Category Archives: wimminz

Uses of history: Frankie as teaching tool

A discussion came up on the facey the other day about how leads can deal with rough follows. It caught my eye, because I’d just had a dance with someone the night before which was particularly rough. I was leading, and the follow really moved herself through steps in a fierce way which left me feeling a bit sore. It also dovetailed nicely with my ongoing thinking about how to prevent sexual harassment in lindy hop.

On that last topic, I’m approaching this with a different strategies:

  • Developing a clear code of conduct for behaviour
    – (in progress)
  • Teaching in a way which helps women feel confident and strong, and provides tools for men looking to redefine how they do masculinity.
    – using tools like the ones I outline in Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer
  • Teaching in a way which encourages good communication between leads and follows.
    – I am keen on the rhythm centred approach as a practical strategy. Less hippy talk, more dancing funs.
    – I like simple things like talking to both men and women about being ok with people saying no to you.
  • Developing strategies for actually confronting men about their behaviour.
    – I talked about how I do this in class in Dealing with problem guys in dance classes
    – I am totally ok with telling men to stop pulling aerials on the social floor because it’s a clear ‘rule’, but more ambiguous stuff is stumping me
    – I’m trying to figure out how to do it in other non-class settings
    – I’d like to find a way to skill up men so they can do this stuff too; ie it’s not just women’s jobs to deal with men sexually harassing women.

I seriously believe that feminist work needs to be practical. High theory and abstract conversation is very important, but for me pragmatic feminism means actually doing things. It’s important because it powers me up and makes me feel strong, but it’s also important because you know – actually DOING something. It can be quite hard and scary sometimes, because you are agitating, you are disturbing the status quo and you will attract some shit. Men don’t like to be told they’re doing dodgy stuff (and lefty men get particularly upset by this), especially when it’s a woman telling them. They often respond with physical intimidation, which is scary. And there can be social consequences for women which suck in a social dance community like lindy hop.
So, for me, I try to do this work in a way which isn’t too confronting or frightening for me. And which isn’t too confronting for other people. Feminism by stealth.

Where does Frankie Manning fit into all this?

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock (or are just new to lindy hop), Frankie Manning was one of the best dancers, choreographers, and troupe leaders of the swing era (1930s-40s). He’s generally positioned as ‘second generation lindy hop’, and credited with inventing the first public air step with his partner Freda Washington.
More importantly for modern lindy hoppers, he came out of retirement in his 60s to ‘teach us how to dance’. He taught people to lindy hop from the 80s until he passed away at 94 in 2008.
He wasn’t (and isn’t) the only old timer to do this. But most significantly, he had a very joyful, accessible approach to dancing, he didn’t mind that we all sucked, and he was prepared to work with complete amateurs, even though he really didn’t have any experience teaching total noobs or of teaching in a formal classroom context.

So Frankie holds a special place in many modern lindy hoppers’ hearts, and many of us take his example as near-gospel.
There are a range of problems with this approach, and I talk about them in Uses of history: a revivalist mythology. I basically say that I think we should be wary of uncritically using Frankie and his approach when we teach and talk about lindy hop. There are a host of political issues to consider when we appropriate his image and approach, both in terms of race, ethnicity and class, but also in terms of gender. Basically, he wasn’t perfect, and we have to be careful we don’t literally use him and his work for our own ends. And we have to be careful about how we use historical discourse in our classes.

So that’s my disclaimer, really: the next bit of this post is written with an awareness that I am a white, middle class woman writing in a developed, urban city in the 21st century. I am taking the words and teaching of a black, working class man of the early 20th century and using them for my own ends. I try to couch that with respect to Frankie’s memory, by name checking him and giving him credit for his work. I direct students to footage of his dancing, and to his own words.
I also make it clear that I am framing his work from my own POV and goals as a teacher and dancer. I didn’t know Frankie, and I only met him a few times and learnt from him a few times. So I tread lightly in his memory, and I try not to speak for him. But I am inspired him – by his dancing, by footage of his classes, by the mark he left on dancers who I learn from now and admire very much. I try to work with respect for his memory and for his work; he is an elder in our community, a custodian of knowledge, and important.

So here is something I wrote on the facey.
It’s about how I ‘use Frankie Manning’ in class to counter misogyny and sexism and to promote a type of connection that privileges creative collaboration, mutual respect, joy in dancing, and flat out badarse dancing.

I have trouble with rough follows every now and then. Especially ones who’re in troupes or do a lot of performing. They’re used to really physically strong leads (I don’t have the upper body strength of a man). I’ve had some bad shoulder and back twinges lately, despite my best efforts to improve my own technique, core stability and so on. As with dealing with rough leads when I’m following, I figure a rough follow is a partner who isn’t listening or paying attention to me because they’re stressing. At least I hope that’s what it is – it’d break my heart if rough follows were deliberately rough.

So the first thing I do if my partner is a bit rough, is to get us in closed position and tell a joke. But not too close a closed position, especially if they’re a woman who’s obviously weirded out by dancing with another woman. I’ll try to do something to distract the follow from being fierce and doing what they think I’m leading. Once we’re both chilled, and paying more attention to each other, I do super simple steps with a lot of emphasis on jazz feels and call and response – they do something, I echo it. That helps us both get on the same page. Then I build it out from there, adding in open position, etc etc.

So my first response to a rough follow is to become a really clear, yet incredibly gentle, responsive lead. And I make my basics the very best I can, so they feel confidence in me.

I’ve been using Frankie Manning as a good guide for safe dancing lately when I’m teaching. He would usually teach from the lead’s perspective, so I find it very helpful as a lead working to make a dance with a follow really comfortable and nice.

FrankieRepImage

That means I’m emphasising:

Looking into your partner’s face.
This is the most important thing I know about lindy hop. LOOKING into your partner’s face. It was the one big thing I learnt in the Frankie track at Herrang last year (where all the classes were taught by people who’d worked closely with Frankie). Once I noticed it, I was stunned by how infrequently partners look into each other’s faces.

It’s good for your alignment and posture relative to your partner, but it’s also good for making you connect with another human as a person, it helps you learn to observe your partner and recognise when they feel pain/scared/happy and it’s good for making you lol.

-> follows are less likely to throw themselves through steps if they’re looking at your face and seeing you flinch in pain. They’re also distracted from the move by the genuine human connection, so they stop pre-empting or rushing or panicking.

Call and response rhythms as fun steps.
They make you pay a LOT of attention to your partner, visually and physically, so you can ‘hear’ what they’re doing rhythmically. This is good for interpersonal communication (how is my partner feeling?) and learning how to recognise physical signals (what does a suddenly-tight arm tell me when I combine it with their facial expression?)

-> this is the next level of looking at your partner. So follows stop pre-empting and are really there with you. And because you’re really listening to them (everyone calls, everyone follows), they feel like you’re listening to them, so they feel more confident and worry less about ‘getting it right’ and rushing or hurting you.

Your partner is the queen of the world.
We say this a lot: your partner is the queen of the world (whether they’re leading or following, male, female, whatevs). This means that you have to look at them (and we model how to be impressed by/respond to your partner positively), and the ‘queen’ should then feel confident enough to bring their shit.
This teaches you to be connected emotionally with your partner, and to recognise how your positive response to a partner’s dancing can make them feel good and then bring their best shit.

-> follows bring incredible swivels and generally become the queen of the world. They pay more attention to you as a lead, and they feel like you’re really listening to them, so they reciprocate.

Scatting.
Brilliant for improving your dancing, but when your partner is scatting, you can hear them, so you’re connected with them in an additional way.

-> makes follows lol.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.17.32 PM

Frankie thought the most important lindy step was the promenade*.
It’s in closed position, it requires lots of communication to walk together without kicking each other, and it has lots and lots of variations with lots of different emotions. It teaches you to communicate with someone, and you have to look into each other’s faces a lot, and be ok with that.
You get to hold someone in your arms, which means you have to be respectful.

*Lennart says so, so it’s probably true :D

-> I find some follows aren’t so ok with being so close, so I have to pay really close attention to them to find the ‘comfortable’ distance/connection. This makes me do my very best dancing. I try to put me in front first, so the follow feels more comfortable (follow first means they’re walking backwards – eeek!). I do pecks to make them lol, or rhythmic variations. I respond to the variations they bring.

You’re in love for 3 minutes.
Doesn’t have to be romantic love. But for that 3 minutes, this person is the most important person in the world. You look at them, you lead steps you think they’re like, you do your best to realise the step or move their aiming for, you work to make this dance work.
To me, this is excellent mindfulness. It makes it hard to be rough with your partner. And when someone is feeding all those good vibes back at you, you smile and do your very best dancing.

-> follows become the queen of the world. They listen to you, and even better, they bring things to the dance.

