Feminism as happiness

And as this week continues, we hear more and more brave women talk about being assaulted by Max Pitruzella. Even worse, we hear more and more men making excuses for why they didn’t step in and tell Max to stop that shit and quit being a fuckwit. It is difficult to stay positive in this climate.
One of the hard parts of feminism is that it often feels like we have to be continually angry and hating on things. But it’s not true. Feminism is very good stuff. It can bring you happiness and power.

I see the dance world’s action on sexual harassment as a very lovely part of feminism.

One of the ways I turn this issue around (and why I love teaching beginners so much), is by focussing on how to treat your partner with respect, but in practical ways. Our whole Swing Dance Sydney teaching and learning group has come up with very good, simple and practical ways to integrate respect and consent with old school lindy hop dancing. It’s easy, it’s FUN, and it makes classes rowdy, full of laughter and happiness. I do recommend.

What we did with our beginner (week 1) students this week was explain about how to ask for a dance, to introduce yourself before you touch someone, and how to make sure your partner was touching you in the right way, and to be sure your partner is ok with the way you touch them.
With the intermediates we talked about how to understand your partner’s body language as communicating their feelings: how a clenched hand and tight arm might mean an uncomfortable, worried, or nervous partner. And we talked about how to be nice so your partner feels safe. And we reminded both leads and follows that we don’t ever demand or tell our partner to do a rhythm step. We invite them to join us in that step. And that we should be totally digging their response, whatever it is! Even if they ignore us!
All of this was part of a very general discussion about having relaxed swing outs where we let go early, don’t yank in early, and take care of our own posture and rhythm. Leads don’t try to micro-lead, follows bring their shit. People dig that, because they see straight away that this type of partnership is how the jazz gets in.

Our intermediate students are already right on top of these issues. Most of them volunteer or work on our events, so they know our safety policies, and how to deal with reports, the police, etc etc. They are all very active about spreading the word to other people too.

I’m lucky. They are a very wonderful group of people. I’d hashtag this blessed but I’m too cynical for that.

Look after yourself, friends

Hello friends,
With yesterday’s report of another high profile dancer – Max Pitruzella –  sexually assaulting a woman, you may be feeling pretty awful. Terrible. Despondent. It’s exhausting stuff, and it can make you feel unsafe and afraid.
Remember you can call Lifeline any time on 13 11 14. https://www.lifeline.org.au

Something I’m trying to remember: if women are reporting assaults, it means they feel safe enough to speak up. There probably aren’t more assaults in our community than any other, but it is becoming clear that reports are met with positive action. Men who have been assaulted: you are not alone; men assault men as well. You may not want to make a public announcement, but you deserve safety and support. Please reach out to someone.

So take care of yourselves this week. If this incident is triggering anxiety, depression, flashbacks, or distress, do please reach out. You can speak to your GP, who can then referr you to a therapist under a mental health care plan. These appointments will be covered by medicare.
Treat this as you would another dancing-related injury, and act early. You deserve to feel happy and safe.

Feminism, akshully

This article “Why I no longer identify as a feminist” is a bit simplistic. Feminism has always been wider and more diverse than a ‘liberal feminists’ v ‘radical feminists’ dichotomy, and the author’s overview of developments in feminist thinking is both simplistic and defined by one white, straight woman’s understanding of feminist history.

She writes:

I think it’s time I accepted that “feminism” no longer means “the aim for equal rights for women” but is understood to refer to the current feminist movement which encompasses so much more and very little that I want to be associated with.

Feminism today is as diverse and contradictory as it ever has been. You’ve never had to accept and align yourself with every position identified as ‘feminist’.
Me, I can understand and sympathise with lesbian separatism (which is far more radical than the ‘radfems’ Pluckrose mentions – she seems a little sheltered, tbh), but I don’t have to adopt a lesbian separatist lifestyle, and I can disagree with some tenets of some writers’ work.
Just as I can be frustrated by women like Pluckrose who identified as ‘liberal feminist’, but who I would say needs to learn a little more about the lives of women outside her peer group and own experience.

Pluckrose also writes:

I used to be pleased when people told me that I had made them think more positively about feminism, but now I fear that this may simply have prevented that person from criticizing a movement that really needs to be criticized.

Which upsets me, because it takes a very conservative/reactionary or right wing position, which is that feminism has somehow become a dominant discourse.
I wish! If this were the case, we would have female prime ministers and presidents, we would have access to free and safe contraceptive, all women would be able to choose whether, when and how to have children, queer kids would not be bullied or beaten at school, and trans folk would not be murdered. If feminism was a dominant mainstream discourse the American president-elect would not be a self-confessed sexual harasser and rapist, we would have as many women news presenters as men, and women would be as likely to lead as follow in lindy hop.

While I am ok with Pluckrose declaring that she is no longer a feminist (that is her choice, after all), I’d like her to clarify some things. I’d like to ask her how she can make this declaration and still hold a job, write in the public sphere, or make decisions about her own body. For, while she might not identify as feminist, she is doing feminism every day when she engages in these innately feminist acts. I think she might need to stretch her understanding of the term ‘feminism’, its history, and it’s current incarnations as movement, political project(s), and discourse.

Feminism is big, but it’s not monolithic. From those early moments of postmodernism and on into these much more exciting days of intersectionality, feminism is necessarily dependent upon diversity within its ranks. One of the very premises of feminism is that the masculinised notion of ‘human’ (or ‘mankind’) excludes everything but a single type of male experience. Feminism is about adding to our understanding of what it means to be alive, to be human.

Feminism speaks (to use a phrase I really like) ‘from the margins’. Because women’s voices are absent in arenas of power (politics, economics, religion, art, etc), feminism argues that women are disempowered, and life is therefore the poorer for all of us.

We come in all ideological shapes and sizes, but feminists are all concerned with a few basic concepts: that gender is important, and that women’s experiences of the world are shaped by gender and power. More importantly, as an activist ideology, feminism seeks to change the status quo, and to include women’s experiences in law-making, houses of religion, and public discourse.

From this point we might all split out into more and more specialised or specific movements with interests in particular (or combinations of) projects: sexuality, race, ethnicity, gender identity, class, fertility politics, ageing, marriage equity, ecological and environmentalism, medical politics, anarcho politics, labour relations and work, creativity and the arts, music, dance, education of girls, reproductive health, bodily autonomy…. and so on.

But we are all doing feminism. And there is room for all of us.
Come on in – the feminism’s fine!

Don’t fucking apologise. Just get it right.

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor

I’ve stopped saying “That’s ok,” when a man apologises for fucking up something in a business transaction. Like a shop failing to deliver an order I’ve paid for, or a tradesman failing to turn up on time. When they say, “Sorry about that,” I give a small smile, or I just wait for them to continue speaking. I might say something about how inconvenient it was, or how this aspect of the transaction has led me to reconsider our arrangement. But I don’t say, “That’s ok.” Because it’s not.

I only say, “That’s ok,” if it really is. And it is rarely is ok. It’s fucking annoying or inconvenient, and I’m not about to reward professional incompetence with a little emotional labour so they feel everything’s ok. I won’t rant and shout like a man (though I often want to.) So mostly I just wait. I’m getting better at managing the uncomfortable pause, and I always like to wait and see how they’ll dig their way out of it. In most cases I receive freebies or additional compensation.

Because honestly, I’m worth it. #GiveYourMoneyToWomen

The Uses of Anger

A friend posted this on fb:

15094419_1241545139216963_1921813439569508420_n(text reads:

“[People of color] are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.
-Audre Lorde”*)

[Note: the phrase ‘people of color’ replaces Lorde’s original words, which are ‘Black and Third World People”. I think it’s important to use Lorde’s original words, as she is using ‘black’ deliberately, and referring to the ‘third world’ in a particular way. She wants to talk about developing nations (the global south), and she wants to talk about black americans. This is not the same as ‘people of color’.]

And a white bloke commented

I think that everyone can educate (read: teach) everyone else a thing or two. It’s not a burden but an opportunity, as long as they are willing to learn.

And it gave me the living shits.

So I replied:

…if it’s the people with the least amount of power (time, capital, etc) with the greatest responsibilities for teaching the most powerful…. hm.

