Because race is being discussed explicitly in lindy hop at the moment (and gender, impicitly), this conversation between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry is nice and relevant.
My favourite part is where they talk about how black women are represented as ‘difficult’, as ‘angry’.
M H-P: “I am difficult… but so are white guys!”
This discussion resonates with me, because I often feel as though I’m being ‘difficult’ or a pain in the arse when I ask event organisers where the pay is, or why I haven’t been given the DJ program yet and it’s two days before the event. Or when I bring up gender again, or when I want to talk about high heeled shoes again (seriously, fuck – high heeled shoes are something ONLY WOMEN LINDY HOPPERS WEAR and it fucks up their balance, it literally DISEMPOWERS them while they are dancing! FARK! You can try to justify it every single which way, but if high heeled shoes are so fabulous for your fucking dancing WHY AREN’T MEN WEARING THEM?!). Or when I suggest that lindy hopping men might actually be raping and assaulting lindy hopping women. Am I still going on about that shit? Didn’t I have that moment to shout about that? It’s as though it’s ok for me to raise the issue once, but god forbid I keep banging on about it. And heaven HELP me if I want to actually do something about it.
Yes, I am difficult. Because questions about justice or gender or class or race are a bloody pain in the arse when you’re trying to continue running the world you always have. Yes, my friend, I am a goddamn difficult pain in the arse. Because your racist, sexist, classist shit is a pain in MY LIFE. I am the pebble in your shoe, mate. I am difficult. I am the follow who won’t do exactly as you lead, who insists on bringing her own improvisation. I am the rhythm beyond your step-step-triple-step. I am your interruption.
I’m going to end this post by saying: all that attention and vitriol directed at Ksenia and not at the Siltons was straight up sexism. STRAIGHT UP SEXISM.
It’s interesting to read/listen to this npr interview with Vince Giordano (linky c/o Ryan) in reference to this little mini-doco interview with Aurora Nealand.
The Nealand piece is actually an ad that’s part of a Louisiana tourism campaign, which of course leads to questions about cultural tourism, and how dancing lindy hop and going ‘full vintage’ (in terms of music, costume and dance) might constitute ‘cultural tourism’. And whether this counts as cultural appropriation. Or cultural transmission. Is tourism cultural transmission? Or does it mean something different when the receiving culture is, for all intents and purposes, the ‘market’?
I’m also interested in the Nealand piece because she mentions being nuts about Armstrong’s Hot 5s and 7s, and I just bought another version of these recordings.
I totally didn’t need this (I already have all the recordings, as CDs and as legit downloads), but I’m always looking for better quality sound on this important music. The set I bought was second hand from Ameoba, so it was supercheap. But the packaging is out of control – there’s a little book with all the session details (which looks great, but is actually pretty unusable – the text layout and logic of the listings isn’t just woeful, it’s fuckin’ shithouse), individual CDs, a tall package which doesn’t fit into my CD storeage properly… basically, this is a pack for stooges. Or to be given as a present. I justify the purchase with the fact that it was second hand and in crazy cheap American CD prices.
…but I still can’t help but think that this purchase was a little like going to NOLA for a ‘jazz holiday’ like the one in the Nealand video. A bit of cultural tourism, where I am very clearly the stooge.
The significance of interpretative repertoire (or language choices) in institutionalised discourse. Or, to our shame, we tolerate this.
I’m having trouble embedding it, but I’ve made a new 8tracks set for the event we’re running tonight, Hot Foot Stomp. I’m quite excited about this: we’re 3 women running a dance because we LOVE dancing and music and all that stuff.
This set began with Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders because I bought their e.p. and it’s just so great. SO great. It’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for. I wish that band was in my town. Or even just my country. That song King David gave me a hook for a set that just wasn’t coming together. Now I feel like I can DJ tonight with a good beginning place: one great, swinging song by a modern band. Yay!