I think it’s worth looking at a video of Frankie teaching to see how he did this stuff:

Frankie Manning’s Class part 2

I don’t think his approach is 100% excellent. He does drive the class, he uses gendered language, etc etc. But he is the ‘star’ teacher, and his teaching partner partner is his assistant – this is very clear. He uses gendered language because he is explicitly thinking about male leads and female follows, and his talk about respectful dancing uses this gendered dichotomy. I’m not excusing this, I’m pointing it out. And here I can make this point: while I dig a lot of what Frankie is doing in this video, he’s not perfect, and I actually find that reassuring. He wasn’t a saint, he was a real person, and when we idolise dancers, we need to keep that in mind: we don’t excuse their faults because we love their dancing.

A couple of things I like about this class:

at about 4.44: “If you find yourself falling, and he does not stop you from falling…. take him with you.” I LOLed when I heard this. But it’s a nice, simple way of saying ‘look out for each other!’ and reminding women that they aren’t passive objects here.

11.48: Frankie tackles inappropriate contact “Fellas, don’t take advantage…. we are just dancin’
Nuff said, really.

With all this talk about Frankie, I think it’s worth pointing out:
When you watch footage of younger Frankie (ie in his 60s, and 20s), he seems quite ‘rough’ or ‘strong’ compared to modern dancers. Is this in conflict with this ethos of mutual respect in lindy hop?

whiteys-ladies
(photo credit: I found this pic via an image search on google, and it’s hosted by Swungover, but chrome crashed and I couldn’t find the page again! argh! So I don’t know who the photographer is!)

This is a tricky one, but I think it’s where we’re really done a disservice by the lack of attention to the original women lindy hoppers who danced with Frankie teaching us today. I suspect that women followers were a different breed too. When you watch historic footage, you see that they fiercely took space, and matched their partner’s intensity. So Frankie might have had a partner who was confident enough to take space, and to be a little less submissive and a little more determined to shine.
I have no evidence for this, and it probably reveals my own lack of dance knowledge and skill. But I’m wondering if we need to have a look at old footage in a new way. I’m thinking of the way Janice Wilson used to talk about Ann Johnson, and the fierceness of her swivels. And of course, you have to think of Norma Miller when you think about fierce women lindy hoppers.

At any rate, this brings us back to the idea of how we might use history when we talk about lindy hop partnerships. And I have no real, final answers, of course, just a bunch of poorly practiced ideas.

Be ok with people saying no to you

This post is a two-parter.

Part one: Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?
Part two: Be ok with people saying no to you.

So my current issue or Small Item Of Note is working on the idea that we all have to be ok with people knocking us back when we ask them to dance.

There is this persistent idea in the lindy hop world that we should always say yes to every dance invitation. So that we can make everyone feel welcome and everyone feel comfortable in our scene.

My thing is this: I don’t want everyone to feel comfortable. I want those men who exploit this idea to feel very uncomfortable. I want them to think twice before they ask a woman to dance. I want them to hesitate. In fact, I don’t want them in the room at all. They are not welcome. THEY ARE NOT WELCOME. This behaviour will NOT be tolerated.

If women feel ok about saying ‘No thanks’ to dance invites, they will say no to dance invites. And when the men who ask them to dance risk a ‘no’, they will do their best to make sure they are desirable dance partners. They’ll behave well. They won’t grope or hold a woman too tight. They won’t pressure them for their phone number or stalk them on facebook. They won’t become aggressive arseholes telling women off because they said ‘no thanks’. They’ll figure out that if they act like arseholes, they’ll get their just desserts: no one will dance with them. They won’t be welcome.

Right now, reading this, I know some of you women will be thinking, “But what if no one ever asks me to dance again? What if they’re too scared to ask me, if they think I’ll say no?” It’s just like dating, right? Some men are going to be too afraid to ask you. And that’s ok. You don’t have to make it easy for every man to get all up in your face asking you for a date or dance invitation. You’re not there for their pleasure. You’re there for you. But you’ll also find that plenty of other men will be totally ok with asking you, even if they know you might say no.

And – wrap your brain around this stunner –

you should be ok with asking men to dance.

The idea that only ‘gentlemen ask ladies to dance’? Throw that in the BIN. It is bad news. BAD, bad news. You can totally ask anyone to dance! Ask that man! Ask that woman! Dance on your own! They may say no, they may say yes. You don’t know until you ask!

So let’s workshop this sucker.

You want to dance. So you approach person X because they look a) friendly, b) nice, c) unsweaty, d) like a great dancer, e) your best friend. Whatevs it is that attracts you.
You rock on up, smile, look them in the eye and say “Hi, would you like to dance?”

Ok, there are two possible responses:

“No thank you”
or
“Yes please.”

If they say “No thank you,” say “Hey, no worries, maybe later?” and then move on and ask someone else to dance. If they say “Yeah, sure,” in reply to that, here’s a tip:

it is not a legal contract requiring them to dance with you later. It could just be social pleasantries, a way of being nice and helping you save face.

Here’s another tip: someone can say “No thanks,” to you every single time you ask them to dance. And that’s ok. You need to suck that up. Because they just don’t want to dance with you. THEY DON’T WANT TO DANCE WITH YOU. Their reasons are none of your business. Just deal with it.

Another tip: if you keep asking, and they keep saying no, there is something wrong with you. BACK OFF, BUDDY. STOP ASKING. It’s CREEPY.

Wait, even scarier: what if they say “Yes please”?
Tip: you get on out there and be a decent human being so they may say yes to you again in the future. And because there are heaps of other people in the room too, and they’re watching you dance. Yes, they are. It’s social dancing, yo – we are all watching each other! Because we are in a public place.

Tip: if you are a decent human being while you dance, there is a good chance SOMEONE MAY ASK YOU TO DANCE. INORITE?! OMG!

Tip: if you are not a decent human being, you’re going to get a) boycotted by prospective dance partners, b) told to stop being a dick by other people.*

‘Decent human being dancing':

  • Don’t touch any breasts, bums, groins, thighs (hips are ok), necks. I know you might think doing this ‘by accident’ is ok, but it’s not – if you are paying attention to your partner, you will never accidentally ‘boob swipe’. PAY ATTENTION.
  • Don’t hurt anyone (ie treat them like they’re humans you could hurt – no wrenching, yanking, pulling, pushing, pinching, punching, lifting, dropping, kicking). NO aerials without previous, off-dancefloor enthusiastic vocal consent. None of this ‘I thought she was up for it’ talk. NO. STOP.
  • Don’t talk about sex, don’t ask for their number (it could be ok to give them yours, but they’re not obliged to use it), don’t ask them on a date (until you have met them more than once), don’t talk about how your bf/gf/wife/husband doesn’t understand you and then ask them for a date.
  • If you wouldn’t do it to someone in the street, don’t do it to someone here on the dance floor.

Right now I can hear some of the sadder members of our community saying

“But how do you get a date with someone in the scene if there are so many rules?”

Firstly: I am sighing at you, manbabies. You need to get some social skills, you really do.

Secondly: being a grown up decent human being: there are rules. Get fucking used to it. Level up and stop being such a fucking sook.

Thirdly: How To Get A Date With A Lindy Hopper, by Sam (currently entrenched in a happy, healthy 13 year relationship with a lindy hopper)

*That’s you. Anyone can tell someone to stop being a dick. You don’t have to be a teacher or a famous person. You can just be you. Tell that person to stop that. It’s ok. It’s legit. You can be a man or a woman – just say it: “Hey man, better quit touching women’s bums when they’re dancing. It gives them the shits and it’s making me cranky.”

Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?

This post is a two-parter.

Part one: Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?
Part two: Be ok with people saying no to you.
Part two a: How To Get A Date With A Lindy Hopper, by Sam (currently entrenched in a happy, healthy 13 year relationship with a lindy hopper)

So, since that incident a few weeks ago when the lindy hop world were faced with incontrovertible evidence that sexual assault happens in the lindy hop world (and that it might in fact happen everywhere), we’ve seen a series of responses:

  • Shock and disbelief.
    People simply couldn’t accept that someone they admired/hired/learnt from/loved attacked people. So they got angry about it and blamed the victims of his actions for their distress. Either explicitly or implicitly.
  • A lot of talk about ‘victim blaming’ and what it meant.
    A lot of the people who were shocked and disbelieving were doing ‘victim blaming’ but weren’t ok with admitting it. Understandably. First your hero does something shocking and awful, then you’re accused of attacking the victims of shocking and awful actions.
  • People and organisations rushed to slap together ‘Codes of Conduct’.
    Some of these are wonderful, some are token gestures. I personally feel that it truly is a token gesture if you don’t
    a) have a clearly achievable process for enforcing them (or responding to breaches of these codes),
    b) make broader cultural changes, and
    c) address the fact that the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment are often the most-popular, most-liked, most-powerful people in a community. In other words, the people putting together these Codes of Conduct are quite likely to be the perpetrators. YOU could be sexually harassing someone. I have yet to see a strategy or code of conduct which deals with this issue.
  • People, organisations and individuals start talking about sexual harassment as a real thing, and not just as ‘feminist ranting’ or ‘feminist paranoia’. And they found this realisation – that it’s all true – deeply upsetting.
    Some of them have been doing brilliant work – truly wonderful Codes, response strategies, and so on. It’s been truly inspiring to see.
  • Women are speaking up.
    The women who are experiencing sexual harassment and assault are speaking up. Just in my city alone, I’ve had so many women tell stories about frightening, intimidating, harassing behaviour by men, that it just makes me want to cry. But I will NOT be overwhelmed! Men are not volcanoes or wild bears, forces of nature that we have to protect women from. Men are capable of policing their own behaviour. And it is so NOT my job. So, you men: get ready to be noticed, and to pick up your act.

