Subconscious Sexism: 9 Ways Our Dance Communities are Sexist and We Don’t Even Know It

sexism in salsa

The partner dancing that we do today – whether it be salsa, or west coast, or bachata, kizomba, or zouk – has emerged out of a long tradition of sexist behaviors. This is a simple fact of history.

Fortunately, paralleling great feminist strides in our culture as a whole, that tradition has really begun to collapse. One great example of our progress is the fact that women, once shamed away from asking men to dance, now ask men to dance all of the time. Quite literally all of the time.

This is cause to celebrate! Progress is happening!

However: this progress is by no means complete, nor necessarily as quick or transparent as we would like to believe.

In today’s post I elevate for discussion several ways in which we subconsciously participate in and perpetuate sexism. These habits of ours are all quite different and I am certain that no one will agree with me on all the points. But that is precisely what I am hoping to do with this exercise – I want to bring up some potential ideas, get feedback, and talk about what needs or does not need to be done.

What follows are 9 ways in which I believe we accidentally participate in sexism.

*(For the sake of making some of the points about sexism in this post, I use heteronormative language. We associate leading with men and following with women – so I wrote this post associating leading with men and following with women, something I do NOT do in the rest of my blog posts. You will also note that some of the critiques did not apply to women but to following; however, since by and large following is still associated with women and that which is feminine, I believe the critiques are at least helpful starting points for discussion on gender norms in dance.)

 

1. “Ladies: don’t think, just follow.”

“Ladies, don’t think, just follow” is a common piece of advice. It might be, in fact, the most common piece of advice given in group classes. It is a piece of advice I have given many times myself, and which I repeated to myself constantly in my initial months and years dancing. “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.”

Yet there are two problems with this piece of advice, and specifically with associating it with women.

First, it is in some sense factually incorrect. Even while it is important as a follower to avoid anticipating moves, thinking is still an incredibly important aspect of following. While I dance I am constantly aware of my surroundings, noting habits in my leader, and attempting to attune my dancing to his. Sometimes I do close my eyes to better follow. I do try to stop actively engaging my conscious mind. But I a) am still concentrating like crazy, just in a different way, and b) do not do this all of the time. I do this as a choice, which I strategically make with my thoughts, based on my active judgment of what’s going on in the dance and the kind of following that is required.

Secondly, this phrase reinforces negative stereotypes. The brilliant London-based salsa instructor Toan Hoang recently asked me: “what do you think that does, time and time again, hearing instructors shout over the music in classes: ‘ladies, don’t think, just follow?'”

This is what it does: it subconsciously reinforces the idea that leading–the “male” role–requires thinking, and following–the “female” role–does not. It tells us that men should think and women should not.

2. Polarizing leading and following

We tend to think of leading as just leading and following as just following, but there are nuances to these roles that are often unfortunately lost on the surface.

As much as leaders choose which moves to do, high level leaders will also spend a significant amount of energy listening to their followers. They will get a feel for what works for the follower, and will be able to pick up on signals in her body regarding what kind of movements would work best on. This, in some senses, is a bit like following.

Followers, in the other role, do by and large follow the movements provided by leaders, but they also suggest. They also subtly guide the course of the dance. They also, at high levels, use specific movements and kinds of tension in their body to indicate to the leader what they would like to do. They sometimes hijack and it is appropriate.

If we taught leading and following like this from the get-go — as a pattern that was more interactional and less polarized than we think of it now — we might be able to help people have dances which are more like communicative exchanges and less like strictly “male”/”female” role play.

3. Forgetting the power of ‘no’ and misconstruing power dynamics

In partner dancing, by and large, yes, leads (men) are “dominant” and follows (women) are “submissive.” Nearly every person who partner dances will tell you that this is a part of why they enjoy the dance.

But it is important to be wise to an important facet of the typical dominant/submissive relationship.

In BDSM communities, it is well known that even though doms appear to have all the power, it is actually the sub that is the most powerful person in the relationship. That’s right. Doms look like they have the power, but they actually don’t.

Why? Because no matter what the dominant person suggests, it is up to the submissive to say if it is off limits or not. The safe word is the key to power dynamics in the bedroom. It enables the submissive to call the shots and to ultimately set the boundaries around what happens.

In partner dancing, we don’t have a safe word. But we don’t need one. The follower can simply deny a move being led. All we need to do is to recognize that right. This means, among other things, getting rid of the follow everything being given to you mindset, and it means not just accepting but being actively glad when followers assert what they are and are not comfortable with. This would enable us to inhabit lead follow roles, and even in a gendered way if we want, without sacrificing the nobility and power of female followers.

4. Ladies Styling

It is often said in partner dancing that men are the support, and women are the beauty.

Or that men are the frame, and women are the painting.

Or that men are invisible, and women are showcased.

This results in classes being, by and large, for men to learn moves and connect, and alternative classes in “ladies styling” being for women to learn how to be pretty.

This is bollocks. Complete fucking bollocks.

Men can be aesthetic, too. Men can move fluidly and beautifully while they lead. Men can shine. Men can dance. 

And women are most certainly a part of the power and structure that make a dance look–but more importantly feel–good.

In fact, I would argue that focusing on “ladies styling” actually detracts from the quality of the dancing. However much energy women/followers devote to their styling is exactly the amount of energy they can no longer be spent on listening to and connecting with their leaders.

5. John y Jane couples

Daniel y Desiree. Ataca y Alemana. Sergio y Gaby.

Jordan and Tatiana. Hugo and Stacy. Kyle and Sarah.

There are a small number of teaching and performing couples who go by the female name first, but by my best guess (scanning congress websites and the like) they constitute no more than 10% of performing couples. I am being generous with that number. I’d bet my life savings it’s actually no more than 5%.

This is a norm we inherited from the rest of our culture – to always say Mr. first and Mrs. second. But that doesn’t make it right. 

And I want to state here, unequivocally, that I do not blame this entirely on the couples. Sure, they are the ones who choose their names, but we are the ones who consume them. I am 100% positive that we subconsciously admire and patronize male-led partnerships more so than female-led ones. If we want our leaders to step up their game and represent gender equality then we, as their patrons, have to step up ours, too.

6. Teaching moves

Most lessons, especially those offered right before a social, are designed mostly for men. They teach “moves.”

The instructor might say dozens of times in the lesson, “leads do XYZ, and the followers will just know what to do.”

Um, no. The follower won’t automatically know what to do. There is a distinct skill set – a distinct ability to read what a leader is intending – that following requires. Classes very rarely talk about this.

Placing the emphasis in classes on moves gives priority to men’s (leader’s) education in the dance and leaves women in the dust. It also turns the dance into a set of directions the lead gives the follower, instead of a two-way line of communication between them.

If instead of moves we taught “how to be good partners,” classes would be good for both leaders and followers, and we would think of men and women as equitable partners in making a dance go smoothly.

(I talk about these ideas at great length in the post “Is it always the leader’s fault?” Also, for an example of things that I think could be taught in beginner classes, see Maximizing the Purity of Your Connection)

7. Male instructors dominating classes

I have only once personally ever gone to an Afro-latin dance class taught by a couple in which the woman spoke more than 50% of the time.

(In swing dances it happens much more often.)

Sometimes even in classes when following is being discussed the male instructor does the talking… even though he is not the resident expert on following.

Men simply dominate the hell out of teaching class. In part this is because the emphasis of the class is on “moves” and men are the ones teaching how to lead them, but this is also because we simply don’t make space for women to talk.

8. “Hijacking” and the language of hijacking

Hijacking is what happens when a follower doesn’t obey the lead, and instead does whatever she feels like doing. This is a serious sin in most dance communities. It is nowadays however much less so in west coast swing.

There are two important issues having to do with the idea of “hijacking.”

First is the act itself. What’s so bad about hijacking? Done tastefully, safely, and occasionally, “hijacking” can be a great way for a follower to be playful and musical with her leader. This might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I do know a lot of advanced leaders in the Afro-Latin dances who are on board with this sort of thing. In swing nowadays, though it didn’t used to be, this kind of behavior is actively expected and even beloved.

Second is the language of hijacking (another great idea of Toan’s). To “hijack” is to do something negative. It might even be to do something violent. It’s to interrupt the natural, good flow of things. It states unequivocally that the lead has the right thing in mind and the follower does not. This kind of language can be especially problematic if the follower “hijacks” in order to protect herself.

The language of hijacking might be less problematic if leading and following weren’t currently so divided along gender lines. But as it stands, it helps create a sense of the woman overstepping her bounds on the floor.

If we change our language around “hijacking” we may be able to shift this kind of moralistic duality. We could also perhaps migrate the act from that of “taboo” to that of “skilled art one engages in smartly once more experienced in the dance.” I suggest using words more like “making a statement,” “being proactive,” “playing,” “exercising agency,” “changing the direction of the dance,” (Toan’s favorite), “contributing to patterns,” or my favorite, “co-creating.”

9. Catcalling, ogling, or giggling at female-female dancing (and male-male dancing)

(This item does not really apply to swing dances, which have by and large normalized same sex dancing)

When two women dance together, we cat-call. It’s a sex show.

This is terrible because it fetishizes female-female coupling.

When two men dance together, we stare and laugh. It’s funny. 

