What is technique?

Someone wrote in the fb dance group:

Technique. What does it mean to you? What does it mean to be strong in technique?

And this is what I wrote:

What does ‘technique’ mean to me?
The ability to make choices about what you will do with your body in real time, and then do them with accuracy, and consistent results.

In application, this may mean hearing a rhythm, recognising it as a rhythm (not just noise), and then being able to reproduce that rhythm. And reproduce it with the same parts of the body (eg the same parts of the foot in tap shoes).
It might also mean having the strength in the right parts of the body to reproduce something a number of times, consistently, at any tempo.
It might also mean being able to use the right parts of the body (eg the right muscles) to do these tasks, not over-working or using the body inefficiently.
It’s about knowing how to read symptoms of fatigue in your own body, and knowing when to stop before injury, and how to prevent injury. ie knowing when you are doing something ‘correctly’ or ‘safely’ rather than just ‘pushing through’.
Understanding what you’re doing is an important tool for knowing how to change what you’re doing in small ways to get predictable results, or to experiment and take risks. So the technique isn’t an end in itself, it’s a vehicle for experimenting and doing creative work.
Technique involves the ability to stay focussed on a particular task for a particular amount of time – ie how to stay mindful and engaged with a task for as long as necessary.
Having good technique means making something look effortless in execution, but having put hundreds of hours into that work.
It means knowing what you are doing with your body, and making a conscious choice to do that thing.
Good technique is essential for being able to dance a lot, strenuously, and avoiding injury or strain.

Technique can be applied in lots of different ways:
– recreating historic routines from footage (ie reading, transcribing, and reproducing movement from film);
– the ability to learn from watching and participating (rather than having teachers spoon feed);
– understanding how to use classes as an important learning and practice tool, and knowing how to participate in a class and maintain focus and work hard;
– knowing how to take technical elements and apply them to another task. eg knowing how to watch, learn, and memorise a tap routine (rhythm, shape, melody) and apply those learning skills to learning a lindy hop routine from demonstrations (eg the ‘i’ll do it three times then you try it’ teaching/learning tool).

If your body is a tool, then technique is knowing not only how to use that tool, but when to use which tool to complete which task. ie knowing when to use a hammer vs when to use a screw driver when you’re building a house.

I like Ramona’s approach to this stuff: work really hard in practice sessions, then go out there on the social floor and just have fun.
So technique, to me, also means knowing when to work, and when to stop working.

I think a lot of people use ‘technique’ as a term to box in knowledge and learning (ie ‘do it the RIGHT way’), when technique is just ‘how you do something’. And having ‘good technique’, to my mind, is about knowing how to be flexible and take up or let go of ideas and experiment.
It can be physical technique, but it can also be mental technique, which I think we neglect in dance. eg the ability to learn new things in new ways is often difficult for modern lindy hoppers who are used to very structured classes with teacher-centred lessons. The ability to take instruction, to work with others constructively, to work alone, to learn by watching, to learn by listening, to learn by doing, the ability to watch and memorise a sequence of movements, the ability to take a movement and then experiment with it…. All these techniques are learnable and teachable.

Lindy hoppers are very good at working with a partner, but I have noticed that dancers who are used to being told exactly what to do by a teacher (particularly in classes that are billed as ‘technique’ classes with lots of talking) don’t have the ability to learn by watching and trying. They really need affirmation all the time (so they ask a lot of questions or ask to record footage or ask to be shown something again and again).

Groove or pulse?

I used to be a huge proponent (zealot?) of ‘bouncing’ in lindy hop. I was sure it had to always be present while lindy hopping. The word ‘pulse’ has largely replaced ‘bounce’ in the vernacular, in part through the influence of American blues dance and west coast swing. It’s a great concept, and ‘pulse’ is useful because it implies an engagement of the core (the guts, etc) before/to initiate movement. More to the point, swinging jazz music has a very clear pulse or bounce, so it’s a good place to start in making friends with the music.

In the past year, I’ve changed my position. I was very resistant in a class with Toddy Yannacone a few years ago (2008? 2009?) when he suggested that we might sometimes not pulse. That sometimes we could be flat. To my Swede-drenched mind, this was totally not ok. But I had had increasing problems with calf muscle tears and strain, and simply working too hard.
Then I did a class with Kieran Yee at some point a few years later (2012?), where he talked about pulse at higher tempos. He basically made the point that you don’t have time to do a really deep pulse, so it has to be shallower, and faster. He explained this as the bounce sitting higher in his body (ie at the middle of his rib cage, rather than down in his hips). Once I heard and saw this, I realised that I had a ‘default bounce’ that was quite deep. Fine for slow songs with a deep pocket/super swing. Not so good for hotter, faster music.

[a note on gender: a lot of peeps talk about women as having a ‘lower centre’ than men, and women leads as leading from this lower point. I feel that this isn’t strictly accurate. As a decent dancer, and as a woman, I have to learn to engage and ‘lead’ from different points in my body, not just one static ‘centre’ down there over my womb. Because active muscle engagement, yo, and my womb is actually a rubbish lead. The very point of this discussion is that we can choose where to initiate movement, not just default to one option]

Listening to a lot of very early jazz and pre-swing, I realised that the ‘bounce’ in this music is jumping about much higher in the body, rather than planting four solid feet on the floor. So I needed to adjust my sense of time to account for this. To be clear: this ‘bounce’ is not necessarily a ‘jumping up’ bounce. It can still bounce ‘down’. But the depth of this bounce, and being able to choose whether I was bouncing up or down was very, very important. It meant a rethinking and examination of the fundamentals of my movement in lindy hop. It was really brought home to me in my first tap classes with Daniel Larsson, where he made it clear that a very swinging, broad ‘bounce’ to keep time was going to make a lot of tap movements very difficult. I had to get more efficient and more controlled in how I used my body to keep time.

Let me show you some videos.
In this one, Sakarias and Isabella are dancing to a faster, hotter jazz song with a very shallow pocket. Watch Saki’s body. He’s holding himself higher in his body (though he’s still very ‘grounded’). No, that’s not his dick, it’s the zip in his trousers sitting at an odd angle. So stop looking at that. Look at the way his arms remain loose and relaxed (yet engaged), he has lovely rhythm emanating from his core, and his feet take smaller steps (except at a couple of points for emphasis). His kicks are a product of his body on his standing leg contracting or bouncing a little in place, not a KICK from the leg.

Ljubljana Sweet Swing festival 2012 LSSF – Social Dancing – Isabella Gregorio & Sakarias Larsson from Eric Esquivel’s collection

Now, look at this other video of Saki. Yes, I do like his dancing. What of it?
He doesn’t sink down into the ground as a blues dancer would, but he’s definitely moving in a very different way, with a deeper swing to his timing, and a different relationship to the ground.

[As an aside, note at 1.08 how Mimmi uses Saki’s body to move around him with greater energy and space than he has suggested. They are working together to make this work, as he engages to keep balance and help her through this crazy movement, but she is definitely not ‘just following’ or ‘making a variation’. She is fundamentally changing the energy, size, timing, and feel of this one shape (a swing out). And it feels good with the music.]

HARLEM 2015: Sakarias & Mimmi

In these two videos, you can see how one dancer adjusts his ‘groove’ to suit different music and different partners, in a crowded or a more empty dance floor. Yes one is a performance (and so a bit more exaggerated), but the fundamentals of his movement are consistent: he makes choices about how to groove with the music, in ways that reflect the feel of the music. It’s no surprise that Saki is a tap dancer and drummer, right?


What I’m doing now.
Now, though, with my renewed focus on music-first teaching, and my own deepening understanding of jazz and of rhythm (through tap), I understand that an ‘always bouncing’ lindy hop isn’t really listening to the music. More importantly, a single type of ‘bounce’ is severely limiting. Our teaching group realised that insisting on a consistent uppy downy ‘bounce’ gave us little robot dancers with identical uppy downy movement. Regardless of the music.
So we copied our street dancer (hip hop, house etc) friends and started calling it ‘groove’. Now we see beautiful dancing and a much better connection to the music in our students, and I feel a lot better in myself as a dancer.

…as I type this, I feel ridiculous. But having ‘bounce’ was very important to me in a city where no one had any type of bounce or groove in the early 2000s. So moving on with my own development as a dancer was thwarted by my own determination to hang onto this one particular understanding of keeping time.
Well, we all have little jumps and leaps to make in our learning, right? :D

Hanging out with more street dancers (ie people who dance house, hip hop, locking, vogue, etc etc), I’ve learnt a lot more about ‘keeping time’ with my body. It’s been important for me to be teaching with friends who do regular street dance classes, including Jess‘s very good ‘grooves class.’ In her teaching bio Jess writes:

A baby must learn to stand, in order to walk and in order to run. Same sort of concept where I will show you the basics of getting to know the music, in order to dance with the music, and then style your dancing with the music. Hip Hop has its history and I will share its story with you. Relax, Have Fun and Be a better you.

These guys are also really connected to the roots of their dances, and do work with hip hop OGs. At a class with one man in particular, he demonstrated keeping one groove in your body, then adding another. Or moving it around inside your body.
We have taken this idea and started experimenting with it on our own. Taking part in classes with drummers and dancers from Guinea (Ousmane Camara) and Mozambique (Carlos Machava) this year in Herrang (back to back with my tap classes with Josette Wiggan and Daniel Larsson), I understood that the very nature of polyrhythms means that you can hold a number of ‘grooves’ in your body. Where previously I’d understood this concept as meaning you lay down your basic ‘bounce’ and then just layer rhythms on top of it, now I think of it more that your body contains a whole range of grooves, and the more control and the better ear you have, the more you can experiment with this. As a wee babby, I’m still working on one or two grooves at a time :D
The wonderful thing about beginning with African dance (as lindy hop did), is that you realise that you do all this on your own and then you DANCE WITH SOMEONE ELSE DOING THE SAME!!! So a partnership allows you to carry more rhythms and beats with you! Of course, a non-touching dance in a circle allows far more partnerships and layers of rhythm, but I guess that’s why african dance pwns all, right?

Defining groove for teaching purposes
To simplify things for teaching, I think you can think about a groove as ‘the basic rhythm of this song as you hear it.’ So we can have different grooves depending on who we are. This can include a nice bouncy pulse. Or it can be a flattened slide. But just as in tap, you have to keep the time internally, no matter what you’re doing, and to be really listening to the music, you have to be able to show this time in different ways. Not just one regimented uppy-downy pulse.

Importantly, the fewer words you use to describe or explain something in class, the greater the scope of your students’ imagining of that concept. You don’t need to explain ‘music’ to a human; they can hear it. If you can see (after ages) that they don’t have the beat, you can demonstrate with your body where that beat is. You don’t have to explain it. I think that a lot of modern lindy hop teachers in the western world like to capture and pin down the meaning of a concept. Stop it from changing or being ‘misunderstood’. If you talk less in class, and have students learn about movement and music through trying it first (rather than answering their questions with words, or giving long explanations), you let them experience that concept first. They don’t really need to understand it with their brains. I mean, look at the concept of ‘swing’. We have a million ways to describe what it is and how it works, but at the end of the day, to misquote Armstrong, “Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”
Remind me to write up my new ideas about questions in class, will you?

I recommend ditching ‘pulse’ as a buzzword, and going with groove. Or something else that suits your language and vibe. Or just a demonstration. You get the same effect (activated cores, engaged muscles, good prep for movement), but they’re dancing not jerking up and down.

As a teaching tool, the concept of ‘groove’ is very nice, because you’re never telling students they’re doing it wrong (by saying ‘bounce down, not up!’ or ‘deeper!’ or whatevs). You’re just saying “Find the groove,” or “Make friends with music,” or “Put the beat in your body and hold it there,” and they just do it in their own way. I have found it really inspiring, because I see a room full of people really dancing on their own, even before they do any ‘moves’ or ‘steps’ or figures. And they feel really good. Once they get over feeling shy or silly :D

I also say to students “Can you keep the time for me while I demonstrate this, please?” And get very good results. You don’t have to say how they do this, just ask them to show you with their bodies. Or, really just saying “Can you keep the time for me, please?” is really enough. People get it. Especially if you’ve been teaching by showing all class. You just can’t get this wrong.
They feel that responsibility to keep the time for the people demonstrating, and as a circle of people effectively watching and participating in a jam, they feel that shared sense of time that makes a tap jam or cypher or battle or drum circle so exciting and fulfilling. It also makes it clear that they are responsible for keeping their own time, and that this isn’t a ‘basic’ thing, but a fundamental part of dancing. Something we trust new dancers with right from the very first moment. We don’t need to drill them on it or micromanage it.
And if we free ourselves up from this very regimented idea of ‘bounce’ or ‘pulse’, we allow ourselves and our students to grow and develop as dancers and as musicians.

From a biomechanics point of view, the ‘groove’ approach allows dancers to shift their weight around from foot to foot, from the front to the back of their feet, to move their arms, their hips, their bodies however they like. A sort of ‘testing’ of balance and engagement which is relaxed, cushioned, and fluid. In this process we can experiment with turning on and off muscles, with seeing how the angle of our bodies affects our balance and ability to move.
This makes a great deal of sense for follows who are already used to the idea that they have to be ‘ready for anything’ a lead my suggest. But it’s also very good for leaders, who are forced (encouraged?) to stop thinking about leading as a ‘I ask, you do’ relationship with a follow. The range of movement encouraged by a groove (vs a pulse) allows the lead to experiment with the effect of their own weight change, and the way it frees up their body to feel and respond to a follow’s movements. And of course, it’s just more interesting and fun. Standing on the spot in closed position, grooving, suddenly feels really satisfying and wonderful – like DANCING – instead of just waiting for the dancing to begin.

Sore Knees and ‘technique’.
Another consequence of a pulse-focussed approach to keeping time is that you often see a lot of sore knees.
I have had a lot of trouble with knees in the past (because lindy hopper who didn’t do any pre-dance training), and had to get my shit together with squat technique.
Why do the knees get so sore? Now, I’m NOT a medical professional! But my physio made it clear that my issues were:

  • too much repetitive movement with poor technique
  • too deep a downward push
  • knees too far forward over toes. Knees should not go further forward than toes. So the butt needs to go back to achieve the depth. ie literally the good squatting technique you learn in pilates.

We don’t tend to squat as deep as this wee kiddy in lindy hop, but the techniques apply.
I actually don’t think a dance class is the place to work on this technical stuff; as people (mis)quote Frankie Manning: “Don’t do lindy hop to get in shape, get in shape to do lindy hop.”

Anyhoo, this is why ‘out with the butts’ is not just a problematic exoticising of the african american body, but good biomechanics. Similarly, ‘look at your partner’ keeps the upper body open across the chest, and the chin up.

Where does this sit in regards to my developing sense of lindy hop ‘pedagogy’?
Firstly: my goal has always been to help students become individuals. To express themselves. If I end up with a bunch of people who move and dance exactly like each other, and like me, then I have failed in my job.
I had thought this was a common goal in lindy hop teaching. But my recent experiences have led to me believe that this is definitely not the case. A lot of high profile international teachers are determined to create uniformity. I’m sure this isn’t their explicit goal. But it is a consequence of teaching to ‘get rid of bad habits’ or to ‘fix people’ or to ‘stop people doing X.’
It’s a hard thing to accept, but as a dancer and teacher, I have to accept that we are all different human beings, and even though that lack of triple steps in a lead’s swing out ENRAGES me, that is their choice. And not mine. I have no right, NO RIGHT to try to ‘fix’ that.
The Frankie Track in Herrang in 2014 really brought home to me, with the multi-level class, and focus on rhythm not shapes, that if we focus on rhythm not the perfect execution of figures, we open our brains up. Suddenly everyone is potentially a fantastic dance partner, and they don’t need eleventy years of experience and perfect ‘technique’ to be a wonderful dancer. It was very exciting for me as a dancer, and I think it really made me a better person to approach dance this way. I really did get over myself.

Secondly, I have (as I’m sure I’ve made clear in my previous posts about jazz dance skills and followers’ skills), been working on revising how I approach teaching lindy hop. As Anders put it in class the other week in Herrang, we can teach our students using a road map to get to a specific destination, or we can go with them on an exploration. That road map is essentially a specific ideology about dance and about teaching. Whether it is ‘rhythm first!’, ‘learn-by-drilling’, teacher-centred, student-centred, or purely through experimentation. As Anders made clear, as teachers we have a whole range of teaching skills and tools available to us, and we want to be active in our selections from these options. So sometimes we might drill people, but other times we might encourage them to come to a movement through experimenting.

I do find this very exciting. And I like that it gives me permission to use a very conventional class structure sometimes, as well as lovely hippy dippy gentle teaching tools. As a teacher, and as a student, I like that this philosophy encourages me to ask questions, and to engage with the ideas and practice actively. Not necessarily actually verbally ask questions, but to approach a new move or concept with an inquiring mind, to try and take it apart and see how it works. Not just accept the concept as given.

And this is, of course, very much in keeping with many of the approaches advocated by the earlier cultural studies and women studies scholars. So I find this approach to teaching and learning very much in keeping with my broader feminist projects: do good in the world.

DJ fashion report

Herräng DJ fashion report:

Last year we saw the lindy hop community shift abruptly from hot pre- and early swing to hi-fi new testament Basie and Ellington (finally). But this year in Herräng we saw a shift back to something more like the middle: the late 30s and early 40s swinging big band. Including those led by Ellington and Basie.

Don’t throw your copies of Newport away just yet, but do try to pick up a copy of some of Basie’s work with Columbia in the 30s-40s, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to buy all Ellington, all of it. Heck, get all the Basie too.

But this season expect the best lacquered DJs to be playing from the classic swing era, both big and small bands. Four solid beats to the bar, my friends, and no cheating.

teaching leads to follow, follows to lead: quick thought

I see some common ‘issues’ in the leads and follows who swap roles for the first time.

– Leaders who ‘feel’ or recognise the lead for a move, then actively move their bodies.
Usually a bit too quickly. In those cases, I usually say to them “I know you know the ‘lead’ for this move’. But it’s not about ‘here’s the signal, then GO, do the move’. It’s more that you maintain contact with your partner through your back, and everywhere you touch them. Don’t rush, be present in each moment of the movement. Be _with_ your partner, not rushing to complete a task.”
There are some postural adjustments that can usually help with this (eg letting the hips slip out a tiny bit to give that nice ‘squatting’ posture (ie engage the abs in a small way), looking up, etc etc), and a reminder to maintain a consistent rhythm that responds to the music, rather than rushing through.

– Follows who square up to their partner and lead with their arms, and are quite ‘up’ in their bodies.
Again, I talk about ‘be with your partner’, so you maintain connection through every step and work together. I also look at their posture (ie I ask them to try the 3/4 profile rather than squaring up, so that they engage their core and body and arms, rather than just their arms). And I usually say, again, ‘your rhythm or confident movement through your body will reassure your follow, so be confident in your own rhythm.’ The latter then gets them more ‘grounded’, so that they don’t dance ‘around’ their partner, but can choose where and how to move with or around their partner.

-> so it’s similar elements, but applied in different ways. I think that, really, when you swap roles, you need to have a much deeper understanding of the share elements, and to be able to apply them in different ways.

What is groundedness?

More thoughts from fb, inspired by recent time in Herrang.

Jo asked in the fb teaching group:

I recently had a student ask me to define what being grounded was and said that a lot of teachers use this as a buzzword, but never actually explain what it was nor how to get there. I found this quite interesting. So, my fellow instructors, how would you define “being grounded” and what are some of your favorite exercises you use to teach it?
If there is a thread that has already discussed this, please feel free to link as my search came up empty. :D

And I replied:

In my head, I use this concept a lot, but I never teach with it.
So I guess I’d have to nut through what makes a dancer look ‘grounded’…
This will no doubt be another huge post. Soz not soz.

– I often say when watching a dancer that I really like the way their feet touch the ground. Their feet are under their body, and they _use_ it to push off, they make conscious choices about which part of their foot touches the ground (like a tapper), and they make very clear weight changes.

They also bend joints, and have ‘loose knees’, rather than straight legs. All this bending and collecting and angles and so on brings the eye _down_ rather than up. It’s also very functional, as it makes it easier to respond quickly.
But this is often a matter of aesthetics, as tap dancers and dancers from Ghana Guinea (thanks for the heads up, Bert) are both grounded (as in they use the ground), but also capable of great jumps and lifts – a sense of defying gravity. In the case of tap, I’ve noticed (and had to learn) that tappers have a superior sense of where their weight is at any one time, and don’t settle for just ‘split or committed’ weight. They have varying degrees of weight commitment, and can do what seems like hold themselves in mid air. I often notice it when I watch Sakarias Larsson dance: he is both supremely grounded and using the ground, but also seems to hang from the bottom of his rib cage, able to hold himself higher if he needs to.

We talk a lot about ‘seeing the rhythm’ when someone dances.
I usually mean this to involve a really engaged core (ie movement coming from the middle of the body, or particular muscle groups within the body), or nice combinations and engagements of muscles*. Rather than just arms flapping about in the air or feet slippering about all over the floor while the torso does nothing. We did some work on this with eWa and Lennart in the teachers’ track – how to make the shim sham a rhythm rather than figures.
I think that it’s also important to really begin and finish movements clearly, referring always to the music. And by movements I mean very small segments of time (eg half a beat or less). So the dancer really needs to know what they’re doing rhythmically, not just moving through shapes. ie if we’re serious about rhythm, we don’t just work with beats and half beats. We don’t just have swung time, we also work with straight time. And so on. The physical manifestation of rhythm requires sophisticated and very clean, clear engagement of particular muscles at the right time, so it also requires good proprioception (am I doing what I think I’m doing) as well as the ability to engage or turn off particular muscles at the right time.
-> all of this involves a very clear use of the ‘ground’ and gravity

In ballet, dancers aim to look light and airy and the opposite of grounded. This is about aesthetics, though. There’s a cool article about this called “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance” by Joann Kealiinohomoku (What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism Eds. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. 533 – 49). Kealiinohomoku does a close textual analysis of ballet as ethnicised dance, and the stuff that makes ballerinas look ‘light’: hyper-extended, straight legs and arms (vs bent knees and joints which are essential to african and african american vernacular dance); pointed toes and extended hands and fingers, elongated necks and lifted chins, lifted rib cages and turned out hips to flatten the buttocks and make them look flatter and longer. Even the clothes they wear (there are some grooving photos illustrating this here, where Balanchine works with ballet dancers).

-> there’s some really fantastic work on the black american choreographers and dancers of the 20s-40s, and their part in the Harlem Renaissance and then black arts movements. Their integration of black cultural history with white high art (ballet) really saw a playing with the ‘airy’ lightness of traditional ballet with the ‘grounded’ aesthetics of other dance traditions. Katherine Dunham is the big name here, but also Balanchine (his work on Cabin in the Sky with lindy hoppers and jazz dancers, for example), and Alvin Ailey.
I actually see similar innovations in black Australian dance companies like Bangarra Dance Theatre.

RE how do I teach dancers to be grounded?

I do a lot of solo jazz work.
So, for example, the last block I taught we began each intermediate class with a phrase of the shim sham, looking at how to make the rhythms clear, the weight changes crisp or functional, how to remember and dance the sequence rather than just copying the teacher, etc etc.
I noticed that all the class in the rest of the session were really grounded and very clear in their movements. And their leading and following was much better.
I think that the solo work makes you much more confident, but also forces you to make very clear weight changes, and to know where your weight is at any one point. Teaching the shim sham as series of weight changes (ie fancy walking) also makes it easier to dance. This then transfers directly to lindy hop (ie fancy walking holding hands).

Rhythm games like I-go, you-go, where the teacher dances a two bar rhythm, then the students come in immediately on the next bar.
This makes them watch, observe, understand, then remember and reproduce. As they get better at it, they stop consciously mapping the rhythm and movements with their brain, and let their pattern-matching brain bits do the work. Particularly with longer sequences. It’s HARD. But also very, very good. I have found in my own dancing that this tap work is making me much better at learning sequences in lindy hop, so when I dance them, I’m much more confident and commit my weight properly, rather than trying to play it safe and dither about uncertainly between feet.

Where is your weight?
In my own work, tap is teaching me to really make confident choices about where my weight is. I have been really focussing on how to know when to commit my weight completely to one foot, to just commit 50% of it, or 20% or whatever, and THEN to be able to change that amount within a particular time limit (ie quickly or slowly or within a full beat, half beat, third of a beat, whatevs). I find this very challenging, and I’m struggling a lot. But it’s making my lindy hop SO much better.

Gimme de kneebone bent.
(to quote Malone). ie soft knees (with a little bend), avoiding pointed toes and extended ankles (unless it’s intended for contrast), bent hips, experimenting with bands and angles in the torso at the hip and waist, and with rotation, extremely angled shoulders (as in a shorty george), bent elbows and wrists, turning the head and using gaze to direct the eye. ie charleston, pecking, shorty george, fish tail, rocking, etc etc.

Don’t fall down
We use the ‘traveling on the bus’ example to demonstrate groundedness. We ask them to think about this when they’re next on the bus. How do they keep their balance when they’re standing up if they can’t reach a bar? They relax their knees, feet shoulder width apart, and think ‘down’ rather than ‘up and tippy’.

*Entirely unrelatedly, I think the ‘arm v body lead’ distinction is a false dichotomy. Arms are attached to bodies, so every arm lead is a body lead. BUT, we can use our arms in lots of ways. So I can let my shoulders rise up towards my ears when I lift my arms, and this then makes the movement happen more in my arms. Or I can keep my shoulder blades down ‘in my body’ as I raise my arms, which then engages the muscles from my shoulders to my spine, and my spine to my hips, which is super good for leading and following. But both are legit, and can give very different visual effects for solo performance in particular. The former can look very funny if you bend at the waist 45*.
This relates to groundedness because the arms that have dropped shoulder blades look more ‘contained’ and give a clearer sense of what the torso is doing while the arms are moving. But of course it is far, far more complex (and wonderful than that):

(The Charles Moore Dance Theatre: “Ostrich” choreography by Asadata Dafora (1932))

clapping, slapping, scatting, and dancing

The other week in Herrang at the Bad Taste party, I was given permission to go off-piste. I’m usually very reluctant to go the stunt DJing route, but I’d spent the hour before my set in the DJ office listening to all the types of music that comes from New Orleans, but never gets played in the New Orleans parties.
It had gotten me thinking about the other rhythms that were part of African American vernacular dance in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, yet are carefully avoided by places like Herrang. Not to mention hip hop and street dances of today, which have much closer roots with black dance history than the contemporary lindy hop community.

I’d also spent most of the weekend tapping in one tent, while drummers and dancers from Ghana Guinea (thanks for the heads up, Bert) banged out insistent rhythms in the neighbouring tent. And scatting. And learning to understand, remember, and reproduce complex rhythms.

There’s a very interesting book called The Games Black Girls Play by Kyra Gaunt.
If I cut down the blurb for the book, we can summarise it as a book about skipping, clapping, and rhythmic games that black girls play in America.

More generally:

…the games black girls play — handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope—both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking…

…these games contain the DNA of black music…black girls’ games …teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.

I’ve written about this book before in a post about double dutch skipping and gender.

One of the points Gaunt makes in that book, is that clapping, skipping, and rhythmic girls’ games teaches black girls complex rhythm recognition, reproduction, and improvisation skills. Both with their brains and their bodies.

When I was DJing that party, I had songs like this in my head:

Big Chief by Donald Harrison featuring Dr John.

Bechet’s Ti Ralph.

And

Step, Clap, Go! from Opening Ceremony on Vimeo.

Step Clap Go ad for clothes for teenaged girls from Target featuring Bad News From the Bronx steppers.

I’d also gotten a little angry in a history talk that failed to name or mention most of the women in the lindy hop partnerships, and also did some serious racefail that a couple of the Frankie Manning ambassador kids picked up. I know Herrang may like to talk about black dance and history, but it’s a very white place. And also quite a patriarchal one. So when women, girls, black kids, black women, and especially black girls speak up, they’re usually very quickly silenced.

With all this swirling through my brain and muscles, it’s inevitable that I ended up playing the clapping song:


Shirley Ellis’ “Clapping Song”.

I actually played it three times. And got into trouble for it from Lennart. But it felt quite wondefully cathartic to break the rules like that, to be openly defiant, and to say FUCK YOU to all the stifling genderfail, safespace fail, patriarchal white washing of black dance history that was going on. If we’re going to valorise lindy hop as a black vernacular dance, we are doing a very bad thing if ignore all the history of black dance after lindy hop. All the black culture after lindy hop that living generations of black kids and adults participate in and own. I’m absolutely not ok with being part of the strange exoticism of some white lindy hop culture that deliberately places this culture well beyond contemporary black cultural practice. A white woman playing a song for a bunch of white european lindy hoppers isn’t really revolutionary, but I was playing a song by a black woman, a song which is an adaption of a black girls’ rhythm game. And I was repeating it.

As a DJ, I think the stunt worked well. I played the song three times, but in between each playing, there was a stack of solid, hardcore swinging jazz. All upenergy, and all solidly within the ‘will make you dance the lindy hop’ genre.

What happened with the crowd? The first time they were quizzical, but tolerant. The second time they started losing their shit. The third time they were out of control, and I could see them literally leaping into the air all over the room, jamming, rocking out, even swinging out.
It was a punt, and three times was definitely enough (even in a week where playing the same song multiple times was the stunt de jour), but it did what I wanted it to do. It was in ‘bad taste’, it played on the crowd’s crazy/nervous masquerade night costume vibes, and it definitely took advantage of the hilarity of that night’s cabaret performances. The burlesque cleaning show in particular.

I would never do this on an ‘ordinary’ night of dancing at Herrang. It did remind me a lot of the crazed Twist party from a few years ago. Particularly a few songs later when they all formed a caterpillar, as my french friend called a congo line. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t encourage it, and I was a bit scared when my boss turned up halfway through the second song and asked what was going on. I definitely didn’t plan for the whole room to turn into one looping snake of chanting, dancing, scatting congo line dancers. But what I do think happened is that the perfect storm of conditions led to the sort of natural chaos that happens in Herrang sometimes:
– over-excited dancers wearing costumes that make them feel crazy
– the uptempo fun swing songs let them feel relaxed
– the clapping song said ‘the rules may be broken’ and was also exciting
– the repetition of the clapping song said ‘unexpected things will happen’
– the burlesque act with its mix of sexual and off-kilter humour stimulated people’s excitement
– it’s a _masquerade_ party, which means that people are masked/feeling permission to be other than their usual selves
– it was mid-week, when people are tired and also very relaxed.

Anyway, it was a very interesting moment. Me, I’m now obsessed with rhythm dances in a whole new way. Yes, it’s possible to get even crazier about this stuff.

Key skills: rhythm, timing, jamming and FOLLOWING

With some key skills of rhythm, timing, and jamming in mind, how does a follow communicate to a lead that they would like to extend a 6 count send out into an 8 or 10 or 16 count send out?
How does a lead communicate the same thing?
We looked at this in Jenny and Rikard’s class (Herrang teachers’ track 2017). I’ve done this a few times, but I’ve been tired each time, so I always forget details.
Ok, so a good option is for the follow, on being ‘sent out’ (eg after count 2) to simply not move so far or so fast. They just take a longer time getting out into open. If the lead is paying attention, then they figure it out.
How can you take longer?

  • Change the rhythm of the step from step step triple step triple step to something longer.
  • Orient your body in a different way. eg if you turn to face your partner more, and make it clear with your body that you’re staying on the spot, the lead will figure it out and not try to ‘push’ you out.
  • It helps if you have something to do when you’re not moving so far in space. I suggest jazz. aka dancing. Which then implies: if you don’t feel the music suggesting you take longer on this move, then why take longer? Just need a break? Want to change the pattern? It’s all good. But have a good reason to do what you do.

How do you then signal to your partner that you’re ready to ‘start’ the shapes again?

  • You can just hold out your hand and smile up at your partner in a ‘What now?!’ face. But that’s weird.
  • Another way is to use a triple step to create a finish point or some other sort of rhythmic ‘full stop’ to say ‘hello, I’m done!’
  • Jenny also talked about creating stretch to say ‘hello, here is the connection again, would you like to suggest another shape?’

This is where my brain was blown:

  • You can create stretch in A MILLION DIFFERENT WAYS.
  • The easiest way is just to back away from your partner until your arms are literally stretched. BUT you are a flexible jointed creature of great ingenuity!
  • You can create a stretch by getting really loooow, so your arms are drawn a little more stretched.
  • You can create a stretch by getting really hiiiiigh, so your arms are stretched.
  • You can turn into your own arm, so your arm gets ‘shorter’ to create stretch (think about Al Minns doing worms on 7-8,1-2 of a swing out, where he crosses into his own arm and it creates a stretch that then sprongs you back together from open into closed).
  • I think the key thing is that this change in connection says to your partner, “Hello, friend, something is changing!”

Note:
I knew this about stretch already. But I hadn’t thought consciously about applying it this way. I know I play with the concept a lot when I’m social dancing (eg as a follow I extend the time I spend in open during a swing out by allowing the stretch to develop until I’m ready to sprong in; as a lead I may keep the connection more relaxed until I have a clear vision for the next few counts).
But I hadn’t thought about applying it this way in a teaching context.

Note:
I would never ever ever start the class with this point: “hello, let’s talk about stretch.” Because I think that technical exercises or theory in space are useless. I’m very function-first. So in this case I’d come in with the question, “Let’s see how we can extend a 6 count move to an 8 count one,” and then gradually build up the dancing from an ordinary 6 count send out, then adding in each element as we went.

As Jenny and Rikard pointed out, both leads and follows can do this stuff.
In my brain, I think that I signal the approaching end of a ‘shape’ (as a lead esp) by: reorienting my body (towards, away, whatevs; it creates a stretch or changes the connection or just plain makes it easier for me to look my partner in the eye); by doing a triple step or another step that feeds some energy into the connection/my body and gets me prepared for leading or initiating something different; etc.

Teaching this stuff:

  • Check in with your partner:
    As a teacher, I tell my students to “Check in with your partner.” They are looking to see if their partner is ready to do something new (or still jazzing out), are checking to see if their partner is ‘getting’ the rhythm they’re doing, checking to see if the call-and-response stuff is working, etc etc etc. This establishes a visual connection, but the act of looking at your partner also reorients your posture and body – by turning to face your partner with even just your head, you change the way your body and muscles are working.
  • As a very simple example, I have the leads remember to ALWAYS look at the queen of the world when you’re bowing to the follow. Because as soon as they drop their heads, the connection is broken, because they tend to hyper-extend their arms out of the shoulder, and different muscles are engaged. By looking up, they engage different muscles.
  • But that’s too much to say to noobs. Just say “Look at those mighty swivels!” or “Check in with your partner” and they get the picture.

I find this approach much more sophisticated than other stuff I heard during the classes I did that week and the next.
Following is more than just choosing to follow or not to follow. This is a limited paradigm. I want to completely revise the framework we use for thinking about leading and following.
eg I heard one teacher explain a follow’s contribution to a move as being ‘choosing triple steps instead of step steps’. But this choice was dictated by how much energy the lead was asking for in a particular turn. This was simply a matter of a follow working within this paradigm of a follow’s options being ‘follow or not follow’.
This is such a boring, overly-simple and limiting way of thinking about what follows can do.
I think a follow should always be choosing what footwork they do, and their choices should be guided by:

  1. Function (eg a triple step feeds in energy and can be faster than a step step in a turn),
  2. Aesthetics (what they want to look like),
  3. The rhythms they feel,
  4. The rhythms they hear in the music,
  5. Adding texture and contrast to what the lead is doing,
  6. The way they feel at the time, and the things they want to express.

If my only choice, as a follow, is to do what a leader is doing (and ‘asking for’) or not then what is the actual point of being a person with a brain and creativity. Why not just be a copying robot. BORING.

Key skills: rhythm, timing, jamming

Rethinking lindy hop via tap and African dance.

Some of the skills I think are essential for lindy hop:

  1. Having a sense of time.
  2. Having a sense of swung timing and straight timing.
  3. Being able to hear a rhythm once and then repeat it immediately.
  4. Jamming: Being able to communicate very clearly your sense of time in order to improvise.
  5. Jamming: Being able to keep track of where bars and phrases are so as to improvise.
  6. Jamming: improvising in real time with other people.
  7. In summary…

1. Having a sense of time.
Knowing where ‘1’ or ‘4’ is, or where a phrase ends or begins.

  • In a tap jam, this means being able to clap on 1 of the beginning of a 2-bar sequence (or 4-bar sequence), as well as tapping lightly on the even counts all the time, and tapping an improvised rhythm on top when it’s our turn.
  • ie knowing how long a bar (4 counts) is in a particular time. Without counting in your head or out loud, really.
  • I now find thinking in bars more useful than thinking in 8s. In my head, a ‘swing out’ is 4 counts of a rhythm on one foot, then that same 4 count rhythm on the other foot).
  • For lindy hop, this means that both partners understand which beats to emphasise (eg not making a rock step really huge/long on 1, or kicking on 8 for a fall off the log); both partners are carrying the beat in their bodies, but also a sense of the whole song as hear it (eg a ‘groove’); and both partners trust each other to come back to those basic structures after improvising.

2. Having a sense of swung timing and straight timing.
Knowing a rhythm or step (like a stomp off or a shuffle), but being able to dance it straight or swinging.

  • In lindy hop that might mean the difference between doing a triple step as 1-2-3 (as in cha cha) and 3 &4. Both of these are legit, but only if you choose the one you’re dancing. Being able to control this then means you are better able to stop it being a hoppy-uppy feeling when you want downy-groundedy feeling.
  • In lindy it also means trusting your partner to be able to dance swung and straight rhythms, and to have a sense of the basic beat while experimenting with syncopation, swinging, straight etc etc timing. Both of you doing different things at the same time!

3. Being able to hear a rhythm once and then repeat it immediately.
For example, as in the game I-go, you-go.

  • Being able to hear a rhythm and repeat it immediately, in time.
  • Being able to see a rhythm and reproduce it with the same part of the body/foot immediately.
  • The better a dancer, the longer a sequence they can repeat immediately. So memory, understanding, reproduction, and recognition skills are all key. And then of course being able to hear and then reproduce two rhythms at once is the next step.
  • In Herrang 2017, we did this in lindy hop classes as solo dancers, in tap classes, in african dance classes, and in solo jazz classes, but it has clear applications to lindy hop.
  • This means scatting, clapping, tapping our feet, flexing our muscles, patting our bodies, turning our bodies, nodding our heads, all of these are ways of communicating a rhythm.
  • => It takes practice to get good at doing this, and at reading this in a partner’s body.
  • A lot of people talk about this in terms of following, where a follow recognises a lead’s rhythm, then joins in immediately. But that’s a very simple, boring way of thinking about leading and following. And these skills are absolutely essential for tap and solo dance. ie dancing. If you can’t do this, you can’t pick up a time step for a tap jam.
  • I think that this skill is severely under-emphasised in lindy hop. It’s not about ‘footwork’ per se, but as understanding a rhythm, then being able to reproduce it with your body. Any and all parts of your body.
  • I don’t think enough leaders can do this. They see themselves as dancing rhythms at follows, which a follow then dances back or not. Or rather, they don’t even get that far: they think ‘I am swinging us out’ and just assume the follow will do the shape they want. And they think of ‘swing outs’ as having one fixed basic rhythm unless it has a ‘variation’. And if the follow doesn’t magically join in, they see it as ‘not following’ or ‘hijacking’.
    This ‘magic following’ is often discussed as ‘just following’. When I think it’s really ‘just copying’. And as we all know, copying is legit, but it is just the very first step in creative work and joy.
  • Instead, I think of leading and following as sharing rhythms with a partner, where you can dance a rhythm over the basic, which your partner then joins in or echoes, or you can both dance rhythms at the same time which are complementary. And the best thing of all things ever.
  • I do this with my tap friends. I’m a bubb tapper, so I lay down a basic rhythm, which I have to keep steady and consistent while they improvise on top. We both find it immensely satisfying, creative, and challenging. Even though one of us is a bub, and one of us is a ninja.
  • In lindy hop, this communication of rhythm isn’t just about footwork (which is where I see a lot of modern lindy hop thinking about rhythm). The timing of a tuck turn, for example, is also a rhythm. The use of stretch from a cross-hand hold where you turn your body into your own crossed arm affects timing and can create a delay that then is followed by a faster sequence as you ‘unwind’ into something faster. And so on. All this on top of footwork.
  • Footwork is functional: yes it can have fancy rhythm, but it really is just a way of getting from A to B. So a follow doesn’t need a magic spidey sense to know whether it’s a 6 or 8 count shape. They just do the steps that get them from A to B. And in a 6 count shape we just get from A to B in less time – 2 fewer counts – than in an 8 count shape.
  • I tend to think of ‘styling’ as always coming from the rhythm.
    eg when I jump up REALLY high, it takes a longer time than if I jump low, and my arms may want to fly up higher, creating a ‘flying’ shape. So my ‘eagle slide’ arm shape (styling) may come from how high I move the scoop/side part of the eagle slide. As an extremely fashionable and cool person, I might want to add some sweet 45* angles to my wrists and some nice flat planes to my hands. Boom. Styling.
    And I always, really think that the best styling is just your own personality pouring out of you. Which is why beginners are the best: they just feel feels and don’t know how to ‘style’ their feels yet.

4. Jamming: Being able to communicate very clearly your sense of time in order to improvise.
What and where is ‘the beat’.

  • Being able to work within a specific structure.
  • In a tap jam or a band, you all agree what the time is. In lindy hop, you take a few breaths to find a shared sense of time and ‘groove’ before you start swinging out or whatevs.
  • In lindy hop you need to use your body and the way you touch someone to add to this communication. So we often talk about relaxed muscles, energised muscles, arms touching backs, backs touching arms, ‘returning connection’, etc etc etc. I think we do a lot of that ‘naturally’ as humans holding hands or embracing someone. But obviously we refine these lines of communication as we do more dancing.
  • => even though a beginner may not have a nuanced sense of physical connection/touch, they have a very good visual communication skill set (they can see when someone is happy or excited or whatevs), and they can hear the music, and they can scat. They’re also good at recognising patterns. So we don’t start from ‘nothing’ when we do lindy hop.

5. Jamming: Being able to keep track of where bars and phrases are so as to improvise.

  • These are traditionally places to pass a turn in a jam to someone else, or a place to begin or end, or a place that frames a rhythmic sequence.
  • I have since started thinking of leading as laying down a time step (eg step step triple step, or step step kick step, kick kick -> lindy hop, or charleston) which the follow then says ‘Ok, yeah, i’m into it’, or not, depending on how they feel.
  • We share that time step with our bodies, but also visually, and verbally with scatting. I strongly believe that we should use all our senses in lindy hop. And we should all signal to our partner that we dig it, hear it, are into it: nodding, saying “Yeah!”, picking it up and repeating, it etc. So a follow is saying, “Yeah!” when they pick up the leader’s lead for a move, and a leader is saying “Yeah!” when they work with what a follow is putting down.
  • Then we use that same rhythm to move through space. When we have that rhythm established as our time step (or ‘basic’), we are free to improvise on top of it. Or jam together. As a lead, I suggest shapes and rhythmic variations to the follow. As a follow, I may or may not choose to do those shapes or rhythms. But both of us need to be very clear in what we are suggesting.
  • I think of lindy hop as jamming, now. That means we touch, don’t touch, stand close together, stand far apart – all that stuff – just like in any other creative communication. Sometimes we synchronise rhythms, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we’re both swinging, sometimes we’re not. We watch each other, we listen to each other, we pay attention and try to pick up the rhythm. And try to keep in time with each other, and give the music our love.
  • => if we focus on our dancing as an attempt to show someone/teach someone a rhythm, we get really clear with it.

6. Jamming: Social dancing = improvisation; jamming = improvisation = social dancing.
You do it with friends because it’s more fun. More inspiring, more invigorating, more challenging. And you can make bigger things.

7. In summary…

  • These are obviously all skills leads and follows need.
  • If you focus on rhythm and timing and music, you tend to focus less on shapes and moves. I’m personally a strong advocate of simple shapes with varying rhythms. eg a circle, dancing on the spot and moving around the floor in closed, then letting go and being in open, dancing in open facing a partner holding one hand, dancing with a partner without touching very close, moving towards and away from a partner without touching. And so on.
  • But then there is also a joy in a complex shape with a complex rhythm pulled off in just the right part of the music with a live band. Right? It’s just a bit boring if that’s all you do. Because swinging jazz is sometimes a very simple, lovely thing. A 32 bar chorus with a bit of improvisation in the bridge, all in a nice swinging timing.
  • In shifting my focus from moves-based teaching and dancing, I found I was a better dancer, and a better teacher. We will never learn all the lindy hop moves. But we can start dancing day one of classes, or the first time we hear a song.
  • If we don’t think of lindy hop in terms of figures, we change the way we think of leading and following. In a moves-based paradigm, the lead suggests moves which the follow may or may not do/complete. Booooring and limited.

If, however, we think of lindy hop as rhythms, music, and partnership first, partners have similar roles, but the skills are still quite specific. I think that leading and following are different but I don’t hold any truck with the unnecessary verbiage and danceplaining we see in a lot of classes. Lindy hop is really simple: you and I dance together to some good music. We improvise when we feel like it. We touch or we don’t. But we are dancing together so we interact. Sometimes we hold each other real close because we love it.
Anyhoo, so if I think like this, I’m not left thinking “But what can I teach follows?” because this is what we teach every student, lead or follow.
That’s the ideal, anyway.

 

In the next post, Key skills: rhythm, timing, jamming and FOLLOWING I’ll work through how I might use these ideas while teaching follows lindy hop.

Good peeps are doing good work

I’m back from Herräng 2017, and feeling a bit better about the dancing world’s response to sexual harassment.

Just a reminder that there are a whole heap of organisers, DJs, volunteers, and generally good peeps who are watching and acting on information about men who’ve been reported as sexual offenders. Most of them aren’t famous or big names. Almost all of them are quietly squirrelling away on this issue.
Each time I travel I meet people who have incredibly good, well-thought out processes and plans. The international lindy hop community has leapt onto this issue.
They work hard to protect and maintain the anonymity of the women and men who report offenders. They’ll receive threats (physical, legal, emotional, financial), and will be snowed under with paper work and processes.
Almost all of the men who’ve been reported aren’t famous teachers or even well known dancers. There won’t be blog posts or well-trafficked posts about these men. Very few other men will even have noticed them, and it’s unlikely famous teachers will boycott events if these offenders attend. They’re all ages, all ethnicities, all classes, and all over the world. I have not come across a single incident in the last two years where the report has been unfounded. In most cases women are _under_ reporting or playing down the behaviour of these men. And there have been a lot of reports.
These men are almost comically similar in their behaviour and patterns. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so shitty. So offenders are relatively easy to spot. And people are watching, keeping an eye on each other.
These reports trickle in every week, all over the world, and the that network of organisers, DJs, volunteers, and good peeps will be keeping each other in the loop about their movements. Facebook has never been busier with messages organising meet ups and conversations, keeping people aware of which offenders are moving where and doing what.
You can bet your bottom dollar all the people who are working on these reports will get them out their dances and parties.
So if you do report once, and you don’t get a good result, please do try again. There are plenty of good peeps who have your back.
Men: stop that jerky sexist shit. Those sexist objectifying ‘jokes’ in dance contests, the jokes about ‘boob swipes’ in class, the laughing ‘games’ between higher profile men. All of that sends messages to other men that this behaviour is ok, and to women that they need to just tolerate this. Don’t offer to walk us to our cars. Just stop encouraging other men to treat women like jokes.
And all those people working on this issue don’t need your bullshitly immature behaviour muddying the water. Stop being jerks; get your shit together.

Patterns to watch out for. ie stuff I’ve seen or had reported as part of a report of assault or harassment. So many times it’s getting stupidly obvious:

Overly controlling, rough, or sexualised dancing on the dance floor.
– unwanted/non-consensual dips or movements where women are forced into positions;
– ‘blues dance’ moves/styles/steps in a lindy hop context. When women complain about these movements, these men almost always describe them as ‘blues dance’ moves, hence justifying their behaviour and delegitimising women’s complaints;
– ‘teaching’ or ‘telling’ newer or younger women dancers how or what to do during a dance or between a dance. This usually means these women are isolated from other people on the floor between dances as these men mansplain their rough or controlling behaviour.
– targeting younger or less experienced women (of all types of appearance) and asking them to dance repeatedly – they literally comb the room with their eyes.

Stalking:
– constant facebook messages, comments, emojis, photos, tagging in other people’s photos, requests for friending
– repeated requests for phone numbers relatively early in a friendship (eg the day they meet a woman), in person and via social media. Usually for an ostensibly legit reason – to clarify details of an event, find out where the party is, etc)
– constant text messages, phone calls, and pics via phone at all hours and times. Often with emotionally ‘sincere’ or ‘confessional’ tones – eg stories about their emotional vulnerability, their past relationships, etc. Basically, stories about _them_.
– repeated and intrusive invitations to dance – interrupting women’s conversations with other women (to isolate them) cutting in after one dance with another partner, multiple dances in a row at a single party, followed by invitations to ‘private parties
– invitations to ‘private parties’ or events that are presented as group events, but turn out to be just him. These are usually ‘blues’ parties at someone’s house or a secluded venue. The man is usually the only person with the details, and they may collect the woman in their car.
– dropping the woman home after a dance (so they know where she lives), then ‘dropping in’ repeatedly, or making sure they’re the only person who drops her home after a dance. And then keeping her in the car or coming up to her house with long ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations. Mostly about him.