All these things are great. But I don’t think they address the real causes of sexual harassment in a community: the culture itself. The power dynamics. The everyday behaviour that makes sexual assault a possible and forgiveable action. In other words, we haven’t developed broader strategies for dismantling rape culture in the lindy hop world. Mostly because it’s fucking hard. But also because it’s difficult to see how ‘small things’ that seem ok contribute to making sexual assault possible, if not easy.

I think that many of us were convinced that the lindy hop community was this magical space where hatred and violence and assault and so on didn’t exist. Because we’re lindy hoppers! We’re nice!
Those of us who have a background in feminism or gender studies, or who are, well, you know, women know that sexual harassment and assault have always existed in the lindy hop world. And have been talking about it for a while.
This community is a subset of broader ‘home’ communities and cultures. Who we are on the dance floor is a reflection of who we are and how we behave in the wider world. We simply don’t just leave all that behind when we dance with people. So because sexual assault happens in our houses, it also happens in our dance venues.

And you know what: most of the sexual assaults and the sexual harassment that happen in the lindy hop world are perpetrated by men on women.
So this is my next point, and it’s going to be controversial:

MEN. Stop raping women. Stop sexually harassing them. No, don’t give me you’re #notallmen talk. If you aren’t calling other men out on their behaviour, you’re condoning it. You are enabling rape and sexual harassment. You are an accessory to it.
So, actually, ALL MEN have an obligation to stop raping or to stop other men raping. It is your JOB. It is your DUTY. And it is your RESPONSIBILITY.

Yes, women do sexually harass men. But MEN do most of the assaulting and harassing. So let’s start right here: STOP it.

Right now it’s pretty much heart breaking to think of this. Especially if you haven’t ever really had to face this before. Especially if you’re in a position of power or relative ‘safety’, you’re a teacher or organiser.

But don’t be disheartened! Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer. You are capable of amazing things!

If I stop and think about this stuff for too long I get utterly depressed. I love jazz dance and music so much, it’s almost unbearable to think that there are people I dance with (and like!) who are out there harassing and assaulting my friends. I feel guilty and awful and powerless. But then I remind myself.

Start small.
Make incremental changes.
Change what you can.
Encourage people to be better.

I wrote this a while ago:

I think that we need to bloody well open our eyes and engage with the everyday places in our lives where we can make a difference. On the bus. At the shops. In cafes. On the dance floor. Make eye contact, hold doors open, step in when someone needs a hand, ask your employer if they do maternity leave, even if you don’t need it yourself. And I also think it’s a good idea to make it as fun as you can.
Getting angry is useful. But in and of itself, it’s not productive. You need to be an agent for positive, constructive change, as well as a mighty smashing force of rage. Find small ways, everyday, where you can fuck shit up. Or at least vibrate at very low frequencies until you rattle that patriarchal bedrock to bits. (I vant to be alone)

And I try to remind myself: the small things are actually the important things. We dismantle rape culture in small ways. It’s something that we all can do. And the very process of talking about and taking acton on these issues can empower women and dismantle rape culture!

Wait, what we do?

Part two of this talk: Be ok with people saying no to you

My dance work, right now.

Who wants an update on the things I’m doing right now in dancing? Yeah, we all do!

Late last year my teaching partners and I decided to relaunch our weekly dance classes as an independent business. We used to teach with a big dance school, Swing Patrol (which is run from Melbourne), but we wanted a more local focus, and to have greater creative control over our projects and direction as an organisation. And business.

So in 2014 we announced Swing Dance Sydney (boring name, right? But it gives good googles), and then on the 14th February 2015, we launched our new business with a party. Right now, three months in, things are going very nicely.

We were, obviously, nervous about the new plan. Despite the fact that we’d been running our classes successfully for three years and had lots of experience with other dance stuff. I was particularly nervous, as I’m the general manager for the business (which is registered in my name). I do have a lot of experience running dance events and projects (you can see them all here), but it’s still a challenge, right?
Anyhow, I did a lot of research into tax, registering a business, labour relations and so on (you can read a bit about that in Making a Dance business and The business of lindy hop), and discovered that going legit isn’t that difficult.
I’ve actually found the whole process really empowering – it’s made me feel confident and capable. There is this idea in the lindy hop world that not declaring your teaching/DJing/event income, or not getting proper insurance, or not registering a business name is a way of saving money or fighting the man or whatevs. But I’ve discovered that you don’t actually lose money, and you do actually safeguard your business and your own body (insurance!) If you are teaching for someone else, friends, you MUST discover whether they have work cover for you. They are breaking the law if they don’t, and you are missing out on important insurance that will cover injuries, etc.

So what does my business do?

1. We teach dance.
We teach weekly classes in lindy hop. We also teach solo dance, but these are on hold for the moment as I hunt down a new venue. We miss the solo real bad!

swingingatthepbc

Though I’ve listed the classes first, this is only one part of what we do. And I’d like to rework the business ‘brand’ or identity to reflect the broader interests of the people involved.

2. We run irregular parties with live music on a Wednesday night called Swinging at the PBC.

I adore these. We have run 5 already, and have another planned for the 8th April, and I’m looking at one for May for Frankie Manning’s birthday. I began just by using visiting bands, but now I’m branching out, and using this as a chance to foster relationships with local musicians.

We teach in a licensed venue (the Petersham Bowling Club), which has a fantastic approach to live music, to servicing and participating in the local community, to environmental responsibility, and to fostering creativity. That’s us, that last part. They let us put on bands whenever we like, and they help us promote them. They are also really great people that we love working with. Most importantly, the venue has a bistro, an outdoor area (because bowling), and a good vibe – it feels friendly.

I am currently very keen on running social dancing in proper social spaces. I know it’s great to have heaps of room or a great floor in a studio or hall, but in those spaces there is nothing to do but dance. If you’re not dancing, you feel like you’re missing out. Or you’re just plain bored. There’s nowhere to escape the music and talk. This vibe encourages the idea that you have to say yes to every dance, that if someone says no to your dance invite you suck, because heck, isn’t that why we’re all there?
In a proper social space, you make it clear that dancing is only one of the things we do here – we also talk, we eat, we drink, we take a breather outside, we play pool or pinball, we lean on the bar and people watch. Because it’s the Peebs, it’s also totally ok to sit and read a book! If someone does ask you to dance, you can say “No thanks, I’m just enjoying this nice cool beverage,” or “Sorry, I’m waiting on a pizza!” or even, “Hey no thanks, I’m not dancing tonight – just chillin’.”

When you get used to hearing people say no thanks to your invites, you get used to the idea that it’s not all about you. People have all sorts of good reasons for not dancing. And you have to be ok with that. Especially you, men: you’re not the centre of our world. But you women, you can also be ok with the idea that if you’re not dancing, you’re still ok. You don’t have to dance (or be a ‘good dancer’) to be having a good time at a party.

We already know how to be in a pub or a bar or a restaurant, so we don’t have to teach people how to beahve at a social dance in these spaces. When we use a proper social space, we make dancing more accessible to ‘non-dancers'; we encourage people in, and we embed our culture more comfortably into the wider community. This whole approach undoes the weirdo shit that encourages ‘rock star’ dancer behaviour, makes it easier for women to enforce their own personal limits and bodily autonomy, and encourages dancers generally to think of dancing as just one of the things we do, not the most important thing. And, most importantly, it makes our dance scene more accessible for musicians.
Incidentally, I’ve noticed that having a smaller dance floor makes for better floor craft – our students keep their feet under themselves, are less likely to kick you, and are better at judging the end of the ‘string’ (ie the amount of stretch or distance between partners). A big or uncrowded space makes you less economical in your use of space, right?

These parties attract between 60 and 90 people, cost $15, and run 6.30-11pm.
The early night is good for a week night, the smaller crowd is good for socialising (in this smaller venue), and I approach these events as regular, and so contributing to the infrastructure of the local dance scene.
You would dress neat casual, you’d come for dinner, you’d expect to talk and hear very good music.

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3. We run monthly DJed parties (first Saturday of the month) called Harlem.