This is the music in the 8tracks set (but of course I won’t just put this playlist on at the dance and let it play):
title year artist length album bpm
Piano Boogie 1997 Kansas City Band 2:32 KC After Dark 177
King David (live) 2013 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 2:48 Little Swing Sesh ’13 164
Shorty George 1960 Count Basie and his Orchestra 2:57 The Count Basie Story (Disc 1) 201
Main Stem 1999 Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 3:57 Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke 200
Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now 1956 Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 2:47 A Tribute To Andy Razaf 132
Since I’ve Been With You 1946 Julia Lee, Leonard ‘Lucky’ Enois, George ‘Red’ Callender, Sam ‘Baby’ Lovett, Dave D. Cavanaugh, Karl George 2:48 Kansas City Star (disc 2) 129
Hootie Boogie (1945) 1945 Jay McShann 2:55 Jay McShann: Complete Jazz Series 1944 – 1946 148
Jesse 1939 Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio (Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty) 2:44 Boogie Woogie And Blues Piano Mosaic Select 224
Seven Come Eleven 1939 Benny Goodman Sextet (Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool, Lionel Hampton) 2:47 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 1) 234
Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Teddy Wilson Quartet 3:13 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 1) 168
The Way You Look Tonight 1936 Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra (Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, Gene Krupa) 3:02 Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933-1944) (Disc 02) 167
Anything Goes 2010 Cecile Mclorin Salvant and the Jean-Francois Bonnel Paris Quintet 4:46 Cecile 117
The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else 1961 Ella Fitzgerald acc. by Lou Levy, Herb Ellis, Joe Mondragon, Stan Levey 2:16 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! 147
Take It Right Back 2004 Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards) 4:55 Anybody’s Baby 111
Frosty Morning Blues 2011 Smoking Time Jazz Club 4:53 Lina’s Blues 114
Devil And The Deep Blue Sea 2009 Reynolds Brothers (John Reynolds, Ralf Reynolds, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera) 4:49 A Rhythm Rascals Cocktail 139
Central Time 2013 Pokey LaFarge 3:00 Pokey LaFarge 198
Update on using gender neutral language in class:
I like it.
It’s no big deal.
So now I’m taking it a step further. Yes, there is a point beyond gender neutral language.
I find that I don’t like referring to ‘the follow’ or ‘she’ as though they were some sort of universal object or being, while I’m teaching. I prefer to use my teaching partner’s name. For example, I might say, “If I want *partnername* to move straight ahead, then my right hand pushes (gently!) in that direction, and *partnersname* moves that way. What does it feel like for you, *partnersname*?”
I think that this stops me making massive generalisations about leading and following and dancing, and encourages me to think about how each dance is a unique interaction and negotiation of space and time and rhythm and creativity with each partner. Which if course is the point, right? That’s why we go social dancing – to really sample as wide a range of experiences as possible? Or is that just the hippy in me?
I mean, last night we were teaching double top turns to complete noob dancers, and I found myself explaining in abstract terms why you don’t (as a lead) hold your partner’s hand too high above their head: because it’s uncomfortable. I reached a point where I was just annoyed by myself and said, “Look, this is just common sense, right? You’re gentle with your partner and don’t twist their arm behind their back because that’d hurt them? Stay with them, watch out for them, watch them, because that’s the nice way to dance.”
Sometimes we (meaning me) seem to pursue these abstract essential universal qualities of ‘good dancing’ as though they were divorced from the actual humans involved. I mean, the reason why we make sure the follow’s hand isn’t too far above their head isn’t mostly about good technique. It’s mostly because we are trying to stay ‘connected’ (in a social sense) with our partner, and not hurt them. We want to be with them in a personal as well as technical sense. The pragmatics of this (ie where you actually position your joined hands), is a consequence of this recognition that your partner is a whole, complete human. Someone you want to get to know, if only for three minutes. And as a lead, the follow is trusting you to watch out for them. So it just feels like the right thing to do is to justify that trust by not being a dick.
