along with conflicting ideas is a marker of privilege. My own lived experience isn’t disavowed by a genderflex understanding of leading and following.
But for a black woman, dancing today, a dance that developed in the social spaces of her people, her community, has gender and roles informed by that community. Because making these differences and distinctions disappear is an act of colonialism. Of oppression. It is exactly the sort of work that slavery did to suppress black culture on plantations and in domestic servitude. So I cannot and will not argue with a black American woman who is telling me what lindy hop is and means. I won’t even say “I can accept that and still hold my own beliefs, even in they disagree.” I simply have to shut up and accept this story about the way things are, this truth. Because it is a radical act of allydom to stop telling your own story, and to stop occupying public discourse. To cede it to the words and stories of another.

I think that this is the best bit. At the same time as I take this position, I can also believe that the genderflex approach to leading and following is true. Because I believe that when we dance, when we tell these stories, we make it true. And we need to keep telling and retelling our stories, which change and grow as we do. So if I want to believe my own ideas about dance, I have to get out there and dance them. And when I’m teaching – which is the key part of this whole thing – I have a duty and responsibility to remember the black history of these dances and tell these stories. Which is why I don’t think we should abandon the original names of historic jazz steps. Why I think we should namecheck OGs.
So when I teach, I let students figure out how they want to think about these issues. I can set them up with information about how to find out more about ideas – who to talk to about black dance history, which OGs were dancing when and were – but I definitely won’t tell them how to think about it.

At the end of the day, though, I think that genderflex and black American stories about lindy hop have much more in common with each other than with the dominant white patriarchal stories about lindy hop. They are both operating from positions of resistance, and lindy hop is very good for resistance and transgression.

More power to you all, sisters.

Muddling through thoughts about ethnicity and dance and gender

A very interesting discussion happened on fb recently in the teaching group.
The issue of gender and power and the nuances of leading and following was examined and tossed around in detail, in a very respectful, constructive way. One of the key points that came up was raised by a black American woman: this dance has real history and meaning. The gender roles and relationships at work in the history and material of lindy hop were real and meaningful to her, not just arbitrary social constructions from another culture or time. Because we were all working within a discussion of teaching – the transmission of ideas between individuals and groups, within relationships of power and knowledge – who says what is very important.

This lent the discussion a really important and useful edge, and it’s an issue I’ve seen come up in other feminist talk when ethnicity and intersectionality are recognised. For white women throwing off traditional european gender identities is empowering, but for this black woman, recognising and valuing black American gender identities is empowering. This is, of course, a very very… ESSENTIAL point in a discussion of identity and gender in postcolonial spaces: we have different values and goals. And it important for powerful white dancers to remember that they are speaking and writing and dancing from a position of contemporary and historical power.

When we are talking about cultural appropriation, to say “I want to lead in lindy hop, but I want to change the gender dynamics because they are bullshit” without any historical context, is problematic. For a black woman to say, “No, this is what this dance MEANS and MEANT,” is very important. It is essential that white dancers stop and listen. They may disagree, but the act of speaking up and defining what dance means is central to activism. As is the white response of ceding the floor and listening to black voices. With dance, where, as Tommy Defrantz said, under slavery, “serious dancing went underground, and dances which carried significant aesthetic information became disguised or hidden from public view. For white audiences, the black man’s dancing body came to carry only the information on its surface (DeFrantz 107). Stopping and listening to the story of meaning is part of making reparation for cultural appropriation.

This is why we need to not only engage with the dance, but with its history. And it’s important to remember that black women are not homogenous: different women will have different ideas and responses to the way gender is and was negotiated in black dance both then and now.

Me, I like this topic because it can’t ever be ‘settled’. We can’t ever be done and just forget. We should remember the darker parts of history, we should celebrity tenacity and creativity. It is a discussion in constant motion, as we respond to each person and each culture and each moment in history. We have to be agile. Intersectional.

Anyhoo, this is what I wrote in that thread, after a bit of thinking and listening.

