The State of the Lindy Online Disunion

[Note: I added a section about Bug’s Question of The Day into this post because of an oversight on my part and because its hard not to talk about online communication in the dance scene and omit one of the most popular sites right now. I also posted the additional section into the comments in case you don’t feel like reading the whole thing again.]

From the wall of the Facebook page for this blog:

Dear Jerry,

I have never been this into facebook stalking someone I don’t even know. Thank you for all of the amazing posts.

Sincerely,

Miranda

Wandering & Pondering – JSAlmonte

You’re welcome. Now you know how I feel stalking an entire community.

-March 18, 2011

When I first started dancing, I became as obsessive as the next person and devoted much of my waking hours to learning how to get “it.” When I wasn’t doing it, I was researching it online. But back in the early aughts, internet resources weren’t organized or accessible. Video was rare, and sometimes only after an eternity of downloading a couple of megabytes before searching for the correct codec for one of a half dozen possible media players that could process it. There were a few websites offering tips, but mostly they were instructors just giving you enough to convince you to take lessons from them.

Discussion boards were the main places to go, and I hit those with a vengeance. All three of them at the time: Yehoodi, Jive Junction, and SwingoutDC. When conversation didn’t keep up with my curiosity, I delved into their archives looking for just about anything related to the mechanics of the dance. I ended up copying and pasting over 100 pages worth of posts, which I still have somewhere, divided into various topics such as styling, musicality, technique, etc. I still regret that I didn’t properly annotate all those posts detailing the early thoughts of people like Peter Loggins, Justin Zillman, Jenn Salvadori, and so many others.

Even back then, I don’t think that many people realized how much information by knowledgeable people was out there. The hard part was wading through all those posts trying to figure out who knew what they were talking about and who was BS’ing. Fortunately, living in DC, I had the luxury of being in a scene with a lot of people who knew their stuff. From there I figured out what their usernames were and then observed how they related to other online personalities. Who they deferred to; who they gave props to; and who they conflicted with.  Then figuring out the real names and then tracking down VHS tapes of their dancing as the final litmus test of their knowledge.

That’s what separates the Lindy Hop online community from others. Any schmoe can type all day about whether Kirk is a better captain than Picard (although my money is on Sisko), but the best way to know who can dance the dance is to see for yourself or even feel for yourself in person. To truly be a part of a social dance community like ours, you have to get out from behind the keyboard and show up to the dances.

…………..

It didn’t take long for discussion boards to pop up for every city. Sometimes they had more than one depending on their local politics. I learned a lot about dancing and the culture in general that way.

However, it’s a popular myth to say that those boards lost importance as social networking tools because of Facebook. In fact, most boards were fading long before even Friendster became popular. In part nine of my Artistry In Rhythm paper, I noted that a Yehoodi thread in 2002 about the North Atlantic Dance Championships was one of the last times many high level dancers converged on an online discussion topic en masse. Even by then, many of those dancers were avoiding online forums.

The simple fact is that talking about dancing is difficult. Those dancers most knowledgeable about it simply lacked the time and patience to deal with the more aggressive and/or obtuse posters. They were the first ones to start leaving, and as time went by, more and more people followed sensing the diminishing critical mass.

I’ve also noted how important The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown was in allowing people to record their own dance footage. Combine that with the ever increasing easiness in distributing that footage online-culminating in the introduction of YouTube in 2005-and it made it easier for dancers who knew what they were doing to simply demonstrate their stuff on the dance floor rather than write about it.

So discussion boards faded; many of them closing outright. The thing that has surprised me the most is how long it has taken for Lindy Hop related blogs to take off.

When I started this blog just under 2 years ago, there were only a handful of blogs out there, and most of those have stop publication since then. However, within the past year, maybe even the past six months, the Lindy blog-o-sphere has exploded.

According to my Google Reader, I subscribe to almost 800 blogs and other sundry RSS feeds.  That’s a lot, but I don’t read most of the several hundred items that get sent to my inbox every day.  I have a lot of subscriptions simply because I find it easier than surfing 800 web sites.  I go though my reader like I used to go through the newspaper: skimming headlines, skimming a few of posts that catch my eye, and only completely reading a handful of articles a day depending on how busy I am.

I’ll admit that I subscribe to an obnoxious amount of blogs. Most people keep the number pretty low so it’s more manageable. It was a little overwhelming at first, but now I’ve trained myself to keep up with it efficiently, spot what interests me the most, and not waste time on BS.

I can’t get an accurate count out of my RSS reader, but I’d estimate that out of this total, there are about 400 Lindy Hop (and balboa and blues and other assorted vernacular jazz dance curiosities) related feeds.  You can see why I gave up doing regular posts just highlighting links.

Only about a 1/4 of these feeds are straight up dance related blogs like Swungover or Art and Dancing. Another 1/4 are club and venue updates like The Jam Cellar blog. The last half are people who talk about dance with some frequency like Jo Hoffberg or Rik Panganaban.

That still sounds like a lot of reading, but fortunately the vast majority of them don’t update on a regular basis. The ones that do mostly talk about what the next intermediate class is going to cover or who the band on Saturday night will be. Sounds tedious but it gives me a general feeling for what is going on, who is getting hired to teach workshops, and also more recently, to find out about lesser known musicians and bands.

As for the personal blogs, I honestly don’t read them too carefully. As I mentioned before, I look at a lot of stuff so I don’t spend much time reading what you had for dinner the other night. I usually skim for references to dancing or events before moving on. I hate to sound like an jerk, but a lot of people just don’t lead interesting enough lives for me to hang on every word about why they don’t have enough time to blog on a regular basis.

It does feel a bit voyeuristic and sometimes downright weird at times. I admit there are times when I stumble onto something that feels way too personal. People breaking up with significant others. The death of loved ones. When they aren’t talking in excruciating detail about the meal they had at the new fancy restaurant, bloggers are generally a pretty depressing lot.

However, I do find a lot of unintentional hilarity in foreign language blogs if only because Google Translate isn’t very good at translating informal banter. Interestingly enough, many people usually spell out “Lindy Hop” no matter what language or alphabet they use which makes their websites easy to find. It’s a little refreshing to see how honestly people will talk about dancers and events when they don’t think anyone is paying attention.

Then there’s stuff that I wish I could unread like the vast majority of posts I find about blues dancing that are almost always related to sex. Both from newbies and experienced dancers alike.  Blues dancers complain that they are unfairly stereotyped, but the online presence out there doesn’t help that perception.

On the flip side, there isn’t very much chatter about balboa out there. This seems odd to me since bal people are the most anal retentive people I know. You would think they would write down half of the rambling they like to do in person.

The vast majority of Lindy Hop posts are very rudimentary. People trying to describe it to their non dancing friends, usually accompanied by the Hellzapoppin clip or the ULHS 2006 Liberation final. Typically, the people who try to give a “serious” go of blogging will start off trying to explain it before succumbing to the dreaded “can’t find the time to blog” virus that eats most blogs.

Other times—admittedly very rarely—I’ll find something so deeply moving that I make it my mission to share because it’s the kind of thing that enriches the fabric of our community.

…………

Now you’re asking: how the hell I find all of these blogs?   Thanks to the magic of technology I can be as lazy stalking everyone as I am surfing all these websites.  You may know that you can Google blog search: plug in a word or phrase (e.g. your ex-girlfriend, a questionable Match.com inquiry, the puppy you lost when you were a kid that your parents said ran away but you think they gave to your cousin because they didn’t feel like taking it for a walk every day) and find blog posts with those words.  In addition, you can set that search set up as an RSS feed so it’ll periodically send you all the new stuff whenever it pops up.

Creepy, ain’t it?  I call it convenient.

The downside is that depending on how popular the term is, you may end up seeing a lot of crap.  I probably get 100-200 articles sent to me every day just from these searches, but 99% are spam. People will just tag random posts with a phrase like “Lindy Hop” and 1000 other terms just to generate hits.  After awhile though it gets easier to see the crap just from eyeballing domain names and anonymous authors.

Even a lot of relevant links aren’t that useful since they’re just advertising weekly classes and dances or very commonly: a random person telling their friends that they’re about to take a Lindy Hop class or just went to a dance last night, but never mention it again.

This is the reason why I find it difficult keeping my list of blogs updated. There is very little consistency out there outside of a very small number of blogs. Both in terms of frequency of updates and in terms of level of interestingness for the average Lindy Hopper. I would estimate that at least half of those 400 blogs haven’t updated in a year.

The newest thing these days are the Tumblr blogs. At least in terms of Lindy blogs. Honestly, they’re kind of a pain in the ass to follow partly because I feel that Tumblr designed the whole system to be followed from the inside. It’s very unfriendly to casual outside readers and the posts tend not to display well inside RSS feeds. Depending on how fast other people re-blog, I may see a re-blog before the original post. Re-blogging is the most maddening thing since 10 people will typically re-post a video that one person has posted. Then there’s the issue that many Tumblr blogs are closed to outside comments, making it impossible for outsiders to chime in. Just recently someone asked a question about the “A Day at the Races” clip. Of course I just blogged about said clip, but there’s no way to respond unless I get a Tumblr account, and that is not going to happen any time soon.

Interestingly enough one of the Tumblr bloggers asked some basic demographic questions about their followers and the responses reveal that the typical Tumblr Lindy blogger is female, college aged, and has not been dancing very long (less than 2 years in most cases). I think this demographic make up puts as much distance between them and the rest of the online community as does the technical limitations.

But then again, the online community is pretty fragmented as it is. Discussion boards were very much a street corner sort of activity. Anyone who found the site could log on and contribute to a conversation. This was long before most other social networking tools developed, so those boards were the only shows in town. If you wanted to talk about Lindy Hop, you went to Yehoodi. If you wanted to talk shit, then you went to Jive Junction. Etc.

If you think about it, Facebook isn’t that open in the sense that, in all likelihood, you’re only interacting with your “friend.” On discussion boards, you were a target for anyone gunning for you. That’s also probably the reason why most people left them. Of course a recent thread on Yehoodi perfectly illustrates the frustratingly circular viciousness of online discussions with people you don’t know very well.

Speaking of Yehoodi, I think they missed an opportunity with the upgrade a couple of years ago to lead this wave of new blogs. It looked as if they were going to go to blog-centric format, but there was an outcry from long time users during the initial testing phase concerning elimination of the discussion boards. This is one of the times when a web developer should have ignored client feedback because it was largely coming from a segment of people who didn’t dance very much and valued their online niche over Yehoodi’s mission to serve as a national online destination for Lindy Hop. In the end, the developers tried to compromise and the relaunch still has not gained much traction in terms of participation. Although thankfully, most of those less dance inclined users have since moved on, so it’s not a total loss.

The Facebook page, Bug’s Question of The Day, so far is the the best adaptation of the old discussion format while overcoming it’s deficiencies. With over 1000 followers and counting, Bug Brockway asks a question posed by herself or one of the followers and lets everyone have at it. Since it is on Facebook, everyone’s identity is available with a click onto their name. This transparency keeps the trolling to a minimum and also helps people identify who they are responding to since your reply to someone’s point may change if they are a newer dancer or if you’re talking to an established international instructor. However, I still notice from time to time how people may break off from the main question and post replies on their own walls. On the one hand it spreads the discussion, but at the same time it limits the potential debate to a group of more sympathetic “friends.”

Still, blogs are very much islands unto themselves. If you want to challenge a blogger, you have to go to their home court. Even if you can deal with all their friends and supporters who congregate on that site, that blogger still has ultimate say on whether you can post or not.

Despite my earlier threats, I’ve been pretty lenient in terms letting people have their say about my posts. Granted, I have yet to encounter anything what would warrant even a consideration of censorship, but I do enjoy the rush of power logging in as the admin to this site.

This is why I find recent blogs by Nick Williams and Sarah Breck & Dax Hock very interesting. In his “So You Want To Be a Traveling Lindy Hop Rockstar?” post, Nick starts off by talking about how much he dislikes the way the term “Rockstar” is used in relation to him and his fellow instructors. Yet his post, along with some of Dax & Sarah’s recent opinions, reinforces this view because they talk about issues from positions of authority by way of their skills that clearly puts them at the top of a social hierarchy.

This is just another reason why I miss Jive Junction, and even the old Yehoodi, where there really was much more of a competitive free marketplace of ideas. Yes, there was a lot of ridicule and penis jokes, but there were also a lot of honest challenges to opinions regardless of who you were in the scene. You couldn’t post on the old discussion boards unless you were prepared to take on all comers; those serious and those many more that were not. This is why most of my blog posts are so damn long. I’m imagining and anticipating arguments and insults that largely don’t ever appear.

…………….

Alice Pye from The Rantings of a Lindy Hopper, wrote about some old blogs that Naomi Uyama had written several years ago. Naomi was and still is my favorite Lindy Hop blogger even if she hasn’t posted anything in over four years. Every once in awhile, I ask her about posting again even though I already know the answer.

I think if you take to airing out your opinions in a public forum, then you should be prepared to throw down answer challenges to your position. But that does take a lot of energy even when people agree with you; not to mention the responsibility.

Dax Hock put up a post about dressing up in our dance scene and how he thought that dressing more casually back in the day (2000-2003ish) almost ruined the dance. Nicole Zuckerman made an interesting point on the April 15 Yehoodi Talk Show where his position sounds a little absurd, but that he may have known that in phrasing his post. IF he did, then he has a certain level of responsibility to explain that to his readers because he is one of the more high profile dancers in our scene. Otherwise people who don’t know any better will just take him at his word that this is how things went down. If you look at the comments in that post, it takes about 50 comments before a voice from the past, Paul Overton, chimes in with some perspective. He’s later backed up by a nice response from Andy Reid. But most of the comments before are unrelentingly supportive, especially from those people who weren’t there.

This is a good illustration of how useful it would be to have an easier way for all these websites to interact more with each other. Linking all these blogs through an aggregator could  help with that, although I do realize that it’s being done already. Sam Carroll over at dogpossum talks about the issues with that, and I’ll just say that I agree. There’s a reason why you don’t ever see mention of a certain nonsensically titled site on this blog. It’s not an accident, and not one I plan on fixing any time soon unless I start seeing regular checks for being a “contributor.” Can you really call it contributing when no one asks your permission?

This brings up the idea of anonymity on the internet. In short: it doesn’t exist. This is where my earlier point about participating on the dance floor comes into play. Eventually, you have to see the light of day to talk and dance with people in order to fully be a part of our dance community. Which is why I am always suspicious of fancy looking sites that don’t ever list who is behind the site, or even worse, listing a false identity.

I keep saying that our community isn’t that big. Sure, 200 people showed up to your local workshop this weekend, but how many of them will be back next year? Out of that number, how many of them will become serious dancers in terms of time and effort invested into getting better? We’re not talking about a large number of people in that last group. Even worldwide.  Since they all take lessons or perform and compete to a limited number if instructors and venues, I only need to contact about a dozen people to get the low down on any of those advanced dancers anywhere in the world.  It’s not an elaborate network; it just doesn’t have to cover a very large group. It only seems massive because it spans the entire globe, but you can see how technology is bringing everyone closer together. Or at least closer to people who make the effort to look.

I think the lack of anonymity is one of the reasons why-even with the proliferation of lindy blogs within the past year-I’ve found that very few people are interested or willing to write about larger issues in our scene with any kind of depth. It all seems geared towards newer dancers, even blogs written by the more experienced dancers. There’s a lot of: “here’s a video I like” or “this is an event I went to.”  There isn’t that much writing about the dynamics of the scene outside of why the good dancers seem like snobs or the occasional technical dance geekery.

Disagreements don’t come all that often, but when they do, they’re still civil such as the blogs following Bobby White’s initially innocuous dance analogy earlier this winter.  And then later there was a post about dancing in heels by Sarah Breck that triggered some rather vociferous responses. What intrigues me the most is that the more serious dissenters came from more geographically isolated areas like this one from Sam in Australia.  It’s as if in the absence of anonymity, then distance, even virtual distance, is what makes it easier for people to seriously challenge others.

As polite as the blogs are these days, people still love a trainwreck. I know I do, and I have noticed that the posts on this blog that garner the most attention are the ones where I turn off my asshole filter. It’s made me understand the popularity of extreme right and left wing political commentators. More than hearing stuff they agree with, people love picking apart the flaws of those they don’t. In response to that Fusion post, I read one particularly thoughtful Facebook note by a guy who called me a “self righteous douche bag” and compared my rhetoric to that of white supremacists. I thought about responding, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by pointing out that everything he wrote just validated my post.

To be honest,  I just like to read more opinions about the dance, even ones I disagree with or find absurd.  I just want to see more critical thinking about the way we’re growing as a community and as an art form.  A couple months ago an instructor emailed me their attempt at defining Lindy Hop, and the damn thing is 30 pages long. In their defense, the actual definition is only one sentence, but the rest explains it. I’m still digesting it and have written about 10 pages of notes trying to respond to it, but it’s incredibly challenging. And the subjects we’re talking about in relation to the definition could easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood if you haven’t known us for several years. It’s one of those conversations where I wouldn’t want to go back and re-hash some minor point for every other person that would stumble into it.

That sounds a bit elitist. I realize that I’m contradicting myself a bit, but I guess that’s also the nature of the internet beast: a powerful network of information and opinions that’s often gummed up by frustration and confusion. But that’s what makes it interesting, and quite addicting.  There are all kinds of discoveries to be made out there. Also still plenty of opportunities to make connections and contribute some new perspective like Andrew Selzer’s recent post about LA during the Gap Ad Era where he utilizes some really old Jive Junction links from its old Tripod site from 12-13 years ago.

The challenge in the future is finding a way to effectively get all these virtual islands to communicate with each other and to facilitate interesting interactions for me us to enjoy. Until then, I do what I can posting links onto the Facebook page for this blog.

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33 Comments

  1. Rachel said,

    May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I think it’s really interesting that you said you want more people to state their opinions, even if they’re douchy or extreme, because as a new blogger, I’ve definitely struggled with that. I feel like I’m still a newbie in the national scene, a lot of people don’t really know who I am, and it’s made me hesitant to come out and say something super ballsy on my blog in fear of people just disregarding me as jerk. And I’m not really one of those people who can just say what’s on my mind and not care when people want to rip it apart (though that’s awfully contradictory of me then to have a blog). Sounds like a challenge though. Challenge accepted.

    • May 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

      That same fear has held me back for years. Good for you. 🙂

      I’ve met so many people who think your opinion only counts if you can dance well. You could be writing your dissertation on gender roles, and many dancers will still discount your opinion on gender in lindy hop, if you’ve only been around a couple years.

      I think there are other ways to evaluate a person’s opinion. If the writing is good, and the author helps you in some way, that’s good enough. So much the better if they have some good dancing to back it up. Or best yet, some other life experience you trust and can relate to.

      That’s one thing I love about blogging. You have to put it all out there, or go home because no one is reading your blog.

      Another thing I love about blogging is that you have the chance to offer little bite-size snippets that can help people. I think the state of lindy hop blogging would improve drastically if more bloggers asked themselves, “What can I write that will help someone?”

      Thanks for the post, Jerry.This is one I’ve definitely been waiting to read. I’m sure you have a lot more opinion than you’ve posted here.

      • Jerry said,

        May 13, 2011 at 12:23 am

        You’re welcome. I like you your point about treating this as an opportunity to add your own perspective on a situation. That’s where I think blogs can help in the sense that they do provide some sort of home field advantage from which you can punk out the more brusque intruders if you wish. Sam has another good post about this very subject http://dogpossum.org/2011/04/trollday/

    • Jerry said,

      May 13, 2011 at 12:20 am

      Very cool. Another interesting thing to note is the beginning of our online community coincided with the late 90’s boom period, so we had tons of people starting at the same time. I think that made it easier for anyone and everyone to have an opinion. You’re right in that the blogging situation resembles the general social situation these days because now you have to navigate through what may be a minefield of now entrenched opinions about a subject. I’m pretty sure Sarah didn’t know what she was getting into when she decided to talk about dancing in high heels.

      But the blogging community is so relatively new, so I do think it’s a little easier to establish yourself at the moment. Who knows, the entire landscape may change in another 6 months.

  2. Michael G said,

    May 12, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Hey Jerry, nice read. It really boggles my mind how much analysis *is* going on out there. For my part, I remember being completely hypnotized by it for a few years, and then ever-so slowly tuning it out. (Though I have read the recent posts by Nick, Todd, and others with some interest.)

    I’ve asked myself a lot why, during a time in which I am, on a personal level, MUCH more analytical about the dance, the music, and everything that’s attached to it, why I’m less interested in participating in public discussions about it. When I was in school, I tried to academic-ise everything, and maybe my current state is a corrective reaction to that. Maybe it’s that I’ve grown to feel that there is value in trying to understand something deeply, but on a more intuitive, less verbally expressible level. Not to sound like a pretentious douche or anything.

    Anyway… I’m glad there are people out there, not just talking about the dance, but talking about talking about it. 🙂 Keep it up…

    • Jerry said,

      May 13, 2011 at 12:32 am

      Thanks Michael.

      I think a lot of people go through a sort of digital fatigue because there is a lot of information out there and its easy to suffer from overload. You can only look at so many clips, take so many workshops, read so many blogs before it starts to wear you out. I know it helps me to to just process things on my own, or just get out onto the floor and not worry about all that stuff at times. But then there are those slow days . . . 🙂

  3. May 13, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Perhaps some of us are blogging about Balboa, but in more…discreet ways. Like trying to coach a dance community into dressing well for the occasion, which is a hallmark of Balboa dancers. 😉

  4. Alex Burr said,

    May 13, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Hey Jerry, a moment of quick self-service:

    “Speaking of Yehoodi, I think they missed an opportunity with the upgrade a couple of years ago to lead this wave of new blogs. It looked as if they were going to go to blog-centric format, but there was an outcry from long time users during the initial testing phase concerning elimination of the discussion boards. This is one of the times when a web developer should have ignored client feedback because it was largely coming from a segment of people who didn’t dance very much and valued their online niche over Yehoodi’s mission to serve as a national online destination for Lindy Hop.”

    As the web developer in question I completely agree with you. We are actually planning/working to move in the direction you suggested, it just takes a long time for us to get work done since it’s a “spare time” effort. Also we kinda needed to let the fat trim itself (as you suggest) in order to prove the issue.

  5. Apache said,

    May 13, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    One thing that you touched on Jerry that, I would highly encourage anyone is looking into the past. The waybackmachine and google cache (Learn boolean operators!) for old websites for defunct events, archived regional boards, and even retired instructors websites work a decent amount of the time. All of these resources have some small insights or information to putting together the bigger picture of understanding our community as it is today and was back then.

    On a tangent, an interesting thing I noticed about Tumblr is it reminds me of Bug’s Question of the Day that most of the accounts push toward involving users through contribution for information, then providing information themselves or perspective. If you google Tumblr #LindyHop you’ll notice a good portion are question posts (or that 30 day thing which has been trendy.)

  6. Reuben Brown said,

    May 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I have the entire Jive Junction forum (and site) saved on my hard drive… but no means to access it since it’s all based on php forum software that I didn’t build or maintain. I kinda wish there was a way of putting it back up in some archival manner since there definitely is some interesting stuff in there to look back upon.

    • dogpossum said,

      May 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      @Reuben Here in Australia the National Library has a project which is specifically intended to archive ‘relevant’ websites. Pandora (http://pandora.nla.gov.au/) is Australian-only, but I’d be quite sure the US has something similar. These sorts of digital archiving projects often involve archiving the software/tools/hardware that are necessary to run the sites. So you might try those guys? It could be a bit of a long shot (and quite a bit of fussing about), but there are often librarians/library workers who are really interested in this sort of project…

      • Shawn said,

        May 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

        Hej Reuben,
        Package it up and send it to me, I can host it in a read-only format. The real question, do you have the database back ups?

        ~ Shawn

  7. dogpossum said,

    May 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    [Oh, this comment is long! Sorry, mate. I will try to do the proper thing and write a post on my blog instead of gabbling on in your comments. But your post is so interesting! I need to get it out right now!]

    Hello! I do like your approach to this issue, Jerry. I’m totally fascinated by the role of digital technologies in swing dance culture, particularly the relationship between face to face and mediated cultural practice (that’s what I did my phd on).

    It’s really interesting to compare your observations of the American scene with what I saw happening in Australia during the same period. And I have to emphasise the fact that these are _my_ observations, shaped by the research I was doing into these issues. Other peeps will have different memories of events, and I think it’s really important to remember this.

    I think it’s fairly safe to say that there are very few points in common between the American and Australian experiences. Well, beyond general themes. Most of Dax’s comments about sweat pants don’t really apply to what was happening in Australia. Each local city’s scene was (and is!) so unique, we can’t even generalise nationally. I mean, Perth had a reputation for hardcore vintage wear all through the 90s and 2000-2010. We didn’t really see sweat pants as a real trend in Melbourne. We sort of got some of the American trends, but way behind, and kind of filtered through local dance schools and scenes. Even the types of dancing people were doing here were different. This is mostly because we are so far away from America. Air travel was very expensive up until about 2003 (or thereabouts), so each capital city’s local scene was quite geographically isolated and unique as well. And before about 2003 the internet wasn’t really cooking. We still don’t have the sort of internet speeds and download capacity Americans do.

    I noticed the shift in online discourse away from discussion boards when FB arrived, but I think that advent of Youtube is even more important. Suddenly we all had free access to footage of American (and European! and Korean! And Japanese!) dancers! Not to mention archival footage. Before Youtube, we’d share CDs of footage, usually through a sort of barter model. This footage came in via American teachers, or by file share sites based in Europe or the US. A lot of dancers didn’t share the footage they had. I remember, in 2004/5 that most Melbourne dancers weren’t interested in archival footage at all. Other cities were different.

    We really didn’t see that many Australian dancers traveling overseas. And we _still_ don’t get that many international teachers traveling here. So it kind of blew our brains to suddenly get access to international dance scenes! And as someone who can’t afford to travel, I am absolutely dependant on youtube for footage of comps, social dancing – anything I can get – from overseas. Youtube is so important. Live streaming, not so much, as our internet access is pretty shit by international standards.

    We did have a discussion board (Swing Talk), and many Australians did use Yehoodi, Jive Junction, etc. I still use SwingDJs, and I’m fascinated by the way this board is still so very useful, even though it uses ‘outdated’ tech. I guess DJs are such a small, geographically isolated yet passionate group, they really grab at tools that bring them closer to like minded folk. But Yehoodi didn’t really grab Australians the way Swing Talk did, and I wonder if it’s because most of the content was so American-centred it didn’t really resonate with us. I know when I read threads there now I get frustrated by the way Americans’ experiences are generalised to the whole world.

    I miss the swinghistory discussion board. There was so much useful information there.

    I have a few theories about the role of moderation in discussion boards’ success. Swing Talk had a real leadership fail round about the time FB kicked off. We had some really shocking trolling problems, some horrible fighting online, and serious bullying. Much of which spilled over into ill will in face to face spaces. The moderators really weren’t moderating at all. There was a big server crash, lots of content got lost, and all these factors really colluded in the collapse of the Swing Talk community. To be honest, I think it was a good thing that it died when it did.

    RE anonymity and the tone of online talk. There’s quite a bit of academic literature on this topic. I remember writing about the fact that you can’t really exist in the dance community without actually being a dancer. It’s the physical stuff that really counts.

    I’ve been quite interested in the rise of blogs in online swing discourse. Here’s an interesting thing: my blog was mentioned on the Yehoodi talk show a little while ago. I saw no change in my site stats. Carla Heiney linked to it on FB and my stats exploded. I think the key factors were:
    – FB is a closed, tightly networked community. Friends’ links are posted directly to your feed, ‘delivered’ to you (you don’t have to chase them down).
    – FB dance friendship is quite hierarchical. The same sort of relationships of power and influence function on FB as they do f2f. So a high status dancer like Carla is quite influential. Her link affected my blog as it did because she has more readers (and friends) who are more likely to follow her links than a less influential person.

    Twitter is quite interesting for the way it funnels site visits to my site (it works as a sort of personal recommendation system like FB, but more directly, to a more targeted network), but it’s not as pervasive as FB.

    The Yehoodi podcast? Way down there on the influential scale. I’m doing a Yehoodi radio set next month (squeee!!!!), and I suspect that won’t trip my blog stats either.

    Your blog has quite a bit of traction atm, but your FB page more so. I’d be curious to see how this post affects my stats.

    Word of mouth, baby. That’s the shit.

  8. lindypenguin said,

    May 14, 2011 at 10:18 am

    I’m interested in how individual websites can function like curators; people who have the time to pull together interesting and quality writing on a particular topic. I’ve only just gotten into your facebook page, but yehoodi does this to a degree as do a couple of other blogs I follow (for non-dancing related reading I enjoy rationallyspeaking.org). I also do it on my blog, but most of the content I link to is non-dance related.

    Although there’s a lot of new blogs out there (my own included) I’m sceptical about whether there’s a whole new readership out there – or if the readers are mainly those who used to be on the various forums about.

    Facebook does have the advantage that most dancers are regular subscribers and it’s highly localised so it’s much easier to discuss local issues. Not that detailed analysis is encouraged (in that sense its more like twitter) but there is the occasional discussion amongst friends that’s taken online.

    I find the role of youtube very important, particularly for the way it changes how the dance is shared. Though I think this is more subtle amongst most dancers.
    Originally Lindy Hop came to Australia in 1938 and 1939 at about the time we were seeing it on film from the US and also when Eight Original Apple dancers visited (which included Frankie Manning). At this time dance schools started teaching Lindy Hop (though I haven’t tracked down where these teachers learned it from) and before the first American servicemen turned up in the early 40’s it was huge in the major cities with thousands of swing dancers out on any given night.
    The revival in Australia happened through a similar route, a few interested individuals (many of whom danced and taught rock and roll) brought it here. Now with youtube the role of individual dancers in spreading it may be waning as you can watch hundreds of dancers all over the world dance online.
    Plenty of people raise IP issues with youtube in terms of taking away teaching dollars. I disagree – trying to watch a video and work out how to steal a move is like watching someone on the dance floor and stealing their move. It take some fairly decent skills (and time and mental energy) to do that, and you don’t get the feedback that you would in a class. The few people that can be arsed are the dancers that have the skills (and are thus more likely to be teachers – I’ve done several classes where the teachers that have been youtube inspired). For the bulk of dancers youtube only makes a difference by proxy.

  9. Paul Roth said,

    May 14, 2011 at 11:01 am

    It’s May 14th. Happy Birthday, Jerry!

    Your writing is excellent, and your approach of trying to address questions and arguments before they arise is something I’ve dealt with as well. On the one hand, it triggers less angry response. On the other hand, it triggers less passionate response. Of course, if you address a controversial issue, the passion will be there whether you try to provide reasonable devil’s advocation or not.

    I usually shy away from making the knee-jerk obnoxious statements online now that I did back in the swingoutdc.com early days for a couple reasons:
    – 1 – I don’t have a girlfriend and I’d like to date someone.
    – 2 – I often feel like a loner without many close friends, and I’m reluctant to alienate even more people who might be friendly with me if I could just keep my mouth shut.
    – 3 – I disagree with people a LOT. I don’t like blues dancing or soul or funk or motown or whatever else is the latest fad. I hate dressing up. I’m not particularly interested in delving into origins of our dance. I often prefer a DJ who brings a good mix of awesome bands and songs over a live band who plays excellently but all their stuff just sounds like their stuff. I don’t think being able to dance other partner dances makes you a better lindy hopper; I usually find that it makes you worse. And so on.

    Being full-out honest is abrasive at least and repulsive or violence-triggering at worst. If I’m having a conversation with someone, I can guage their responses and elaborate on things that offend without wavering from my central opinion. While we may still disagree, it’s rare that I speak with someone who just turns and walks away in disgust.

    The nature of blogging is, despite this opportunity to comment, broadcasting. You throw out your words and they hit everyone in range. For every person who responds with a good word, there are probably nine more who agree but don’t bother to comment. For every person who posts a sentence arguing with you, there are probably four more who don’t bother to say a word but just hate you in silence. (People are more likely to speak up to complain than praise, that’s just true everywhere, I believe.)

    If I could separate my online statements about Lindy Hop from my personal life, then I’d have no problems just putting up the controversial statements with a “Screw ’em, this is my opinion!” attitude. But Lindy Hop IS my social life, pretty much. The only other social thing I do is comment on the internet. So, for both of those reasons, I generally follow the mantra of “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

    …You may have noticed I don’t comment on lots of things on facebook. Nor do I blog much. Yeah, that’s why.

    Still, in my dotage (relative to other dancers, at least), I’m coming back around to not giving a flip what other people think, so my online presence may grow once more. If it does, I’m sure that reading this post will have played a large part in restoring my confidence to speak my mind. Thank you, Jerry.

  10. May 15, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    […] Almonte has another interesting post on Wandering & Pondering about The State of the Lindy Online Disunion which is well worth a read for those who read and comment on Lindy blogs. Jerry comments: “I’ve […]

  11. Jerry said,

    May 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    [This is an additional paragraph I forgot to insert into the original text. I’ve sinced stuffed it in there, but here it is in case you don’t want to go back and hunt for it]

    The Facebook page, Bug’s Question of The Day, so far is the the best adaptation of the old discussion format while overcoming it’s deficiencies. With over 1000 followers and counting, Bug Brockway asks a question posed by herself or one of the followers and lets everyone have at it. Since it is on Facebook, everyone’s identity is available with a click onto their name. This transparency keeps the trolling to a minimum and also helps people identify who they are responding to since your reply to someone’s point may change if they are a newer dancer or if you’re talking to an established international instructor. However, I still notice from time to time how people may break off from the main question and post replies on their own walls. On the one hand it spreads the discussion, but at the same time it limits the potential debate to a group of more sympathetic “friends.”

  12. David L said,

    May 16, 2011 at 10:25 am

    There is certainly a role for online dialogue and I appreciate the blogs that present a well researched idea before posting such as here and Swungover. This often works best when discussing an issue that needs research such as historical questions. By history I mean not only the history of the 30s and 40s but modern lindyhop history as well, or the history behind a certain performance. That said as this is a small community and as a active member of the balboa community which is even smaller, I prefer an in person exchange of ideas.

    For balboa, the Experiment has provided an intimate atmosphere where some of the best balboa dancers around the world can exchange ideas. I have seen this method of learning flourish at not only general workshops but also local communities as well. I think this in person exchange is the best format for talking and exchanging about dancing itself, because the particpants can show and describe rather than try to describe everything. So rather than blogging I have concentrated my efforts at expanding this in person exchange at national events, in my own scene, and by attending and arranging regional meetups. Of course not everyone will be able to travel. While travel is helpful, I don’t think it is necessary. For example, the idea behind Rhythmjuice is to try to create the in person exchange through an online community.

    Just don’t think the vitriol that comes with written discussions about dancing itself (technique, style, etc) is helpful. So my question is what questions can an online discussion best address, ie how and in what way can they add value to the scene?

    • Jerry said,

      May 16, 2011 at 11:57 am

      David, I don’t think its a matter of what questions can be asked. The value of online communication, any online communication is the facilitation of the free marketplace of ideas; to get ideas out there for people to think about that they would not have on their own and also contribute their own perspective. Sure, vitriol isn’t helpful, but I can be an asshole in person just as well as I could online.

      • David L said,

        May 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm

        No I didn’t suggest that anyone should limit questions, rather I said what questions would best be pursued in an open written discussion. There are many different forums for the interchange of ideas in the marketplace and written discussions aren’t necessarily the best for all topics. Suresomeone can be an asshole equally in person, but online forums encourage more snap judgements than people are likely to make in person. And the topics about actual dancing usually need a demonstation and a follow up interchange. I think it is better to expose folks to these ideas but changing the learning enviroment to encourage more participation as is done with other sports. In my opinoin, the farther away from actual dancing and movement a discussion gets the more irrelevant it becomes.

      • Jerry said,

        May 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm

        This seems like a rather limited view on the way we communicate. Do you really think that you won’t get a snap judgement from an in person interaction? Online, a person can take their time, do their research, choose and edit their words. In the end it really depends on the person. Some people are more comfortable interacting online or in person than others.

        For example, I’m part of several closed forums and we can talk just about anything because we know each other. Part of people’s difficulty in communicating online is because they encounter a diversity of opinions and experience levels and can’t handle or just don’t like having to re-contextualize their responses for every person.

        It just depends on the group of people and their comfort level with each other.

        btw, I’m deleting a post because you posted the same one twice.

