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I’ve now danced on both sides of the ocean, and it makes for an interesting comparison. Some not very coherent thoughts:

  • It’s interesting how much stays the same. Swing is a tiny world, and you eventually get the same famous instructors, the same jazz routines, etc. etc.
  • The dance group here is apparently magic: every lead they touch turns to gold. I don’t know how they do it, but their leads get really good, really fast. Repertoire and musicality take as long as anywhere else to build up, but confidence is the key to a good dance, and their leads have just the perfect amount. Magic.
  • There’s a house style in every studio, and definitely in every city. I’ve noticed this most of all when dancing here with someone from Toronto: he dances like a Canadian. I couldn’t possibly tell you exactly what it is, but his repertoire screams Toronto Lindy. That’s not a value judgement in any way – I adore both styles. It’s just interesting to see that the difference exists.
  • On the same theme as the last point, people here don’t do dips half as often as in Canada. I wonder why that is.
  • They also treat blues very differently – there isn’t much of it, which definitely contributes to the reticence, but there is also definitely a level of discomfort with the closeness that you don’t see as much of in Toronto. In TO, there is very much the attitude that blues is just another style, another dance form. Here I think its sensuality takes the forefront in a way that it doesn’t in Toronto, and it makes people uncomfortable.
  • I love how interconnected both scenes are. Because everything is so close by in the UK, I think travelling to exchanges and other events is much easier, and it certainly seems like there are more of them here. I can’t wait until I’m done my masters and can actually make it to some of them. I’m also a little sad that I never got to go to Followlogie while I was in Canada.

All my friends are posting about the great time they had at Toronto’s monthly blues night yesterday, and it’s making me miss blues like crazy.

There’s no feeling like a great blues dance. It puts your body into the tipping point of momentum, until your lead can move you like a rag doll, make your body bend to its own movement, tip at impossible angles. It’s balance and gravity and stretch and pull and momentum. Its what birds must feel like when they catch a thermal.

I’ve been looking at the list of blues and lindy events in the UK this year and it looks like there’s one I can actually make. I am so excited I can’t even.

Here’s some AMAZING blues danced by Campbell & Chris:

I got to dance with Chris once, right after he and Campbell taught a blues fusion session, and taught us leg flairs brought over from tango. It involves the follow wrapping her outside leg around the lead’s inside leg in such a way that with a little flick he can make her leg flair around until it crosses behind her inside leg. We all practiced it a lot. Getting our legs to warp around properly was tricky, and it was hard to figure out what the flair was supposed to be – it ended up being me waiting for the flick an then propelling my leg around, which is not at all what it’s meant to be.

And then I danced with Chris. Before I knew it, he had positioned me perfectly, and got my body to do exactly what it needed to for a perfect, graceful tango flair. One of the best dances I’ve ever had.

Toronto is outraged. Rob Ford is suggesting that we close, or worse, privatize libraries. *gasp*.

Let me start by saying this: I think closing libraries is a terrible thing to do. We must ensure that people have easy access to books in their own communities. I am not putting this under debate.

Privatizing libraries is a whole other matter. Knee-jerk fears of capitalism aside, what exactly is wrong with privatizing them? Privatization generally means more money available, more efficient administration, and more accountability to the customers, i.e. those paying the fees. The Toronto Star says that:

A recent contract offer to San Joaquin County in California promised up to 47 per cent longer hours, 21 to 34 per cent lower costs, and $800,000 more spending on books and materials.

And that “Circulation, library visits, and library programs all continue to increase,” in Riverside, California. Both the Star and the Globe and Mail (notably, papers on two very different ends of the political and quality spectrum) both report that Riverside made a profit of $80,000 from privatizing the libraries, and both generally present privatization as a positive influence.

The only objection that I’ve seen that has made sense to me is that privatizing libraries would mean limiting access to books. This is a valid concern, but there must be ways around it. Paid memberships are not necessarily a given – the library could make money through advertisement, or by raising late fees. If they are a necessity, then there are ways to open access up, like making payment necessary only for taking books out, not reading in-library. The important thing here is how, not whether we privatize.

