WEST COAST SWINGThe Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

by Michael A. Harvey

WCSA prides itself at bringing West Coast Swing materials to the largest common denominator of dancers throughout the nation. This edition, however, presents two "elitist" topics that mostly, but not entirely, affect only the cream of the crop, the highest levels of dancers in our community. Both issues, the US Open and same gender competitors, do have "trickle down" effects on the entire West Coast dance community and we at WCSA feel it’s important that all of us are aware that these issues are being discussed.

The Bad

Within both subjects is a common thread. Dancers erroneously assume that there is an organized authority that governs the West Coast Swing world just like in all organized sports and recreations. There is not! There is no sanctioning body for conventions, there is no official group of judges, there is not even a recognized (by event promoters) certification of judges. Some, amazingly, even opine that there should never be any, lest it cramp the ever changing landscape of the dance, ignoring that in other disciplines the governing authorities adapt to new ideas and concepts. But without a "Governing Board" our community currently flounders, leaderless, like a boat without a rudder. This confused environment is nothing short of a Tower of Babel.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, the "what will be, will be" attitude has unleashed a flurry of open battles, skirmishes, and fire fights unbecoming to any community. Those with a history of accomplishment feel that they can do and say what they want with impunity, displaying to all that viscous, personal, public attacks are OK. They are not, for any reason, by anyone! However, just because we think so, doesn’t make it so. A Governing Board with an ethics committee could step in at the first sign of conflict and make the parties realize what’s in the best interests of our entire dance community.

In the past year some people have engaged in illegal activity with no one telling them to stop. Recently, two women who have been "used" by a particular man sought to warn other women (which is right), but did so publicly (which is wrong). What alternative did they have, and by the way, what recourse did the "accused" have? Amazingly, in both of these last two instances, the "messengers" were immediately "slain," stoned and ostracized. Because there is no avenue to settle disputes, people explode with frustration. Because there is no central Governing Board a climate of fear exists where nothing gets resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. People keep quiet, fearing the backlash or even a "blackball."

So pomposity and arrogance rule the day. Many find sucking up to those who rule very profitable so partisanship flourishes. Others, with greater self respect pull away from the community. That’s our loss. And there are a few, brave and stupid, who try to stand up for a better way and are squashed like gnats.

Over the last three years of publication it’s been a constant effort to "coax" some of our brightest people to write articles. Many have avoided the "controversy." What controversy? To share a thought with the rest of your fellow dancers? Those thoughts lead to others responding, and at the end of a thread we all grow. On the other hand more people are reaching such a point of exasperation that they no longer care what the backlash is. Thankfully, it’s now coming from the top. "All that’s necessary for evil to exist . . . is for good men to remain silent."

The Good

Finally, three people, independently, felt compelled to speak their minds, regardless of the fallout. Inside this issue we have reprinted RAD posts from Enio (not to be confused with Robert, please!) Cordoba, Lance Shermoen, and Mark Scheuffele, all top-notch, well respected members of our community. Because they have spoken their minds, and with great passion, we are all better for it. There has been some editing of their posts: Enio’s post was severely edited mostly because of its great length and partly because of it’s harsh tone; Lance’s not much at all; and Mark’s completely unedited. These men spoke from their heart, for their love of West Coast Swing, and their desire for their community to grow into a better place. It’s not for us to pick sides. It’s for us to digest the material.

The US Open has never been "user friendly," as there was never enough seating, high priced workshops, last minute rule changes, "scoldings," etc. Because of the "climate" people complained only privately and in hushed tones. The flashpoint of this current controversy was the "pulling of one judges score," no matter how good the intent, it was such an arrogant misuse of power, people just couldn’t remain silent because the whole integrity dance contests was at stake.

The flashpoint of the same sex dancing controversy occurred when a woman was allowed to enter a "Jack & Jill" contest, unbeknownst to any of the other competitors. So men (and judges) were suddenly and with no warning "forced" to compete (and judge) against a female and some women were "forced" to dance with a female leader.

For those in the hinterlands who have no idea what same sex dancing is I’m eager to explain because our dance is so lead-follow oriented that this occurs with much greater regularity and for many good reasons in our dance than any other dance. There are some females who find the leading part, and some males who find the following part, more stimulating, challenging, and/or that they are simply more attuned to that "opposite" role. There are many more dancers who, after learning their own part, understand that by learning the opposite part they can learn faster from their coaches, be able to teach better, and gain a firsthand, sympathetic knowledge of what they are putting their partners through. Because there were few choices for a male follower to find any female leaders, and for girls leaders to find guy followers, people began doing the part with whomever was willing, often someone of the same gender.

This used to happen in quiet corners or late at night. Recently it can be seen at any time night or day and everyone accepts it and admires the skill levels and even the bravery of it. Contests for "opposite parts" (Jill & Jill, Jack & Jack, Jill & Jack) have taken place, but always as a humorous novelty sometimes involving high heels! But now, along comes a highly skilled, serious, female dancer who entreats Event Directors to allow her into Advanced "Jack & Jill" contests for which they complied. In one contest she made the finals, in the other she made the finals and placed.

There are many issues here, pro and con, which you can read inside. On one side is the civil rights issue of "inclusion" and equal opportunity. On the other side is the definition of "Jack & Jill" and the expectations of participants entering a contest of this name. The real intriguing part of this story is that of all the hundreds of posts on RAD, no matter which side of the line you fell on, not one person’s stance was changed. Hence, one more reason for a Governing Body to take a position, give the community a resolution, some kind of standard we can live by!

The issue of same sex dancing, no matter what your position, can create a negative face for West Coast Swing dancing even though for West Coast Swing dancers it’s not a Gay issue. Television does not show same sex intimicies, not because their heads are buried in the sand, but because it doesn’t put a positive enough light on their product for advertisers.

If there were a "Governing Board" all issues within our community could be addressed in a civilized way with class, dignity, and grace. We are far from that point right now. This Governing Board could:

1. Award Convention Sanctions based on minimum requirements;

2. Issue minimum standards as regards to floor space and seating per attendee;

3. Issue rules that govern the relationship between Event Directors and Judges;

4. Expect prompt reporting of results for data collection and archiving;

5. Exact penalties for not adhering to Governing Board standards.

A Governing Board could also:

1. Standardize Contest Rules;

2. Suggest DJ Guidelines for Jack & Jill’s;

3. Set Judging Standards;

4. Certify Judges;

5. Periodically Review Judges;

6. Institute a process for addressing complaints about Judges.

A Governing Board would:

1. Issue Rulings on current issues;

2. Instate an Ethics Committee to uphold standards of decency within the community and to address behavior that is either detrimental to the community at large or outright illegal;

3. Set up a Grass Roots Outreach program, visible at every event, that would encourage people new to the dance and those who have never seen the dance.

How we get from here to there is unknown but the ground is showing signs of fertility. There are three dance organizations out there: the Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSDTA) is totally focussed on dance education; the World Swing Dance Council (WSDC) has a full plate compiling results; and the National Association of Swing Dance Events (NASDE), the group most capable of expanding out in these directions, probably won’t take the "risk." But if ten or twenty people with the stature of Lance, Enio, and Mark, came together for the purpose of organizing our community