This is one element of oppression: forcing people to continually justify their existence. To have them say, over and over again, “I have a right to exist.”
It also makes women, POC… basically everyone but white, straight men responsible for white straight men’s behaviour and thinking.

In a society where institutions, discourses, and ideology make difference invisible, undesirable, problematic, pathologised, or ‘other’, the marginalised have to continually say “I exist. I have a right to exist.” Because they do not exist in media discourse, in political discourse, in social discourse. They are marginalised, disallowed access to places of power.

White straight men occupy the positions of power and influence: they make laws, they are heroes in stories, they have cultural capital, they are religious leaders. Everything in our society says, “White men exist. White men are important.”

The crux of this is that fact that the most powerful people – white, straight, men – have the most power and the least responsibility to others. Which is how patriarchy works. There’s a Greer line: the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity. The idea of mutual responsibility.

This is why white, straight men should take the greatest responsibility in dismantling patriarchy. But they don’t, because they are the ones who benefit most from this system.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-20-09-am
(image text reads: Strategy for white people to dismantle white supremacy: “when the forced Muslim registration begins at Mosques, the first 8000 people in line better be white.” – Linda Sarsour, Director of Arab American Association of New York”)
(source, but note, I don’t have a good reference for this text.)

Relatedly
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And then that white bro continued, despite being told, by a number of people in a range of ways “Stop.”
One of the most useful comments was a link to this good cartoon about tone policing.
I always miss that, because I’m either too angry and replying or too angry to reply. I do like the reminder about tone policing. But the white bro totally missed the point: that anger is important. He missed the point of the original post: that marginalised folks spend all their time justifying their existence, while the powerful continue on oblivious. It was almost painful to see such a complete lack of self-reflexivity, mansplaining of being a woman to women, and just general fuckwittery.
Another good response linked up Feminists are not responsible for educating men.

And even after that, he posted

Of course people are allowed to get angry, and are perfectly justified in doing so. It’s not about that. I just don’t think it’s the most effective way of enacting change.
If someone came up to you and demanded angrily that you respect them for something that you have no appreciation of, your first response may well be a beligirent one.
If you build empathy first, it can turn out very differently.

And after a couple of snarks in response, I thought, ‘Why I am wasting my time with this deadshit? Why not continue the thoughts and ideas raised by the initial post? So I went and looked up the reference for that Audre Lorde quote. And posted:

I was just thinking ‘this is real-time version of that tone policing cartoon’. Then I thought, ‘how come this discussion became all about some bro’s feels?’ and then I checked [the] original post, and I remembered: while we’re busily justifying our existence and the legitimacy of our concerns and modes of engagement, “the oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions.”

The reference for this quote is Audre Lorde, ‘Age, Race, Sex, and Class: Women Redefining Difference, from the collected works publication ‘Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches,’ Random House: NY, 1984. You can read the whole thing here.

So I want to stop responding to one man doing some ‘tone policing’, and I want to move this discussion back to its original point: that it is not our responsibility to educate men (or whites, or straights, or…). Our anger is important. It is both creative and empowering; it need not be destructive (though it can be), it need not be irrational (though it can be). It is borne out of our own lived experiences, our own lives.

Lorde had a profound influence on me when I was in my late teens and first discovering feminist writing at uni. Re-reading her work (and thanks for linking it up, Georgia!), I can see just how inspiring and influential her poetic language has been on my own writing. The mode of communication is as important as the content. At every point.

In this speech she describes a ‘mythical norm’ (white, male, christian, etc). In this same piece she explains how focussing on one point of difference from this norm (race, gender, sexuality, etc) is limiting. I think this is a very clear example of a discussion of intersectionality and its importance to feminism or a social justice project.

The next chapter is called, “The Uses of Anger: women responding to racism”, and it’s very exciting. An insistence on sitting down, being polite, being kind, being gentle, being loving, is a key part of patriarchal policing of women and girls. We aren’t allowed to be angry.
But I think it was Lorde who made it clear to me that being angry is a feminist act. Saying, “No!” and “Stop!” is a feminist act in itself. This is why I think we, particularly in the lindy hop scene, need to practice saying ‘no!’ Not only because it means we’ll be ready when it comes time to stay ‘NO!’ but also because the act of saying no, of being ‘disagreeable’ is profoundly empowering for women. Who are trained from birth to avoid conflict. To be nice. To be pacific. To be kind, and at all costs to preserve the peace of mind of men.

Lorde writes:

Women respond to racism. My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also.
Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-option.
My anger is a response to racist attitudes and to the actions and presumptions that arise out of those attitudes. If your dealings with other women reflect those attitudes, then my anger and your attendant fears are spotlights that can be used for growth in the same way I have used learning to express anger for my growth.”

(“The Uses of Anger: women responding to racism” in Sister Outsider, 1982:pg 124)

And I went straight to abebooks and bought a copy. I’d forgotten how exciting Lorde is. And inspiring she was to me as a young feminist.

And even after that, the same white bro chimed in with yet another ‘poor me’ comment.

I wanted to post this here so I could remember how exciting it was to rediscover Lorde after so many years. I didn’t want that man to rob me of this excitement. And I wanted to block him and his pathetic ‘poor me’ bullshit.

I’ve seen a few too many posts getting around on fb lately, exhorting patience and understanding for Trump supporters, for racists. I don’t want to bring peace first. I want to be angry. Because it is very important to be angered by these things, and not to ‘accept’ them (with peace or otherwise). This is not a time for gentleness. It is a time for activism and anger.

*It’s worth noting that Lorde writes

This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. (pg 113)

Patterns in behaviour: towards a discursive understanding of sexual harassment in dance

[note: this is a discussion that began as a fb post, then outgrew itself as I commented on my own post zillions of times.]

The list of people I’ve blocked on fb over the years correlates with the list of men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and harassment. This behaviour doesn’t happen in isolated incidents.

As R said on fb, “Scary stuff!”
…and yet kind of helpful. We can learn to identify the common traits of offenders.
This is one reason why we should be asking questions about events that don’t pay workers, don’t provide clear, written terms of employment/agreements, and don’t address other issues of equity and justice.

There is also often a correlation between exploiting workers (whether volunteers, paid employees, or contractors) and sexual harassment and assault. Which makes sense when you think of harassment and assault as being about power and control, instead of just being about sex (or even being about sex at all).
I’ve also noted that an insistence on not writing down terms and agreements also correlates with exploitation and harassment. If you don’t write down the terms of the agreement, then the worker (or the less powerful person in the relationship) can’t refer back to it to respond to questionable behaviour. It is much easier to gaslight someone (“It didn’t happen! You’re imagining it! You’re overreacting! It was just a joke!”) if you don’t have a clearly articulated list of what the job does and does not involve.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I actually explain what we define as sexual harassment in our code of conduct. So that people who just ‘have a feeling’ can follow up those ‘feelings’ with reference to a list of specific behaviours. When you have a list like this, and it’s in writing, and available to everyone, it’s much harder for someone to gaslight you, or pass off their behaviour as a ‘misunderstanding’.

I really like a code of conduct to be very specific.
And why I insist that people read it before they accept a job with me. If they read it, then we all know what’s on and what’s not on. And we remove that airy-fairy, amorphous confusion that benefits the people with social power (eg the power to physically intimidate).

A code of conduct is a way of empowering less powerful people. It gives them the tools to articulate their concerns, and to say, “Hey! STOP! I don’t like that!”

If you rely on ‘common sense’ or ‘the rule of law’ to determine how dancers treat each other, you assume that all parties have the same ‘common sense’ or the same understanding of the law and willingness to abide by this.
Which is obviously not the case.
In my case, I don’t think ‘the law’ actually does a good enough job of articulating behaviour I think is wrong or inappropriate. Nor does it deter men from offending.
And because dancers come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and share different values, we don’t have a ‘common’ sense of how we should treat each other. And it’s patently obvious that offenders do think it’s ok to harass and assault people.
So we need a clear outline of these values or sense or laws.

The truly terrifying thing is that I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a network of mutual protection between male offenders in the lindy hop scene.
As J said on fb, “I want so badly for you to be wrong about this…” Me too. But it’s logical. In many cases offenders don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong, so they don’t quash that behaviour in other men, and don’t manage their events to prevent it.

