I’ve been a little sceptical of claims that Sanders is more feminist than Clinton because of that one time he was down for equal rights. I’m sure he’s a great bloke, but Clinton’s got feminist cred. Long term feminist cred.
You don’t tell them to fuck off. You let them test you to see if you’re an angry feminist, and you pass the test by letting them insult you to your face and not getting angry. Because after everything you’ve done, everything you’ve fought for, that’s still what most men want to know. They want to know they can insult you and get away with it. They won’t work with you if they can’t….
….I know this is true, not just in politics, but everywhere in the world. That women can never be seen as “the most qualified person,” even when they’re more qualified than men, because people keep asking us these fucking questions, the ones they don’t ask men, about whether our gender would prevent us from doing the work (source.)
More importantly, I’ve stopped just smiling and ignoring those sorts of provocative questions. On the weekend a particularly sexist musician tried to get a rise out of me with a deliberately provocative line. I said, with an iron fierceness, “We don’t make those sorts of jokes here.” And when he tried to pass the ball to his bloke mates to get a laugh from them, I intercepted and repeated my point: “We don’t make those jokes. We do NOT make those jokes here. I’m getting hard on this shit. Understand, bros?” and I raised my eyebrows and looked them all in they eye. I was the ultimate feminist killjoy. And then later on, when he tried it again, I pulled him up on his shit. And I’ll be making I’ve made a complaint about him.
And those younger musicians who like to get on the drink at gigs and can’t do their job because they’re too pissed? Yes, I did give them a telling off. Yes, I am a bloody sour, humourless killjoy bitch. And they’re lazy, drunken fools, while I’m a fully fit, seriously healthy arse kicker. And I am not afraid to give them a telling off or kick them out. I don’t give a fuck how good a musician they are.
I am that angry femmostroppo. And I still do twice as good a job as a man who does half as much work as I do in the same job. Because women have to. And I know there are a couple of hundred dancers standing behind me, ready to get my back.
Scared the pants off me at first, to do this. But now I just figure yolo. Bitches get shit done. And I’ve had all those years experience in academia, where the highest profile people in my profession were arsehole headkickers. I’m prepared to kick heads for the sisterhood. And I don’t think those men realise just how deep the rage goes. I’ve got a lifetime of harassment and impediments to fuel this rage. And they should thank their lucky stars they get away with some sharp wit and a cold, fierce line in Aussie humour.
Because I could burn them where they stand.
Look out. I’m going to swear in this post. At the end. Because I am just so, so angry about this. I am SO. ANGRY. If you don’t like me swearing, get off your arse and do something about this stuff, so I don’t have to swear.
If your response to multiple stories of sexual harassment or sexual assault committed by one person is to ‘wait and see’ and ‘hear the other side of the story’ you are saying:
that all these women are lying
that you don’t believe these women
that the opinion of that one man is more important than the stories of many women
that you are more willing to believe that one man’s story (if it differs) than to believe all these women.
That’s just the bottom line.
Basically, if a heap of women all tell you very similar stories about a man who:
touches their bodies in ways they don’t want,
tells them unwelcome sexually explicit stories in public settings,
texts, emails, messages, and contacts on facebook with unrelenting requests for dates or attention…
…even after they tell him to stop…
…and you don’t believe them, you are complicit in sexual harassment. You are making it easier for this man to continue frightening, bullying, assaulting, intimidating these women and girls. You are saying, “I think he has a right to do what he likes with your body. I don’t think you are intelligent or rational enough to assess or comment on a man’s behaviour. I think you are a liar. I think you are LYING and I DON’T TRUST YOU.”
You’re just as guilty as he is.
Having a ‘code of conduct’ on your event’s website, or telling students you’re ‘not ok with harassment’ means absolutely nothing if you do not believe the women who tell you about this man.
So stop being a fucking arsehole already. Just fucking BELIEVE them and stop being a cock. Kick that fucker out of your events, ban his fucking arse, and bring the shit. Earn my respect. Because right now, you do not have it.
As I noted in Polite ladies don’t swear I’m doing a survey of the Australian swing dance events and their codes of conduct. Do they have them? Are they publicly available? Can they be found and read easily?
This post is a very basic, very simple overview.
Does the event have a code of conduct listed on its website?
Is it available from a link on the main page (it should be), or is it hidden behind a few clicks?
If the event doesn’t have a code, does its parent organisation?
Of course, having a code is pretty much a token exercise without supporting response strategies, training for all workers, and the code itself being readable, accessible, and available in paper form at the event. It has to be accompanied by in-class teaching and training for cultural change.
So of course, the next step in assessing Australian events would be to assess the in-person responses and processes of each event. So far MLX is winning: I was very impressed by what I saw this year at that event. Hopefully we don’t have to wait until something happens to assess an event’s response strategy.
Why did I do this? Why am I being such a pain? Because I’m a keen social dancer, I’m a DJ, and I go to events. I want to be safe. I want my friends to be safe. As a woman, I experience sexual harassment pretty much every week, and pretty much every time I leave the house. So you know what? I say FUCK THAT noise. I want my lindy hop to be safe, and I am DONE with fuckers who are busy with one hundred excuses for not doing something to make dance events safe. THERE IS NO ACCEPTABLE EXCUSE.
And if I ask questions about this, other people will too. We’ll stop being a community of ostriches, and we’ll start actually stepping up. I hope that other women will see that a woman can say something quite loudly, and be powerful.
Why is a code important?
It tells your attendees the ‘rules’. It makes it clear to attendees and workers that your event is thinking about and working towards safety and preventing sexual harassment.
It also helps create a culture of ‘prevention’ and ‘respect’. I was absolutely delighted by the way MLX’s public code of conduct and open discussion of these issues led directly to a general attitude of ‘look out for each other’ at the event itself. I saw dancers go out of their way to do things for each other.
So having a code tells people that a code is important. It tells people that these ideas are important enough to talk about, write about, and act upon.
What should a code include?
Basically, a list of ‘rules’: dos and don’ts.
You also need to include a ‘what do you do if you need help?’ process for dancers
a list of contact names (for both attendees and workers to contact)
a response strategy or process if something does happen (eg when do you call the cops?
training for all workers before the weekend, to be sure everyone knows the code, and knows the process.
I think it should also include a list of consequences: eg repeated complaints about you, and you’re banned.
A process and training for carrying out these consequences. eg once you’re banned, your name and picture is in the door kit, and door staff are trained in how to prevent your entry (eg calling the police). Banned dancers should be notified in person about being banned, and this knowledge should be circulated amongst local dance organisers.
Banning: if you have banned someone, do you have a responsibility to warn organisers about them?
This last point is particularly important, I think. It’s not ok to say “each issue will be dealt with on a case by case basis.” You need to plan ahead. That means coming up with scenarios, and response strategies, and then training people in these strategies. Because we are a community of dancers and musicians, and the relationships between scenes are absolutely central to our local, national, and international success and viability (try running a big exchange without a network of peeps in other cities to invite and to help you distribute promotional material), we need to think collaboratively about response strategies.
eg Last week I banned a guy who’s been groping women. He gave me a bullshit line about how ‘it’s just a blues’ hold!’ Yeah right, buddy. I’m not no noob to be buying that shit. I’ve told other organisers in my city about this guy, what I’ve done, and what he said. The blues dancers and event organisers were immediately alarmed, because this line ‘it’s just a blues hold’ is some very bad PR for blues. And let’s be honest: the blues scene has been faster and more diligent in their responses to these issues than the lindy hop scene.
So these local peeps now have a chance to raise the issue in class: ‘it’s a blues hold’ is not a license to grope. The other organisers in my town know that this guy is not welcome at my events, and that he’s aggressive and may retaliate against me personally at a dance event. So they’re keeping an eye out (I hope! I know other dancers are). And if they do choose to ban him as well, they have a precedent. But they may also use this as a chance to give him an ultimatum: get your shit together, or you lose my events too.
Me, personally, I’ve found having a network of organisers in my town, and good, clear communications about these issues absolutely essential. We may not all be best friends, but we are all capable of open, civil conversation, and have all worked in at least civil will to reduce conflict where we can. In this instance, I know that there are other organisers in my city (many of whom are actually my friends) thinking about these issues, and giving me feedback on my processes.
Anyway, back on topic.
Me first. Little Big Weekend (lindy hop/solo jazz) – that’s me and Swing Dance Sydney. It does have a publicly available code, and we do have a safety response plan at the door. I circulate the code with all teachers, musicians, sound engineers, etc etc before the weekend, and make it clear to all these people in their written agreements, that they must all read and agree to abide by the code before they work for me. So we are pretty much pirates, right?
– no written copy of the code at the door
– the code has too many words
– I’m thinking about a visual guide to not harassing people, which I’d like to get done next year.
– I’m currently working on a readable, useable version of the code for the door
– we need more training: our teachers need in-class strategies; our door staff need training for dealing with banned people; we all need training in knowing when to call the police. I’ve worked with security guards at events before (including one memorable late night party where a DJ threatened me, and I got to tell the big security guard to kick him out), I’ve kicked people out quite a few times (random drunks mostly), and I’ve called ambulances. But what’s my plan for responding when a woman is sexually assaulted at my event?
– I’d like to do some security/defence training for dealing with trouble at events.
Sydney Lindy Exchange – no code of conduct (NB I did provide Bruce with a draft version when I was first working with this event earlier this year, but it’s not been adopted). This event is managed by Bruce Elder and Swing To It Sydney. Swing To It does not have a code either.
Jumptown Jam (lindy hop, blues, balboa, solo) – no code of conduct. Also Jumptown Swing managed.
Slow Down (slow lindy, blues, slow balboa, slow solo)- Does have a code, but the link is hidden behind a drop down. Run by Cathie Gough and Shobana Nambier, and sponsored by Cathie’s company Savoy Canberra. Savoy Dance Canberra has no code of conduct.
Melbourne Lindy Exchange (lindy hop, blues, solo, balboa)- has a safe spaces document AND guidelines for attendees. Run by a non-profit organisation the Melbourne Jazz Dance Association. Has a very good f2f safe spaces process, and provides hard copies of the code at the door to events.
I was on the MJDA founding committee, and we specifically included the concepts of equity and accessibility as well as promotion and preservation of jazz music and dance in the Association’s charter.
Blues Before Sunrise (blues dance) Doesn’t have a code of conduct, but was held in March this year, and was really too early to have gotten to this issue. It’s a tricky one because Steven Mitchell was involved with this event as a teacher. I think (but can’t be sure) BBS won’t be running in the future, as the organisers are moving on to other projects. This event was administered by Swing Patrol Melbourne.
Cider House Blues (blues) – Does have a code, and developed it before the Mitchell thing. This event is run by a few friends.
WA (Perth) Hullabaloo (lindy hop) – has an inactive page atm. It’s run by the Perth Swing Dance Association, and I’m pretty sure the event will have a code and a process, as they are fully ninjas behind the scenes on this stuff. The PSDA does have a code, but it’s hidden behind a few too many clicks.
Perth Lindy Jam has no code. It’s run by Swing It, and was only held in March, so again it’s probably not had time to get a code sorted. Swing It does not have a code.
Shag About (shag) – Does not have a code. It’s run by Shag About, which does not have a code.
QLD Sunshine Swing (lindy hop) – doesn’t have a code on its site, but its site is a place holder only atm. This event has been undergoing some changes. I’m not sure whether it’s run by Empire Swing or Corner Pocket Swing. Corner Pocket doesn’t have a code, nor does Empire Swing.
Swing Camp Oz (lindy hop, etc) does not have a code of conduct. This event is run by Joel Plys from outside Australia. There has been a fb post about a code of conduct, but this code is wholly inadequate.
TAS Swingmania in Launceston does have a code, but it’s a bit tricky to find. It’s linked from the Registration page, and the link is right above the ‘register’ in this body of text: “SwingMania is an inclusive and warm environment. Any participant who marginalises another may be asked by the organising committee to cease their involvement with the event. To view our full Code of Conduct”. So while it’s harder to find, it’s actually cleverly placed, because you know registrants will read it. Hopefully.
[edit: I added For Dancers Only and Swingmania after this page was published because I forgot them]
As you can see, we’re not doing very well, Australia. Time to get your shit in gear, right? After all, we’ve had 11 months since January, so we should all have been thinking about it since then. And there have been some very good resources floating about.
Basically, if you haven’t got a code of conduct on your event’s website (and on your dance school’s website), you’re telling dancers you don’t prioritise their safety. I know that getting content onto a website can be a pain if you’re not tech-savvy, but I’m pretty sure we all manage to get ads for our next event up on the website promptly.
I’m all about swearing.
And so is Clem Ford, whom I have the hero worship for atm.
I’m currently pushing up my program of asking difficult questions in public about how dancers are responding to and preventing sexual harassment. I’ve been told, repeatedly, that I need to stop shouting in public and start sending private emails. Yeah right. Because I really want to go behind closed doors with someone who has a history of enabling sexual assault.
[nb as I type this, I’m getting a bit trembly. Because every time I get public on this stuff, I get a host of nasty comments on this blog, scary messages on facebook, and thinly veiled threats. But fuck it. I think about the fact that my hesitating on banning a particular man at my dances this year eventually made it possible for him to grope and scare one of my students. I’m stepping UP because I can. It scares the shit out of me, but really, yolo, right?]
I’m just about to spend some time assessing all the Australian swing dance events’ websites, looking for codes of conduct. If they don’t have one, I’m going to ask them publicly where it is.
I recently had a discussion with the MLX committee about their code of conduct (and its absence a few weeks before the event). I was just DELIGHTED by their fierce response. They were all over this shit. And they produced a great document. As with all these things, it needs some pruning and tidying. But they got it going, they had it available in hard copy at the door, people were reading it, and I saw the process in action over the weekend. I was just so excited to see how public discussion about this stuff at a non-profit event prompted dancers to be pro-active about looking out for each other. It was just great. Just GREAT.
But not every event is doing so well. I’m going to spend a couple of minutes here with Swing Camp Oz.
Where is the code of conduct for this event? This is an important place to start, because Mitchell was heavily involved with this event, and was actually at this event in Australia when his history as a rapist and perpetrator of violent attacks was made public.
And yet there’s no code of conduct for this event. More worryingly, this event does not pay its local teachers and DJs properly*. This worries me, because I’m currently realising that sexual assault in lindy hop does not operate in a vacuum. We actually produce a culture which makes it possible by exploiting dancers in a range of ways.
More importantly, when you exploit people, you are facilitating conditions which make it possible for your workers to be abused in other ways. Including sexual harassment and bullying. So when you say, “Oh, you should DJ/teach/manage the door for free because I want you to, and I’m just doing this ‘for the scene’,” you’re telling people that they should do unfair, unsafe, unpleasant, exploitative things ‘for the scene’ just because someone powerful or ‘important’ asks them to.
To make it clear: when you fuck over volunteers, DJs, etc, you are creating conditions which train dancers to accept sexual assault and harassment by high profile teachers and dancers. You are creating and contributing to rape culture.
Kilbride posits that “The problem with writers like Clementine Ford is although their sentiment is justified, their vitriolic writing style means that people will always get offended.” Which by virtue, is suggesting that politeness and civility are the only ways to get things done. We know by looking throughout history that every revolution was started by someone using their manners and asking very politely, right?
Because I like to swear a bit on my blog, and on fb, particularly when I’m talking about this stuff. I’m just full of the rage, and I have to let it out, so there’s room inside me for photos of overweight ponies and capybaras.
I’ve heard the expression ‘ladies don’t swear’ a few too many times, particularly in reference to lindy hop. I’ve also had a few men say that they don’t want to read my pieces on preventing sexual harassment (eg this one) because they have too many swears.
A lot of modern day lindy hoppers try to recreate an imaginary swing era where ‘women were women and men were men’, and those women were all fluffy and girly, and those men were spat-wearing gentlemen. This gives me the living shits, because these modern dancers are using this imaginary world to stop me leading, to make me wear ‘girly’ outfits, to stop men following, and to make me sit down and shut up.
*[EDIT: How do I know this? I was asked to coordinate the DJs for this event in 2009, and when I asked about the pay/working conditions, I was very unimpressed and decided not to take the role. Since then I’ve actually put my conditions in writing. I developed this document over the past 15 years of running events, through my experience working with various event organisers and DJs.
But that was six years ago. Have things changed since then? Marginally. But certainly not to the point where this event is inline with the rest of Australia. And absolutely not to the point of being inline with the larger, higher profile American and European events. How do I know? I talk to other DJs, teachers, and organisers who’ve been involved with the event.
[EDIT: I’ve changed the title of this post because it is misleading. In case you missed the point, asking questions about these things is difficult and destabilising. It is uncomfortable. Which is exactly the point. Our culture discourages women from asking questions, from being loud, from being rude, from being ‘difficult’. It wants us to sit down, be quiet, and put up with men assaulting or harassing us. It absolutely wants to stop us speaking up for other people.
A large part of patriarchy is training women to see each other as rivals and competitors. Lindy hop is talking a bit about ‘active follows’ at the moment, but what that really means is ‘be active up to the point where you imperil the status quo, and the status of your male partner. Then stop.’
When we don’t just take it quietly, we disturb the status quo. We make it harder for men to take advantage of us. This makes them angry. This makes us worry about our safety. The implied threat of violence is often what keeps us from speaking up. And sexual assault is an act of violence. To trot out that Margaret Atwood quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” This is not an exaggeration. I had an experience at SLX while I was DJing that had me worried about my safety. Because I didn’t do exactly what a man wanted.]
I’ve had a couple of emails this week alone asking me if my business would like the opportunity to work for free. I said no.
But I know a lot of DJs work for free for ‘experience’ or ‘exposure’, I know newer dancers perform for free for ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’, and I know teachers work at big events within Australia for ‘experience’. None of whom receive free entry to the event or any equitable compensation (eg a free pass). One of the bigger areas of exploitation in the dance world is administration – running large events or regular classes.
All of this is pretty much bullshit.
I’m particularly annoyed by the way volunteering is used to gain free labour from dancers, without providing safe, reasonable working conditions. Volunteering is a good thing in many cases (and the lindy hop community needs it to work), but you have a responsibility as the employer (because that’s what you are) to provide safe, equitable, and just working conditions and terms for all the people who work for you. Volunteers, employees, and contractors.Simply justifying this lack of pay as ‘growing the scene’ or doing it ‘for the scene’ is not ok.
If you really want to ‘grow the scene’ you pay people so they can then invest some of that money back into the scene (or you know, paying their electricity bill). A healthy, growing community is sustainable, economically and socially. In other words, you want to retain skilled workers (rather than overworking them and burning them out) so you can retain their knowledge and abilities and help your community improve what it does.
You want to offer people opportunities to develop these skills and interests, so that they can move on to run their own projects, develop their own ideas, and help your community become a more interesting, diverse creative space. In other words, you’ll get better dancing, DJing, and events in your scene if people stick around longer, and feel good about what they do. Eventually people get tired of being screwed over, and they drop out.
More importantly, when you exploit people, you are facilitating conditions which make it possible for your workers to be abused in other ways. Including sexual harassment and bullying. So when you say, “Oh, you should DJ/teach/manage the door for free because I want you to, and I’m just doing this ‘for the scene’,” you’re telling people that they should do unfair, unsafe, unpleasant, exploitative things ‘for the scene’ just because someone powerful or ‘important’ asks them to.
Whenever I hear the phrases ‘grow the scene’ and ‘doing this for the scene/community’, my alarm bells ring. Volunteers, workers, dancers, DJs, teachers, students ARE the scene. So you should – you have a responsibility protect their interests and rights.
As well as all that, I’m back in the teaching rotation for lindy hop on Wednesdays, which is grand. I’ve had a chance to teach with another friend for the first time at her venue, and that was great. So I’m full of ideas. The recent revival of the discussion about sexual harassment in lindy hop has also prompted a reminder about how we need to fuck up bullshit gender dynamics in lindy hop from students’ very first class.
The main idea in all our teaching with Swing Dance Sydney is to skill up students for social dancing. Which means we need them to develop independence, and to be capable and confident on the dance floor on their own. Which is pretty much the opposite of a traditional class. Things that we focus on in our classes:
students being able to take care of the music:
find the beat on their own;
count themselves in and start dancing to the music on their own;
understand phrasing (at least in a basic way) in swing music;
being able to put the swing into their dancing;
master a basic rhythm;
dance that rhythm to the music.
Students being able to take care of their partner:
get into closed position with a partner;
talk to their partner and negotiate a comfortable closed position with them;
figure out that each partner is a different size and shape, with different feelings about being close to other people, etc etc, and then adjust their closed position to work with that. By talking to them;
introduce themselves to a new partner, and get into closed position in a respectful way;
leads initiating moves when they’re ready, rather than in a fixed sequence all the time, so they lead when both partners are ready;
move around the dance floor in closed position with their partner, using that basic rhythm, in time, and with swinging timing, to the music;
adjust their connection to make this movement happen as a unit;
Students being able to take care of themselves, and be mindful/present:
both partners are responsible for their own sense of timing (groove/bounce/pulse/whatevs) and their own sense of rhythm, and both partners respect that in their partner;
no one sacrifices their posture, physical comfort, safety, timing, rhythm or sense of music for their partner. And no one asks them to;
follows are active in the partnership. They way they touch their partner sends information to the lead. And the lead learns how to listen to that information;
…which means that it’s not just the lead’s job to stay in time, to find the beat, to keep the rhythm. Both partners do this, and the lead can listen to the follow to get it together;
when you begin dancing with someone, you use closed position to become a partnership: you collaborate to find a shared sense of groove.
We do all this in the very first class, and everyone is very good at it. We see very, very good social dancing right in their first class. They learn to move around on the dance floor in their first class, and they develop perfect floor craft by the end of the class. This week we told the students it’s just like being at a very good party. And they just applied what they knew about parties to make this work: apologising when they bumped people; avoiding bumping people; introducing themselves to new people; taking care of their partner and people around them; listening to and enjoying the music. And talking. So. Much. Talking. The noise level is incredible.
