Category Archives: Safe Spaces

Anyone Can Be An Aggressor

First of all, this is one of the most thorough articles I have ever read regarding dance etiquette. I think it’s great, but I ran into one problem. It’s a problem I normally have when reading similar articles – I assume the aggressor is male and/or performing the leader role. From experience, I can share that isn’t always the case.

Let’s take Number Five : How to Read Body Language and Nonverbal Cues.
– I have had followers press their head uncomfortably against mine to the point that I had to start leading open embrace and position moves in blues.
– I have had to find other points of contact while leading swingouts because an outfit was drenched in sweat or there was enough bare skin that I felt my touch might be uncomfortable. If I couldn’t find better contact points, I led patterns that didn’t require touching the follower’s back.
– I have had followers uncomfortably stroke my arm, shoulder and upper back. I did my best not to provide additional opportunities.
– Sometimes when followers would connect too heavily, I would extremely lighten the connection or lead with much less momentum.

Please be aware that these cues the author writes about can be expressed by anyone.

Pro Tip: Don’t Presume

From a Facebook post: “Pro tip for new dancers: Please do not walk up to random women and say ‘Since you were just standing there, I figured you might as well teach me!'”

This unfortunately happened at Wednesday Night Hop the other evening. What bothers me most is the way this person presented their desire. His approach removed consent and is not condoned by our organization.

We have staff that will facilitate end goals such as learning a new move (teachers during the lessons), acquiring a drink (bar staff), dancing to a song (requesting via the DJ), or knowing where our class series are held (front door staff). However, we still expect our attendees to be polite, to not presume, and to ask questions that allow a “yes,” “no” or further information.

It illustrates why we must continue integrating consent into our 6-week sessions and drop-in classes at WNH along with the importance of hosting our first scene-wide Pro-Social Behavior Workshop March 3. It’s also why we’ll have this awesome dance etiquette illustration at our events.

Asking for Resources

The other night, a local teacher decided to text Kenny with several thought-provoking questions in regards to our Pro-Social Behavior Workshop. They declined the opportunity for a meeting, but from the tone of their message, it sounded like they wanted to know why we’re doing this workshop and how they could be at the forefront of taking care of their students and dancers.

First, the very reason we’re hiring The Blue Bench is to educate ourselves and provide an opportunity for others to be educated and feel empowered. Our swing scene needs this. Local and national dancers have taken note of what we’re doing. We’re also doing this so we can train our staff in this very important topic. That includes our regular staff, performers, and volunteers.

Regarding how to be at the forefront, part of it is watching your local peers and paying attention to national swing scene discussions. I found The Blue Bench when I discovered Krister Shalm at Boulder Swing Dance arranged staff training through MESA, the Boulder-equivalent to The Blue Bench. From our staff training and knowing about a town hall discussion that happened in Atlanta, providing something for our local scene has been on the forefront of our mind. Only until I asked Chelsea Rothschild to take lead did this workshop materialize. I wasn’t going to make it happen on my own.

That leads into another topic – asking for help. We don’t hold all the answers. For example, we have to get many more volunteers for our new dance nights. From paying attention to social media, I know Fort Collins Swing Dance, especially Angela Huxel, so I asked for help and advice. Ask for help. With topics as important as sexual assault, safe spaces, and consent, I like to think we’re there for each other.

The Strawman, Confrontation and Meetings

The same day that I announced our Pro-Social Behavior Workshop, I also happened to notice the image of someone accused of a serious Code of Conduct violating prominently displayed on someone’s Facebook page. I asked the two people I knew with editing abilities to remove that image.

I had no expectations, but thought I would ask. The first person did remove the image once they realized they had those abilities. The second person responded with confusion (“what are you talking about?”) because it had already been removed after they checked. I informed them of this fact, happy something positive had been done.

Come to find out, the second person wasn’t done with me. They must have thought my request was an attack on them because they immediately texted me back with a personal complaint against me. I deleted our message thread, but thought better of it, texting back with “You’re welcome to set up a meeting with me to address your concerns, [name removed]. Email is preferred. Thanks”

Then they chose to escalate the matters, accusing me of a position I don’t hold. According to this article, “In the straw man fallacy, someone attacks a position the opponent doesn’t really hold. Instead of contending with the actual argument, he or she instead attacks the equivalent of a lifeless bundle of straw, an easily defeated effigy, which the opponent never intended upon defending anyway.”

The strange thing that I struggle with is that an actual argument didn’t exist. Not only did this scene leader manufacture an argument, but they conjured a strawman when I offered a one-on-one meeting to work things out. They then asked me to stop contacting them and blocked me on Facebook later that evening. Not only did they create a false position for me to try defending, they removed any agency I had for reaching out to them.

Here’s my takeaway. From my experience, if you want to get something done, call the person or arrange a meeting. Be willing to speak with the person and listen to their experience because it is unique to them. Their truth may not be your truth, but it doesn’t make invalidate their opinion. You might have to work harder to understand them. When you begin answering their questions or concerns, be patient and thorough. Know that rarely does a person want to be confronted with an ugly truth including you.

I believe personal is better. Tones can get muddied on other electronic forms and sometimes we forget that this person is real and not their online avatar.

Teachers & Social Dancing

This post is inspired by Asa Heedman post and Sam’s subsequent blog post. My response was inspired by what Sam wrote: “So when i read that some teachers charge for social dancing, i ask myself, “what experiences have led them to this action?”” Since no one has really cared to ask why, here are some examples from my life as a traveling instructor.

Here are situations I’ve been in that would make me add a social dancing payment element:
– Recent grade 1 ankle sprain where I taught 4-5 hours of lindy hop & blues and was teaching aerials the next day.
– Balboa dance featuring non-swing music
– Dance night featuring bad swing remixes, electroswing, and too much fast music after teaching 4-5 hours
– Smoking inside the dance venues
– Not a native speaker and shy combined with the need for downtime after giving so much in earlier classes
– Going straight from teaching to walking around forever for food and then straight to the dance

One organizer said they like me as a teacher but would never hire me since I don’t dance enough with the students. This was after teaching all day, wandering around for food, in a country where I barely speak with the language, where students would hardly engage me, where I didn’t get downtime before the dance and had to teach again the next day.

Another organizer inserted a social dancing clause into one of our contracts. I can’t find it the original contract, but I knew the organizer and they did it in a nice way with reasonable expectations.

Other organizers have thought I don’t social dance enough. At this point, I’ve been swing dancing for 20 years. I no longer have the boundless enthusiasm nor the insatiable lust to dance that others do. I admire those people and have no idea how they do it.

I still enjoy dancing and love music that inspires me. It just gets especially exhausting when I have to find inspiration deep inside me to share with my partner and the music when I just did this for 5 hours.

That is why I’ve used these difficult experiences to construct a contract that I like that takes care of me and my teaching partner. Happy teacher = great event = rewarded students.

Be Awkward

Don’t be awkward. Don’t make a scene. How many times have you allowed your physical boundaries to be violated to avoid an awkward aftermath? Not saying “no” to a dance you don’t want to have now, with this person, at the moment. Playing off someone’s unwanted physical touch as “oh, that’s just our broken step. We ignore it and step over it.”

This Atlantic article resonated with me as I reflected on situations I’ve been in and on our swing scene, locally and internationally. I feel that sometimes we are too polite, too unwilling to make a disturbance. But what if we told someone that their touch was unwanted instead of suffering it? What if repeated our “no” even when the person brushed it off with an “oh, that’s just who I am” statement? What if your friends stepped in to reinforce your boundaries?

Make things weird and uncomfortable, folks.

Self-Deception & CoC

As safe space leaders in the community, we have to unfortunately deal with some individuals that don’t accept the consequences of their actions or refuse to believe they did anything wrong. From doing some research, I think some people practice self-deception. This article can explain it much better than I can.

We just wiped our hands clean (for now) of one individual we believe is practicing self-deception. It’s the only way we can make sense of their avoidance of facts that paint them in a negative light or shake up their core beliefs. One belief was that they were always a welcoming person. When I shared with them an example when they intimidated a party planner into dis-inviting me and blocking from me from attending, they blamed me and insisted they did nothing wrong.

Be wary of these people. Some self-deception can be good, but it may eventually cause harm.

Question on Possible Perpetrator Restrictions

In a world where 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, is it enough for dance venues to restrict known perpetrators of sexual violence to just dancing with people they know? It’s a valid question especially when some venues don’t want to ban someone without incontrovertible proof such as a firsthand account from the survivor, a legal conviction or restraining order.

I get that. I can understand that. What I don’t quite understand is desiring an accused perpetrator’s attendance over a survivor’s attendance?

Graceful Exit

Recently I received some advice on a business situation. That advice was to provide a graceful and amicable way out in this particular business dealing. Unfortunately for me, I had to apply that knowledge even more recently when an organizer found themselves in an impossible position to continue working with me though they wanted to. Life goes on because I want them to succeed.

Well, how can this apply to social dancing? When I ask someone to dance, I minimize my expectations of what the person being asked might say. They might say “no,” they might say “yes,” they might say either with a qualification. Regardless, I’ll respect their answer and move on. This allows them a graceful acceptance or exit. By modeling this, hopefully you’d experience the same when responding to someone’s inquiry about dancing a song.