A city that sees snow in winter and scorches in summer, Seoul revels in the more moderate seasons. Cooling weather sees young women and men adopting softer, boxier silhouettes. We’re seeing bulky knits, raglan-sleeved sweaters that are definitely sloppy joes, and dropped shoulders everywhere. These comfortable shapes end at the hip, bottomed with slim pedal pushers for both sexes. But we don’t think gentlemen will be revealing those elegant ankles once winter comes.
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.
One of the things I like most about Seoul is the culture of visual information. ie signs with pictures. It draws on comic book culture, but also reflects, content-wise, Korean communitarian ethos and values. So informational signs like this one from the subway focus on individuals doing the right thing not for their own safety, but for the safety and comfort of others. Many of the signs also emphasise on younger people’s responsibilities to older people. It’s a really great discursive tool for peeps to have at hand.
Another thing I really like is the way the Dance Safe peeps in Seoul have used these practices to do some pretty impressive stuff. Here is one of the posters I saw stuck up outside SwingTime Bar in Seoul, above one of the benches where everyone sits to change their shoes (Seoul dancers change shoes before they enter the studio space). So, perfect placement.
The poster itself is solid gold. It has a light hearted, charming feel very much in keeping with Korean visual educational media texts. It uses animals rather than ‘women’ or ‘men’ symbols, which means it avoids gender binaries and norms. Even though I don’t read Korean, I can still get the message.
Dance Safe are a group of Korean peeps (men and women!) who’re working super hard to raise awareness about personal safety, sexual harassment, and mutual respect in the biggest lindy hop scene in the world. This is no mean feat, as the sheer scale of the scene means they need a zillion posters, pamphlets, and people involved. They’re doing some fund raising (with the support of various local organisers) to get $$ together to cover their printing costs.
My media studies/cultural studies brain is super interested in this project. This is almost exactly the sort of work I did in my Phd: how do dancers use media texts within a community so focussed on the body?
These guys are doing things that fascinate my academic brain, but also my activist brain and event organiser brain. How, _how_ are they pulling off this stuff?! I see some racist bullshit coming out of the English speaking lindy hop world about ‘Asian’, and ‘Russian’, and ‘French’ dancers, accusing them of not understanding ‘safe space’ ideology ‘because of culture’. But in my experience with dancers from these countries and other NES scenes, the activism is as exciting and engaged – if not more so – than the English speaking world.
Part of me thinks we need a conference to get all of the safe space activists in dance together to share this sort of information. How exciting!
Check out this simple little symbol on this event flyer.
It says ‘we support safe spaces’, and it’s slipped in there next to the venue, organising body logos. This placement says ‘this is as important as who runs this event’ and ‘we are proud of this’.
It’s not the perfect little symbol, and I’d probably say ‘this is a safe space’, but it WORKS.
Just like flying a rainbow flag or having a rainbow sticker in your window, just like the pink triangle, this little symbol says “We are onto this.”
I’ll be attending EASY DOES IT…. tonight. (well, I probably would anyway, because live band, two floors dancing in a squashy bar: my favourites.
I do have a question, though: this is a public event, and the venue is a bar. How will the venue be enforcing safe space policies? Legit question, and out of curiousity, as we work closely with the PBC, and rely on their own commitment to equity and safety.
Now I’m all excited about community partnerships in working for safety and equity at dance events. I’d be curious to see how Nevermore Jazz Ball and Jenny Shirar and Christian Frommelt approach these things in their very-community-focussed event.
Once again, I’m writing a post that’s meant to be short, but will no doubt be enormous.
Herräng uses staff DJs and volunteer/guest DJs for music each night on its three (or occasionally more) dance floors. There are also unofficial official staff DJs who provide music for the special themed Midnight Ramble parties in the library. Staff DJs are provided with a pretty good renumeration package (which I can’t go into online because confidentiality, but can discuss in person), and guest DJs are given free entry to the night they DJ.
Staff DJs’ duties include:
- Regular meetings about DJing;
- DJing every night for 7 days, at any time between 10pm and 11am the following day;
- DJing in blocks of at least 2 hours at a time;
- DJing to the Herräng music brief;
- Being available for other themed or special sets (eg early RnB, shared sets, competitions, taxi dances, shows, band breaks, afternoon dances, etc);
- DJing for lindy hop, balboa, slow drag, boogie woogie and solo dance.
And usually a few other random things are expected of you (eg dropping in to meetings or talks about DJing and music, mentoring or riding shot gun on newer DJs’ sets, being ‘around’ and participating in camp life).