Now, I have to make it clear. I might sound like a big old hippy, but I’m not really. At least not in class. Everyone wears shoes, students choose to lead or follow at the beginning of class, and they stick to that. We only teach with real, swinging jazz. We only teach historic dance steps, and we talk about the history of the dance. We don’t use a lot of jargon or technical dance talk. I try to NEVER use the words ‘frame’ or ‘tension’. When we first get them partnered up, we say “Get into this position” and then we just let them do it. Then we say “Check with your partner to see it’s comfortable” and then we model how we’d ask and reply to our partner, and then we get them to do that. We don’t count them in using numbers, we scat. And over the course of the class, we move from getting them started to saying “Start when you’re ready”, though I love Lennart’s line, “Start when you feel it is the right time.”
We began teaching this way to actively reduce and remove the conditions that made sexual harassment possible. We wanted women dancers empowered, and male dancers ok with that. But what we’ve actually found is that we’re just making it easier for everyone to be properly social when they dance. It is AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING.
I mean holy SHIT! In one hour, they develop perfect floor craft on our tiny dance floor. They have gorgeously relaxed connections. They are confident and happy, making friends and laughing and talking really loudly. They can count themselves in, find phrases, and express knowledgeable opinions about whether a song is nice or not.
So, we’ve just found that teaching this way makes for better dancing and dancers. My mind is just blown.
I looked at them dancing this week and realised: traditional lindy hop classes spend a lot of time and energy ruining people’s natural ability to hold a person in their arms and move to the music. It’s like we’re trying to reverse engineer swing outs (or whatever) as though we’d never seen one before. When we should just start with what we all know how to do already: enjoy music and hold someone in our arms. And then take the natural or most obvious route to the end goal. Want a swing out? Do a circle to generate momentum, then let go. Any old count will do – if you insist on letting go on count X (in a beginner class), you end up with people fucking each other up on the dance floor, and being rough with each other. If you count people in 5 6 7 8 all the time, they rely on you to get them started, rather than learning to get their own body ready, getting their partner ready, and then dancing when they’re both ready. If you only teach them using fixed sequences of steps, they social dance that way too – they dance in figures. But they also (and this is WORSE) they dance as though getting through the figure is the most important thing. And as though having the best and most number of figures is most important. When it’s not! The music is!
Anyhoo, all this thinking is a result of some learning I’ve been doing:
Peter Loggins spent an hour with a couple of us at Herrang explaining what two step dances are, and how he teaches/taught in New Orleans in bars. Basically: simple is best, and the goal is just to get moving to a band. He said something quite provocative: “lindy hop is not a social dance.” I thought this was interesting, as the idea of a ‘swing out’ as the ‘basic’ step is quite problematic. I prefer Frankie’s point that the promenade is the most important move in lindy hop: closed position, moving in time with a partner to music, using a nice rhythm. But I felt a light go on when Loggins talked about teaching and dancing in crowded bars in New Orleans: music first. Don’t kick over the tip jar. Tip the band. Buy a drink. Be able to dance with randoms (ie dance, don’t do figures). Enjoy the music. Interact with the people around you like a real social person (ie don’t dominate the dance floor, obscure the band, or put dancing before real social interaction).
All of these things are on one hand reasonable rhetoric around live music and dance culture. But on the other hand, if you begin teaching like this, and dance like this yourself, you develop very good floor craft, you focus on your partner, you dance to the music instead of pushing through figures. You become a very good dancer. And a better person.
The Frankie stream/Harlem Roots stream at Herrang this year and last year taught me that figures are less important than rhythms. I was kind of excited about this because it taught me you could dance with ANYONE if you approach lindy hop like this. You can do simple figures with anyone and have a good time, and you can enjoy it too, because you can add it fun rhythms to keep you interested. And because you’re focussing on your partner and the people around you, rather than pushing through a series of figures, your floor craft is better, you can dance to any tempo, with anyone. Basically, you rule.
The idea of ‘rhythm first’ is important. Not just because it’s about understanding music and actually dancing. It also helps your partner feel what you are doing with your body. ‘Clear rhythms’ can be another way of saying ‘clear weight commitments and transfers’ and ‘engaged muscles recruited in the most efficient way.’ And if you do all this, your partner can feel what you’re doing.
I am very, very VERY STRONGLY committed to the idea of both partners contributing to the dance. It’s not just a matter of follows ‘just following’ or leads ‘leading’. It’s two people dancing together. Gotta learn to dance on your own so you know who you are, and you have some sense of rhythm and timing. Then when you dance together, dance together, and trust each other. You don’t have to do exactly the same rhythms: that is some boring and dull shit. It’s also the opposite of jazz.
But you do have to be ‘together’ in Frankie’s sense: you are in love for three minutes. They are the centre of your world. If you’re just pushing through figures, who cares who you’re dancing with, as long as they can lead/follow that sequence of figures. If you’re just jumping about randomly while holding someone’s hand, it’s fun, but that’s not really jazz either.
But if you’re dancing simpler shapes with rhythms that are dictated by the music, you have to keep checking in with your partner – looking at them, listening to them, responding to them. And because it’s jazz, it’s not formal turn taking: we can both speak at the same time, and we can say different things. Hello polyrhythms, hello layers of rhythm, hello lead and follow contributing different pieces to a rhythmic whole.
Rikard said while teaching with Jenny at Herrang: “I trust Jenny to know how to improvise. I trust her to do something interesting.” I think this mutual trust is essential, to being a human or a lindy hopper. As a lead, I don’t have to micro-manage my follow. I can let them do what they need to do. And that’s a relief. And interesting – who knows what they’ll do! I’d better pay attention! I’d also better look at them, listen to the messages they send to me through the connection, and respond to what they’re doing.
I throw out the idea of ‘hijacking the lead’ by follows, because it reveals a profound limitation in understanding of how leading and following works. It assumes that the status quo is the lead ‘driving’ and the following ‘along for the ride’. No. No. No.
I throw out the idea of ‘lindy hop like a conversation’ where leads and follows take turns ‘doing variations’. No. No. No. Lindy hop is a relationship between two people for three minutes, and we both participate in it. We might take turns, but we can also contribute all the time. We have to – we have to be present, if we want to respect and properly engage with our partner. As a human being.
So, by stripping out all the bullshit ‘technique’ and jargon talk, and all that shit about dancing as science or specialist skills, it’s much easier and fun. If we approach lindy hop as just something we can do, we empower students, we take the focus away from the teachers, and we create a more equitable power dynamic. As teachers we are discovering jazz with students, not holders of knowledge that we dole out.
Some direct consequences of this approach for me as a teacher:
You can’t teach as much content in classes. In fact, content is much less important, and you focus on other teaching goals or priorities. And you realise it’s not the number of moves you have, but the way you dance with another human that’s important;
You take longer to do things in class. Which is nice;
You talk less, and play more music while teaching. Which is grand;
You ‘correct’ students less, which means they feel better about themselves. Remember, every time you correct someone’s dancing, you’re effectively telling them they’re doing it wrong;
If you let them dance steps in any sequence, taking as long as they want, starting when they want, and giving them ages with a partner and lots of music, they solve a lot of their own problems themselves. They just figure it out, with their partner or on their own. Which means you talk less. So hold yourself back: don’t jump in and ‘fix’ them. They’ve got this;
I’ve shifted to asking them “What was hard? What was easy? What made it easier?” after they’ve danced a bit, and they tell us. Because they’re relaxed. And they ask us questions. My favourite thing when they ask a question like “Where does my right foot go?” is to say “You watch us dance and tell us” and then we do and they do. Or we reply “What an interesting question. Let’s all dance on it and observe ourselves and what we do.” And then we do, and they do, and then we come back together and we say, “Ok, what did you notice?” and they answer their own question. I LOOOOOOOVE THIS APPROACH! Because it tells students they know a lot. They know more about their bodies than we do. And that they can figure out the answer to questions by experimenting.
