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.
We all love Dee, right (yes), and if you haven’t seen Helena dance, you need to follow her on instagram right now. RIGHT now.
Anyway, BLHF is one of the very few organisations in the lindy hopping world which hires only Black artists (and pays them real money, not ‘exposure’), and makes it easier for Black dancers to attend the workshops. They are fucking legit on this. And intensives (ie workshops) are really top shelf. I’ve only managed to be involved in three, but they are just the best.
As a student, I had fun, but as a teacher, I learnt that Black teachers work in a different way. And I learnt a lot about these approaches to teaching. If you’ve been following that recent conversation we had in this group about whether a teaching method can be anti-racist, you’ll find these BLHF sessions really interesting. Because they _are_ the definition of anti-racism work.
This is Helena’s ig account. This video blew my mind. It’s such a clear example of how the history of Black dance lives in Black bodies and Black dance _today_. You can’t talk about lindy hop without talking about contemporary Black culture.
risha is a Black British dancer. She and other female Black British dancers (including people like Angela ‘Cookie’ Andrews) are often left out of stories about lindy hop in the UK. Angela is a truly great dancer. Watching her in this, I just can’t look away. She. Is. So. Good.
Oh, and because there’s MORE, here is a video we all know and love. Featuring Angela and Dee. Cookie told me that she was _judging_ the contest, but just couldn’t help getting in there.
Grey Armstrong has been writing about Blackness and lindy hop and blues dance for years, and is really really good at it.
Thoughtful, topical, and such engaging writing. He’s been writing at Obsidian Tea for ages and ages, and I’ve personally found this the most meaningful and useful source for information and inspiration. I keep returning to past posts because they keep popping up in my own thinking and writing about this topic.
This is part 1 of a 7 part series (!!). I recommend reading it. It’s important because it actually includes the experiences of contemporary Black dancers, something missing from most lindy hop accounts. Grey invites the reader in: “Is this news to you? When (if) you have attended or read previous discussions, what was your reaction? What were the reactions of your friends and your community?” Grey is a master of speaking to white readers, asking us to reflect on other people’s lives, and of speaking to Black readers, offering a hand of fellowship. It’s true craftsmanship, as a writer, but also the mark of an empathetic, caring person. This engagement makes me want to read more, and wish I could write like this. Very good stuff.
And if you can do (especially if you’re white), please drop a few bucks on Grey, because he works so hard, and the $$ would mean a lot.
…just some random thoughts from a discussion on fb that i’m posting here to keep track of.
If big dance events that were held over new year could collect accurate covid infection stats, it’d be super interesting to compare these with other sample groups. 1 in 5 is lower than omicron in Sydney at the moment, so I suspect it was higher at Focus. But if it was lower, that’d be pretty interesting… maybe because it was mostly local people, we’d see a lower rate of infection?
The issue, though, is that an event like Focus brings together people from separate networks of people. ie we live and interact with a limited number of people in our day to day life (friends, family, workmates, shop keepers, etc). The big issue comes not when we interact with them, but when networks interact. So if you and I went to Focus, I’d be exposing you (and your network) to the germs of my network (and vice versa).
I’m interested in how the statistical side of things (numbers) works in cooperation with the social side of things (the ways people interact, and how relationships determine who we’ll interact with). Here in Australia, the govt health advice has been based on:
1) states (ie mid-level government borders of responsibility),
2) local government areas (ie groups of suburbs),
3) households (nuclear families in particular) in free-standing houses, and
ie we are divided up by government powers, labour practice, and patriarchal ideas of the ‘family’. So restrictions are put in place to open or close state borders (and our states are geographically massive, but very low population density), to enforce lockdowns or restrict gatherings in local communities. Contact ‘bubbles’ are defined by households (ie an actual house) rather than apartment block. Allowable activities are also defined by houses rather than apartments (eg ‘kids play in your yard’ rather than ‘kids play in your local park’).
We’ve seen these divisions collapse when it comes to people who don’t fit into the white, heterosexual, monogamous middle class parents model. ie most people don’t fit into these categories. Most people actually are: engaged in extended family networks, are in precarious employment, aren’t in a monogamous heterosexual nuclear family, etc etc. The higher rates of transmission happen in places like apartment blocks, and in extended families, whereas the govt advice has focussed on how to behave in free standing houses, nuclear families, and fixed workplaces.
We know it’s more useful to think of people as part of the relatively stable networks of family+friends+work I described above, than the ‘household’ or ‘individual’ . The networks are bigger than a nuclear family unit, but they’re also more stable; we tend to max out at a specific number of contacts. And if we think in terms of networks, we can account for extended families, networks of care (eg neighbours caring for neighbours, friendships, sexual partners, etc) and get a more accurate picture of how real people interact (the nuclear family model just doesn’t account for the majority of relationships).
We can apply this idea to dance communities. We all operate within local dance communities (eg I’m in the inner west of Sydney, in NSW, in Australia), and that community network includes musicians, DJs, dancers, venue operators, _and_ my family and friends. But when we go to exchanges, my local network interacts with other people’s local networks.
As dancers, we already think about this interaction of networks: we are all pretty good at identifying someone’s home town by the moves they dance, the shape or aesthetics of their dancing, the music they like or dance to (eg fast or slow) _and_ markers like ethnicity, etc. Even at our most athletic, we can only partner dance with about 40 people in 2 hours of dancing, max (so long as there are no birthday jams!), but are more likely to dance with between 10 and 20.
But when we go to weekend events, we dance for far more hours, with far more people. Each of us, individually, represents a different local network as well as a local dance scene. So when we interact at an exchange, we are exposing ourselves to far more germs. Or increasing the chance of catching covid.
Our state govt has just added a restriction on dancing, where our public health officers Kerry Chant explained that dancing (ie solo dancing) brings us into contact with more people, in closer contact. ie the stuff that makes dancing feel wonderful is also what spreads covid 😃
Bizarrely, years ago I did a conference paper on the way f2f and global networks interact at exchanges. The thing about lindy hop is that we _must_ interact physically – dance – as part of the community. When we travel to dance, we expand that network of physical contact.
In the lindy hop world, that network of contact spreads dance skills, aesthetics, moves, rhythms, ideas, friendships, sexual relationships, etc. But in the covid world it also spreads…covid. Because the lindy hop world is designed _specifically_ to enable that f2f physical contact, it’s as though we built a machinery specifically designed to spread covid.
I’ve been reading and thinking a fair bit about the effect of covid on Black Lindy Hop Matters activism. I did a blog post, but I’m mostly just thinking about this stuff in the back of my brain while I make little cardboard houses.
My main thinking points have been:
BLM was not the cause of anti-racist work in the lindy hop world, but it certainly provided a catalyst for _public_ talk in _white_ communities. ie white lindy hoppers finally had to think about race; Black lindy hoppers tell the children to carry cutlery to the table before they get to cook.
Was covid19 essential to the high profile of the BLM protests?
ie police brutality in the US has been going on for decades, with periodic ‘race riots’. What’s new about 2020? Was it covid? Was it the internet? Was it Trump?
Has covid19 slowed the anti-racism work in the lindy hop world?
ie have dancers have been distracted from anti-racist work by virus-risk-mitigation work? Have Black dancers talking about racism been shouldered aside by white medical specialist dancers talking about covid risk?
Why can’t white people think about more than one issue at once, while Black activists have been multi-tasking with intersectional discussions of race, class, health, and gender? It is a feature of white supremacy to see activism as necessarily dealing with one issue at a time and ignoring the intersectionality of oppression?
How has the ‘pause’ of covid19 (especially in terms of travel and the cancellation of international f2f events) given space for talking about race in lindy hop?
The last one made me wonder, ‘Has the dearth of videos of white people winning dance competitions given the international community space to actually talk about how racist this shit is?’
Why haven’t Australian lindy hoppers been talking about anti-racism, BLHM, etc? Is it because lindy hop stopped while we were busy being terrified of covid? Is it because the biggest scenes have been in lockdown, terrified of covid? Is it because our ‘national’ scene has been replaced by local city-based scenes centred on local (white people’s) concerns instead of anti-racism?
Is this tension between local issues and global activism (ie how do we do anti-racism in glocal lindy hop world?) in Australian lindy hop a model for requiring local anti-racist tool kits informed by global thinking and theory? ie does anti-racism in lindy hop have to be localised praxis within an international context (yes).
Was that conference paper I did about the localism, globalism, and embodied practice in lindy exchanges in 2004 more important than I thought?
BLHM is a matter of anti-racism to fight for justice _today_, not (only) an historical project to credit past Black artists for their work. ie Black Lindy Hop Matters is about more than knowing who Frankie Manning was.
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’m part way through ep1 of Small Axe, a BBC short film series about the West Indian community in London in the 1960s-80s. It’s directed by Steve McQueen and has a w o w cast (incl. Letita Wright and John Boyega).
If you want to know about the Black migrant history of the UK during this period, AND want regular doses of everyday eating, dancing, singing, and FIGHTING THE MAN, i reccomend. It’s a great companion piece to that BBC podcast series about Black music in Europe.