I’ve been thinking and talking about this issue a lot. And I agree with Alex. There really is room for people to disagree on this issue. I think of it as more that because each of us is different, and come to the dance with different baggage, we’ll approach the dance in different ways. So, for example, a woman might really like following, and really enjoy working with leads who define quite strong shapes and structures. And that’s ok. The bit that’s worrying is when one particular approach becomes orthodox.

Having said that, I also think that while we’re enjoying one approach, we need to be actively engaged with, and respecting other approaches. We need to recognise and interrogate our own relative positions of power. So when I say ‘we’, I mean ‘we who have the power to speak, the status to have our opinion valued. I’m talking to white dancers. We need to state who we are, and where we come from, and how this affects our engagement with the fruits of another culture. I don’t want to just say ‘anything goes’ and ignore the history of oppression and cultural infringement of lindy hop and black cultural history. I want to keep that in mind: as a white woman in a postcolonial nation, I need to keep saying to myself: you are a visitor here. Pay respect.

And more importantly, we need to be continually referencing the history of this dance. And for me, that means, respecting the cultural history – the peeps – who developed these dances.
I think of it a bit like recognising the traditional owners of country: we actively say “I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this country, [name of country] Land, the [name] people.” And having an aunty or elder do a welcome to country is important: it gives you permission. Seeking welcome (ie permission to enter a country) is important. Not just for respecting current custodians of knowledge, but also to recognise and seek resolve for historical misdeeds.

I transfer that model to dance. I want to acknowledge the custodians of this knowledge (ie name check our OGs regularly, and name check our dance steps and their history). I want to make active payment for the use of this knowledge (whether by respect or donating money to various funds). I want to remind myself of my own privilege, as a white middle class woman living in an urban centre, engaging in a dance which came to me from an other culture and time.

So this way I feel I can adapt this dance (ie a cultural transmission or appropriation which is functional and not fucked up), but also ask, rather than demand.

For me this helps me straddle the ‘historical preservation/contemporary cultural relevance’ tension.

…I do think, as a dancer myself, that doing all this name checking and asking permission and acknowledging who I am, and my own social and cultural power, I give myself a way to be a better dancer. If I am honest with myself, and if I approach the dance with humility, but also belief in who I am, I can be more creative. I can do better art.

I don’t want to ‘be Frankie’; I don’t want to appropriate his space. I want to ‘be Sam’, and dance and be as me, inspired by the OGs, but not limited to imitating them.

DeFrantz, Thomas. “The Black Male Body in Concert Dance.” Moving Words: Re- Writing Dance. Ed. Gay Morris. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 107 – 20.

Lost post: the trouble with linear jazz narratives + more

Here’s a post I’ve just discovered, that may have fallen off my database somehow.

MAY 4, 2009

In the earliest parts of my researching into jazz history, I tried to set up a sort of ‘time line’ or map* of musicians and cities and bands. Who played with which band in what city at what time? Then where did they go? This approach was partly based on the idea that particularly influential musicians (like Armstrong) would spread influence, from New Orleans to New York and beyond.

But drawing these time lines out on pieces of paper, I found it wasn’t possible to draw a nice, clear line from New Orleans to New York, passing through particular bands. Musicians left New Orleans, went to New York, then back to New Orleans, then off to France, then back again to New York. The discographies revealed the fact that a band recorded in different cities during the year – they were in constant motion, all over America. Furthermore, musicians didn’t stick with one band, they moved between bands, they regularly used pseudonyms and even the term ‘band’ is problematic. The Mills Blue Rhythm Band, with its dozens and dozens of names, was in fact a shifting, changing association of musicians, and did not even have a fixed ‘core’ set of players. Perhaps this is why the MBRB is so important: many people played with them, and they were a band(s) which moved and changed shape, a loose network of musicians who really only existed as ‘a band’ when they were caught, in one moment, on a recording. Or perhaps on a stage (though that’s far more problematic). I wonder if that’s why it’s so hard to find a photo of them? Perhaps the ‘Mills Blue Rhythm Band’, as a discrete entity didn’t really exist?