There is no universal, fixed ‘correct’ way of dancing (ie you don’t hold your joined hands an exact 170cm above the ground and 80cm in front of your face). Partner dancing is about negotiating a series of ongoing, constantly changing relative positions and relationships. My partner takes large steps because I take large steps. I lift my right hand higher on their back because they are taller than I am, and than my last partner. I stop dancing like a crazy adrenaline fool, and take more care and pay more attention if my partner is heavily pregnant, or feeling a bit unsure. I begin each dance with some time in closed, so we can get connected and ‘get in tune’. If I feel them disliking what I’m doing, I stop and try something new. I’m constantly alert to the possibility that they might bring something consciously, or that their change in weight or timing might inspire me to try something new. And that I can then integrate that into our dance. This is much more than a conversation (and what a boring, limited idea that is). This is a dance.
And this is why I think I’m happier saying “I do blah blah if I want *partnersname* to do X” rather than “I do blah blah if I want the follow to do X.”
Let’s put the gender back into the description: “I do blah blah if I want her to do X” or “I do blah blah if I want the woman to do X”, then this depersonalising and essentialising is made even clearer. My partner is defined by her/their gender, rather than their role or even their individual personality. And this essentialising discourages you from thinking of all of your partners as unique people, and each dance and dance partnership as a series of compromises, adjustments, active engagements and meetings of mind.
So, you know, adopting gender neutral language is just a tool, or a gateway to much more exciting thinking and dancing.
As I re-read this, I wonder if this bizarrely abstract, technical approach to teaching is culturally specific. I’d suggest began in the 2000-2003 period, partly because some people got obsessed with technique, micro-level leading and following, groove (and the slower tempos which made all this possible) and blues dance. And most of these dancers came to lindy hop with no dancing, and almost certainly no partner dancing experience. They also tended to be people from technical or academic backgrounds: IT workers, programmers, etc etc. People who like to logic their way through problems. People who mightn’t (and here is where I make a gross generalisation) have much experience touching and interacting with other humans in a physical way. Beyond sex. So they needed to invent a ‘technology’ for partner dancing.
When if you had grown up with touching other humans, with partner dancing and dance in everyday, normal, ordinary spaces, as part of your ordinary day, you’d be all “Well, durh, if I do this dick like thing, my partner won’t want to be my friend/gf/bf and that’d be crap.”
Now, however, as we move into what’s really functioning as the second or even third wave of lindy hop revival, partner dancing has become so normalised, so much a part of normal life and social interaction, you don’t need to explain every little thing in tiny detail. You can be much more pragmatic and socially oriented.
I mean, one question we get repeatedly from brand new dancers in class is “We did this move, now the handhold is weird – how do we fix it?! [paniiiic!]” I love this question, because the answer is beautifully simple: “If the handhold feels weird, just change it.” And everyone lols, because it’s funny that we’ve gotten so caught up in the mechanics of what we’re doing we’ve forgotten how to hold hands. Of course, the nicest part of all this talk about hand holds is that if you preface all your thinking about hand holds with “Have relaxed, gentle hands, and be cool with letting go of each other,” then you quit worrying about hand holds and get on with feeling the good adrenaline feels.
This all really brings me back to that point: if you’re used to holding hands with people, you’re pretty comfortable with figuring out how to make a hand hold work. But if you’ve never walked down the street holding someone’s hand, or never touched someone casually, or never partner danced, then you are acutely aware of hand holding and are paralysed by HOLYFUCKHOWDOESITWORK!?! panic.
[aside 2]You know why my posts get so long? Because I start writing and thinking, and write as I think, and one idea just prompts another, and another and another, and suddenly the post is a million words long and my brain feels like it on fire with ideas. A long post is the sign of a happy and excited brain.[/aside2]
I am 99% likely to buy your album on bandcamp if you are a modern day jazz band playing recreationist swinging jazz.
I am about 10% likely to listen to that album and 3% likely to DJ anything from that album.
If you’re a dancer, the odds of my playing or listening to your album drop even further.
See, I love to support modern bands, but, frankly, there’s a lot of mediocre music played by inexperienced musicians out there. You need to do more than be a high profile lindy hopper who can plink out a tune on a piano or a guitar to impress me. And don’t get me started on vocalists.