Targets:
– younger, less experienced women dancers
– women with less confidence.
– often have younger girlfriends and keep the relationship secret ‘for privacy’. When other dancers discover the relationship, they are frequently surprised that such a ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ woman is with such a socially outgoing or spontaneous man.

These men:
– all nationalities and ethnicities
– not incredibly handsome or attractive, but usually quite ‘ordinary’ or ‘inoffensive’ – ie strangers probably won’t remember them.
– not usually super fashionable, but often reasonably well dressed. This can really vary between scenes and dance styles, though. They tend to ‘fit in’.
– very rarely very high profile teachers or performers
– may describe themselves as ‘teaching’, but only teach privates or smaller events – usually blues or another niche dance (eg fusion, or another blended dance) which doesn’t have a big presence in that city
– may teach at smaller events, but don’t have a high profile, and aren’t terribly well regarded. May eventually become a standard face in a teaching cohort, but never at a highly respected level. May teach interstate or even internationally at very small scale ‘intimate’ events run by less experienced organisers.
– if they don’t have actual teaching gigs, they frequently teach on the dance floor, or offer to ‘work with’ or ‘practice’ with newer women dancers privately, and present themselves as specialists who like to dance ‘their own style’ and have no patience with formal workshops.

These men work the long game. They put in a lot of ‘ground work’ to groom a woman which they eventually sexually assault, or enter a relationship with where they assault their partner repeatedly. Within a relationship they gradually escalate the assaults, as they gain greater control of these women and isolate them. Women may begin by feeling a bit ‘pushed’ to do deep kissing at a party with other people near by, to ‘mess about’ with this man and another partner (often another woman), to have unprotected sex in otherwise consensual situations. But the sexualised coercion escalates and happen in concert with other controlling behaviours – belittling comments in public, isolation, etc. And then they become more clearly assault and often very violent. The women become ‘quieter’ and more withdrawn at social events.

These men:
isolate
(dominating women at dances, taking them out after dances)
doubt (degrade or critique until women question their own minds and decisions)

dominate
(stalking online with constant fb messages, text messages; dancing in ways that showcase his status and ability and allow her zero creative space)

avoid
(more confident women, figures of authority, and legit events)

It’s very unlikely you’ll ever see them offend at a public event. Even if you’re watching closely. If you do call them on a dodgy hand position, they’ll either make excuses or apologise profusely. Then avoid you.

Please note: it’s the relationship between these behaviours that make patterns. So there’s nothing wrong with asking for someone’s phone number, calling them up, having a D&M then getting together and having gloriously consensual sex. All within a weekend.

But the combination of factors is what we should be watching for.

So you can see why it’s important for us to address seemingly ‘small’ issues like non-consensual dips on the social dance floor, right?

Does everyone see that sexual assault isn’t just a random dood attacking a woman on the street, that we can prevent by having a famous dancer walk a woman to a car? Or by carrying bear repellant?

(This post and its comments brought to you by arriving home to yet another assault report, depressing in its familiarity. It’s as though these men have a manual and just follow it. PUA-style.)

In response to a comment from the ever-thoughtful Byron:

I’d like to find a way for that list of yellow and red flags to become something that’s shared readily within the dance scenes at large, maybe edited in a way that highlights what the dance scene SHOULD be like, and how to tell if someone is violating community standards in weird ways.

This is the sticking point at the moment. Most of the people I know are doing this very carefully, and mostly in person. Which of course is a challenge for scenes divided by geography.
But there is the risk of exposing yourself to legal action for defamation if you do share information publicly (even by email).

Yet it is possible: you just need to get good, solid legal advice. Which is what I’m currently doing. Costs a fair bit of money, and the laws are different between Australian states (let alone countries), so you need real, legit legal advice (not internet legal advice). And I certainly won’t advise on it. But lawyers specialising in defamation can simply and easily write up a template letter and advise you on how to send letters or emails to other organisers warning them about these people.

A very very important step: all events and organisers need a policy, a code of conduct (ie a list of rules posted publicly), and a practical process, and then a reporting process. If these are in place before communicating info about known offenders, then organisers can prove that their actions weren’t personal malice, but professional process (hence avoiding some legal action). It’s also important because it helps organisers develop a clear sense of their own values, and become confident in their thoughts and actions. And most offenders rely on a lack of confidence or clarity in people’s thinking.

This is also why it’s essential that we drum it into all dancers that we all have a right to a freedom from sexual harassment and assault, and that we are all the best judges of our own limits and personal space and liberty. Dance classes _must_ prioritise this.

I am becoming more and more certain that a student-centred approach to teaching lindy hop is central to this – we have to encourage students to trust their own decisions and thinking. Not just tell them ‘here is the answer’ and then demand they do things one single way (our way). The next teacher who starts a workshop saying “there are lots of ways of doing things, but this is _our_ way” gets a punch: there are lots of different ways of dancing. And they are all worth thinking about. Similarly, I am now 100% absolutely totally angry with teachers who forbid students ‘giving each other feedback’ or discussing how their bodies and they are feeling with their dance partners. It breeds a culture of silence and self-doubt in women.

Korean safe space policies

One of the things I like most about Seoul is the culture of visual information. ie signs with pictures. It draws on comic book culture, but also reflects, content-wise, Korean communitarian ethos and values. So informational signs like this one from the subway focus on individuals doing the right thing not for their own safety, but for the safety and comfort of others. Many of the signs also emphasise on younger people’s responsibilities to older people. It’s a really great discursive tool for peeps to have at hand.

Another thing I really like is the way the Dance Safe peeps in Seoul have used these practices to do some pretty impressive stuff. Here is one of the posters I saw stuck up outside SwingTime Bar in Seoul, above one of the benches where everyone sits to change their shoes (Seoul dancers change shoes before they enter the studio space). So, perfect placement.

The poster itself is solid gold. It has a light hearted, charming feel very much in keeping with Korean visual educational media texts. It uses animals rather than ‘women’ or ‘men’ symbols, which means it avoids gender binaries and norms. Even though I don’t read Korean, I can still get the message.

Dance Safe are a group of Korean peeps (men and women!) who’re working super hard to raise awareness about personal safety, sexual harassment, and mutual respect in the biggest lindy hop scene in the world. This is no mean feat, as the sheer scale of the scene means they need a zillion posters, pamphlets, and people involved. They’re doing some fund raising (with the support of various local organisers) to get $$ together to cover their printing costs.

My media studies/cultural studies brain is super interested in this project. This is almost exactly the sort of work I did in my Phd: how do dancers use media texts within a community so focussed on the body?

These guys are doing things that fascinate my academic brain, but also my activist brain and event organiser brain. How, _how_ are they pulling off this stuff?! I see some racist bullshit coming out of the English speaking lindy hop world about ‘Asian’, and ‘Russian’, and ‘French’ dancers, accusing them of not understanding ‘safe space’ ideology ‘because of culture’. But in my experience with dancers from these countries and other NES scenes, the activism is as exciting and engaged – if not more so – than the English speaking world.

Part of me thinks we need a conference to get all of the safe space activists in dance together to share this sort of information. How exciting!