All of this is most excellent fun, very fulfilling, but quite tiring. It is definitely a full time job. And the role requires professionalism (being on time, having all the gear, being good to work with), practical skills (knowing how to work a mixing desk, how to DJ comps or special dances, mic skills, can keep the floor not only full but exciting and interesting for several hours), and a solid musical collection.
All the DJs I’ve worked with at Herräng have extensive music collections (far beyond the lindy hopping ‘favourites’), and devote hours each week to preparing sets and making sure they have an idea of what they might play. This preparation is a continual response to what’s happening in camp, the music they hear each night, the bands playing each night, and the general mood or vibe of the event.
And all the staff DJs also have a creative instinct that makes them suggest ideas for special sets, shared sets, or just general party ideas.
Volunteer or Guest DJs have a different job.
They are booked on a per-set basis, doing one set at a time, usually for one to two hours only, and may not be asked to DJ again during their stay. They must also play to the Herräng music brief, and submit previous set lists. The usual professionalism and practical skills are required. Most of the guest DJs are also then recommended or vetted by an experienced DJ or dancer.
Basically, you can’t just walk in and ask to DJ then score a spot. This is as per normal for any large, reputable event.
The Midnight Ramble DJs have a different role again. They usually have very specialised collections and/or skill sets. eg they may DJ an early RnB set, a latin set, or a slow drag set. This means that they have extensive collections of these types of music, and special skills. They’re often DJs who use vinyl or shellac, and are vastly experienced, working with the particular demands of this themed room/party.
All Herräng DJs are managed by the DJ managers. This year and last, the managerial role was shared by two very experienced DJs who also have a lot of experience with Herräng. This year we were lucky enough to have Meghan Gilmore (Canada) and Jonas Larsson (Sweden) as our managers.
Each day the managers liaise with the various stage managers, event managers, and other Herräng staff to put together a program of DJed music on three (or more) dance floors that begins at 10pm and can end as late as the first class in the folkletshus ballroom (ie 11am or later). This program juggles live performances by bands and other acts, the evening meeting, the demands of particular parties (eg Midnight Rambles, the beginner hour, balboa nights and so on), and each DJs’ skills, preferences, and workload. There are frequently last minute changes to the program, and both managers and DJs need to be able to respond enthusiastically, calmly, and competently to changes.
Meghan and Jonas were the best DJ managers I’ve ever worked with, in ten years of DJing. They were calm, professional, and very excellent company. They know HEAPS about music, are very experienced DJs, and were just wonderful to work with. I felt that they really had my back and were supporting me at all times. Even when my laptop died on day 1 of my contract, they were right there holding my hand. Or at least sending me comforting fb messages. They also knew how to lead, and how to put the breaks on madcap schemes that were a little too madcap. DJs can be quite headstrong and a little too sure of themselves (and their schemes) sometimes, and both Meghan and Jonas were very good at curbing in some of the less sensible scheming. Which I think is very important. I want to know my DJ managers have limits and a clear sense of what they want, and what is achievable, so that I can just go ahead and be full-on DJ nut, knowing they’ll say No when No needs to be said.
Meghan and Jonas also put quite a bit of work into developing a sense of team camaraderie. They provided a comfortable office close to other Herräng staff offices, so that we could both have a place to store our stuff and work quietly, and also meet and mix with other staff. We found our office was often a popular place for unofficial catch-ups and socialising by other staff. Not as rowdy as other offices, not as full-on as other offices. The fact that there was always a stack of records or someone wanting an opinion on a particular song was only a bonus for camp where pretty much everyone is music obsessed.
We also had a couple of organised dinners and DJ-friendly parties/catch ups, which were very nice. I found that this team of DJs gelled particularly well. I adore them all, and I miss them SO much. I loved their music, I loved their commitment to DJing, but I also really liked their ‘let’s have FUN!’ approach to dancing and DJing. And they made me laugh like a fool, so many times. Having a good, solid team of buddies around me really made the long hours and challenges of staff DJing easier. And I learnt a LOT about music and DJing from them all. It was really lovely to be part of this group.
This year the DJing at Herräng was particularly good. Jonas and Meghan had worked hard to find DJs beyond the usual subjects. They found DJs from all over the world, who were both excellent DJs, and had excellent taste in music. And, incidentally, they had gender parity in weeks 2,3,4, and 5 of the 6 weeks of the camp. This is very unusual in the lindy hopping world, and the consequences were very interesting. Things I thought this gave us, as dancers:
- A wider range of DJs, people I’d never heard before, and who had interesting, new ways of thinking about DJing;
- A wider range of DJing styles and musical collections;
- Better music for dancing;
- A much more interesting and fun working environment: this wasn’t a DJ Bro team. It was a diverse, interesting group of people who worked fucking hard, valued great music, but could work a crowd like fucking ROCKstars;
- As a whole, two of the clearer consequences were crowded, crazy dance floors, and crowds who stayed up much later dancing. As a DJ and dancer, I found myself spending more time hanging around the DJ booth listening to the DJs who were working, or sitting next to them listening to them work. It was very exciting, and the BEST fun.
