Dear Blues II
Aka “But what I can do?"/easy actionable items/be less terrible
Woo boy, that was an eventful few days.
So this is part 2 in my unplanned 2 part series, alternatively titled: ok, prove you really care. I'm going to make this list as non-nebulous as possible, it's going to include things that are objective, range in difficulty, and can be implemented in a way that you can point to and say "see, look". Real lasting change is harder to pin down, and it's also easier to avoid altogether. Others will advocate for more soul searching and emotional growth, that's not my strong suit:
Over the weekend I noticed a lot of bold self-declarations regarding participation in the scene as a whole. On a personal note, I’ve always believed and still strongly do in not telling people what to do and how they do it, and I think the personal choices people make are their own in this regard. However I cannot endorse a full boycott of events based on hardline criteria as something for everyone to adopt. My mission is actually a little different. It’s not about bold statements, it’s about action. I’m giving you tons of ideas, some of these literally the scale of difficulty is “go listen to a blues band” or “watch a comedy special”, so if you tell me you can’t do a single thing I know you’re full of shit.
(another side note: my post was always aimed more at our community at large rather than only organizers, I think showing support and interest in these things, helping them out, putting money back into the scene and not out of it is how we can do better. At some point yes, you may be forced with a moral confrontation that causes you to abandon an event, but I don’t want people think the work is done if they just avoid the wrong things without also actively promote the right things)
start here(how to be less terrible):
I’ll break this up into easy, quick steps that can be implemented immediately, things require more work/time, and things that are very difficult and will require soul searching and heavy trade offs:
Easy and Immediate
-before class have your instructors or your event host educate people about the origins and context of the Blues idiom dances. It be something as simple as, ” We want to take a moment to remember that Blues music and Blues dancing came from Black communities at a time of great oppression & violence against them. A lot of that oppression & violence is still very present and real today. So as we get to enjoy this wonderful music & dancing, remember that, and we encourage you in your lives to fight that oppression & work to make the world a better place. “ If you need additional suggestions on how to initiate this conversation, many organizers are sharing what they have been doing in their scenes and are working on making this available as a resource online(ask members f the organizers group)
-have your DJs actually DJ blues music(by black musicians maybe?)/ask organizers to have DJs be more strict with blues, and not over-saturate their sets with jazz(75/80% blues to jazz ratio at least)/as a DJ change up your style and library to have more styles and more black musicians.
(if you want ask us and we will give you our proprietary guidelines that we wrote up and worked hard on)
-if you run events, TRY to hire black musicians, and especially for big events with 3-6 bands, having at least ONE black musician can’t be hard, black artists are by and away the majority of blues artists and *good* blues artists
-promote reading lists and documentaries and other black media to your local dancers on your pages and through your posts(see below)
-especially check out the blues and jazz book club/contact Chelsea June Adams. Link here
-if your events make money beyond breaking even and paying yourself and your volunteers, donate to black arts centers or charities, and/or hold fundraisers for that specific purpose.
-reach out to the members of the scene who are doing work in these areas for advice and collaboration(like us Damon Stone or John Vigil or Julie Brown or the bluesSHOUT! crew or literally anyone commenting on these threads lately)
-support your local blues scene by going to shows in bars and checking out open mics. Maybe you will find a band to hire, or a CD to purchase and play at your dance, but if nothing else these dudes need money and an audience, and going out to bars to dance is a joy anyway.
Intermediate difficulty/Require time to implement
-support/try to hire/demand events have black instructors
especially if you run and/or attend BIG events, demand that they not be 100% white. I know the concern here is over fetishizing people, so don’t do that. Also, when I say demand, don’t be a diva about it. Organizers are overworked and underpaid.
Their job is to hire the most qualified and talented teachers first (within their budget). What many people are overlooking is that it’s not just about teaching dance, it’s about teaching culture. While the available pool of black blues dance instructors is small, you can seek out black academics in other fields, instructors in other movement arts as well.
-btw you know you can have your musicians do talks/lectures/classes on what they’ve seen and how they feel? Might be worthwhile if you meet someone who is 70-90yrs old and has been playing since they were like 9. Or do live music classes like we’ve been doing in Denver for a while.
-conversely hiring white/non-POC instructors who know the culture, history, and dance the best, and are hired to teach the topics they are most comfortable and excited about. I would argue those teachers are more necessary than ever, and the teachers who don’t teach the culture, history, don’t have the aesthetic and idiom knowledge, are ones who should feel pushed out, not just any white teacher period.
-demand that events stop hiring shitty swing bands, or jazz bands that turn the dance into slow lindy. Swing music isn’t blues music, white bands playing slow jazz all day long isn’t blues either. I’m personally sick of showing up to a Friday night just to hear barely slowed down swing jazz, I want to see some fucking guitar(personal note on that, but please stop hiring non blues bands for real)
-ask for more classes from historians, classes on aesthetic and idiom dances. Hire black professionals, I guarantee you there are historians and musicologists outside of just our blues scene that can help out here. Or at the very least hire white teachers who are invited to the picnic and teach authentic blues
Very difficult/personal work
-organize your own workshops and events with teachers who are enthusiastic about blues culture and history(becoming an organizer isn’t easy, I know)
-call people out the same way the scene has been regarding gender/feminist issues, tell your friends they fucked up by hiring certain people, or having certain class focuses, or doing/not doing certain things at their events(pertaining to this list or other things i may have missed), or rewarding dance styles that break blues aesthetic
-update codes of conduct to include things like: don’t stare at black dancers and put them on a pedestal, actually ask them to dance and treat them like human beings, don’t touch their hair or ask them to give you free history or culture lessons, or ask them to legitimize your dance through their acceptance
-if you need advice on any of this, I’d hesitate to say ask me, I’m saying talk to Damon Stone or Kenneth Shipp/Blues Dance Nashville, or BluesSHOUT if you wanna know how to run/start a scene/event that successfully integrates all these things
Strictly Personal Homework(some pretty easy, others not so much)
(aka how to get down with the wokeness):
Check out this thing i made specifically for white people who don’t know how to start with black culture general:
Read our blog:
and damon's blog:
Check out podcasts like The Nod and Code Switch, follow black twitter, watch Key and Peele.
in general understand that black culture shares values across many mediums, so maybe watch comedians, black movies/shows, sport(seriously do you see how important football is in America? Check out Shannon Sharpe on F1)anything? do other dance styles that are black and still attended by primarily black dancers like kiz and zouk in some scenes, steppin', break dancing, hip hop
being slightly more nebulous: ask yourself, as a dancer, do you put your energy into making your own dance authentic, trying to learn the dances, promoting blues culture when you can, and using your voice to make this scene more blues or more something else? ask yourself would you have/would speak out against now and would you can add to that list?
Don't just feel sorry for yourself and wallow in guilt, but actually find what you enjoy and wanna celebrate and learn more about as an aspiring blues geek. Lots of people are going to run around badgering organizers for not doing enough and that’s fine BUT, I want to ask YOU, the regular dancers, where is your voice?
Every time I’ve asked my community what they wanna learn, which teachers they like, what bands they wanna see, they’re largely silent, and it’s fallen on me and Cierra to dictate what people get. You can affect this change, organizers are running a business based on attendance and would LOVE to hear your ideas, and implement things are popular.