The STEPS code and the Safety In Swing Dance website is a local response to the global discussions taking place within the Lindy Hop community.
The following document is a summary of ideas and viewpoints compiled from public discussion on the Chester Swing Dance Society Facebook Group (in response to Sarah Sullivan’s blog post, see main resource page for direct link) in January/February 2015. After this time the first draft of the code and website were published and the ongoing discussion moved to a dedicated Facebook group. Everyone is welcome to join and participate.
Participants included event organisers, teachers and dancers from Manchester (Manchester Lindy and Would You Dance?) Hull (Kingston Swing), Leeds (Teapots and Twirls and LU Swing Soc), Liverpool (Mersey Swing), Lancaster (Lancaster Lindy Circle), Sheffield (Lindy Hop Sheffield) and of course, Chester (Chester Swing Dance Society and Chester University Swing Society). Many of the global blog posts listed on the resource page were shared and sited during our local discussions.
Summary of Discussions
What are the problematic behaviours in the Swing Dance scene?
Anything that makes a dance partner (or a bystander) feel uncomfortable or unsafe, this includes: physically dangerous dancing, poor floor craft (without apology) inappropriate language, sexual abuse including verbal abuse, touching without consent and deliberate touching of sexual parts and the manipulative, power exploiting behaviours that make physical and sexual abuse possible.
Cases of physical violence are not often seen, but are added to the problematic behaviours list here for the sake of completeness.
What has contributed to an environment where these behaviours are possible?
*Partner dancing had its heyday at a point in time when women were not considered equal to men and there is considerable residual baggage from that era that needs to be addressed.
*The assertion that a person must always accept an invitation to dance without question has left individuals without agency and contributed to a false sense of entitlement.
*Partner dancing involves touching other people, including total strangers.
*Hero worship of teachers, scene leaders and talented dancers has allowed some poor behaviours to go unchallenged.
*A lack of natural opportunity to meet those that dance the same role has lead to isolation and vulnerability
*Partner dancing in general and Lindy Hop in particular attract intelligent, introverted people that sometimes struggle with social interaction.
*The popularity of the myth, ‘abuse does not happen within the Swing Dance community’
*Until now, codes of conduct have only been implied.
What can teachers, organisers and scene leaders do to change this?
*Actively dismantle outdated ideas, particularly those involving gender. Promote the concept of active following (as opposed to passive obedience), and that the aim is for both dancers to influence the dance. Be sensitive to the use of pronouns in class, and encourage dancers to try both roles but don’t force anyone to dance in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, instead try and lead by example. Challenge the prejudices around same sex dancing (two men dancing together is not ‘a waste’, two women dancing together are not ‘leftovers’). Don’t advertise or promote partner dance using questionable tactics such as, ‘Men that dance are more attractive to women’ or that women dancers ‘always say yes’. Don’t imply that consent to touch on the dance floor leads to consent to touch off the dance floor. Teach classes that contain material aimed at leads AND follows. Encourage women teachers to speak in class, and not be silent assistants. Encourage women to teach alone. Encourage female students to ask questions and be active participants in the classroom. Encourage everyone to ask others to dance (regardless of sex, gender or skill level) and not wait to be asked.
*Stop telling new dancers that they are expected to accept every invitation to dance. Instead, support the right to say no. Remind people that the refusal of a dance is not usually for personal reasons, and the best way to respond to a declined invitation is by moving on and asking someone else. Talk about this in classes and online.
*Address accidental touching in class (ie, teach that following the leaders sternum can stop accidental chest area swipes in swing outs). Encourage verbal apologies when accidents happen, as opposed to embarrassed silence. Talk about this in class and online.
*Teach floor craft in class. Apologise if you bump another person on the dance floor, apologise if you bump your dance partner, encourage others to do the same. Make sure people feel able to stop a dance if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Observe the floor (good job for DJ?) be vigilant. Intervene if necessary. Ask people if they are ok if you’ve seen them looking unhappy while dancing.
*Talk about the importance of adjusting the way we dance to suit each dance partner, especially in class. For leaders, this may involve, for example, choosing simpler moves for beginner follows, and leaving space for improvisation for advanced follows. For followers, for example, this may involve simplifying (or omitting) footwork variations. Again, lead by example.
*Talk to those that dance the same primary role as you, introduce follows to follows and leads to leads. Consider workshops such as Sugabomb, or solo single sex dance troupes, and non dancing social outings and gatherings.
*Discourage hero worship, talk about top dancer’s skills, rather than about them personally, make sure both people in a dance partnership are referred to by name (not ‘and partner’). Give honest compliments to all levels of dancer, both individually and in class. Locally, encourage people of all levels to ask each other to dance, and again, lead by example.
*Be self reflective, consider your own role in the creation of this favourable environment, and how power and status within your own scene has affected your personal behaviour. Make a conscious effort to address any past issues and to move forward in a more responsible manner.
*Set and publish clear codes of conduct.
*Ensure all organisers, teachers and visiting teachers adhere to the code of conduct, and that it is equally enforced, regardless of status
*Formalise a complaints procedure and have strategies for dealing with confidential information. Include an option for contacting someone outside of the immediate scene, give the option for contacting a man or a woman. Seek training on how to sensitively respond to complaints and how to support survivors of abuse. Follow up complaints in an appropriate manner, and inform the person reporting the problem of the eventual outcome.
*Ensure that all complaints are treated seriously and respectfully, regardless of the sex or gender of the people involved.
*Create an easy to understand shortened code that can be supplied to those who may struggle to digest the standard code. Organisers should try and ascertain the particular needs of any vulnerable adults in the community, and take steps to ensure their inclusion
*Organisers that run events that welcome children should add appropriate clauses to their codes.
Licensed venues should be consulted before admission of under 18’s is granted.
Under 18s to be supervised by parent or guardian at adult orientated events.
Teachers going into schools etc should ensure they comply with the rules of the club or institution re:safeguarding, including rules on CRB checks and other references.
What can dancers do to change this?
*Talk to those that dance your primary role, especially new dancers
*Report inappropriate behaviour that you’ve experienced or witnessed
*Encourage and support your friends so they too can report inappropriate behaviour
*Say no, politely, if you do not wish to accept an invitation to dance
*Ask people to dance, and be gracious if they refuse
*If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable mid dance, ask your partner to stop the behaviour. If they refuse, stop dancing and leave the floor.
*Try both dance roles
*Aim to be an active follower and/or a reciprocating leader
*if you see someone do a cool move or think they have great style, tell them, don’t reserve compliments for advanced dancers.
*Don’t give unsolicited dance feedback.
*Apologise if you bump another person on the dance floor, apologise if you bump your dance partner. Apologise if you accidentally touch an area of the body that is private, sexual, or just totally out of the realm of legitimate holds or moves of the dance you are participating in.
*If anyone tells you that your actions are hurting them or making them uncomfortable, stop it, and thank them for telling you. Seek advice from teachers and organisers on how to prevent repeating these actions.
*Remember, it is the actions of individuals that set the tone for a whole group
*Find out who is in charge of the event you are attending as soon as you arrive (or before)
*Try to adjust the way you dance to suit each dance partner. For leaders, this may involve, for example, choosing simpler moves for beginner follows, and leaving space for improvisation for advanced follows. Some followers will prefer not to be led in dips or multiple spins, so be sensitive to this.
For followers, for example, this may involve simplifying (or omitting) footwork variations.
*Don’t perform aerials on the social dance floor (jam circles may be an exception, check with the organisers). Don’t attempt to lead follows into aerials without warning, and considerable prior rehearsal.
*if your local scene or group does not have a published code of conduct, ask them if they will consider one and offer to show them examples of currently existing codes