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.
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:
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Eamon McNelis (about whom I have fansqueed many times) has a new band and they’re called the Skellingtons. Just go here and buy their music IMMEDIATELY: https://theskellingtons.bandcamp.com/
It’s free, but you should plop some money into their paypal account because musicians gotta eat.
I’ve been following Eamon through various gigs for many years, ever since I saw him as a wee babby trumpeter in Chris Tanner’s Virus in about 2001 or 2002. Since then he’s learnt to sing, won bunches of awards, played with a squillion bands.
This band is exciting.
Why excited? This is seriously good Melbourne jazz musician action. Playing the sort of music we LOVE. MOAR! MOAR!
And Eamon is part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project, which means he talks to dancers about music. GOOD.
The drummer is Lyn Wallis, which should make you very excited. I think he’s the best jazz drummer in Australia. If you don’t believe me, listen to that song Gone, and then to this song Don’t You Wanna Dance:
Eamon McNelis: Cornet and Vocals
Brennan Hamilton-Smith: Clarinet
Steve Grant: Piano
Jon Delaney: Guitar
Mark Elton: Double Bass
Lyn Wallis: Drums
[edit: I was overzealous in this piece (that’ll teach me to not proof-read) in my use of ‘most’, so I’m amending this post. Don’t be a dick, Sam.]
I’m currently quite sceptical of the rush to develop and post codes of conduct for dance events. They seem to be empty words, without any practical applications. And what’s to stop a dodgy arse organiser using a posted code of conduct to defend any accusations of poor behaviour in the future?
I think that we need:
– clear, useful codes of conduct
– practical action plans and strategies for responding to specific situations
– take into account our local laws.
That means we have plans for responding to accidents (eg a broken leg), to physical attacks or assaults, to natural disasters (eg earthquakes).
Talking to my union wonk, and policy friends, they’ve made a clear point: if the situation involves broken laws or criminal matters, then the ‘response’ is to call the cops. So, for example, the proper response to discovering a dancer has sexually assaulted someone, or to fear one of your staff members is dangerous, is to call the police. As an organiser, you have a legal responsibility to call the authorities if you know a crime has been committed. Though you may not want to, you may want to protect the victim, etc etc, you have a responsibility to call the police.
I’m working through all this for my own business, and for my own events and peace of mind, and I’m not sure I want to just cut and paste from other lindy hop organisers’ websites. Partly because there are legal differences between countries. And between states in Australia. And I don’t want to borrow from the IT industry’s conference policies, or fan community policies. Because I don’t think they’re good enough. I had considered looking at university policies, because I’ve worked with them for many, many years, but I’ve paused. Because Australian universities aren’t exactly winning.
I’m beginning with an OH&S approach, in part because my experience with swing dance culture has made it clear that the most common breaches of dancers’ safety is through an inappropriate application of work place health and safety guidelines and processes.
Simply put, 
most some[/] dance schools do not have Work Cover, which they need. I’ve talked about this in my post Making a dance business: it’s not that hard, actually, where I point out that if you have a dance business, you need:
This is where we can slot in things like a code of conduct for teachers (whether local or international). Liam‘s drawn my attention to the AFL’s code of conduct, and I think the example set by the AFL coach’s code of conduct is particularly useful for us.
I’m still working on this stuff, so I can’t write about what I do just yet.
If an employer is a pty ltd and pays workers more $7500 per year in total for all wages, (in this next bit I draw and quote directly from WorkCover):
…they are required by law to have a workers compensation insurance policy (Work Cover ref)
In the event of a workplace injury or disease, the insurance policy will provide the worker with weekly benefits, medical and hospital expenses, rehabilitation services, certain personal items (eg. clothing and spectacles, if damaged in a work-related accident), and a lump sum payment for permanent impairment.
An employer is a business (including an individual) that employs or hires workers on a full-time, part-time or casual basis, under an oral or written contract of service or apprenticeship (Work Cover reference).
So if you are a pty ltd company in NSW, and you are paying $7500 or more per year to employees, contractors, volunteers, etc, you are required by law to have work cover. That means that if you don’t have work cover, you are breaking the law. Even our tiny dance class pays out more than $7500 per year. And if you add hiring bands, paying sound engineers, etc to that… well, you are easily over the $7500.
Please note: this stuff varies between Australian states. You can call them up and they are very helpful. So call them up.
I feel that policies for dealing with sexual harassment, sexual assault, racism, etc etc, can all be grouped under occupational health and safety. We can address these issues as things that affect all workers (and customers), not just women. So we need some nice, solid policies to cover us all.
This means that we need to get legit.
Which brings me to my next point.
Most Some[/] large dance events are not operating in a legitimate way. International teachers and musicians are paid in cash. And their visas or entry documents do not declare the real reason for their entering or leaving the country.
This means that both organisers and employees are reluctant to contact the authorities when laws have been broken. And this, of course, makes it much easier to get away with awful anti-social behaviour. I’m reminded of the drug trade (though it’s an extreme example): if it’s illegal, or criminal, then the culture surrounding that activity will be particularly exploitative and dangerous.
Ironically, it’s because they’ve been crossing borders with huge chunks of (undeclared) cash that teachers have been stopped by customs and later charged. This was the case with Bill Borghida: crossing a border with teaching pay, he was stopped, and later found to be in possession of child pornography.
We all have heard first hand accounts of other teachers who’ve been stopped by customs and deported for working without a proper visa, for carrying large sums of undeclared cash, or for otherwise being unable to explain what they’re doing crossing borders. A lot.
This issue of not declaring teaching pay is a problem for our dance community. I’ve discovered (through consultation with my accountant) that it’s actually in my interests to declare my teaching pay, and to declare the pay I give to teachers. The teachers can then accept that pay as ‘hobbyists’, which means they don’t pay tax or have to worry about GST (so long as they provide a ‘declaration of no-disclosure of an ABN‘). Or they can declare the income (which is the better option) and then use this, as part of their status as sole traders, to write off dance expenses and make tax claims.
I feel that in encouraging teachers, DJs, and other dance workers to not declare their pay, we are in fact disempowering them. Just as not having written agreements disempowers employees. They are unlikely to question inappropriate behaviour by their employers, which means their employers can get away with things like not getting Work Cover. And employees have no job security – they can be ‘fired’ at any time. And if our workers aren’t legit, as employers we don’t have formal methods for responding to their behaviour. We all worry about reporting assaults and other crimes to the police, which means that sexual assault can go relatively unchecked.
This is, sadly, a tale as old as capitalism. And why we need unions, and collectivism.
Once again, I’m getting a lot of traffic via discussions about gender and sexual assault and all that stuff.
So here is a reminder about my policies for commenting on this blog:
– if you post something upsetting, I will delete your comment
– if you play the feminist, not the ball (ie you attack me, not my ideas), your comment will be deleted
– if you fail to grasp the basic tenets of feminism, you comment will be deleted (you can do a bit of googling to figure out the basics)
– I will favour comments by women. Because.
I’ve outlined my thinking about comments policies in this post, trollday. The upshot is that this is my blog, so I can do what I want. You don’t have a right to free speech here; this is a feminist space, and I am the boss of it. If you disagree or want to argue or rant, get your own blog.
Why did I get so strict? Because I CAN! I CAN!
And because I routinely get horrid comments and emails from randoms who want to school me.
Note: I will not hesitate to report your arse to the police. And please remember: anonymity is not that easy on the internet; we can discover who you are via your ISP, etc etc. And I will not tolerate bullying in MY space.
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*.
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.
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.
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:
Congruently, men in lindy hop need to be taught some things too:
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.
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: