A preliminary thought about Codes of Conduct in dance

[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
AND
– practical action plans and strategies for responding to specific situations
THAT
– 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, [edit]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:

  • Contracts or agreements for your workers.
    I use written but informal agreements with my DJs and teachers, using models provided by the Arts Law Centre of NSW.

    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.


  • Codes of conduct for attendees.
    This is an important distinction: teachers and attendees (ie paying and payee peeps) should be treated in different ways, as there are different power issues at work. Yes, the same standards of behaviour are important, but the circumstances are different.
  • Public liability insurance.
    This covers you against legal action by other people. And that’s it.
    Let’s think here: what if you allowed a known sexual offender to attend or remain at your event? You are exposing yourself to legal action. As well as being a pretty awful human being.
  • Work Cover and/or Workers’ compensation.
    This is where [edit]some of [/] the big Australian dance schools fall down. As I noted in that post I linked before, this is where I draw on and quote from the NSW Work Cover website:

    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.
[edit]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.

My policy on comments

Hello!

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.

etc etc

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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.

Opinions. I have them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of these posts:

Pedantry

Vintage: something that is actually old

Retro: something that looks old, but may not necessarily be

Repro: something that looks old, but isn’t; made to exacting specifications to reproduce something old

Old: probably the best word

banjo vs Basie

The perennial argument about big band/classic swing vs small NOLA-inspired bands for lindy hop is in fruit again*. Moldy figs for all.

I have opinions of course, but for now, I’ll just post this:

linky

banjo in a small band with shouter vocalists playing Sent For You Yesterday. It’s NT Basie big band meets the moldiest banjo pluckin small band. How even? Is it wrong? Is it right? Who can say!

*This argument will never die, because people are basically arguing: “We should dance to this type of music because it’s the best!” and both types of music are actually the best.