The more I read about jazz and ‘jazz’ history, the more convinced I am by the idea of ‘jazz’ as a shifting series of relationships. I think about cities not as fixed locations, but as points on a sort of ‘trade route’ or even as a complicated web or network of relationships between individual musicians (which is, incidentally, how I think about international swing dance culture – the physical place is important, but it’s not binding).

Right now I’ve followed some references backwards to an article by Scott DeVeaux called Constructing the Jazz Tradition, which is really interesting. It not only outlines some of the political effects of a coherent ‘narrative’ history of jazz, but also the economic and social effects of positioning jazz as a ‘black music’, with interesting references to consequences of the ‘jazz musician as artist’ for black musicians. Read in concert with David Ake’s discussion of creole identity and ethnicity in New Orleans as far more complicated than ‘black’ and ‘white’, this makes for some pretty powerful thinking.

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I’m very interested in the idea of a ‘jazz canon’ and of the role of people like Wynton Marsalis, the Ken Burns Jazz discography, jazz clubs and magazines developing during the 30s and 40s devoted to New Orleans recreationism and the whole ‘moldy figs’ discussion. The tensions surrounding the Newport jazz festival also feed into this: the Gennari article (which I discuss in reference to its descriptions of white, middle class men rioting at Newport here) pointed out the significance of a festival program loaded with ‘trad’ jazz – for black musicians and for the popularising of jazz generally. I’ve also been reading about the effects of this emphasis on trad jazz for superstar musicians like Louis Armstrong.

O’Meally and Gabbard have written about the way Armstrong’s public, visual persona is marked by ethnicity.
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Armstrong was known for his visual ‘mugging’, or playing the ‘Uncle Tom‘ for white audiences, particularly on stage. Eschen writes

…as the struggle for equality accelerated, Armstrong was widely criticized as an Uncle Tom and, for many, compared unfavourably with a younger, more militant group of jazz musicians (193)

This, as Eschen continues, despite the fact that Armstrong was actually an active campaigner for civil rights in America, and overseas.
The trad jazz movement – or ‘moldy figs’ pushing for the preservation of an ‘authentic’ jazz from New Orleans – effectively pushes Armstrong to continue as Uncle Tom – unthreatening black man clowning for white audiences. A narrative history of jazz which emphasises a beginning in New Orleans and a consistent, clearly defined lineage of musicians and styles also, more subtly, relies on an idea of the black musician as powerless or unthreatening. DeVeaux makes the point that positioning jazz (and jazz musicians) as artistic loners who do not ‘sell out’ with commercial success:

Issues of ethnicity and economics define jazz as an oppositional discourse: the music of an oppressed minority culture, tainted by its association with commercial entertainment in a society that reserves its greatest respect for art that is carefully removed from daily life (530)

In this world, the ‘true’ jazz musician is ‘black’ (in a truly singular, homogenous sense of the world), he is poor and he is mugging for white audiences.
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Billie Holiday becomes a particularly attractive representation for this idea of the ‘jazz musician’: poor, black, addled by drugs and alcohol, a history of prostitution, yet nonetheless, a creative genius pouring out, untainted in recording sessions (and I’m reminded of the ‘one take’ stories) and tragically cut short.

All of this is quite disturbing for someone who really, really likes jazz from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Am I buying into this disturbing jazz mythology? It’s even more disturbing for someone who found similar themes in contemporary swing dancers’ development of ‘narratives’ and geneologies of jazz dance history. As DeVeaux writes (about jazz, not dance), though, this is

The struggle is over possession of that history, and the legitimacy that it confers. More precisely, the struggle is over the act of definition that is presumed to lie at the history’s core (528)

I wonder if I should suspect my own critique of capitalist impulses in contemporary swing dance discourse?

I don’t think it’s that simple. Gabbard discusses Armstrong’s work with Duke Ellington, including the filming of Paris Blues (in which Armstrong starred, and for which Ellington contributed the score) and the recording of the ‘Summit’ sessions:

at those moments in the film when he seems most eager to please with his vocal performances, his mugging is sufficiently exaggerated to suggest and ulterior motive. Lester Bowie has suggested that Armstrong is essentially slipping a little poison into the coffee of those who think they are watching a harmless darkie.Throughout his career in films, Armstrong continued to subvert received notions of African American identity, signifying on the camera while creating a style of trumpet performance that was virile, erotic, dramatic, and playful. No other black entertainer of Armstrong’s generation “with the possible exception of Ellington” brought so much intensity and charisma to his performances. But because Armstrong did not change his masculine presentation after the 1920s, many of his gestures became obsolete and lost their revolutionary edge. For many black and white Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he was an embarrassment. In the early days of the twenty-first century, when Armstrong is regularly cast as a heroicized figure in the increasingly heroicising narrative of jazz history, we should remember that he was regularly asked to play the buffoon when he appeared on films and television (Gabbard 298)

You can see a clip from Paris Blues here.

Armstrong’s performance gains meaning from its context, from the point of view of the observer, from his own actions as a ‘real’ person (Armstrong was in fact openly, assertively critical of Jim Crowism and quite politically active) and from its position within a broader ‘body’ of Armstrong’s work as a public performer. Pinning it down is difficult – it’s slippery.

The idea of layers of meaning is not only interesting, it’s essential. This physical performance of identity, tied to the physicality of playing an instrument reminds me of the layers of meaning in black dance. And of course, of hot and cool in dance, and the layers of meaning in blues dance and music. Put simply, what you see at first glance, is not all that you are getting. Layers of meaning are available to the experienced, inquiring eye. Hiding ‘true’ meanings (or more subversive subtexts) is important when the body under inspection is singing or dancing from the margins. Tommy DeFrantz discusses meaning and masculinity in black dance during slavery:

serious dancing went underground, and dances which carried significant aesthetic information became disguised or hidden from public view. For white audiences, the black man’s dancing body came to carry only the information on its surface (DeFrantz 107).

Armstrong’s performance is more than simply its surface. As with any clown, the meanings are more complex than a little light entertainment. Gabbard continues his point:

In short, Ellington plays the dignified leader and Armstrong plays the trickster. Armstrong’s tricksterisms were an essential part of his performance persona. On one level, Armstrong’s grinning, mugging, and exaggerated body language made him a much more congenial presence, especially to racist audiences who might otherwise have found so confident a performer to be disturbing, to say the least. When Armstrong put his trumpet to his lips, however, he was all business. The servile gestures disappeared as he held his trumpet erect and flaunted his virtuosity, power, and imagination (Gabbard 298).

This, of course, reminds me of that solo in High Society that I mentioned in a previous post. There’s some literature discussing the physicality of jazz musician’s performances, but I haven’t gotten to that yet (though you know I’m busting for it). I have read some bits and pieces about gender and performance on stage (especially in reference to Lester Young), and there’re some interesting bits and pieces about trumpets and their semiotic weight, but I haven’t gotten to that yet, either.

Sorry to end this so abruptly: these are really just ideas in process. :D

To sum all that up:
– The idea of a jazz musician as ‘isolated artist’ is problematic, especially in the context of ethnicity and class. Basically, the ‘true jazz musician who doesn’t sell out by making money’ is bad news for black musicians: it perpetuates marginalisation, not only economically, but also discursively, by devaluing the contributions of black musicians who are interested in making a living from their music. Jazz musicians are also members of communities.

– Linear histories of jazz are problematic: they deny the diversity of jazz today, and its past. Linear histories with their roots in New Orleans, insisting that this is ‘black music’ overlook the ethnic diversity of New Orleans in that moment: two categories of ‘black’ and ‘white’ do not recognise the diversity of Creole musicality, of the wide range of migrant musicians, of the diversity within a ‘white’ culture (which is also Italian and English and American and French and….), of economic and class relations in the city, and so on.

– ‘linear histories’ + ‘musician as artist’ neglect the complexities of everyday life within communities, and the role that music plays therein. These myths also overlook the fact that music is not divorced from everyday life; it is part of a continuum of creative production (to paraphrase LeeEllen Friedland and to refer to discussions about Ralph Ellison – which I will talk about later on).

– Music and dance have a lot in common. They carry layers of meaning, and aren’t simply discrete canvases revealing one, singular meaning to each reader. They are weighted down by, buoyed up by a plethora of ideas and themes and creative industrial practices and sparks.

