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The Swing Scene vs. Max, His Friends, and the Swing Scene

May 30, 2017

Please note: This post is entirely about sexual assault in the swing dance community and involves graphic depictions of sexual abuse.

Following the previous sexual assault revelations in our scene, I noticed others, and myself, being left with a lot of questions. These questions were not new. They are the questions that follow every sexual assault report. In an attempt to understand it better, I asked every question possible to myself and tried to find the answers that helped to understand better the situation, especially from the point of view of human rights, logic, and human-behavior, which seemed to me the heart of these matters.

I am not an expert. I am a dance instructor, and a cis White male — one that has had very little personal experience with sexual assault. Coming from this reference point, I cannot speak for victims, or fully understand the many struggles they face. However, as a strong voice in the scene, I felt perhaps sharing the victim’s stories, as well as revealing my personal journey in understanding, was a way to “boost the signal” of this important topic. (And, it should be noted, my personal experience is not the only way of looking at understanding sexual assault. There are many.)

In light of all of this, I have composed this post with the help of a couple of sexual assault experts, and with a great deal of insight from one of Max’s victims, who shared her story and her own extensive work in understanding sexual assault with me. With their help and confidence, I felt I could post this article, but there is much more out there on these subjects — Literature, film, and discussions by experts that cover the much finer nuances of these topics, or offer counter-arguments to ideas expressed here. Please keep this in mind while reading. Though this post might appear to summarize the conversation, its main goal is to further it.

It has been several months since the reports hit, and for many reasons, I was not able to post this until now. Though it might seem out of date based on the specific assault cases, it is never out of date to discuss sexual safety in our community.

It’s long. Very long. But it didn’t feel right to cut anything. Feel free to move to the parts that seem of interest to you.

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There is a Lindy Hop instructor named Max Pitruzzella. Many people in our little scene family know of him and know him.

Then there is a Blues and Lindy Hop instructor named Ruth Evelyn. Many people in our little scene family also know of her, and know her. There is the Lindy Hop instructor Tatiana Udry. Again.

And then there are several other Lindy Hoppers with names like Ashley, Jane Doe, Susan Doe, each a woman from a various scene around the world. You might not know them personally, but the people in their home scenes, and the friends they see at workshops, do. And even those represent probably more, possibly many more people in our little scene family.

That’s because Ruth, Tatiana, Ashley, Jane, and Susan have all come out with statements about being sexually assaulted by Max Pitruzella.

So far five have come forward with official statements and, where sexual assault is concerned, the number of public accusations is almost always a fraction of the overall cases. Most of an iceberg is underwater.

There is at least one legal case currently against Max in France. (Where apparently such things are very slow in being processed.) However, in posting their messages publically, it seems to many that the victims have brought a case to the entire swing scene to consider.

It’s important to mention here that when Ruth herself posted an account of her assault, she did so “to protect, not punish.” She wanted to prevent it from happening again. And, as you can imagine, a scene undertaking someone’s punishment gets into tricky territory, possibly involved with taking away human rights. But, in this case, protection and punishment are inescapably tied — if we protect our scene from him, he probably loses his career over the outcome.

In undertaking this trial, however, we are not judging just Max — we are judging each other, our scene as a whole, and ourselves.

Whether we like it or not, this means that every single one of us, as a member of this community, is now a judge and jury, and must decide what actions to take next.

How do we proceed? Here are some thoughts. Read more…

The Venice Beach Dress

May 23, 2017

 

 

Swungover’s Response to the Jack & Jill Debate

May 17, 2017

There are a lot of emotions currently tied to this debate, which is not necessarily a bad thing. This post, however, attempts to approach the discussion from a logical, critical-thinking and respectful perspective. It attempts to avoid emotional language when possible, and highlight some of the issues that arise from relying upon it as a basis for argument. In the spirit of this specific approach, *please follow suit* when posting counter arguments in the comments section.

 

We here at Swungover (all one of us) officially support any promoters who decide to change the name of the “Jack & Jill” contest to something more inclusive.

Here are our fundamental arguments for why:

Argument 1

In the modern era, we recognize the roles (leading and following) of swing dancing are not tied to any gender or any one type of person (no matter how they identify themselves).

The names “Jack” and “Jill” have for centuries been attributed to specific genders.

In a dance community where anyone, regardless of gender, can dance any role, changing the name of the dance community’s “Jack & Jill” contests to something gender-neutral like “Mix & Match” is making the contest name reflect more accurately the way we dance in its modern form.

Therefore, a name change is an improvement in the accuracy of the language.

 

Argument 2
Swing dancing brings joy to many people.

Being worthy of experiencing joy is not tied to one’s gender or sexual orientation.

We as a scene want to encourage anyone who is interested to experience that joy.

Because the names Jack and Jill have a long history of being used for specific genders, and because partner dance itself has a long history of primarily having men and women dancing together, the contest name “Jack and Jill” can imply that dancers in the respective roles are preferred to be male/female or of a specific sexual orientation.

Therefore, the use of the term “Jack & Jill” can feel exclusionary to those who are gender or sexually non-conforming.

If we as a scene want people of all identities to feel included, and the name for a contest can be exclusionary, then it is a logical course of action to change the contest name.

 

Please note: The reason we put the “accuracy” argument first, and the “inclusive” argument second, is to highlight that from a strictly logical perspective we can establish that a name change is an improvement *in and of itself* before adding on a more desire-based argument (the desire for the dance to be inclusive). Obviously, many people are much more personally tied to the second argument, and a name change will have a much bigger impact in the overall community where the second argument is concerned.

Here are additional (less formally presented) arguments and thoughts related to the debate: Read more…

Figure: Feel vs Reality

April 13, 2017

how your dancing felt BETTER

10 Competition Tips

March 28, 2017

My Balboa competition partner Annabel and I made a little video for competition prep tips.  (Annabel and Bobby are two-time American Classic Balboa Champions (ABW), two-time California Balboa Classic champions, National Jitterbug Balboa Champions (Camp Hollywood), and ILHC Balboa Champions.)

For more advice on competition and practicing swing dance, check out Bobby’s book “Practice Swing.”  Also buy Michael Gamble & The Rhythm Serenaders album:

 

Sexual Assault and a Scene Leader

January 21, 2017

Numerous women in the swing scene have come forward with accounts of being sexually assaulted by one of the scene’s most prominent leaders, Max Pitruzzella.

Please visit Yehoodi’s updated news on the story here.

Swungover would like to show our utmost support for the victims.

 

 

Swing History 101: The Golden Age of Harlem Lindy Hop (1935-1942)

January 13, 2017

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Updated 4/19/17 with additional socio-economic details; see comments for more discussion.

Setting “The Scene”

As we discussed in the last episode, as the ’20s passed into the ’30s the new “swing” sound was evolving away from the hot jazz of the 1920s. Bands were smoothing out their rhythm into a steady, rolling-thunder beat. Drum sets were getting more drums and cymbals, and bands were getting more musicians and creating sections with them. They were also using more written arrangements that countered the sections off of each other in growing sophistication.

In the 1930s, the neighborhoods above New York’s Central Park, known as Harlem, became a hot spot for the new swing sound. Harlem was a primarily Black neighborhood, though its East side also had strong Italian and Hispanic communities. Though 1920s Harlem was a pilgrimage for Black intellectuals and artists, the early ’30s Depression brought high rates of poverty.

Though it greatly affected the lives of its residents, the Depression didn’t stop Harlem from swinging. In many ways, the joyful swing music and dancing of the area was a welcome relief from the hard times. Clubs and bandstands littered the area, making it a destination not only for locals but for people all over the five boroughs and tourists from outside the city. The biggest of these clubs was called the Savoy Ballroom, at 141st Street and 7th Avenue. It took up an entire block length and had a sign that read “The Home of Happy Feet.” This integrated ballroom (reportedly America’s first) was the mecca of Harlem social dancing night life and where visitors of all races expected to see the Lindy Hop being done by the best of the best. Many visitors, knowing of the Savoy Hotel in London, pronounced it the “SAV-oy.” But if you were in the know, you pronounced it “Sa-VOY.” Read more…