As per the request of one of the DanceNet readers, here are copies of the past ramblings of the DanceNet Webmaster.
We, of course, signed waivers in case we got hurt and we always had spotters to help us in case we got into trouble. We were in a private classroom where the teacher could focus all of his attention on us and there were no distractions from spectators. (oh, yes, I forgot. We spent the first 30 minutes of the workshops just stretching and warming up).
In spite of this, during a particular move, our spotters got distracted and I managed to drop my partner, Susan Brown. She was lucky that she didn't have to go to the hospital, but she got a big shock and was sore for a while. I felt guilty about it for a much longer period. Once you drop your partner, it's extremely difficult to regain that trust.
I myself saw many a newbie dancer get injured (almost always the women) as their immature dance partners thought it'd be cool to flip their partners over their heads in the middle of the social dance floor. I even know of *experienced* dancers flipping newbie dancers over their heads. I've gotten my share of people being thrown into me or kicking me while I was supposed to be having fun dancing.
Seeing the potential dangers and even worse, potential liabilities, dance promoters all over the area wisely decided to ban aerials on the social dance floor.
My first thought there was that having an insurance policy isn't a license to engage in risky behavior. Having insurance means being protected *in case* something bad happens that you don't want to happen. You're suppose to hope that you're not going to need the insurance. You still can't drive dangerously if you have car insurance, right?
But that wasn't my main point. I was trying to tell him that aerials do not belong the social dance floor and he shouldn't be making people stand around while some people are taking a private aerials class. It would hurt that dance in particular and all other dances in general if someone got hurt at that venue.
On the night of the dance (tonight, Saturday, March 3), I dropped in on that dance. Instead of taking a corner during the band break to teach an aerials class, they took up *half* the entire dance floor. And since they didn't have a microphone, they shut off the music so the students could hear them teach the class (the teachers still had to shout because of all the people talking in the other half of the room). The *other* people couldn't dance; they had to stand around and watch people get a private aerial lesson. That was wrong, selfish, and irresponsible for the dance organizer, the band leader, and the instructors to do that to paying customers. The workshop was suppose to take 30 minutes; it ran at least 45 minutes. The workshop I took 14 years ago took 3 *hours* and that was with experienced dancers.
It was fairly appalling. These people at the dance were newbie dancers being taught aerials on a public dance floor while the rest of the crowd couldn't even dance during that time. The workshop took up 45 minutes (of a 3-hour dance) away from the time people paid to get in to dance. How much safe aerial instruction can you teach to newbies in 45 minutes? With all the background noise, how clear were the instructions to the students who were busy thinking about how to do their aerials? It was the GAP commercial all over again, exciting people into doing aerials without making sure they got the necessary information and training to do it right. Signed waivers do not absolve the organizers and instructors of any responsibility if these students got hurt at or outside the dance.
One of my friends even complained to the bandleader (as did others) about the workshop taking too much time and the bandleader said that he would just extend the closing time; that wasn't going to help the people I saw leaving during the workshop. I talked to Sam Alexander who coordinates the event for the organization that hosts the dance. He wasn't happy that people *paid* to get in and had to stand around during the workshop. I told him that he wasn't thinking about the important issue: if someone got hurt in the workshop, *he* and the Scout House would be the ones who would be sued for the accident, not the bandleader nor the teachers.
Luckily, no one got hurt. However, I don't think someone should run an event like that *hoping* no one would get hurt. That's the wrong way to run a business and a good way to get sued and it shows no consideration for the paying customers.
Having the participants sign waivers isn't going to protect the organizers if the participants don't *understand* what the ramifications are going to be if they get hurt and if they don't understand that they *can* get hurt. I left the dance in disgust and found two couples practicing those aerials *outside*...near the black ice on the ground. And they were doing the aerial sequence wrong. I had to stop them and tell them how to do the aerial *correctly* so at least the girl wouldn't get her arms yanked out of her sockets. And I found out that some of them had been dancing only for a *month*. WHY THE HELL ARE PEOPLE TEACHING AERIALS TO NEWBIES WHO HAVE BEEN DANCING FOR ONLY A MONTH?!??!?!?!? That's stupid and irresponsible! These new dancers don't even know how to do a Lindy Turn properly, much less flip their partner over their heads during a crowded dance.
I think everyone who paid to get into that dance deserves to be upset about it. I think they should ask for a refund for the time they were deprived of dance time. They should be given a written promise that a situation like this will never happen again. They deserve an apology from the band leader and dance organizers.
Other dance promoters should be upset here. If someone got hurt doing aerials, insurance underwriters won't believe that swing dancing is safe anymore and they'll raise their insurance rates for covering a dance venue. EVERYONE would pay for the accident just because one person thought that he should be allowed to have aerials at his dance. Every other dance promoter should be on the phone to tell this guy to cut it out. (Contact Frank Hsieh)
Aerials are banned at dances because they're dangerous. There's no place at a social dance floor for aerials. We're not trying to stop people from having fun. We're just trying to make sure they're alive to come back to the next dance. And we want to protect the other dancers from stupid people who feel they have the right to inflict their aerials upon everyone else around them. New dance promoters should be smart enough to learn why certain policies are implemented at other dances; those policies might even make sense.
If they don't fix this policy at the Scout House, I will indicate on this website that the Concord Scout House swing dances aren't safe to attend and that people should stay away from that dance. I certainly can't recommend this dance venue at this time and I certainly won't go back there.
PS: During my [original] email exchange, the bandleader had indicated that he might put up a sign saying "Aerials at your own risk" to *attract* people who like to do aerials yet provide him with an out if someone got hurt. I fail to see how that would pass legal muster. It's the same thing as *encouraging* people to do aerials at the dance.
However, the guy had an incorrect expectation. I don't exclude responses. I don't even exclude original writing from other people. There's a certain dancer out there who's been promising me a "Letter To The Editor" for over a year now. I don't write Soapboxes to see myself in print and I don't exclude others from this Soapbox. I don't *want* to write editorials all the time. They're a pain. Each one takes hours to compose and edit. Over the years, I've invited many others, including a certain dance promoter who's way more opinionated than me, to write in with their issues. I've invited many dance customers to write in with their grievances. However, they've had businesses and reputations to protect so they've declined. I, on the other hand, am not in the dance business. I make no money off dancing. I don't make money off this website so the threat of losing customers is not a big deal to me. On the other hand, with the site's statistics (26098 unique visitors in February), I see how many people use this website every week and I find comfort in that. They appreciate the work that I do and they sometimes write in with notes of thanks for my hard work and my efforts on their behalf. If I complain about something, you can be sure that other people complained about it *to me*.
I've been working on this website for 10 years (Dancing for 15 years, I'm an "old-timer"). It's a whim that got out of hand and it's picked up a life of its own. I've been editing it for 10 years, keeping it up to date and keeping the information fresh. I'm proud to say that I've survived several competiting websites and I've even caught several websites plagarizing from me because I had better information than them. I figure I must put in 10-20 hours every week on this website, many more hours than I spend dancing. I even maintain a relevant website for a dance that I don't even do anymore, plus I give free webpages to a number of certain for-profit and non-profit venues. Let's not forget that I have an email newsletter that I've been sending out for *15* years, promoting dance businesses *for free*. It's no wonder that I feel entitled to a little corner of the Internet for venting my opinions.
My readers know that I maintain this website not for the teachers and not for the dance organizers, much less for the bands. No, this website is maintained for the benefit of the dancers. Their safety and happiness on the dance floor is important to me. If a bad teacher, band, or dance venue leaves the business, I don't necessarily consider that a bad thing for the community. If some in the dance business are concerned that I might have some credibility in the dance community on certain issues and that my words might have some influence, then perhaps they should consider the possibility that I've earned it.
The following is the official response (verbatim) sent back to me by Frank Hsieh, director of the Beantown Swing Orchestra. Note that this is not the original reply I got from Frank, nor did I include Frank's personal preamble to me included with his "official" response. I added links to my editorials where he quoted me so you can get the full context of the quotes. And if he gets to cherry-pick my past Soapboxes to use in his reply, I think it's reasonable for me to make sure the full context of my comments are available. I did get get confused by a typo but I linked to the correct page without changing the text. I also got a note from someone else who was involved, but I decided to give Frank the courtesy of an official response. I must, however, quote a line from that person's note after Frank's reply (see way below). I'm sure I'm not the only one to take issue with it. Oh yes, I also exchanged some heated email from someone who chose to remind anonymous, but in the end, we decided that we really didn't hate each other after all (and he didn't approve of aerials on the social dance floor, either).
|Editor's note: Actually, it was my idea and invitation for him to respond officially. He had originally thought that I didn't let people reply, but I told him that I wanted people to write in and asked him if he wanted to reply. Since he's quoting my previous Soapboxes, I thought it might be helpful to provide links to the original text.|
|Editor's note: I don't think this was the only choice available. Given the choice that so many people *already* paid to attend a dance and only two couples chose to sign up in advance, this gave the organizers an excellent excuse to cancel or postpone the workshop. Other dance promoters might do something during the break that would include *everyone*, not just the few who paid extra for the benefit. But that's just my two cents.|
All in all the band played a total of 140 minutes (as planned) with a 35 minute break (5 minutes more than planned), and the beginner Lindy lesson got extended an extra 10 minutes. We played a total of 34 tunes. (In comparison, at Swing City we play 150 minutes but there are two breaks.) Did people really get gypped?
Nevertheless, I will apologize to any and all who contact me with their displeasure about being at the dance and will offer them each a free pass to a future dance, at my expense. As of today (Wednesday), only two have contacted me about it, and one of them wasn't even at the dance. During the second set, I sat down and talked with a very senior man who was displeased, and he happily accepted and appreciated my apology, saying that he just wanted to hear the band play some more since he enjoyed the music so much. Case closed.
From now on, any workshop that might occur during the break will take place at a location outside of the Scout House. On April 7, the workshop will be held in the dance studio at 51 Walden (across the street and two buildings down), where there will be no disruption of the dancing to recorded break music. Simple as that. If I had known the turnout was going to be so large, I would have booked the place for last Saturday's dance as well. So I made a mistake that caused some people not to be able to dance to canned music, which I apologize for and which won't happen again. Sam had already said this to the few that left early, as they were leaving. What else do you want from me? This is only the second time we have played this dance at the Scout House, and we are still experimenting with different things to see what works and what doesn't. We are not your typical goodie-goodie conformist band that does what everyone else does or says we should do. I hope that you respect that.
|Editor's note: I see it in a different way. If I take people's money,
that means I'm promising to take care of them and give them back "value" in return
because I want them to come back.
I don't then treat them as second-class citizens and then take care of someone else
who gives me more money.
This organizer seems to think that this is an "either-or" situation. I disagree with that. I admit this is in hindsight, but I would have given each of those students free admission to the lesson and dance next month so the regular dancers wouldn't be affected. So yes, there was an alternative. There are always alternatives; it's just a matter of picking the right one.
Taking care of the new dancers doesn't mean abandoning the old dancers. I don't believe in chasing the old dancers away. Dancing is something you can do with your significant other for the rest of your lives. Peple who are into Lindy Hop for the dancing are more likely to come back and continue to come back than new people who get interested in swing dancing only because of the aerials. It's all about the dancing.
Note to Frank: I linked to the June 25, 2006 Soapbox. I hadn't written an editorial for June 25, 2007 yet. Just an FYI.
One of my band's goals is to introduce Savoy-style Lindy Hop to younger generations, as well as the music associated with it, in order to help build up the Boston Lindy scene and ensure its longevity. That's why I set up a Teen Lindy Hop program in Concord with several instructors to teach the dance to middle-school and high-school students. We do assemblies, workshops, and dances to demonstrate it, and we offer classes at a dance studio specifically for teens. Not only are they exposed to a great form of dance and music, but it keeps them off the streets and it give them something healthy and wholesome to do. I make no money from anything I do related to swing, like you and your website. I give all the workshop money to the instructors. I give all the admission money to the band - whatever little there is to pay 18-20 musicians. These are starving students who do it because they love the music and don't get this opportunity anywhere else. Many of them are not as familiar with the music as the dancers are, but the more they play it the more they love it, and perhaps they may consider getting involved in swing music when they graduate - and my only reward is the satisfaction of knowing that I helped plant the seed for the continuing appreciation for and survival of this genre of music and that I nurtured it along the way. So call me selfish and those other adjectives you used - you don't even know me, and you won't even make the effort to introduce yourself even though you've been at the last two Scout House dances and had plenty to tell me about each one (via computer).
|Editor's Note: Those of you who were around in 1998 will remember the GAP commercial.
It encouraged a lot of new dancers to get into swing dancers. It also
encouraged them to do dangerous aerials on the social dance floor without
any dance or aerial training. Many of us got kicked or banged up by
careless newbie dancers who should never have been near a dance floor.
How many of you remember the followers who had sprained shoulders because
they were flipped over by guys who thought they were cool? I've watched
people get hurt.
Many of use were so happy when that commercial was taken off the air.
By the way, that "wave" of dancers lasted about three years and then
they got bored and left. They found something else to do. The serious dancers are
Puritans? Aerials aren't banned at dances because we're conservative and Puritans; they're banned because they're dangerous...especially to the other dancers. Some of us actually care about the people dancing around us.
|Editor's note: and don't forget the couple that fell to the floor. Yes, they
were probably doing something wrong, but that's one of my points.
People *will* fall, people *will* get hurt, people *will* do stupid things. I've been through that.
The fact that no one got hurt during that evening means that they were lucky and you don't
want to base your future on luck.
Making *sure* the students understand and appreciate the responsibility
of what they're doing and the fact that they can die or be permanently disabled
from aerials should be the primary concern before teaching anyone aerials.
And even professionals get hurt. Rusty Franks, a seasoned professional in California, broke her neck in five places while practicing with her long-time trusted partner in 2000.
Following Frank's comments is a comment from Bob Thomas, a teacher, dancer, and Lindy Hop aerials performer for 20 years. He also taught the aerials workshop that I took.
|Editor's note: I almost missed this upon a second reading. Frank described a little dancing, then the lesson, and then some more dancing to practice those moves. He missed the point that the aerial had nothing to do with the dancing. The students were taught a gymnastic move and were not shown how to integrate it into the dance. They weren't being taught how to dance so the workshop had nothing to do with the dancing before or after the class. How do you lead that move? How do you prep for it? How much lead time do you give your partner to prepare for it? How many beats should it last and how do you get back on the right beat? How do you let your partner know that the aerial is coming?|
|Editor's note: The flip-your-parter-over-your-back particular move was one
of the last ones I was taught in a three-hour class because it was an advanced move.
The other ones before kept the followers feet and body near the
ground in case we dropped her.
My point in this section is, A move is not a move unless it's done to the music (attributed to Eric Mittler, former webmaster for the Northern California Lindy Society back in 1997. See my original article.) If they don't know how to lead it or plan for it in the music, it's not dancing. If they have to stop the dancing to get set and then execute, it's not dancing. If you can only do the aerial and not the dance, it's adult gym class.
|Editor's Note: Dance venues in Boston don't ban aerials just to be like
everyone else. They ban aerials because aerials are dangerous and they don't
want to get sued. If you want to do aerials in your own home where you don't
have a chance to hurt someone else, go for it. If you're going to be in
public, you don't have a right to put other people at risk without their
With Charleston moves, we're in a position to watch for other people. If people are nearby, we make our steps smaller. We also have a responsibility not to hit and kick other people. If someone's doing a flip-over-the-back aerial, the leader is looking *down*, not at the spot where the follower is going to land. And the follower is looking *up* and has no control where she's going to land. At least in a Charleston position, the two dancers are aware of other people around them and they keep their feet close to the ground. And they can see where their feet and hands are going.
And with a basic swingout? I look over my shoulder before I send my partner out. I don't send her out unless I *know* her destination is unoccupied. Teach that before teaching a newbie a "cool" aerial and the dance community will thank you.
Note to self: add new dates to the calendar before archiving at the end of the week.
By the way, following last Saturday's dance, Sam Alexander booked our band to play at the Scout House (in addition to our already scheduled April and May dates) on the first Saturdays in October and November, February (2008), March, April, and May. Also, we are booked for the first Saturday in July, August, and September 2007 at 51 Walden (across the street from the Scout House). You may state on your website that these dances aren't safe to attend and that people should stay away from them. We will see who listens to you and who listens to me.
Director, Beantown Swing Orchestra
Bob Thomas, a long time Boston dancer, teacher, and Lindy Hop aerials performer for about 20 years, had this to say:
[RE: last week's Soapbox] Nicely done . And of course I totally agree with you. Aerials are for experienced dancers with partners they know, and aerials should be taught in a very carefully constructed and organized environment within a specific classroom setting that includes a warmup and spotters.It should be noted that Bob's workshop had us just stretching and warming up for 30 minutes before we were allowed to get into dance position.
Otherwise, there's no monitoring what's happening, and people needing help with their aerials may discover their need for help only as a result of having injured themselves.
Also, just because no one was apparently hurt that night at the dance doesn't mean that all is well. Likely there were several people who woke up the next morning with sore and strained muscles, tendons and ligaments from their being stretched (without warming up!!) and abused while learning the aerials. Oftentimes the injuries from this kind of "practice" only become apparent the next day
"I wish other dance promoters would be as energetic as Frank is about getting new people to dance, about trying to bring life back in the scene, and about trying to promote lindy hop."I know of a lot of people who would disagree with that. Certainly, some would ask why this person thinks there's something wrong with the current scene. But others might ask why anyone would ignore the contributions of others currently on the Boston swing dance scene. For example:
It's nice to have your favorite dance hero, but it's unkind to ignore those who have actually done a lot more to promote and preserve swing and lindy hop in Boston. And don't forget the bands like the White Heat Swing Orchestra who were introducing swing music and dancing to the disco/nightclub crowd back at the Roxy in the early 90's. They were playing their music at the moment I decided to take up swing dancing in the first place. Note that none of these dance promoters need aerials to attract new dancers. Take note: some of us have been around long enough to live through the different waves of dance interest. If anyone who thinks Lindy Hop is needs help "reviving" right now should have been around in the mid-90's when West Coast Swing was king and Lindy Hop was *dead*. We survived it and came back stronger. Dancing comes and goes in waves. And with every wave, we see newbies who jump on the swing bandwagon by doing the cool aerials because it doesn't involve spending a long time learning how to dance. Been there, seen that....again.
Aerials aren't the only way to attract new dancers to the scene and it's not the best way to do so, either. I am saying it's the wrong way to attract new dancers. Aerials will interest the young and physically-fit, but how long will it hold their attention until they move on to the next cool and exciting fad? What will this group of dance organizers do about attracting the older and not-so-physically-fit? I know other dance venues are happy to welcome dancers of all abilities and ages. Anyone who joins the scene because of aerials is someone I want far, far away from me on the dance floor.
I started dancing because of a woman I wanted to date. I found that, during a song, she let me hold her hand on the dance floor. I got to put my arm around her for the 3-minute duration of a song. That is the best motivation for taking up swing dancing, not aerials. When I'm dancing, my partner knows that she's the center of my universe for the next 3 minutes. This idea is harder to promote, because I understand aerials are easier and quicker to wow people who have shorter attention spans, but it's much more worthwhile. Aerials are for demonstrations, competitions, performances, showing off, or getting attention. If I'm busy getting attention from the crowd, I'm not paying attention to the lady I'm dancing with.
As of this writing, Frank informed me that he will not ban aerials at the Concord Scout House swing dances (see above). Rumor has it that he'll be dividing the dance floor so half (or so) will be a "no-aerial zone". That is his perogative, just as it is mine to warn people that I don't consider that dance venue to be safe for social dancers. I've seen proof many times. Even professionals who get paid to do aerials get hurt. Aerials don't belong on the social dance floor and aerials aren't for amateurs who have no *professional* interest in doing them. Figure out how to dance before you think about doing aerials. If you can't do aerials to the music, you're just in gym class and you don't belong at a dance. I've been dancing long enough to understand that and I've taken an aerials class so I know what I'm talking about. I do appreciate that Frank has offered a free admission pass to anyone who contacts him and complains about last week. I think he's honorable and sincere in his goals of adding to the dance community and trusted friends tell me he's a nice guy; I just disagree with his methods and I think he's getting bad advice.
But one thing that no one's thought about so far...
The Scout House is a non-profit organization sitting on some really valuable property. They can't afford to *defend* a lawsuit, much less lose one. And I can't imagine that they could afford to replace that venue.
Frank Hsieh has not indicated whether or not he'll make all dancers sign waivers in order to attend the monthly swing dance. After all, if someone gets hit by a careless aerialist, they might sue for damages. If they get *crippled*, a million dollar insurance policy isn't going to go very far. And they'll go after everyone who can pay. And the Scout House is at the top of the food chain. Anyone who questions the probability of this happening should be asked why they get insurance for anything. Because it could happen.
There are four Contra dances held at the Scout House every week. If I were a regular at one of the weekly Contra dances, I'd be really concerned that someone was taking a such cavalier attitude about the risk to the existence of the Scout House.
Final note. I'm pleased about one aspect of this whole affair: Frank went and read all my old editorials, even if his intent was to use my words against me. This has got to be the longest Soapbox in the history of this website. Thanks to Frank Hsieh for keeping this space exciting.