DeFrantz, Thomas. “The Black Male Body in Concert Dance.” Moving Words: Re- Writing Dance. Ed. Gay Morris. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 107 – 20.

DeVeaux, Scott, “Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography” Black American Literature Forum 25.3 (1991): 525-560.

Eschen, Penny M. The real ambassadors. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 189-203.

Friedland, LeeEllen. “Social Commentary in African-American Movement Performance.”
Human Action Signs in Cultural Context: The Visible and the Invisible in
Movement and Dance
. Ed. Brenda Farnell. London: Scarecrow Press, 1995. 136 –
57.

Gabbard, Krin. “Paris Blues: Ellington, Armstrong, and Saying It with Music”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 297-311.

Gennari, John. “Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: the Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival.” Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 126-149.

Lipsitz, George. “Songs of the Unsung: The Darby Hicks History of Jazz,” Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004: 9-26.

O’Meally, Robert G. “Checking our Balances: Louis Armstrong, Ralph Ellison and Betty Boop”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 276-296. (You can see the animated Betty Boop/Armstrong film O’Meally references here.

*The jazz map was found via jazz.com, but they don’t list the url for the map in context.
There’s something seriously addictive about historic ‘jazz maps’. I think it’s because they’re imaginary places. My latest find: New Orleans ‘jazz neighbourhoods’.

Ohai Australian lindy hoppers!

There are a stack of themed dances and dance events coming up in the next few months (I’m looking at you, Canberrang). That means, white folk, you don’t want to be offending your dancing friends with your accidental racism.

So this is your aunty reminding you:

  • lackface is never ok. No, stop. You can’t argue this one;
  • Dressing up in ‘oriental’ costumes (including ‘yellowface’ – whether facepaint or dodgyarse ‘geisha’ stuff) is also usually offensive. Yes, even that lovely cheongsam can be culturally insensitive;
  • Yes, I am ruining your (racist) fun, but you’re not Lawrence of Arabia, and you might want to look at the history of the fez, and European occupation of Morocco before you costume up;
  • Dressing up in the ‘servant’ costumes from that Hellzapoppin clip (maids, bakers, chefs, mechanics) is similarly suss (we get the race/class/gender trifecta there).

Not sure whether your costume idea is ok? Don’t wear it.
If in doubt, you can’t go past a clean shirt or a nice dress. Or whatever you usually wear when you want to feel nice for a party.

Next post: camel costumes – who doesn’t love an ungulate?

public space, violence and white male privilege

An internet friend was responding to a discussion about black and white victims of violence, and noted the privilege of whiteness (in response to this piece). She wrote:

i tend to thumb my nose at a lot of the “safe practices” for being a woman.

And then continued, engaging with the issue of privilege and public space.
I wanted to respond to her post there, but I don’t want to get her in trouble on fb, so I’m writing it here instead.

This is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking more and more about the importance of private v public space for women and women’s bodies. The common (mis)perception of sexual assault, is that it happens in public places (eg dark parks) and is done by strangers to us. While we’re certainly at some risk of assault in these circumstances, we are far more likely to be assaulted in our own homes by people we know.

So to protect ourselves, we should be more critical of the men in our immediate, private spaces, and we should ask men to question their own behaviour and own perceptions of ‘who does violence to women’. It is not strangers; it is the men we know. Who is it who assaults white women? It is white men. White men who are our friends, family, colleagues, and employers.

I’m at the point in my work with dance spaces and violence, where it has become clear that the only way we can move forward, beyond ‘awareness’ is to a) dismantle the broader systems of power that privilege men and their desires, therefore objectifying women, and b) to say ‘yes all men’. That last statement is proving to be the most provocative. I have a sparkly sticker on my laptop that says ‘yes all men’. A friend made it, and it is meant to be a provocation. Each time I take my laptop out in public, I imagine how I’ll respond to people’s commenting on the sticker.
I think I’ll say “Yes, all men. All men are responsible for the violence of men against women. All men have a responsibility to police their own and other men’s behaviour. Because men have more power than women in these situations.”

Because the point we are at now – and this is the difficult part – is one where men must begin to give up privilege and power. They need to give up the idea that rapists are ‘strange violent (black) men in public spaces’ (ie people completely unlike themselves), and accept that rapists are their friends, families (ie people completely like themselves). They need to take responsibility for their own actions, and for those of other men.

Frankly, I can’t see too many men being ok with that.

So each time I scroll past this post of yours, and I read your line “i tend to thumb my nose at a lot of the “safe practices” for being a woman” it makes perfect sense. Because ‘safe practices’ aren’t about women’s safety. They’re about safeguarding myths about men’s responsibilities for their own actions. By staying away from dark parks, you’re not being safe. You’re accepting the bullshit about who rapes who. By choosing to walk through dark parks you are saying “Hello, rapists are responsible for raping; where and when I choose to walk does not make me responsible for the violence of others.”

Now, when we’re being asked to talk about safety and race and ethnicity, it’s made clear that the people who most need to ‘be safe’ are white men. They need to take responsibility for making the world safer for the rest of us, by policing their own behaviour. White men – men with the most power in our communities – have the greater responsibility.

It is not my job to tell you not to rape and attack women. It is your job. It is every man’s job to choose not to attack women. And the people who have the greatest power have the most opportunities to assault people. And they must choose not to. I can make a code of conduct, I can ban offenders and police those bans. I can skill up my volunteers. But at the end of the day, all men have to choose not to rape and assault and attack.
Yes, all men.

Heroes Of Jazz and other Visible Mythologies

angela_davis_otu_img
(photo by Andy Friedman from The Nation article linked below)

There was an interesting (and particularly stroppy) discussion about the ‘lindy hop career’ on the Jive Junction facebook page a little while ago that I keep thinking about.

I have real problems with stories about jazz music and jazz dance (both historical and contemporary) that present it as a series of stories about heroic figures. Particularly heroic men. Who aren’t burdened by caring for children or partners. Or otherwise engaged with their local communities.
I get really shitty about this approach because it ignores all the other labour that makes art possible: cooking meals, earning money, cleaning houses, paying for doctors, networking with venue managers, agents, producers, and recording record labels, etc etc etc. And it ignores all the ways in which artists are engaged with and participate in their local communities, and how all these relationships shape their creative work.

This was something that the Ken Burns Jazz documentary did, and which I’ve written about a bunch of times, in posts like:

I was reminded of this today by a quote-pic (don’t you hate those? Can’t search them!) getting about on twitter. This is the bit that interested me:

Frank Barat: You often talk about the importance of movements rather than individuals. How can we do that in a society that promotes individualism as a sacred concept?

Angela Davis: Even as Nelson Mandela always insisted that his accomplishments were collective—also achieved by the men and women who were his comrades—the media attempted to sanctify him as a heroic individual. A similar process has attempted to dissociate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the vast numbers of women and men who constituted the very heart of the mid-twentieth-century US freedom movement. It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.

“A Q&A With Angela Davis on Black Power, Feminism and the Prison-Industrial Complex” – The Nation 27 Aug 2014

I’m a bit of a fan of Angela Davis, and have written about her before in A long story about blues, women, feminism, and dance.

Everyday racism and lindy hop

I think Suzanne Nguyen and Daniel Reeders’ piece Defining and Responding to Everyday Racism is useful to the discussion about race, ethnicity, and anti-semitism in lindy hop happening at the moment. It gives me some tools for figuring out just why these recent events get right up my bum.

I am heartily tired of people insisting that such and such is a ‘really nice guy’ (oh, i’ve known him for a million years, he’s my bff, he’s so nice!) or ‘just made a mistake (yet again)’ (she’s russian! we don’t know about black face!), or ‘he’s harmless’ (he’s just being a dick. Again. He’s harmless), and so they can’t have been engaging in racist/anti-semitic behaviour.

There seem to be an awful lot of privileged white guys who are ‘just joking’ when they wear black face or black face or a fat suit or make an anti-semitic gesture in high profile dance competitions. Just once, and I’d think aberration. But so many times, and I’m thinking pattern.