These thoughts were prompted by my going through my events for the rest of the year, and my DJing and traveling for next year. What are my limits as a punter and DJ. What events will I avoid? Do I need a written agreement and code of conduct to attend an event? If there is no explicit code, what sort of broader set of guidelines and strategies will I accept in substitute? If I do refuse to hire known offenders, how do I find out who these offenders are, if women are unwilling to publicise this knowledge, for fear of their own safety? And how do I develop the networks that can help provide this information?

All terribly cheering thoughts in this last, busy part of the dancing year.

Why we (still) need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

Here are some reasons why we need feminism in lindy hop.

First:
This year a number of high profile, influential male dancers have told me in conversation that women fake rape reports to threaten men’s reputations.
Response:
This is untrue. If a man says this to you, he cannot be trusted, and you should have a care for your safety, and for the safety of other women and girls. You should be suspicious of the men he hires or works with. You should keep an eye on his dance partners and students.

More importantly, we must always respond to a report of sexual assault as someone asking for help. So help.

Secondly:
I’ve also been told that it’s ‘common sense’ not to rape people, so we don’t need to do any more than rely on men following ‘the law’.
Response:
If this was the case, there’d be no sexual assault. And because we believe women who report assaults (and because women know that sexual assault is both common and very close to us all the time), we believe that men rape.
The law and legal systems of various countries fail women repeatedly. This is why we need to be specific and to clearly set out our rules and limits. And enforce them. We must evict dangerous men from our scene, and we must all work to protect and encourage vulnerable people.

Thirdly:
Women are feeling brave enough to report rapes. This week another high profile woman dancer reported a rape and series of assaults to the police.
Response:
These women are telling us that they need our help. So we help.
Laws do not prevent rape.
We are not done. Men are still assaulting women. So men need to change their behaviour, and we need to demand that they do so. There is no excuse.

Fourthly:
I received this charming comment from a person named ‘Henry’, whose ip address is ‘192.108.24.24’. The post was Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies.

Are you mental? Men have a greater responsibility to call out others for sexual assault because we happen to have the same gender? This kind of neo-feminist bullshit has no place in the swing world. If you want to prevent sexual assault then teach women how to recognize the signs of manipulation and sexual intimidation and tell them to speak out. Stop acting like the fucking victims you want the world to treat you as.

From the language, I’m assuming this is an Australian.

This comment really is the reason we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies. Because men blame women when they are assaulted. Because men are not held accountable for their own behaviour, nor do men feel accountable for the behaviour of other men.

Response:
If you come across this man, avoid him, and put him on your mental ‘watch list’. If a man speaks to you with such aggression and threatening language about sexual violence, avoid him, report him, and put him on your ‘watch list’.

Because men still believe this, and are willing to tell women this (even with cowardly anonymity), we need codes of conduct and sexual assault strategies. Here, friends is one of the ‘signs of manipulation and intimidation’ that lead to sexual assault. A man demanding we take responsibility for the offences of men. A man telling us that it’s our fault we were assaulted, because we ‘didn’t read the signs’ and ‘speak out’ before we were raped.

Amplification

“Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”

From Claire Landsbaum’s piece Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard.

I’m quite surprised by how common it is to be edged out of conversations when I’m hanging with some DJbros or some jazzbros. As you can imagine, I’m not the quietest person in a conversation, and I’m usually reminding myself to let other people talk too. But there are definitely bros who aren’t interested in anything a woman has to say. Just because she isn’t a man.

My usual solution is to just walk away and find someone more interesting to talk to. While these women couldn’t really walk away from these bros if they wanted in to the power, we can in the jazz dance world. And if I want jazzbros (particularly musician jazzbros) to pay attention, I change my mode of interaction. All those years hanging out with punker musician bros and academic bros in my 20s has skilled me up.

But honestly. Bros. How dull.

Women of colour respond to white appropriation of the margin(alised)

Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s piece ‘I walked out of the Brisbane Writers Festival Keynote Address. This is why.’ is being linked up a bit in my book-friend circles, with emphasis primarily on Shriver and the topic of the piece. But I’m mostly interested in how the author got up the guts to walk out of this talk in such a public way. It’s essentially a marginalised woman ‘speaking up’ in a white elite space. It’s an act of bravery.