A direct, and most pleasing consequence of all this, is that you get intermediate students who are ENGAGED in classes, and more than willing to figure out how something works on their own.
You also get students who go social dancing and smile into their partners’ face. I love seeing our students on the social floor. They laugh and smile, they’re relaxed and happy, and they look like they’re dancing. When I see them social dancing, I think ‘Frankie would be proud.’ I look at them and I see joy. I see people being good to each other, and happy. Because they feel confident and relaxed, and ok with just being themselves on the dance floor.
I’ve had to step up and make social dance spaces for our students. They have to be friendly, relaxed, and familiar. So we just started having regular social dancing at the end of our beginner blocks. We ditched our intermediate class in those weeks, and we party on. This was something all the teachers wanted, because we all wanted to spend more social time with students, and because we saw that they found full on social nights intimidating. They needed a next, interim space for practicing dancing. So we did it. And we all LOVE it. It’s just like a real party: talking, eating, laughing, and dancing. Not just dancing.
Hey, dance event organisers and teachers!
Feeling pretty bloody awful about sexual harassment? You’re not alone. Want to _do_ something? You can!
Do you have your sexual harassment and OH&S policies and strategies up and working? No? It’s not that hard. And it makes you feel really good and powerful. Like you’re really making a difference and being the boss of jazz.
You don’t need to worry about ‘being a downer’ by addressing these issues. Making plans, training up, and then acting on them will make you and your peeps happier, healthier, and fully legit awesome.
If you want to talk about how we’re going about doing things with Swing Dance Sydney, with the events we run, and in working with other organisers – drop me a line! Email me on sam at dogpossum at dogpossum dot org
– A code of conduct (with helpful tips on how not to assault/harass someone);
– Explicit tips for not being a poop to other dancers in our FAQ:
– Response strategies for our volunteers, managers, and organisers (getting hassled at the door? Tag in your ninja-like event manager! Call the cops!);
– In-class teaching strategies for tooling up students with mad harassment-destroying skills, and getting teachers fighting fit for dealing with dodgy behaviour;
– Super powers: saying NO and STOP with confidence and pride, being cool when someone knocks you back for a dance. Like GUNS;
– Guidelines for teachers who work with us (both weekly and for big weekends): we are looking out for YOU;
– Strategies for teaching musicians how not to be pervs, and how to be forces for jazz GOOD (rock on super-powered musos!);
– Draft agreements for DJs, teachers, bands, and organisers to lay out the rules, and remind them that we all deserve safety and wellness;
– Event management rules to reduce stress, and increase joy (including the 5 minute time out rule; knowing your limits; work with a buddy; running events should be fun; listen first, talk second; speak slowly and clearly into the microphone, and be sure to point out where the toilets are).
– And most importantly: the ability to improvise, innovate, and change our strategies. Because we are jazz dancers, and that is what we DO.
Honestly, maintain the rage, but also get into the agitate-educate-organise side of things. If learning the Big Apple makes you feel powerful, imagine what learning to kick a sexual harasser out of a venue can do for you. If we’re a community of dancers, then we got to look out for each other. Step up.
Something I added to this post on fb:
Oh, and if you are running teeny tiny events or classes, and not sure you’re ‘ready’ or ‘big enough’ to tackle these issues? NO way! You’re in the perfect position to get started on this. Just like we start learning to social dance right from our first classes, you can learn to develop a good, solid oh&s policy/process with just your weekly casual practice session, or your irregular DJed party night. You’re totally in a great position to pwn this stuff.
[edit 2]And I also think it’s important to think about the things that you can do if you’re not an organiser. Punters are powerful. Organisers make money from events, they garner status and respect. Don’t buy any of that ‘I’m just doing this for the community’ bullshit. That is fucked up martyr bullshit. YOU are the community, and organisers have a duty of care to provide as safe an event as possible. So call them on it!
1. Have a look at the event’s website. Do they have a code of conduct? No? Ask them publicly on their facebook page where it is. Public questions are important, because it says “Hey, this is important to me.”
2. Most of the dance code of conducts I’ve read are completely token and useless. No practical tips, no definitions of harassment. If you read a code of conduct and you’re left with any questions, it’s not good enough. And there’s a code of conduct, but no information about what to do if you need help, ask a public question on the facebook page.
3. If they have a code of conduct but some sort of vague line like ‘see one of our staff’ (rather than ‘speak to Person, contact a door person (who will speak to Person), then you should ask a question like ‘How do I know who can help me? Will they wear a name badge? What happens after I tell them?”
4. If you are volunteering at an event, do you know what to do if someone comes to you saying they need help? Is there a written handbook or emergency process? Who is your point of contact? What do you do if there’s an accident? When do you call the cops or an ambulance? You should know this information before the event starts.
5. Check in again after a week or two. Still no response/code/strategy? Ask again. Be a pebble in their shoe. A little big of niggling can keep you and friends safe, and it can make it clear you mean business.
6. And if you want to say not to a dance/drink/whatevs, just say “No thank you” and leave it at that. If someone says “No thank you” when you ask them to dance, say “No worries” and move on. If you aren’t ok with people not wanting to dance with you, you haven’t grasped the fundamentals of _social_ dancing. No one is obliged to dance with you.
You are watching the room all the time, right (RIGHT?!)? That puts you in a super powerful position for keeping an eye on creepers and dodgy behaviour.
But you’re also stuck at a desk with a computer. Virtually every time I’ve DJed at a big event, some random dickface bloke has hassled me. I’ve been groped by sound guys, hit on by punters, hassled by dickhead dancers. I’ve had dancers take photos of my computer screen without permission, random men (they’re always men) have touched my computer and scrolled through my sets. Most recently I was hassled by some fuckwit dancer from Canberra while I was DJing at SLX. If I could remember who he was, I’d name and shame.
This shit is happening to all of us. If it’s happening to me – who’s pretty darn intimidating – you can be sure worse things are happening to your less scary friends. You need to step up and speak out for them. And for yourself.
Statistically, one of you reading this facebook comment is a harasser or offender. We DJs are WATCHING you. The door staff saw you come in, they took note of your vibe. They’re watching you too. And if you see me in the room, you can be damn sure I’m going to call you on bullshit if I see it. Have done before, will do again.
It’s important that organisers see that we take this seriously, and that your attendance will depend on how safe you and your friends feel at an event. If you don’t raise the issue, organisers won’t do anything about it.
Volunteers are particularly powerful, because events simply can’t work without masses of free labour. So you can really make a difference.
Organisers: if people are asking you these questions, it means you’re not doing a good enough job. So don’t get narky, get ON it.
The bottom line is this: these men (and I am talking about men, here), are not doing these things in a vacuum. Other men will have noticed that their behaviour is inappropriate. But they did not call this man out because he is a high profile teacher.
It is your job – as a human being – to say something when you see people doing inappropriate things, or when they make inappropriate jokes or comments. There is no excuse. If you saw something and didn’t speak up, you enabled it.
This sort of grooming and then assault take place over longer periods of time. There would have been times when someone saw something. Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you do the decent thing?
If you had even a niggling suspicion, why didn’t you act on it? Why didn’t you speak up?
If you are a man, this is how you can step up and be a real man: call out another man on inappropriate behaviour.
Here’s a good guide:
– If someone is a teacher in your scene, particularly a guest teacher, it’s not appropriate for them to make sexual jokes in class. At all. This is an important place to start, as it sets up the terms of the class and scene culture.
– It’s not appropriate for guest teachers to make sexual jokes. Yes, I know that sounds a little conservative. But that’s the point: teachers need to be a bit more conservative.
– It’s not appropriate for them to initiate sexual relationships with students. Yes, there are fuzzy points. But If the student is much younger than the teacher, it is 100% not ok, because we have two points of power here. If they want to begin a relationship, they need to end the teacher-student relationship. If the younger person is under 18, it is illegal. And not ok. It is over now, before it begins.
Look, let’s just make it clear: sexualised jokes in class. Not ok. Just stop that shit now.
I have many more things to say on this topic, but I just can’t.
But, once again:
Speak up when you see bullshit behaviour. Right now, as I write this, I can think of a few high profile international male teachers who are definitely inappropriate in their manner. Everything from sexualised jokes to the sort of nasty buddy-boy sniggering about women in the scene (and their bodies). If I heard them, if I was that buddy there, I’d speak up. Take a risk, yo. Become the better man. Call them on their bullshit.
Soz this post is a bit long and jumbly. I’m a bit busy atm, but I want to get this down fast, while I’m thinking about it.
Key points: I think the ‘conversation’ metaphor for lindy hop partnership is boring and limited. I think turn taking is boring. Here, in this post, I use some ILHC 2015 jack and jill videos to talk about how leads and follows can use layers of rhythm to move beyond call and response. Rhythm is about timing, and that means more than just how many times and in what order your foot taps the floor. It’s about how you use your whole body, and how you do that in connection with another person. This is how lindy hop is not like tap dance.
I have problems with using the image of ‘conversation’ as a metaphor for lindy hop and improvisation. Because most people use the word ‘conversation’ to mean formal turn taking. You speak, then I speak. But this is a highly gendered, and quite formal way of talking. It’s how we’d talk in a formal debate, or on tv. Or if we were middle class men at a dinner party. But jazz dance is vernacular dance, so is should look the way a real conversation sounds. A conversation between women. There should be interruptions, there should be layers of talk and idea, there should be shouting and quiet moments of empathy. All working together in collaborative meaning making. I’ve written a lot about language and gender here on this blog and elsewhere. There are some useful references in this post. Basically, I think we need to address the way men and women ‘do’ conversation and group talk. There are clear, documented differences in the way men talk in groups, women talk in groups, how mixed gendered groups talk, and how same-gendered groups talk. This is directly applicable to discussions about vernacular dance. I am not the first to say that vernacular dance is an embodiment of vernacular music, nor am I the first to say that vernacular music is pretty much vernacular talk in action.
Let’s have a little look at the ILHC jack and jill videos.
So far I’ve only watched about three – Laura and Remy, Laura and Skye, Jo and Peter. I’ve been seriously fucking irritated by the way both couples are introduced men-first, and the MC makes a joke about the male dancer only. But my sample size is too small. Hopefully this pattern does not continue with the rest of the MCing.
The dancing is fantastic.
I’ve only watched each video once so far, this morning.
Watching Laura and Skye, I had some issues.
It feels a bit like a dance fight. As though Laura is trying to solo dance while she lindy hops. I’ve got no issue with that – it’s a totally legit approach. But I do feel as though she’s trying desperately to fit in her improvisation where ever and where ever she can. I know that I do this when I follow. Or did, until I started leading more. And boy, she is fully legit: she is a freaking athlete of awesome. But I don’t like the way this dance looks. I feel as though they’re not dancing together. I want Laura to:
– chill and take some time to get on the same page as Skye, at the very basic level of finding a common sense of timing or bounce. She may not be a bouncy dancer (ie she mightn’t be down with using ‘pulse’), and that’s cool, but when you’re in a jack and jill (or social dancing), you should find a common ground with your partner. I can see Skye looking to make that most basic level of connection (ie how do you use the beat and the floor), but it’s just not working.
– chill and work within the shapes and energy Skye is giving. Skye is both a very clear and leading lead (ie he isn’t the ‘boss’, but he’s very definitely setting the shapes and tone for the dance), and a very accommodating, collaborative lead. I like his dancing, because I like leads to lead.
That’s how lindy hop works: one of us is making bigger structural decisions about what moves and shapes we’ll do; one of us is making those moves and shapes work, and adding texture and definition. A good lead isn’t just ‘calling’ the steps and having the follow ‘respond’. A good lead is working with what the follow is doing and how they move and feel the music. A good lead isn’t following; this isn’t like following. It’s about listening and building on what the follow is doing. Building in unexpected things. Just like a very good lead uses the floor and ‘floor craft’ to build a dance that isn’t just responding to obstacles on the dance floor, but incorporating them in a creative way to make new things. Floor craft is craft; it’s not just damage floor. It’s creative and improvisational art in itself. It’s real social dancing.
Anyhow, I feel as though Laura is desperately stealing every moment she can to squash in some sort of flourish extra bit of whatevs.
In contrast, Jo works with her partner, and what he’s doing. Peter is quite a ‘strong’ and assertive lead. I don’t mean ‘strong’ as in ‘manhandling his partner around the floor’, I mean ‘strong’ as in having a clear personality and vision for the dance. I think that you need to have this in lindy hop. This isn’t a dance for introverts. If you’re dancing old school style, both the lead and follow are bringing clear, confident personalities. The leads are very clear and strong. The follows are equally clear and strong. Again, I don’t mean in terms of physical strength (though that can be involved). I mean in terms of attitude and confidence. I think Peter brings some of that. And Jo brings that as well – she is the Norma Miller to balance Frankie Manning. Not in terms of dancing style, but in terms of self confidence and willingness to clearly be present in the dance. Neither Frankie nor Norma would quietly coddle their partner. They’d both step up and just assume their partner was going to bring it too. They’d have confidence in their partner’s ability to bring the shit.
I think this is the main problem I have with what’s happening with Laura and Skye. I feel as though she doesn’t trust Skye enough to build in responses to her dancing, to work with her. I know I do this too, with leads who don’t listen to me when I’m following. I feel as though I have to physically force my own voice into the conversation. Perhaps Laura’s been dancing with some overly domineering leads lately? I wouldn’t know. But I think that follows should trust the lead to listen to them.
When I watch Jo and Peter, I see Jo taking time to figure out what Peter’s doing, and how he feels and how he’s feeling the music. And he does the same with her, but at the same time, he initiates the steps – he takes the initiative. That’s the definition of leading, right? Going first? But once Jo has figured out this common ground, she builds in her own responses. They don’t interrupt what Peter has planned; they work within the structure he’s building. And he pays attention to that.
All this is all well and good. I think though, that a lot of dancers stop at this point. They see this to-and-fro as formal turn taking. Just like in that board meeting, or at a formal dinner party. Where speakers take turn saying things. Calling and responding. But I don’t think this is a properly vernacular discourse. I think this is very much an anglo-celtic middle class* heteronormative patriarchal structure. I think we should remember that this is jazz dance. Let’s think about jazz in New Orleans, before swing went solidly mainstream. We can hear multiple instruments improvising at the same time at various points throughout the song. The melody is still there. The structure of the song is still stable, if not formulaic. In fact, the structure is so formulaic it’s predictable. Which is essential if you’re improvising, right? You all need to be able to predict where the structure and melody will go, so you know when to come in and go out. But the improvisation is unpredictable. Yet harmonious. Except when it’s deliberately not.
Both couples are amazing dancers, physically amazing with stunning reflexes and control of their bodies, a deep understanding of the music they’re dancing to, and a thorough understanding of leading and following. This is some shit hot dancing. But it doesn’t quite feel like jazz to me. It doesn’t feel like vernacular jazz dance. It needs a little more chaos. It needs more interruption, more polyphony, more layers of rhythm. Those layers and interruptions can’t be interruptions for the sake of saying something. They need to be responses and interactions. And both speakers should be building those responses in. Sometimes when a group of women friends are talking, they are interrupting continually. They’re shouting “YES!” and “OMG NO!” in response to something their friend is saying. And in a group, there may be two people speaking at once, but all of the group is keeping track of everything everyone is saying at once, so they’re having parallel but interactive conversations. This is what happens in jazz. Many people speak at once, there’s interruption, and it’s rowdy. But everyone is still ‘with’ it, and aware of what other people are saying and doing. They know when to go still and silent. They know when to shout out or laugh or talk. Just as in a jazz band.
I want to see more of this in lindy hop.
In fact, this was something that came up in the Harlem Roots stream in Herrang this year, and in the Frankie stream last year. The teachers who were strongest proponents of this approach were Asa and Daniel, Jenny and Rickard, and Ramona (who I saw take this to her teaching with Remy). Asa and Daniel articulated it most clearly: leads, each ‘lead’ is only a suggestion. Do not ‘demand’ your follow dance everything you ask. As Ramona puts it: follows, you have a responsibility to look after the beat, and to look after your own rhythm too. To paraphrase her, it’s not ok to ‘just follow’ (as if you could anyway). Follows have a responsibility to feed energy into the dance through keeping time, and through bringing rhythm in a clear, coherent way. We are partners, here.
This is exciting, because when follows realise the leads are listening, and aren’t demanding, they become more confident. If you move away from social dancing as a series of perfectly executed steps with rhythms performed in unison, lindy hop becomes more like jazz. You can have layers of rhythm, and it’s ok. Leads don’t have to ‘lead’ every rhythm with a complex combination of body lead, weight change, and so on. The physical connection between partners can become at once more relaxed (we don’t need to see the follow’s right biceps pop out), and more solid (the lead’s right arm around the follow becomes more important, and the follow engages with that through their back and torso). And you have to LOOK at your partner a whole lot more.
What we found in practice in Herrang, was that leads on the whole used much simpler moves. Swing outs. Circles. Under arm turns. Time in open without touching, or touching. Promenade. Closed position. Even charleston became a bit too complex. These simple shapes allowed us to dance in more interesting ways, and to dance with anyone to any tempo. Because the ‘interest’ came in how you executed these steps. Your step step triple step could become a more complicated (or simple!) rhythm step. And you and your partner needn’t do the same rhythm simultaneously. In fact, you usually didn’t, and when you did, it was a happy coincidence.
The trick then becomes how to dance rhythms that are open to complementary rhythms. A bit like in musical improvisation: you should be in the right key and time signature, so you don’t get dischord, and you can stay in time with everyone else. At Herrang, each night when we were social dancing, when we danced with this rhythmic variation and polychromatic approach, we had to first find a shared time signature – we HAD to have a shared bounce or sense of time. And it was ESSENTIAL that both partners, lead and follow, maintained that sense of time. Bounce partners must bounce, or be able to move in and out of bouncing in time. It’s both a physical and visual way of staying ‘in time’ with your partner. Musicians don’t need to physically bounce, and lindy hoppers needn’t either, but you must always have an awareness of the timing, and bouncing is fun. The musicians mightn’t bounce, but the music does, and dancers are the music made visible.
The wonderful part of this approach is that anyone can do it. Total beginner dancers can find the beat and keep it.
Where is the ‘key’ in this? I think that the key is the pitch of your dancing. Or the ‘feel’. And you figure it out together. It’s a kind of shared sense of how you will dance together. And you need that moment in closed position at the beginning of the dance to find that shared sense of pitch before you begin dancing.
When I watch Laura and Skye, I feel as though Skye immediately sets out how and who he is, before they even begin. But that Laura doesn’t do that straight away, she doesn’t feel confident enough, so she feels she has to do it over and over again by stealing moments to add her notes. In contrast, Jo and Peter do find this common time and common key, but then there’s still those moments of turn taking, rather than polyrhythm. It’s not a bad thing. It’s fantastic. It’s definitely not a matter of both leads being too autocratic or domineering. I think that it’s more that the follows could use the leads’ clearness and stable ‘leading’ in a different way.
Ok, let’s look at a very clear and simple example of what I mean by layers of rhythm and mutual, collaborative meaning making.
This is a nice example because it is a class recap, not social dancing, so they are very clearly demonstrating the concepts. In a social setting, this stuff often isn’t this simple. Particularly when you see very good dancers doing it. And I want to make it clear: ‘good’ can be anyone. The skill you really need to pull this off is social skills: communication.
A few simple examples:
0.10 Asa initiates a break step, and Daniel doesn’t do it perfectly in time with her. He doesn’t yank her into stillness, he doesn’t force her to do something else, he doesn’t try to sync up with her. He lets himself be still (which gives her a contrasting still to work with), and then he joins in with the stomp off on ‘and 8’. This little moment works because they share a sense of timing. He’s not ‘bouncing’ hugely and visibly, but his core is engaged, his arms are relaxed, and he clearly shares the timing with her. He is listening, and yet prepared, so when it comes to the end of the 8 he’s ready with the stomp off.
More interestingly, they have a shared sense of jazz conventions: they both know where 8 is, they know that a stomp off is a conventional way to end an 8 (or begin a move – why is 8 the end of a move, instead of the preparation for the next!? It needn’t be!), and they both ‘get back together’ for the final 8 of the phrase. Asa pulls out her rhythm in the penultimate 8 of the phrase, then clearly listens to Daniel as he ‘finishes’ the phrase with a simple circle, and a synchronised rhythm.
It gets better. There is a temptation in choreographing and dancing to let the phrases be unbreachable barriers. You do feel as though you have to ‘finish’ a move at the end of a phrase, then start something new for the next one. Similarly, we often feel we need to ‘start’ on 1. But Frankie didn’t start on 1 all the time – he started where the music said start. If you’ve done the ‘Frankie 89’ choreography, danced to ‘Wednesday Night Hop’, it starts on 7. Because that’s where the music says start.
When we watch Asa and Daniel in this little section of the song, they respond to what’s happening in the beat and the phrasing, but they work across the phrases by continuing jig walks from the last 8 to the first of the next phrase. But the timing of the step changes in the next phrase.
Right here, we see some really complex rhythm work happening, passed back and forth between the lead and follow. It looks and feels a bit like the shouty chorus in a nola jazz song: lots of layers of rhythm and sound. But it all works because both partners share a sense of timing and ‘pitch’.
But things level up.
At 0.30 they dance in side by side, but both dancing completely different rhythms. They don’t sync up again until about 0.41. But they maintain connection. Note how Daniel’s arm around Asa’s back stays connected, but is less intense and demanding. He allows her physical space, but also space in the connection so his body doesn’t demand she dance the same rhythm as him. So they both understand how the points of physical connection allow partners to hear and share where a partner’s weight is (and what the rhythm is – you feel this through the way muscles engage in your partners’ body, a relaxed, rubbery connection clears the line so you can ‘hear’ this, but it all often happens at a subconscious level – you just feel and respond), but they both also understand that you don’t have to be in a state of intense connection all the time. You can be listening and dancing, but not synced up. And then after this, Daniel initiates a different move, and asks for more connection from Asa, and she agrees, and they work the same rhythm together.
If you listen to the music, it’s building in intensity – the melody introduced earlier is emphasised, the little tinkles are joined by a more intense brass section.
