I keep coming across white organisations telling a ‘history’ of lindy hop that gives ‘the revival’ pride of place. ie white people claiming the modern lindy hop world as their own altruistic work.
So the term ‘revival’ is problematic because it implies that lindy hop was dead (replaced by rock and roll and/or bebop) before white people came along and brought it back to life. In this narrative, white people are heroes for saving ‘this wonderful dance’ and bringing it back to life.
Black people are totally absent from this story, except as venerable elders who teach eager white people. The white people are also credited with bringing these elders ‘out of retirement’ and back to the dance floor.
It’s all very problematic.
1. Lindy hop wasn’t dead. There’s a whole family of Black social partner dances that are thriving (Tena Morales’ event the International Swing Dance Championships showcases them every year, but white people don’t go to that and aren’t involved, so it must not exist).
2. Because it wasn’t dead, it didn’t need reviving. Declaring lindy hop ‘terra nullius’ (ie no people living in this territory) was white people giving themselves permission to take lindy hop. So the white people who ‘went looking’ for Black elders were pretty much just out on a bit of a colonial expedition. Just like Captain Cook expanding the British Empire, ‘discovering’ a huge big southern continent (‘Australia’).
3. Those Black elders, like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller and so on were still dancing, but in their families and homes and community spaces. Black spaces, to which white people did not have access. The story told most often about Frankie Manning, that his working in the post office was somehow less important or lower status than his dance career is classist and racist. The US Postal Service has a long history as an important employer and union locus for Black communities. It was good, solid work. Norma, of course, was running a dance business (managing troupes), Mama Lou Parkes was still dancing professionally… and so on.
4. The Black dancers who were involved in lindy hop in the 1980s tend to disappear in these revivalist narratives. Angela Andrew and other Black women have lots to say about the number of Black dancers out there lindy hopping in the 1980s, but they somehow disappear when white people tell the stories.
5. The white ‘ownership’ (appropriation) of Black lindy hop in that 1980s period is not only about selling places in classes and workshops (and thereby ‘creating community’ via economic relationships), but also about the exploitation of Black dancers working for white troupe managers (we won’t go into some of the more troubling accounts from that period).
RE the USPS:
I came across references to the importance of the postal service in Hidden Figures and the way it provided a pathway to the space program for Black women (SUCH a good book).
There’s also Philip F. Rubio’s book ‘There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality’ (which I haven’t read, but have read _about_.
This all makes the US govt’s cuts to the USPS a matter of institutional racism and white supremacy, rather than a push for smaller government generally (though I’d argue the two are the same thing).
The more I learn about the USPS as a site for unionising, civil rights activism and Black community empowerment, the more troubled I am by white histories of lindy hop that devalue the USPS in Manning’s life. If the civil rights elements of this workplace are ignored, then white ‘historians’ can continue with their bullshit about ‘Frankie never talked about racism in lindy hop, so it didn’t happen’. I’d say that Frankie, as with any other Black worker in America then and now, was very much aware of racism in the entertainment industry and in America generally, and was very careful about what he said to white people about it, and when.
As with the workers who continue to go back to places like Herrang, despite unsafe or inequitable working environments, when you don’t have the financial and personal safety of white privilege, you have fewer choices about the work you can do. And teaching middle class white kids to lindy hop might have suited Manning.
Today I was talking to someone completely unconnected to the dance world, and they asked what I’d been doing lately. I mentioned that I’d been been working on a covid policy, and it was really interesting because it was a way to talk about flatter power structures (and fighting The Man). I wanted to do more than just present a bunch of rules and then enforce them authoritarian style.
I mentioned that masking is a good option, but it’s rubbish for dancing in.
Then I mentioned that vaccination is really important, but that only 69% of NSW people have had more than two covid vaccinations.
My friend had been active listening along, but when we go to this point, they were clearly quite flushed and emotional. So I stopped yapping. They told me that they were really tired of the covid stuff, and had two vaccinations, but that “Other people can get more.” They went on to talk about how the lockdowns and government policies had really exhausted them, and the lack of gov support had taken a toll on their business. Their major concern was with the way the vaccines are produced by corporations of dubious ethics and morality.
I nodded and did active listening. They were upset and needed to talk about these things. And these are reasonable concerns: lack of support from a government that enforced unjust limits and penalties does not inspire compliance. And as Aboriginal communities can explain, an unjust government cannot be trusted with your medical data, let alone your body in a medical setting. Nor can we excuse the way big corporations in the medical industry have conducted itself in the past, or in the production and dissemination of vaccines (particularly in developing countries).
I didn’t once say that my friend should get a vaccination. That’s not cool; we don’t make medical decisions for other people like that.
As we continued talking, I shifted things away from vaccination to the frustrations with the government policies. They had interesting things to say about that. At one point I mentioned that the whole point of this particular covid policy was to do good social activism. And part of that was discussing equity. So if we have a ‘must test’ policy, we also need to make RATs freely available, because they’re expensive, and they’re a barrier to participation for people who can’t afford them (and who are also often in those high-risk workplaces). Then I pointed out that if I was going to do a policy that was just, I had to source free masks and RATs. And I explained how I’d done that.
It was interesting to see friend’s reaction to this information. Getting free stuff from The Man is always a pleasure, and it seemed to delight my friend.
I wonder if masks would get the same response? Perhaps not, as wearing them is a lot less fun than getting a covid test :D :D
But this conversation made some things very clear to me. If we simply make rules and then penalise people for not following them, we destroy their trust in us, and we make them pretty bloody shitty. A better alternative is to ‘call in’ (rather than ‘calling out’), and make it easy for people to make their own educated decisions about their health.
If we want people to do something (or things), then we can do better than just telling them what to do. We can provide information, and then let them decide what to do with their own bodies.
In the case of something like a pandemic, we can frame this discussion as one of mutual care, where you get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash your hands, or whatever not necessarily for your own benefit, but for the safety of others. And they do the same for you.
This is very effective for people who have a communitarian impulse. But what if they don’t?
As I discovered with my friend, there are other inducements we can offer. Or rather, we can find the side of the issue that appeals to them. We can frame the discussion as one of civil disobedience, or evading punitive rules. Accessing tests can become a mission of getting free shit and evading the capitalist structures of ‘big pharma’. Similarly, making or accessing masks that work as a billboard for a person’s politics (much like a Tshirt) can be a way of encouraging people to wear a mask.
And we were both on board with the idea that not washing your hands after you use the bathroom is fucking rotten. :D :D
So when it comes to communicating your policy, it helps to:
Use language, imagery, and framing that appeals to their values (be they communitarian, radical feminist socialist, or anarchist), and
Use a variety of approaches to reach a variety of people.
The dance world, of course, is made up of a whole mass of interconnected hyper-local communities that are part of an international, intercultural global community. Even a single local scene in one city might be comprised of a few smaller micro-communities, each centered on a dance school, a particular social night, or a performance troupe. Each of these has its own specific culture and social norms. And we know what each of these are like, because we are part of them. After all, it’s hard to be a lindy hopper if you don’t actually lindy hop.
If we are actually observant humans, we understand that our own experience of a group or community is not the same as someone else’s. For example, you might have loved learning to swing out using lots of technical jargon, but your friend might have loved learning-by-doing. And you might love the late night parties that start at midnight because you’re single with no kids, but your friend might prefer afternoon dances that are child-friendly, because they’re a parent.
We might be aiming for diversity in many places, but we often just don’t get there. Students tend to be people ‘like’ their teachers (same demographics, same sense of humour, same values, etc). Performance troupes tend to be a similar age, physical fitness, and schedule. Paying for classes excludes people on low-incomes, so people in classes have disposable incomes. And so on. It’s actually good that a single scene is made up of lots of different types of mini-groups. So long as they can all come together with kindness and a generosity of spirit for things like bigger parties, events, and discussions.
This is why I think it’s very, very important for each of these micro-groups to develop their own covid policies, ones that speak the right language, carry the right values, and ultimately change people’s behaviour. Or in the case of my own commitment to ‘radical care’, a policy that actively contributes to social justice and fighting the fucking man.
Some facts about masks
The one good thing about respirator masks (P2 or N95) is that they can be used more than once, provided you handle them carefully (no touchy!) and let them dry out properly before re-using.
If you’re curious, a well-fitted surgical mask will do in a pinch, but they cannot be re-used, and you need to fit it properly. Which applies to all masks, really.
And unlike some places in the US, in NSW you can deny entry to people who aren’t wearing masks.
The rules in Victoria are slightly different (check the info site here). They make exception for professional sports people (no, lindy hopper, you are not a professional sports person if you are a student in a class). They do, however, make it clear that if you can’t do social distancing, you’re indoors, and you’re with more than 2 or 3 people, you should mask.
Types of masks is an interesting one. While the science suggests that P2 or N95 masks (fitted and worn correctly) are the only options, we know that most people don’t fit or wear any masks correctly, so no mask is really going to stop the transmission of covid. But we also know that wearing masks can remind people to distance, and can signal to other people that the wearer is concerned about covid.
My personal policy is: mask! Always! indoors and in crowds outdoors, and I always use a P2 or N9, fit them properly and never touch them.
My feeling for a public covid policy, is that we strongly recommend masks (the right types – P2 or N9 and surgical), make them freely available, have influential people (teachers, DJs, performers) model wearing them, but we definitely begin or stop there. We place equal emphasis on vaccination mandates, hygiene, testing regularly, symptom checking, and staying home if you have symptoms, test positive, or are a close contact.
