It is with deep regret that I’ve shared the information of the collapse of World Lindy Hop Day 2015 in Rome.
Many people have been let down by what has happened. Many people are looking for answers, and frankly deserve them. I swear by diplomacy and do not want to perpetuate drama, but for the people who have been wronged by what has happened I will share what I can of this debacle.
Since Mabel Lee’s accident in June, this has been a terrible year for the world of Lindy Hop. It’s been a series of bad news, and World Lindy Hop Day in Rome is another terrible scandal.
The WLHD concept was originally my friend and fellow event organizer, Sing Lim’s idea. It was meant as a follow up to Frankie 100. The event was intended to continue for years to come as a way to honour Frankie by turning his birthday into something beyond just celebrations within the Lindy Hop community. It was meant to grow and travel around the world and become something bigger, much like World Tap Day is celebrated on Bill Robinson’s birthday.
Sing and I were both part of the global selection committee that awarded WLHD to Rome at the end of the summer of 2014. The committee included dancers and instructors from around the world and she and I were the co-chairs.
The strongest application was put in by Ryan Francois and Silvia Palazzolo. It was a very close race between Rome and one other city, but after a lot of difficult deliberation, Rome received the bid. While the other city also had a great deal of organizational experience like Silvia’s, a large part of that final decision was made because of Ryan Francois’ involvement.
Based on the information we had, the application, Palazzolo’s track record as an event organizer, and Ryan Francois’ involvement at the time of the application process, this was not only a reasonable choice, but the best one. There was no way to predict this implosion.
Unfortunately, shortly after the decision was announced, I began to receive messages from people who had a lot of information about Silvia’s event organizing that I wish I’d been made aware of before the selection process. I began to learn that Silvia had a long track record of not paying instructors or bands. Most of these instructors were too embarrassed to say or do much about it, so other instructors did not receive warning and continued to fall under the same scam, not only being denied payment but also losing money out of pocket for their own flights which they were supposed to be paid back for. This extended not only to the younger generation of dancers and bands, but also to senior citizens from our dance world who should be have been honoured and treated with deep respect and grace.
I received an anonymous tip through the WLHD website from someone in Italy who described this history. I was later contacted Meschiya Lake herself who let me know that she and her band had never been paid for one of their previous gigs. This was of course more than troubling, but I didn’t know what to do. Silvia had put on a lot of events, and we could only giver her the benefit of the doubt… Particularly with Ryan involved, we were sure it would be ok.
When we created the WLHD idea, we thought we would be able to award the bid to a different city each year and that after a rigorous application process, we would be able to find trustworthy and reliable event organizers who would run an event. We never had the capacity to micro-manage (or even macro-manage) an event remotely. Myself and Sing were the most involved of all the selection committee, but we had already given up our lives last year to run Frankie 100. We never anticipated that we’d have to step into someone make sense of the drama that was about to unfold.
In January, after Snowball in Stockholm, the problems really became apparent. Ryan Francois reached out to Sing and me to tell us about his struggles over many months with an increasing amount of drama, lies, and confusion working with Silvia. He was embarrassed because he realized the responsibility he had taken on in teaming with Silvia for such an important event, but working with Silvia was ruining his life. I still can’t even begin to understand the complexities of what went on, and that’s Ryan’s story to tell, not my own. But I will say that I saw enough confusing correspondence and strange emails that Ryan shared with me to know that there was something really unhealthy going on and that it was being directed by Silvia.
Ryan made the difficult decision to leave the event. This was a very hard choice for him, but there was no way that they could work together. It did not make sense for him to run an event in Italy on his own, so if the event were to go on it would have to continue being run by Silvia.
To be clear, Ryan Francois ended his involvement with WLHD Rome officially in January as he felt that he could not work with Silvia Palazzolo. He is not responsible for what has happened.
I now very much regret that the event wasn’t cancelled at that time. I take responsibility for being a big part in encouraging the event to still take place. I kept thinking about the people who had bought non-refundable plane tickets and booked hotels. I’ve run Lindy Hop events of all sizes and I thought that surely Silvia could hold a 200 person event on her own, with her Italian committee, even without Ryan.
Everything seemed to settle down and I didn’t hear anything for a long time. No news should have been good news, or so I thought. I trusted that the event organizer would be doing what event organizers do – rallying her team and getting the job done.
Unfortunately, all the event planning that should have been taking place did not come to fruition. Despite all of the problems we’d heard about, we still wanted to give Silvia Palazzolo the benefit of the doubt. We see now that we were unrealistic about the goals of having World Lindy Hop Day travel around the world. I understand the folly in that now. So much can go wrong when you rely on external forces, particularly when we were putting it under the banner of an “official” event. We are not the Olympics. We don’t have dedicated resources to pull that sort of thing off. We’ve learned that the hard way now and have since disbanded the WLHD bid.
We did try to help Silvia. We reached out to her to see if we could support her in some way like publishing the schedule if there was one. Instead, she kept saying that she would update everything herself but every time we checked with her, it still hadn’t changed. The truth of the matter is that she has dug herself into a hole. She had been trying to pretend that there is an event to save, but there was nothing there. Silvia is upset with me and Sing for “convincing her to cancel the event” but it is more accurate to say that we finally persuaded her to come to terms with the fact that there was no event that can be salvaged.
I’ve been speaking with Chazz Young this week. When he learned about the event being cancelled he was so sad and disappointed that he turned down other opportunities as an honoured guest at other events marking his father’s birthday. He hadn’t heard anything from Silvia for months and had hoped the event would still happen. He has always had somewhere to go for his father’s birthday weekend so it would be a first for him to have no place to go. I’m so proud and grateful that my dance community, Toronto, was able to arrange for a last minute place for him at our local event.
I’m thankful that Norma Miller had the keen sense to see that something was amiss a few months ago and drop out herself. I feel terrible for the other instructors who were also left in the dark, along with the registrants.
My heart is broken by what I’ve seen. It’s not fair for people, particularly the paid registrants, to be left in the dark about what’s going on. I have never witnessed this level of disregard in our community. Though this was not my event, as someone who helped intimately with the WLHD selection process, I feel terrible for what has happened.
I am so sorry for the inconvenience and monetary loss that this is going to cause a lot of people. The dance community in Rome is very upset by what is happening. They are not involved and as a community, we should not think poorly of Rome. There are people on the ground there who are trying to pull together some dances for the people who will be there over the May 22-24th weekend.
*May 13th, 8:31pm. At this time, many people have reached out to me privately to tell me their personal stories and experiences. I believe that Silvia is extremely unwell and needs to seek some serious help for what what is surely pathological lying. I am not here to re-share stories that are not mine to tell, but I understand that a lot of people have been seriously wronged over the years. I only wish that I’d known this sooner. A lot of drama and damage could have been avoided.
**Many people are reaching out to me privately to tell me their stories of wrongdoing. The damage has been long and extreme. Because this is proving to be so extensive including cases of real fraud, I am going to help by collecting testimonials from whoever would like to add their voice to the list of what’s been done. If you have been one of the many victims, you can email me your statement: firstname.lastname@example.org. I ask that you do not send it to me by FB message and email me instead, or you can leave a post here on the blog.
***May 17th Important Update: There is an update to the World Lindy Hop Day in Rome cancellation situation. Here are 3 statements made by Ryan Francois, Marcus Koch, and Katerina, a member of the Italian team: https://zootman43.wordpress.com/
****Statement from the Frankie Manning Foundation: http://www.frankiemanningfoundation.org/statement-by-the-frankie-manning-foundation-concerning-world-lindy-hop-day-2015/
Other dance options from the Roman dance community for people who will still go to Rome will be listed here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/romanlindyhoppers/ and updates to the schedule listed here: https://www.facebook.com/bunny.donowitz/media_set?set=a.851158161644729.1073741834.100002516581581&type=3&__mref=message_bubble