The Soapbox Archives:
"The latest Contra flyer for dances at the Concord Scout House has a message block at the bottom stating that aerials and related moves are strictly forbidden at the Scout House. I honestly think your efforts had a lot to do with this new stand on the issue.I'm glad that the people at the Scout House finally figured out what I was saying all this time. I'm also glad that enough people felt the same way about the subject as I did and educated the Scout House management about the true dangers of allowing aerials and tricks on the social dance floor. This is something many of us have gone through already over the last 15 years and haven't forgotten about the people who got hurt during one of the previous swing craze periods. If people under the safest classroom conditions can drop their partners, then I don't have much faith in the typical noobie on the dance floor who thinks it's cool to throw their equally noobie partner over their back.
I, for one, am relieved. Everyone's all sorry after an accident, but it's the Scout House that would've been hauled into court and sued out of existence."
I would imagine that there were a few people who felt that I was trying to stop them from having fun, i.e., working to have aerials banned from public social dances. I wonder how many of those same people are parents and have to deal with kids who are mad at them for stopping them from doing "fun" things. Like any *good* parent, many of us were not trying to stop people from having fun. No, we were trying to keep them *alive*.
In movies and old news reels, most people don't realize that those aerials and tricks where done under controlled conditions. We weren't watching social dancing; we were watching performances, dance contests, and staged events. If you talk to the *really* old dancers (older than me), that's what they'll tell you. Social dancing was really all about enjoying the company of another human being and getting to know them better. Guys, you get to hold the girl's hand: is there something better than that? There aren't that many "social" dancers who could do aerials on the public dance floor, much less do them to the beat.
As I think I've said many times before, aerials have no place on the crowded social dance floor. It's dangerous to the ones doing the aerials; it's dangerous to the people dancing around them. I'm much more impressed with a dancer who dances on the same beat as me.
Their major point in the email, however, indicated that it was the NEFFA people who implemented the ban on aerial and aerial-type activities during all of their venues. It was not the Scout House management that came up with the new policy. While one friend indicated that she once saw an aerial or lift there, apparently the Contra dance people figured out that was not a good idea and stopped the practice.
*My* major point was that someone else had figured out that it was not in their best interest to allow or encourage lifts and aerials at a dance held in a third party's building.
I did want to stress that I do appreciate any feedback on the editorials in this space. I appreciate enlightened conversation on the various issues that come up in the community. I even appreciate it when someone comes up with a bad argument because it gives me an opportunity to refine my own ideas and reinforces my point of view. And of course, any personal attacks just tells me that the writer couldn't come up with a decent argument and that I had won that exchange. On other hand, I *really* do appreciate an intelligent discussion that gets me to change my mind.
Case in point: the instructors at Beantown Lindy Hop Camp tend to eat their meals together and some attendees noticed that (and mentioned it to me). They (and I) thought it'd be nice if the instructors sat with us "normal people" once in a while. Separately and without any prompting, one of the organizers broached the same subject with me to ask how I felt about the situation. What I learned was that the instructors needed "downtime" where they could relax and not have to be "on" all the time. Plus the fact that they're good friends with the other instructors and *everyone* at camp is most likely looking to eat a meal with at least one person they know. I wanted to meet some new people at each meal but the same people kept sitting at my table. These are pretty much the same reasons why your public school teachers have their own private "teachers' lounge" and it's kinda hard to argue with that. Besides, there's no reason that a "normal" person couldn't go over and sit with the dance teachers anyway.
It's refreshing and interesting to hear other opinions because that means (some) people are thinking (and reading this editorial) and it gets boring to hear only one side of an argument. When people complain to me personally, I try to get them to write down their words for this space, even anonymously, but it's like pulling teeth. Note that many of the ideas presented here come from you, the reader. If I write about something, then someone else is thinking about it. Unlike others, I can write about some of those ideas here because I'm not in the dance business and I don't have advertisers I need to please.
And it doesn't bother me to get banned from a dance.
It was about 15 years ago or so that I came up with the name DanceNet for my weekly newsletter and the name for this website. It was during a phone conversation with local dance matriarch Anne Atheling where she was doing some press release with a newspaper and wanted to mention my newsletter, but she needed a title for the newsletter. The conversation went on for a few minutes until somehow the words "dancing" and "network" or "net" somehow appeared in the same sentence and we almost simultaneously came up with "DanceNet", though I think she beat me to it.
A special thanks goes out to Sharon Wasserman of Wasserman Graphics. She's a graphics/web designer who's been nudging me into some of the small changes that should help navigating around this website. Perhaps I'll let her redesign this website as she keeps insisting on doing because she does good work.
About 15 years ago, I had a bunch of Boston Swing Dance Society t-shirts printed up for the staff when I was running the organization. Some of us still have those t-shirts (you may have seen the ones I have) but they're starting to get really ragged so I'm printing up another batch soon. The former BSDS staff are getting their choice of colors (because I'm paying for them myself), but other people have expressed interest in getting those t-shirts. I'm taking suggestions for a color for the t-shirts that general public will be getting.
Naturally, I had to include my comments afterwards.
From: "Frank Hsieh" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: your soapbox regarding Scout House contra aerials
Sent: Monday, July 07, 2008 11:14 AM
To: "'DanceNet Editor'" <email@example.com>
Just as I thought - too chicken to post my responses on your website (N.B. another personal attack). You can easily cut out the personal attacks if that was why you didn't print it. (Editor's note: See item 1 below)
OK, you want some intellectual rebuttals? You got it.
If your major point was that "someone else had figured out that it was not in their best interest to allow or encourage lifts and aerials at a dance held in a third party's building," are you saying that it is OK then to do it in their own building? (Editor's note: See item 2 below)
One of my points has been that although I agree that certain aerials may not be appropriate in certain crowded social dance floor conditions, putting a blanket ban on all aerials is not the answer. I am one of those parents you described that has a kid who is often mad at me for not letting him do certain "fun" things. However, I don't totally restrict his fun activities just because I am afraid he will get hurt, like the boy in The Secret Garden who was never allowed out of his room. If there is something that he wants to do that is somewhat dangerous, like climbing a tree (he is 3), instead of saying flatly "you can't climb trees," I let him try it while I am standing there spotting him and showing him the proper techniques. For some activities he learns it fast and gains a lot of confidence, and for others he realizes it's too "scary" (i.e. dangerous) and backs off, having learned his limits in a safe environment. This is the same reason we hold these aerials workshops - let them learn these moves in a safe environment and educate them on when it's appropriate to do them. Putting a blanket ban on aerials is just being lazy and not putting in the effort to educate dancers. (Editor's note: See item 3 below) Plus, if you're going to ban aerials, it just looks stupid if the ban is not enforced. I've been to Roger's dance where I've seen "aerials" performed on the social dance floor (e.g. by that tall scruffy guy with the beret) and nobody did anything about it. Why don't you define what you mean by "aerials" so that we are all on the same page? (Editor's note: See Item 4 below)
Other points from my last e-mail:
Editor's Note: this was from the first note Frank sent to me at 2:30 am, a few hours after I updated the website.
Not everyone goes out to social dance for the same reasons as you, which apparently is to cop a feel or something. I don't get off on holding the girl's hand. If I did, my wife probably wouldn't let me go out anymore. For me, certain music inspires me to move my body in certain ways, and my idea of social dancing is to communicate my movements to my partner so that we can do them together. If the music is hot and I and/or my partner feel like leaving our feet, so be it - it doesn't detract from my social dancing goal at all. I don't care about getting to know my partner better. As long as they can dance well and we click on the dance floor, that's good enough for me.
And here I thought my last Soapbox wasn't worth your time to respond...
Here are my responses to the comments above:
Item #1: Your previous notes that say I dance so I could "cop a feel" [from the follower] and that I "needed to get laid" were incredibly rude and childish. These kinds of comments (and name-calling) merely turn off the reader and close their ears against anything else you have to say. The comments also make you sound immature. I thought I was doing you a favor by not reprinting those comments because they were just a distraction from the topic at hand. Your important point was that the Scout House was not stopping you from allowing aerials and that's what I posted.
"...your 'wife' seems like a controlling bitch."
(FYI: This was in reference to my comment that if I were married, I wouldn't be allowed near a computer
at 2:30 am)
If you're talking about a physical wife, I'm not married. Guess I'm not the only one who made assumptions, eh? If you're talking about a symbolic or metaphysical one, however, I don't understand your comment.
Item #2: "If your major point was that "someone else had figured out that it was not in their best interest to allow or encourage lifts and aerials at a dance held in a third party's building," are you saying that it is OK then to do it in their own building?
Actually, yes. I phrased that sentence that way on purpose. If *you* owned the building and someone got hurt, then they'd sue *you*. I was wondering if you were going to pick up on that point. I don't care if *you* lose the building and that you lose all *your* life savings and end up paying someone else's expenses for the rest of their lives. I'd rather no one get hurt at all, but if it's going to happen, I'd rather the person responsible be the one to pay. I don't want anyone else not involved to have to suffer if someone got hurt at your venue; for example, I don't want the four Contra dances to lose their home at the Scout House if someone got hurt at your swing dance and sued everyone. I certainly don't want to lose a place for dancing for that stupid reason.
However, right now, if someone else gets hurt doing aerials at your dances, you *and* the Scout House can be sued for damages, not to mention the instructors. Several other dance venues using the Scout House would be at risk for losing their home, even if they didn't allow aerials at their venues. I don't think that's fair. Do you? Of course, if the Scout House banned the aerials and you allowed them anyway, they might get sued anyway but then the Scout House could sue *you* for allowing aerials.
Actual history: There used to be several dance venues going on at the Arlington Town Hall. One particular dance venue was well known for using lit candles on the dance floor and jumping over them while dancing. This ended up getting all the dancing venues kicked out (though I think they now allow local residents to rent the hall for a dance). A good swing dance venue lost a very good location due to one group not caring about the effects of their actions on everyone else. Perhaps they felt that the risk to everyone losing the location was worth doing whatever they wanted to?
Item #3: " One of my points has been that although I agree that certain aerials may not be appropriate in certain crowded social dance floor conditions, putting a ...snip... educate them on when it's appropriate to do them. Putting a blanket ban on aerials is just being lazy and not putting in the effort to educate dancers. "
If you want to take personal risks and assume all the responsibility, then go ahead. If you want to take risks with other people's health and livelihood, then that's wrong. If you want to be personally responsible and you do it in a private venue, go ahead: take 100% of the responsibility. I don't think it's fair to do it in a public venue like the Scout House. Furthermore, if you don't think the risks are too high, why did you get insurance for your band activities? Before your first Scout House dance, you told me (in an email that I no longer have) that you had a million dollar policy so you felt you were covered in case anyone got hurt.
Item #4: " Plus, if you're going to ban aerials, it just looks stupid if the ban is not enforced. I've been to Roger's dance where I've ... ...snip... nobody did anything about it. Why don't you define what you mean by "aerials" so that we are all on the same page?"
Ah! I know that guy. If I had seen him doing aerials, I would have stopped him. And he respects me enough to have stopped if I said something. Thanks for the tip; I'll watch him from now on. AND just so you know, I *do* watch out for people doing aerials and lifts at Roger's dance and I *do* point out those people to Roger so he can stop them the next time they try the aerials. I have no interest in him losing his venue just because someone felt they had the right to do aerials at his dance when aerials are banned.
You also know as well as I do that we can't count on people doing the right thing on the dance floor when we want them to so blanket bans on aerials are necessary on the social dance floor. Roger bans the aerials and then tries to watch out for them when he can. He's protecting his venue and his customers from stupid people.
The issue here is, are the aerials done with the endorsement and encouragement of the management? Roger certainly can't watch the floor and he doesn't have a partner to help out during the event anymore, but he tells people that aerials are banned and hopes he stopped the average person so he can watch for the ones who think they don't have to obey the rules. Like the cops, Roger can't be everywhere.
Some of us *have* been around when people did aerials without consideration of the potential effects (particularly on their partners) on the social dance floor. Some of us *have* seen people get hurt. Why would we in good conscience want to encourage that? Especially when it isn't necessary? One of the best dance teachers in Boston *refuses* to teach aerials anymore because he's seen too many people get hurt.
The big question now is, when something happens, do we continue as before or do we stop and think about what we should do? When that older couple fell during the aerial workshop at your first dance, did you stop to think about what would have happened if they had gotten seriously hurt? As my friend had said, apologize all you want after the accident but it's the Scout House that would suffer just because you felt that the likelihood of a serious accident was worth the risk to the Scout House.
As of now, many dance venues have decided that it's not worth risking their existence (and possibly their personal fortunes) to allow aerials. NEFFA was just the latest and there will be more. Are all of them wrong and you are right?
If you want to have a dance and allow aerials on a social dance floor, buy your own building and make the party private. Then I won't say a thing about it.
Actually, I did what reputable newspapers do: I printed a correction. It was reasonable to assume it was the Scout House banning the aerials because I think there were *four* Contra dance venues at the Scout House. My corrections are actually more prominent than the Boston Globe's, I think. Being willing to admit mistakes shows credibility and honor. I could have easily just ignored the correction. Did it change the conclusion of the statement much? Absolutely not! You merely pointed out that an even bigger organization with influence over even more people figured out that it wasn't worth the risk to other people's lives and health and to their own personal fortunes to allow aerials; it doesn't matter if it was the Scout House or the NEFFA people. Thanks for pointing that out, Frank.
It's ain't just me being a malcontent and a curmudgeon; I just happen to have a venue to make noise while most others don't have such a forum to speak out or they're afraid to. Some of them are afraid to get banned from a venue, as I can testify they should be. (FYI to all: Frank banned me from the Scout House swing dances after his first gig there).
People keep reading this editorial space so they must be finding something of value here. There's no point in writing here if no one is going to read it (other than to improve my writing skills, that is). Perhaps they appreciate that I make them think about things or offer different viewpoints? Perhaps I've established some credibility by being willing to stick my neck out to speak about issues that are important to them? Perhaps the fact that I've been running this website for the past 12 years and providing a free service to them has established some solid credibility with the local dancers and local dance businesses?
The NEFFA people are involved in the dancing itself so they're aware of what goes on the dance floor and in the community. They know that it'd hurt them if someone got hurt doing aerials at their venue so they're taking precautions. They don't think it's worth taking unnecessary risks. Good for them.
It's not swing dancing without the girl (or the guy). If I wanted to dance alone, I could go to a disco club, take up line or tap dancing, or go to Dance Friday; I could even dance alone to swing music if I wanted to. With the girl, it becomes social/partner dancing. What about the music? Some people are turned on by the music, but without the girl and without the dancing, it's just a concert. Sure, you might like the music or the dancing, but without the girl, it's not swing dancing. You don't have to hold hands all the time, but it's *all* about the girl and making sure she had fun dancing with you. Dancing *with* the girl/woman makes the music better. If you think otherwise, you might as well be dancing with a chair or a broom...or by yourself.
And I still think that aerials on the social dance floor is just "showing off" and not necessary on the social dance floor. Roger Weiss asked Frankie Manning at the book signing last year about aerials on the dance floor in the old days and he told Roger they didn't do that stuff on the social dance floor, only for competitions and performances. I think he knows what he's talkiing about, don't you?
Again, thank you for caring enough to write in. No one else did. (FYI to all: I told Frank that I was sincere about that because he thought I was being sarcastic.)
I wrote this part of the Soapbox first before trying to fit the emails into the space above. I'd like to thank Frank Hsieh for two things:
That last one always makes me laugh (because it's true). However, most people really don't care enough to write in. They mostly don't want to get involved or they figured that I can be the target instead of them. Others don't want to egg me on because I'll just continue to write about the topic of the week while many don't want to get into an argument with the guy who helps bring them more business. Frank cared enough about this subject to take me on and I salute him for it. Frank is actually pretty brave because I get a whole week to form my words and put my side of the argument in the best possible light while I get the impression he types his words in a short amount of time before sending it. (Would *you* insult someone who gives you a lot of free advertisement and reaches an audience of 25,000 unique visitors a month?)
I saw this wonderful dance video on Nasa's Astronomy Picture of the Day, a great website to check out every morning. It really didn't have much to do with astronomy or the space program but it should bring a smile to any dancer's face.
The following is from local dancer David Liberge. David's always been a pretty quiet guy though you could see from his eyes all sorts of ideas perculating through his head. Those ideas are just looking for an outlet as I found out one time when I spent a couple of hours talking with David and his wife Katie in the aisles of Lowes in Shrewsbury. David teaches Hip Hop for Hop To The Beat dance studios and dances on their performance team.
I would like to comment on the subject of air steps on the social dance floor.
Can air steps be fun to do? Yes. Can they be fun to watch? Yes. Does that equate to being ok to express your dancing by using them on the social dance floor? My opinion, no.
Is dancing an expression of music? Yes. Does that mean any expression is acceptable? No. It’s all about context. An extreme example is that some people “mosh” to music. I would be pretty peeved if I received a shoulder check during a swing dance because that was their expression at that moment. But in a mosh pit, I would expect it. I don’t expect air steps attempted at a social dance whether house rules are in place or not.
Everyone who learns how to swing dance goes through a variety of experience. Two examples are of those who take lots of classes over the years and have learned to dance at a higher level with a lot of repertoire and others who learn some basics and a few tricks and don’t work on their dancing much, but dance often. Either is fine.
I find it’s usually the inexperienced swing dancers that attempt air steps on the social dance floor. Inexperienced either in actual swing dancing or in dance etiquette. Usually the move is not well executed, disjointed from the dancing done before and after the trick and doesn’t add any value to their dance. That to me is an acrobatic move done in the middle of swing dancing which is different than an air step that flows in and out of the dancing, which is musical and in context to the song. Also, on the super rare occasion I see a perfectly executed air step on the dance floor, it still elicits a negative emotional response from me. I tend to cringe and hold my breathe. I feel disappointed that someone might inadvertently give another inexperienced dancer the idea that air steps are both accepted and even a natural thing to do at a dance. It doesn’t give a positive impact to their dancing.
I also believe that couples who have gone to a formal class at a gym to learn how to do an air step usually do not have the room in their homes to practice. Some then take the opportunity to try what they’ve learned at a social dance because there is “room”. This definitely should not be done because now it’s an experienced couple trying to do something that has physical risk to it. If they were to fall, even without being hurt, it would bring the whole vibe of the dance to a halt.
The dancers who have perfected a few air steps and displayed their competence in doing them in a performance or competition are usually not seen doing air steps at a social dance.
Could a dance choose to offer up a corner of the dance floor and allow air steps? Of course. Do any of them? I don’t know of any. Also, insurance liability today is a lot different than it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s. As a result you have to deal with the reality of the times and not the ideal of what a few would like to see.
Would it be a cool thing to see if there were a lot of accomplished dancers able to execute air steps at a social dance in a way that brings a movie like atmosphere to life, where the risk and liability was low? Sure. But I don’t see how that’s possible.
There is a reason why car insurance is mandatory. No matter how good the majority of drivers are. There are enough bad drivers to be wary of and there is the simple fact that accidents happen even in ideal situations.
The only person who can decide whether air steps can be permitted is the building owner or leaser. And if the idea of air steps is brought to such a person, it should be done with information as to risk verses reward.
Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it should be done. Sometimes majority and experience is the unwritten deciding rule.
I know this is a topic that comes up often and I’m not saying anything that’s novel or new. My boss is on vacation and I found 2 pennies in my desk drawer…….