This is terrible both because it derides the connection two men can have together (indeed, it makes it laughable that men can connect at all), and also because it finds the idea so funny that a man would stoop to the “female” role of following.

Seriously get over it, everybody. When same sex couples dance together, it’s because they want to dance together, not be a show. And if they happen to want to be a show for the sake of being a show, it shouldn’t (usually) be. For the sake of disrupting our culture’s fetishisization of same-sex dancing, I suggest ignoring attention-seekers.

(If, on the other hand, you’re laughing at your friend because they’re so hysterically bad at the role they are trying to play, then by all means, be my guest.)

 

 —–

From same-sex couples to ladies styling to re-thinking lead/follow dynamics, I have gone through a diverse array of ways in which we subtly promote or at least participate in sexism within our dance communities. (I talk about ways in which we can remediate it here.)

I do not mean to say that we do this on purpose. This is just like when people are casually sexist or casually racist in their day to day lives. No one wants to be the bad guy. None of us necessarily are. It just so happens that the world we inherited was not very nice, and sometimes even doing our best we fail to see the ways in which we oppress one another (and ourselves).

Also, I want to be clear that there are many ways in which we are sexist that I did not talk about. I chose to focus on sexism that is unique to dance and left more of the “standard society stuff” alone. Some “standard society” instances of sexism include, for example, pushing beyond a follower’s comfortable levels of intimacy while dancing, getting drunk and groping/assaulting followers, the often disrespectful hookup culture at congresses, deferring to male promoters in the scene more than female promoters, or considering men more as authorities on how to dance than women.

I will most certainly be discussing those topics in future posts.

Yet for now I would love to hear what you think here. I believe these are some really important issues. And a lot is at stake here, including how we define “leading” and how we define “following.” So it’s a big deal. But change is coming anyway. We may as well be mindful about it and do what we can (such as take steps I talk about in this post) to facilitate thoughtfulness and comfort in our dance spaces.

 

 

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103 Comments, RSS

  1. Andrew July 26, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

    Excellent points – all of them

    • anakonda May 19, 2017 @ 4:42 am

      Absolutely agree. I am passionate about dancing – many styles, but have been distancing myself from the dance floor for some years now: too many leads (I am a follower!) use ingenious moves to try a ‘sexy’ (um… what they “think” it is sexy, mind you!) to get closer to you. Yes, it could be part of a move/step but we know when it is just the other type of ‘move.’ That throws me off, right away. I could just stop the dance right there. Some leads are not into dancing at all: they have tried [dating, catching a woman, or whatever] in many ways, but failed; so, they end up on your dance floor! Last plan of attack for them. When that, too, fails: they at least walk away with some ‘grabbing’ and leg rubbing and/or touching girls’ hair and that is sufficient for them. Dance is not in their mind at all! And then there are the guys who like to ‘corner’ you and TALK the entire night: Um, sorry to break it to ya: this is not a greet and meet place, Sir! I paid to get in and I am not a ‘bait’ or ‘piece of meat.’ Let alone for the types that show up at dance events! So, unfortunately, there are only a very few honest, genuine, serious (yet, creative on their moves and steps – real dancers!) out there. Of course, they are usually very good dancers and all the girls want to dance with them: heck, even guys want to dance with them. So, it is a huge competition and too much effort. Sometimes, I used to leave the house just to dance: “Shut up and dance” kind of thing. I had a full/busy day and did not want to ‘stand’ in a corner of the dance floor, screaming over the music talking to some ‘losers’ who just want to socialize! Well, sad – sad. Today, I go for long walks and only go to dances when I know at least a couple of my real dance friends are going to be there too. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but such disrespectful and intruding behaviors have pushed me away. I just want to do line dancing now – not having anyone grabbing, rubbing, squeezing me on the dance floor. :-/

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:38 am

      ummm, no, bullshit.

      The simple answer to most of this is, why does this girl dance as a follower ? Who stopped her from dancing as a lead ? A follower should follow, a lead, lead. Two leads are not needed.

      I am a man, I dance as a follower and lead, with girls and guys, old and young. Take responsibility for yourself, instead of blaming society. Society does not owe you shit.

      I have never seen a girl-girl dance be a sex show. No one has ever catcalled at any dance party I went to in the last three years, all over West Europe. So, I feel this is not true in Europe at least.

      Hijacking is a bad idea. Most girls who pull this shit, I say, thank you, goodbye. Go learn to dance as a lead. I put in the hard work to learn to dance, don’t screw with my fun.

      On rare occasions it can be fun, but you have to share a chemistry with the person. Simple.

      So, no, dancing is not sexist. It conforms to sexual roles of male and female yes, but you don’t have to follow them.

      To say everything is sexist while doing nothing yourself to change it is hypocrisy. You wanna teach differently, start teaching your own way. What stopped you ?

      All your blog posts are self pity, victim roleplay and attention whoring.

      I find you sexist for blaming men for your problems while you yourself do nothing. Men owe you nothing, ok ?

  2. Jane Cahane July 26, 2016 @ 7:18 pm

    As a thinking salsera and former teacher/advanced dancer, I certainly do ‘hijack’ or resist leads at times for various reasons – first because I respond to the prompt of the music as much as to that of my leader, second because if my leader is leading me in an insensitive, uncomfortable /potentially injurious or non-spatially aware direction, I feel I have to take responsibility for my own safety. And there are some moves that are just not clever, or are ill-judged/led in terms of physical space or other factors. So if I wasn’t thinking and proactive, I am sure I could have been hospitalised or otherwise out of action!

    Once upon a time, back in the (good old/bad old/distinctively primitive – delete as appropriate) days when teachers simply encouraged you to ‘feel the music’, it was as much an invitation for the follower to interpret as for the leader to dictate how to respond to the music. Sometimes leads – which I understand, having taught and led choreographies myself – are so busy trying to get through their wardrobe of learned choreos that they miss subtle cues or flavours (sabor) in the music; I see it as my prerogative as a ‘partner’ (read ‘equal’) in a partner-based dance to gently encourage a focus on the music. I believe here is where a follower’s innate skills come into their own, and particularly where both partners facilitate shared growth and learning through a mutual response to the music and to each other’s playfulness with it.

    Thankfully, I don’t tend to experience (m)any negative reactions as a result of the above, although I do tend to consider those leaders who feel they need to impose a lead forcefully or who feel uncomfortable with the above as being less developed in their own confidence, skills and musicality.

    And as for asking for dances – I see many women waiting for dances shyly rather than asking, and I think they miss out. Frankly as I usually only come out to dance for a few hours at a time and usually want to make the most of it while I am there, I simply don’t have time to hang about forever – so it’s far more practical to ask.

    • Stefani July 26, 2016 @ 8:20 pm

      All good points. I haven’t been dancing for all that long and certainly haven’t made it all the way around the globe, so that’s an interesting perspective about how the community has shifted from music to moves and therefore from something more interactional and fluid to rigid lead/follow roles. I had kind of assumed that the lead/follow rigidity had always been in place – because patriarchy – but am glad to find that that is not the case. On the other hand I am hoping very much that we can get into a dialogue about moving back that way. 🙂

      You’re right about asking – there’s still a lot of work to be done. I will say though that in communities in which women regularly outnumber the men the incentives to ask are too great, and women seem to be quite aggressive askers all around. I am not too sure how I feel about the level of aggression in this asking, lol, or the gender imbalance, but it is nice that the imbalance forces our hand and makes our communities overcome that.

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:42 am

        “Because patriarchy”

        If you hate the patriarchy, what have you done to change it ? Do you teach classes your own way ? Do you dance as a lead ?

        Why do men owe you anything ? I can do what I want, just as you can. Nobody forced you to take part in something you don’t like.

        Dance with other girls. Dance with men who want to dance as a follower. Both are possible and I have seen enough of each.

        If you are not willing to put in the hard work of learning to lead, but want everything handed on a platter to you, because you are a *woman*, then you are absolutely sexist.

        Again, all you do is complain about men. But you continue to dance with them. Why ?

        Organize your own parties with your girlfriends. What stopped you ?

        All you do is seek attention.

  3. Liz July 26, 2016 @ 9:11 pm

    I loved this article – and much of the rest of your blog.

    There’s so much I identified with here. The frustration I had when going to congresses and partnerwork classes were so focused on leads, and all that was on offer for followers was a bit of “styling” (I hate that word too). Styling as somehow being something separate from the dance, rather than teaching people of both sexes to *dance* and dance with flavour and style. Style is so much more than the odd hip, bodyroll or out-flung arm, but most people don’t have access to this kind of thinking or teaching. I could go on, you made so many good points.

    I’d add one more to your list of ways sexism is present in this dance (salsa), and that’s the prevailing standard for female costumes in latin performances. Why is it normal for women to be on stage in little more than glittery underwear? I’ve yet to see any man perform in sparkly Y-fronts with mesh sides and some frills on his arms! (One of the things that attracted me to my current teacher, besides the awesome dancing of course, was because his company dancers – all of them male and female – dressed in ways that enhanced the dancing, and didn’t reduce them to sex objects or semi-strippers. Sexy, powerful and confident as hell, sure, but in halter-shirt and jeans not a bikini!)

