Blog » Guest Articles » Let’s Talk About Lindy Hop And Blackness – Part 7

Let’s Talk About Lindy Hop And Blackness – Part 7

February 17, 2024

Let’s Talk About Lindy Hop And Blackness – Part 7

February 17, 2024
Grey Armstrong

Action! Some ideas for the next steps!

Finally the exciting part and the part I assume a lot of people have been waiting for; the part about action! If I’m going to criticise and examine an issue I feel it’s important also to include prompts and ways to take steps forward. If you haven’t been following this whole series, I’d really suggest starting at the beginning as a lot of this is built upon the other articles. But if you want to just skip to the action steps, you do you. I’m not your dad.


Let’s get a few important things out of the way.

– You will make mistakes

– Cultural shifts are a marathon, not a sprint. 

– If it feels too easy or simple, it’s likely not enough

– If you aren’t at least slightly uncomfortable it’s not enough

– The goal isn’t necessarily to make the scene primarily Black, to shame white folks or to ruin what is here, but to deepen the scenes’ relationship with its roots to increase enjoyment, respect and representation for the current and future Black members.


This series was meant to be a primer. A quick — well as quick as it can be — introduction to the complicated history and current situation around race in the swing community. This is NOT a full education, it is not representative of every Black person’s feelings or experiences, so just reading this simply isn’t enough. That being said, there are a ton of resources out there. Additionally, this is going to be filled with prompts but not specifics on how you should handle these things. This is because there are too many factors and I’ve already been working on this forever. However, I’m available– along with many others –for consultation, training, and workshops. Enough shameless promotion…

Let’s get into it.

There are a few things that came up in the questionnaire I sent out to Black members of the community. Things people had in common were a desire to feel included and safe in the community, to not be pigeonholed, for their humanity to be acknowledged and for our culture and history to be respected and acknowledged. The last thing many said was that they wish that Swing dances were allowed to be more fun, improvisational and creative vs overly structured and danced with rote memorization. 

Taking into consideration those thoughts and a few of my own, some areas of the scene– both huge events like Focus or smaller events like your average college club –could look at shifting to create a space that achieves these goals .

The first section is more geared towards leaders/organisers/teachers but I encourage participants to read it to hold their community accountable and support these shifts. The second is for the average participant. Naturally, there is some overlap. 

The thing to keep in mind if you read through these and feel defensive or don’t know where you can improve, it is not because these aren’t issues/ or solid ideas, but that you’ve not been affected or had to do anything other than show up to be comfortable. Check out the CVFC talk on shame and learn about sharm resilience and return when you are ready to  show up.


One of the most important areas to shift is representation. Often this goes underappreciated or turned into a token opportunity. No one wants to stay where they feel they aren’t being cared for, respected and equally considered. Being intentional about this is the only way. There is a lot of history and cultural norms working against doing this in a meaningful way. It’s much easier to go through the motions and once one comes up against any opposition or struggle, to avoid and dismiss those issues. 

Photo by Alain Wong at ILHC Latin America 2023

Valuing the Black perspectives, Black bodies and Black leadership isn’t the norm. “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” If nothing you’ve done till now has gotten your community to be more respectful of the dance’s history and culture, increased Black leadership, and gotten more Black people to want to stay around, you can’t keep doing what you have been. Well, not if you want any real and meaningful change. Here are some areas to start considering:

Listen to Black dancers (and act on that feedback): When was the last time you asked the Black people in your community how their experience was? Don’t have any? What about the folks that visit, left after one night, or left forever? If they won’t talk to you beyond cool politeness, there are bigger issues. Culturally, for many, silence is a sign of defeat and typically hurt. That loud “troublemaker” actually still cares. 

Highlight elders beyond Frankie : In the Frankie section I talk more about the importance of this but Frankie is not the spokesperson for all Black people and experiences. Be that historically or today. Even if many of the old timers are gone, their stories and their descendants aren’t. Be that by blood or just passing on heritage.

