Although the Lindy Hop world is mostly very friendly and happy, it, like the rest of the world, is not immune to incidences of inappropriate behaviour.
However, putting our code or another, similar code of conduct on a website alone isn’t the answer, codes are simply tools to use alongside other community actions.
Here we give suggestions on positive actions, ways to use a written code in the real world (and why no code should be set in stone), and talk about why be we believe the discussion on safer dance spaces is necessary.
Teachers and organisers can learn to spot potential issues before they arise and thus, minimise the number of incidents within our community. By acting on feedback and reports from dancers, staff, and teachers alike, we can even prevent further occurrences.
We can also work towards changing the aspects of Swing dance culture that have contributed to an environment where inappropriate behaviours can thrive and by making our safety work sufficiently visible, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of sex, gender and/our dance role knows how to access support when required.
If you or your dance organisation has, in the past, behaved in some of the ways we critique below, please don’t feel under attack. Most, if not all of us have unintentionally contributed to the current culture in some way, and this is not an exercise in apportioning blame, but a chance for self reflection, and an opportunity for positive change.
This is a real problem. Even the more serious incidents (sexual assaults and rape) in the Lindy Hop scene have
- already happened
- in the UK, not just elsewhere
- recently as well as in the past
- regardless of the size of the scene and the age of the scene
- several times – Sarah Sullivan’s story is not an isolated incident. In the past 15 years, at least three cases involving notable international figures have resulted in criminal convictions.
- abusers don’t wear a sign, but are likely someone known to you.
- most incidents are not reported, nor talked about. This is why prevention is so important.
What can we do?
Prevention, Part 1 – Dance lessons and classes should include:
- Proper, respectful holds and where is appropriate to touch (i.e. hands, arms, shoulders & backs).
- The importance of adjusting the way we dance to suit each dance partner.
- The concept of active following (as opposed to passive obedience), and that the aim is for both dancers to influence the dance. Keep in mind that lead/follow roles aren’t gender specific, and don’t allow the personal choice of the individual dancer to be overruled by the number of people choosing each role. If the lead/follow ratio at a drop in class is unbalanced, just rotate as often as possible (this will be dependent on the material being taught) and encourage those that are standing out to practice while they wait. Don’t place unnecessary pressure on either dance role, example: ‘It’s always the Leads fault’ or devalue either role, example: ‘Follows must do as they are told’. See the Summary of Discussions document for more on these topics.
- Equal voice time for Leader and Follower teachers and lesson material aimed at leader AND follower students.
Don’t use inappropriate language or turns of phrase – the odd accidental expletive arising from a mistake, when teaching adults, isn’t necessarily a problem, but it might be for some of your students. Do acknowledge that not everyone wants to hear vulgarities and follow up, for example ‘S**t! Woops! Sorry, I meant ‘Shoot!’ etc. It’s far less acceptable, however, to make purposeful sex-related jokes or comments, for instance, using the terms ‘boy on boy’ or ‘girl on girl’ (pop culture terms for specific adult entertainment genres) to describe same sex dancing is distasteful at best and adding to the Swing dance scene’s current issues, at worst.
- Proper responses (apologies) for accidental touching as well as collisions.
- Why it’s important to ask others to dance (regardless of sex, gender or skill level) and not wait to be asked.
- Our right to speak up – promoting an inclusive scene IS important, but it does not override the wellbeing of individuals. Therefore, a polite ‘no thank you’ is an acceptable response to anyone asking to dance, and no reason needs to be provided. Additionally during a dance it is our right to politely ask for a different hold, more space, less spins etc, or to stop the dance completely.
Prevention, Part 2 – Elsewhere and in general:
- Organisers should pay attention and be aware of what’s going on in the room. For example, while you are DJing, talking with people or dancing, have a look around to see if people look happy. Is someone alone? Does someone look uncomfortable dancing or talking with another person? Is someone trying to approach you? Take the initiative, go over and just say, “Hi, you OK?”
- Staff should be recognisable (consider name badges, posters with photos, or similar) and approachable.
- Do not advertise or promote partner dance using questionable tactics such as, ‘Men that dance are more attractive to women’ or that dancers ‘always say yes’. Consider how your bookings policies contribute to an unhealthy environment, for instance offering tickets to Single Leads and Couples only seems like a sensible way to control the Lead/Follow ratio with minimum organiser involvement and effort. However, in practice, it results in Follows having to chase around to find Leads willing to book with them. Solo Leads are able to leave their own booking decisions to the very last minute, a luxury that is only available to Followers by participating in the unreliable peer-to-peer secondary market. This adds to the perception that Followers are not as valued as Leaders are within the dance community, and it denies Followers their independence.
- Encourage dancers of the same role to get to know each other and to make friends within the scene. Consider ways of spending time in non-dance environment, so that people can talk. Friendships contribute to a stronger, friendlier scene.
- Discourage hero worship and encourage equality across levels and roles.
- Ensure all dancers, staff, organisers, teachers and visiting teachers adhere to a code of conduct, and that it is equally enforced, regardless of status.
- Make your code of conduct part of the contractual process when employing outside teachers.
Dealing with complaints and incidents:
* Nominate ‘Safety People’ – ideally, provide at least two (male and female) people that are available to hear reports and/or complaints, both in person at events and via email (or a feedback form on a website). Offer the opportunity to contact ‘Safety People’ in other groups and scenes to ensure that no-one is above the complaints procedure.
*Treat any complaints received seriously. Be supportive and non-judgemental and ask what the person making the report would like to happen next (most occurrences will only require a chat and a warning, but be sensitive to the needs of the person making the report).
*Record incidents – Keep a log. What happened? When? Who reported it? To whom? Take contact details, and make notes on what action was taken, and what was agreed. If possible ask the person (person A) bringing the matter to you to sign the log. Give reassurances that reports will be dealt with in strictest confidence and that they can remain anonymous if they choose.
*Approach the other party (person B): Speak to them, be sure to hear their side. Give advice on proper conduct, and talk about their behaviour, rather than accusing the person. Consider implementing a 3-strike warning system for lesser incidences. Decide: Does the incident need follow-up? Does the organiser need to call the police? If the incident is between two adults, it is Person A’s decision to make a police report, but if the adult is perceived to be vulnerable, or Person A is under 18, the person hearing the report must make decisions based on proper safeguarding practice. This may mean your nominated Safety People will benefit from external training, or other expert advice. If repeat incidences occur, and a third strike is given, Person B can be banned from classes and events etc.
*If no acceptable resolution is found, a neighbouring STEPS group can be approached for advice and/or arbitration, the approach can be made by Person A, Person B, or the Safety Person responding to the report.
*Make sure your dancers are aware that Safety People are also available for informal chats and reassurances – these kinds of conversations do not need to be logged, and may help to prevent the spread of gossip.
Under 18s. The STEPS code is not designed with minors in mind. Organisers that run events welcoming children are individually responsible for adding appropriate clauses to their codes. Licensed venues should be consulted before admission of under 18s is granted and under 18s will need to be supervised by parent or guardian at adult orientated events. Dance teachers going into schools or visiting other children’s groups must always ensure they comply with the rules of the club or institution re:safeguarding, including rules on DBS (formerly known as CRB) checks and other references.
If your group or organisation is an employer: In the instance of staff that have been dismissed due to safeguarding issues there may be an obligation to make a report to DBS or the Charities Commission (dependent on the registered status, business or society/charity). It is up to an individual organisation to seek clarification from the appropriate external body as necessary.
How can organisers respond to reports of code transgressions?
The following examples are here as a guide only. Each scene has it’s own character, and each person reporting may have specific requests. There are no definitive answers, but serious transgressions need to be considered in accordance with the law.
Person A comes to you with a complaint about Person B concerning:
* A regular dance move that made Person A feel uncomfortable: Ask why Person A felt uncomfortable? If it was due to personal boundaries (such as too many spins or dips) empower Person A to tell their dance partners when they are uncomfortable, and help them to communicate their needs and preferences. Consider ways to teach these skills to everyone in classes. Consider informing Person B, but only so they can better understand Person A. No warning or sanctions necessary.
* A dance move that involved some potentially inappropriate touching: e.g. swipe of private areas or holding on too long at end of dance. Discuss possibility of technical dance error as well as it being inappropriate. Ask Person A what kind of response they think is appropriate, either keeping eye on Person B’s dancing/behaviour and/or talking to them. Keep Person A anonymous if they wish. Log the complaint. If they ask you to speak directly to Person B, go over the technical aspects of the move. Issue a warning (3 strikes approach) if you believe touching was purposeful, not accidental. Include ways to avoid accidental swiping (and how to apologise when it does happen) in your teaching curriculum.
* You receive anonymous reports about Person B touching people inappropriately: Talk to Person B, explain about appropriate holds etc and their need to respect personal space. Keep an eye on them. Consider issuing a formal warning via a 3-strike system. Log the complaint, but be aware that anonymous reports that cannot be verified may, rarely, be another form of harassment.
* Reports of more serious transgressions, including illegal activity: Support Person A, take them seriously. Ask if they want to contact the police, respect their choices. Offer anonymity. Provide details of support available locally and/or nationally. Talk with B (right of recourse must always be given, take another person along if worried) and consider 3-strike system. Log the complaint. If serious (and verifiable) consider outright ban, but appropriate action may vary dependent on the type of transgression. Be open to consulting other Safety People and outside professional agencies to ensure that you are making the most appropriate decision on the available information, in the specific situation.
When logging complaints, make sure that both parties are aware of the log, and inform them as to who is able to view it.
Please note: If there has been a police investigation into the reported matter, and that investigation has been closed, due process has already been followed and organisers should follow the directive given by the police.
If a Safety Person is unsure which approach is appropriate, they can consult with other Safety People on the List on contacts (keeping names confidential, when appropriate)