Dance communities have had many issues with problematic or unprofessional behaviour. And, despite best efforts, unprofessional situations keep happening. Sometimes, anonymous pages publish anonymous accounts; sometimes things get swept under the rug. Some organizers and community leaders have systems for addressing problem behaviour; others get so overwhelmed because of their conflicting friendships, business, and morals.

I’ve lost track of the number of times various people have suggested hotlines, anonymous tip charts, and more as a way to combat this. They’re all noble ideas, grounded in a good place.

Managing professional behaviour in dance is hard. We don’t have any enforcement regulations or legislation; we’re international; and we have very diverse opinions. The perpetrators are also our friends and teachers – even though they’re also our contractors. And, we’re not a court; an organizer is usually in an almost impossible position of quickly making an assessment on he-said-she-said matters with little to no support.

A Professional Association

A way to manage this is through the creation of a professional association. Currently, myself and a small group from the Brazilian Zouk community are working at putting together the foundations for one. Hopefully, if it is successfully piloted within Brazilian Zouk, it can also be adopted by other genres to help provide a form of voluntary governance for our communities.

What is “voluntary governance”?

Voluntary governance is when a group agrees to abide by a specific set of guidelines and a mechanism for resolving complaints. It relies on community trust and buy-in. It has no basis in legislation or regulation, and does not function as a legal system.

However, the strength comes from the community. Organizers could use membership to ensure they are hiring professionals who adhere to a specific standard of professionalism, and would have a way of knowing that there are procedures in place that the person has agreed to be governed by. If organizers hire from a pool of instructors and DJs who have agreed to uphold these principles, it gives them something to rely on when in a difficult position regarding behaviour. It also gives the public a way of saying “these are things that are important to me; I would prefer to learn from someone who is willing to be part of an association like this”.

What can that look like for dance?

The form we are currently contemplating would create an alliance of professionals that are committed to a specific code of conduct and ethics. Registration would be voluntary, but would require agreeing to be bound by a code of conduct and a complaints process. Violating the code could result in things like requiring further education, a membership suspension, or a revocation.

The organization could track and determine continued membership based on complaints received and alleged breaches of the code of conduct.

The model would also include representation from both community and professional members (and ideally, marginalized/minority groups), elected into the position, to ensure that various perspectives are respected and considered.

What wouldn’t such an organization do?

An organization like this would be documentary review (meaning no in-person hearings or other legal mechanisms), and would not have legal ramifications. It would not be for determining whether a specific event occurred in a traditional legal sense, for fining, or for punitive action.

An association would also not gatekeep instructor level or qualifications; its domain is solely professionalism and conduct. It also would not provide public accounts of complaints received, but may be able to note suspensions or probations on files of members online.

Why create a multiple-style association? Why doesn’t each have their own?

Each can have their own, but a centralized organization can help with a few things:

  • Professionals that are part of multiple communities only need to be part of one association;
  • Complaints and history can be tracked in one place;
  • Panels will have reduced conflict of interest problems if voices from other genres are present; most of our conflicts of interest tend to be internal to our genres.

Great! So why not do all dances right away?

This is a BIG project. Starting with a single community (Brazilian Zouk) can help to create a workable framework, which can then be revisited and expanded fairly quickly once we know it is working well (think of it as a pilot project). But, if you are from another community and think this is a great idea, it would be amazing to already be gathering that support and momentum.

I have feedback or want to get involved

Great! Regardless of your community, input is great. There are a few different ways:

  • Just generally telling us your thoughts, ideas or concerns;
  • Getting involved as a professional or community member in a focus group, to help give feedback on the structure as this progresses;
  • Helping us pre-onboard other genres of dance, so that expansion is easy when the time comes;
  • If you are a professional or event/community organizer, telling us whether or not you’d be up for the idea; and/or
  • Sharing this and spreading the idea.

With this in mind, we have created a few forms that you can fill out depending on how much you’d like to be involved:

Please note that focus groups may not necessarily include all that apply, as we are looking for diversity and certain areas of knowledge for them.

[Portuguese translation here]