How to Move Forward & Create Safe Dance Spaces

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.)

19 responses to “How to Move Forward & Create Safe Dance Spaces”

  1. The Swing Teams and Swing Club associated with Utah State University have addressed this issue to ensure the safety of all dancers. We take this matter very seriously and we urge that everyone else does the same. We have had a more local issue similar to the harassment that has been publicly addressed recently. To prevent and stop harassment of any sort, we have re-stated what standards we hold everyone in our venues to.

    Our action we plan to take is to talk about this in all our University dance classes, hosted events, and dance teams. We will also raise awareness in our community by hosted fundraiser dances for our local non-profit dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment.

    What else can we add to our action plan for our small community? How can we keep this plan going? I would love to see dance scenes big and small come together to keep this moving forward!

  2. This is an excellent discussion, which is long overdue. Thanks so much for taking the time to record and post it!
    Here in Australia, we’ve had a lot of pondering lately about how to create safe dance spaces (for the blues scene- but applies to lindy too!) A few months ago, I wrote an essay on safe dance spaces for a weekender we’re running. I leave it here, to add to the discussion.

    • I really love the closing line “If you need anything, if you have concerns, if you feel uncomfortable. We’ll listen and take you seriously.”

      I feel like this needs to be said multiple times. Sometimes people just don’t know who to turn to. In uncomfortable situations I just leave and don’t come back, when instead it should be taken care of so it doesn’t happen to anyone else!

  3. One thing that comes up often in these discussions is the idea that people have the right to say no (to dances or whatever else). While I agree with this, I wonder if maybe just saying this isn’t quite enough. What if classes–series generally, but especially the intro classes before larger dances–included just a minute or so of practice in this? Maybe just have people pair off, one asks the other to dance, the other says, “no, thank you,” and the asker responds by saying, “okay.”

    The obvious benefit would be that getting the opportunity to practice saying no in a safe space would help prepare people to do it in situations where they genuinely might be uncomfortable.

    The less obvious but oddly more important benefit would be that people would have the opportunity to practice *responding* to no. This is where the community could start to create a unified stance that a flat-out “no” is sufficient–that the asker should accept it graciously and move on to another potential partner, not follow up with “why not?” or do anything else that might create a situation of discomfort or pressure. If the culture becomes one where “no” is known to be sufficient, then everyone might feel safer sticking up for their own rights (and others’) to say “no” and have that be respected.

  4. For about five years now I am part of the lindy-hop scene, in the Netherlands. And always when I tell people outside the scene about it, after explaining first what lindy-hop actually means, I tell them enthousiasticly how great and full of respect our scene is. For about fifteen years I was into the salsascene and however there’s a lot of people in that scene too that are gentle and full of respect towards eachother and specificly towards women, there’s also far more ‘trying’ of men to touch women in a way that is different than just for dancing. I never ever experienced something like that in the lindy-hop/balboascene. I feel that our scene in the Netherlands and the few places I’ve been to in Europe is completely safe.

    And now that I followed last week what is happening In the USA, I feel confused. I just can’t imagine these kind of behavior is happening in the lindy-hop scene. Was I blind? Are things like this happening in Holland or Europe too? Or is our community different? And if so, how come?

    Maybe I am just not long enough a member of the scene to oversee the situation. And I wonder what the experiences are of people that are much longer in the scene (in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe) than me, especially our teachers. Is this news also confusing them?

    Anyhow, I wish all of you who are involved in this and feel sad and confused (especially those who are a victim) all the love and wisdom to deal with it. Very good initiative, this open discussion/conversation how t deal with it!

    • @Natasja: I don’t think you’re blind. I have yet to experience your scene in Holland, but I feel exactly the same about the scene here in Copenhagen. I’m a guy, but have had a girlfriend that dances, and the problem of creepy leads (or follows :-) is very small here. I think the fact that we don’t really have much social-dancing at bar-type venues on evenings with drop-in classes before makes a difference. Or maybe because, as you mention, that those types of guys frequent the salsa community instead, I don’t know. This may be more of an issue in the US or elsewhere, or (probably) there is just a lot of hyberbole going around.

      Wrt. Steven (and other cases of anonymous guys being mentioned in the 450+ comment thread on Sarah’s original post) it highlights the huge difference in attitude towards sex on different sides of the pond. In some of the cases, there are clear cases of sexual assult, but not in others, and many of the comments seem to imply that 18+ year old women are children that needs protection from “players” that use their star status to get laid.

      • WRT treating 18+ yo women as children, no. However, there is an understanding here in the U.S. that there is ethically and perhaps statutorily a second category of protected persons: people with less power than the person assaulting them. Examples are teacher/student, employer/employee, and mentor/mentee. The law recognizes that sometimes, even though both people are legally old enough to consent to sex, one may be under undue pressure to agree to acts or to passively allow these acts to happen because the other has authority over an important area of their life.

        WRT the original story, Sarah (?) was 15 or 16 when the grooming starrted. Old enough to consent to sex with someone in her peer group at school, perhaps, but not a significantly older adult.

  5. If you encounter a local sexual abuse problem call the local police. Let the perp know you mean business. Dial 911. Keep a copy of contact information for the embassy when traveling abroad. Check in with them. Always keep an out or escape if it means sleeping on a park bench so be it. Keep mace and or pepper spray. A kick in the groin will deter many an assailant. Also screaming or crying out is necessary as to inform ALL that unwanted attention is being administered. Leave the room, if that does not work leave the residence. Be wary of all food and drink. Eat and drink small amounts. Use your gut. Let love ones know where you are. Use common sense. Inform the organizers of the event of your experience.

  6. Here is a nomination for consideration.

    Ambush engagement proposals at swing events.

    Event organizers, MCs, DJs, band leaders, photographers: don’t be complicit in that. There is almost no room for a no. It makes everybody in the room an involuntary accomplice.

  7. With all that has happened and been said. This shouldn’t be a wrong that Lindy community should right.

    What is next? Lindy police? Are we to keep records of every person that shows up on a dance floor?

    Maybe you should reflect for a while on all that happened and not make some hasty decisions just to pacify your own mind.

    • Reflected for a while, and wow. I didn’t know making teens and women feel comfortable on the dance floor was “Lindy policing”. Sexism and the perception of men that they have access to women’s space-time (teens and adults) regardless of an individual woman’s wishes is not exclusive to Lindy, or to dance in general. However, if that sort of person is going to hunt in the Lindy community, yes, it’s a wrong of which the Lindy community should be aware. It’s a problem the Lindy community should fix because–speaking as a beginner–it scares us off. We’ve encountered it in other areas of our life, and maybe we just want to enjoy a fun, social, athletic activity with people who won’t shut us down when we point out that a predator is a predator is that guy everyone thinks is a good dancer, and he won’t take no for an answer.

  8. Bobby makes a great point about the liabilities of having counseling available at a safe space. If someone’s in a bad situation, the person they go to should be qualified to help; and offenders should not be protected by the Lindy Hop scene–assault is assault, and if someone needs to call the police, so be it. We don’t want the police to be on deck, as it were, at events, and we don’t want to do rigorous background checks on all attendees; but if somebody’s committing a crime, they should answer to the law.

  9. Many cities have a Salsa website with resources to help you learn to dance in your local area. If you can’t locate one, contact a Salsa People – A leading dance school in Zurich.

  10. Hi all,

    I’m not a dancer (yet, I’ve meant to go to classes in the East and South CA bay area) but I previously dated someone in the community of dangerous past/present dancers. I dated Shawn Lesniak between ~October 2017-February 2018, and lived with him for six weeks from mid-October to mid-December. The day after we agreed that I would start paying him for rent to stay there, we got into a fight. I unplugged an appliance of his, doing it no harm, and he pinned me to the ground with his knee on my stomach so I couldn’t breathe. When he released his knee, I punched him, and he choked me unconscious. When I regained consciousness, he had me restrained by the wrists and told me that he would let me up if I promised not to assault him “again.” The beginning of the fight was ludicrous: I told him I’d go along with him to the bank, but had become too tired and fallen asleep while getting ready. He was upset and upon his return we got into a dispute about unrelated costs, and eventually he told me to leave. I refused, feeling (as I’ve said to him, mistakenly) that since I’d made the commitment to pay, I should be allowed to stay.

    In October, accusations from his previous partner landed Shawn on a list of dangerous dancers made by organizer Ouardane Jouannot. I never met her, didn’t know him when they were dating, and therefore can’t address any of it. Further, Ouardane told Shawn that someone had contacted them informing of threatening Facebook messages sent from Shawn. Shawn asked me to look at his messages, to see if I found them threatening and agreed that I didn’t. Shawn felt the allegations were unwarranted, and requested that he be removed from the list, and after reports from the banning dancers that the accusations were ambiguous, Ouardane removed Shawn. In fact, I wrote a lengthy message “to” Ouardane, though never sent, but which Shawn has in an email, expressing that that the accusations against him couldn’t be true and that they were certain to be inventions from that ex-girlfriend. What I did know was that he had a collection of stories about ex-girlfriends who exploded at him, treating him with violence and abuse seemingly out of thin air, and he seemingly had no idea of why they were upset or to have any responsibility for the incidents. I asked him once why all these women were so mean to him, and he responded: “I guess I just have crappy taste in people,” a list on which I now have a place. Of course, I now perceive him, his stories, and his behavior through a very different lens. Shawn has voluntarily left the dance community, but I’m certain he’ll continue to hurt people outside of it.

    Anyway, once I felt capable of driving the evening after Shawn’s attack, I left. I returned when he allowed me to do so the next day, for a short conversation in which I told him about my intention to contact Ouardane. He told me that I had to go, but could return in two more days, on the condition of not speaking to them. Assuming that Shawn would realize what he had done and take responsibility for his behavior, I decided not to tell, and feeling remorseful about my own role in our conflict instead of having simply left, I not only returned but offered rent for the preceding six weeks – as well as rent for December, should he let me stay. He agreed that I could live there for the remaining month. In the next two weeks, he told me that he found my emotions over the incident “tedious, boring, repetitive,” and told me that he didn’t know where I’d learned “the crying thing” but it came across as a manipulative ploy to get my way, and that I should just do better, be better, do as he tells me, stop asking questions, and be grateful he was still willing to be my his life. I moved out just eleven days later, when I told him I was getting uncomfortable with the fact that an apology had never come. He threatened to have me imprisoned for blackmail if I were to speak up, and told me that if I wanted to stay, I had to make a video testifying that I blackmailed him, saying I would contact Ouardane inventing this story if he didn’t let me. Realizing (to a degree, though not for good) how violent and dangerous he was, I left.

    Shawn claimed apologizing would provide “evidence” against him, should I choose to tell anyone in the future. I suggested I could claim he apologized either way, and he told me that I’m not a good liar. I left his house after packing my belongings two nights later. He said he couldn’t have gotten me to leave in any way but violence (for his benefit, for now I won’t publicly disclose why he said he couldn’t have called the police), and I completely disagree on all accounts, except that calling the police would have landed him in serious trouble.

    Furthermore, Shawn assaulted me sexually on two occasions. In November, as we awoke, Shawn repeatedly pulled down my underwear after I pulled it back up and pushed him away. He ignored my rejections and had sex with my limp body. A second time, when I spent the night at his place in February, we got into a fight again. Midway, in tears and panic, I asked if we could simply have a nice night, and he asked if that meant I wanted to have sex. I told him, no. He repeatedly pressured me until I said that he could do what he needed, and that what I wanted was very different. Again, he humped my limp body. As I told him, I’d have left that night, but had already taken a sleeping medication after which I could no longer drive. The next morning, as I packed my belongings and got ready to go, he literally pushed me out the front door from his apartment and told me that he didn’t want me in his address book, nor in his life any longer.

    Two days after this February assault, Shawn sent me an email with the questionable assertion that he could no longer talk to me because he loved and cared about me too much, and truthfully, that now he was now hurting me more than he was helping. However, he insinuated that if I came forward with any of this, he would kill himself. Besides that, this letter is the only communication I have from him on a non-anonymous service such as the text messaging service Signal or the web service Etherpad ( on which he discusses any of it, though many people know the story. I’ve been considerably less “careful” about what I’ve said to him, and he has records of my attempts to contact him on various means for many reasons: in futile efforts to persuade him to also take responsibility for his behavior and apologize, for us to establish/maintain a positive relationship moving forwards, and simply expressing my anger/frustration/hurt over everything he’s done as well as his silence. As he said regarding his own actions, I’m not proud of my behavior, but it simply pales in comparison to his. To some degree, this statement is giving me the closure I need to move on. Whether he decides to own up, or continues to refuse on account of not wanting to incriminate himself, is his business.

    Shawn did, however, write me a letter on Etherpad with a half-assed apology for choking me unconscious. I had actually made plans to return to his house the weekend after moving out, but I had told him that he needed to apologize for me to feel safe doing so. I have a text from him on the anonymous text message service Signal service showing the Etherpad URL which links to the letter from him. As I expect he’s long since deleted anything implicating himself from his own decives, a record probably doesn’t exist on his end, so it comes down to my word against his. But I know that he’ll only hurt more people if I don’t speak up about what he’s done.

    Of course, all this implies: why did I choose to go back after he did what he did, and even pay him rent (going backward, and forward) to let me stay? Shawn rescued me after an accident in September. I developed a tremendous affection for him that made it difficult to come to terms with the abuse that he then began to inflict upon me. I was lonely, in denial, and still recovering from the accident, not physically, mentally, or emotionally strong enough to stand up for myself. My self-esteem and self-identity were too weak to believe that the abuse was real. Until the day I left his place and began to recover, I had become too depressed to resist. I thought it was safe to be vulnerable around him, as he had indeed cared for me when I couldn’t take care of myself. After each incident came even deeper depression, remorse, desire for reconciliation, and anger about his silence. But I’m able to care for myself now, and to a degree, to speak up about what happened, largely to protect his inevitable next victim.

    Thank you for reading my lengthy message, and all the best,


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