Skip to main content

Warning Signs: The Masquerade. Avoiding and Reporting Abusive Behaviors




Unmasking the Masquerade

Recent posts of accounts of sexual harassment, abuse and warnings in the Lindy Hop/Swing dance scene have been making the rounds on Facebook and various blogs.  While no doubt a subject no one wants to talk about, it is good it is out there to create dialogue and hopefully measures to stall this kind of conduct.

The earliest public post we saw were from 6 years ago of this nature, and the topic has come up again. 

Here are some links with discussions. 

https://swungover.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/the-swing-scene-vs-max-his-friends-and-the-swing-scene/

https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/how-swing-dancing-faced-its-sexual-assault-scandal

http://www.yehoodi.com/blog/2017/4/18/max-pitruzzella-accused-of-sexual-assault-by-5-women

https://www.reddit.com/r/SwingDancing/comments/5ojgbg/content_warning_description_of_sexual_assault_in/




We unite in bringing light and awareness to these tragedies, hoping this will create productive discussions.  It is something we can learn from and be able to address more adequately when we here in Harlem "finally" get a long awaited dance scene in the area. Posts from others have been on The Harlem Swing Dance Society Facebook page concerning this, sharing what we have reviewed from others.  We feel this vital information is especially needed for teenagers who are allowed to dance with adults within the dance scene so they are not taken advantage of..... or groomed with these asinine behaviors thinking its "normal". 

Our ultimate hope is for the best to these Victims in getting help and healing in the long 

Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse, like other types of abuse, tends to take the form of a cycle, starting when one partner emotionally abuses the other (typically to show dominance).  It is designed to chip away at a person's self esteem, self-worth, independence... and even to make the victim believe that with out the abuse they are nothing. Jealous behaviors are often mixed together with domineering behaviors because of the need to try to control, engaging in behaviors meant to restrict a person.

This kind of abuse is sneaky because no physical marks or scars ever appear while its taking place.  Generally the only sign - perhaps at first - for the victim is having a felling that something is amiss.  They cannot quite put their finger on it in the beginnings.  Those who are close to the situation and/or are a sounding board hearing the laments of the victim see much more clearly that emotional abuse is taking place.  Or maybe not.  We are not saying anyone is dense here.  We are recognizing the need for discussion as a preventative or precaution so help can be offered or gotten right away.

KNOW THIS:  The perpetrator aims to gain power and control over the victim through belittling, threatening or manipulative behavior.

Signs, Symptoms and Examples

We did our own search and found some helpful information through this website www.healthyplace.com.  Please do your own research so that there is no doubt in your mind when someone, male or female, may be trying to take advantage of your trust and relationship.  If you find yourself in such an ordeal, perhaps a little confused or unsure of whats happening (and getting no answers from the individual) that can be a red flag. Please take a close look at what it can be doing to your sense of self and your current and eventual long-term happiness.

The sad but truthful thing that all must recognize is that there will be those who won't believe you,  or they refuse to believe it could ever happen.  Not that person; they can't be a Jeckyll and Hyde! Then to add insult to injury they may put their heads in the sand, leave it as a topic not to be discussed AT ALL and also turn the other cheek - blatantly.  Stare at you like you have the problem...

Well that is their right. However you - the Victim - should at this point seriously evaluate what kind of friend(s) you think you have.  Especially if they in turn blame this on you in some manner, not say anything about it (if you have been public on it) and then - worse - blame you for not trying to fix this person while this was all going on.  SMH....

Wired Differently
Some have stated concerning the women who have bravely come forward with their accounts "Why don't they just tell the person off and leave it at that?" That can be "easier" said that done.

In case you didn't know females are "wired" differently, and most times have to go thru the stages of talking and/or writing about it.  Being a sounding board for the person may not be easy, but being patient and letting them get it out is being a true friend (so long as you keep it private)

In addition writing is always helpful for anyone, male or female,  to analyze thoughts, positive and negative, and to see what has happened and why.  And in certain circumstances why they "may have" allowed it.  In written form versus just thinking about it in your head relieves stress.  Emotional abuse is a degrading process that breaks down a person who falls victim to it. Their personal means to get through the tragedy is their business.