This is a collaboration with another organiser/teacher friend, Sharon Hanley who runs Swing Time Australia. We decided to run a regular DJed night because we missed DJing together (we used to DJ at her fortnightly event Swing at the Roxbury), and we missed it!
We decided to have a DJed night (rather than live music) because we wanted to DJ. I was keen to have an event with decent DJed music that focussed on classic swinging jazz. There are two other regular DJed events in Sydney, but the music is patchy at one, and the other is more a neo-swing/rock n roll event. I feel that it’s important to play the original music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s because Count Basie is important. Duke Ellington’s band is important. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is important. It’s also cheaper (and less risky) to be our own DJs.

This event is also run in a licensed venue that has a restaurant. The space isn’t tiny, but the dance floor isn’t enormous. The space is a ‘mixed use’ space, with chairs and tables and a dance floor (and a great piano!), and it’s near public transport and has parking. And it’s not a shitty, grotty divey nightclub.

Again, this is a regular event. People have asked if we’ll be running it fortnightly, but, to be honest, we’re both busy with other projects as well. And I figure this way we leave a space open in the calendar for someone else to run something – diversity is important! Sharing the workload is too :D

These parties attract between 70 and 100 people (I expect this to get larger), cost $10, and run 8pm-midnight.
This is a slightly larger crowd, but not enormous. A ‘ball’ in Sydney can attract between 150 and 200 people, so we’re actually at the higher end of the scale. A really big cross-scene event can attract 700 people in Sydney, but we aren’t targeting the whole neo-swing/rock n roll/lindy hop/vintage cross over crowd.
We are encouraging vintage wear for Harlem, a slightly dressier vibe than the PBC gigs, and you would again come for a drink, perhaps dinner, and a night out, talking, dancing, socialising.

4. We do private classes, wedding privates, and corporate gigs.
For the money, and to offer extra learning opportunities for students. But we don’t promote them aggressively.

And that’s what Swing Dance Sydney does now. I’ve been looking at running a larger weekend event (Jazz BANG), but I’m still sorting that out.
I did consider running a big evening dance and workshop day for Frankie’s birthday, but I’ve since moved on from that idea. I figure it’s more important to consolidate the Swinging at the PBC nights as proper party nights, and to use our venue in a more concentrated way. It’s a good space, it’s super cheap to hire, and it’s well serviced.

In my previous role as and event organiser and administrator for Swing Patrol, I ran about 5 huge events every year. While they were fun and successful and everything, I began to feel they were big events for the sake of big events, and that the focus (financial, energy, creative, etc) on these resulted in neglect for regular social dancing. In other words, these big events became THE thing, and the focus of the whole organisation was on its hierarchy. It positioned the school as THE organising body, discouraging dancers from thinking of themselves as organisers and trying their own smaller projects. Even more simply put, the only model for ‘a dance event’ was a huge big thing that required the machinery of a big organisation to work. And this leviathan replaced or overshadowed other, more sustainable smaller projects. Really, though, as a keen social dancer, I want to be able to social dance every week, if not multiple times per week. A big, expensive dance every couple of months doesn’t meet that need.

I feel that regular, smaller scale events or parties do more to develop the social dancing skills and culture of a dance scene. Its social and cultural infrastructure. This is what vernacular dance IS. It is everyday, ordinary dancing. Emphasising less frequent big events makes social dancing seem like a ‘special’ or unusual thing, and makes most dancers’ experience of lindy hop be a pedagogic, or formal-class type experience. Boooring. This also tends to result in centralised power and status. Teachers become the most important and powerful people in a scene. Dancing becomes ‘rare’ and ‘special’ so it becomes the only focus for a party or ‘dance night’. And this power dynamic is conducive to abuse. Sexual harassment, bullying, exploitation of workers and so on thrive in this sort of environment.

Into the future.
I have a few other plans up my sleeve. In fact, I’ve always got far more plans than I do time or energy.
I’d like to expand my work with bands. This is proving tricky, as it’s expensive to pay bands. The social distance between dancers and bands (we just don’t move in the same circles here – we don’t socialise together!) also makes it difficult to initiate collaborations. Hence my interest in properly social social dancing events and spaces.

I’m doing more DJing this year. I’ve neglected it lately for my organising/administrative work, and I MISS it. I miss the music. I miss fussing over music. I miss the creative challenges and satisfaction of DJing for a crowd. My skills got rusty and I got mournful for it. So I’m back in the game. Harlem is a key part of that. But so is traveling more overseas (because my health finally allows it!)

I’m seeking out interesting dance events.
I’ve been dancing for eighteen years now, and I’m not satisfied by dance events which just slap a couple of dances on the end of 4 hours of chalk-and-talk workshops. I want interesting, creative programs of events.

I think dance events should think more like arts festivals, and offer a more interesting program. As per my thinking about regular social dancing spaces, I think dance weekends need to offer programs and spaces that are more social, but also more creatively interesting and challenging. I want musicians involved. I don’t want teachers to just throw a stack of moves at me in class. I want mixed-level classes that push me to learn new ways of learning. I want to social dance during the day. I want to go to interesting cities. I want events that offer me new ways of interacting with teachers and students and DJs and bands.

This new thinking about dance events is pushing me inexorably towards alternative funding sources. So I’m looking into grants and public funding sources for dance events. I’m not keen on kickstarter or pozible for funding – I want to see what sorts of state, local, and federal funding sources are available.

Feminist work?
I used to worry about being a woman lead and a woman lead teacher. Now I just couldn’t give a fuck. It’s so normal to me now, I just get on and do what I do. I’m also a woman DJ. And a woman event organiser. And a woman website designer. And a woman thinker and writer and reader. I figure it’s much more powerful to treat all this as normal. It’s much more frustrating and confounding for idiot sexists if I just do not accept (or even acknowledge!) the premise of their attacks.

I think of it this way: if you are up and dancing, you are automatically winning. Doesn’t matter how much your dancing sucks. And if your critic is sitting on their clack or crying and shitty about what you’re doing, you are winning twice. You are pwning them. Ha ha, suckers.

I am also thinking that a revised approach to ordinary social dance spaces is part of a feminist project. Because it undoes that teacher-centred, lead-centred, can’t-say-no power dynamic which is fucked up and bad news. Not only do we need to skill up women and remind men to be grown up humans, we also need to construct socially sustainable social spaces that make it easier to be the best we can be.

For me, personally, it’s very satisfying and stimulating to work with other women in an international community that is so male-dominated in so many ways. I really enjoy my professional relationships with women and men in the Sydney dance scene (and overseas and interstate) too. I think that for me, it’s important to be feminist by doing feminist things. I’m a woman too, and I think that it’s important to skill me up too. And to find ways of working that are creatively and personally satisfying. Fighting the good fight is really tiring. So I try not to have to do it in my everyday work. This means that I just say no to working with dicks. It also means that I have to fight an instinct many women have – that we should feel guilty about feeling good and confident.

I’m also very conscious of the fact that I am lucky enough to be able to think this way. I am a white, middle class woman living in an affluent city in a wealthy country. I have access to opportunities that many people do not. And I try to remember this, and to do my best not to let my own pleasure and satisfaction come at the expense of others’.

So, that’s what I’m doing these days. I hope you’re doing dance work and dance fun that you find exciting and stimulating and deeply pleasurable too!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Hey, happy International Women’s Day, friends. In previous years I’ve listed women dancers (2011, 2012, 2013, and in 2014 I was distracted). This year I’ve been too busy to do daily posts, but I did write this on the facey today:

Dancer-and-choreographer-Pearl-Primus1

Happy international women’s day, everyone!

IWD has a nicely worker-centred history (https://unwomen.org.au/iwd/history-international-womens-day), and it’s about celebrating the achievements of the ordinary women around you.

I’m lucky enough to get to work with many, many _extra_ordinary working women in the lindy hop and jazz scene, so I’d like to say THANK YOU to them for be inspiring and encouraging and occasionally mighty fierce!