I don’t even think these are as simple as the ‘micro-aggressions’ described in Suzanne and Daniel’s piece: this is a straight up pattern of bullshit which reminds the lindy hop community that straight white folk have power in our community. And if we question the dodgy things people do, we are just ‘not getting the joke’. Apparently ‘the joke’ is that it’s ok for white guys to pull offensive bullshit that effectively normalises racism, anti-semitism… and all that other nasty stuff.

and the quenelle discussion continues…

I have a minute (when I really should be working):

SwingNation SE03: Controversy at ILHC 2014

(via yehoodi on faceplant)

Deary me, this one is a mess.

My first comment is: if someone has to be dared to do something, surely they’ve figured out that it’s not a great idea? Or that there’s some sort of risk?
And I don’t buy the ‘living outside France, didn’t really know what was up with the quenelle argument.’ I live outside France, I’m not French, and even I’ve learnt about the quenelle.

My second comment is: you made a neo-nazi, anti-semitic gesture at an international dance competition. Not once, but several times. Your friends (high profile, international level lindy hop teachers) dared you to do it.

So you and your friends made a gesture which is associated with groups who advocate (and perpetrate) violence against jews in a public forum, in front of an audience of hundreds (thousands if you include the internet). You meant to make the gesture – it wasn’t an accident.

At the very least, all of them have (or _should_ have) jeopardised future teaching contracts around the world, and at the worst, you’ve presented the ILCH and lindy hop as a community that is not only ok with anti-semitism, but advocates violence. More to the point, even if you all were blissfully unaware of the real meaning of the gesture (and I call bullshit on that point), you have all made it clear that you have very poor judgement, and are likely to do very stupid things just on a dare. Not exactly great qualities in a teacher who’ll be flown around the world at great expense to teach dance and work as a role model and mentor to lindy hoppers in many different scenes.

The part that bothers me most about all of this, is that event organisers will probably still hire you to mentor and work with dancers in their scenes, even though you’ve made it clear that you are capable of fairly serious failures of common sense.

To my mind, even the very best apology you can possibly make will not in any way wipe this slate clean.

Wowsers. Nice one, lindy hoppers.

“Oh, it’s ok, he’s a nice guy who just wants to have fun. So his anti-semitism was just a joke.”

“It’s awful we can’t watch their routine any more, because my pleasure in their dancing is more important than their anti-semitism.”

Yehoodi

ILHC on fb

Yehoodi discussion on facebook

Lindy hoppers, get a fucking reality check. We’re talking about two French dancers knowingly including an anti-semitic gesture in a dance routine at an international lindy hop competition. There is no way they would not known what quenelle is – the gesture is freaking illegal in France. And to argue that this gesture is ‘just anti-authoritarian’ rather than anti-semitic is one fucked up argument. Your government has made anti-semitic gestures illegal, so your making that gesture is ok because you’re just ‘fighting the man’, and can’t possibly be contributing to, or normalising, anti-semitic sentiment? PUHLEESE.

I hadn’t heard anything about this issue until it had mostly passed, because I was running an event that weekend, and have been very busy since, but when a friend commented about it on facebook, I commented with:

————————
Wowsers. That’s really full on. I didn’t know anything about quenelle before this, so I didn’t recognise it in the routine. I did go and look it up, though, and it’s clearly a fairly offensive gesture. On the one hand it’s a hitlerian salute – an inverted ‘heil hitler’ gesture’ with clear anti-semitic overtones. On other hand, the meaning of the gesture has changed a bit in France to more ‘anti-establishment’. HOWEVER, the gesture is banned in France, and is so well-known, and so hotly debated, that you’d have to be living under a rock in France if you didn’t know that it is considered anti-semitic, and is used by scary arse neo-nazis in France.

I don’t think many australians (or perhaps americans?) realise just how scary the new right (neo-nazi) movement is in Europe at the moment, and it seems ridiculous that people would make a ‘hitlerian’ gesture at all. But Irene and William made a very poor judgement using that gesture. While they may have been riffing on the ‘momma, you treat your daughter mean’ theme in the dance, it was a bad thing to do. And it was correct for ILHC to immediately distance themselves from that – they do _not_ want that sort of gesture associated with their event. No matter what the intent.

