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.
Another post about this:
5 Ways to Be a Totally Ok-By-The-Gays Dance Teacher
1929 Studios’ post about this: https://www.instagram.com/p/CqbkPGuvdn4/
A famous international teacher wrote this in a public post on facebook today.
Hey y’all, real talk. I have encountered multiple people this week who have never taken classes from me, are not signed up to take classes from me, yet have told me they have seen my class recap videos and been practicing from them. The purpose of my recap videos is to help the people who actually have bothered to become my students and who have shown up to learn from me. Believe it or not, this is my livelihood, I make a living from teaching dance. I sell instructional videos from my website. Undermining that is an incredibly shitty thing to do. The same way I would hope you wouldn’t buy a friend’s band’s CD and then just turn around and burn copies for everyone you know (and would hopefully encourage them to actually support the artist and go buy their own copy), I would hope you would encourage folks to actually come take a class from someone who has built a career doing a thing. The easy option is I just don’t do recap videos anymore (shocking concept, but for much of my dance career, video recaps just weren’t a thing). But I actually care about students’ improvement and would love to provide that as a resource because I think it is helpful (as many folks also seem to), so the option I’d rather pursue is just be respectful of artists. Thanks.
This post was shared by a mutual friend. This was my comment:
I don’t buy this argument at all.
Recap videos are a brilliant way to market a teacher’s skills. They get people gigs, it gets people into workshops at events.
Recap videos often circulate between people who don’t have the money or opportunity to go to big workshops, and they’re an ongoing resource for a local scene. It’s also super common for someone to take a recap video back from a weekend to their home town, and then work on the material with their friends and dance partners (who may not have attended the workshop!) This is how dance knowledge permeates and spreads. It’s also a good strategy for people with low incomes to access knowledge.
To be honest, I have zero problems with people of colour, women, other marginalised folk doing this sort of ‘textual poaching’ from a white man 😃 😃 😃
This is not the same as people filming you while you’re teaching a class. That’s fucked up and not ok.
If you’re not ok with the way video footage circulates in the community, don’t let people film your recaps. Boom.
If you want to capitalise on the fact that your fanbase is sharing videos of you, learning from you, emulating you, get onto it! That is some powerful audience-engagement!
Things you can do:
- Follow up on that conversation with that fan
(which, tbh, is a hugely flattering thing for them to do), by saying something like “Oh, that’s so good to hear! We should organise a zoom session so you can ask questions as you work through things! I have pretty reasonable rates, and we can make it work for small groups.” This is effective because this fan is clearly ok with working from a screen (usually a tiny phone screen!), and a zoom session would be a step up! It’s not often that an audience makes their preferred mode of engagement so clear!
- Regard that conversation as a fan being brave enough to approach their hero
and respond with positive enthusiasm. Ask them questions about their dancing, ask them what they liked about the video, and what they’d like to do next. That fan will remember that conversation, take it home, and tell it to zillions of people. That sort of interaction gives teachers a rep as ‘a nice person’ and that rep convinces local organisers to hire teachers. You don’t have to put on a fake cheery persona; just respond like a decent human being to someone who’s telling you (in so many ways) that they think you are amazing.
- Rethink the way you structure your recaps
to take advantage of this free circulation and marketing. Add a little intro with details of how to reach you. Limit the content in the recap. Have students dance the recap material instead.
- Don’t do in-class recaps at all
but release them yourself from your own website (or a third party site), where you say to the group: “Give me your email addresses, and you can have access to the recap videos on my website” and then you can garner their email addresses for your marketing!
- Be very clear in your T&C with organisers about recaps and filming them.
I personally say to teachers that they are not obliged to do recaps, filmed or otherwise, and I make it very clear to all registrants that teachers may not offer a chance for them to film recaps (ie their registration fee does not cover the chance to film a recap).
The more I thought about this, the angrier I got.
In the replies to his post, where people offer suggestions for monetising or controlling the circulation of this footage, he says “I’m old school. I teach dance classes. Not trying to be a youtube/insta/whatever power user” and then another big name teacher chimes in with “this is great but it’s a lot of – more – work” and this made me furious.
Most of the people who put on events that host these sorts of teachers do it for free. They work very hard to give these teachers work and provide workshops for their local scene. There’s very little money to be made (most people hope to break even, or subsidise with other stuff). It _is_ a lot of work. And they do this _in addition_ to their day jobs, caring for families… and often, teaching weekly dance classes.
To hear a high profile teacher denigrate this type of work makes me VERY ANGRY. And yes, it is lots of work to do this sort of management and promotion. HAVE THEY ONLY JUST REALISED THIS?!
I hear this bullshit from white man musicians all the time. As though being ‘a musician’ means that you just ‘do art’ and the audiences magically come to hear you ‘do art’. NO BITCH, THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. Being a working artist means you WORK. You work on your craft, but sorry, white man, that means doing promotion, profile management, networking, all that distasteful plebean stuff. You also put work into being good at working with others (sound crew, venue managers, promoters, bar staff), you develop a sense of brand or how you want to be promoted, you develop actual promotional material (a bio, some photos, and – god forbid! – a website).
Argh this makes me so, so angry.
Anyway. This is why over the years as an organiser, and as someone who’s also been the ‘talent’, I’ve realised that the ‘talent’ is interchangeable, but the people on the ground who run events, who work the door, set up rooms, and clean up after parties, are the really irreplaceable people.
Topic: useful admin tools for dance businesses
[NB not tools for social media marketing or graphic design. Just basic business tools]
Last year I did some research into the various tools a dance business uses, and discovered some useful things. Note, I am based in Australia, so some of our laws RE storing personal data aren’t shared by other countries.
If you’re running a business that teaches dance and runs parties and workshops, you need a few digital tools:
– a website
– an email tool
– a way to take payment digitally
– a way to organise registrations
– You’ll also need some sort of accounting software too, but your local tax laws and accountant’s preferences will help you decide what you’ll use.
We’re all usually bound by pretty tight budgets, so it’s fair to say that we want the best we can get, for the least amount of money. And we all know that the cheapest isn’t always the best.
But we also know that not all of us have the technical skills or experience running a dance business (not to mention time) to learnt to use a bunch of new computer things.
Anyway, this is what I found. It’s not an exhaustive list, and it’s pretty much just for me here in Australia.
Let’s assume we have two users.
User 1: New to running a local dance business, lots of good _dance_ and teaching skills, very little experience marketing, handling income and expenses, no real experience dealing with computer software, etc. Limited budget, time-poor. So, a regular dancer.
User 2: Experience running a dance business, experience with a range of software tools, dance and teaching skills. Time-poor, small budget. Wants to upgrade from older tools, reduce admin hassle, and streamline the process. So, the other type of regular dancer :D
From what I’ve seen, there are a couple of ways to get all the tools you need:
1. An all-in-one tool that handles email lists, digital sales (both online, or via a phone in person at a dance), a nice looking website (with the analytics you need)
2. A host of individual tools (eg a sales tool, an email tool, a website tool (whether it’s one you build yourself, or one out of the box)
The first option can be (and usually is) more expensive. There are cheapy options out there, but most of them don’t do all the things a small dance business really needs. Sometimes the more expensive complete packages are a bit limited (eg the email option only lets you have 500 addresses on your list; the website sales integration only works with a particular bank or shop front app).
But the first option is easier because:
– you don’t have to spend lots of time learning to use a lot of different tools.
– you have one account that you log into, from which you can add other users/admin accounts
– the integration of all the tools means you can see when user X buys a product, cross reference it with how often they open emails from you, and track their progress through your site. To my mind, this is the BEST thing. But it’s not so useful if you’re not at the point where you need or can make use of this data.
Downside of this option: price. It can seem super exy for a small business that doesn’t have any seed money.
By far the best of these options is Squarespace. It’s not the cheapest, in fact it’s quite expensive, but it saves you a lot of things:
– security is better because you don’t have a heap of random tools with different log ins that you share with everyone in your team;
– security can be weaker, because you only have that one point of entry to all these essential tools. Good thing is that squarespace is pretty secure.
– the website templates are really really nice, and look really professional. This is essential for a business that needs customers to trust it’s online shop.
– the website design can be changed via the code directly, or using the design tools in the main dashboard. You can create a page quickly, and move images and blocks of text around quickly.
