A New Year’s Eve dance included a brief dance lesson for people who didn’t know how to do a basic waltz step. The instructor kept making a big deal about how the men should be leading even though he gave no instruction in how to lead, or follow for that matter. “Who’s the boss on the dance floor?” he demanded loudly. “The leader” said someone helpfully. “The MEN!” he corrected, despite the presence of several lesbian couples on the floor.
He kept admonishing the men to take control and not let the women take over, as if the only skill required to lead a dance was to be obnoxious. Granted, this guy was an extreme example of both sexism and general insensitivity, but it did get me to thinking about the difference between leading and bullying.
In my November post Is Partner Dancing Sexist? I address the question of sexism in the roles of leading and following but I didn’t address the issue of bullying. I’ve seen this attitude unfortunately in insecure (my assumption) men of differing skill levels. I’ve danced with beginners who blame their lack of leading abilities on me or who “correct” my response to their non-existent lead.
I try to be tolerant when guys exhibit these social faux pas, hoping they’ll get better as their skills improve, but I’ve occasionally been exasperated enough to say “If you’d like to know why your lead isn’t working, I would be happy to gift you with a free mini lesson.”
Obnoxious behavior isn’t the private domain of beginners though. I’ve danced with advanced dancers who manage to make it through an entire dance without seeming to notice me at all, communicating with their body language that I should be grateful that they deigned to dance with me at all and that they only make eye contact with cute young girls to whom they are physically attracted. (Again my assumption, shored by my observance of how they dance with said young ladies.)
While this is mostly a leader’s issue, followers are not without their contributions as well. A follower can devastate a beginner if she makes it clear from her body language that she is barely tolerating the dance. I’ve also known followers to make corrections on the dance floor to fragile egos who are not at all open to hearing it. If you accept a dance, finish it with grace. You don’t have to dance with him again if it was that bad.
I’ve also known followers to turn down a request with unnecessary rudeness. It’s hard enough to ask. If you can’t bring yourself to be gracious, at least give a plausible excuse. I don’t usually ask other women to dance unless I have some sort of connection with them, but once when I had been leading in a workshop, I asked a woman who had been in my class if she’d like to dance. “I’m not that desperate,” she said. Hey, it’s OK if you don’t care to dance with another woman, but “I’m sorry, but I prefer to dance with men” is a much less nasty way of putting it.
Bring as much joy as possible to your dancing. Appreciate whatever you can in your partner. Take responsibility for your own mistakes and current skill level. You’ll learn faster and have a lot more fun!
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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