Stop hiring Racists: Seriously. Particularly if a whole section of the community from such diverse backgrounds generally agree they aren’t ok with a person, you should listen. We would rather them the issue be something other than race but pretending hiring people who have hurt your community members because they offer something “special” is a poor excuse. No one hires Steven Mitchell or Max P. So why is it ok when it has to do with race?

Publicly support Black activism: One important aspect of running a community is deciding who your target audience is. You won’t please everyone. Choosing to publicly support Black interests will weed some folks out, but what is more important to your team? 

Diversify where events take place: Are all your events in the white areas of town? The racist part? The expensive areas? Location matters. Not just for convenience but also for safety and being seen as a human being for many Black folk. I’ve flat-out not gone to dances (or been painfully uncomfortable) because of the building or area’s relationship to my blackness. 

Connect with other communities in a non-transactional way: Black communities (dance and otherwise) and events are everywhere. But I often only hear of swing dancers going to these spaces to proselytize swing, rather than going to learn, connect and appreciate.

Support Black Artists: Be it musicians, teachers, digital artists, cooks, etc.  Support not only the Black people in your community but also your area.

Mentor/support Black community members: We have been talking about being intentional about support and growth. One of the most important things is giving resources to support people.   Not only is it harder for Black folks to find support and guidance, but also they may not have access to the networks that allow them to do as well as white peers. This is inside and out of the community.

Add Black People in Leadership positions: The balance of having Black leadership and them not becoming a token or only for show is important to consider. Giving power and support to Black leadership to help shape your community is important. If you don’t have anyone suited (well wonder why first) but consider hiring a consultant.

Continuing Education

Another important area is continuing education alongside praxis. (Praxis meaning action). No matter how much you think you know or care, there is always more to learn or else, you may fall into the Dunning-Kruger effect and cause more harm than good. Or, worse, your info will become outdated. Remaining curious and open-minded goes a long way. 

An easy place to see this is which term one uses to describe the descendants of slaves in this country. African American or Black (or something even more dated)? Besides the fact that most of the white community was lied to in the 90s, and Black people had decisions made for us around what was offensive; for most, the preferred term has been Black since about the 70s. African American is often a dead giveaway that either race isn’t something you learn about often or you think you are doing a better job than you are. 

Anti Racism/cultural competency 

The major thing that started this conversation in the swing scene, at least among its white members, was the resurgence of BLM in white consciousness. (Y’all do recall this started in 2013 right?) But there is a lot more that needs to happen and change. As an organisation benefiting from our culture, understanding our culture along with its stories and struggles is important. Understanding how you fit into that struggle both on the individual and systemic level is important. 

To really respect the dance, its history, Frankie, and the people that created it means really being willing to see what’s been hidden from you. The good, and the bad.


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. A phrase from the HR world.Three different areas to learn about in relation to your creating inclusive organizations. Not everything cross applies but some of this overlaps with what we have been talking about here. Most importantly, it looks at bias and racism on a systemic level within organisations and companies and what to do about it.

Black History

The history of this dance informs it as much as the culture behind it. To understand it will only deepen one’s understanding of the dance, those who danced it and the music it goes with. Being from outside the US isn’t an excuse either. No one would say I’m going to learn traditional Japanese calligraphy but don’t care about Japanese history. If this is an art form you love, not knowing about the people, our culture, and what’s offensive isn’t acceptable. 

Keep in mind that Black American doesn’t equal African. Our history is a separate one after we were taken from Africa. So although it can be helpful to learn about west African cultures, or to ask the opinion of African people on Black American culture/issues/controversies, it is not an exact match. We have suffered differently and our culture is a mix of white American culture pushed upon us, and mixed west African culture as our families were broken up. Black peoples are not a monolith and it’s important to acknowledge that fact. Learning more about different experiences and history of the Black people who live in America can give a more well rounded understanding.