Thanks to Laura, Bec, and Alice, my co-teachers, who pull out great material and fun, challenging classes. Thanks to Sharon, who said YES to our new Harlem project.
Thank you to Ramona for showing me just how exciting it can be as a woman whose body is an instrument and a source of joy.
Thank you to Marie N’Diaye, for showing me how a fierceness of intellect and of spirit can make for the gentlest and most beautiful dancing.
Thank you to Sylvia Sykes for saying ‘lead or follow?’ when I asked her to dance.
Thank you to Loz for being _determined_ to dance and inspiring me.
Thank you to Lexi who simply expected me to run a business of my own.
Thank you to the women who come to our dance classes and overcome shyness to shake it like queens on the dance floor.
Thank you to Sugar Sullivan for correcting her gender-specific language in one of my first Herrang classes, and saying “Because anyone can lead.”
Thank you to Naomi, Loosha, Justine, Alice, Kat, Manon, Allie, Loz, Fatima, Leru, Superheidi, Bec, Barb, Shaz, Sarah, Naomi, Giselle, Tina, Heather, Mary, Christine, Kate, Kate, Kate, Michelle, Di, Sharon, Peta, Georgia, Jen and the many, many other women DJs who challenge me to bring the shit.
Thank you to Claudia for backing my mad schemes.
Thank you Sarah and the other women who spoke up about sexual assault in our community.
Thank you to Justine for the wickedest sense of humour and solidest DJing and managing skills.
Thank you to that shy young trans girl at fair day who wanted to know about lindy hop but was almost too shy to speak.
Thank you to Marie at the Chicago studio for answering all my emails. Thank you to Hetty Kate for marrying humour and a wicked sense of fun with the best music of all.
Thank you to Eleonora, Jan, Jenny, Elizabeth, Liz, Nurani, Nicola, Julie, Amanda and all the other venue managers who answer all my questions.
Thank you to the women musicians I haven’t met, and won’t, but whose music makes me dance til I drop. Thank you to Lexi, Tina, Kerryn, Megan, Cheryl, Kara, Karen, Leigh, Peta, Sharon, Trish, Trish, Kate, Kate, Cheng, Marybeth, Justine, Olivia, Becky, Sarah, Melinda, Mel, Trudi, Sandy, Vivi, Bethany, Tania, Luna, Fiona, Alice, Lauren, Evelyn, Sing, Sophie, Emma, Nikki, and all the other hundreds of women who organise dance events.
Thank you to the women dancers I meet all over the world who immediately make me feel welcome.
Thank you to the women jazz dancers who came before us and invented this thing.
Thank you to Shorty George’s unnamed partner in After Seben who actually did the swinging out.
Thank you to Norma for demanding “Where’s your swing out?!”

Thank you most of all to the hundreds of women who work at the door of dance events, and who tidy up afterwards, who move chairs and arrange tables, who arrive early to set up, who host visitors, who make sandwiches and beds, bank money and count out floats, figure out how to manage events for the first time on their own, chauffeur guests, design flyers and send emails and answer questions and make all this possible, every night of the week, all around the world.

Since I wrote this, I’ve thought of one million more women I want to thank. Thank you to Anaïs for that big brain and that wonderful dancing. Thank you to Kira for showing me burlesque can be empowering. To women DJs I missed. To the formerly male-identified dancer who chose our dance last night on mardi gras weekend to come out onto the dance floor as a woman. Gaby and Anaïs and Marie the women dancers who are putting together chorus line projects. The women who come social dancing for the very first time. The women who ask me to dance because they want me to lead. The queer women dancers who’ve come out recently in the lindy hop scene because they feel safe and proud of who they are. The older women who come dancing and rock it on the dance floor with the finest young men they can find. Women band leaders like Laura and Naomi and Hetty Kate and Georgia who bring it on the stage. Nicole who kept a public record of her physical transition. The women who are more than happy to just rock out solo style on the dance floor. Those fierce, ambitious women dancers who move on to teach internationally because they are so determined to be GOOD at this…. there are just so many. So many of them! I can’t even begin to name them all!

In my everyday work in the lindy hop community, I deal with far more women than men. Though men have most of the higher profile spots (playing in bands, teaching guest workshops), women by far provide the bulk of labour in the lindy hop community. In Australia, they are most of the volunteers, they are most of the organisers, and they are most of the DJs. They’re often also most of the dancers. Despite this, we are encouraged to compete for male dance partners, and discouraged from leading and dancing with other women. Lindy hoppers very rarely point out to each other that most of the labour in the lindy hop world is provided by women, and we tend to privilege the male dancers from the swing era. This last point prompted my Women’s History Month posts in the past, and of course my Women Jazz Dancers site.

I think it is important remind ourselves of all the different forms of labour that go into a jazz dance and jazz music community. I hear some men argue that the real ‘art’ of jazz or authentic ‘artistic life’ can only be defined as living form music and dance, as a dance teacher or performer. But that is just complete bullshit. I’ve written about that in Heroes of Jazz and Other Visible Mythologies.

In the simplest terms, there can be no jazz at all without all the invisible labour provided by women. There can be no jazz dance performance or party without a woman to work the door, to clean the floors, to cook the food, and serve the drinks. There can be no jazz musicians working endless gigs without a woman to care for their children, wash their clothes, cook their food. And if these women are not in their lives now, they were there when they were children and young adults studying their art.

Art is not the product of individual creativity and genius. Art is the work of a whole community.

#notallfeminists

I got into a discussion on Jive Junction today (yeah yeah, I should have seen it coming), and I wanted to write a reply there, but I didn’t. I wrote it all out, I edited it, but I couldn’t press post. Because I felt too fucking scared.

Basically, I wasn’t paying close attention to the discussion, because I was multi-tasking at the time. I read the first post and dismissed it as yet another fucking pain in the arse post about how we’re overreacting, and isn’t lindy hop just… whatever. Then I skim read a bit. Then I just posted a few times and kind of lost track. But I probably should have paid more attention, because it escalated quite quickly.

I used to write quite personal things on this blog. I’d write about my everyday, my life, my feels. But I don’t do that so much any more because I attract quite a lot more readers than I used to. And that means more unpleasant comments, more emails, more interaction. Urk. All that shit is tiring.

Anyways, here is a personal post. I feel like I have to be logical logical logical. Calm calm calm. Sensible sensible sensible in these discussions. Like I have to fact check and edit and logic check. And then add a lump of self-depreciating, dry humour to deflect any personal attacks. When most of the time I’m actually trying not to cry, and I can’t help thinking about the shitty stuff that happens to me on a daily basis, just part of everyday sexism as a woman having the balls to be out in public on her own – whether that’s the bus, the dance floor, or the internet.

This is what I ended up posting:

Jump back. Feminist posts series of illogical, emotional, failure-to-listen-to-men posts about sexual harassment that don’t actually engage with the topic at hand and almost derails sensible discussion.

I can see the appeal of this approach. I might try it again in the future. #notallfeminists

It’s textbook trolling. I should feel ashamed. But I don’t. Not really. Well, only a little bit. Self-doubt. I have it.

This is what I wanted to write on JJ, but didn’t post:

So, whatevs, right? It’s not like there’s a shortage of random illogic in JJ, yeah? I reckon there’s some confusion about how we’re each using words. Predatory behaviour _is_ about sexual harassment and bullying, and grooming, and a whole host of other behaviours. Even the way you use the word ‘studios’ is culturally specific, Peter: we don’t even have that concept of ‘studio dance’ in Sydney, let alone Australian lindy hop, and the word doesn’t resonate with me the way it does with you. But I’ve lost track of this discussion. I tend to skim read most threads on this stuff because I can’t handle the scary sexism underlying a lot of the talk about this issue. Yolo.

As I said, I find it really difficult to read about and talk about this stuff, particularly in real time, because every time I write in detail about what it’s like to be sexually harassed, I get the shakes, because this shit happens to ME. I can’t be cool and logical because this stuff isn’t cool and logical for me. It happened to me yesterday on the bus, it’ll probably happen to me this afternoon when I go out, and it’ll keep happening to me, pretty much every day. Sexual harassment is my lived experience, it’s my every day.

Of course I’m distracted by my lived experience in my local scene – we all are. That’s the _point_. I have to start with my own experiences, and yet part of being a feminist is recognising that your own lived experiences cannot be generalised to the whole world. I’m on board with that. Are you?

Most of the time when I’m writing about these issues, I have to stop and edit millions of times before I post a comment. I had to wait a long time before I could post about Sarah’s story on my blog. And even now, I’d like to write more, but I can’t because I’m kind of scared shitless by the sort of fallout I’ll attract. I take a lot of care to be logical and calm when I write about this stuff, because I feel I have to be nine million times calmer than the randos who then move in and send me hate mail and horrible comments.

Because that’s what happens whenever I write about this stuff in a public forum – my ‘other’ inbox on fb fills up with nasty comments, I get unpleasant emails, I get messages from people who want to ‘initiate a dialogue’ about sexual assault with me, people come up to me in person at dance events and want to talk about hardcore sexual politics in lindy hop, and it can scare me silly not to mention just tire me the fuck out.

I know it’s not cool to devolve an internet discussion into poor-me-I’m-a-baby talk, but whatevs. I’m not 100% coherent and cool and logical all the time.

This is why I’m so impressed by those women who actually wrote whole posts about being sexually assaulted. Who recorded live videos! It’s so hard just writing about everyday ordinary stuff like being groped in the supermarket, having men stare at your body and try to make eye contact on the footpath, shouted at by passing cars, or manhandled on the dance floor. To speak about being drugged and assaulted! It’s beyond brave. It’s mighty.

Layers of rhythm in dancing and music

Here is a post just about dancing and music, because even though we’re thinking and talking about gender politics and good business practices in the scene, we’re also dancers. Hopefully. This post is kind of rambly, because that’s how I roll.