Breai Mason-Campbell’s talk ‘Dancing White: Race, America, and the Black Body…’ was linked up in a dance group last night by Anaïs, and something about it reminded me of this keynote article. I think it’s Mason-Campbell’s highlighting of the literal framing and display of OGs* at a dance event. It’s very much like the framing and display of marginalised folk in Lionel Shriver’s keynote.

And both pieces are by women ‘speaking out’ about the appropriation of POC’s bodies and minds by people in power for their creative work. In one case the ‘speaking out’ is non-verbal and in the other it’s after the fact. Both of which reduce the ‘danger’ of these acts for the women.

But these two pieces together are making me think and rethink very carefully my approach to OGs in the modern lindy hop scene. Part of me wishes we did ‘acknowledgement of traditional custodians’ at the beginning of every dance event. And that we asked our OGs if they wanted to do a ‘welcome to country’, and if they didn’t, we didn’t go ahead.
*(Original Groovers)

Mason-Campbell’s talk (start at 37.20):

Fundamental disagreements

I’m part of a very good facebook group about teaching lindy hop and swing dance, and there was a recent question about ‘heavy’ following, which referenced this 2010 article of Bobby White’s.
My first response was this:

One day someone will write an article about the heavy/light lead, and we’ll get to argue about whether or not it’s too do with men’s physical weight, physics, or their just not being a very good dancer.

…i’m sorry to be so snarky in such a friendly forum, but honestly. This discussion tires and depresses me.

While Bobby has updated his post with a little disclaimer, his post still circulates in the lindy hop community, frequently touted as an important or useful source of information. Me, I think it’s total rubbish. Questions about ‘heavy follows’ are rooted in a fundamentally unhelpful and flawed understanding of partner dancing. It is, as I’ve ranted elsewhere, based on the assumption that lindy hop is about successfully completing a series of moves. Leading them ‘well’ and following them ‘well’ for a ‘good dance’. In this context, if you can’t perfectly ‘follow’ the lead’s leading, you are a ‘bad follow’. This sort of thinking leads to nights where follows stand around the dance floor moaning that there are ‘no leads’, when there are in fact plenty of leads, it’s just that they are looking for leads who can set out a perfect sequence of moves for them to complete. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to women competing with each other for dances with particular men (yes, women do actually queue up around the edges of the dance floor), with big-headed leads convinced that they are the fucking business because they have these queues. It leads to the myth that we have a ‘lead shortage’ or, worse, ‘too many follows’, which in turn leads to bullshit registration deals for events, where leads receive cheaper registrations, or more flexible registration deadlines.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know that I’ve really moved away from this idea of leading and following. If we stop thinking of a ‘good dance’ as a sequence of moves perfectly executed, then we can start thinking about a ‘good dance’ as one where we have just two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner.

More importantly:

The term ‘heavy follow’ is profoundly sexist, places the power in the lead-follow dynamic firmly with the lead (who is usually male), and prioritises moving across the floor, performing a sequence of inflexible moves ‘perfectly’.

I think it’s fucked up, and I refuse to accept it as in any way legit.

But I think my immediate response to the post (which I’ve quoted above) wasn’t productive in this particular group, where the values we espouse in our jazz-centred dancing carry on into a discussion based on kindness, mutual respect, and listening to one another. So I apologised.

I did write a long comment in response, but when you find your comment is too long to fit in one comment on facebook, you know it’s time to write a blog post.

Interestingly, it seems Anaïs was writing a response at the exact same time I was. A post which sets out many of my own values, but in a much more gentle, productive way. Anaïs Sékiné’s lovely post about leading and following and dance as collaboration, is a nice alternative to the ‘heavy’ follow paradigm. I recommend reading it. It’s full of good feels.

But here is the long comment I wrote on facebook, but didn’t manage to post:

I don’t accept the premise of the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow.
I think it encourages a focus on moves-based dancing, rather than rhythm-based dancing. I also think it makes us focus on moving across the floor and executing moves perfectly, rather than listening to the music and connecting with another human being.