Who was on staff in Herräng this year?
Ralph Hueur(Boogie) [Germany], Felix Berghäll (Boogie) [Sweden], Philippe Crompton-Roberts [Hong Kong], Jon Tigert [USA]
Christina Loukaki [Greece], Jon Tigert [USA], Arnas Razgūnas [Lithuania], Leru [ Russia/China],
Sam Carroll [Australia], Heidi Van Der Wijk [ Netherlands], Anton Cervin [Sweden], Jonas Olsson [Denmark]
Birkley Wisniewski [Canada], Helena Martins [Brazil], Laura Spencer [USA/Germany], Dan Repsch [USA]
Kris Bauwens [Belgium], Susanne Kenross [Sweden], Haerim Kim [South Korea], Sage Min [ South Korea]
Featured Guest DJs:
Frida Häggström (week 1 to 5), Big Papa Mac (week 1 to 3), Natty Bo (July 20 and 21), Stephan Wuthe (week 3 and 5)
Guest/volunteer DJs included:
Arnas, Pontus ?, Philippe, Jonas Olsson, Sam Carroll, Alexey Kazannov, Felix, Miroslav Mironov, James Pack, Olov ?, Vasily Muravyev, Olga Moiseeva, Jon Tigert, Nathan ?, Skye Humphries, Gaston Fernandez, Veit, Rasmus, Daphna Harel, Soo chan Lee, Leo Newman, Ramona Staffeld, Ingrid ?, Naomi Uyama.
As you can see, some of the staff DJs also did some volunteer DJing. For me, it was in week 2 so I could get rid of some nerves and settle down to DJing. People like Jon T just have mad skills and love DJing. People like Olga are THE BEST.
I have to pause and rave about a couple of those volunteer DJs. Olga Moiseeva from Moscow (now based in Brussells). WOW. Just the best. She has mad skills. And has also been a key player in Moscow becoming the historically grounded, fun-centred lindy hop scene it is today. Vasily Muravyev, also Russian, still based in Moscow, has been one of those people who DJs regularly at home, and SHOULD have been DJing at bigger events like Herräng, but just needed a bit of a push to get into it. Gaston is of course, an experienced, fantastic DJ, and one of my favourites. Other DJs in this list did some lovely work too. I didn’t hear any shithouse DJing. Which is a testament to Meghan and Jonas’ hard work and carefully vetting of DJs.
But my favourite was Naomi Uyama. Yes. That Naomi. Sure, she’s a grand lindy hopper. We know that. I reviewed her band’s first album in this post and did a follow up post here.
It should surprise no one that such a talented band leader is also a fantastic DJ. But, having said that, there are a few band leaders who are also DJs, but not terribly awesome DJs.
What made her so good? 1) Song choices. Familiar, unusual, all awesome, 2) The way she put them together.
Shit. She is just such a fucking great DJ.
In sum, my picks for a superhot DJ team from Herräng’s guest DJ team would include Olga, Naomi, Frida Häggström, Vasily, and probably John Tigert. John is an interesting one, as at first glance he seems a bit of a cowboy, prone to showing off. But I’ve found over the last couple of years that I’ve ended up sitting next to him while he DJs a few times. Because he’s such a thoughtful, inspired DJ. He kind of settles into the job, focussing on the dancers, with a really good feel for what they feel, and then making good, solid, creative songs choices to work with those feels. Frida is kind of intimidating, as she’s quite reserved, but you shouldn’t let that stop you getting to know her, and her DJing. She can basically do anything. Anything old, and anything fucking GOOD. I once danced like a crazy fool to a 20s dance band set she did in the library. Not something I’d usually dig, but mate. She has SKILLS. And an unparalleled collection. Get to know her, and get to know her collection: she is A1.
I’d also make sure you had Arnas from Lithuania on that team. He’s fun, and he makes a very good coffee. He’s also a skilled DJ, who is prone to DJ cowboyism. But it always pays off.
I could go on and on and on about the DJs from Herräng this year that I loved. Heidi from Rotterdam: what a fucking gun. Tireless, fearless, fierce. Excellent. Anton and Jonas, Jonas and Meghan. Really, the very best.
Such most excellent fun. Did enjoy. Would do again.
I’m just back from two weeks at the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden.
Just in case you didn’t know, the Herräng dance camp runs for 5 weeks in a little town in Sweden called Herräng. Herräng focuses
on the American vernacular swing dance tradition.
That means all the dancing and music in the program (and around camp for the most part) is jazz. African American Jazz. This definition stretches a little for dances like balboa, but African dances, hip hop, various latin dances, and other fun stuff squeeze in as well. So this really is a camp devoted to dance and music of the African diaspora, with emphasis on the jazz and swing eras.
When we say ‘camp’, we’re not talking a school camp where you sleep in dorms or cabins, or a tents-and-firepit camp. We’re talking about a whole range of accommodation (from private houses to dorms, tents, shared rooms, and caravans).
The camp itself is huge, spreading across the town’s folkets hus, dansbana, school, sporting ground, marina, shop, private homes and roads, local forest, and camp grounds. Dancers are fed in a bar, ice cream parlour, and cafe (all run and produced by the camp), and a number of other local food outlets. The classes are taught on the two dance floors, and then in a series of huge marques.
Herräng employs around 150 staff each week, and sees between 700 and >1000 campers per week. But you never really ever spend time with 1000 people at once, as there simply isn’t anywhere big enough in camp to hold us all. My usual Herräng experience is with a handful, a classful, or a dancefloor full of people.
There are 7 departments within the administration, and the camp board includes three famous dancers (Frida Segardahl, Lennart Westerlund, and Daniel Heedman).
Herräng hires 77 top shelf dance teachers, about 10 formal bands (and zillions of jam session groups), around 26 staff DJs (about 5 or 6 working 7 days per week on 3 dance floors 10pm-10am), and ~24 guest/volunteer DJs each year.
There are full time carpenters, laundry staff, doctors, chefs, cleaners, IT workers, staff managers, bike shop staff, retail, and retail staff. It really is a little town that’s alive for about 8 weeks of the year.
There is a program of dance classes over a 7 day period, and all night social dancing over 3 dance floors with DJs and live music. The entertainment program also includes educational library talks and panel discussions, film screenings, cultural activities on the Wednesday morning and afternoon, and free evening classes in all sorts of things.
It is truly a prodigious event, the largest in the world, and one with the most consistent reputation for presenting high quality music and dance in the historic jazz and swing tradition. It’s also know for being somewhat hedonistic and a little chaotic.
It has much in common with a european summer camp, but no doubt owes much of its longevity (and development) to the role of shared common spaces in socialist democratic Sweden. The Herräng camp perhaps would not ever have begun without the town’s folklets hus and dansbana. It has also always prioritised the involvement of old time dancers from the 20s-50s. This connection with history, as well as the 24-hour program of ‘semi-surrealistic’ events have secured it respect in the modern lindy hopping world.
I like it because it’s mad fun. I can work super hard on dancing, or I can sit about in the sun making friends and talking shit. I can stay up all night social dancing, or I can live a sensible diurnal lifestyle. The music is fantastic, I get to see a truly diverse range of the very best lindy hop, jazz, tap, etc dancing, and I get to spend time with people from all over the world. It’s the combination of diversity and quality that brings me back. I enjoy not knowing what will happen each day. I love it that I can be rowing into a misty lake in the middle of the night to look at a friend’s bunkbed accommodation on a floating pontoon in the middle of the water. Or dancing with a 10 year old to Count Basie at 2pm at a tea party. Or learning the Russian word for hello at a communal dinner table.
not everyone loves Herräng. If you’re the sort of person who prefers a hotel style event, where you are told what to do, where to go, and how to do it for every minute of the day, you’ll find Herräng’s more casual approach maddening. I have noticed that Americans and Australians who prefer a more rigidly hierarchical event with clear bosses and ‘cool people’ struggle with the more complex power dynamics of Herräng. Shit regularly goes wrong in Herräng, from you getting lost at 1am looking for your bed, to teachers not turning up for classes. There’s a chance you’ll pick up a heavy cold, or hate the food. And the dry humour of the daily evening meeting might not work if you have a more (excuse me for this) ‘American’ sense of humour.
As an example, this sort of sign outside the main eating area would drive you mad if you wanted to know exactly what was on the menu. But I enjoy it.
