Reflections on Feminism & Follower-focused events

(Cross-posted to the Southern Belle Swing Blog.)

I’m so excited that we’ll be putting on our fourth annual Southern Belle Swing Bash this year. It’s hard to believe we’ve been going so long already! I remember how much of an impact the first year had on my own dancing, and every year I try to help craft a weekend that will help more followers to experience those kinds of breakthroughs.

This April I was lucky to get up to visit one of the other (many!) woman-centered jazz events that are now popping up all over, the Northeast Girl Jam. Jojo Jackson put together a stellar event, much like our own Southern Belle Swing Bash that first year (one big class for everybody, Nina Gilkenson & Naomi Uyama were two of their instructors), and it just reinforced for me that these events are really making a positive impact in so many ways.

One of my roles that weekend was to give a lunchtime film clip presentation of “Lady Jazz Dancers of the 20th Century.” As I got ready to give the presentation, I was reading over a printed statement that Jojo and Giselle Anguizola (organizer of the first California Girl Jam) had set out on the registration table, explaining their reasons for putting on girl jams. And reading their words, I felt inspired to do a little “preaching” during my presentation. I’ve always felt that there was a synergy between organizing Southern Belles and my personal commitment to feminism, and at that moment I thought: “Yes! This is it!” My opening remarks for the film clip presentation went something like this:

“So, you know how, as a community, we’re always trying to educate people about the innovators of Lindy Hop—Frankie Manning and Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, etc.—because we know that they haven’t gotten their due in wider society?”

[crowd: voices saying “yes,” some nods]

“And, you know why we have to do that, right?”

(hand puppet voice says) “Racism!” [some people chime in on this answer]

“That’s right, racism. They didn’t get the same respect and recognition that white dancers got because they were black.”

“So, why do you think it is that we know the names of so many of our male old-timers, and heck—even current day “rock stars”—and not their female partners? Think about it now…”

(hand puppet voice says) “Sexism!” [more people chiming in this time]

“Yep, that’s right. So what we’re doing at an event like this, at these girl jams, is to educate our own community (and everyone else) about women dancers who deserve respect and recognition that they’re not getting, the same way the Lindy Hop community is trying to educate the broad public about the innovators of our dance. So remember that, and next time you see the leaders’ names listed before the followers’ on a flyer or in a competition, maybe think about why that is.”

So. In retrospect, I think we had some successes and some stumbling blocks in bringing in a male instructor last year. (Peter did a great job, and we thank him for his support!) I’m a big believer in solidarity and I don’t think you can make the changes that we need to see without the support of our allies. Our volunteer leaders, for example! But there are some strong reasons for having all-female instructor line-ups. (One example: these women are invited by themselves to teach at a workshop “with the partner of their choice” less often than their male peers. Any why is that? What is it about the structure of “regular” workshops that might make that seem more practical? I have my own answers, but I’d be more interested in hearing yours.)

Therefore! This year we’ll be returning to our more traditional format, with three women instructors, but we do plan to bring in a “special guest” leader to assist in class and to give our volunteer guys some helpful tips. (Stay tuned for more info on that.) We’ll also be going for an all-female DJ line-up. There are some excellent lady DJ’s out there, and we know their numbers are pretty small compared to the dudes who DJ. So we want to highlight the ladies behind the laptops! 🙂

All in all, I think it’s going to be another great year, and we’re working on plans to bring you more tracks, more class topics, and more leaders!

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the relationship (or not) between feminism and follower-focused events in the comments. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.


Video of awesome lady old-timers:

  • Pauline Morse aka Liza Underdunk (dancing with “Shorty” George Snowden aka Shorty Stump)
  • Beatrice Gay aka “Big Bea” (dancing with “Shorty” George Snowden)
  • The women of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, in order of appearance: Frances Jones (with William Downes), Norma Miller (with Billy Ricker), Willa Mae Ricker (with Al Minns), Ann Johnson (with Frankie Manning):

  • Josephine Baker (no sound)
  • Eleanor Powell
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    7 Responses to Reflections on Feminism & Follower-focused events

    1. Joanna says:

      Yay for another Southern Belle! I had so much fun at last year’s event. It was my first follower focused event and I had the best time. I want more, more, more!

      Thanks for posting these videos with the names of the dancers. I’ve been struggling trying to remember, so thank you 🙂

    2. Beth Hartzel says:

      I really enjoyed your presentation at NEGJ, and especially the intro. As if to prove the point, at the end of the intro when you finished with “and now to move on and stop preaching” one of the older, white leads muttered under his breath “finally, geez”. Really goes to show that there is a definite need for this type of event, and presentation.

      I’m incredibly excited to hear that SBSB will be headed toward a mostly female lineup of instructors and DJs, and if the pictures on the main page are indicative of potential instructors, I’m going to be watching like crazy for updates.

    3. Carl says:

      The presentation at NEGJ was great. Great job Gina!

    4. Mike the Girl says:

      Gina, I adore your blog.

      Teaching solo as a follow presents a set of challenges that are very different from teaching solo as a lead. That being said, there are some fantastic solo lady instructors out there, who’ve been working hard to present fantastic weekends/classes/etc. Philly has brought in two female instructors without partners- Brenda Collins and myself.

      So why is it so rare? I suspect that there are a number of reasons. Partly personality- male instructors might just be more likely to approach a scene about doing a workshop. Part might be the fact that so many organizers are willing to sub-in a follow, while subbing in a leader can prove trickier. And part is that we’re still shaking off the old way of doing things.

      Knoxville, despite a few very strong follows (both in dance skills and personality), used to be a scene where the leads taught, and the follows “just follow”. Mind you, this was in the days of pushing and pulling and cues instead of leads. And while most of us have moved on (Knoxville is now a scene of very strong follows), there are still some dancers out there who subscribe to that method.

      That being said, on a national level, we’ve moved way past push-pull-this-means-you-do-this-move. Yet there are many, many more solo leads teaching than solo follows.

      How about it, ladies? What’s holding us back?

      -m.

    5. Jesse says:

      Indeed, old-timer women never get enough credit. When I was “growing-up” in swing everyone knew who Dean was, but never jewel. They knew Frankie, but not Anne…

      Good for you for giving them their dues!!

    6. Pingback: Leading and Following, Dancing and Partnership « Gina’s Jazz Dance Blog

    7. Pingback: The Discussion of Gender in Lindy Hop | Thrive

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