I’ve been thinking about my own dancing a lot lately, as I’ve done a few very useful and interesting workshops this year (Herräng most recently, but also the Little Big Weekend in May with Jenny and Rikard, and Snowball classes in December 2015). These, and the work I did last year, as well as lots of interesting talk in that facebook teaching group, and with my co-teachers, have been really inspiring. My general focus has been on simple shapes and solid rhythms, and is connected by the content and focus of the Frankie and Harlem Roots streams at Herräng in 2014 and 2015. I’ve also been inspired by Lennart Westerlund’s approach to teaching and learning.

Thinking about my own dancing hasn’t just been about getting my shit together (ongoing project, right?). It’s also about improving my dancing and understanding of what I do so that I can be a better teacher. And this in turn helps me improve my own dancing. I see my own limitations reflected in my teaching and hence in my students’ dancing: I’ve been thinking about how to dance faster, more relaxed, and with interesting rhythms at all tempos.

RE the swing out in particular, and how to make it work if one partner isn’t moving as fast as needed.
As a lead, my first response would be to change my plans. I don’t need a swing out to be a 360* turn. It can be 180* or 90* or any old degrees, fitting into the space on the floor, working with my partner, and the music.
I think this is the most important thing: leads need to work more actively with their partner. This is why I think we need to talk about ‘active leads’ rather than ‘active follows’: leads need to be able to change their swing outs and respond to what’s happening with their partner. Not just get cranky if a follow is ‘too slow’ to make the lead’s preferred swing out ‘work’.
1) Teaching translation: we say that to our beginners in week 1: You don’t have to have rules about the angle you cover. Just aim to be open, in closed, then in open. They immediately stress less.

My second response would be: am I asking the follow to move too far? My current bugbear is leads who ask the follow to go three million miles away in open, but still somehow run in and get around 360*, all at a million bpm. With this sort of swing out, the follows end up super fast and strong (in their bodies), but also more likely to send themselves miles away from their partners. So you get a kind of flattened out rhythm, where the emphasis is on horizontal movement across the floor, rather than a more nuanced rhythm-as-movement using different planes. I also see a lack of good, relaxed, swinging timing. There’s a lot of rushing, with a rhythmic emphasis on the extremes of the move – 3 and 4 in closed, and 7-8 in open. This emphasis often starts to look like a ‘dead spot’ where there’s a hold in the rhythm. Which is totally ok, but begins to ignore the music if it happens on every swing out.

So I fix this by staying closer to my partner, at all points of the swing out (closed and open). Rhythmically: I don’t go flat when the follow is in open – the rhythm I keep provides the timing for how long a follow should be traveling. And time = distance here.
2) Teaching translation: look at your partner; keep dancing leads, don’t stop when the follow goes into open. Don’t think of the rhythm as sets of 8, but as a continuous rhythm with the music.

My third and most important response: am I hauling arse? If a lead stands on the spot and asks the follow to do all the moving, then it’s twice as hard as it needs to be. If a lead steps up and moves their bodies, then the follow needs to cover half as much distance. If you stay closer together, then you can halve that distance again. And this means you have more time in the music for fun.
As a lead: I need step up and haul arse. I really need to hustle.
3) Teaching translation: leads, haul arse. Move your body. Do not let the rhythm drop. Everyone learns a new rhythm on their own first. Everyone has to carry the groove; it’s a shared rhythm. (all this keeps bodies active)

My fourth response: how am I oriented to my partner?
This is my current issue. I am trying to aim for a 3/4 profile for my partner. I describe this as the ‘perfect instagram selfie pose’ to our students: you want a 3/4 profile, and you want your weight on one foot, rather than split. If your butt’s out, then you are immediately ready to rumble. Or leap out from the blocks and beat Usain Bolt.
I am trying to stop myself ‘squaring up’ to my partner, because it’s inefficient, and makes it harder to recruit the bigger muscles that help me haul arse. It also lets your arms relax, and encourages an efficient weight change. A squared up profile is harder (this is 100% Rikard teaching btw).
4) Teaching Translation: 3/4 instagram perfect profile.