Topics to look at:


– Look at the idea of “Taxi Dancers”

– Acknowledge Black queer history in swing

– Swing is political (and jazz too)

– Bebop is undanceable

– Partner dancing stopped

Learn about Black arts

– What values are important

– How do you learn these art forms

– Why were they created and by whom

– What preceded it and what came after, and why

– How did racism play a part in it’s creation

Learn the history and about the Black areas of your town/area

– How does redlining affect your area

– What celebrations happen –  jazz fest – were you unaware of

– How did they get to your area vs somewhere else

– What struggles did/do they face 

Inclusive language/considerations

Make your changes and language inclusive to intersectional Black folks ie Black Queers, Black disabled folks, our needs aren’t always the same as non Black counter parts.  Additionally, one oppressed group within the black experience may not be the best fit to address the concerns of another. Asking/valuing the opinion of Black able bodied women about Black disability, isn’t the right choice.There are tons of resources if one looks. 


Lastly, events. Big or small I’m sure there are areas of improvement to be had. For international readers most of this still applies to you. If it is too hard to connect with Black Americans you can focus on other Black people and/or racial minorities in your area.  

Chester Whitmore teaching in Mexico City, 2023

Easy Shifts

  • Theme outside of vintage
  • Financially support Black business and nonprofits
  • Diversify judges
  • Rethink “formal panels” over other formats
  • Support vendors who include/know how to work with Black bodies
  • Lotion and other body considerations

Harder shifts

  • Connect with Black colleges and AA organisations 
  • Train volunteers on how to treat Black people at the front door
  • Also any security, safer spaces teams or authority figures
  • Find Black musicians and bands for djing and live music
  • Prioritise good lectures at large events 
  • Black leadership
  • Black mentor programs (sharing tools to those who may not have access)

Difficult but important shifts

  • Consider the culture of your event and what can be shifted
  • Overhaul teaching expectations and hire appropriately 
  • Revamp competition values
  • Set up ways to request Black feedback, and apply it


As much as organisers play a role in the issues within the scene, so does the average member. Often I hear people don’t want to focus on anything beyond their own fun, since it’s a “night out” after work. But the question is: Are you willing to be slightly less comfortable to make someone’s night? Are you willing to stop asking the instructor to dance again to ask a Black dancer you normally overlook?

I’m not saying don’t have your fun, but some of these seemingly small things are huge to the Black community. A little bit of awareness and consideration goes a VERY long way. This personal section is going to be less in-depth than the part for organisers and leaders. It is a lot more amorphous interpersonally and so individualised that It’s hard to be generalised. 

Please stop doing these things immediately. Yes, people seriously do these things.

Touching hair without permission: Not only is it an invasion of personal space and feels dehumanising, but there is also a deep and rich culture around hair. I don’t even touch my Black friends’ hair, so neither should you.

Fetishizing/objectifying Black bodies: There are a lot of different ways this is done, but basically no one likes being treated like a stereotypical fetish. Be it assumptions about sex, bodies, preferences, or how a Black body should exist or be in a space, it’s all bad. If you aren’t sure, consider if you’d assume that about a white body. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably an issue. Ex: you are really pretty for a Black girl vs you are really pretty for a white girl.

Assuming all Black people are staff: Stop this. Yes a lot of Black people work service jobs, which is a reflection of how hard it is to change that dynamic in this country, but, assuming EVERY Black person is staff is not ok. If you do and get a rude response don’t be surprised. Even if they do work a service industry job, that doesn’t mean they are right now. 

Taking photos with Black people back lit or low light: White folks never think of this. Cameras (and many sensors) historically aren’t great at capturing Black faces. Because they weren’t created with that use in mind. So, light REALLY matters. If you want folks to feel cared about, keep it in mind.

Making bad Black Jokes: Not sure? Don’t say it. Said it and got a cool response, don’t say it in the future and apologise.

