How racially inclusive is your scene?

The Frankie Manning Foundation just released this list of really helpful questions from Julia Loving for scene organizers, leaders, and teachers. I know that reading through this list was helpful and even a little convicting for me, and I hope it’s helpful to you too. I wanted to include the full list here for you to consider, and I have a few additional thoughts at the bottom.

  1. Do I actively recognize that Lindy Hop is a Black art form? Is that recognition and acceptance represented in the way that I run dance events, classes, and overall dance scene?
  2. Am I comfortable dealing with or discussing race matters? If not, am I in a partnership with someone else that is?
  3. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified bands or orchestras that are led by or include Black musicians and singers?
  4. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black instructors on all levels?
  5. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black DJs for my events or to cover band breaks?
  6. Does my event’s attendance (instructors, bands, audience, dancers) reflect the diverse populations of the world? If not, do I have a plan in place to make my event more welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds?
  7. Does the way that Lindy Hop is danced in my community look and feel like the original?
  8. Do I want to gain knowledge and do I seek out understanding about the African American experience? What about the dance history?
  9. Do I hire staff that have been vetted for non-discriminatory practices in the scene?
  10. Do I invite constructive responses for policy and programs to address racial inequities within my events?
  11. Do I invite local dance communities of non-whites to events?
  12. Do I share resources with my community about the origins of the dance, Black history, biographies of the original dancers, jazz musicians, music collections, etc.?
  13. Do I encourage my students to take field trips to venues or historical sites that represent the African American history or experience, especially those cities that are rich with the history?
  14. Am I committed to the long-term message of Black history and recognition, not just when the topic is trending?
  15. Do I lead by example as a dance instructor by including history lessons as an integral part of my classes. For example; we all do the Shorty George but did you know that Shorty George was a Black man who danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem? Etc.
  16. Do you invite lindy hoppers from earlier generations to participate and tell their history at your events? Ex: Mama Lou Parks Dancers, Harvest Moon Ball Competitors, and Savoy Dancers
  17. Do I pledge to welcome everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, body type, physical ability, and mental ability?
  18. Do I encourage my students and fellow dancers to be open to dancing with everyone and to actively ask people of all kinds to dance? Especially those that might not get asked to dance very often? There should be no wallflowers!
  19. Do I encourage mentorships, trainings, or extra tutelage for any new Black dancers in my scene? Do you offer any financial sponsorship for African American students to your attend your events or participate in other events?
  20. Am I willing to accept and embrace change even though it may change how I originally experienced the Lindy Hop community?

Question 5, about considering and hiring Black DJs, is a great question. As a white DJ, I know that I need to make a more active effort to get to know Black DJs at events I work at, and then recommend those DJs to other scene leaders and organizers with whom I work. I don’t think the need for more diverse DJs means I need to step down in some way, but I do think it means I need to work just as hard to lift up and promote Black DJs as I do to promote myself.

I love question 15, about including history lessons in our classes when we teach. At my almost-all-white undergraduate institution, I often worked information about historical Black dancers and musicians into my lessons. I am doing my best to make this blog a resource for learning more about Black vintage musicians in particular. I hope that as you read along, you find information you can use when you teach to help your students and scene become more aware of the enormous debt we owe to Black jazz artists, past and present.

Question 17 is also excellent, particularly for its inclusion of mental ability in the list of characteristics that shouldn’t keep us from welcoming or dancing with someone. I hope to address this more in the future, but I have seen and heard about some pretty nasty things happening to dancers who experience autism and other differences in mental ability. If you have biases or fears about people with mental disabilities – and, culturally, most of us do – take time to educate yourself and get to know people with mental disabilities personally. The honest truth is, they’re just like the rest of us and want the same things we all want – to be loved, talked to, and asked to dance!

Thanks again to Julia Loving for creating these questions, the Frankie Manning Foundation for distributing them, and Bobby White at Swungover for posting about them, which was how I saw them originally. Julia Loving blogs at Big Girls Lindy Hop Too! and sells undergarments for Lindy Hoppers at LuckyLindysNYC on Etsy, which has shorts (the kind you might have seen flashing under someone’s skirt) in all kinds of patterns and fabrics – how fun! I might need to get a pair of the rainbow ones for Pride month!

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