This post is about the ‘rhythm centred‘ approach to lindy hop that a few teachers are really digging on at the moment. And music.

What is this ‘rhythm method’? Basically, we’re talking about prioritising the rhythms at the heart of a dance step, rather than the shapes. Shapes are important, yes, but the rhythm comes first.
This isn’t a new approach. People’ve been into this forever. People like Norma Miller, other old timers, the Rhythm Hot Shots… pretty much anyone who’s legit.

I think this is a bit like another approach that got around in the early 2000s: work from the ground up. In both cases, the emphasis is on what your body does, and on the foundation of good dancing. Committing your weight properly, understanding how you make contact with the ground, and how you initiate movement from your core. In other words, good lindy hop, as a partner dance, is like good solo dancing: you have to move your arse if you want to actually be dancing with someone.

Anyhow, I was in a class this week, taught by Bec and Alice at our regular Wednesday night intermediate class. They began the class with an exercise we’d picked up from Ramona and from the other Sea of Rhythm peeps (all of whom are tap dancers): in a circle one person does a rhythm, then the next person has to do a step inspired by that rhythm, and so on round the circle. Then the class continued with a fairly simple idea: you use a pass by (where the lead goes under the joined arms) as a ‘space’ for improvising, or adding in a rhythm. You can either do call and response (where one parter does the rhythm first, and the other copies on the next go through), or you can both do your own rhythms at the same time.

Nothing new, right? We’ve done this approximately one million times, though we might say ‘do your own jazz steps’ in that bit where you walk past each other. You might shorty george under there, or swivel around. It’s a nice, simple example of how jazz and lindy hop are structure + improvisation. But when you shift the emphasis to the rhythm, it gets a bit more interesting.

And I actually found it a bit nicer as a lead-follow exercise. Because if you focus on the rhythm, not the shape, you focus on how your feet strike the floor, and with what sort of emphasis. Where are you pausing? Where do you speed up? Is it a straight step, or is it syncopated? If you are doing call and response, you have to be as clear as you can, so your partner can recognise the rhythm and then repeat it back to you (this is my favourite). And in an under arm pass by situation, it’s not easy to see your partner all the time, so you have to feel the rhythm through your connected arms.

Exciting!

Of course, for this to work, you need to have a) an understanding of swung timing, straight timing, syncopation, and how to keep time while ‘paused’ (ie gotta have bounce, and b) a relaxed connection, because a hugely tight pair of arms don’t let messages (weight changes) through.
And to get those things, you need to focus on the rhythm of your basic footwork, and on leading by moving your body rather than yanking with your arms.

And, the best bit of this, is that you have to really pay attention to your partner to catch the rhythm, then repeat it back. You have to watch and listen and feel them, and then you have to watch and listen and feel them responding to see if you’re getting it right. The other best bit is that you assume from the beginning that both partners – lead and follow – can call, and both can respond. This immediately undoes the idea that follows always react and leads always initiate. It reminds you that both of you are partners, and that both good leading and good following requires listening very carefully to your partner, and responding to what they’re doing.

[Segue: if you set up this model of dancing relationships, you are undoing the bullshit power dynamic that encourages sexual harassment (which is where one partner exploits their higher position of power). In this model of dance partnership, each partner is important and powerful. You listen to each other. You respect each other. Higher power and its exploitation is detrimental to both the dancing partnership, and to the social partnership.]

Ok, so where’s the music in all this?
This is where we get amazing. This is where jazz dancing gets fantastic. We are doing polyrhythms, here. There’s the band, doing what they do. And then there’s the dancers, dancing a rhythm on the top. They might be dancing what they hear in the music, or, because lindy hop is wonderful, they might add a complementary rhythm to what they hear. Something that’s not in the music at all. Yet.
As if that wasn’t wonderful enough, if there are two of you having a rhythmic conversation like this, you’ll be adding two layers of rhythm on top of the music. Because you two aren’t in sync – you’re doing call and response. And that means that while you’re responding to your partner, they’re already adding in another rhythm. So you have to listen to and recognise that new rhythm while you’re responding with the previous rhythm! Wow!

Wait, no, we’re not done.

This is where it gets fantastic.

You don’t have to play the call and response game. You can just rock out doing whatever you like, not syncing up with your partner. So you’re doing a whole heap of rhythms all at once, on top of the music. Boom. Of course, the challenge here is to make all this actually be rhythmically sound. It can’t just be a bunch of noise and rubbish. This is why I like the call and response game: it makes you be super clear and definite in your movements. I actually like it when you have to do a rhythm, then repeat it, and then your partner repeats it. Because that way you get clear feedback about whether your rhythm is legit, and not just a bunch of banging and jumping about. If you can’t do it twice in a row, then you suck a bit and you need to clean it up. Usually that means simplifying.

The extra wonderful part of this, is that this is a game brand new dancers can play as well. And as you get more experience, and more control of your body, your rhythms can get more complex. To me, it feels like leading and following on a micro-level. Am I leading clearly enough for a brand new dancer to pick it up and follow? If not, then I suck. My partner shouldn’t have to be a superstar to recognise and repeat my rhythm.

Tell me about the music!
Right, lets talk about the shout chorus at the end of a song. Wikipedia puts it like this. The shout chorus is

characterized by being the most energetic, lively, and exciting and by containing the musical climax of the piece. A shout chorus characteristically employs extreme ranges, loud dynamics, and a re-arrangement of melodic motives into short, accented riffs. Shout choruses often feature tutti or concerted writing, but may also use contrapuntal writing or call and response between the brass and saxophones, or between the ensemble and the drummer. Additionally, brass players frequently use extended techniques such as falls, doits, turns, and shakes to add excitement.

I like ones by musicians like Sidney Bechet, old school NOLA people. Or Fats Waller usually brings good ones. That last chorus often feels more chaotic and shouty than with a big classic swing band. And there’s probably going to be some improvisation in there too. Here, check out ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ by Waller and his Rhythm, from about 2.00:

linky

[DJing note: I often use a song with this sort of ending to build the energy in the room. From here I can ramp up the tempos and excitement level, because the shout chorus has primed the room for something more.]

Ok, so here’s my thinking: that last shout chorus is just like when you’re playing call and response rhythms with your partner. The rhythms and notes just pile on up. It sounds a bit like chaos, but it’s not, because everyone has to really listen to each other.

This is jazz.

And this is why that idea that ‘follows do what leads say’ is just rubbish. It’s not only sexist and dumb, it’s not jazz. It’s creatively BOOOORING.

Ok, let’s look at some dancers.

Marie and Skye at GSDF in 2014:

Not much in the way of shout chorus to that song, aye? In fact, it’s the opposite: it’s a quieter, calmer, sparser arrangement and performance. The tempo is nice and relaxed, it swings like a gate, and it has a nice clear, consistent rhythm. Perfect for lindy hopping.

Then let’s look at Marie and Skye. They’re doing the same shapes, they have the same beat in their bodies, but they often aren’t doing exactly the same rhythm. I don’t want to say ‘footwork’ because ‘footwork’ is misleading: it suggests that it’s your feet doing the work. It’s actually your body that’s doing the work, and your foot placement and emphasis is a consequence of choices you’ve made with your body. That’s why it’s so much easier to see Skye and Maria’s rhythms. It’s almost as though Skye in particular has velvet covered feet. Velvet covered bricks, because though each step is perfectly and gently places, the commitment of weight is very solid and definite. And he understands that he has more than just one flat surface to his foot – there’s lots more to work with. And then, to make it more awesome, he lifts his feet from his hip or his knee… the movement begins higher in his body, not just with his feet.

Again, though, the rhythms that they bring, even to just the last 2 beats of a swing out, where you might triple step habitually, are very clear decisions, and they are working with the music. They aren’t just ramming some random combination of steps that they love on top of the music. They’re building it in. Watching Skye (because I’m a lead, that’s what I’m doing right now), he’s also working with all the instruments. There aren’t many of them, but he makes very clear that it’s the combination of instruments that make the band.

I really hate ‘musicality classes’ where teachers say something like ‘now dance to the saxophone!’ Because there’s a whole band there, and the sound they make is a combination of all those instruments and sounds. So why would I just take out one instrument? What I like about Skye in this particular video is that he’s moving between instruments, or dancing to all of them at once, and creating a series of shapes and patterns and rhythms that join them all together.
And Marie is with him, working with his overall pattern, but adding stuff by shifting the emphasis here and there, by adding in completely new sequences, by taking out sequences and paring things down. I particularly like the way her moments of stillness and simplicity (something I see Naomi Uyama do a lot) are essential for Skye’s busy-ness. If they were both going hardcore, you’d get more of a shout chorus effect, but for the whole song, and it’d be a bit much. It certainly wouldn’t suit this quieter, pared back song.

Okay, let’s contrast.