Fifth: I also try to be more ‘alert’ in my connection when we get into open. This is helped by having that 3/4 profile.
I use that triple step at the end of a swing out or move to say ‘Hello, I am ending the swing out earlier, I think, so please listen to see what happens next – we can choose something else to do.’
If I just go ‘dead’ or ‘limp’ in my arm as the follow gets out (at about 6), then the follow feels no signal, so they often just continue that last message or momentum I suggested. I’m not talking about ‘tension’ or any of that stuff – I’m talking about facing my partner, about moving my body, etc.
5) Teaching translation: leads, don’t let that rhythm or groove drop. Both partners – watch them move away from you, and be ready. Because you don’t know what jazz they’ll bring (a practical beginner exercise is just having them do a call and response jazz step – so as they move into open, one does a jazz step, and the other echoes it for 8 counts – they naturally have to watch each other, and stay closer together).

Sixth: out with the butts.
The other thing that’s important (when I’m following), is to not send myself so far away from my partner, and to check my posture. We’ve been talking to our intermediates about this – ‘out with the butts’ as eWa says. If you have your butt out, as a follow (but not sitting down into the shape), and you come out of a swing out sideways (ie the lead lets go earlier and doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out with their left arm), then you are more engaged in your glutes, etc, and in a more athletic posture that helps you respond faster, or move faster, or just plain bring the shit.
Out with the butts is very important coming out of a swing out for follows. It stops them leading groin first (which makes it harder to balance or control yourself).
6) Teaching translation: out with the butts. Practical exercise: anything Frankie related.

Seventh: feel the love.
Asa and Daniel were crapping on about this in Herräng: get closer to your partner in closed. Treat it like an embrace. So they didn’t do this squaring up thing where the follows grip the lead’s bicep and clamp the lead’s right arm with their elbow. Instead they moved closer together. Learning from so many first gen revivalists in the Harlem Roots stream at Herräng stream, two things were made very clear: closed position is much closer (in a v-shape, where the follow’s arm can be further around the lead’s shoulder, and the lead’s arm further around the follow’s back). This embrace makes it easier to feel what your partner is doing with their body, too.
The second thing: follows are much more likely to do stuff like just go into open if they were sick of closed. Catrine, eWa, Asa – all those Swedes who worked with Frankie. None of them were worried about ‘backleading’ or ‘hijacking’. If they didn’t like a move, they just didn’t do it. And their leads were all 100% ok with this – they just saw it as normal. This signalled a fundamental shift in lindy hop ideology in the mid 2000s in America in particular: lindy hop follows stopped seeing this ‘just don’t do it’ as ok. They saw their goal as ‘follow perfectly’. To me, this is the most important point, the absolute total point of all this: FOLLOWS DON’T HAVE TO AIM TO ‘FOLLOW PERFECTLY’. Being a ‘good follow’ doesn’t mean ‘do exactly what the lead asks, perfectly and quickly.’ Being a ‘good follow’ means ‘go with your feels.’ Trust yoself.
7) Teaching Translation: when you’re in closed, check in with how you’re touching your partner. Ask them if this is ok. Remember that the way you touch your partner sends them information (eg the claw of panic from follows; the floating weirdo right hand from leads). If it doesn’t feel ok, tell your partner.

For me, these things have made lindy hop much easier: don’t move so far from my partner; feel the love in the embrace; out with the butts; perfect instagram selfie pose; take more time to feel the groove before you start dancing; clear rhythms.

Just in the few weeks since we’ve been back from Herräng and focussing on these things, we’ve seen massive changes in our students’ dancing. They can dance much faster, and have greater freedom to improvise.

I don’t worry about ‘follows being heavy’ because it’s simply not an issue. I don’t even recognise it as a thing.
I do worry much, much more about leads who don’t haul arse. I think the lazy arse lead is a much bigger issue than the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow. I also get very cranky about leads who never look at their follows: it makes for bad connection, bad vibes, and dancing that focuses on horizontal momentum rather than good solid rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response. ie jazz.

…having said that, if a lead is physically slower or older or infirm or fragile (as with our lovely Extremely Elderly student), then hauling arse isn’t the issue. He has mad rhythm skills (tap dancer!), so the follows have to figure out how to make this work with him. Much more important skill set.

As Anaïs says in her gorgeous post,

Lindy hopping is about sharing through dancing and through jazz. That’s our common language. The rest is up to each and everyone of us.

As Lennart says,

…it is a very simple dance

As one of our beginners said in their first class

A swing out is when you are together and then you are away from each other.

And that’s it.