I’d double check the facts on this, though, as Rick’s made some factual errors on the yehoodi site lately.

—————–

William’s response to this issue:

William Mauvais: Hey guys, im sorry if i have hurt anybody with the routine it was not our intention and i think this is really crazy!!!!!

My mom and i worked so hard from far away, i leave in France she lives in Canada and she worked pretty hard by herself to make this routine fun. Anyway all of those things are going so far… We are dancers and not politicians!!!!!!

Anyway i think that this is really sad. Take off a video from youtube especially when its a swing routine with no political thoughts behind except the joy of sharing our passion.

For those who see something im very sorry but thats not the meaning we wanted to have….

Its just sad that my mom cannot share this video with our family cause that’s why we did it, because we are leaving far from each other and all our family wants to see what a son and a mom can do and the complicity that we can have together!!!!

Anyway after 7600 views on our video in 2 days and only good comments on the video, our family is devastated about the situation!!!!

Just to finish with, if people are offended about the video please don’t hesitate to contact me and talk about it.

I’m not gonna talk about this again cause i think its a waste of time!!!

Thank you and keep on swingin’ (source

Frankly, this response is even worse than the ignorance of including the original gesture. “I’m not gonna talk about this again cause i think its a waste of time!!!” Are you fucking KIDDING ME?
You think a discussion about anti-semitism is a waste of time?! You didn’t notice that anti-semitism in Europe is on the rise, and also PEOPLE ARE DYING?!

As I said on the facey, “I reckon William just didn’t think it through, and perhaps just doesn’t think that anti-semitism gestures are that bad. Which implies he’s ok with anti-semitism. Which scares me.” It’s also terrifying that Eruopeans might be so ‘used’ to anti-semitism, and have so internalised anti-semitism that they just don’t see it as worth their time. This is some scary arse shit. And it’s really serious and important.

James William McGraw commented on the Yehoodi FB page:

I’m not satisfied with William’s response. Did he know A) That this gesture was in the piece before it was performed and B) Did he and Irene know what it meant before they performed it. If it is the case they both knew and did it anyways, they should have their placement stripped and be banned from the event for at least a year.
28 August at 17:09

And I agree. I’m just not satisfied by this ridiculous answer.

Honestly, so many people were ‘ok’ with blackface routines, and others are ‘ok’ with sexual harassment and misogyny at a national competition night, and now we think questioning anti-semitism is a waste of time?

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, LINDY HOP.

EDIT: William posted this 20 hours ago:

William Mauvais

To the lindy hop community,

In regards to my pro am with my mom this year at ilhc:

In the dancing there was a gesture that has become a huge misunderstanding. This was intended to be harmless, but regardless of that, it offended people in my life and community that I care about very much.

For that, I would like to express my apologies to the ILHC team and anybody that was offended by the gesture.

For the video removal: we completely understand the decision and are very grateful that we were not disqualified. Thank you for your understanding.
We love the lindy hop and our community, we didn’t mean to hurt anyone. This is a dance and community that is based on fun and having a good time. We wish only to do that, and once again apologize to anyone that was offended.

Keep on Swingin’ and hope to see you all soon!!!

William.
20 hrs · Like · 8

Don’t read the whole of that thread. The stupid: it burns.[/edit]

EDIT 2: I was going to keep updating this post, because it’s an interesting (and ongoing) issue. But I just don’t have the time at to do it justice at the moment. So I’ll have to leave this here, I’m afraid. And I’m sorry I had to leave it on such a fierce note. Perhaps the best thing about this issue, is that there’s been ongoing public discussion about it, and that the ILHC has been publicly engaged with the discussion, and William and his mother Irene have also returned to the discussion. I’m not entirely happy with the way this is being resolved, but I am happy that we are having an open, public discussion.
I recommend keeping an eye on the ILHC facebook page, rather than the yehoodi page, because I’m finding the yehoodi page is a beat behind and tends to not quite have the facts straight.