Frida and Skye at Snowball in 2014

Ok, so you see straight away, that there’s a different rhythmic relationship going on here between these two people. I’ve written about Frida before, in reference to this same issue: she brings the shit. She also has a very active, engaged and exciting edge to her dancing that isn’t like Marie’s. Watching this, I’m struck by the way Skye becomes the ‘simpler’ dancer, when Frida adds the vajazzle. Not that he’s necessarily doing simple steps; it’s just that the layers of rhythm and timing and emphasis are different in this partnership. By dancing with a different partner to a different song, his dancing is changed. Partly because he’s a very good lead, and changes his dancing to suit the music and his partner. But also because dancing with a different partner frames his approach to music in a different way.

Theres’s something more exciting about dancing to a live band, and I think it’s because anything can happen. Jazz wants improvisation, and in a recording, the improvisation is over: the sound is fixed. But when it’s live, it’s not fixed. And when dancers and musicians work together, that degree of the unexpected increases. Much more can happen now. So there’s an edge of anticipation and risk to improvised dancing to a live, improvising jazz band. Which adds excitement. And with Frida, you know that her reflexes are so good, and she is so fast, that she can not only respond really quickly to a new lead, but she can respond quickly to a new sound in the band, and add her own thoughts to both or either. And yet still make the partnership work.

Anyway, I wanted to jot all these thoughts down while they were still fresh after a couple of days of interesting dance work. Bec and Alice also led a session in our practice group last night where they taught us how to do one particular move that Skye leads in both these videos. Bec and Alice came to practice all excited because they’d realised Skye dances that same move in many ways, with many partners. And it’s always different. Our challenge in this session was to be able to dance two versions, and to understand how changes in timing (rhythm) were about changes in how you use your body, as both a lead and a follow. One thing we realised was that if you overcommit – if you get too ‘deep’ into a pause or a stop, your timing changes, and you can’t respond as quickly. It was very interesting.

So I guess this post is about layers of rhythm, and how we can think about lindy hop as sequences and layers of rhythm, both between partners, and between musicians and dancers. Long live lindy hop. You are the best.

No no no no no.

The idea that someone is using this this blog as a guide for developing safe space policies:

This blog is a blog. That means it’s all my own, personal opinion. I’m just speculating here.

Don’t be a lazy arse. Get your shit to someone who knows what they’re talking about, and develop some solid policy and some well-planned strategies.

Note: sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination, which means that it is against the law in Australia.
So that time your teaching partner felt up your arse in class? Broke the law. That time your teacher ogled your body and made a suggestive comment after class? Broke the law.

So you have legal responsibilities, peeps.
There have been various discussions on Jive Junction about who should do what, and what role organisers (of weekend events or of regular classes and venues) should play in preventing sexual harassment and assault. I have a vested interest in figuring this stuff out, as a business woman in the scene, but also as a human being in the scene.

Who’s responsible for what?

I’m going to respond to a few issues raised by the Yehoodi Event organisers forum, but only a few. This forum unfortunately reinforces very traditional ideas of power and responsibility in the lindy hop world, ideas that have ultimately resulted in misuse of power, and in powerlessness. But I don’t have time to engage with those broader issues here. Instead, let me comment directly on a couple of things, as they relate to the responsibilities of businesses in the lindy hop world, and to sexual harassment.

I found this Yehoodi forum in turn exciting and enraging. People said things that I wanted to shout at them for, and people said things that I wanted to send them fan mail for. I’m finding this whole issue immensely unsettling and upsetting. Partly because I’m a woman, and most of the discussion is reminding me of the bullshit that happens to me every day, as a woman in a patriarchal culture. Fuck. I am taking this personally, because it is personal.

Here is my opinion RE ‘scene leaders’ and who should do what.
1. If you are running a business (in Australia) you have a legal obligation to your employees, at least, to actively prevent sexual harassment.

2. Not all ‘scene leaders’ are business owners, nor are all business owners ‘scene leaders’. The two should not necessarily be conflated. Scott Cupit uses the expression ‘scene leader’ rather than business owner and employer. I think this is seriously misleading, because it confuses the legal responsibilities of people who run dance schools or dance events.
You may be a ‘scene leader’, but run no businesses; you might commit your energy to… I dunno. Being a very good competitor or teacher. But be an employee rather than an employer.
Can you operate a business in the lindy hop world and not be a ‘scene leader’ (god I hate that expression)? Hmmm. I think so.

I do not like the way ‘leadership’ is equated to economic power.
So….

3. You may be an important person in your scene but focus your effort on things like good working conditions for volunteers, taking care of children at events, or making friends with musicians. You can be a ‘scene leader’ without being a business owner or institutionally powerful person.

This is important, because of the way labour and economic power work in the lindy hop and broader world. Women are over-represented in unpaid labour in lindy hop. Women earn less than men in the broader community. It is a fact that patriarchy is based on the greater economic power of men. So if we determine ‘scene leaders’ by their economic power, we are doing bad gender work. We are privileging men, and disadvantaging women. You can see where this goes, when we then talk about ‘scene leaders” responsibility in issues of sexual harassment and gender. In the clumsiest terms, women become the victims, men become the saviours. As a woman, I say no no no no NO, I am NOT happy with that!

So let’s not just look to business owners in lindy hop when we’re looking for leadership, or for responsibility.

4. A business does not necessarily equate to ‘community’. Again, Cupit conflates his business (Swing Patrol London) with the whole London swing dance community. This is not something I’d do, because a) weirdo power stuff there; b) I’m not responsible for everything that happens in my local dance community. Legally or personally, c), London (and Sydney) are far bigger than my projects, which is good because DIVERSITY, and d) It’s important to distribute power more evenly throughout a community, if that community is to be healthy and prevent sexual harassment.

It’s important to make that distinction as a business owner and employer, but also in terms of community power and activism. If you are the ‘scene leader’ of ‘your community’, then you take power away from the other people in that local scene.
Part of this whole discussion relies on the importance of undoing systems of power and exploitation. So get undoing, and set aside that idea that you are ‘the’ scene leader, or even ‘a’ scene leader. You are a person in a community, working with other people.

I’d sum up my comments on that Yehoodi panel by saying that I think Michael Gamble is doing and saying some very interesting things. Lindy Focus may include things like this which scare the pants off me, but in this Yehoodi discussion, Gamble is bringing the goods.

So, anyway, if you want to actually build good policy, use good resources.

Here are some actually informed and knowledgeable resources you could use. They are all Australian, because that is where I am:

Opinions. I have them.

I was just thinking about that last post Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer, and the bit where I said

A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better

First I lol for using gender neutral language, when I’m deliberately talking about a woman leading.
Second, I’m reminded of a comment I get occasionally from male teachers and ‘higher profile’ dancers around the place. It’s happened a few times now, and it really twiddles my knobs*.

Basically:
Take Male dancer X, who is generally a pretty nice guy, but also pretty comfortable with being an ‘alpha’ male dancer. He likes being top dog. He’s nice and ostensibly a feminist ally, but in practice, I’m not sure he’d be willing to give up that position as top dog for the sake of feminism. So he’s all for feminism, so long as he stays pretty comfortable. He’ll have your back in a fight, and he’ll never make a sexist joke, but you always leave conversations with the feeling that you’ve been (gently, paternally) reminded that you are not the top dog.

I don’t mind these guys. But I can’t really be bothered with them.

Anyways, it’s happened a few times now, that one of these guys will mosey up for a chat at a dance (because we are casual acquaintances), and we’ll shoot the shit. We’ll talk about general stuff, a bit of gossip, mostly just safe dance scene talk. Nothing too personal. But after about 5 minutes of this safe talk, he’ll say something like “Hey, I think your dancing’s really improved lately”.
It’s one of those insulting complements that makes you crinkle your brow. In the moment, you’re kind of appreciative – he means it in good will, and he’s genuinely trying to be positive. But he’s still making it clear that he’s top dog. He’s the one handing out complements. He’s the one telling you that he’s assessed your dancing.
There’s no scope for me to respond. I’m supposed to say, “Thanks, mate”, and to leave him with a warm rosy glow for soothing the feminist strop. But I can’t quite choke it out these days.
I have really wanted to respond with, “Well, I’ve always been pretty fucking good, and you were too, once, but fuck you’ve let yourself go. You should probably do some practice, mate.” Because that’s usually the case – these guys are always the sorts of guys who were once pretty ok dancers, but haven’t really done any proper work since. And their approach to dancing is still fixed pretty firmly in the time of their hayday – 2003 is a popular year for these guys. I’m not pretty fucking good, but I know these guys really can’t handle women who are confident. These little microaggression complements are about reminding me of the pecking order. And they really don’t like it when you just plain refuse to acknowledge that hierarchy.

