I’ve written some articles about my belief that you should always treat your partner well – whether male or female. I’ve also written about how ‘taking care of a follow‘ shouldn’t mean ‘protecting’ the ‘weaker sex’.
Every time the topic of same-gendered dancing comes up, there’s a consistent response:
“Some things can only be expressed between a man and a woman”
This also generally comes with the assumption that this man-woman relationship consists of male LEAD and female FOLLOW (not reversed).
There are usually other variations on this sentiment as well. For example, the idea that two gay men can ‘dance’ together, while straight men ‘cannot’.
The idea that a person is not able to dance with someone of the same gender or successfully in the non-traditional role is usually based on one of the following:
- Dance is sensual, which means it must be between a man and woman
- Men and women are ‘built’ differently physically
- Men are mentally more capable of leading, and women more mentally capable of following
Occasionally, you get people who just simply say “I’m not comfortable with it. I can’t do it.” This doesn’t bother me as much, because it’s a comfort zone thing. Perhaps it’s not my favourite attitude in the book, but I can see similar parallels between them and people who aren’t comfortable with any physical closeness.
As long as they aren’t using this attitude to be disrespectful or rude, I can understand that there may be socio-economic factors that make these people less comfortable with physical contact outside gender norms – even if I wish it weren’t that way.
Basically: if it’s a personal barrier that the uncomfortable person isn’t forcing on anyone else, I can deal with that. I don’t have to like or agree with their feelings, but I don’t think that the person is simply flat-out wrong for having that feeling.
Feelings exist – and some exist because of complex factors or experiences that are difficult to work through. I’m not talking about people who have these feelings.
I’m talking about people who project their ‘feeling’ as a general rule upon the dance scene. I want to unpack the three reasons I listed above, and why the logic there is completely unsound.
1: The Man-Woman Argument
“Dance is sexual and/or sensual – and must be between a man and a woman (or two gay people). True dancing can only be expressed between a man and a woman.”
Hell no. I dance with 75-year old grandfathers. I have students with children my age. I’ve danced with underage dancers. I dance with people I’m *not* attracted to far more frequently than people I am attracted to. Am I thinking of them sexually?
(Plus, I’m pretty sure they are not thinking of me sexually, either.)
Now, it’s true that if I have personal problems with an individual, it makes it harder for me to dance with them properly. This applies equally to both men and women. It has nothing to do with sex and sexuality.
Actually, many of the most awkward dances I have is when someone is trying to go beyond ‘just dancing’ and into ‘sexytimes’ territory when I’m really not OK with that. If dance was about the sex, sexuality while dancing wouldn’t be the thing that makes me *less* comfortable.
As for sensuality… sensuality doesn’t have to be sexual. There’s many cultures where same-gendered friends cuddle, dance, etc. in a ‘sensual’ way with no ‘sexual’ undertones. This is the same feeling that happens when I dance ‘sensually’ with someone I don’t feel ‘sexually’ towards.
Second, how is it OK to tell other people who they can and cannot dance with?
I lead other women all the time – and I frequently get the comment that I ‘lead like a man’ because I dance ‘like a lead’. I move ‘like a lead’, and I do all the sensual things that a lead does. It’s fun, and follows love it.
Many follows feel more comfortable with me because they KNOW it’s not about the sex. They don’t have to guard themselves against an unwanted physical come-on. Instead, they can completely connect with me BECAUSE it is ‘just a dance’.
Yet, people have told me that my dances with other women are not truly ‘dancing’ because I don’t happen to have a penis. Just because an individual may not be able to dance comfortably with someone of the same gender – doesn’t mean I (or many other people) cannot.
And no – I do not have to be gay (or bi, or otherwise) to truly dance with another woman. How do I know? Because I’m a straight woman. Dancing with other girls really cannot be about the sex for me. Though, to be clear, being gay doesn’t mean same-gender dancing has to be all about the sex either!
2: The Built-Different Argument
“Men and women are physically built differently. They cannot physically dance the opposite role the same way.”