The phrasing is important, but it’s not everything.
And, then, when we get to 0.54, we get a very familiar couple of moves: a curl (or around the world) and then points. It happens at a very climactic moment in the music. It’s as though all that rhythmic play before culminates in a couple of 8s of very structured, historic, authoritative movement. Finally, synchronised rhythm. This is the money shot. But then it ends with both partners varying the shapes and energy – so it’s not perfectly synchronised after all. I think this part makes it most clear, and it clearly identifies the sort of revivalist project I want to be involved in.
My revivalist project:
learn and preserve historic steps
understand and practice the values of historic jazz dance: improvisation and jazz music
innovate, change, and bring your own style and personality: polyrhythms and improvisation within musical structure, and with reference to historical steps or a ‘canon’ of authoritative steps
-> in this way we can both recognise and preserve the history of this dance, and yet do something new and innovative
=> in this way we embody the tension of vernacular dance: be in the past, the present and the future at once; embody mindfulness, but also be intellectually active and predictive; innovate and change, but preserve and respect.
You can see here how ‘musicality’ is a complicated thing. It’s about understanding tempo, timing, phrasing, and syncopation. But it’s also about understanding the way an arrangement works across phrases, how different instruments contribute as individuals and as groups and so on. If you allow this sort of polyrhythm work to happen in a dance, you invite the music in.
As we say to our students, the most important parts of lindy hop are taking care of the music, and taking care of our partner.
One of the most obvious results of this approach to lindy hop that I have noticed, is that partners give each other more attention. You HAVE to! Because anything can happen! I have noticed that partners look at each other more, and interact more. Frankie has been telling us this all long: you are in love for three minutes! This is the queen of the world! Doods: YOUR PARTNER IS IMPORTANT. They’re not there to provide/execute a perfect sequences of steps and moves. They are there to be there with you. Whether your dance is a lovely sequence of simple ‘basic’ rhythms, or a storm of rhythm.
I hope you’ve already figured out that this approach is far more than just the formal turn taking of a ‘conversation’ between colleagues. It’s much, much more than ‘I do a variation, you do a variation’. That’s boring. That’s easy. That’s not feminist, either. That’s equality. I don’t want equality. I don’t want to be ‘equal’ or have ‘the same’ as my partner. I want us both to bring what we each have and want in that moment, and I want a shifting, changing relationship. Or else it is TOO BORING.
So how do you level up this approach? In the Harlem Roots track at Herrang, I was in the advanced stream, and after the first day I asked myself: “Is that it?” because we had basically done the same stuff as last year in the mixed level Frankie track. This ‘stuff’ was: listen to your partner, leads don’t demand follows do as you ask; leads expect and allow for follows changing what you are dancing. Follows: bring your shit; you’re not passive in this dance, be present. Stuff we’d all done last year. Yes, it was fun, and it had blown my mind last year, but I wanted more. I figured I’d mastered this.**
I thought that this was just the basic, beginner level stuff. Surely we’d be doing something harder and more challenging in the advanced stream? But then I figured it out: it really is this simple. This is how we play lindy hop. As Lennart says, lindy hop is really a very simple dance. What makes it challenging is what you bring to the dance. Having top shelf physical skills makes you more present. Having a very good understanding of jazz music makes you more present. But because the game is this simple – listen, respond, talk, play – anyone can play. You can have an excellent dance with anyone, so long as they are present and using this approach. Beginner, old timer, international teacher – they’re all great dance partners in this game.
And when I figured this out, it was like I’d been given the best present ever. I got over myself and my ‘is this all there is?’ and I started playing properly. Tempo isn’t an issue, because you don’t have to execute a series of perfect swing outs with the step step triple step rhythm. You can do ANYTHING. I think this is where we have to really LISTEN when we hear old timers say young lindy hoppers don’t do enough half time at higher tempos. The old timers aren’t saying ‘dance half time when it gets fast’, they’re saying ‘stop following these arbitrary rules about how you dance, and start playing with timing and with your partner.’
Rhythm is the best fucking fun ever. And this is why we have to learn to dance on our own. It’s coming at things the wrong way to say ‘you should learn to solo dance to improve your lindy hop’. It’s more that we learn to dance on our own, so that we learn who we are, and what we want to bring to the dance. We develop the skills to contribute to the dance. A musician learns to play their instrument so they can play in a band. I can dance on my own all the time, and that’s great. But it’s dancing and improvising in a band, or in a partnership, that makes it really fun. I think it’s because humans are both highly social, and also really good at pattern matching and problem solving. Improvised jazz music is immensely satisfying and intensely challenging. It ticks our boxes. For me, it grounds me, utterly. I have to be present, utterly and completely present in the moment if I want to lindy hop like this. I can’t be thinking about other things, or wondering about my next dance. I have to be right there with that partner. All the time. They have to be the centre of my world for 3 minutes.
And best of all, this game will never be over. Each dance step or rhythm break I learn becomes another pencil in my pencil case. Each dance is as important as each class, as I learn new things with each partner or teacher or class.
To sum up, I guess I should just show you a video of two dancers doing some mad shit. In this video Ramona and Nick show, in a very simple, obvious way, how you can do both turn taking and layers of rhythm. But, in a demonstration of much more skilled dancing, they move beyond this, building up interest. Best of all, we see how a very good follow can work within a set framework or structure from a clear lead, to build trust on his part, but also to innovate and bring the shit on her part.
They begin (and continue) with clear moments of taking turns with the rhythm, and then doing a little moment of layers of unsynchronised rhythm. This is a clear and simple articulation of what the music is doing.
They then use this musical theme in their broader body movement – a series of pass bys/turns/swingouts where Mona does most of the turns, with moments of extended stretch to match the longer notes in the melody, culminating in Nick doing a couple of tight spins on the spot. It’s excellently simple and effective. But if they’d continued the dance like that, we’d have died of boredom. But they level up.
As the music moves into the next section, they change up how they take turns, and they add more moments of layered rhythm. I think that Ramona is utterly fantastic in these moments. I really, really like the way she responds to Nicks’ smoother less bouncy approach to timing, but doesn’t compromise her own solid pulse or employment and articulation of the beat. She uses gorgeous moments of extended stretch and timing, but also quicker, more concentrated and intense smaller movements.
Nick is initiating these to a certain extent, but it’s as though Mona takes these ideas and this broader framework, and then exaggerates or extends or highlights them. In this way she is working within his clear, solid frame work (ie following a leader), but she does not compromise her own rhythmic variations, nor the way she actually uses her body.
As an example, she takes extended, stretched moments in open, but because she’s a physical machine, she can also respond quickly when she needs to, because she understands how to use graduated modes of engagement. To the audience, this gives us moments of calm and rest to contrast with the intensity. Her body seems calm and restful (because it is – she uses only the muscles she needs), but it can also seem intense and excited (when she engages more muscles in graduated ways, moves faster, changes her timing). I think this is the clearest difference between her dancing and Laura G’s. Laura always seems ON; I’d like to see more gradations of energy, and hence a more textured approach to timing and rhythm.
*middle class: I think most Americans use this term in a different way to we use it here in Australia. What I would term the ‘working class’ is closer to what the Americans call the middle class. So middle class in my discussion here, means having a degree of disposable income, owning a home (with a mortgage), probably tertiary educated (though not necessarily so), having a stable income, living above the poverty line, having a degree of privilege that all this accords. Working class, though, means that you are perhaps struggling more to make ends meet, though you can put food on the table, and pay your bills. Just.
**Oh, the arrogance of the intermediate dancer. I got served, that’s for sure.