– the shop front tool is beautifully integrated from the front end (the customer’s point of view). It looks slick and professional, which is good for developing trust.
– you can add approximately one billion trillion ‘extensions’ to the basic website. ie you can integrate a bunch of other tools, from accounting software, to email marketing, store fronts, your social media accounts, and printing. Yes, you can create your own tshirts and sell them through your site without having to handle printing or inventory.
– it will help you through buying a domain, which is often another sticking point for new businesses.
The downside of squarespace:
– it’s expensive
– learning to use the website building tools can be tricky (I found it challenging, and I have a lot of experience building sites from code to using builders)
The second option (lots of different tools) is often the cheapest option. But it’s ‘messy’. If you go this route, these are the tools I’d recommend:
– Square for sales. It’s secure, it has good support (ie people to help you), you can use it with your phone (so you don’t need to buy any sales hardware). It has a simple online shopfront (very basic, but serviceable, and not too ugly), and it’s the cheapest. Cheaper than paypal or Trybooking. And more flexible.
It is ‘basic’, but that’s it’s appeal: it’s not too hard to learn to use. But don’t expect too many bells and whistles.
You can take your phone to class, and then when people arrive and want to pay, you can do it all right there with just your phone. No cash, no extra hardware. Game changer in a covid world.
Equity: many of us offer free or discounted tickets for students, low income, etc. I haven’t checked it, but I’m certain Square would offer a ‘reduced’ or ‘comp’ sales option for your items.
– Does it handle your inventory (eg how many items you have left to sell, etc)? I assume so, but I’m not sure.
– Does it handle registrations (which is another way of talking about inventory)? I haven’t tested this.
I haven’t used a separate registration tool for years, as most of the modern online sales tools handle that as a basic feature. As dance event organisers, we really want to know how many people are coming, how many tickets we have left, and then we want to know info about each sale (lead/follow, etc). Not very complex stuff, really.
I’d go with squarespace. I’ve used a range of website building tools, from blogging tools (eg wordpress), as well as building my own from scratch (and hosting on my own server at home), but I think that for the time and energy, squarespace gives you something beautiful that’s quick and easy to administer. And because you can create multiple accounts for the one site, you don’t get that ‘webmaster bottleneck’ that has plagued the dance world. It also handles all that domain purchasing stuff, which is SO important.
There are cheaper options (eg Square’s simple website option), but Squarespace also has some nice analytics in the basic package, so you can see which page is getting the most traffic, etc.
– Email. You must have a proper email tool (you can’t just create a list in your apple Mail or Outlook Express; that way lies horrific privacy and security dramas). Email and website are the two most important things you must have as a small business. So people can find you, and then you can reach out to them directly.
Mailchimp is still the big email player. It’s recently gotten more expensive (ie your basic account gives you a smaller number of email addresses in your basic list), but it has wonderful features. You can see who’s opening your emails, and which links are getting clicked in your analytics. The template building tool is lovely, and the emails come out looking really slick. It has some lovely automated features (eg a series of automated emails to help customers; a series of automated steps that create lists of people who open emails quickly for you).
But if you’re not doing any of this email marketing stuff, it’s probably overkill for you. And it’s expensive once you get past X number of email addresses.
Squarespace does have an email option, but it’s limited in terms of analytics. And it gets expensive when you add heaps of email addresses. And you WANT to have a zillion people on your email list. That’s the gold.
Personally, I go with Mailchimp, as I have had an account for years, and it’s been grandfathered in. And because I’m super interested in learning about email marketing. ie more than just spamming your audience with ‘buy! buy!’ emails. I’m interested in sending the right message to the right audience. eg sending links to the new beginner course rego page to the people who registered in the last beginner course of 2022.
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,
- Research into different models that have similar values, and have been effective (incl. Camp Jitterbug, but also a model from AMSANT (The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory), Abrome (a school in Texas), etc etc),
- Social Justice/activist models of care like Tian Zhang’s Manifesto for Radical Care, or How to Be a Human in the Arts.
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.
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.
Ayah Nuriddin, Graham Mooney, and Alexandre I R White, “Reckoning with histories of medical racism and violence in the USA,” The Lancet, October 03, 2020.
Note: this article contains some important key references to other works on this topic. Content warning for descriptions of sexual violence, racism, medical violence… heck, all of it.
DeFrantz, Thomas ed. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
-. “A conversation with Pr. Thomas DeFrantz on African American Social Dances, hosted by Breai Michele,” Collective Voices for Change, 17 October 2020. https://www.collectivevoicesforchange.org/part-2a-defranz
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.
I’ve been chasing down as many of the antiracist groups in the lindy hop world as I can find. I want to make a list here, so people can have it as a resource. And by people I mean me, and by have, I mean share.
I’m thinking the groups that are specifically anti-racist in ideology and practice (rather than groups that have inclusive policies but other goals – eg Mobtown, Swingopedia, etc), and groups that focus on Black dance.
So far I’ve thought of:
- Balboa In Color
(FB group for balboa dancers of colour, focussing on balboa)
- Black Lindy Hop Matters
(based in Baltimore, USA, including Black board members, focussing on linking up Black jazz dance resources)
- Black Lindy Hoppers Fund
(based in the USA, Black board members, focussed on fund raising for Black artists and presenting dance workshops)
- CVFC – Collective Voices for Change
(international group, including Black board members, focussing on presenting anti-racism talks)
- Guardian Baltimore
(based in Baltimore, USA, Black board members, focussing on Black dance culture and history as a site for social change)
(based in USA, Black board, focussing on Black dance orsm)
- Integrated Rhythm podcast (based in USA, including Black board members, focussing on discussing race and Black experience in jazz dance.) NB no website/fb, but podcast link
- MOVE TOGETHER: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice
(based in the USA, including Black board members focussing on hosting discussion forums and fund raising)
- Obsidean Tea (based in the USA, Black staff, focussing on Black culture and dance today)
I’ve also been thinking about what we do with all this information. There’s lots to read and learn, but integrating it in our teaching practice can be harder. Especially if you’re not teaching at the moment.
I’ve been thinking that it’s good to combine one of the practical dance classes with one of the talk-and-think classes. eg the Harlem Renaissance link from Guardian Baltimore with a tap dance class from Josette Wiggans; Black Lindy Hoppers Fund with Collective Voices for Change. There are also some great Black DJs doing sets at various online parties (Global Online Social, Track Town Swing’s online party, etc etc), and they frequently speak a few words between songs. And of course, there’s the Blues In a Flat fundraiser/collab with Maputo Swing.
I’m feeling it’s essential to get up and do something, rather than just thinking or listening. Thinking and listening quietly is a very Anglo-European (settler) approach to learning. Getting up learning-through-being-and-doing is a cornerstone of Black dance culture. Most of the modern lindy hop world prioritises white ways of learning, where the ‘lesson’ is spelled out explicitly. It’s worth undoing that by taking a class or dancing to a set with Black artists, to undo that.
So my feel, generally, is that simply ‘adding Black history’ to your dance class isn’t anti-racist. It doesn’t change anything. To be really anti-racist, you need to make radical paradigm changes. And the most important one of those is for teachers to take classes and to focus on learning. Because the idea that a teacher is beyond learning is not only a BIG problem, it’s also really dull.
As I write this stuff, I’m super conscious of who is reading, and who I am, writing. I am a white woman. So I need to engage with that in my own thinking and practice. It’s a sad fact that most of the members of this group are not Black. So most of us have a lot of work to do; most of us need to be questioning everything we think we know about lindy hop and about teaching.
But what if you are a Black teacher or dancer? I know that there is an argument for decolonising your own thinking, as a Black artist. That might mean unlearning the ways of teaching you’ve learnt as a student in white-run classes. Which carries with it all sorts of risks. And I do not want to encourage Black dancers to doubt themselves!
I feel supremely uncomfortable writing those sorts of suggestions, as a white woman aware of my power and privilege. But perhaps Audre Lorde’s piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is the best piece to read for more on that. I’d like to end by saying to Black dancers: trust yourself, and trust your history and culture. You know much more about it than someone like me does. And I’m happy to clear a space so you can do what you need to do.
nb this is a useful unit drawing together some of these ideas in Black feminist thinking.
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.