It can also be a struggle if you’re used to traveling in a pack of your friends from home. Herräng invites you to meet new people, and make new friends. Shared dinner tables and communal living are clear markers of that socialist-democracy I mentioned. And if you’re into individualism and strict rules about what belongs to whom, you’ll get shitty when you see your dress end up in lost property, then turn up on stage in an evening meeting performance. Herräng definitely has rules, a hierarchy, and very clear power structure. It’s just not as clear as at an Australian or American event. And I like that. I like that it’s assumed I’ll find my own bed, make my own friends, and enjoy sharing a table. I really enjoy meeting lots of people, and I quite like the mad, unexpected things that happen.
Ah, Brisbane under Joh. A horrible time for everyone. In 1982 the Deen Bros did as they’d done (and would do) a million times more, they tore down a historic Brisbane building at the government’s instruction, and with dubious legality.
Cloudland Ballroom. Here are a bunch of photos to make you feel sad.
I’m writing this at 1.30am, when I should be asleep, but I am not, as I just got home from dancing, and you know what that means. No sleep for one hundred years.
Sitting in the kitchen, eating my toast just now, and reading a couple of very interesting articles hooked up by friends on the facey, I was struck by just how important dancing is to me for making friends from other countries. Tonight I’d spent a good ten minutes talking to a really nice guy from Spain, Alex, who’s been living in Sydney for a while, and has a few months left on his visa. We’d discussed the two kisses of Spain compared to the three of France. Three is too many, we had all agreed earlier, but two is just enough. And I’d told the story of catching a cab with the rowdy Argentineans in Stockholm, who were enraged by the Swedish hotel’s bar closing before midnight and not having any music. Where were we to drink?! Gas had a flight to catch at 6am, and we had no time to waste! Alex explained that some things are very important, and should not be laughed about.
A little earlier that evening Alice asked if I’d be coming to eat Korean food with our two visiting Korean Blokes (YES) one of whom had texted me earlier in the day to ask if I would like to have lunch this week (YES).
These things are all very important to me. I love, love, love that I live in a big, busy city that receives lots of visitors from overseas. I love that lindy hop gives visitors a way into our community, language, and culture. I love that I can travel to Seoul or Stockholm or San Francisco and meet up with people I don’t know, and don’t even share a language with, and dance with them, share a table with them, and be welcomed.
This is why I’m quite keen to revive the sappier lindy hop traditions at my own parties and events. Tonight we were relaunching Harlem, our (now) twice-a-monthly party, and I’d taken care to find out who was visiting from out of town (7 Canberrans, 1 German, and not counting our semi-resident Koreans and Spaniard), and who was leaving (Bec, who is off to Adelaide soon). I wanted to have a welcome dance, so that we would all know who was new in town, and to dance with them. I wanted to farewell Bec, and let her know that we would all miss her and wish her well.
Because the farewell/welcome/birthday dance tradition has largely disappeared in Sydney, except for occasional and under-participated efforts, I took a moment to explain how these work. There were new dancers in the room, and they’d only had one dance class (that night), so they wouldn’t know what to do. People who’d been around for a while mightn’t realise that the point was to conquer any nerves, and rush in to dance with ours guests, not leave them feeling unloved. I encouraged everyone to crowd close, and to rush in to dance with our guests – welcome them! And it went really well. Was really nice. It was particularly nice to segue into a snowball, one of my most favourite lindy hop traditions.
Afterwards, Alice, my teaching partner, declared that we needed to explain the welcome dance at our classes this Wednesday and teach our students how to cut in and join the dance. She wasn’t having any of our students not joining in a welcome jam. She’s right. And I know our students would love the game of it.
Earlier in the night, we’d taught two classes. An intermediate class exploring the ‘Frankie Sixes’ (or ‘Frankie’s Sixes’), which is a very nice series of 6-count steps. You’ve probably done them before, and they have the flow and energy characteristic of Frankie’s choreography: they just feel good. I think that this is one of the most important parts of Frankie Manning’s legacy. He was a great choreographer, and we need to keep his choreography alive, because it teaches us how to do great lindy hop, and how his creative ideas worked. This is the language of lindy hop; this is how you put all these words together in an exciting, creative way. Needless to say, the students felt feels, and we felt feels, and it was grand.
Then we taught a beginners class basic 6 count moves. We used our usual social-dancing-first approach, and it was just lovely. There’s nothing like a group of first-time dancers to remind you just how great this dance is. Every time, a handful of people will take the time to tell you that this is the most fun they’ve ever had. And you can say, “Yes it is! And I still feel that way about it!” This was my second first-time-beginner class this week, so I’m feeling very spoilt. I also had a conversation with a few of the intermediates who’d taken that beginner class too. I said that it was so nice watching the experienced people in the class, because they were just so nice to the new people. And one of the guys said, “Dancing with beginners is just so good. They remind you of how much fun it is to start dancing.” He was right. Beginners remind you of just how good dancing is. Just how wonderful music is.
As the class came to an end, I decided to try something new. We always end with a song where we social dance what we’ve learnt in class. By this stage the students feel happy and confident, and really enjoy just dancing without worrying about getting it right. It’s a nice bookend to our warm up, which is also about just dancing and not worrying about getting it right. One of our students used to say, “The best part of these classes is the last fifteen minutes.” He’s right: the rest is good, but the last fifteen minutes are where it all happens.
The very best part of these beginner classes is standing and watching them all dance and smile and laugh as they social dance together. They treat each other so well, and are so good to each other. It makes up for all the horrible things I read in the news every day. These are people who will welcome a stranger into their city and home.
As the song progressed (Easy Does It, of course), I moved around the room and invited the people who’d arrived for social dancing to join in on the dance floor. And they did. And when we called out “Change partners”, the students went and found someone new to dance with. And they gradually drew all the new people onto the dance floor, and it was quite the most wonderful thing that I’ve ever seen.
These students had only taken one class, but they were happy and laughing and smiling and relaxed, and quite ok with making mistakes and not being perfect. And you could see the other social dancers, the more experienced dancers light up and feel quite welcome and lucky to be dancing. I was so proud. I thought, ‘Frankie would have liked this.’ He would have laughed that big laugh, and told them to keep dancing.
Before I went off on my trip last month I did a little interview with the blokes from ‘From the Top’, a radio show produced by ig hop in Vienna.
The radio show is a good one. We have a bunch of lindy hop related podcasts and vlogcasts, but all of them are American, and show a decidedly American bias. To the point that I can’t actually bear to listen to most of them any more. I don’t like to hate on people’s creative projects, but I’m very tired of listening to discussions pitched as discussing ‘the lindy world’, but really only discussing a few people’s experience of contemporary urban American lindy hop. Booooring. The more I learn about lindy hop in Asia, Europe, and the antipodes (of course :D), the more embarrassing some of those American podcasts become. Bros need to travel.
An exception to this cringe is Ryan Swift’s the Track. At first glance, an hour and three quarter long podcast where two people just talk about dancing seems intolerable. Interminable. But Ryan manages to pull it off. Mostly because he chooses interesting people, but also because he’s a master of the well directed casual conversation. I am of course completely biased, because Ryan is an Internet Friend, but in this case, the bias is justified.
But From The Top is exciting. It’s short, just 20, 15 minutes. Professionally edited and presented, with good topics, well-constructed stories, and a far-reaching, open-eyed approach to truly international lindy hop culture. This is no accident. The presenter and producer Alexei Korolyov is a professional journalist, and it really makes a difference. Previous episodes have discussed Health, Well-being and Social Conventions; Being a Swing Musician Today; Regionalism vs Globalisation in Lindy Hop; and Time Traveling back to the ‘swing era’ (you can find them all here on soundcloud.) And they’re all really interesting and good listens.
The latest ep is about Gender Roles in Dance. I think it’s pretty good, but, to be honest, it’s not quite as good as previous episodes, mostly because I think it’s a complicated issue that could have done with a little preamble to define some terms and perhaps set the tone. I guess it did, in a way, but I don’t quite agree with the approach and definitions Alexei takes. But yolo, right? Despite this, I think he takes a very open approach to the issue, and has some interesting guests. This is a good piece, and it does good work.
I really liked hearing from Rebecka DecaVita, a woman dancer I’ve long admired and really wanted to hear speak about these issues. Jo Jaekyeong from Korea is an old friend of mine, and I really liked hearing her speak clearly about her experiences in Seoul, a city and scene I’m currently very interested in. I don’t know Gregor Hof Bauer or Patrick Catuz, and while Patrick’s comments were the ones I found most problematic, I was very interested to hear from some men in this discussion. And men who’d actually done some proper thinking about this issue, beyond the sort of glib jokey rubbish I’ve been hearing on the American podcasts.
It was particularly cool to hear from Gregor, who’s an out gay bloke, speaking about following. This was especially cool, because I do feel that a lot of the American and mainstream lindy hop commentary has been very coyly stepping around the issue of queerasfuck dancing, managing not to have any openly gay peeps speaking in podcasts, vlogcasts, or in public talks. I think this is one of the features of a European production: they simply are more politically and socially progressive than the American productions, so we hear a more grown up and interesting discussion. Or at the very least, this program is better journalism for its presentation of a more diverse range of voices.
I was the other interviewee on the program this month, and I wasn’t all that happy with how I did in the original interview. I feel like I crapped on too much, and could have been more succinct. But Alexei has edited the bejeebs out of me, so I come out of it sounding a lot more coherent than I actually was. Overall, it was exciting and flattering to be asked to be involved (SUPER flattering), and I enjoyed it. I admire Alexei’s work, and it was so nice to be a part of something I admire. Such an honour.
In the rest of this post, I’ll engage with just one part of the podcast, which is really just an accidental language slip. It is where Alexei says (as Laura pointed out) “Sam is actively involved with feminism”. This is a true statement.
It’s also kind of lolsome because I don’t feel like feminism is this thing outside myself (the way this statement implies). Feminism is what I am and do. To say “I am a feminist” is a way of saying “Hey, I think we need to talk about gender and power, and I’m not going to shoosh up about it.” Saying “I am a feminist” is a political act.
For a woman, speaking up like this, expressing discontent and generally disturbing the status quo by not being a quiet, conciliatory woman, is explicitly political. When a man says ‘I am a feminist’, the act itself means something quite different. Because we do exist in patriarchy. For a woman, the very act of speaking up, of dissenting, of being a ‘difficult woman’ is a political act. It’s dissension. It’s dangerous. It’s powerful. So it’s not so much that I am ‘involved with feminism’, it’s that I AM A FEMINIST. I don’t prevaricate, I don’t add caveats or qualifications when I say that. I just am a feminist.
And when I say this, it means that I think that the way we do things is a bit fucked up. I think that there are problems. I think that men have and take advantage of privileges and advantages that women don’t have. Yes, you, white straight guy. I’m speaking to you. I’m saying to you, you have advantages that I don’t. And if you’re not paying attention to that, if you’re not asking why that is so, you are just quietly maintaining the status quo. You are complicit in patriarchy. And I’m not ok with that. I’m not going to let you rest easy on that. I’m going to be the pebble in your shoe. I’m not going to sit down and shoosh. And it’s not going to be comfortable for you. It shouldn’t be. Because patriarchy is not fucking comfortable for me.
Our culture makes things easier for you, men. You have advantages. As I say in that podcast, I doubt anyone says to you, male lead, “Oh, you’re being the boy?” or even comments at all on the fact that someone of your gender is choosing to lead in a workshop. But for me, it is so common it’s normal. But it’s also a constant niggling question of my right to be in a class as a lead. It’s a continual itching doubt that I am a ‘real’ lead. Because apparently real leads are all men. And of course, women are complicit in patriarchy by doing things like policing gender roles by asking women if they are ‘being the boy’, or asking a teacher to have men give up following so they can lead (and rebalance the gender/lead-follow ratio).
So this is why I am not so much ‘actively involved with feminism’ or a feminist project. I am a feminist project. I am feminism. I am a feminist. And feminism is about dissension. It’s about destabilising. It’s about being a good goddamn pain in the arse. I’m quite used to being thought of as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘difficult woman’.
So when I enter professional relationships and interactions in the lindy hop world today, I go in reminding myself that I am awesome. It’s very important to enter these interactions with confidence. With rock solid confidence in your decisions, your ideas, your skills. A lot of confidence. You must be as iron-clad in your determination as a man would be. Even though a man doesn’t have to deal with all the niggling critiques and policing. Because as a woman, you will be confronted or bullied or tested by men.
I saw it happening in Herrang, in a range of contexts – male teachers testing female teachers, male students testing female students, male DJs testing female DJs, male everyone testing female organisers and administrators. Some things that happened to me at Herrang this year and last, as a woman DJ, that didn’t happen to male DJs:
– I had my ‘knobs twiddled’ without permission by other other DJs while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “You need to fix the levels” instead of “Are the levels ok? It’s a bit squeaky where I was?”
– Male DJs physically took up more space than I did in the DJ booth while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “Do you just DJ locally?” instead of just assuming as they do with other men that I was actually an experienced DJ who’d DJed overseas and nationally for years (and hence meant to be there).
– A male DJ described going to DJ blues as “Going to get some pussies wet” in front of me, and blanched a little when I replied “I took a few dance classes today and that did the job for me.” Apparently pussies are things you do things to, rather than things you have for some male DJs.
– Male DJs assumed I was much younger than I am, and were patronising until they discovered my real age (and dancing and DJing experience).
…and there were many more incidences. These were all from male DJs who are very nice guys, who were generally very good to work with. But these are the sorts of micro-incidences that remind me that I am a woman, and that challenge me.
