Yo, tomorrow (31st March) is Trans Day of Visibility.
Considering the far-right’s desperate attempts to kill anyone who isn’t beige, it’s probably important to use your channels and classes to remind people that jazz music and dance, Harlem, and the Harlem Renaissance were (and are) queer as fuck.
Performers and musicians like Gladys Bentley made no secret of being queer and trans.
The Hamilton Lodge Ball was HUGE (we’re talking 7000 people of all stripes attending in 1932 alone) and showcased the early days of ballrooming/drag balls.
Trans activists (especially trans women of colour!) have been at the heart of queer activism since FOREVER (Stonewall was kicked off by a queer trans woman of colour!).
And if you can’t name half a dozen jazz musicians who were gay, you’re not paying attention.
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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.
Now we’re opening up in Sydney, I’m seeing an (understandable) impatience to ‘return to normal dancing’ that has some problems. People pushing to social dance in public bars, talk that normalises dancing, misreading public health guidelines in ways that support their POV. After all, to _have_ social dancing, individuals need dance partners. As many as possible.
A consequence of this public talk has been an increasing ‘normalising’ of the idea that it’s fine to ‘return to normal’ dancing. If enough people are talking about whether the band is playing at x venue, or what time doors open at y venue, the more marginalised questions like ‘is it _safe_ to dance at all?’ become.
A big challenge for fb group moderators has been dealing with these complex social and medical issues while themselves under covid stress. It’s hard to parse the govt’s covidsafe info and public health restrictions, it’s even harder to do that _and_ juggle your own worries about safety, the increasing frustrations and arguments of other people, _and_ a year of shitty stress. Tensions are high, and there’s no clear model for handling these issues.
Or is there?
This is a fascinating article about the role of internet discussion boards in the gay community during the AIDS crisis. There’s a chunk about how these were moderated to prevent the spread of misinformation, and to encourage collaboration.
we’re still very close to each other (we need a lot more space than other activities)
the puffing and huffing spreads more respiratory droplets than normal breathing
we spend more time indoors together (two risk factors)
you have to clean up the space before and after the class, which is a lot of work
you need to have staff to manage crowding and lines
…and so on. This is why the actual _class_ is high risk. All this, and then the business has to handle contact tracing and other covidsafe regulations. The teaching model that was happening before covid barely (if ever) managed to handle insurance and other safety stuff. This added layer of work is too much for most dance businesses.
But in addition, the businesses that ran classes before have all been devastated by the shutdowns. No support from the government means businesses have failed or had to close down. Teachers have had to look for other work. So the _businesses_ have had to pause.
There’s no money to fund class expenses: advertising, insurance, rent/room hire, etc etc. All dance classes take a financial risk on this stuff, and then if numbers aren’t solid, they make a loss. Solo jazz has always been a higher financial risk because it doesn’t attract as many students as lindy hop.
I’ve run a dance business, and taught for my own business and others. Including the first weekly solo jazz class in Australia (brag! brag!). At this stage the safety issues of covid are a big deterrent, but it’s all the other administrative issues that are the real killer. We don’t make much money from single classes; to make money you have to run a bunch of classes and/or big classes. That’s not going to happen during this moment.
But hold on. We need a vaccine, and we need 100% take up, before we start teaching classes safely.
Things you can do to get lindy hop happening again:
Hassle your local MP to get arts bailout packages for small businesses like dance schools;
Make sure you and your family and all your friends are ready to get vaccinated, and then get vaccinated. If you’ve got anti-vaxer friends, or an anti-vaxer yourself, you’re a big health risk for all of us;
Don’t spread misinformation about covid (because that leads to outbreaks which slows things down again);
Support teachers, DJs, and other dance professionals who are working online: always pay for classes (even if they don’t ask for money), share and recommend good classes and organisations, drop supportive notes to people who are doing this work;
Encourage support for local venues where people run classes: independent venues (like our beloved Ruby’s), bars where live jazz lived (because it’s another important part of the lindy hop ecosystem).