    • Stefani July 26, 2016 @ 9:53 pm

      Yo, totally! I totally feel you on the costumes. I would lump that in with ‘standard society stuff’ as we see the same sort of sartorial gender difference everywhere.

      I actually wrote another post at the same time as this – it’s basically a huge rant about ladies styling and how much I can’t stand it. :p I decided to let it lie for a bit because I have a feeling it could ruffle a few more feathers than this one.

      <3

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:45 am

      Ok, good. But did anyone tell you that girls *have* to dance as followers ? Why did you not take part as a lead ?

      Why do you have to be so lazy that you expect guys to learn how to dance and cater to your whims ? Do you pay us ?

      This is not sexism against you, its your own laziness.

      Learn to dance as a lead and stop expecting guys to do you favors for free.

      I have seen men in thongs. Many. They dance Afro Cuban, Orishas and contemporary. Where is your outcry about that ?

      Sexism ? No, the world does not revolve around you, sorry.

  4. Meri July 26, 2016 @ 10:17 pm

    This is something I have often struggled with over the years, and is a lot of the reason I and 4 other ladies created the ‘styling’ show that we did, to prove that women can dance, and dance well without a partner and without just body rolling everywhere.

    The teaching point was particularly interesting to me, as for years I was the ‘dominant’ teacher in my partnership despite being the follower. This started from a language barrier but in the end we became very much a team, and I like to think it made a huge difference to our students. It also stops the teacher being lazy, or asking a lady to be a ‘demo’ – standing and smiling but offering no contribution other than being a body in the middle of the circle.

    Really the same rules apply to salsa as they do everywhere else in life. Don’t be a dick, and if someone else is doing something that they enjoy or feel great doing and it’s not hurting you, empower and praise them or get out of the way.

    • Stefani July 26, 2016 @ 10:24 pm

      Thank you. I think it probably did make a huge difference to your students. In a few classes here in and there in which followers talked about the art of following i feel like the students actually understood the dynamics of what was supposed to be going on.

      lol. agreed. don’t be a dick, empower and get out of the way. i’ll make t shirts 😉

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:47 am

        Uhh, she actually did something positive, and empowered herself.

        What did you do ?

        Aside from whining about how men do this and that, and complaining about how you get kissed every night by those *obnoxious* men ?

        You continue to go out, dance with those same men, get kissed every night, and then come write a whiny blog about how bad they are ?

        hahhahhahahahahhaha

        You are an asshole.

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:46 am

      Perfect ! I think this is the way to go !

      Instead of being like the author and other whiny bitches, who just complain about men, you actually went ahead and did what you like !

      This is real girl power !

  5. AdamH July 27, 2016 @ 9:55 am

    For point 1 (don’t think) we should change this to “don’t plan”. Leaders should plan, followers should not. Other than that, as you say, followers can think about lots of things (though I’ve had experienced followers tell me “don’t think, just feel” – I’ll leave that argument for another time).

    For point 2 (polarizing lead and follow) it has been said that the best leads follow what they lead. As an example, suppose I ask for (lead) a step/movement and my follower makes it larger than I intended. I have 3 choices. 1) to try to “force” her back to my original concept (ugh!) 2) To let her go there but keep my own step as I intended – this breaks connection. 3) To accompany the step she has actually taken. When I remember to do 3) then, instantly, I can dance with much less tension (even when I think I’m relaxed to start with) and its clearly much easier and more comfortable for the follower. At best I stop trying to make her dance like me and start trying to dance like her.

    • Liz July 27, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

      I think “don’t plan” is almost as bad as “don’t think”. I know what you were trying to say, but the dance is so much more than responding to led moves – the language is downgrading what a follower can add to a dance. Here are things I think about or “plan” as a follower when a song starts and develops. What’s the mood of the song? Is is soft and sweet, or sexy, or sad, or energetic, etc. Therefore how should my movements reflect the mood? What’s the musical structure of the song? Is it a cavello, is it Guaguancó, pachanga, etc? What’s the clave? What rhythmic elements or instruments are there that I might want to accentuate? What’s the structure in terms of choro, so I understand the sequence of repetition. Assuming I know the lead, or after the first few moves; I map out things like – what do I need to remember to adjust or compensate for, does the lead use too much or too little power in certain moves, so I need to absorb or counterbalance, does he travel too much, what moves am I going to have to compensate for, how is he leading turns/spins and what do I need to do to prepare/adjust; what personal touches does he have, what can I mimic or build upon (most people repeat these things throughout the dance, so once observed they can be ‘planned for’, does he turn himself a lot leaving me space to improvise. What’s his energy level, is it appropriate for the song, should I plan to meet his energy level or calm him down (and yes this is totally possible). To a certain extent, the better you get at following the more this becomes second-nature, as it does for a leader. But I’d still call it planning

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:51 am

        Not true, not true at all.

        This is just bull. I dance as a follower and a lead.

        When I dance as a follower, I shut up and turn my brain off. You are there for the ride. Aside from cosmetic moves, you are supposed to complement the lead, not get in his/her way.

        That’s right, I said girls can be leads too. I have danced as a man, as a girl, with a girl and with a guy, all possible combinations.

        Tell me, have you danced as a lead ? No ? Go take some classes as a lead, learn what it takes to be a good lead.

        Your entire comment is just completely made up. The entire pace, energy, plan, musicality, everything is set by the lead.

        You don’t like it ? Dance as a lead then.

    • Stefani July 27, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

      what a beautiful comment. thank you 🙂 I think “don’t plan” is great! And your explanation of what happens when a leader takes on some aspect of ‘following’ is exactly what I was trying to get at, just better elucidated – probably in large part because I spend about 4% of time dance time leading and 96% following. 🙂

      • Lexie August 4, 2016 @ 3:34 pm

        I’m a swing dancer, and the favorite advice I’ve heard for following is to try for a quiet and meditative state where you can react to your partner’s movements moment-by-moment rather than anticipating them. Instead of hearing “as a follow, you are a doll to be manipulated and moved around,” I hear “as a follow, you are a zen master tasked with finishing all the movements the lead initiates.” It makes all the difference.

        If you want to go deeper, it’s developing a body-body connection rather than a brain-body connection, where you are responding to things without the time taken for a conscious thought process. Picking up on signals and reacting to them honestly through trained muscle memory, not “turning your brain off.”

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:53 am

        That is ok, 4% initiative from a follower is acceptable for me as a lead.

        But her entire comment is bullshit. She is just making stuff up to sound important -_-

        A good follower follows. Doesn’t plan or make things happen. Doesn’t set the pace, energy or anything.

        God, all this *girl* talk is stupid. There was only one woman here who actually did something constructive by making her own dance group.

        The rest of you just whined and then high fived each other, lol.

  6. Manna Geist July 28, 2016 @ 2:23 am

    Hi Stefani, I really want to thank you for spending time thinking and writing about the important topic of lead and follow! I really enjoy reading them! I myself finding this topic very interesting and fascinating because I have experienced some magic moments on the dance floor with some amazing lead! A good lead is a dancer first and foremost listens to the mood of the music and be mindful of the follower’s level of dancing capabilities and knows how to adjust! He is not a show off and does not dance the same way to every piece of music! As a follower, I need to not to anticipate ( maybe that is the thinking part that teacher tries to discourage ), but move with my partner and with the music ! A good lead will embrace some of my embellishments to give him some idea to make the dance more interesting! A good dance instructor should emphasize that leading is never forceful, but it is an intention! Hopefully, the lead has marked his intention well that will make following easier! There’s lots of insecurity on the dance floor! I think if we go on the dance floor with confidence and consideration with the attitude of the dance is a conversation, a dialogue with equal partners, then we will move as one instead of being divided! Keep the dialogue going! You are making great points! Bravo!!!

  7. Juan Juárez July 29, 2016 @ 6:46 pm

    I grew up in a traditional Mexican household and at the beginning of my dancing in the “scene,” I was challenged with some of my values, beliefs, and culture. Nowadays, it feels so normal for a woman to come up to me and ask me to dance. When I first started dancing that was the weirdest thing ever. I consider myself to be a good dance lead and depending on who I am dancing with I gauge to see what the follow agrees to on the dance floor. I always thought that I used their energy “against them” to be able to make the dance as smooth as possible. The only couple that I can think of, off the top of my head, which has a non-traditional performing name, is Karen y Ricardo. Over the years I’ve found myself to be a completely different dancer from where I started. Dancing with another man was frightening for me at the beginning. I was more worried about what other may say than the dance. I’ve worked myself up to be able to dance openly with another man and I like it. We usually get those stares, laughs, pointing fingers but with practice I’ve been able to tune that out and be present with the music and my dance partner. Those experiences and some that we’ve gotten online have made want to love myself even more. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, I’m definitely going to try and implement some of these behaviors in my dance lifestyle and overall. Here is a video of my friend and I dancing bachata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrsAwwAHluI

    • Stefani July 31, 2016 @ 3:26 pm

      I LOVE THIS. What a kickass dance :p but also more importantly your willingness to share about your journey in the scene… as well as as your willingness to change? It’s so heartening to know that people’s hearts can be open and big 🙂 Thank you so much

  8. […] (You can read it here.) […]

  9. […] Subconscious sexism […]

  10. Michael W August 3, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

    What about the idea of that the follow travels around the guy and he provides the base/structure. Or how he leads a left side pass and it’s cool/more masculine for him to be in the middle and not move as much as the girl passes him? How far do a draw a line between what is being judged as cool and ranked highly and transforming the dance because it’s construed as subconsciously sexist? Like for example, you never dip a male lead (unless he dips himself =p). Or is this acceptable as a wcs construct because of how the dance originated?

  11. Elisa August 3, 2016 @ 8:10 pm

    Does this experience by any chance include blues or fusion dance scenes?

    If everything you’ve written is true, I think those two dance scenes might be seriously ahead of the curve. Having “grown up” as a dancer in those two scenes predominantly (though not exclusively), I can say with pride that almost all of the points you mention are NOT a part of my regular dance lesson / social dance experience. In fact almost all the points you mention are generally frowned upon by those communities as a whole (from my experience – this is obviously not going to be universal).

    • Stefani August 4, 2016 @ 6:57 am

      It is well on my radar the fact that blues, fusion, and lindy to some extent are ‘ahead of the curve’ in terms of feminism and the like in dance spaces. 🙂 I think there are a lot of different influences that go into that though I would say that the types of people who gravitate towards those dances tend to be ones that think about feminism / etc more often in their daily lives.. ?

    • Ian August 4, 2016 @ 7:20 am

      I dance a lot of blues and lindy. It is true that many of the things listed here do not happen as often. For example we talk frequently in class about the range of leading from controlling through invitational, to suggestive and beyond. Also mid dance role switching is becoming increasingly frequent. And even though I am male and spend about twice as much time leading as following, I actually hardly ever do the asking.

      However, the scene wasn’t always like like this and it has taken a conscious and concerted effort fromy many people over many years to make it happen.

      Lindy is not as far along this track, but many are trying currently to import these ideas to that culture. One could say that it is a dance in transition.

  12. Kyla August 3, 2016 @ 8:15 pm

    I love what this article is trying to say, but something wasn’t quite right as I was reading. Then I saw your note about hetero-normative language usage. I understand that inclusive language can sometimes be difficult to incorporate into our lives in spontaneous conversation… but it would seem that when writing an essay that can be reviewed and edited….. inclusive language wouldn’t be as difficult to incorporate once all the meat of the essay has been written. I feel that the lack of such language and then the acknowledgement of the omission….. is extremely exclusive and almost defeats the entire point of this article. How is it not sexist to knowingly exclude non-binary and non-cisgender individuals? Modeling behavior for others is such an awesome tool for creating change. I would sincerely and with love and respect – like to request a possible edit of this piece so that your awesome points and suggestions could include everyone in our dance communities.

    • Stefani August 4, 2016 @ 6:55 am

      I used the heteronormative language in this post to speak to the heteronormativity that actual exists in our spaces on purpose. I use gender-neutral language in every other of my blog posts. This is what I intended to convey by making that note in the post

      • Ouardane August 4, 2016 @ 1:06 pm

        So you used heteronormative language in an article that talks about subconscious sexism and hetetonormative language hasn’t made your list? One of the most powerful way we are sexist is the assumption that men lead and women follow. Moreover, most of the (relevant) critics you make would be destroyed if we taught everybody both roles or if people didn’t divide themselves by roles along gender lines.

        About the “don’t think”, I strongly believe that our language thinking is getting in the way, and anticipation too, both for lead and follow. I usually tell beginner leads ” close your eyes, listen to the music, don’t dance for me, just move to the music”, it helps people be more musical and less affected by performance anxiety.

        • Stefani August 4, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

          Okay, I’m going to move my note about heteronormative language from the bottom of the post to the top so people stop missing it 🙂

          • Ouardane August 4, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

            Hey, I don’t think I’ve missed it. I think you’ve missed my point though =)

            Again, this is great material, but please consider for a second that most of those things would not be an issue if the assumption wasn’t women = follow. Or at the very least, they wouldn’t be sexist issues.

            I hear your point about finding funny people who present as the same gender dancing together. This is a very limited aspect of it. What about women who lead men? What’s they dynamic there? I’ve notice often than in my salsa scene, men feel entitled to break two women who dance together up and take that as a signal of “I want to dance, but I couldn’t find a “real” lead”. In contra, I’ve been told many times that I was in the wrong place because I was following a woman, and calling happens with gents and ladies.
            It’s also not my experience that people will laugh at me when I dance with other men. I think the laughter comes in certain community, and mostly when people are beginners, which is the time when it’s the most hurtful, because we discourage folks from trying the new subversive thing.

            I hear that there’s still a trend and association that men lead and women follow.

            My point is that while assuming men=lead/women=follow, it didn’t make the list. I do that’s the single biggest way we perpetuate unconscious sexism. Assuming roles based on gender, using language that reinforces those gender roles, is a way we propagate sexism. I do think it’s really important to critique it, and I wish it made your list!

      • Nancy Lynn August 4, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

        I had a similar thought. For example, here: “… they will get a feel for what works for the follower, and will be able to pick up on signals in *her* body regarding what kind of movements would work best on.”

        Since this is in the part explaining what’s wrong with the “follows, don’t think” advice, the word “her” felt subconscious to me, and not intentional. I thought it was evidence of the exact ingrained gender norms you were pointing out as what we need to be mindful of in our dance culture. Using “that person’s body” instead would be my suggestion.

        I only noticed this in one other spot and agree with Kyla that making those two small tweaks could raise the quality of the article by modeling good use of gender-neutral language for others in the dance community.

        I am pointing this out not as a criticism but as a small suggestion for taking this writing to the next level. I have much respect and gratitude for the work you’ve done here! I’m immersed in the blues dance community and, on this topic, it is strides ahead of others, though we still have lots of work to do. Having these constructive conversations is a great way to get there.

        • Stefani August 5, 2016 @ 12:01 am

          Hi. As I stated in the post, I wrote it with gender normative language on purpose. Because we associate men with leading and women with following, to denigrate following / followers is, in some ways, to denigrate women. I use gender neutral writing in the entirety of the rest of this blog 🙂

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:55 am

        No you don’t. You whine specifically about men, and how women are the victims.

        Jesus, do you even read your own writing ?

        If you had actually been gender neutral you would have seen the obvious solution to your complaining is for girls to dance as leads.

  13. john robert mack August 3, 2016 @ 9:09 pm

    I’m afraid to say this entire post is actually inherently sexist. It assumes that men lead and women follow. Saying we shouldn’t tell women to stop thinking while they dance and follow, assumes that it’s women who are following. If we get rid of the concept of the fact that women have to follow, and just say, male or female, you have to kind to turn off your brain and let your body react kinesthetically to the direction, then there’s nothing sexist about it. I don’t actually disagree with anything you’re saying, and understand the sexist bias that has been involved in partner dancing since its Inception. But if we truly want to get past the sexual stereotypes, the first one to eliminate is the idea that men must lead in women must follow. As far as styling goes, when I leadI tend to use less involved styling, because it can be distracting to my follow and as a leader my primary goal is to communicate smoothly the moves I wish to do. When following, I tend to be much more elaborate and intricate with my styling Concepts, especially with the beginning leaders, because it gives me something to do while they’re figuring out the four or five moves they know. Go back through all of your points, and avoid the assumption that women must follow, and see what happens.(By the way I have taught with more than one woman and in every case it was the senior teacher who “led” the class…. And it was me only in 1 of 4 cases.)

    • Ouardane August 4, 2016 @ 4:08 pm

      About styling, in my experience, it’s mostly dependent on my partner skills. If I feel like my partner is going to jeopardize my balance, I usually keep styling fairly low, regardless of role.
      As I’m writing this, I realize I tend to teach follows more styling, probably mostly because I’m trying to avoid lead-centric teaching. I should think more about that =)

  14. anders August 3, 2016 @ 11:06 pm

    Excellent piece.

    I have been thinking a lot recently about how the skills followers need are often assumed to be tacit skills to be learned by doing moves that leads have been explicitly taught in class (I am a lindy hopper).

    So for example, follows are told ‘don’t think’ or ‘just follow’. The teacher does not stop to explain the skills that are involved in ‘just following’ or what that means from a technical standpoint. I feel like a crucial skill for follows is to be able to associate touch with movement, and this is a form of kinesthetic learning. Likewise, it is crucial for a follow to be able to avoid overextending and maintain balance, yet how many beginners classes will address or breakdown this kind of skill (never mind other skills follows need such as say turning and spinning).

    • Stefani August 4, 2016 @ 6:54 am

      Yes yes yes yes! This whole – there is a real art to following concept – is in fact why this blog exists 🙂

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:56 am

        Yes, yes, yes, there is. But its not the same as leading. Which is what your complain has been.

        Of course there are more leader classes. They are the ones to initiate and create. No leader = no dance.

        And the whole time you have been railing against it. Without bothering to explain why you don’t learn to dance as the lead.

    • Mermaid November 3, 2017 @ 4:10 am

      What do you mean by avoid overextending to maintain balance? Thanks

  15. Tim August 3, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

    “1 – Ladies: don’t think, just follow.”’ Well, in my swing dance class, the instructor just used the terms “Lead” and “Follow”, and encourages people to try both roles. So, the notion of “Ladies” doesn’t work in this context, because a follower could be either a man or a woman. The instructor does say, “Followers, don’t think – just follow”, but that advice is tied to the role, and not the gender.

  16. Erika August 4, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

    Please keep your “political correctness” off the dance floor and do what you’re supposed to do: DANCE! There is no room for hurt feelings on it, only hurt feet.

    • Stefani August 5, 2016 @ 12:02 am

      lol. you don’t think people have feelings on the dance floor or around dance? you don’t think we should ever talk about them?

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 11:58 am

        No, do talk about your feelings.

        But prepare to hear what other people think about it.

        He is right. No one is interested in your feelings on the dance floor or to get a lesson from you on the politically correct way.

        If you pull this shit on the dance floor, you are gonna dance with yourself.

  17. Bryan Rodriguez August 4, 2016 @ 4:38 pm

    You have absolutely no idea what you speak of. Salsa and Latin dancing needs to stay out of your vocabulary. There’s no rules of engagement on the social dance scene and no one will judge you if you lead or follow. Modern Salsa instructors such as myself have to learn how to lead and follow to be able to teach and if on social dancing you can do whatever you want.

    The only rules and regulations occur on competitions.

    Your extreme feminism is starting to blind you.

    • Amy May 18, 2017 @ 9:27 pm

      Oooof well I’d have to disagree. As a woman who just started leading I take a lot of pressure. People always ask me why I lead and try to get me to follow it more men than women show up to the class. That was the case with salsa anyways. Much fewer issues now that I’ve started leading Zouk.

    • Tara July 10, 2017 @ 4:18 am

      Yes Sir! The man has spoken!! Why would you want to ruin a good thing for him? Imagine the audacity, expecting to be treated as an equal human being both off and in on the dance floor?!? Ha! Hilarious!! lol Also gotta love all guys and their “allies” rolling in –demanding the author rewrite her work to soothe their feelings. lol to that too. Anyway I’m so glad I found this blog today, so much of the attitudes and biases in the Latin dance scene are really glaring and bother me a lot–right down to the painful (and often dangerous) footwear that’s typically expected of women. I wear flats often, and I enjoy myself so much more. And from the start, ladies styling made me feel downright f*ing ridiculous.

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

        Yes, I am a man, and I have spoken. Just as you are a woman and you have.

        I have no obligation to treat you in any way. Do you pay me ?

        I don’t expect the author to soothe my feelings. Why do you expect me and other guys to change our view to soothe yours ?

        I completely disagree with both you and the author.

        Nothing is expected of women. Nobody is chaining you to the dance floor. Go and live your life how you want. Why should men give a shit about your whining ? When have you or the author done anything for us ?

  18. Emma T August 4, 2016 @ 11:22 pm

    Interesting piece, and not something I’ve really thought about before in relation to dancing.

    I go to dance, and I prefer dancing with men, because they’re the ones I prefer dancing with. I’ve led in the past (out of practice now although sometimes I’ll lead in class to balance out numbers and get in more dancing time myself), but I don’t particularly want to freestyle with another woman whether she’s leading or I am. Ok, maybe with friends to have a joke around but not for a serious, connected dance.

    I prefer the traditional roles – although in a good partnership I’d agree that the follow does also lead in some ways with musicality, rhythm and moves to some extent. And that’s what social dancing needs to reflect, a partnership, not one better than the other.

    Maybe I’m just less sensitive or maybe because I’m happy to just dance with men, but I’m not taking in the nuances of what teachers are saying about leading and following etc. I’m there to dance, and learn. To me it doesn’t matter how they teach as long as people learn and improve. Yes, they should refer to lead and follow rather than men and ladies, but I don’t have an issue if they don’t. Usually I just laugh that they’ve got it wrong again and they’ve no noticed there’s 2 women leading.

    Will be coming back to read more in future.
    Emma (What about Dance)

    • Stefani August 4, 2016 @ 11:58 pm

      Hi Emma! 🙂 Thanks. I suppose this is kind of the point of this post – yes I can and do laugh these things off, too, but my argument is that a lot of these things work on us subconsciously, to perpetuate an unequal gender dynamic in our dance even if we don’t know it. So to say we are there to ‘dance and learn’ is most certainly true… but while we are doing it we are being subconsciously influenced in many ways, including subtly sexist ones. I’m not saying this is overt by any means, but it is certainly present and I do think affects our environment in ways that could be better

      • Emma T August 6, 2016 @ 11:11 pm

        I guess it’s more overt at a beginner level than as you progress – and see more dancers switching lead/follow, and both parties wanting to dance more on an even level.

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

        Ok, its very simple.

        You don’t like something, don’t do it. Is it that hard ?

        Why don’t you only do something with like minded people ?

        If people want to participate in something that perpetuates an unequal gender dynamic, then that is *their* choice. They are responsible adults, like Emma here.

        They don’t force you to participate. Why do you force them to your way ?

        What gives you the right to dictate to men how they should or should not behave ? You complain about men doing this to you, but no man forced you to participate.

        You don’t pay men, ergo, you have no right to expect anything from them.

        You think a man wronged you ? Go to the police.

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

      Right ?

      That is the healthy attitude. Do what you like.

      If you don’t like men, like the author claims, don’t dance with men.

      Many girls dance with girls. No one is stopping you.

      I feel the author just complains to get attention. Otherwise why does she keep going back to something she claims she hates ?

      She also talked about sex and kissing. How she hates it, but she does it anyway. She wrote she is kissed everynight.

      Wow, if she has a problem with it, you would think at some point she would stop right ? But then she can no longer complain about the men !

      What a quandry !

  19. Dabe From DC August 5, 2016 @ 5:00 am

    We say to our beginners, “The WORST advice that EVERY teacher ALWAYS gives is: ‘Don’t Think; Just Dance’ — regardless of whether you’re Leading OR Following.

    “Of *COURSE* you should Think! Telling you NOT to is as bad as yelling at you to ‘RELAX!’ [A better word is ‘Exhale’]

    “The key, however, is: ‘Don’t *STOP* To Think’. Focus instead on doing your footwork WHILE moving, rather than trying to figure out where you should go next.”

    Then I use a modified version of Steven Hawking’s example of relativity from A Brief History of Time: “Imagine you’re on a train, juggling; even though to an outside observer it appears that your BODY is traveling along at a hundred miles per hour, YOU only need to focus on tossing the balls straight up and down… But you CAN’T *NOT* Think! That’s Absurd!”

  20. Erich August 5, 2016 @ 6:20 am

    I would like to start by noting I am not that well versed in nightclub latin (as oppose to ballroom latin) and swing dance, but more in the competitive ballroom scene (latin and standard) dance, so some of the thing I said might not directly apply.
    I think some of your point (notably 1 and 2) normally are told in the “beginner classes,” thus are results of simplifying things. I agree with you that there are more nuances, and I love active follows, but with many simplifications, nuances are lost, and becoming quite sexist as an unfortunate side effect.I mean, imagine pouring all the nuances at day one, and I highly doubt that the class could survive after week one.
    I would also like to note that imho, the true state is “think, but not. Do a lot, but not too much” – sorta the in between.
    3 is actually a really good point – at least in social dancing – I have heard a lot of sorry stories that ladies gotten injured (some permanent) by doing things (dipping is the most common one I have heard of) that the couple really aren’t ready to do. So yes, realizing that you can say no is important.
    4. That is an interesting point which I have not observed…well, the in class translation part anyway. It might be my coaches/instructors, but we (female or male) were always told to work form bottom up. The “styling” are the cream on top…beside, without all the fundamental work (whether foot work, leg work, core strength, connection, etc), many of the “lady styling” are unsubstantial or even outright harmful.
    5. That is certainly a valid point. I guess it just has something to do with traditionally it was presented that way, and since no one object, it was never changed.
    6. I personally don’t think that teaching moves classes are inheritly sexist, beside, that almost seems unavoidable if it is a class right before a social. Considering that the purpose of pre-social dance lessons are getting people’s butt moving on the floor in an hour, teaching a few basic moves are probably the fastest way to do so (so on that note, I am a bit against teaching too fancy stuff right before social).
    7. I am fortunately enough to not experience so. But it is possible that that is true. My female coaches/instructors always have some input. Although at the beginner stage, what is good for a lead is good for a follow – good frame, good posture, good balance, etc. So in principle, it could be covered by one sex – just not necessary by the male.
    8. I think using the word “hijacking” is a bit self-defeating, since the word does have some negative connotation. Although I agree with the principle – I will probably use the word “responsible” – as in, people (doesn’t matter which role you are in) has the final responsibility of their own body (I understand that there are situation where one has little control of it, but lets first ignore that part), and has shared responsibility in floorcraft (since we don’t have eyes on our back, so…). There is also another type of “hyjacking” that is…doing something on the spot. It is actually quite fun as a partner, just follow the flow ;). It kinda go back to your point 1/2, follow also has to be active in order to acheive these things.
    9. I think that has more to do with homophobia instead of sexist, though.

    • Tara July 10, 2017 @ 6:13 am

      Without sexism, there would be no homophobia, they are two sides of the same coin.

  21. Cat August 5, 2016 @ 9:34 am

    Really agree, and sadly not every swing community is as up to date on gender as yours. The London Blues community rocks on equality issues though.

  22. Dave August 5, 2016 @ 10:00 pm

    Some excellent points and I will be passing it on to friends to read! I must confess that I am guilty of saying don’t think to my partners, but from now on will be trying to change my comments.
    I have started dancing as the follower and I enjoy it. It’s not easy and has made me more aware of what a follower requires throughout a dance!

  23. Sam Fleming August 6, 2016 @ 10:53 am

    I love this article, and while I don’t fully agree with everything, you point out a lot of things that need to be worked on.
    It also gave me better appreciation for my local dance community. One thing I think you may be interested in, when a follow “hijacks” during a dance, we call it “Back-Leading”, and have since I started dancing. Personally, I like calling it that, it makes sense to me.

    • Stefani August 6, 2016 @ 12:36 pm

      In the communities in which I have participated ‘hijacking’ and ‘backleading’ are two different things. ‘Backleading’ is when a follower over-anticipates a move and does it before the lead manages to fully LEAD the move. ‘Hijacking,’ again, at least where I have been, refers to the follower deliberately changing the course of the dance

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

        Chemistry is the foundation of dance. If I don’t like you (which I really really don’t), I won’t care to dance with you, or your ideas.

        You want to do something like hijacking, do it with someone who shares your chemistry.

        Just as a guy won’t start doing insane stuff with someone he doesn’t know or feel comfortable with.

  24. Arthur August 6, 2016 @ 8:38 pm

    A fascinating article. All good points. I’m glad to say that most instructors that I’ve encountered, male and female, have stopped perpetuating many of the subtle sexist messages you have alluded to. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

    I’ve really only been seriously learning the popular social dances for the last few years. Before that, my main dance experience was international folk dancing, much of which was NOT couple dancing, but line and circle dancing. Sexist traditions certainly abounded in these, mainly Eastern European dances: men told they should lift their legs higher: females told to have smaller, subtler steps; many (from the Balkans in particular) dances were/are done in segregated “men’s lines” and “women’s lines”; and some dances are clearly defined as “Men’s dances”, like the Hungarian competitive “Legenyes” (“Lad’s dance”) and the Hungarian “Verbunk” (originally an army recruiting dance from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and the acrobatic-type squatting figures of Ukrainian dances.

    So you Salseros/as, Swing dancers, etc…don’t really know from sexism- ha ha !! If you watch a couple do a dance like Mezosegi Csardas, from Transylvania, it’s all about the man showing off while the women can seem like an “ornament” who sometimes just stands there gazing admiringly at her man. My ex-wife, whom I met at a folk dance, hated Hungarian/Transylvanian dancing, which used to be my favorite genre (though I wasn’t sexist in the rest of my life). Scandinavian couple dancing, for the most part was/is much more egalitarian, with some exceptions. If a couple dances the Swedish Hambo, each dancer needs to be equally strong and independent, while at the same time coordinate with their partner. So, sexism in dance is all relative.

    • Stefani August 7, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

      Of course it’s relative! Varies between dance, location, time, venue… lots of different variables. 🙂 Thank you for sharing these examples they are super enlightening 🙂

  25. Estefania Narvaez August 7, 2016 @ 1:27 am

    While some of these things are true you gatta check yourself white american girl. Your insights are limited by the appropriation of all these dances by american culture. I was born dancing because I was BORN in a culture and country where these dances ARE culture. Do you know how painful it is to see how Americans consume my culture? Do you know how painful it is to read your article when you are missing any nuance related to race, class, and culture? Do you realize how your opinion about the dances I grew up with is half legitimate because you start your article by saying “these dances we dance these days”. Do you understand how fucked up it is that your opinion about my culture is US centric? Do you understand the legacy of trauma of brown latino men because of the emasculatinh impact of colonialism and US imperialism? Do you understand what it means for you to consume my culture? Do you understand what a feminist analysis of patriarchy looks, sounds, and feels like when you layer race, colonialism, and class? Please reflect and check yourself. Maybe re write this article when you develop a better analysis. And no. I am not going to break it down for you. Its not my responsibility to educate you. You need to educate yourself.

    • Stefani August 7, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

      Hi. I spend a lot of time reading about, reflect upon, and worrying about my appropriation of Afro-latin culture. I’m not sure why you’d assume I do otherwise. I also do other dances which do NOT have afro-latin origins and see many of the exact same trends there. I don’t see why it’s necessarily problematic to identify gender relational strands that I see in one culture as well as in others. Also, dancing primarily in europe, which I do, is appropriation TO BE SURE, but it is also much more removed from its afro-latin roots (except in the case of kizomba in which it is much closer – and also I do encounter a lot more of these sorts of norms with African dance instructors, which is fine, I understand the cultural difference, but I’m still going to point it out), and I still find these gender dynamics to often hold true… see for example the comment above about translyvanian dancing. Of course it varies by culture but i see these trends often enough in the communities in which I dance and travel that they are worth discussing. If you read my note on feminism you would find my little aside about what a staunch – and I mean STAUNCH – advocate I am of intersectionality

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:18 pm

        Its good to educate yourself. But there is a big difference between being thoughtful of others and worshipping a blind dogma like Intersectionality and feminism.

        Do you harm someone in an obvious way by doing something ? No ? then no need to worry.

        All this feminist theory has 0 proof. Its all opinion built upon opinion. This opinion is called theory without proof, accepted as reality without evidence.

        And to top it all, we hear “you need to educate yourself”

        umm, no. You need to go back to school and learn the scientific method.

        Feminist theory is a farce. It is backed by neither science nor data. Mainstream feminism is sound bytes built on cherry picked data like “77 cents for every dollar a man earns” -_- Even a 15 minute dig into references for data shows how shabby the claims are.

        Its so laughably bad, that claiming to be a feminist nowadays is as much a marker of dumbness as being in the Tea party or being a Sarah Palin fan.

        Americans are making themselves look bad by clinging to one or the other platform idealogy without having an educated opinion based on basic facts.

        Jeez, the whole world is going to hell.

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

      Yes and no.

      Culture belongs to no one. We are all guests on this planet, and we have to share what we got.

      You are renting, not buying.

      So, no, its perfectly fine to take and appropriate whatever you want. Its not theft, because you still have your culture.

      As long as its not racist like “blackface”, and doesn’t stereotype races, its perfectly fine.

      If you don’t like it, don’t look. You have no right to dictate terms to others, just as they don’t have any right to force you.

  26. Laine August 7, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

    How about (some) males who only dance with younger and thin females? Or (some) females who avoid male dance partners that are shy and not that good-looking?

    • Stefani August 9, 2016 @ 12:05 am

      Great points! I say that in the follow up post on feminism 🙂

      • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

        You mean a post on basic biology ?

        I want sex. I like atractive women. Fat and ugly is not attractive to me. Most girls I know want to fuck with guys who are hot and confident.

        I have yet to meet a girl who wants a ugly guy without confidence.

        Maybe you should wake up and realise that feminism doesn’t operate on reality ? Its the fantasy of women who want to dominate and control men.

        Sadly for feminists, most men don’t feel the same 🙂

    • Ralda August 12, 2016 @ 9:48 pm

      That is one that goes both ways. Both genders have their own eyes and desires. Some men think weight throws off center of gravity and avoid larger women forgetting that some tiny women feel like bicep curls.
      I like dancing with gorgeous men as much as they sometimes seek out the short skirt that {we decide) can’t dance. We’ve all seen it. LOL. It’s an unfortunate part of life that both genders do naturally in and out of social dancing. Some like that “connection” which does aid the dance.
      As long as they are not being rude To You, don’t worry about it.
      He missed the dance of his life or you dodged a really bad, no-connection dance. #perspective

    • X May 30, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

      What’s wrong with that? To dance is to make yourself vulnerable and share a bit of intimacy and physicality with another person. I don’t dance with ugly people for the same reason I don’t allow them to penetrate me: It is an unpleasant experience which I have no duty to share. Being born of physically unappealing genetics does not entitle you or I to a dance with anybody.

      I don’t think this is an issue of feminism or sex or gender. A human has the right to refuse a dance with an ugly human regardless of their gender and skill level.

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

      And is that a problem ? Are you looking for an explanation ?

      Here is the explanation: I want to have sex with attractive girls. Girls want to have sex with attractive guys. Attraction is subjective, but men mostly want youth and fitness and girls usually want confidence and fitness.

      If the cult of feminism says fat is attractive or that men should kowtow to women. You are free to follow your religion.

      Reality don’t care though.

  27. […] (I talk about this and the dynamics of lead/follow a bit in this post on sexism). […]

  28. […] are a lot of factors that go into lead/follow dynamics in a dance. What about certain communities makes them approach leading or following in certain […]

  29. Eliza August 24, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

    I am taking only zouk classes right now, and our female instructor does most of the talking, and she explains both for the leader and for the follower 🙂
    This is the only dance class I ever went to and I was impressed that she can also lead a dance, so I started to learn how to lead as well, but not during the class. I love having both perspectives on the dance and I think that men and women should learn both to lead a dance, and also to follow, because this way they can understand each other better.

    • Joe September 4, 2016 @ 5:12 pm

      To be honest: guys don’t like to be lead!

      I like how you put a cat in your profile pic! When you get older you will have many of them!

      • Stefani September 4, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

        “guys.” lol. some definitely do. I can name several off the top of my head. very cool of you to speak for everybody tho 😉

      • Amy May 18, 2017 @ 9:34 pm

        The best dance partners I have are with two guys I know who both lead and follow… we switch roles the whole time and it is so freaking fun :). Dancing with someone who can only lead is so much more boring. Joe, maybe think about getting out of your comfort zone.

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

      yes of course. In the real world, real women are capable of working hard, learning to dance and to teach, and it just works !

      Then there are also a lot of women, who refuse to work hard, to learn how to lead, take the responsibility for their own needs. Its easier to be lazy, criticize men for not treating them the way they want. Of course, men are not paid by these women, why would we care what they want ?

      No man should respect a woman just for being a woman. Respect is earned.

      I have no respect for the author who is just “me me me me”, and doesn’t actually work to solve her problem, instead blames sexism, patriarchy, and the kitchen sink.

      Sorry, you want to eliminate sexism for followers ? Become a lead, sexism solved.

  30. Jesse August 27, 2016 @ 2:56 am

    Suggestion: I never heard the word “hijack,” but use the word “backleading” to describe what I’m doing when I’m in the follower role but initiate a move, usually because I’m feeling it in the music. Hope you like the (maybe-new) word: it is way less judgemental than hijacking.

    • Stefani August 31, 2016 @ 3:05 am

      In communities in which I run hijacking and backleading are two different things. Here hijacking means taking over the lead, and backleading means anticipating. A subtle but important difference? I appreciate your point tho and so perhaps its a good thing we are all learning more about the language that each other uses 🙂

      • Finnish Dancer September 13, 2016 @ 10:15 am

        In our Finnish social dancing scene, “taking over” (used as a noun, as in “I’ll try a new takeover”) is actually the most common way to refer to (usually transient) role-switching within a dance. This preserves the aerial context of “hijacking”, but without the pejorative connotation. I also liked your variants “playing”, “contributing” and “co-creating”.

        • Stefani September 19, 2016 @ 6:15 pm

          Nice! I like 🙂 Thank you <3

  31. Becky September 3, 2016 @ 11:00 am

    Thank you for this very interesting post. I just went to my first ever Lindy Hop dance class last Thursday evening and I was pretty shocked at how everything depressingly regressed back to basic sexist attitudes despite the promise on the course website that they consider lead and follow not gender specific. What I found was that all the males in the class chose the lead option and all the females chose the follow option. I wanted to alternate and do a bit of both to make the most out of the experience (guess that makes me ‘weird’), but what I found was that I ended up doing lead-only all night as only the women would dance with me and they’d all opted to do follow, whilst the men didn’t want to go anywhere near me because it’s fairly obvious that I’m transgender. I’ve never done a dance evening class before and I wanted to do the classes because I thought they might help me come out of my shell a bit and improve my self-confidence. At the end of the evening, my self-esteem was actually at rock bottom – although admittedly I’m a clumsy, big-boned, short, dumpy sort of person and I was rubbish at it anyway. The heavily gendered binary environment didn’t help however; I had mistakenly signed up from the classes because I’d heard informally through the local LGBT community grapevine that they were at least tolerant – as other gay and trans people had gone to them and they seemed quite progressive from the website too. Maybe I was expecting too much – but I was pretty disappointed…actually upset but admittedly I’m a bit of a wimp.

    • Stefani September 4, 2016 @ 9:52 pm

      Hi Becky,
      I think that’s great what you’re trying to do, and I do also think that the community of lindy hoppers is in general quite progressive. This specific community may have its own flavor, for sure, and its own set of problems. But it also simply may need some time, and for you to become more a part of it, to see how it works, to see how they welcome you in in a broad scale. In beginner classes most of the people aren’t “in” the community per se. it is only out social dancing and in upper level classes that you would encounter people who are committed to and do the dance regularly and therefore have an understanding of the social etiquette etc. I’d be willing to bet that the beginner classes are a bit more like a sampling of people off of the street than those who have a lot of experience in the community.
      That being said, in partner dancing, you might want to switch on and off in terms of leading or following – and you may certainly do so as you advance – though most people will tell you that they think its probably a better idea to choose to learn one role first, and then add another. And in classes, especially in beginner classes, there are literally zero instructors who will be teaching the class with switching in mind. If you go to a class and state at the beginning “I would like to follow” I don’t know any instructors who would have a problem with that at all. And people do certainly assume the gender normative options – if they see a male looking figure (in their estimation) they’d guess lead and a female looking they’d guess follow – because by and large that is a correct heuristic to go by. That’s simply how the majority of people currently divide in the dance. But if you correct people – if you say, no, I specialize in following, sorry – very many would be super cool with that. And if you decide to learn both and switch roles and stay in the community, people will learn that and treat you accordingly. You would also become a very valuable asset to the community because switchers help with gender imbalances at socials, and also have perspective on what its like to lead and to follow and can help people – all very adored things that seasoned dancers quite often flock to.
      So I do most sincerely sympathize with your experience and my heart hurts for you that you felt that way. If you choose not to continue trying to find a dance community that fits, I understand. But I do think it may be a bit early to bow out of the game, and maybe some of the things i have said can help fill out your perspective and make your journey a little easier. Please do be in touch with any questions or concerns you have <3

      • Becky September 5, 2016 @ 8:45 pm

        Thank you so much for your lovely reply and for taking time out to explain things to me, Stefani. I really appreciate that. My next class is this Thursday, so I will let you know how I get on. I intend to explain to the tutors that I actually booked a ‘learn to follow’ course but I had to spend most of last lesson leading as there weren’t enough leads to go around. I’m going to tell them that I was prepared to compromise last lesson, but I would like to get to learn to follow during this lesson as that’s what I booked the course to learn initially. Perhaps other follows would now be kind enough to compromise with me and do a bit of leading in this forthcoming lesson? I think what happened is the males chose whichever females they wanted to dance with and the rest of us were left. Noticeably, there were plenty of women dancing together, but no men dancing together – maybe that’s still an obvious taboo despite the high ideals of the course literature which (rightly) points out that lead and follow should not be gender-specific or more or less important than each other. Most males seem to regard a trans woman as another male and I guess that in their eyes for them to dance with us is just as shocking to them as dancing with another man. The homophobia transphobia and sexism displayed as a gut reaction by most people I found really depressing and upsetting. I’d like very much to change the way they feel, but I’m worried about alienating everyone by standing on a soap box and being overtly political about it so I’m hoping to do it in a subtle way by starting a casual conversation on the subject during the 15 or so minutes before the class starts when everyone is gathered around. I’ll definitely let you know how it goes. Thank you so much for your wise words, help and advice.

        • Stefani September 9, 2016 @ 3:21 pm

          Hi Becky!
          So sorry I was absent, I hope you had a great class last night!
          Sounds to me like your dance class happens in partners – without rotating partners? That is very unusual – I can honestly say I’ve never been to a partner dance class in which leads and follows did not rotate. In that case, everybody who leads dances with everybody who follows, and that’s that.
          You will find men dancing together for sure, but, to reiterate, at higher levels of the dance when people are more in the mores of the dances and also more into dancing for dancing’s sake instead of just PICKING UP CHICKS. Of course it is different – the social acceptability of women dancing together versus men. Some dances may be more progressive than society (or other dances, for that matter), but they are still rooted in the same society. In many of the dances I do, especially bachata and kizomba, when two women dance together they can get catcalls, or overt staring, or, if out at a club with “normal people” and not just dancers, will be approached by men mid-dance and asked to dance. Um, no.
          I find your instinct to simultaneously soap-box and also NOT soap-box very relatable. And I am sorry you feel stuck in the middle of those two positions. I will say again that this will be much less of a burden as you become more enmeshed in the more regular and dance-committed lindy community (I really do think this is the case as you’d have sooo many allies – but of course it depends entirely upon the specific community in which you find yourself). But also, just because these communities are generally more progressive does not mean that they are perfectly “safe,” and perfectly removed from the rest of society. Each dance community has its own influences, its own benefits, its own drawbacks.
          I’m sorry I didn’t get to this sooner, very much so. I don’t know if other followers would be willing to ‘compromise.’ Most people are out to learn a particular skill – leading or following. I would be skeptical of that (though its entirely possible). That being said, even if they do not compromise, you should absolutely be able to share leaders. Absolutely. And i Find it very puzzling that these instructors appear to not rotate dance partners. Beyond puzzling. That being the case, being clear about what role you want to dance should be enough. IF it’s NOT enough, then I think GTFOing that situation and finding a new set of instructors is a great idea. There are some really fabulous, loving, and great teachers out there. I would argue that the majority of teachers are. But not all of them – and I have no idea what kind of set up you have stumbled into.
          I hope that helps and again sorry for the delay,
          Stef

          • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:35 pm

            Again, you are dumping responsibility instead of taking it.

            If there are men interested in sex, its their prerogative. If you want to turn them down, do so. If you don’t like the venue, change.

            No person, man, woman, trans, gay, has a “right” to be treated in a certain way. Women don’t owe me anything, and when they treat me badly, I leave and ignore them.

            I don’t pay women, they don’t pay me. Neither is expected to give something to the other.

            If men want to score chicks and get sex. Bravo !

            If women don’t want to have sex. Bravo !

            But the two don’t mix. So change your venue. I won’t stay someplace where I won’t get laid, because that’s all I care about.

            If that is a problem for you, that is really your problem. Deal with it.

    • iamtanmay September 18, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

      Why is it their fault ? Why do they “owe” you a dance ?

      Sorry, but men not choosing to dance with you is not sexism. Go find men or women or trans or gay people who would dance with you.

      If your self esteem is at rock bottom, its not their fault. Life is not fair.

      I was rejected by 300 girls in 1 year. I kept my chin up and got rejected more than 1000 times before I dated for the first time.

      My self esteem was never rock bottom.I took responsibility for my own life, regardless of the knocks. I was bitter and angry, but I persevered.

      It sucks.

      But there are quadriplegics, disabled, mentally retarded, burn victims, socially inept, ADHD and what have you. They are in the same boat as you.

      Why do you deserve special treatment ? There are enough unfortunate souls in the world. Have you considered meeting them ?

      Make the best out of your situation. Not everyone is born George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence. Ugly people have to make do.

  32. Becky September 11, 2016 @ 8:54 am

    Hi Stefani

    Thank you so much for your very helpful and informative reply above. It’s actually me who should apologize to you for not getting back sooner.

    I’m glad to say that Thursday’s class was actually completely different and much, much better than the first one. The first class must have been an exception because the instructors did rotate us this time.

    I was really nervous about going there again and I’d actually prepared this long ‘speech’ about what I was going to say to the tutors and spent ages trying to imagine how they would react. As it happened and as these things usually turn out, I didn’t need to. I just explained to the tutors just before the class started, in a friendly, chatty not aggressive way, that I’d booked to learn to follow and I’d not been able to last week as I’d ended up dancing lead so I would like to follow this time, if possible. The one tutor said something like: “Yeah, that’s fine – go for it!”:)

    Then when the lesson began, the first thing they did was ask all the leads to go to one end of the floor and all the follows to go to the other opposite end so that we were facing each other. I pretty much knew then that this lesson was going to be totally different from the last one. Interestingly, all the follows (including me) were female and the leads (bar two) were male. Maybe that will change as time goes on and some of us start to become more involved with the Lindy Hop dance community and realise, as you’ve pointed out, that it’s all about dance and not about the pre-conceived ideas about what we have ‘permission’ to do within a particular social context according to gender.

    Well, yes, after a few warm-ups and practicing of follow and lead moves within our follow and lead groups at either end of the room, the rest of the lesson was spent rotating lead and follow partners so that by the end of the lesson we’d all danced with each other, irrespective of the gender of the person. This was also a really good way of breaking the ice and getting to know each other if only to introduce ourselves by name and, in my case especially, apologize in advance if I turned out to be not very good:)

    So I left the lesson feeling so much more optimistic than I did after the one before. Moreover, people were actually chatting more and mixing together socially in the few minutes immediately afterwards and on the short walk back into town one of the other students actually caught me up and we walked back together and chatted for a few minutes. It was almost that the act of rotating partners lifted some imaginary barrier and everyone seemed much more comfortable and relaxed for it.

    I guess in retrospect, it should have been hardly surprising to me that a random group of people most of whom had never partner-danced with strangers before would be a bit stand-offish towards each other initially. I suppose that in a situation that’s unfamiliar to them many people’s reaction is to look for something within their comfort zone and maybe seeing me there, as a trans woman who has not fully transitioned yet, posed an added challenge to what most of them knew and therefore some of them might have avoided me not necessarily out of disgust but because they panicked and wanted to keep things as uncomplicated as possible. What I found rather moving though was the realization that once the males started dancing with me it may have suddenly dawned on them that despite what society may have been indoctrinating them into thinking for all of their lives so far it was actually okay to dance with a trans woman – and, who knows, in a few years’ time they might even feel comfortable about dancing with another man. If dance can break down such rigid gender barriers then it is a very powerful art form indeed!!!!

    I think I’m really beginning to appreciate how so many people can get totally hooked on dancing, though. With the Lindy Hop it seems like it’s one of those things that you can find fulfilment in on a number of levels. It’s great for gaining and keeping physical fitness (which is one of the reasons I decided to try it out as last year I was diagnosed with diabetes type 2 and I want to lose weight). I can also imagine that it also has great potential for socializing and meeting other people as your involvement in it goes on because as well as the classes they also organize social dancing events at various clubs and bars in town and the ones who become more advanced perform at different festivals etc.

    So yeah, I’m a LOT happier now than I was this time last week. I’m still hopeless at it and it will take a while for me to pick up even the most basic moves as I’m a really slow learner when it comes to practical stuff. At the moment, I’m aiming to just learn the basic stuff and use it as a fun way to actually move around a bit for an hour each week and get some much needed physical activity in – as I’m an office worker and I’m sat at my desk for most of the day. Anyway, sorry that I’ve gone on a bit but to put it in a nutshell this seems to offer a great opportunity to learn more not only about Lindy Hop dancing, but also about myself and others, so I definitely will be continuing for the immediate future.

    Btw…it must be really frustrating when guys come up and try to cut in when you are dancing with other women and it’s awful that you still get catcalls and idiotic comments from people who are too ignorant to understand.

    Thank you very much for taking time out to reply to my comment, Stefani – I really do appreciate that. Take care and best wishes, Kind regards, Becky:)

    • Stefani September 13, 2016 @ 12:54 am

      Becky,

      I AM SO HAPPY! Really – I am more pleased than I could say. Rotating partners really does have this great magic to it – it makes everybody immediately friends. I’m so glad that this was your experience. I will say that people will be a bit more gender bendy as you progress… as I’ve mentioned… but also don’t expect too much. They will certainly accept your choices but also most people seem to be quite happy where there are. Socialized or not, people seem to be pretty cozy in their gender roles. For the time being this is how it is, though the change in terms of gender and dance has happened relatively quickly… so maybe in coming years (and decades) there will be a lot more bending. This of course all remains to be seen and is even an exciting part of being in the dance world.

      <3 <3 please do keep me posted!

      • Becky September 17, 2016 @ 10:53 am

        Thank you Stefani – I definitely will keep you posted. Last Thursday’s lesson went really well, too – although I think I’m probably the slowest learner in the class. I feel a bit of a duffer at the moment and I must be incredibly frustrating to dance with, but I’m hoping that I’ll pick things up eventually. I’ll probably sign up for the next month, too as I intend to keep at it as it’s also very good exercise too. The fact that you took time out to offer advice and encourage me when I was pretty down about it means a lot to me and it’s not every day that you find someone who does that on the Internet. It’s people like you who make up for all the idiots and nasty people out there. You have a fabulous blog and videos. Take care and best wishes. Kind regards, Becky

        • Stefani September 19, 2016 @ 6:17 pm

          Becky! I think the fact that you are earnest about learning means that even if you are slow now, your progress will be steady and quick. People who are thoughtful and passionate about the dance are always the best learners. So don’t worry if its taking you a while to get comfortable in your dancing shoes right now – I have a feeling that your feet will be flying soon enough. 🙂

          So much love and do stay in touch <3

  33. […] Stefani Ruper discusses the subtle sexism that runs through many aspects of dance, including the traditional female roles, in a recent blog: […]

  34. My perfect lead – The Perfect Follow April 19, 2017 @ 3:17 am

    […] But these are partner dances in which the lead and follow rules are pretty much agreed upon–patriarchy is literally built into the fabric of the dance. I am also a human being who likes to walk gently among the people around me. If you expect me to […]

  35. […] have also written a post about sexism in dance communities. This applies to bachata and to other communities as well, and I think it’s highly relevant to […]

  36. Michael May 20, 2017 @ 1:09 am

    One Hundred Percent 💯 Strait up BS! Period – One; most of these dances originated in Africa where BOTH women and men have contributions in the dance and BOTH are significant and important …. Two; ANOTHER European imposing her/his interpretation on another culture because of shitty gender issues in their OWN culture and NOT the cultures in which the dances originated (SUPER fucking racist and agenda oriented); three; in the Kongo (where Kizomba originated) – BOTH men and women make EQUAL contributions to the dance. My Kongolese dance instructors over 20 years have relayed to me their disappointment in American culture that believes the ONLY dancers are women and their wish that MORE men in America would understand and value the masculinity and importance of MEN dancing. This piece is FULL of European cultural bias and BS!!!! 😡

  37. Just. Say. No. – The Perfect Follow May 24, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

    […] to people” (especially for women as many women feel the pressure of being the ‘submisive’ or ‘receptive’ gender), or if you’re just trying to be nice, you are doing yourself a massive disservice. You may […]

  38. […] to say that most partner dances (I know parts of swing are moving well beyond these norms), are gendernormative. In dance, typically, we behave according to antiquated notions. We follow the gender norms for men […]

  39. Faren June 23, 2017 @ 10:01 pm

    Wow, your articles are so spot on and well-articulated.

    I also often find myself breaking norms, always asking men to dance, nonverbally begging co-creative dancing, hijacking for musicality, etc

    But I also find myself apologizing all the time if I didn’t follow the lead I can see post-surprise in their mind. Multiple x every dance, despite being a highly proficient aesthetic dancer. So I really appreciate all your sentiments here, it is in my nature to always apologize out of politeness I’m not sure I could change it, but I also see now that I shouldn’t have to.

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