Tuesday, July 30, 2013

053 : Sexism, Lindy Hop, and Equality of Connection...

There is a girl writing a blog about lindy hop. I guess it's popular, because it pops up on Facebook and what not. I assume she's famous, because I have heard her name 'round about. However, I don't actively read her blog, and this response is only about her most recent posts. She wrote three posts about sexism, common issues within lindy hop, and equality of connection.

So I'm just going to tell you, she is 100% right. Everything she's said is completely true. Lindy hop is a sexist, lead-centric institution. I've talked about this before in my post about the myth of back leading. My point in that post was not only to point out something that I feel doesn't exist but also to highlight just how lead-centric our community is.

In the post about connection, the author speaks very well about dance and movement. I was really impressed. The problem with the majority of the swing scene is a lack of training. Most swing dancers begin talking about dance, attempting a technical conversation, when they have no background in dance and no training. They don't know what they're talking about and they are attempting to delve into a subject that is far too complicated and over their heads. (And the instructors aren't trained, and no one is trained, and it's just a lack of education.) This lack of education and training is evident in the comments on these posts. So I just wanted to respond to some of the fear I'm seeing (and also state that the author is 100% correct, everything she said was true, there isn't really any room for argument there).

1. Equality of connection will destroy the dance because WHO WILL LEAD AND WHO WILL FOLLOW??? I'm seeing a lot of this, so let's just be clear : lindy hop has swing outs and swing circles and its core and those two pieces of the dance will always follow a lead/follow structure. Let's just accept that basic truth and move on. But I think there is this central fallacy that leads initiate a move with a specific outcome. So look, you begin an outside turn and what...she stops and walks away and suddenly starts dancing the twist without you? That's not going to happen. But maybe you will initiate what you think is a double-spin and she will only spin once and then continue moving in your direction, taking two steps or a triple-step to stay on the same footing. This stuff is fine.

Why do leads think there must be one reaction to their initiation? Because we are engaging in a sexist institution. And the thing is, that's putting our dance in a specific box that says, "Leads are the only people in this dance who can interpret the music and show original creative thought. Follows can style only inside that box." But that's wrong. Look, a follow can hang out at the end of a swing out, take more time, come in on the 1 or hang back on the 3. There are so many things that a follow can do, including taking the lead over, that I can't even begin to list all of them here. And all of this is FUN! Maybe it's surprising when you think one thing will happen and something else does, but that is FUN. So, instead of getting all, "OMG, SHE DIDN'T DO WHAT I WANTED!", just watch what she's doing and respond to that. (Gendered language used on purpose.)

2. Lindy hop needs to have gendered roles because FRANKIE DEMANDED IT (or some other reason)! Ok, this is not popular, but it's real, Frankie is dead. There, I said it. Let the hate begin. But my point is, why are we holding on to what we think were maybe his beliefs? Or why are we holding onto the idea that swivels look best on ladies because hips and skirts! Why do we feel like there has to be a masculine and a feminine role or energy within the dance. We don't need to hold onto these ideas because they are not true. And because we cannot stuff Frankie's body and put it in a glass case and have him watch over all of our dances so that we are doing it EXACTLY AS HE WOULD (which we wouldn't be able to do, since we're not him). At some point we have to stop holding on to these old ideals and begin to create a dance that is ours.

3. We can't expect too much from our beginners, because it is too difficult for them to understand and to learn. I've always had a problem with this idea, like we can't teach our beginners a basic that includes swivels, because swivels are complicated and a basic without swivels is easier to digest. I equate it to learning how to do a back flip. You learn the beginning and the end, but nobody can pick you up and carry you through the middle. And yeah, you might fall on your ass, but eventually, you're just going to have to try to fly through the air. The idea that dance has to be taught in these simple ways because that's the only way to accomplish them is an idea perpetuated by untrained dancers. It is not better to teach steps and then later to teach connection. In fact, that's more like putting the cart before the horse. It's better to teach connection and then to teach steps, because connection is integral and should be more innate while steps are more difficult and require more thought (and the way people process learning steps varies greatly, moreso than learning connection). It's why I've come to the conclusion that all swing dancers should start with blues. Learning connection with no steps removes a lot of the fear inherent in learning these dances. Learning connection without steps teaches trust, inhibition, and creativity first...and then steps can just follow, and they will.

And now, VIDEOS!

Here is an example of classically sexist lindy hop that goes against all of the posts linked here and this one I'm writing now. Within this dance, you see the follow styling, but only where there is room for her to do so. She doesn't have a true voice, only limited space within the dance to express herself. You can see that this is a popular style, with all of the swivels being the same with a classic blues drag sort of dip, even with a lift. But all of these happen within space left by the leader and the rest of the time, she is expected to follow through with his ideas. This is what we learn in lessons. And in fact, you see they synchopate in a very practiced, rehearsed way...just as we all learn to do within lessons where we're taught exactly where and when to style. This type of dancing leads to the expectation that a lead is the boss and communicates the big ideas and also creates follows who can't style outside of the bounds of specifically taught movement. In short, it sucks. (I mean, it's pretty but it's so lead-centric and just boring.)

This is an example of a dance with equality of connection. Ok, these types of videos are hard to find, so I went to my own archives. The music is TERRIBLE. That has to be the worst "swing" band I've ever heard. But you'll notice that Voon (boy) and Claire (girl) are very equal and free in the dance. Claire begins leading with Voon following, but then Voon takes the lead very smoothly and later gives it back to Claire. While leading, Voon does a Charleston move that Claire picks up on and tries to change the dance and Voon either misses it or doesn't want to so the dance goes in another direction. They don't work to match their styling perfectly because they aren't worried about any of the standards. It is possible to have this dance to better music and have it look even better. This is equality of connection and I experience it on occasion with various men and women in the U.S. and it's AWESOME.

You should know that you can argue with me in the comments, but I'm not having any of it. Because unless I know you're classically trained (and I will know), I basically don't trust that you have any education to back up your argument. This is not about a conversation where I think there are differing opinions. It's me saying, "STOP FUCKING ARGUING AND LEARN SOMETHING NEW, DAMMIT!" Because honestly, I'm tired of the sexist world we've created and I want equality and change.

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