Oh yes – because all women are built the same. I, at 5’8, am totally the same as my 5’1 student. That fabulous 250lb girl is totally built the same as my 100lb friend. That 78-year old grandmother is totally built the same way as my super-athletic 21-year-old friend.
Similarly, that 5’6 guy is totally built the same as that 6’5 super-built guy. Totally. No difference.
Each person is built differently – which is why people need to learn to dance for their own bodies. I’ve met men who are physically more natural as follows, and women who are more natural as leads. This affinity does not correlate very strongly (or at all) to their size, weight or build.
Height, weight, and athleticism can limit certain movements that you can do in a dance – but that has less to do with role and more to do with the individual movement. For example:
- It will be difficult for someone at 5’0 to lead someone who is 6’5 and do any sort of underarm turn.
- Shorter leads usually have an easier time in movements that require the lead to turn under an arm
- Shorter and lighter individuals are better suited to be the liftee
- Physically fit individuals are better suited to perform drops and dips, and to support lifts
None of these have to do with what parts are (or are not) between the legs.
If you are trying to build an argument based on body structure (which, honestly, does not have a great correlation to social dancing anyways), at least base it on the build of one’s body… not on biological sex assignment, where there’s such a HUGE array of body types.
I’m a woman who frequently gets told I ‘lead like a man’ (which is also a comment with troubling implications…). There is a man in my city who follows ‘like a girl’. We also do our respective ‘traditional roles’. If body build had anything to do with my ability to lead or his ability to follow, we would not be able to do what we do.
3: The Psychological Argument
“Men are mentally better at leading and women at following”
This thinking is sexist.
The first thing it does is relegate women to being ‘followers’ (often considered the ‘less thinky, more pretty’ role, although this isn’t accurate) and men to being ‘leaders’ (often considered the more ‘skillful’, ‘mindful’ role). Basically, the male = dominant and the female = submissive.
This is, of course, tied into a wrongful analysis of following as being a ‘submissive’ role, but that is not a conversation for this article.
It also implies that in order for a woman to lead, she has to be ‘male minded’ – and for a man to follow, he has to be ‘female minded’. Which usually (wrongly) gets equated as ‘gay/lesbian’, thus providing another place where the ‘only gay people can switch roles successfully’ mentality thrives.
I am not masculine. I’m (quite decidedly) rather feminine. I lead in a generally feminine way. I still lead rather well – and leading actually comes more naturally to me than following (although at this time, I’m a more practiced follow).
… perhaps I’m a man in disguise?
The bottom line is there’s nothing mentally preventing women from being successful leads and men from being successful follows – except for cultural values and their own inhibition/non-desire to learn the other role. No one *needs* to learn both roles – and many gravitate towards the traditional roles.
However, we should stop telling people that they ‘can’t’ do the other role because of their gender or sex.
The Bottom Line:
You can tell me that *you* are not comfortable dancing with someone of the same gender, and I will accept that as your honest feeling. I may not like your opinion towards dancing with someone of the same gender, but I will accept it without thinking you are stupid or bad.
I accept that your values, history, culture, and socialization may have caused you to develop that viewpoint – the same way I accept that some leads just don’t dance with tall follows (like me). I may not like it, I may not think it’s a smart decision… but it’s your opinion and your feeling.
However, when you tell me that partner dance AS A CONCEPT cannot be between two men, two women, or with reversed gender roles, I will point out how wrong that thinking is.
You can have your feelings – but you also don’t get to negate my experience as a successful female lead. You don’t get to negate the men who follow wonderfully. You don’t get to say that I am incapable of truly ‘dancing’ with another woman, or that a man is incapable of truly ‘dancing’ with another man – or that it has to be all about the sex.
You don’t get to tell all of the successful role-reversal individuals that what we do isn’t truly ‘dancing’ and cannot express the ‘full range’ of dance emotions. That’s just patently false.
So please: if you are one of the people who feels uncomfortable with same-gender dancing, remember that your experiences do not speak for all of the individuals in the social scene who reverse roles comfortably. Please do not feel you have the ‘right’ to tell us that what we do is not ‘real dancing’.
Photo Credit: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios