This list of questions was written by a teacher of Library and Information Science and Africana Studies in New York City public schools. Julia is a Lindy Hopper with the Harlem Swing Dance Society and was asked by the Frankie Manning Foundation to assist in responding to a request from the Swing community in Greece, to help them make their events more inclusive of African Americans. We have used Julia’s set of questions to reflect upon our own community values, to ensure we hold ourselves accountable. As self-reflection and accountability are vital on this journey to a more inclusive dance scene, we thought it would be helpful for us to share our current responses to these questions and invite our community to be part of the process.
1. Do I actively recognize that Lindy Hop is a Black art form? Is that recognition and acceptance represented in the way that I run dance events, classes, and overall dance scene?
Swing Patrol actively recognises and acknowledges that Lindy Hop was and remains to this day a Black art form. We are really proud of our team, many of whom are already active in educating themselves about and advocating for this recognition.
Our Swing Patrol College programmes and larger weekend events have an historical reflection or knowledge sharing element already built in. In future, we will ensure that all of our teachers are better versed in the history of the dance and that our events (big or small) acknowledge the historical roots of the dance. We aim to embed historical teaching into the general syllabus, and incorporate it into the social media/marketing of our events. When an event includes an MC, it will be part of their responsibilities to include reference to historical context. Our teaching team and Festival organisers will commit to their responsibility of ensuring that the dance we love is correctly represented. We strive for a holistic approach that allows all members of our community to be included in ongoing education, and that every step we take honours the original dancers that allow us to enjoy this amazing art form. We will be louder and more visible in our commitment to this.
2. Am I comfortable dealing with or discussing race matters? If not, am I in a partnership with someone else that is?
We have had discussions about race, specifically about how we can best acknowledge white privilege and act in a positive way, for a number of years. We are proud of so many of our team who have done so much personal research on this topic and thank them for sharing their knowledge with us. These conversations will continue.
We also acknowledge room for improvement. We are examining how to have these discussions in a proactive way that promotes continuous education and harmony. We look for the areas and ways that we need to do better and commit to action.
Hosting Norma Miller in London was such an enlightening time for our London community as, during the Norma interviews, so much of the content was about race matters. We recently worked with Lindy Hopper and Indigenous Rights Activist Inala Cooper in the pursuit of learning how we can address these issues specifically in an Australian context. We want to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, but we welcome the dialogue to keep this topic on our radar. These two events were practical ways for us to learn directly from those with lived experience of race inequality and share their insights with our community.
3. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified bands or orchestras that are led by or include Black musicians and singers?
We acknowledge that we have not always prioritised this in our events or festivals. We commit to tasking our Diversity & Belonging Committee to research the best way forward on this topic. We will also put this important question to our community, our troupe dancers, teachers and the artists with whom we work, as we work towards achieving this for events held in Melbourne, Sydney, London and Brighton.
4. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black instructors on all levels?
We are proud to have hired a diversity of teachers over past years, including people of colour and teachers from every continent. We will endeavour to be more proactive and ensure it’s discussed before any further teachers are booked.
5. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black DJs for my events or to cover band breaks?
Our ability to do this has been influenced by the country where the event is taking place. In future, we will actively work to change the existing imbalance in DJ lists. We acknowledge that this is not something that will be addressed easily but small steps now will effect change in the future. We would love to implement a training programme to foster more diversity in our DJ team and encourage anyone interested to contact us.
6. Does my event’s attendance (instructors, bands, audience, dancers) reflect the diverse populations of the world? If not, do I have a plan in place to make my event more welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds?
London is a diverse city and one of the strengths of the scene is the diversity of our community. We have quietly and actively been working on broadening attendance with a number of specific projects, and by identifying key people for a variety of roles.
Australia has bigger challenges as it is a young country with a legacy of colonial policies that has resulted in a comparatively white population. We are in the process of meeting key people who want to see change and have constructive ideas for ways forward in the two cities we hold events, Sydney and Melbourne. Our Australian Diversity & Belonging Committee, along with a Community Engagement Practitioner, have assisted us in understanding how we can take some positive steps forward.
7. Does the way that Lindy Hop is danced in my community look and feel like the original?
We are mainly striving to ensure our dancers have the spirit of the dance. It’s the spirit that Frankie talked about when we hosted him in Melbourne, and that is what we have always championed. We will create more awareness within our teaching team and highlight their responsibility to promote and recognise the historical roots of the dance and the original Black dancers.
8. Do I want to gain knowledge and do I seek out understanding about the African American experience? What about the dance history?
We acknowledge that racism exists everywhere, not just in the US. We need to be more conscious of giving support to Black dancers and being an ally to African American dancers in their struggle against systemic racism and the whitewashing of their art forms. We acknowledge that everyone has implicit biases. We are committed to listening to and uplifting the voices of Black and African American dancers. This is also true for the LGBTQI+ communities, older dancers, dancers with disabilities, and people who are new to swing dancing.
The following statement comes from an article by Sinead McGrath titled “What my fellow white swing dancers can do to address systemic racism and support black dancers”, and is one of many similar articles that have inspired us to do better:
We will read Black history and the history of jazz and blues. Listen to the totality of an artist’s songbook, acknowledge the political songs and the songs which highlight suffering and oppression. Watch documentaries and listen to podcasts and engage in discussions face to face. We will think carefully about how we design dance curriculum and its relationship to Black history.
9. Do I hire staff that have been vetted for non-discriminatory practices in the scene?
We have always said that our growth relies on choosing great people. In our eyes, great people are those who embrace diversity and align with our values of respect, kindness and empathy. We are responsive to community concerns regarding the suitability of dancers/instructors to be part of our events. In future, we will be asking teachers to sign a form acknowledging that they will be proactive in ensuring our community adheres to these values. To the best of our ability, we will also ensure that we check the past conduct of any new staff to ensure they align with Swing Patrol values.
10. Do I invite constructive responses for policy and programs to address racial inequities within my events?
We love constructive responses and have had valuable dialogue with many amazing Lindy Hoppers on these topics. We strongly advocate for education and discussion, as we know from personal experiences that this is what has made our family of dancers a more educated and progressive group.
11. Do I invite local dance communities of non-whites to events?
This is a question we know requires more thought, and our Diversity & Belonging Committee are considering it. We have actively chosen to teach in parts of London & Melbourne that we hope will allow for increased diversity in our community. This will be an ongoing challenge though, as the locations we teach in are dependent on the availability of trained teachers in the area.
12. Do I share resources with my community about the origins of the dance, Black history, biographies of the original dancers, jazz musicians, music collections, etc.?
We have resources listed on our websites and these can be added to as required. We try to highlight original dancers and musicians in our social media. Every Swing Patrol College programme has a history morning, and more concrete efforts will be made to ensure our new teachers can comfortably share the importance of the history of the dance in all classes.
Resources: Melbourne, Australia
13. Do I encourage my students to take field trips to venues or historical sites that represent the African American history or experience, especially those cities that are rich with the history?
From the relative distance of the UK and Australia, Swing Patrol has always celebrated our teachers and students who travel to America to experience swing dancing closer to its origins. We also try to foster knowledge of the history of jazz and important historical locations in the UK. For example, at a recent teacher get together, our team went on a Jazz history walk of London. We will endeavour to continue with that practice and encourage knowledge sharing events where those who have visited areas of rich African American history can bring their experiences to the broader community.
14. Am I committed to the long-term message of Black history and recognition, not just when the topic is trending?
We want to make an ongoing, sustainable impact that promotes long-term positive change. Right now, we are focussing on our systems, our approach to the dance and our training. Our focus may change at times, but our aim is to forge a way forward that will ensure that the long-term message of the importance of Black History is paramount, always. Some of our community post a lot on social media and create awareness, others donate quietly behind the scenes, and many choose a way that works for them and their practice. Our philosophy is that we all play a role in relation to this topic.
As part of our recognition that we dance an African American dance and that, in Australia, we dance on stolen lands, Swing Patrol is committed to regular donations to the Frankie Manning Foundation https://www.frankiemanningfoundation.org/mission/ and Pay The Rent https://paytherent.net.au/
15. Do I lead by example as a dance instructor by including history lessons as an integral part of my classes. For example; we all do the Shorty George but did you know that Shorty George was a Black man who danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem? Etc.
We have a teaching mandate that the history of the dance is mentioned in every class and every level. This is easier for our senior teachers, with years of practice, so we also undertake to share this knowledge more effectively with our newer teachers and ensure this plays a bigger part in our leading by example. As teachers of a Black art form we should all be well versed in the history of that art form and be comfortable in sharing that knowledge with our students, no matter their dance level or our teaching experience.
16. Do you invite lindy hoppers from earlier generations to participate and tell their history at your events? Ex: Mama Lou Parks Dancers, Harvest Moon Ball Competitors, and Savoy Dancers
We constantly share stories of the occasions Swing Patrol hosted Frankie Manning, Jean Veloz and Norma Miller. These are times that we cherish for the learning and knowledge afforded us. We also hosted a history chat before one of our Red Rhythm evenings, featuring Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas, who shared so much history with our community. We are always open to suggestions on the best people to invite and look forward to hosting more of these events where the earlier generations can share their insights, stories and experiences.
17. Do I pledge to welcome everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, body type, physical ability, and mental ability?
Yes. The Swing Patrol Code of Conduct states:
“This is a welcoming environment for everyone, regardless of race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, employment status, physical appearance, physical or mental ability.”
This statement is also included in various communications, to reinforce or commitment to diversity and belonging.
18. Do I encourage my students and fellow dancers to be open to dancing with everyone and to actively ask people of all kinds to dance? Especially those that might not get asked to dance very often? There should be no wallflowers!
This has always been a core principle of the Swing Patrol philosophy. We will be re-introducing a policy that encourages our teachers to dance with at least two newcomers at every social dance event they attend. With “stranger dances” and general awareness of the importance of welcoming new dancers, this will have a renewed focus across all our activities. We aim to lead by example.
We also support the concept of Scan The Room, as suggested by the community group Move Together: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice. It encourages active awareness of who is and isn’t present, who is and isn’t participating and all the social dynamics in between.
19. Do I encourage mentorships, trainings, or extra tutelage for any new Black dancers in my scene? Do you offer any financial sponsorship for African American students to attend your events or participate in other events?
We have quietly offered mentorship to many Black dancers over recent years. It’s been part of our work and continues in many parts of our community.
20. Am I willing to accept and embrace change even though it may change how I originally experienced the Lindy Hop community?
As a team, as a dance family and as individuals we are aware that we must change and educate ourselves constantly. We undertake to ensure dialogue continues and that we are part of positive change.