  13. Shawn said,

    May 16, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Anecdotal story about FB and a Forum:
    My experience running minnesotalindy.com had me watch our hey-day in 2006-2007 fall away quickly in 2008-2009 as facebook became more and more popular. It wasn’t that I was losing any current members to facebook in larger-than-normal attrition rates, it was that I couldn’t attract very many new members as facebook had them all.

    At the outset, MNLindy was just about the only game in town. It was *the* place for events and discussions, if you needed info on dancing in MN this is where you went. A few colleges had informational websites, but no interaction and thus MNLindy was able to fill that void.

    When FB came along, instead of searching google for “MN Lindy Hop”, people got invited to their local collegiate swing club fan page (or whatever) and had their news, clips, and events brought to them. The role that the forum provided was greatly diminished, now specializing in discussions while FB has the better format for everything.

    Having administered the site for 6+ years now, I know for a fact that FB just does it better. I’m not sure that there is a solution to the problem of local/regional/national/global community discourse outside of facebook today. But I wonder what would happen if someone built a facebook-like application that used heavy FB integration (like logins) that was extremely topical, ie focused only on vernacular jazz dance.

    In my graduate work early last decade, we were studying longevity of newgroups in regards to the Bond/Identity paradigm. Focused Identity lead to strong/closer bonding between individuals and that lead to long-lasting groups. FB provides close bonds, but no identity except that which you make. If it were for friend-lists and groups (and doing a lot of things “right”, like profile walls and link/video sharing), FB would have gone the way of myspace, friendster, and the other startups. FB, however, still lacks the ability to target a niche community, like lindy hoppers or balboa dancers. “Notes” just aren’t blogs and by logging in I’m not inherently able to access the entire Lindy Hopper social network.

    This is where an opportunity exists, but I wonder if anyone can realize it.

  14. Clyde said,

    May 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Interesting that you don’t mention Twitter. Twitter has all but replaced Google Reader for most other things, but not for dance, for some reason.

    • Jerry said,

      May 19, 2011 at 1:51 pm

      I’ll admit that I didn’t mention Twitter simply because I’m not on it and Twitter referrals to my site are pretty insignificant. They pale in comparison to Google Reader, Facebook, and even Yehoodi. Although I was reading something else today about how dominant Twitter is and how in one poll most of the respondents had heard about bin Laden’s death over Twitter. I would hazard a guess that Twitter is pretty influential in terms of event marketing and word of mouth, but in terms of the kinds of in depth discourse discussed here, I’m not sure what the benefit is over other social networking tools.

      • May 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm

        I actually posted this very article to Twitter, and it got 9 clicks. And a retweet.

        🙂

    • Shawn said,

      May 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      I’m not sure I get it. Why would Twitter and gReader have a relationship? Does twitter feed rss updates?

      • Clyde said,

        May 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm

        The relationship between Twitter and Google Reader is that they’re similar tools. But most a lot people consider RSS to be a dying technology. In fact, Google themselves admits this: note how Chrome has no RSS support.

        In any case, for many people, their Twitter feed has replaced their Google Reader.

        Jerry, if you tweeted your blog posts, you’d obviously get more referrals from Twitter.

  15. Maryam Sodeifi said,

    May 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Hey Jerry!

    I will admit that there have been all kinds of things that I’ve wanted to blog about, especially adding to the gender role discussion, but haven’t followed through on. Mainly because I don’t really trust my own dancing, or that I know what I’m talking about, or should/could be listened to, etc. And I don’t comment as much as I’d like to either. Do I hold other people to that same standard? No, not really. So I’m definitely going to try to start something up this year – even if it’s stuff that only I want to read at this point.

    One thing I’ve noticed about Tumblr is that the majority of the content (not all, but a lot of it) is pretty shallow and is taken at face value. There isn’t that option for discussion, unless people are enable DISQUS comments, which they rarely do. Another pitfall of it being so surface level is that things get put up there with no attribution. I try very hard to keep keep sources in tact when I post original content (err… original to tumblr content), but I’e seen a LOT of bogs on there that don’t provide any kind of source at all. One had a bunch of pictures of pros with various dance quotes attached, but no mention where they came from. I suggested that they start including a link back to the photographer or dancers’ sites, because they are amazing pictures and I feel like people should get credit where credit is due. That blog has since been really good about linking back, which I’m quite happy about. People are generally quick to adjust, but Tumblr probably isn’t ideal. Unfortunately, that’s what I check most often. :/

    Thank you for all of your blogging btw. I most always read, just don’t always comment, like I said.

  16. Max said,

    June 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Too long. If you can’t make a point in a more concise manner, no one will read it. Welcome to the new addh age.

  17. September 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    […] is they fall into the description in this quote from Wandering and Pondering’s blog post on The State of the Online Lindy Disunion, I’ve found that very few people are interested or willing to write about larger issues in our […]

  18. December 22, 2011 at 12:32 am

    […] talked about this extraordinary growth earlier this year on this blog, and it’s been good to see it continue. I mentioned in my first year anniversary post that I […]

  19. June 11, 2012 at 1:32 am

    […] there wasn’t much Lindy related to read online. I thought I might as well start my own site. Much has changed since then, and now everyone has something to […]

  20. November 30, 2012 at 12:06 am

    […] in particular. I usually just nod and smile because I don’t need to ask them why. After all, I see most of them on a daily basis. Notice I don’t say “read.” There are a ton of them not counting my non-dancing related […]


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