Acknowledging the past – Committing to change – Embracing the future: Introducing our new name
We are all still learning and growing in our dance practice and cultural education. Inevitably, this leads to discovering new information that we have a duty to our dance community to act on.
In 2013, our troupe was founded as The Dixie Dinahs, taking inspiration from “Dinah” by Fats Waller and the New Orleans hot jazz that we love to dance to. In 2018, we made the decision to remove “Dixie” from our troupe name as part of our commitment to reject celebrating the racism of slavery-era Confederate States in the USA.
Today, we are once again changing our troupe name after learning the etymology of “Dinah” being used as a generic, and often belittling name for enslaved African women in 19th century America. On learning this, we all felt that it would be inappropriate for us to carry on using this name, especially in the context of being an all female / femme troupe performing an African American art form.
We want to apologise for any hurt that has been caused to anyone by our use of these titles, and we are striving to do better.
The Dinahs and The Dixie Dinahs will always be part of our troupe’s history, and we have enjoyed competition success from performing across Europe under these banners. To us, The Dinahs represented friendship, sisterhood, sparkle, creativity and resourcefulness. We will always have these traits, and our new name embodies all these elements.
After months of sharing ideas, researching and deliberating, we are very excited and proud to unveil our new name that will be a new beginning for our troupe.
We are The London Starlings.
Why The London Starlings, we hear you ask? So many reasons! A literal take on “little stars”, as well as being named for the birds that fly in murmurations, performing beautiful group dances in the skies, we feel that our new name evokes classic chorus lines and a sense of coming together. Our troupe has dancers hailing from all over the UK, and the world. For the time we all call London home, we gather together to dance – like starlings travelling from far and wide to create a super flock.
Our new name is a chance for us to take stock of our contribution to our dance community and put new initiatives in motion. In the coming days and weeks we will be sharing our troupe’s values and our commitments to anti-racist action and education. While we are still living with COVID-19 restrictions, we continue to dance together virtually but can’t wait until we can all be together again to move forward with our troupe’s journey.
We want to thank you all so much for the support you have given us over the past 8 years, and we’re really excited to show you more of what The London Starlings have planned.
The London Starlings’ anti-racism and education pledge
This statement is our pledge to the worldwide community of African American vernacular jazz dance, and to each other.
We have enjoyed competition success from performing this dance across Europe, and respect that we owe our existence to the creators of this art form. We vow to use our platform to celebrate the dance’s African American cultural heritage, to stand up against inequality, and to challenge racism.
We acknowledge and celebrate the African American roots of the dance that we love, and in particular we acknowledge and honour the Black women who were pioneers of African American vernacular jazz dances. We recognise that the intersection of racism and sexism has caused and still causes huge inequalities for women of colour, in the jazz dance community and in wider society, and that historic erasure is a symptom of this. We will actively work against the erasure of Black artists (jazz dancers and musicians), but particularly against the historic erasure of Black women and their significant achievements in the world of jazz, their influence on the art form, and their contribution to safe community spaces for people of all genders and sexualities.
Our troupe members past and present come from all across the UK, and across the globe too. While none of our team members are of African American descent and we are all guests of this culture, the histories of the countries we hail from are all connected through the tragic and horrifying transatlantic slave trade and brutal colonial rule. We acknowledge that our cultural histories are forever linked by this overt racism and that painful injustices towards Black people and people of colour are still present to this day. Although this dance brings our troupe together in solidarity, joy and sisterhood, we must never forget its roots, or ours.
Our troupe today is indebted to the women who came before us, the African American chorus dancers of the Harlem Renaissance and the British chorus girls of the 1890s and early 1900’s. But we need to rethink the all-white image of vintage Hollywood chorus lines and embrace a richer cultural history. We understand that our knowledge has gaps. This is why we are committed to continuous education and re-education. We work towards developing our appreciation of this art form and do not wish to engage in appropriation. We show and share our appreciation by learning the history, social context and cultural values of African American vernacular jazz dances. This dance is not just steps, it’s so much more than that. We acknowledge that the freedom, movement and innovation of jazz stems from descendants of those who were enslaved and continuously held back for hundreds of years.
Language and the etymology of historic words and phrases linked to African American vernacular jazz dances are incredibly important. We need to better understand the history of the language used in vintage songs and names of dance moves in order to identify those phrases and words that are problematic today, and to be mindful of the songs we choose to dance to. We do not wish to encourage words and terms that were created to stereotype people, to perpetuate racism, or that have racist connotations today. In 2018 we removed “Dixie” from our troupe name (The Dixie Dinahs) as part of our commitment to reject celebrating the racism of slavery-era Confederate States in the USA. In 2021, we once again changed our troupe name after learning the etymology of “Dinah” being used as a generic, and often belittling name for enslaved African women in 19th century America.
We acknowledge that structural racism exists in the UK and that inequalities and discrimination (direct and indirect) are evident in the swing dance community. We recognise that our troupe is not as racially diverse as it could be, and that structural socio-economic inequalities feed into this. We acknowledge that to be able to be part of this dance troupe and community is to be privileged, and we aim to make our dance community (classes, troupe training, and socials) more accessible moving forwards. We want to face these structural inequalities head on.
We know that words aren’t enough. The pledge below outlines our actions that are born from this statement. This is not a fixed action list and will be developed as our thinking and education develops.
We pledge to:
- Initiate a BLM and anti-racist education subgroup within our troupe.
- Learn the history of the dance’s movements and musical connection in order to preserve the original spirit of jazz.
- Create an internal resource regarding the dance’s history that we can collaborate on and refer to at any time. Our troupe members can then record and share any information they have learnt – i.e. from point 2 and 6.
- Donate regularly to Black community groups in and around the London Borough of Newham, a borough that experiences significant inequality and the home of our training studio for over 5 years.
- Share educational resources and research on Black female jazz artists through history.
- Curate useful anti-racist and BLM resources from within the swing dance community.
- Develop an open resource of songs and words that we identify as problematic with a background as to why this may be to facilitate discussion, to acknowledge the pain these words have caused and to no longer promote racist legacies.
- Identify ways to improve our troupe’s diversity. We hope to develop some community engagement and workshop offers and will update with more concrete action when our plan is in place.