At the end of the day, it’s massively patronising. Why don’t they say something like, “Hey, I love that blah blah you’ve got happening at the moment in your swing out. Have you been working on something new?” If they said something like that – starting positive, then asking for my opinion – they’d be making it clear that we were peers, and that my opinion was important as theirs.

So this is why I include that point about asking a woman for her opinion, rather than just complimenting her. If you just compliment, you are maintaining the status quo. But if you ask for her opinion, you’re letting her know that you value her ideas, and you see her as a peer. Yes, you may hear some opinions you don’t like, and you might – conceivably – be put in the position where your own dancing is discussed (and critiqued!), but yolo, right?

This point relates to the way I do feedback to my partners when I’m in class: I ask things like: “What did you think about that?” “Was it ok?” “Did it work?” “I’m not sure about that second part.” I want to discuss this stuff, and I want that feedback. By asking for other people’s opinions, I’m signalling that I’m ok with myself. I’m confident enough to invite critique. It can be scary-arse, but it’s important for me trying to be a good learner.

And this issue also reminds me of that whole thing about how to speak to little girls. Find something other than compliments!

And part of me wonders if this is why solo dance is so popular with some of the strongest women dancers in Australia at the moment: in a solo class, you work to your own standard. No one compliments you or tells you you’re doing ok, nor do you have to be responsible for making someone else feel good about their dancing. You just work your tits off. And when you have a Swede teaching you, or Ramona, or another teacher who’s into the ‘rhythm method‘** and the tap-centred approach to learning, where teachers are a bit strict, you really thrive.

*That’s a DJ term, that means that someone is butting in and doing something that irritates you – ie adjusting the volume or treble when you’re DJing.
**I’m so, so sorry for this joke.

Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer

There’s recently been a fairly loud and emotional discussion about sexual violence in lindy hop. I don’t want to rehash it here, because I find it very upsetting. Rehashing this stuff in detail disempowers me. I don’t want to discuss the male teacher named in this discussion, because I don’t want this to be all about him. Again. I want to take that power away from him. I want to find power in this, for me, and for other women.

Here is something I wrote on facebook today, in response to Gwen Moran’s piece How We Can Help Young Girls Stay Assertive. This piece described Deborah Ann Cihonski’s article ‘The experience of loss of voice in adolescent girls: An existential-phenomenological study’. I don’t know what that original research is like (haven’t read it yet), but it’s an interesting place to start.

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This article is particularly relevant to the current discussion about assault and safety for women in the lindy hop scene.

I am deeply disturbed by comments emphasising how we might ‘protect’ women and girls in our communities. I think it is problematic (to say the least) to perpetuate this idea of femininity as vulnerable (and passive), and masculinity as dangerous (and active).

It’s important to remember that most sexual assaults happen in privates spaces (dance halls, practice rooms, bedrooms, lounge rooms and so on), and most women are assaulted by people they know. ‘Rapists’ aren’t wild bears or volcanoes: they aren’t forces of nature that we have to protect women from. They are people who need to fix their behaviour.
We need to remind women that they are powerful and capable of caring for and protecting themselves, and for making decisions about their bodies and lives.

So I think that one of the most effective tools for making safe spaces in lindy hop is is empowering women. Some practical tips:

  • Do use gender neutral language in class (ie follow does not = female by default). I have heard many male teachers resist this, saying that it’s ‘too hard’, or ‘not important’. Believe me: it is important. If you are a woman leading in that class (or thinking about leading), it makes you feel part of the group. It makes you feel like a lead.
  • Follows are not passive; following is an active process (ie leads don’t ‘tell follows what to do’, and follows don’t ‘carry out’ leaders’ creative ideas)
  • All partners should take care of each other (ie it’s not that ‘leads look after follows’, it’s that we all should look after each other). eg follows are responsible for floor craft too.
  • List the female dance partner in a teaching team first. This is ridiculously rare in lindy hop, and we need to make up for lost time by over-representing women as the ‘first’ member of the teaching team.
  • Teach female students how to say “No thank you” if they are invited to dance, but don’t want to. Teach yourself how to say this.
  • Don’t use sexualised humour in class. This makes it clear that classes are learning spaces. If all the sexy jokes in the world were gender-win, it’d be ok. But most of the sexualised jokes teachers make in class use gender stereotypes that disempower women.
  • Have female role models in your scene: women MCs at big events, women musicians (!!), women organisers, women teaching on their own, women DJs, women publicly making decisions and solving problems (ie female managers), women doing physical labour (beyond cleaning, aye?), women eating well-balanced meals with enthusiasm at shared tables (and not talking about ‘being bad’ when they eat delicious food).
  • Value other types of work, particularly the types of work dominated by women. Working the door is as important as DJing. Make that clear. Name all your volunteers in your PR copy.
  • Talk about old timer dancers who are women. Al, Leon, Frankie: they’re all wonderful. But so are Norma, Sugar, Josephine, Dawn, Big Bea.
  • Research women dancers and teach their material, in their names. And that means more than just another class on swivels. Talk about women choreographers, troupe leaders, and managers.
  • Teach solo dance. Women dancing alone is an act of agency and power in a partner dancing world. And teach a variety of styles: sexy, sweet, powerful, aggressive, humorous, gentle, sad, athletic, witty, cerebral….

Congruently, men in lindy hop need to be taught some things too:

  • Work on your own strategies for speaking up when you hear a sexist joke. You know you should call that guy on it, but what exactly will you say or do? Will you walk away? Will you laugh along?
  • What are your limits, when it comes to ‘blokey’ or ‘boys own’ behaviour? Sexy jokes? Talking about women you see in the room in a sexual way? Competing with other men to ‘get’ a woman? Know your limits, then act on them.
  • Defer to female opinion and example: if you’re in a discussion, listen to women before you speak. In all matters, not just sexual safety. Once you’re good at it, then start working on ways of expressing your opinion in a collegial way.
  • Don’t call women girls unless they are actually girls (ie under 13). It’s patronising. Don’t call women or girls ‘females’, unless their gender is what you want to discuss: eg “Female dancers are as capable of leading as following” is as good as “Women dancers are as capable of leading as following” but “Females are good leads too” is not ok. Women are not meerkats.
  • Encourage women to take up leading. Encourage women who lead. Encourage women to comment on leading. A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better. If a woman chooses to lead in class, don’t make a big deal about it, and make it easy for them to stay in that role (deal with uneven follow/lead ratios in other ways – eg talk about how if you’re standing out, this is a chance to work on your dancing)
  • Seek out women DJs. They may be harder to find, but don’t default to the usual male DJs at your events. Men are more likely to speak up, so you need to keep your eyes and ears open for women DJs.
  • Proactively encourage women DJs, women leads, and women organisers.
  • Use your online time to support women, and to support other men. Men are less likely to chime in with a supportive comment on a general thread about dance than women are. Men generally speak up more often, but they aren’t as likely to just say something like “Hey, great idea!” and then leave it at that.
  • Support men who are doing good gender work: compliment or say ‘yeah!’ when you see guys doing good stuff.
  • Support male follows: don’t make that sexy “wooo!” noise when you see two men dancing together. When you make that noise it announces to everyone that you are uncomfortable with two men dancing together. Probably because you think that two men dancing together is a sexual thing. Which means you probably think partner dancing is a sexual thing. Which means you need to check yourself.
  • When you thank the teachers for a class, say thank you to the female teacher first.

There are a bajillion ways we can be better humans in lindy hop. They don’t have to be formal policies or official responses. Be the change you want to see: men should assume that if they’re not pro-actively changing things, they are part of the problem.

The nice thing about all this, is that being a better human is really quite nice: you get to be nice to people, and that makes you feel good. Doing genderwin stuff can be an empowering thing for you. If it feels a bit hard (eg some guys say using gender neutral language is too hard), then remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer: we love hard things! We love challenges! We dance the most complex, wonderful dance in the world, because we love complex, we love challenge, we love creative solutions!

The point of this, of course, is that feminism is good for all of us. Change can be confronting. But that’s why we love break steps, right? Because change is exciting and stimulating too!

A final note: it’s ok to have heroes. It’s totally ok to fansquee for a big name dancer. Having a crush on your dancing hero (no matter what your sex or theirs) is also ok. It means that you are inspired by what they do.
But don’t stop there. Use the inspiration they bring to become a better dancer yourself. Tell them you love what they do, but stop there. Then move on and tell someone else you love what they do, even if they aren’t a big name dancer.

And remember that if we are all to be held accountable for our actions, we need to be sure that we all have the power, the agency, to make our own decisions, and to control our own bodies and actions.

NB:
I have written about these issues many, many times here on this blog. I am an old school feminist, and I believe in the idea of patriarchy, and in discourse and ideology. The bottom line is that I believe that if you want to prevent sexual assault, locking up rapists is not the solution. The solution is in dismantling ‘rape culture‘, or a culture of sexism and patriarchy. I know! It seems like so much work! Good thing we have jazz to sustain us, aye?

Here are some of these posts: