I know we all cringe when we hear the word ‘marketing’, particularly ’email marketing’ in lindy hop talk. But if we think of things like ‘audience segmentation’ and ‘tags’ for organising our huge list of contacts, then it’s less horrible. A lot of us work with about 2-3000 email contacts after a couple of years, if we run a smallish school. Less if we’re doing something more boutique, like an event (there we might work with 200-300 for a small local event). More if we’re lucky (diligent).
But not all those contacts want to hear about the 10% discount for returning students signing up for level 1 classes. And not all of them need to know that workshop registrants for Special Exchange should enter by the side door at the venue. This is why we use special email management tools like Mailchimp. They allow us to divide our email contacts into specific segments (or markets, or audiences).
It’s funny that there’s still this reluctance to think or talk about bringing people into lindy hop classes as ‘marketing’. We may have 100% good vibes, offering free classes to the local community youth. But we still need to get those yoofs into the class room somehow. And we need to keep in contact with them somehow. So good marketing is part of that, even for nonprofits and charities. And it’s even more important when you develop a list of contacts or benefactors for your charity, start doing tag-on services like health checks for adults who drop of kids.
I do want to note that we all know that the best way to keep a network of people or customers, is to use face to face, in person contact. An email is powerful in some situations. But it’s never as good as stopping to see if Mrs X has the time and date for the next potluck, and asking her, then and there, to commit to bringing her special meatballs.
As a dance organisation or business, we need to combine all these ways of communicating. A website. An email list. Speaking to people in person. A paper flyer. The tools we choose will shape our community: if we’re all digital, we’ll lose Uncle Z who doesn’t own a computer. If use all face to face, Mz G from out of town won’t know that the next party is on Saturday. So we need to make sensible choices about how we’ll speak to our audiences.
I also think that it’s ok to charge money and make a profit from your dance business. Most of the unpaid work (and paid!) in lindy hop is done by women. And I’m always a bit suspicious when I hear people argue (even implicitly) that those workers shouldn’t be paid/businesses shouldn’t make a profit/earn money. Because you’re essentially arguing that women shouldn’t be paid for their work in lindy hop. Only DJs or judges or teachers should be paid. All roles dominated by white men…
We can’t do equitable stuff if we don’t have cash flow. That’s the sad fact of patriarchal capitalism.
What of issues of race, ethnicity, and cultural appropriation? Is it ok for people who aren’t Black to make money from Black art?
That’s a tricky one. My first response would be ‘Be sure of your values. If you don’t feel it’s ok to make money this way, don’t start a business that makes money from it.’
I wouldn’t say ‘do the work for free’, because doing the work for free could undercut Black businesses and workers who _do_ charge for their labour. As an example, you may not charge for your DJing, white bro, because you don’t want to benefit from Black art. But if that means you’re then hired before a Black woman who _does_ charge, because you’re free, then you’re fucking over Black artists and workers. A better option might be to accept pay, but then to donate that pay to a Black arts or community organisation (this is an option I like, as a white DJ and worker – I often donate any pay to a good cause, or ask the person I’m working for to donate to a cause like a women’s refuge or Child Literacy fund).
Be mindful of how you enter into economic and cultural relationships. Understand where your power and privilege lies. As a middle class white woman, I don’t need that $20 DJ pay. But a Black teenager might. So instead of encouraging unpaid labour, I might opt out of the labour system (ie not DJ), or I might take that money and then send it on to someone who _does_ need it. That might be via charities, but it could also be via spending the money on CDs for a swing club’s library, or donating the money to a contest prize.
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.
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.
ok, I have a bit more time to write.
==First off. This work will fuck you up.==
I and every other woman I know who’s worked extensively on this topic since 2015 (and before) is massively burnt out, and dealt/dealing with vicarious trauma from this work. Many of us (all of us?) have been subjected to threats of violence, legal action, smear campaigns, and worse. For me, the individual offenders were kind of small potatoes. The most distressing part of this has been the way men in the lindy hop scene actively worked to protect and enable offenders. ENABLE offenders. I have generally found that any man who actively objects to safe space policies is a sexual offender, and any woman who actively objects to safe space policies is a survivor. I wish I was generalising.
==Second. If you want to get into this stuff, plan ahead for trauma.==
You need to find a good therapist to talk to, particularly if you are not a man. Because at some point you’ll really realise, at a visceral level, that all these people who object to kicking out sexual offenders are ok with you (and every other woman and girl) being the victim of violence. And that fucks you up. But the work itself (reading endless accounts of assaults, dealing with the obstructionist arseholes, threats of violence, legal actions, and personal defamation) is just so. hard. You can’t do this alone, friend. Get help.
==Third. We have to be bottom-up, not top-down in our actions.==
I eventually realised that we cannot stop men offending. We can’t change the bigger social forces that train men to believe that it’s ok to sexually assault someone, that their pleasure comes before anyone else’s well being.
So the real solution for stamping out sexual assault in a relatively self contained scene like a dance community, is to power up the sisters and potential victims.
We do need codes of conduct and all the institutional changes (and mad props to Sarah, Michael, Charlie etc in Baltimore for their leadership on this). But these processes don’t change the power structures that enable sexual violence by men against women. It’s still powerful people at the top of a hierarchy managing the bodies of people at the bottom. We need to change this shit.
In Sydney we saw incredible results when a group of Asian women started looking out for each other and getting up in the face of an unrelenting white man who targeted Asian women. They would step in when he approached new women dancers. They’d tell young women and girls not to tolerate his shit. They’d actively him skip in class rotation (even when he tried to physically grab them). They pushed and pushed and pushed to get him banned from things. And so on. A clear result of this was a marked increase in the number of poc at our events, not only women, but _all_ poc, because those offenders aren’t just committing acts of sexual violence. They’re also bullies, racist, etc etc.
Not only do we need to get intersectional on this, but we need to reconstruct the bullshit that convinces women dancers to tolerate sexual harassment and violence. And that is often as simple as having them practice saying ‘no thank you’ to dance invites in class.
==Fourth. Know your local laws, use your local resources==
Laws RE sexual assault and harassment differ between countries. Look up your local laws. There are general human rights type laws, but there are also work place safety laws that apply. Be wary of issues like defamation law. Know your shit before you bring the shit. And that means finding a lawyer who specialises in the relevant laws (not just some rando who ‘is a lawyer’). Be ready to fundraise to cover these expenses.
There are services that can help, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Legal Aid can offer free legal advice here in Australia, and there is the equivalent in many other countries. Find the websites and help lines. Look up the excellent posters and campaigns that have already been going on in your country.
Get intersectional. This is a big one. The model a lot of us in the lindy hop world (in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, NZ, parts of Europe) use white, middle class, heterosexual gender roles and relationship models for ‘fixing’ this issue. Look further afield.
– How do Black women manage unwelcome sexual attention? What role do older Black women play in moderating men’s behaviour?
– How does the queer scene address sexual violence against trans kids (here’s an answer: https://www.transhub.org.au/unhealthy-relationships)?
-> You can learn from these examples. Do not, ever, generalise from your own experiences, especially if you are straight, white, living in a city, middle class, and English speaking.
==Fifth. Get local, get specific.==
There have been phenomenal projects undertaken all over the lindy hopping world to deal with this issue.
Dance Safe – 댄스세이프 in Seoul is incredible – they’ve done surveys, worked across a massive local scene to join often-unfriendly groups and individuals on board. They distributed literally boxes and boxes and boxes of info pamphlets. They used posters, they got away from gender binaries. It is just incredible. And locally appropriate, from language to age and culture.
Check out the codes of conduct that Tena Morales’ International Swing Dance Championships have. The language is very specific to the Black community of the US, where people speak English, carry guns, and are dealing with racism.
…and so on. Steal ideas from everyone, but make your work locally relevant, and locally appropriate.
==Sixth. Iterative design is the go==
Iterative design basically means that you’re never ‘finished’ with your code of conduct, your reporting process, your activism. Update your code of conduct annually. Learn from other organisations. You will get better and better at this.
==Seventh what are your limits? What is your code?==
Before you do anything else, write down (or record to camera or voice memo) your limits. What will you tolerate? What will you not tolerate?
My personal limits:
– I will not walk past someone who’s being harassed. I will intervene.
– I will risk physical violence for someone else’s safety.
– I will ask annoying questions in public about an event or person who aren’t fulfilling their duty of care.
– I won’t let men touch me if I don’t want it.
– I will not smile and make nice.
– I will walk away from an unpleasant dance.
– I will say ‘no thank you’ to an unwanted dance invite.
– I work to stay aware of my own privilege and power, and I will leverage them to help out people who need it.
Know what your limits are. Be sure of what you will tolerate.
==Eighth and final: this is about gender.==
We know, beyond doubt, and with mountains of substantiating data, that sexual violence in lindy hop is a problem with men. Men are the vast, vast majority of offenders. Women and girls are the victims/targets. We don’t have data for it (yet), but if we extrapolate from the wider community, men are also the targets of men’s sexual violence.
So men need to fix their shit. They need to step in and take ownership of this issue. Because women like me are far too fucking busy fending off groping hands and lewd comments at the mic, in the DJ booth, or on the dance floor to help your sorry arses. Step the fuck up.
Yesterday a white guy had a troll on a productive discussion about teaching lindy hop. The original post in that discussion was
I was teaching “jig walks” today and it was pointed out to me that the word “jig” miiight not be the best of words. Anyone know anything about this?
This is a pretty good way to open a discussion about race in jazz dance, and it’s not the first time it’s come up in that forum. I won’t go into details here, because that’s not the point of my post.
This discussion had last been active about three months ago. Yesterday a white guy commented:
I am the only one with a Color Screen? or all screens are in black and white now?
I could just hear the eyes rolling from the southern hemisphere.
This is a classic tactic by antagonists in a social setting. We see this sort of behaviour in dance classes quite often, where a student (usually a white man, but not always) derails a discussion or activity with a ‘question’ that centers him and his feelings.
In a dance class setting, I would not engage with this questions, as it will eat up time and energy. As a woman teacher (who usually taught as a lead), I would be very quick to manage this sort of behaviour, as it’s a common tactic used by male students to grasp power in the class. So I’d probably ignore that comment and move us along with a practical exercise that demands attention. If the question is actually relevant to the class matter we’re working on, I would make very clear our position on the topic, and then move on. I think it’s worth looking at how we can, as teachers, respond to racist comments in class. Some of the strategies we use for dealing with sexism and homophobia will work here.
This is also a fairly classic and predictable tactic used by white men to derail discussions about racism. Again, the premise of this sort of question is that the interests of white men are more important than those of Black folk, and that antiracist action is somehow less important than ‘real’ topics.
In the context of dance, ‘historical accuracy’ is frequently used as a tactic for de-centering the interests of living Black dancers. In other words, it’s very common to hear a white male ‘dance historian’ argue that Black dancers in the past did X, Y, or Z, and did not talk about how a word was racist, and that if we are interested in historical accuracy, we must center _their_ behaviour. These sorts of ‘historians’ very rarely ask themselves why a Black dancer of a previous generation, making their wage from teaching white people, would not have spoken up about racism.
This is racist because a white person is using the name of a Black person who has passed as a sigil of authority, rather than standing aside for living Black people to speak and address their interests. They are, effectively, taking ownership of a Black elder and that elder’s knowledge. I can only imagine how maddening and infuriating this is for Black dancers.
In my own mind, when I hear this sort of talk from white, male ‘historians’, I think “Ah, here is a white man using the name of Black elders to maintain his own patriarchal power. He is not comfortable with young Black people (of all genders) changing the discussion to address their living needs and issues. So he dismisses issues like ‘language’ as ‘irrelevant’, and derails a productive discussion to recenter himself and his own interests.”
I find this co-opting of Black lives and people very disturbing. It is as though white jazz dance historians are more comfortable with a dead Black man than with living Black people.
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.
A known offender is teaching at an event in your area. What do you do?
I’d probably think local. You can’t change the entire world, but you can be useful to local people. You know you and your mates won’t go (because you know who he is and what he’s done), but do the people outside your immediate peer group know? I’d imagine newer dancers don’t.
You don’t need to risk repercussions by telling people what he’s done. You can turn the issue upside down, and ask ‘what has he done to fight the fucking power?’
In less radfem sweary terms, maybe check in with them about what to look for in a teacher at a big event. Dancing ability isn’t enough. We need more. Who are they as a _teacher_ and person?
1. Are they straight, white, men?
If so, they need to prove themselves _better_ than anyone who is queer/poc/women/enby.
-> if he has no record of working to dismantle oppression. He’s not an ally.*
2. Do they do racist/sexist/homophobic stuff in public?
– Have they performed in black face (including ‘brown’ or ‘gold’ paint), a fat suit?
– Do their routines involve gay panic/homophobic jokes?
– Do they rely on sexualised jokes for their routines’ punch lines?
I have a one-strike-you’re-dead-to-me-policy. No second chances from me. So Ksenia Parkhatskaya is on my ‘no’ list because she’s appeared in black face in performances MULTIPLE times. Doug Silton is on my no-list because he appeared in black face on stage at a huge event (2013). Dax and Sarah are on my no list because they performed in a fat suit (2011) to recreate a Black dancer’s dancing, and stated that women should dance in high heels (2011). The list goes on and on. And all of these incidents are documented in footage from high profile events.
-> One of the things that WM actually did, and is recorded on film doing, is making a nazi salute (quenelle) during his performance at ILHC in 2014.
That’s enough to convince me not to attend an event he’s at. But are the other peeps in your scene also setting that as a baseline? If not, is it because they’re not Jewish, not people of colour?
3. If they’re white/straight/men, are they antiracists, anti-homophobic, and anti-sexist?
– Are they using their privilege in good ways?
– What do they post about on fb?
– Do they only work on all-white event staffs?
– Do they have a T&C document that says ‘I will not work at events that hire [known sex offender], [known racist]’ ?
– Do they post about antiracist efforts on fb?
– Do they donate money to, attend workshops with, or otherwise support projects like CVFC – Collective Voices for Change, Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Maputo Swing, etc?
– Do they use their channels to advocate for marginalised people? ie do they suggest poc, women, queer, people for teaching/DJing/admin gigs?
– Do they give blog/media space to anti-racist actions, or do they devote that space to discussions about ‘technique’?
4. Are they white/straight, and have teaching styles and classes that are anti-racist, and advocating for students’ empowerment?
– Do they stand in the middle of the class and push you through a routine, or do they encourage students to explore ideas?
– Do they only teach moves they ‘invented’ or learnt from a modern day white guy, or do they continually name check Black dancers and musicians, giving a sense of history?
– Do they use racist/sexist language in class? eg do they use gendered language for leads and follows, sexualised jokes and metaphors, position a white man as the ‘norm’ in their anecdotes and metaphors?
– Do they ignore racism/sexism/homophobia in their classes, or do they call it out (even if from students) students in a productive way? If they ignore it, they are _condoning_ and enabling sexism, homophobia, and racism.
You’ll find that the sexual offenders, the bullies, and the bastards are fuckheads in a whole range of ways. Their sexualised violence is just one of the ways in which they exploit others.
In other words, we should all be asking ‘is this person being a force for good, or a fucking jerk?’ before we attend an event that’s promoting this teacher, musician, DJ, or MC.
Things that do not make you an ally:
– Having a photo taken with a Black dancer like Norma, Frankie, or other OGs.
– Wearing a Tshirt that features a Black dancer/musician.
– Standing by while bad shit goes down.
– Hiring one poc for your event.
– Posting a black square on your fb profile.
– Having women friends that you like.
– Having a Black friend.
– Teaching in Asia this one time.
– Knowing a gay person.
*you can’t just ‘be an ally’. You have to _do_ ally-ship.