Some facts about RATs and PCR tests
(Please note: this information can change very quickly. It did in the couple of days I was researching this topic! So always double check. And some centers run out of RATs, so double check)
Free RATs were provided by the federal government up until this week. But now the state governments (in Vic and NSW at least) have stepped in to provide them. Free RATs are available to some concession card holders:
Eligible Commonwealth concession card holders can access free rapid antigen tests through the concessional access program. Up to 20 rapid antigen tests are available for free for eligible people living with a disability at state-run testing sites and through Disability Liaison Officers. Eligible people include NDIS participants, disability support pensioners and people with a disability who receive a TAC benefit. Evidence of eligibility, such as an NDIS or TAC statement, is required (source).
Anyone can collect 5 rapid antigen tests (per person) from a COVID-19 testing site in Victoria (source).
In NSW, RATs are free to some concession card holders, and available at neighbourhood centers and NDIS providers. I can’t find information about free RATs for anyone else, though word of mouth suggests you can get them if you ask.
And of course, PCR tests are still free, and available at testing clinics. Though these tests are more reliable than RATs (because they’re conducted by pros, not you with a jumbo q-tip in your bathroom), the results can take up to 48 hours (though they’re usually with you within 24 hours).
Some facts about vaccines
Vaccines are the best way to contain covid at this time, in developed countries like Australia. They prevent you getting really sick, and they stop you spreading the virus to more vulnerable people (because you’re not as sick you don’t blow droplets everywhere as much, and because you’re not sick for as long, you spend less time blowing droplets everywhere).
But they only last for about six months. Which is why we need to get boosters every six months.
If you do catch covid, your immunity only lasts for about three months after your symptoms end (source). Which is why you can get it over and over again in one season.
You can get vaccinated when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and it’s recommended. And a note about the magic of breastfeeding: your milk contains antibodies that are given to your babby, giving them immunity! Hoorah for boobs.
Vaccination is free in Australia, and you can get a quick vax from your local chemist, a GP, or a covid center (do check your state’s local vaccination centers, but you can search nationally here.) I got mine at my local chemist. I just walked in and said “Can I get a covid vaccine, please?” and they did it then, and there, then a bit later it was in my digital vaccination certificate on the Services NSW app on my phone. No mess, no fuss.
I’m currently working on a covid management plan for a dance school. I’m quite enjoying the process.
Here’s the process:
Restating the org’s values
Which helped me understand how and why the org would develop a covid policy, what issues to focus on, and how to implement it,
Which ensured we were all on the same page.
Stating the covid plan philosophy
In this context, a philosophy is theoretical or ideological model for addressing concrete issues,
Which is basically applying the org’s abstract values to a concrete issue (covid),
Phrasing the philosophy as a list of clear applications of values to a specific issue (covid)
This could be a list of a hundred items, or a list of two.
Developing two goals for the plan
These are deliberately limited in scope (ie this isn’t a govt department managing the health of a whole city or state, it’s a small dance school),
They are very focussed and practical.
Putting all this into practical actions
There are four ‘actions’ which cover four general areas of covid management,
These actions can be phrased as ‘guidelines’ (ie covid rules) for the org, but they can also guide procedures.
They deliberately limit the scope of the plan to keep it very local and very practical.
So that’s the whole Covid management plan.
From here, I use the plan to develop:
Guidelines (or rules)
Procedures (eg if a rule is ‘you must provide proof of vaccination’, who does this checking, where do they check, what do they do if someone doesn’t have proof, what constitutes proof, etc etc)
Social media strategy to communicate all this, and also to provide information about covid that will encourage people to participate
Website materials (eg a public statement of the guidelines)
A handbook that contains all the procedures, contact info, covid facts, etc.
–Developing the plan–
At this point I have a first draft, and it’s been to the org’s boss for comment and approval to go ahead and develop it.
After some tweaking, I’ll send it off to the rest of the org (teachers and staff) to get their feedback, impressions, comments, suggestions, etc.
I’ll also do a model for public comment.
This Plan development process, and the plan itself, are guided by:
Research I’ve been doing into how covid is transmitted, etc,
A key part of this process is an ethos of community strength, and collectivism. My experiences working on sexual harassment in dance has made it clear that top-down solutions are a) not effective, b) burn out the people doing the work, c) maintain existing power structures that _enable_ injustices like sexual harassment. As I learnt working on Melbourne Lindy Exchange (MLX) for years, you need to develop work practices that allow any one person to drop out or take a break at any time. Which is, of course, what flexible, healthy workplaces are all about.
–A final form?–
A key part of this plan is to be agile. It must be able to change and respond to social changes. Covid will change. The community changes.
An Important thing I learnt from working on sexual harassment stuff, is that we can’t just develop a code and leave it at that. That doesn’t work. We need to update it, to change and develop our approach, as we learn more, and as our communities change.
So putting this plan together, I’m assuming that it will need to be changed and updated regularly; I can’t just post it on the website and forget about it. There’ll be feedback from staff about the processes, there’ll be changes in covid, we’ll see things like the development of new vaccines and healthcare strategies.
This means that the Plan itself, and where it lives needs to mutable.
This is a very exciting idea. It’s a lot like lindy hop itself: you have basic structural elements, but it is, fundamentally, about innovation, improvisation, and responding to the needs of its users.
–Why am I doing all this work?–
I have a long history of writing and researching and lecturing, but I am rubbish at presenting my plans and projects in ways that make it easy for the audience to take my work and do their own projects with it.
So I’m deliberately learning how to:
Develop a plan
Present a plan to stakeholders who have different types of engagement
do good community/group consultation and engagement.
I’m also really interested in how social media management can be employed in social justice work, so I’m quite keen on using things like instagram, facebook, etc etc in new and interesting ways. Which, bizarrely (unsurprisingly?) circles back to my doctoral research and academic research, which was all about how small communities use media in unique ways.
–What have I learnt so far?–
One of the most exciting things I’ve learnt so far, is that if a project like this is equitable in design, it actually fights racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. I think one of the most exciting things about the Camp Jitterbug covid plan, is that it came from the experiences of people of colour, people of a range of genders, people with lived experience doing activist community labour. It’s proof that anti-racist work is good for all of us.
Here are some things I’ve learnt about promoting dance or music related businesses online. I’m not a marketing specialist, but I am a media studies specialist who’s been promoting dance events online for about 15 years now.
You need a website.
You need an email newsletter.
With both of these media, you are the producer broadcasting a message to your readers.
Audiences tend to regard these as authoritative sources, unfiltered by social opinion.
If a social media platform collapses or moves out of vogue, your data won’t disappear with it.
What about social media?
Important, but in a different way. Think of your behaviour on social media as your brand (which is the public version of you and your business) interacting with lots of real people and other brands out in public. It’s a way for you to develop personal and professional networks in your community or industry. And social media get used a lot, by a lot of different types of people, of all ages and demographics. Perhaps the best thing about social media, for marketing and advertising, is that it allows you to know who’s seeing your ad, when, and where. Something that was harder to judge before social media. Before social media, a brand used social media to ‘broadcast’ a message. With social media, a brand can interact with audiences in a much more complex way.
Websites are important.
Of the two, the website is most important. If you do a tiny bit of audience research (eg we used a very simple survey to routinely ask all our dance class attendees how they found us), you can see which media are most important. For our dance classes, a ‘google search’ accounted for 90% of our attendance. Even if they saw a post on facebook first, they still used a search engine to actually get them to class (and make the sale).
Your name. The name you want people to use when they announce you over a microphone or list you on a program.
Your contact details. A phone number, and an email address. Right at the top. And in the footer too. Make it really easy for busy bookers, festival programmers, and prospective clients to find you. If someone’s prepared to pick up the phone to talk to you, they want information quickly, and they’re close to making a decision.
Some useful key words. What do you do? Dance teacher? Then you need ‘dance teacher’ right at the top of your page. Are you a lindy hopper? A jazz musician? Do you run weekly balboa classes? Then say so, right there in text on the page. Make it easy for google to find you when your audience does a google search.
Most importantly, don’t hide information away in images. Search engines like google can’t ‘find’ your information if it’s hidden in an image. All google knows about your lovely instagram graphic is that it’s a .jpg file, 1080px x 1080px, created on 2 January 2022. Even more importantly, people who use screen readers can’t find your information if it’s locked inside an image.
Do use photos on your website or newsletter, because they look nice, and it’s easier to sell a product if people know what it looks like.
Don’t hide information in an image.
Each image should have a ‘title’ tag, and ‘alternative’ text (‘alt’ text) to that tag. If you’re writing your own website code, that’s easy to do. You just add alt=”the information from your image” to the image element. Most website building tools (like squarespace) and newsletter tools (like mailchimp) offer you the option to add alt text as well. Yay!
As an example, this little graphic is very effective for instagram. It has all the information we need – there’s a party, when and where it’s on, and bring cake!
But without alt text, all your web browser knows is that this is an image, 812px x 812px, called ‘Screen-Shot-2022-04-06-at-2.30.41-pm.png’. No one will come to your party.
If you add alt text like “party time! Monday 3pm, 11 Streetname St, Bring cake!”, then a google search will be able to find the information and serve it up as a result in a google search.
What about a newsletter?
Don’t underestimate the value of a newsletter. People actively choose to sign up for your newsletter, which is a way of signalling to you ‘I am interested enough in you and your product to give you access to my inbox’.
Newsletters give you lots of useful information about your subscribers as well. How many people click on links? Or open the email at all? How many unsubscribe? How many ‘bounce’? All these analytics can help you improve your newsletter: which subject lines convinced people to open the email? Which calls to action in your newsletter got a response?
If you use a newsletter service like mailchimp (and you really should. For privacy, security, efficacy, and ease), you often have the option of displaying an archive of your past emails. Each of these past emails is another tool for improving your SEO: another hundred or thousand times a search engine will read your name on the internet and add that page to its index.
Most of all, a newsletter lets you speak directly to a group of people who are even just a little bit interested in you and what you do. Gold!
Take this seriously
If you’re going to stand up on stage and play, or run a class for people to learn to dance, you have to let people know. Even if your business runs mostly via word of mouth, having a solid website can work just like a nice business card. Something that means a lot more in a world where most people have a smartphone in their pocket (or hand!)
If you need a hand with this stuff, drop me a line I can give you some tips. For a very reasonable rate :D
If you catch covid, you have a 10-30% chance of it becoming long covid. One of the most comment symptoms of long covid is fatigue.
If we work with those assumptions, what does that mean for a community of dancers?
Let me be clear: I not an epidemiologist, a health specialist, a physiotherapist, or a disease expert. And I’m not sure if this long covid symptom is true across all covid variants and communities. But I am a cultural studies researcher. I have a lot of experience looking specifically at cultural practice within a particular community of people. So let’s start with this: what could happen to a community of dancers where some of the community members are living with long covid, and those people are representative of the different groups within the community? Teachers, performers, organisers, students, new dancers, experienced dancers, old people, young people, cancer survivors, volunteers, business people, trans people, everyone.
We’ve already seen the consequences of managing covid risk: massive financial loss, spacing requiring larger (more expensive rooms), crowd size management, no partner changing, no partner dancing, mandatory masks (and the effect on vigorous exercise), no social dancing, increased workloads for organisers, etc.
But what about the effects of one symptom of covid itself, specifically, fatigue?
Fatigue is not just being tired, where you can push through. Fatigue means you sit down to eat your breakfast, but afterwards you’re so tired from eating you can’t get up from the chair. You have to sit there for a couple of hours. Meanwhile your body cramps and you’re in pain. But this exhaustion is mental as well – you cannot concentrate, cannot follow ideas, and so on. What does this mean for a dancer?
If you’re a professional lindy hopper (a teacher or performer, or someone working in film or television), living with fatigue from long covid, then you cannot dance. You cannot work. Your income is gone. You cannot perform, you cannot choreograph, you cannot practice. Your body, already affected by illness (respiratory illness being the least of it), loses muscle tone and fitness. Your memory and ability to retain choreography disappears. That ‘muscle memory’ stuff (which is actually your brain working) dissolves. Not only can you not train for the hours every day your work requires, you cannot even coach other dancers and earn an income for choreographing for other people. Living will illness, and being separated from your support networks result in serious mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. And it’s impossible to do creative work living with an illness like this.
If you’re a new dancer who has to live with long covid, then you simply stop dancing. And probably never return to it. New dancers are the bread and butter of most dance classes and dance schools today. Dance organisations often fund their social events and weekend events with income from beginner classes. Without that cash flow, the parties dry up. Work for musicians and DJs dries up. The ability to play for dancers dries up.
What does this mean for dancing in the rest of the community? Even if those dancers falling ill are local teachers rather than traveling professionals, all that accumulated teaching knowledge, which lindy hop is notoriously poor at retaining and sharing, will be lost. All that historical and cultural knowledge is taken out of the community. The musical knowledge and dancing knowledge is gone. Not only in that one person, but in all the people they taught, danced with, inspired, and provoked into rivalry.
This is a little like having the Black men removed from jazz music and dance by conscription during the second world war. Whereas jazz music and dance at that time were actually real social practices, happening in sustainable social spaces (families, neighbourhoods, thriving businesses, cross generational gatherings), modern lindy hop in many scenes is not socially sustainable. It collapses when just one or two key people in a local community disappear.
Most lindy hop communities are small*, with perhaps a few hundred dancers, and classes and events run by two or a handful of people. Lose one or two or a handful of those, and that local scene will crumble. If that scene is socially sustainable, with different aged people, a sharing of power and responsibility, etc, then it may be fine. But we have seen over the past ten years, particularly in discussions around sexual assault and racism, that the modern lindy hop world in most cities is not socially sustainable. Patriarchy (and late capitalism) is doomed to collapse under its own weight.
But is it so dire to see a community based on white supremacy and patriarchy break down? Nope. But the thing about covid is that it infects everyone. Even rich white men. The real, serious difficulty with covid is that vaccination and risk management is much harder when you’re poor, you’re disabled, you’re homeless, you’re marginalised.
When a local cultural community collapses, we also see innovative and new types of work in that local field disappear. The modern lindy hop world is dominated by the concept of historical reenactment, with the implication that the best lindy hop is old lindy hop. This ideology in practice (as many people have pointed out elsewhere) is racist, as it privileges the white people who’ve been lindy hopping the longest, and marginalises (discredits! devalues!) living modern Black culture. As Thomas DeFrantz said in his Collective Voices for Change talk, Black dance is a medium for change, for innovation, for action and activism as well as cherishing history and preserving legacy**. Long covid threatens this new and radical work.
Cancelled in 2121 by the rising Omicron wave, the Belgian event Upside Down has determinedly shifted online. But though online fun is still fun, the face to face necessity of lindy hop suffers.
I mention Upside Down for a few reasons. It is rooted in live music, with the organisers working closely with local musicians. Musicians who are some of the best and most talented in Europe. These musicians lose a weekend of work. Upside Down features some of the most creative promotional design, art, and social media engagement in the lindy hopping world. But while some of this might flourish online, the face to face element (the decorations, the unusual party structures, the creative energy and excitement) does not. Upside Down focusses on its local city, and on local dancers. It’s smaller scale (a few hundred rather than a thousand), and it aims to be environmentally sustainable. It’s also responded to the Black Lindy Hop Matters movement by asking its staff and attendees to engage with race and history and social power. This type of energy and enthusiasm is staggering under the pandemic. And individual cases of long covid in key personnel could be disastrous.
The greatest consequence in the cancellation of events like Upside Down is not in the loss of the event itself. It is losing those moments of creative catalyst that result in waves of new thinking, new creativity, new activism, that spread out into the wider community beyond Ghent.
Think of the Jazz Dance Continuum project spearheaded by LaTasha Barnes and her crew. I’m knocking on wood and tossing salt over my shoulder as I type, but imagine an actor like Barnes catching long covid? The woman is a force of nature, working in so many areas of jazz dance, and the wider creative world. She’s also a social agent of good, working with the Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Frankie Manning Foundation and beyond. And what if Julie Living in New York, or Tena Morales-Armstrong in Houston became ill? These women are the backbones of their local and wider communities (once again, fucking hats off to Black women for being true forces of nature… and hardcore professionals). If we lose these types of people, the truly innovative work will be lost.
If you’re a Black American, catching covid is a very, very dangerous thing, for you and your family. The disease is bad enough, but the American ‘health’ system has never been kind to the Black community. The people most likely to be exposed to covid (the breadwinners and caregivers in the family) are removed from the family structure. Feeding nanna or putting food on the table gets harder. And if you catch covid, you still have things like long covid to consider. Individuals are going to be devoting what little energy they have to sustaining family, neighbours, parish, school, and friends. So the Black dancers and Black culture which have begun to make a difference to modern lindy hop are once again marginalised. This is, of course, a familiar consequence of racism. Racism makes people sick. Racism reduces life expectancy. Racism destroys communities.
I’m writing this now in Sydney, where our government has decided not to enforce lockdowns or other restrictions. Our covid case numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before, and we are behind other countries in vaccination. Two years into the pandemic, the national lindy hopping community has been fragmented into local, capital city based scenes. The live jazz scenes in the bigger cities is also suffering. I fear for the future of lindy hop and jazz dance. Mostly because I think that any future ‘revival’ will be based on the white dominated communities of the 80s-2010s, as we move further and further away from the swing era.
Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Avoid crowds.
*If most lindy hop communities are small, them most teachers are teaching locally for smaller groups, most DJing is done for local crowds and smaller crowds, most of the live music dancers listen to is played by local musicians, and most of the venues they use are smaller. The budgets are smaller, most labour is unpaid, and most of this unpaid labour is conducted by women. This is is something I learnt during my doctoral research (pre 2006), but which has remained the case in the following fifteen years.
If most teaching is done locally, then the most valuable teaching skills center on attracting and retaining newer dancers, or local people (rather than margeting to the more experienced market for weekend events). This type of teaching must, by necessity be locally specific: catering to the culture, values, and people of it’s home society.
**This idea of Black dance embodying opposing forces like preserving the past and fostering innovation is not new. Embodying ‘hot and cool‘ is a feature of Black dance, as DeFrantz, Malone and countless other point out. It is, again as Malone points out, almost the stamp of a vernacular dance to take elements of the past and rework them for current needs and wants. In other words, lindy hop wants to preserve the past and innovate and create. It is the quintessential modern dance of the 20th century.
Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
—. “Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance.” Looking Out: Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural World. Eds. David Gere, et al. New York: Schirmer Books, 1995. 95 – 121.
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. “African-American Vernacular Dance: Core Culture and Meaning Operatives.” Journal of Black Studies 15.4 (1985): 427-45.
—. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Of course, as soon as I read Daniel’s original tweets on this, my brain started thinking about the way dance steps/styles travel between communities. Dance steps are units of meaning, ways of communicating ideas, who we are, and what we value. In Australia our local lindy hop scenes are separated by huge distances (the two closest scenes are a 3 hour drive apart; most are ~1000km apart), so they tend to have distinct local flavours, even with The Internet. We can think of these as functioning the way a workplace does. For many of us, these are our workplaces. Our germs and dance steps circulate within that local community, which expands into our homes and family circles.
When we travel to meet each other and dance together at exchanges, we literally exchange a whole bunch of things. Dance moves, strategies for preventing sexual assault, hospitality, songs, germs. We make jokes about things like ‘exchange flu’ or ‘Herrang flu’, but this is precisely how covid works: we move out of our own bubbles (local networks) and interact with people from other networks. Boom, new dance steps, new musical trends, new germs.
Daniel’s article does some fantastic work explaining why each local network is different.
Estimating transmission rates depends on understanding the network landscape, and that’s exceptionally difficult to map in real time. You can’t do it using the abstract mathematical models that dominate our public debate.
You and I, lindy hoppers, could do a very good job of explaining the internal relationships of our dance communities. The number and types of classes and parties. The formal dance troops gathering regularly to practice. The casual ‘sessions’ where people get together to jam and practice. Regular live music gigs where we interact with nondancers, venue staff, and musicians. Friendships. Romances and hook ups. Employer/employee gigs. After-dancing snack spots. And so on.
When I was doing my doctoral research, a big chunk of it was ethnographic mapping of local and global dance scenes (pre fb and youtube). To get an accurate picture of how a scene worked, I had to do participant-observation, and then have community members engaged in the ‘mapping’ process. I went from very big survey samples, to a series of smaller focus groups and discussions. Because each human is different, and each local community reflects not only the society in which they function, but also the particular dynamics of each local scene.
If I went in with the assumption that every local scene relied on live bands for social dancing, I’d have no way of describing places like Seoul. If I went in with the assumption that every scene had only male-female dance partnerships, I’d miss… every single dance scene that actually exists 😃
The way lockdowns are enforced in Australia at the moment, there is the assumption that every local community works in the same way. This ‘way’ reflects a particular type of family and culture: white, middle class, suburban, patriarchal.
As Daniel says, the structures within a local network are even more complex than a dance scene. Particularly migrant, outer-suburban communities. People taking turns bringing elders food. Sharehouses where everyone works at least 2 jobs in an ‘essential’ industry. Crowded apartments where more than one family share a shower, kitchen, and common areas. Informal childcare arrangements. And so on.
In the white nuclear family model where four people live in one house in the relative isolation of a suburban house, the father/husband goes to an office job, and the mother/wife stays home to look after the kids. This fits very nicely with the lockdown model. You can order people to work from home, to order groceries online, and stay home together, getting some sun in the garden every day.
Extended family networks don’t look or act like this. So they need different models. Curfews, cops on corners, and other draconian lockdown features won’t (and can’t) stop these people meeting.
The truly interesting part of Daniel’s article is where they point out that a relatively limited number of germs circulate within a smaller network. Even if you’re caring for nanna, living in a crowded house, or going dancing every week, practicing with your buddy, you’re only interacting with a set number of predictable people.
The difficulty comes when you go to work. In workplaces we see a number of the contained networks overlap. People from different networks interact and share germs. And not just on a one-to-one basis, where one father-worker shares their germs with another father-worker and his nuclear family. Boom. Exponential sharing.
In a dance scene, this might be a dance class where not only does everyone learn the new dance step from their partner, but everyone learns how to dance with a million other people. ‘Learn how to dance with’ = become more open to sharing and learning ideas (both physical ideas and creative ideas). Then they get onto the social dance floor and this sharing of moves and movement goes superexponential.
If workplaces are where smaller networks interact, then workers need safer workplaces:
– Shorter shifts, so they are exposed for less time;
– Better pay, so they need work only one job, and at that job for fewer hours (ie 8 hours a day);
– Paid sick leave, and leave for testing (or on-site testing) so they can go get those covid tests;
– Job security, so they aren’t fired or lose income if they miss a shift.
But none of these things are present in casualised work, or workplaces that have been de-unionised.
As a sort of extension of my doctoral work, I’ve found that a top-down response to sexual assault and harassment in a dance community is highly ineffective. Simply having a code of conduct where organisers lay down the ‘don’t rape people!’ rule does not prevent sexual assault.
Again, if we want to control a negative factor, we need to get highly specific, we need to give individuals the power to make decisions about their own lives and actions. Rather than a top-down, blanket order to ‘stop touching each other!’ we need to give people the freedom to avoid contact in ways that preserve their local support networks (families, or peer groups), and even more usefully _use_ their local networks to spread information, resources, and support. The agility of the Sikhs delivering meals safely. The authority of an aunty putting teenagers to work. The collaboration of girlfriends stepping in to divert a creeper from a new dancer. And so on.
Capitalism, patriarchy, however you like to think about these bigger, authoritarian hierarchies, are bad for people’s health.
I’ve been chasing down as many of the antiracist groups in the lindy hop world as I can find. I want to make a list here, so people can have it as a resource. And by people I mean me, and by have, I mean share.
I’m thinking the groups that are specifically anti-racist in ideology and practice (rather than groups that have inclusive policies but other goals – eg Mobtown, Swingopedia, etc), and groups that focus on Black dance.
So far I’ve thought of:
Balboa In Color
(FB group for balboa dancers of colour, focussing on balboa)
Black Lindy Hop Matters
(based in Baltimore, USA, including Black board members, focussing on linking up Black jazz dance resources)
Black Lindy Hoppers Fund
(based in the USA, Black board members, focussed on fund raising for Black artists and presenting dance workshops)
Integrated Rhythm podcast (based in USA, including Black board members, focussing on discussing race and Black experience in jazz dance.) NB no website/fb, but podcast link
MOVE TOGETHER: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice
(based in the USA, including Black board members focussing on hosting discussion forums and fund raising)
Obsidean Tea (based in the USA, Black staff, focussing on Black culture and dance today)
I’ve also been thinking about what we do with all this information. There’s lots to read and learn, but integrating it in our teaching practice can be harder. Especially if you’re not teaching at the moment.
I’ve been thinking that it’s good to combine one of the practical dance classes with one of the talk-and-think classes. eg the Harlem Renaissance link from Guardian Baltimore with a tap dance class from Josette Wiggans; Black Lindy Hoppers Fund with Collective Voices for Change. There are also some great Black DJs doing sets at various online parties (Global Online Social, Track Town Swing’s online party, etc etc), and they frequently speak a few words between songs. And of course, there’s the Blues In a Flat fundraiser/collab with Maputo Swing.
I’m feeling it’s essential to get up and do something, rather than just thinking or listening. Thinking and listening quietly is a very Anglo-European (settler) approach to learning. Getting up learning-through-being-and-doing is a cornerstone of Black dance culture. Most of the modern lindy hop world prioritises white ways of learning, where the ‘lesson’ is spelled out explicitly. It’s worth undoing that by taking a class or dancing to a set with Black artists, to undo that.
So my feel, generally, is that simply ‘adding Black history’ to your dance class isn’t anti-racist. It doesn’t change anything. To be really anti-racist, you need to make radical paradigm changes. And the most important one of those is for teachers to take classes and to focus on learning. Because the idea that a teacher is beyond learning is not only a BIG problem, it’s also really dull.
As I write this stuff, I’m super conscious of who is reading, and who I am, writing. I am a white woman. So I need to engage with that in my own thinking and practice. It’s a sad fact that most of the members of this group are not Black. So most of us have a lot of work to do; most of us need to be questioning everything we think we know about lindy hop and about teaching.
But what if you are a Black teacher or dancer? I know that there is an argument for decolonising your own thinking, as a Black artist. That might mean unlearning the ways of teaching you’ve learnt as a student in white-run classes. Which carries with it all sorts of risks. And I do not want to encourage Black dancers to doubt themselves!
I feel supremely uncomfortable writing those sorts of suggestions, as a white woman aware of my power and privilege. But perhaps Audre Lorde’s piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is the best piece to read for more on that. I’d like to end by saying to Black dancers: trust yourself, and trust your history and culture. You know much more about it than someone like me does. And I’m happy to clear a space so you can do what you need to do.
I’ve just asked myself ‘what is the optimal pitch for an A-frame roof in a location* that gets snow’?
I have never lived in a climate where this sort of snowfall is likely or possible. And I have never built a house….
…out of anything but paper.
I’ve just spent far too long googling ‘what type of triangle has two equal sides and angles’ and ‘how do you find the perimeter of an isosceles triangle?’ Maths 1 is so many years ago. And there’s a 50/50 chance I didn’t pay attention in that unit.
*Rotterdam, and the year would be pre modern climate change, ie 19th century or earlier, when the snowfall was far heavier than it is now, but also not as heavy as somewhere like… Stockholm.
“Question: has someone made a visual timeline/lineage of Lindy Hop? Is this a good idea?”
I dislike the linear timeline model because:
It puts Africa in the past, when helloooo it’s not;
It uses a very western hierarchy of value with a particular dance or people as the apex or cumulation of different dance. Soz but lindy hop has never stood still or existed in a singular ‘true’ form. It is meaning in motion.
Who gets to decide when the line begins and ends? If it ‘begins’ in Africa and ‘ends’ with the white observer, then that is some fucked up racist social Darwinist crap. Stop, white person. That ways lies revivalist colonialism.
linear notions of time are white patriarchy.
There are other, far more interesting notions of ‘time’. The Aboriginal idea of the Dreaming is a good one: it is now, then, to come, and always. So, eg, when we tell a creating Dreaming story/dance/song, we are at once telling history and engaging in that act of creating as well.
If we take this way of understanding (the assumption that time needn’t be linear) to jazz dance, we have multiple dances existing at the same time in different and the same spaces. Specific shapes move through time and between generations, but are also moving laterally between siblings of different ages. So different aged people dance the same movements at the same time, but it has different meanings, depending on who is dancing where.
If we use a linear model, elders are in the past, superseded by successive generations of ‘improvers’, all focussed on a single point/form in time: lindy hop.
But we know it doesn’t work like that. Frankie teaching a bunch of white people the electric slide to Easy Does It, at the same time (day, even!) Black families might be dancing it to disco at a party. White people may separate generations and social spaces and learning, but other cultures do not.
So i say no to time _lines_, because they force western ideas and hierarchies of meaning onto Black culture.
It’s more useful to get up and dance, and feel those changes. Or to think of those dancers from all over Africa leaping up to share a step like the ones Al and Leon were demonstrating, all of them ignoring Marshall Stearns’ voice, and sharing ideas and feelings in a single moment of inter-continental, cross-generational immanence.
Africa isn’t in the roots of lindy hop. The nations of Africa are dancing now, in conversation with lindy hop.