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How to Move Forward & Create Safe Dance Spaces

January 28, 2015

A follow-up on the recent sexual abuse discussion ongiong in the Lindy Hop community:

A couple nights ago Nicole Zuckerman, Manu Smith, Gina Helfrich, Rik Panganiban, Rebecca Brightly, Jerry Almonte Mikey Pedroza and I sat down to discuss how to move forward. It was at a time when several of us were in different phases of being hit by this (yours truly suddenly felt like he couldn’t say a complete sentence right) and the result is an honest conversation about what this all means.

Yes, I think many things are very well said and you could get something out of it. For me, while trying to pay attention to the conversation and formulate my own thoughts for addition, I unexpectedly and unknowingly went through a part of the grieving/anger/confusion/self-reflection process simply by seeing the faces and hearing the voices of my peers who are going through their own experiences as well. And that’s another possible reason to watch it; I imagine the same will happen to some viewers.

I want to thank those on the panel for the ways they contributed to the discussion. I love it that our community values intelligent and passionate people like those speaking so well in this conversation. (From what I understand of “The Jersey Shore,” for instance, not all communities do.)

Sexual Abuse and a Legend.

January 23, 2015

This is an updated version from the original; for previous versions, see the bottom of the article.

Recently a statement came out about a young woman who was sexually assaulted by a swing dancer. It turns out this swing dancer not only did horrible things to her, but to many women before. That swing dancer’s name happens to be Steven Mitchell, a world-traveling swing dance instructor and legend in the community.

But the fact that he’s a world-traveling swing dance instructor and legend is only important in that he has been given mentor status by swing dancers for thirty years, leading to many, many opportunities to sexually assault people.

This might be a confusing time for you, if you have a very high respect for Steven Mitchell, known to many as a kind and fun personality and a legend in the swing dance community. Steven has not denied the numerous accusations, and has admitted he had feelings for the minor and that alcohol was involved.

I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for a lone person to speak out against a swing legend in such a way, and when doing so meant to reveal one of the most private things about herself — understandably, with numerous feelings of vulnerability, humiliation, and fear — and when she knew it would probably lead to more or less the ruining of a career and in many ways, a life.

But she made that very hard decision when she realized that the truth needed to be told for herself, for those who have not had the strength to speak yet, and for those who might have come next had she not spoken. The result is a very well-written and powerful article.

There seems little room for doubt. Steven Mitchell has done some things that deserve vilification. May he take this opportunity to seek help for what he has done, and save himself — and others — from his demons.

Do not read this story for the gossip. Read it for the many things it means about our scene, and the many things we can learn from it.

Today is a sad, angry, frustrating, confusing day in Lindy Hop. But it is also a courageous day, and a day of justice. Here’s to a better tomorrow.

 

 
READ HERE:

https://ssullivan410.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/3/

As you discuss this topic with others, I also recommend you read this post by Alex Gaw:

https://minrblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/tools-for-participating-in-a-conversation-about-sexual-assault/
 

 

And, finally, a note to those out there in our scene who might have been treated similarly by Steven or other people:

If you underwent sexual harassment or assault in any form, I beg of you to in some capacity to tell your story, even if anonymously. Even if you are still unsure whether it was harassment/abuse/assault or not. Please tell it to somebody. Because if it was (and there is a good chance it was if you question it), your story can help prevent it from happening to the next one, perhaps the next dozen or more. It can help stop evil from happening.

Just because the criminal may be a person of authority, or a person who is believed to be good simply because thy are a fun teacher, or well-loved personality in the scene, try not to let that stop you from coming out with your story. Yes, some people in the swing scene who don’t want to believe it will be outspoken, but I beg you to tell your story despite them.

Remember, these things do not happen in a vacuum. Trust that those who know you will support you. Trust that those who know the accuser will remark, at the very least, that they had seen some things that didn’t quite look right. Sadly what is more likely is that where there is one, there are others. So trust that you are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED…TWICE.

CURRENT UPDATE:
See long comment reply below for reasoning. Also, I feel most in the scene have probably established Steven’s guilt by now, so I cut back on some of the giving-supporting-evidence stuff that seemed appropriate at the time of the article’s release, which was very soon after the initial incident.

FIRST UPDATE FROM ORIGINAL
Based on some of the comments, I made the decision to change some of the writing slightly to get rid of anything that might be taken as unreasonably incredulous (which was never my intent). I still stand behind the intent of the original, which is posted here, but felt an update of the wording and tone was appropriate.

Those who have not done so already should consider reading this account of an incident that happened in the Lindy Hop scene from a woman who was sexually assaulted by a well-respected swing dance instructor Steven Mitchell when she was a teenager.

You might not know of this woman, but have a very high respect for Steven Mitchell who is known to many as kind and fun personality as well as a legend in the swing dance community. It is reasonable to not jump to conclusions based on one story.

Since the story’s publication, further evidence has come out to support the story’s validity: Several other women have come out with similar stories about him. Steven has not denied the accusations, and has admitted he had feelings for the minor and that alcohol was involved. I have known several of these women for many years, including Sarah herself, and have no reason to not believe them. Countless other people who’s opinions are very highly regarded in the scene have said as much as well.

I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for a lone person to speak out against a swing legend in such a way, and when doing so meant to reveal one of the most private things about herself — understandably, with numerous feelings of vulnerability, humiliation, and fear — and when she knew it would probably lead to more or less the ruining of a career and in many ways, a life.

But she made that very hard decision when she realized that the truth needed to be told for herself, for those who have not had the strength to speak yet, and for those who might have come next had she not spoken. The result is a very well-written and powerful article.

There seems little room for doubt. Steven Mitchell has done some things that deserve vilification. May he take this opportunity to seek help for what he has done, and save himself — and others — from his demons.

Do not read this story for the gossip. Read it for the many things it means about our scene, and the many things we can learn from it.

READ HERE:

https://ssullivan410.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/3/

It’s a sad day in Lindy Hop; but for a better day tomorrow.

 

 

 


ORIGINAL

Those who have not done so already should consider reading this account of an incident that happened in the Lindy Hop scene from a woman who was sexually assaulted by a well-respected swing dance instructor Steven Mitchell when she was a teenager.

Since then, several other women have come out with similar stories about him. Steven has not denied the story and has confirmed he had feelings for the minor and that alcohol was involved. I have known several of these women for many years and have no reason to not believe them.

I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for a lone person to speak out against a swing legend in such a way, and when doing so meant to reveal one of the most private things about herself — probably with numerous feelings of vulnerability, humiliation, and fear — and when she knew it would probably lead to more or less the ruining of a career and in many ways, a life.

But she made that very hard decision when she realized that the truth needed to be told for herself, for those who have not had the strength to speak yet, and for those who might have come next had she not spoken. The result is a very well-written and powerful work.

Assuming the several accounts are true (and the evidence certainly points that way), Steven Mitchell has done some things that deserve vilification. May he take this opportunity to seek help for what he has done, and save himself — and others — from his demons.

Do not read this story for the gossip. Read it for the many things it means about our scene, and the many things we can learn from it.

READ HERE:

https://ssullivan410.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/3/

It’s a sad day in Lindy Hop; but for a better day tomorrow.

Swungover turns 5!

December 21, 2014

5 year swungover

Swungover” began as a word I came up with to describe the sensation I felt — and, I imagined, a lot of people felt — the Monday following Frankie 95. Occurring only a few weeks after Frankie Manning’s death in April of 2009, the bittersweet event left one not only physically exhausted, but also emotionally so.

I wrote the Jam Cellar weekly information email at the time and remember getting so grand and far-out in the emails that Andy Reid had to remind me that it would be nice if possibly maybe they could also inform people about what was going on at the Jam Cellar, you know, if I got around to it. I was clear I had a swing dance writing problem.

In December of that year Swungover was born, and somewhere along the way I was lucky enough to pick up an incredible editor, Chelsea Lee [Editor’s note: It was in December 2010, in response to Bobby’s resolution to be better at grammar, punctuation, and spelling]. She not only made my posts a lot less frustrating for viewers in terms of spelling corrections, but she also added a great deal of feedback and ideas to improve post after post.

So, looking back over the past 5 years of Swungover history, here are some of the posts that have meant the most to me: Read more…

The Proactive Follower

November 13, 2014

Art by Irena Spassova
By Bobby White
Art by Irena Spassova

As a teacher, I quickly realized the advice “just follow” is almost never helpful. As far as teaching advice goes, it’s vague and doesn’t give the follower an action to do, which is exactly what a student needs in order to get better.

But more importantly, it’s wrong.

Great followers never “just follow.” They are constantly being proactive in many different ways in order to make the dance successful and contribute their voice to what is being created.

Let’s talk with a few of the world’s greatest followers to find out how they do that.

Great followers are…

Proactive in their RHYTHM

Followers should always strive to have good rhythm and be proactive about keeping that good rhythm. Followers should also be proactive about keeping that solid rhythm and pulse in non-closed positions, during turns, traveling — well, all the time. (Sometimes you’ll see followers who grow timid in their rhythm the more disconnected they are from their leaders or if they are in the middle of turns.)

“Follows tend to wait for the leader to ‘set the beat’ and they follow his rhythm,” says Laura Keat. “I think that follows need to be more responsible for demonstrating the rhythm and ‘dancing’ in every dance. Therefore if the leader makes a mistake or is off, the follow can still dance rhythmically. We, follows, can still follow the leader’s timing and shapes, but the beat/rhythm/flow of the music is carried in each of our minds and is each of our responsibility to represent through dance.”

“The dancers could just as well be new instruments, as long as the whole is harmonious,” says Annie Trudeau. Read more…

On #ImprovRespect

September 23, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Beth Grover)

(Photo courtesy of Beth Grover)

Recently on Facebook the Lindy Hop community has been engaging in a large discussion hashtagged #improvrespect. (The discussion was going pretty strongly but was then overshadowed by a different discussion on offensive gestures.)

The #improvrespect discussion arose following some of the ILHC strictly contests where many competitors appeared to have danced already-set choreographed jams to the music, not altering their dancing to anything happening in the music. (They could very well have altered their dancing to the music, but it didn’t look that way to many high-level dancers.)

Dancing that appears to be completely choreographed has happened often in previous strictlies and is a topic that fellow professional dancers have been talking about for years — I think recently it just became more obvious it needed to be addressed on a larger scale.

And, of course, this discussion is not about just one thing. There are several aspects to the problem, like what is expressed explicitly in contest rules, the use of choreography in an improvised dance, and who’s responsible for making the appropriate changes if we wish to change. And at the root of the discussion is exploring all the factors that have brought out, and continue to bring out, phrased-but-otherwise-unmusical choreographed jam-dancing. And it isn’t just “jam dancers tend to win”; it’s why they tend to win.

Most people are in agreement that yes, the music is there for a reason, and if competitors aren’t *really* dancing to it, then those hard-working (sometimes even live) musicians are wasting their effort, and the event should instead just mic a metronome. Read more…

9 Clips of Classic Black Lindy Hoppers Who Aren’t Whitey’s

June 24, 2014

non whitey's blackThis is a version with very little text, where a reader can watch the clips without a lot of input. For a geek-out version with more thoughts and information, check out this one.

Recently it has dawned on me how much of our focus (including mine) regarding classic Black Lindy Hoppers goes towards the Savoy Ballroom’s famous performance group, The Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. And yet there are films of many non-Whitey’s Black dancers from the 1930s and 40s.

So here’s several examples of non-Whitey’s groups to get a broader understanding of what Lindy Hop meant to other Black dancers during the swing era. Watch and enjoy.

All of the following clips are from the Bill Green Collection on YouTube. More on Bill Green coming soon to Swungover.

“Rubberneck” Holmes & Others, Spirit of Youth (1938)

Someone in the comments of the video has reason to believe this group was from Chicago, and Bill Green himself found information that they called themselves the Big Apple Dancers. Guess which one is Rubberneck.
Read more…

9 Clips of Classic Black Lindy Hoppers Who Aren’t Whitey’s (Geek Version)

June 24, 2014

non whitey's blackRecently it has dawned on me how much of our focus (including mine) regarding classic Black Lindy Hoppers comes from the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. And yet there are films of many non-Whitey’s Black dancers from the 1930s and 40s.

So let’s take a look at several examples of non-Whitey’s groups to get a broader understanding of what Black Lindy Hop was like during the swing-era, and perhaps pick up some new inspiration along the way.

(Another thing we’ll find is that my historian cred is so much based on Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers that I have almost no information on most of these dancers.)

All of the following clips are from the Bill Green Collection on YouTube. Bill Green has one of the most extensive collections of swing dance in film, and he puts them up in fantastic quality on You Tube. I have an entire post coming up soon about Bill Green and his wonderful YouTube page. For now though, I just wanted to give him props.

“Rubberneck” Holmes & Others, Spirit of Youth (1938)

Someone in the comments of the video has reason to believe this group was from Chicago, and Bill Green himself found information that they called themselves the Big Apple Dancers. (The Big Apple was the big dance craze of the year, hence Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers also calling themselves “Whitey’s Big Apple Dancers” at the time.)
Read more…

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