There is no doubt that it takes bravery to come forth and express the hurt and humiliation.  This in the end most times is necessary for the healing to take place.
___________________


With past and recent postings on social media in various forms most Victims express their experiences in the process and likes to warn others.  Its not so much a public humiliation of the abuser but a public warning of the individual or others in the same situation.  And  the "shout out" to get away and out of it.

A post made last month clicked with mostly those within the NYC/Harlem scene.  While not in the form of sexual abuse, as stated earlier emotional abuse can be just as harmful to the victim.  With permission it is being reprinted here, along with the just as honest addendum...

Dance partner? Why do you think I have a dance partner?

You may have noticed that in my latest dance photos and videos I’m not with my dance partner. If you thought that I had a dance partner, then both you and I were misled. For about 3 and 1/2 years I had an essentially exclusive dance partner. A few days before what would have been our 4th year competing at Mid-summer night swing, he told me that we had never been dance partners and that I was just some woman that he occasionally hired for dance gigs. This was ludicrous and only a deceitful scumbag would mislead a friend the way that he had. Hopefully, my story will help anyone reading this avoid the same deception that I endured. This has been weighing heavy on my heart and people have come up to me when I’m social dancing asking me about my dance partner and if anyone out there is still wondering, no I do not have a dance partner, but I thought that I had. Also, people may not realize the dangers of competitive swing dancing. I suffered a partial tear of my ACL dancing with him in our last dance competition and if I’d known that he was going to desert me the moment that I was injured, I never would have stuck with him over the years.
We had been friends and then had both joined Harlem Swingers several years ago. About 5 years ago I’d run into him after he and another dancer had won the mid-summer night swing dance competition. Because we were friends and loved swing dancing, I’d always say let’s practice regularly, we could build something. After that competition, he was encouraging me to dance and compete with him and I was ready to do more with swing dance. Soon after that he started contacting me about doing free performances with him at nursing homes and competing in dance competitions. After awhile of renting rooms to practice in, private lessons, and competitions, I saw him as my dance partner (as did many other people). We were doing well in competitions, but I started to get frustrated that he always wanted to do things in the days leading up to the competitions. Because it was so soon, I always felt unprepared, like I didn’t know what was going on. I made myself get over the fact that I might look like an idiot and just dance anyway. I kept saying that we should practice more regularly but he said that his schedule was always just too full. This meant that he would try to teach me aerials that he didn’t properly know how to do during the days before competitions and I landed on my head several times in rehearsals. I would argue with him not to lead me into aerials that I didn’t know in competitions, and he would try to do it anyway, knowing that I was the one risking injury and not him.
In classes that we were teaching he would refer to me as his partner, he would invite me to his classes that he was teaching as his partner (not as a woman who needed to pay for his class), and in general I believed that any competition that came up, we competed in together exclusively. There may have been dance camps where we weren’t together and obviously either of us would compete with whomever. But free performances and dance competitions we always performed together. Sometimes after dance competitions, people would come up to us for more information. I always sent them to him, he would take their card or information, and handle the business side of things. At the time I wasn’t interested in teaching private lessons, so I would send everyone his way, but expected that any performance gigs that came out of our competitions, I would be a part of.
At some point he showed up with flyers from a performance that he and I had done at a nursing home. In the flyer he was jumping over my head. First off I was shocked that he would make flyers with my photo and not ask my permission before printing all of them but he had always been trustworthy (I thought) so I figured any performances the marketing material garnered, I’d be dancing with him. Additionally, before this I’d bartered with a photographer (from Frankie 100) and had an entire photo shoot of both of us. I thought he was my dance partner so I wanted nice photos of us for promo material I presumed we’d need at some point. Around the time of the flyers he put up a website, again without telling me that he was going to do this and the website featured the photos that I was responsible for getting. Photos of both him and I. I was shocked again and said to him, that we needed a site for the 2 of us. He kept telling me that it didn’t work like that in the dance world. I would name couples that I knew were their own brand, like Mike and Evita (and many others). But he would vacillate between telling me that it didn’t work that way or that he’d think about it. I wasn’t interested in his business teaching classes in Harlem, and don’t take any credit for that, and I didn’t mind that he was using flyers with me and a website with photos that I had taken to promote his classes (because I thought I was going to be in any performances). However, I was putting in sweat, money, and time on our competitions and I expected to be a part of any performance gigs.
Eventually we started having quite a few paid gigs. He would ask my availability and I would confirm for the season. After that summer I felt that he wasn’t treating me right and confronted him about the problems. He was not being fair to me or professional in the way that he was handling the business. One show we showed up at had a poster that listed us as Alvin Ailey dancers. I was mortified! Another show I wasn’t properly listed and didn’t even have the right access and felt like an audience member, no one there knew what to do with me. Other times I showed up and it was just us performing and teaching but only his name was listed. I was really offended. How were we both creating the performances together and dancing and teaching together and my name wasn’t on things? He always had lame excuses to explain why my name had been left off. But he never said, it was his dance business and I was an interchangeable dancer. If at anytime he’d said to me that he was using me to build his own business, you can bet I would have stopped competing with him, doing free performances, having photos taken, and frequently splitting the cost of a private lesson or rehearsal space.
We were dancing exclusively (as far as I could see), in competitions and performances, so my investment of time and money, seemed okay. If I’d seen that he was getting gigs and dancing with other people I would not have thought of him as my dance partner and would not have tolerated him for so long.
At the swing remix competition at the end of 2015, our third year doing that completion, for some reason he changed up how he did shoot-throughs and while rehearsing, he stepped on my hair ripping out some of my locks. Later in that competition he threw me in an “around the back,” that he frequently had issues with the timing in rehearsals, but when I landed my knee went pop and that was my ACL tearing. I eventually had that diagnosed and started physical therapy but was told that I needed surgery. I happened to lose my health insurance so I never finished the physical therapy and I’m hoping that it healed on it’s own……Anyway, after that he was more distant, but it was the winter time so I thought that he was giving me space to heal and he was recommending places to go for PT. I told him that we were not doing any more aerials until we worked with someone to fix whatever was going wrong with our aerials and he seemed agreeable to that. My perspective had shifted. I realized that I could be seriously injured working with him. I was also in the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers at that time and I felt that the environment was more cautious - using mats and spotters, etc. But I eventually stoped doing certain aerials with that group while my knee healed. I also kept pressing him about our website. I used to do web design and was going to create the site and use the photos that I’d had taken. I came up with a name for us and he kept saying he’d think about it and get back to me. Ummm, if we weren’t partners, why didn’t he say “A site? Why would there be a site, we’re not dance partners?”. Instead, I was always waiting for him to think about it and being strung along.
Around that time we were in a commercial and a music video and he was always including me (I thought because we were dance partners) However he’d been traveling and being distant and he finally met with me in person a few days before what would have been our 4th year competing at Lincoln Center’s Mid-summer Night swing competition. We were supposed to talk about upcoming competitions, gigs, performances. Instead he was being wishy-washy and told me that we had never been dance partners?! Then he wanted to know if I was competing with him at Mid-summer night swing? If I was a random dancer, why was he expecting me to compete with him? Why was everyone asking me what happened afterwards and why I wasn’t competing with my partner? What deficit in his psyche made him say we weren’t dance partners?! I couldn’t believe it! I get injured competing with him and then he ditches me for another lowlife who had pretended to be my friend and had just come to my Birthday party!?
Something is really wrong and terrible with this man, this Jekyll and Hyde. After our first mid-summer night dance competition, he was running around telling people how great I was for a newbie and that was the first time that I’d done aerials. Of course I’d started swing dancing in college in the 90’s and had done a slew of aerials with the people that I was dancing with back then. The challenge for me after moving to New York was learning lindy hop because all I’d known was “East coast swing”. Apparently he has to be in the limelight so he uses people for attention and it has to be just him who’s recognized. I remember getting so angry with him after a Beantown Jack and Jill! I wish I’d ended my partnership with him after that but I trusted that it was just a mistake. Everyone had to dance with 3 random people and coincidentally I was matched with him. I was certain we’d do awesome. At that time we had aerials and showy moves that we could do. When it came time for me to dance with him, he didn’t do any Russian kicks, lifts, aerials, he pretty much just did swing outs over and over. Afterwards, I was like, why didn’t you do any aerials or anything exciting, I’d been going along with the swing outs, not doing much, focusing on being ready for signals from him for aerials or something? He said it was up to me to make it look good! I was like, I can’t back-lead myself into an aerial? He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. I felt hurt. Here I’d come to this dance camp because he was saying that I really needed to go, I’d entered the completion because he kept saying that I needed to and then we get to dance and he doesn’t do any of the sequences that we had already practiced?! The random guy that I’d danced with before him didn’t know me and was leading me in all kinds of crazy moves, but not my dance partner!? WTH?
For some reason he didn’t see me as a person, I came to realize that he saw me as a accessory. It was him, and his vintage suitcase, and his vintage suit and this lady that matched the wardrobe. Towards the end I stopped doing everything he wanted and will continue in this perspective. When you’re dancing with a leader, they must ask for you to participate and I can say no. He would want to repeat things over and over until he mastered the steps. I would get tired of that. At one event he wanted to do something new and just grabbed my hand expecting me to cooperate and dance. I ripped my hand out from his grasp and I asked him to tell me what he wanted to do, don’t just grab me and expect me to move, I have a say in this and it’s 50/50 and not 100/0. He said that I was being unprofessional and he’d never experienced that before, someone ripping their hand away. However I’m choosing to dance and I’m subject to injury, if I want an explanation for what you’re about to do before I move, that shouldn’t be a problem. Just because someone is leading doesn’t mean that they’re a dictator.
I sent him an email about all of this and he responded but never addressed the elephant in the room, our dance partnership! He told me that I didn’t have any official partnership agreement in writing with him. My friend? I hadn’t created a contract with my friend that officially said that we were dance partners, instead I had trusted him. I shouldn’t have, and at the beginning I had no idea what all of this would lead to. I told him that if he has anything to say to me he can do so in writing, since anything done or said apparently doesn’t count to him if it’s not written. Since all of this at least one person has tried to re-unite us and other people have asked about what happened, but if he says that we were never partners, then there’s nothing to reunite, since apparently nothing ever existed. I told him that he must take down all photos that feature me or that I was responsible for having taken and not use them. It looks like he still has some from that shoot on his site, but the site is messed up.
This account is a warning to any other dancers that might be thinking of doing something with him or anyone else. The horrible way in which he ended our partnership, lying after I got injured also doing this after I lost my job has really emotionally hurt me. I don’t want to feel burdened by this history and hopefully by putting this out there, I can move on to better people and better times. A community that promotes someone that uses people and then discards them is a despicable community, so you’ve been warned. I’m not good with conflict resolution or betrayal, so this might not be the best way to address this, but so far writing this has already helped. It’s been taking up space in my head, and by transferring it from internal to external, I hope to be unburdened and move on. And, maybe people will stop asking me about my dance partner….
--------ADDENDUM---------
I’ve gotten lots of positive responses from people for sharing my experience, thank you! I’ve also gotten the opposite. I’m not perfect, and if you think my language is too harsh in this post then you can try to forgive me for that but I’d rather imperfectly get my feelings out than sit in silence. As I mentioned, I shared my experiences to warn/educate people about becoming partners with him (or anyone else) and to get the weight of this experience off of my chest. If you’re deciding to continue working with him but don’t want to work with me because I spoke about my experiences (or used too harsh a tone), please note that you’re choosing to forgive or approve of what he did (to me and at least one other person) and not forgive or approve of me responding to what he did. I’m not sure how I can be at fault because if he’d never misled me the way that he did, I’d never need to write about it. Additionally, I’m trying to heal myself from this experience with him, and you’re saying that my healing comes in 2nd to his feelings about what’s said about him?
I’ve been told that as a friend who saw this flaw in his character, I should have tried to fix it. Having recently attended a conference on Love, yes I would agree that this would be the ideal outcome however I do not believe that I have the tools to do that. I’ve known him at least 5 years and never even gotten a straight answer on his real age, never been to his home, never really gotten far beyond the basics from his side (He’s been to my apartment, knows my age, etc). The likely-hood of me transforming him into someone that would see what he did was wrong and wouldn’t feel the need to do it again is totally unlikely and in the meantime I would be suffering emotionally. Now that you know, if you’re a part of his community, then you can work with him on whatever issues he might have and transform him into a better man. He already did what he did to me and I’m moving on- he’s still broken (I presume), if you can fix him, go for it, it makes things better for all of us.
We are very happy she is out of the web of deception


This Master Manipulator has also wrongfully influenced and 

lied to dance students in the Harlem area, so much so that 

they cannot see the light of day - or refuse to.  Blinded by 

some sort of defaulted admiration and/or infatuation.  Some 

have copied his destructive cunning behaviors willfully and 

are proud of it.... 



We however knew it was only a matter of time that the 

undermining behaviors and matters would begin to be 

exposed. Time will tell with ALL of these experiences what 

will happen (and if these individuals will be held accountable 

more so) but we commend these brave souls for telling their 

stories to help their fellow dancers - male and female - to 

avoid these harmful disgusting behaviors and situations.




More importantly we should all want to help those 

hurt with their process to heal, and get true support. 


But realize you brave VICTORS that if there is no solace in 

your local or supposed Lindy Hop Land "family" get 

whatever help you deem necessary for you.



L8R





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

In Remembrance of Ruby Reeves

Ruby Reeves went to Smalls Paradise in the 1980s and  witnessed the transition of social dancing going from uptown to downtown. She knew Mama Lu Parks and many of  the regular Monday night Harlem crowd that listened and danced to Al Cobbs Band. She performed professionally doing the Tranky Doo (or her version  the Cranky Doodle").   It has been stated but not confirmed that she was also part of the 1982 famous Harvest Moon Ball dance competition.  But b ack in 1988 when a tribute was given to Mama Lu ( Tapping Through an Evening in Honor of Mama Lu Parks )   she was in grand company  https://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/29/arts/review-dance-tapping-through-an-evening-in-honor-of-mama-lu-parks.html Naturally she saw and experienced the "exodus" of Harlem's dance traveling from uptown to downtown. And uptown folk seemingly going with the flow because - in her words - "we weren't doing anything in our community".  Thus part of the sad rea

Class Act: Take note of our lead Dance Instructor in Harlem - Rafal!

" He's the teacher?!   I don't want that White Boy teaching me anything!"    "He's not teaching me my dance!" And with that they - some African Americans/ Black people -  do an about face and march out of the dance classroom... ________________ Harlem and Harlemites (aw heck Black folks!) can be a challenge - and that race card goes both ways a whole lot.  With that bad word "gentrification" and the bullying tactics in the area it can have some of the locals thinking EVERYTHING is being taken/stolen away from them.  So when some folks  - Black and White - see The Harlem Swing Dance Society's main teacher Rafal Pustelny he definitely generates all kinds of reactions.  SSSSSSSSSssssshhhhh.... Most times he is unaware of it ....  ;>) Oh but what they miss out on! Rafal Pustelny has built up quite a resume from the days we met him sometime back when he proudly spoke of "Boogie Woogie" influences. Th

The Call of the Jitterbug Kids!

Dominick Robinson, Matthew Cherrington, Jessica Hand, Coral Foxworth, Kelly Robinson and Matthew Hunt "I've never heard of them!" people retort.  Well you missed out to a degree but they were part of Harlem's 20th century Lindy Hop story... perhaps rightfully so the 5th generation to keep the culture going  :>) The  Jitterbug  Kids were founded in 2001/2002 and were a group of 8...ranging in the ages of 7 to 10 years old. They were a fixture in Harlem and in NYC, performing at public and private events. Sarina Robinson started the group one year after she was inspired to start taking Lindy Hop/Swing Dance classes.  Having a Dance Studio helped as she gathered this group of children and trained them at dance workshops for one year. Then they were off! While they have grown up to be young ladies and gents they influenced many and got the attention of young and old alike.  These exciting and fun memories and groundwork that was established never