Another good objection is that libraries are community hubs. But this does not necessarily need to change in a privatized situation. Indigo runs more, and better organized and advertised, author readings, and many of the places that do end up being community hubs are actually private: think local coffee shops (lets not forget that indie coffee shops are still for-profit, and unlike your beloved hipster coffee place, libraries could still potentially be free places to gather). People in communities with privatized libraries seem to agree, according to the Globe and Mail:

Priscilla Donovan was hired by LSSI in Leander, Texas, to run the town’s library four years ago.

“As far as I know everybody’s really happy – most people have no idea [that it’s privately run]. It’s still a library. We don’t wear LSSI uniforms or anything like that,” she says.

On the other hand, libraries which are somewhat privately run, such as University libraries, are in my experience better managed, have much larger collections, and shorter waits for highly demanded books.

So, besides being the Big Bad Capitalist Wolf, is privatization really a bad thing?

The G20 riots weren’t pretty, and social media was there to capture it all. Still, what we saw wasn’t so much its successes as its limiations. Information about the riots poured down from everywhere – the Globe & Mail’s Live Blog, youtube, blogTO and Torontoist’s bloggers, tweets from everyone and their mother, and even the occasional facebook friend who braved the terror and reported back with cellphone pictures.

Still, for me, it’s CP24 and CTV’s old fashioned, live TV coverage that came out on top every time. For one thing, although the cameras could only cover a small area at a time, TV coverage wasn’t limited to the few-minute-long clips of a cellphone camera, or to Twitter’s 140 characters. You could watch an event from start to finish, see every side’s every move, and for the most part judge the events for yourself. The bias came from the editing choices, the commentary of the journalists and the angle of the camera.

Not so with social media. Although Twitter and blogs were updated live, they were horribly limited. The video that’s been going around in the past half hour or so has been that of protesters peacefully singing “Oh Canada,” and being rushed by police officers, on cue, as the song ended. It’s short, shot from up high, and leaves far more questions than answers: what prompted the order for the police to rush forward? were the protesters given a warning? did they obey this warning? were they really peaceful, or did the protesters you can see walking towards the police at the end of the video threaten them in any way?
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Tamil CP24

Protests have always made me nervous, but Toronto’s recent Tamil protests a bit more than usual. They’ve been able to gather massive amounts of participants – by CP24’s estimate, Wednesday’s protest was to have had 100,000 attendees, although I don’t think it actually reached those numbers – and have managed huge disruptions, from forming a human chain through the downtown core a few months ago to Sunday’s impromptu blockade of the Gardiner Expressway.

Peaceful protests are great, but unfortunately it doesn’t take much to change a peaceful protest into a deadly one – especially when so many people are involved. Just how real this concern is was shown on Sunday when, in CP24’s words, without prior warning “protesters overwhelmed a handful of police officers on bikes…and swarmed onto a downtown Toronto highway.” What if someone had been hurt? Or what if these kinds of numbers had been gathered for a more polarizing issue, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Are our police prepared to deal with (God forbid) violence on such a large scale? Canada’s usual lacklustre attitude to security, as well as the “handful of police officers on bikes” do nothing to reassure me, for one. There was a much larger police presence on Wednesday, but the fact that it was a reactionary, rather than proactive, measure worries me.

The protests also raise another question: to what degree do protesters have a right to disturb Canadian civil society for the sake of a conflict in which Canada is not directly involved? On the one hand, it’s important for NGO’s and protest groups to be able to get Canadian society off of its collective behind to stop massacres, and disrupting pedestrian and motor traffic in the downtown core is a great way to get the message across. On the other hand, the peacefulness of Canadian society (among others) is what sets it apart from places like Sri Lanka, so isn’t disturbing that peace therefore counterproductive? Shouldn’t we keep stable and peaceful countries stable and peaceful, while helping others become more so?

So far the protest has only been a nuisance, but one with a penchant for unplanned detours. Sunday’s fiasco was repeated again on Wednesday when the protest, which should have been confined to Queen’s Park,  spilled into the downtown core. Added to this is the use of the Tamil Tigers flag: although the protesters claim that it is nothing more than a nationalist emblem, it nonetheless brings with it a mental association as violent as the two crossed rifles in its design. This protest is clearly too volatile and potentially threatening for comfort, and while these questions apply to more than just the current situation, the time to answer them is now.