Telling Black people racism isn’t happening/doesn’t exist: We don’t want it to be about race as much as you do. We typically lean toward every other reason first. No one wants to think oh, it’s my skin that is causing the issues. You can’t do anything about that. But often, intentionally or not, it’s the only thing that makes sense or is following a pattern and to fix it, we have to be willing to look at it. It’s not just you saying you don’t believe us but also that we haven’t tried hard enough. As if we’d rather be hated for something outside our control than be willing to “really” try. 

Race “blindness”: Race exists. You see it and we know you do. Children start to notice race rather early.  Not talking about it only shoves the problems in a closet and pretends it’s not there. We are all human, but humans with different experiences and acknowledging that is not only ok, but important.

Talking about your guilt/shame with the hurt party: Try to process the discomfort with people more removed from the issue. You’ll get the space you need to be heard and sort out your feelings and receive support you wouldn’t get otherwise. At least without resentment from majority of people.

Support your community: We make up the communities we exist in. Although leadership can help guide, without action from the community nothing will change. Here are some ideas of ways you can help the scene feel better for its Black members.

  • Intentionally ask Black dancers to dance
  • Welcome new/unknown/lost looking Black people
  • Get comfortable saying “Black”
  • Stop saying “revival”
  • Listen to Black dancers, particularly those that make you feel defensive
  • Make real relationships with Black members 
  • Support Hella Black Lindy Hop
  • Correct Myths as they come up
  • Learn about Black swing history

Continuing education: It’s important to not only be more comfortable with the blackness of the dance, but also to be  a better friend to Black dancers requires spending some time learning. Learning about our experiences, our history, lives and all the things that make us Black. Black culture is not a degenerative form of white culture. We have our own values, expectations, and beliefs that make our culture what it is. Here are a few suggestions of ways to gain more perspective!

  • Check out other Black dances
  • Join Black communities (guest not tourist)
  • Learn about other ways of doing things
  • Attend cultural and history lessons and discussions
  • Develop music taste beyond just swing but other Black musics
  • Attend lessons by Black dancers, even If they are newer to teaching
  • Learn the history of the Harlem swing dance society
  • Learn about intersectionality experiences ie Black Queers, Black Disabled
  • Look at your dancing and see what norms it falls under
  • Read and watch Black stories
  • Learn Black cultural norms
  • Diversify your media and social media
  • Be willing to go to Black areas in town

Interpersonal activism: As you learn our history and culture, it’s also important to remember Praxis. You still have to DO something to make that knowledge matter. Again a minor inconvenience to you may be extremely important to your Black community members. These suggestions are just for within the swing dance community as a starting point. 

  • Financially support Black business and nonprofits
  • Don’t attend classes with teachers classed as racist
  • Don’t support racism in the scene. Call it out when you see it or are told about it
  • Put your money where your values are
  • Be ok with being uncomfortable– discomfort doesn’t equal a lack of safety
  • Keep friends accountable for growth and mistakes

How many of these things do you already do? What will you start in the future and how will you keep your community accountable? There is a lot that can be — and should be — done. We can come together to create the community we want to see, to push the dance into a more respectful and innovative direction, and grow as a scene.

For the next and final part, I think it was important to imagine this, to talk about hope for the future of the scene and check in with other Black community members about what they imagine a scene being like in the future. After so much looking back, it’s exciting to look forward at what can be. Join us for the final part all about the future!

Grey Armstrong

Grey Armstrong is a writer and instructor of Black culture, history, and dance. His work focuses on unpacking unconscious bias, cross-cultural communication, in addition to culture formation. He also travels teaching African American vernacular dances and giving lectures on Black history and culture. He is the founder of the popular blog and website Obsidian Tea, which explores themes of the Black experience and culture, Anti-racism Praxis, developing cultural competency, and the evolving relationship between Black and white Americans in the United States from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade onwards. This style of work can be supported on his patreon.

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