Sexism has never been so much fun.

Ba-ack step, tri-ple step, tri-ple step, ba-ack step, spi-in left…

I had way too much fun swing dancing this weekend. When I sat down to blog about it on my personal blog today, I started realizing just how much gender roles are infused into that seemingly-innocent passtime. I thought back to my comment in response to Tom’s giving-up-music post, how it was admirable to be willing to give up something you like because something else is more important. I realized swing dancing might be that for me. Now, I know I only just got back into it, and it’s not an ingrained part of my life (yet; it very well could be soon). When near a thrift store today, I stopped in to see if they had any heel-less shoes I’d want to wear dancing.

The difference between music/secular music and dancing is the music is a personal morality issue, which the prolific YAR posters tend not to be concerned about, while the dancing definitely could contribute to social sexist pressures and all that.

Further analysis:
It seems sexist because the primary initiators were men, men were the “leaders” while women were the “followers,” the “leader” part involved deciding what to do and communicating that to the “follower” who was obliged to do it, and men got to wear comfy shoes while women were faced with fashion vs. sustainability. Not to mention the whole setup was decidedly heterocentric. A few women, probably straight, did dance with each other for lack of men, but I’m quite sure straight men would not have done the same thing if there had been more men than women.

On the other hand, some women did ask men to dance, and I didn’t hear any women, including me, get turned down. As I’ve heard in other dance settings, the man’s job as leader is not to draw attention to himself, but to make the woman look good. That could be seen as counter-patriarchy, but it also could be used as a way to make women look like ornamental objects to be viewed by men.
While the “experienced” men were glad to help teach the “inexperienced” women the moves, the “experienced” women did the same for the “inexperienced” men. I hear it’s interesting to try, as a follower, to teach another person how to lead.

What do y’all think? Am I being too serious about this? Should I just go, have fun and leave conversations about gender, roles and sexual identity to a different setting? Is this something I should discuss with the friends with whom I went?

Comments (8)

  1. jdaniel

    see what dancing leads to!? no wonder our north american mennonite predecessors prohibited it! ;)

  2. Skylark (Post author)

    I hear that at some schools, premarital sex is prohibited because it leads to dancing. ;-)

  3. eric

    I like this little quote from Blackamazon in a thread on her blog that actually starts here:

    Essentially I feel that regardles of other theories and work that simply enjoying our selves is key to world change.

  4. Skylark (Post author)

    I wish all enjoyments were created equal.

    Here’s a related question that came up last night as three of my female friends and I drove back from another night of swing dancing: We’d been comparing stories of dancing with this or that person, and I was glad to have met a woman who goes regularly to community swing dances. She was able to point out men who would be good partners for us, and since she knew many of them, she’d call them over. We’re definitely learning, and it’s nice to dance with experienced people who will be gentle and not expect too much.

    However, in the process of telling us who TO dance with, she also told us who NOT to dance with for various reasons. As I found out on the ride home, this made one of my friends uncomfortable. She said she doesn’t like to talk about people negatively behind their backs, and it makes her feel badly about herself.


  5. Lora

    She said she doesn’t like to talk about people negatively behind their backs, and it makes her feel badly about herself.


    I think it depends on the context: why shouldn’t you dance with those men? If it’s something like halitosis or literally getting your toes stepped on, then perhaps it’s fair warning, but admittedly more gossipy and maybe not fair to the man. If your friend was warning you to avoid men because they might act in ways which cross lines (touching you inappropriately or making improper advances) then I think your friend was perfectly right to tell you who not to dance with. Women tend to be socialized to be polite and helpful, even at the expense of what’s best for them and conversely, men get away with any number of behaviors because “boys will be boys.” If it was the latter scenario, I’d be grateful for such a friend…

  6. AmyKate

    My first response when I heard of your post (some one mentioned it before I actually read it) was “oh, no, don’t cross out dancing as an appropriate past time.”

    This went through my mind because as a Mennonite raised fairly traditionally regarding dance (no social events included dancing), I have enjoyed the freedom I now have to dance, the ability to express myself and the out right fun of it.

    However, I think you raise a legitimate question when you ask whether it encourages sexism. I have heard dancing (specifically classical dance like the waltz) used in defense of the argument that men are meant to be the “head” or leader (see Elisabeth Elliot).

    I guess it could be sexist, but couldn’t also be a way for two people, a couple, to learn to communicate and work together on a different level?

    I am also thinking that much of it depends on each person’s attitude. Does the man really feel that he is so in charge that the woman is a pawn, or does he view her role just as important as his, and vice versa?

    What do you think?

  7. Skylark (Post author)

    Hi AmyKate! I don’t think I’ve seen you on YAR before, so welcome.

    Pair dancing is definitely a different way of communicating. It rarely involves words, though I do feel obligated to verbally apologize when I think I blundered on something I should have known.

    And, the cruddy attitudes are exactly what our new friend was warning us about. One fellow, as I had already discovered before being warned, is absolutely committed to finding himself a girlfriend before the summer is over. Ergo, he’s dancing with all the women he can, asking each what she’s doing this summer, and trying to sneak in a grope or two when the woman doesn’t give off completely disinterested vibes.

    Some people are simply demanding dancers, and they don’t have much patience for beginners. But you’re stuck with them till the end of the song. As it turned out, in one case, our new friend was wrong. Or perhaps the man in question didn’t have much patience for our friend, but one of my newbie friends had a very different experience.

    Regarding sexism, if a couple decides to only dance with each other, they could certainly both learn how to lead and follow. It could make things complicated if a woman only knows how to lead, and she tries to dance with other men, who also only know how to lead.

    But, since dancing is at least partly performance-oriented, I wonder if there’s more to it than what’s going on in the heads of the individual dancers. Even in social settings that aren’t exactly “performance,” people are still watching.

    How does that play in? Are we under some kind of obligation to publically denounce the sexist tendencies of pair dancing?

  8. BlueStarFish

    I love dancing. I rarely dance within pairs these days, but when I do I do enjoy the fact if my partner knows what he is doing. For me the question of leading vs following really just means who puts their right foot forward first. Otherwise it’s just two parts of a movement that we perform together. Admitedly, I am known to lead if my partner doesn’t know what they are doing, either in the man or woman’s role…

    What I prefer though is when I dance purely for myself rather than worrying about a partner or who is watching me. I do Gabriella Roth’s 5 Rhythm dancing when I can and love it to bits. The chance to dance for myself whether within a womens’ only or mixed setting is powerful. Personally I’ve found myself closest to God when I’m dancing, which is one of the reasons I’d hesitate to give it up.

    I’ve never really thought of pair dancing in sexist terms. Perhaps because I’ve been having too much fun? (Don’t know if that is a good excuse…) The dancing you often see in clubs is more disturbing in its gender/sexual roles.

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