And the only real way to deal with this, as a woman professional in lindy hop, is to say to yourself:
“I am a professional.”
“I know my shit. I am a fucking good DJ/organiser/manager/dancer.”
“Here are my accomplishments, here is my history, where I did a bloody good job.”
“When I speak, I know what I am talking about, so I will speak with confidence, and in declarative statements, not questions.”
“When I make my needs and requirements clear to a man, I know what I’m saying, and I don’t need to justify myself.”
“When I challenge a man for his behaviour, I am doing the right thing. I am in the right. I am justified in my call. And he should respect that.”
“When I am challenged or tested by a man simply because I’m a woman and he’s used to being an alpha in interactions with women I should feel good about stepping up and pushing back. I should – I will – push back.”
“I will not second-guess myself and my actions as an employer or manager. I will not verbally justify my decisions or authority with someone I’ve employed. I am the boss, I’m good at it, and I am here to kick heads and take names.”
“As a woman boss or employer or manager, I don’t have to become a jerkface bloke, or take on hegemonic modes of management or problem solving. I can be collaborative and gentle. I can talk about how I feel, and I can take into account my peers’ feelings. I can be emotionally honest without being manipulative. And I can still be an arse-kickingly good boss. This does not make me weak or unprofessional.”
I also think it’s essential to be supportive of other women. And to remember that men who push or challenge are often feeling a lack of self confidence. The difficult male DJ is feeling doubts about his ability, and not sure you’re a decent manager. So you need to convince him, through your confident manner, that you are capable, and that he can trust you to set reasonable limits and be his guide and manager. Yes, it sucks to have to mother these fucktards (god, emotional labour, much?), but just assume that they’re little babies and need to be babbied.
When you’re working with other women, you need to let them know that you think they’re legit. Sisterhood is powerful, but collaboration is mighty. Lindy hop teaches us how to work with other people in close, emotionally intense partnerships. We can definitely take that to our off-dance-floor professional relationships.
So, yes, I am involved with feminism. In the most intimate of ways. I am a feminist.
This is an example of how not to play a late night lindy hop set. I started at 4.30am and finished at 7.30am. The first part of the set (35 songs before these ones) were high energy, lots of fun. It was a Tuesday night, which is usually a good night for lindy hop at Herrang, because the main room is slow drag, and people are looking to party. But I managed to kill this night well before it should have ended. Because I was tired, I was sitting down, and I played tired songs.
I really like all these songs, and I like the way they’re combined (though it’s a bit predictable). But they get gradually tireder and slower and less exciting. Bad idea. When it’s that late, you need to keep the energy (if not the tempos) up, so people don’t realise how tired they are. Silly DJ.
PS God I love Jimmie Noone.
(name bpm year band song length)
Deep Henderson 183 2014 Tuba Skinny (Todd Burdick, Western Borghesi, Jon Doyle, Barnabus Jones, Shaye Cohn, Robin Rapuzzi, Erika Lewis) Pyramid Strut 3:12
It’s Tight Like That 144 1928 Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Joe Poston, Alex Hill, Junie Cobb, Bill Newton, Johnny Wells, George Mitchell, Fayette Williams) The Jimmie Noone Collection 2:49
Deep Trouble 161 1930 Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Joe Poston, Zinky Cohn, Wilbur Gorham, Bill Newton, Johnny Wells, Elmo Tanner) The Jimmie Noone Collection 2:49
Davenport Blues 136 1934 Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra (Jack Teagarden) Father Of Jazz Trombone 3:14
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 Complete H.R.S. Sessions (Mosaic disc 1) 3:19
Don’t You Leave Me Here 143 1939 Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Jazzmen (Zutty Singleton) Jelly Roll Morton 1930-1939 2:23
Borneo 184 1928 Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra (Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Margulis, Bill Rank, Chet Hazlett, Irving Friedman, Lennie Hayton, Eddie Lang, Min Liebrook, Hal McDonald, Scrappy Lambert, Bill Challis) The Complete Okeh and Brunswick Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden Sessions (1924-1936) (Mosaic disc 02) 3:11
Fan It 151 1936 Bob Wills San Antonio Rose [disc 02] 2:42
Ad Lib Blues 156 1940 Benny Goodman Septet (Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones) Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 2) 3:21
Four Or Five Times 173 1937 Jimmie Noone and his Orchestra (Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, Frank Smith, Teddy Bunn, Wellman Braud, O’Neil Spencer, Teddy Simmons) Jimmie Noone: Chronological Classics 1934 – 1940 3:09
Southern Echoes 136 1941 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra Walk ‘Em 3:19