So, sure, he’s my $20 or $15 (that’s what I’ll pay for an album or e.p.). But I’m not sure I can give you my speaker time. Not when there’s Basie I haven’t listened to in at least a week.
You must listen to this song while you read this post, because I watched a doco called ‘Sound City’ and now I am listening to NOTHING but Fleetwood Mac.
I would love to be writing more, but FUCK I am busy. I have so many thoughts about teaching dance, about solo dance, about the way ‘rhythm’ has become the latest ‘sexy’ thing in lindy hop talk, and how we actually use it as the core of leading and following in our lindy hop class and thinking, about music, about events, about everything!
I wanted to write a post where I said: the question should not be ‘why aren’t there more women leads and male follows in your scene?’ but ‘If you don’t have women leads and male follows in your scene, you’re doing something wrong – what will you do to fix it?”
I want to write a rant about the tranky do, and how I think it’s actually a less than awesome routine, so why is it so freaking popular?
I need to write about choreographing solo dance. I need to write about what you should teach beginners in a weekly solo class, versus what you should teach more intermediate and advanced students. Do you do ‘level 1′ and ‘level 2′, or is that bullshit, and you should teach a ‘technique’ and a ‘choreography’ class instead?
I need to write about fucking lindy hop and how fucking wonderful it is. That shit is goddam crack. WHY CAN’T I QUIT YOU? I need to write about pilates and solo dance and how they have fundamentally changed my lindy hop lately, and how I have realised that there is NO DIFFERENCE between solo and partner dancing. It’s all just one pool of syncopated jazz rhythms.
I wanted to write about the differences between ILHC and ULHS comps, in terms of music and regional culture, not to mention ethos. And I wanted to write about the limitations of lindy hop competitions that push dancers to dance faster and faster. And their strengths.
I wanted to write about the weird heatwave we’ve had here in Sydney. 37*C yesterday. In OCTOBER. What the actual fuck?
I NEED to write about this fabulous event I’m running in December. I’m so excited about it. The thing that’s making me so excited is that teachers and performers and musicians just keep emailing to say “Oh, we want to come to your weekend and dance and make music with you! No, we don’t want pay – we just want to come and DANCE and PLAY!” People just keep emailing and grabbing me in person and saying “I want to do X on the weekend – is it ok if I do that?” and I say “OF COURSE!” It’s really exciting to be part of a scene where people are just really keen to do things, and then they DO them!
But I can’t write about it, because I have a list a mile long, mostly made up of things like ‘confirm this venue’ and ‘go look at that venue’s sound gear’ and ‘resist urge to add more workshops or dances’ and ‘send apologetic email to people trying to volunteer – the list is full.’
The hardest thing in the world is keeping a little event little. But you got to.
Oh, and I HAVE to write about sewing and satin and costuming!
And plantar fascia injuries (boo!) and working with great DJs.
Right now I am:
- Doing the final things on our dance next week, Hot Foot Stomp, where I’ll be DJing, and which suddenly has twice as many people coming as we’d planned for. FARK!
- Trying to reshuffle the DJ program for MLX because another band’s been organised to the program, and that means less DJing which is sad but also exciting.
- Getting some practice DJing in for my own sets at Hot Foot Stomp and MLX and swingpit. Good luck.
- Getting the Little Big Weekend under control, and resist its demands to become a really HUGE event.
- Memorising these two routines, and really get them solid in my brain for teaching.
- Teaching three hours on Wednesday, practicing two hours on Thursday, social dance on Tuesday and not asplode my foot.
- Reading and reading and reading. Latest thing:
which I reread because I’d just picked up:
Which reads like a fancily written version of Grand Designs. I love houses and interior design stuff, so this set of photos is just added YUM.
argh! too long! must go! have work to do! and muscles to stretch!
Note to self: read and think about Criticism Now: Criticism in the Digital Age panel at the Wheeler centre.
Also, take issue with the Jon Rose’s line:
And when was the last time you heard a rigorous public debate on music? Once a year we have the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, I think that’s about it.
AND WRITE THAT STUPID REVIEW, WOMAN – IT IS OVERDUE!