Every dance community has its own unwritten rules of good manners, and everyone in that subculture knows and accepts them. For example, who should you dance with? In some communities it’s customary to dance only once with the same person, and if you try to dance a second time it looks greedy. But in other scenes you normally dance two in a row, and if you part ways after just one it seems rude. Or it might be three or four; each community will have its own acceptable number.
But often, when I go out, I just want to dance with my friends however many times I want!
The other night I was dancing with one of my girlfriends at a bar; we were solo dancing together and having a really good time. And then in the middle of our dance a guy came up and pulled my friend away to dance with him. I was left there solo dancing by myself; it felt so abrupt and awkward.
Fortunately another friend came over and finished the dance with me, so it was okay. But when two girls are dancing together, it’s bad manners for a guy to come along and bust it up. Believe it or not, women don’t necessarily dance together just because they couldn’t get men!
Actually, it’s worse than bad manners. To assume that a woman would rather be dancing with a man than with another woman, or than by herself, is part of what’s known as “male entitlement.” It’s something our culture is really trying to address right now. Many people are working to rethink their power differentials and their sense of entitlement, trying to help shift the culture, so it’s amazing to me how much entitlement there still is in the social dance communities. These guys clearly don’t realize what jerks they look like.
But’s not only men who behave badly. Women do this too, and in a follow-heavy scene they can get pretty vicious. The women will run up and grab the guys, never giving them a chance to choose for themselves. Just because the male-female or lead-follow balance is off, it doesn’t mean that the people who are in demand should have no choice about who they get to interact with.
Basically, none of us should be walking up and assuming other people want to dance with us just because of our status as a dancer, or as an organizer or teacher, or because of our gender, or because of our looks or whatever. We all need to check our entitlement.
I was recently at a dance in Denver, and there was a stranger there I wanted to dance with. But it was difficult because my friends were all there wanting to dance with me. I kept trying to move nearer to him, but we always ended up dancing with other people. Eventually they called last song, and I still hadn’t danced with that stranger. And then one of my friends, whom I’d danced with earlier in the night, came up and asked me to dance! But I told him no, I was actually hoping to dance with this other person. And finally, finally I got to dance with that guy.
But later I went back to my friend and thanked him for giving me the space to dance with that other person. This friend had been so gracious and cool about allowing me to dance with somebody else, and not getting offended, and I wanted him to know I appreciated it.
That sense of allowing, of giving people space, is something we try to do in healthy relationships. We try to allow people their space to work on themselves or to connect with other people. We know it’s not always about us.
Basically, our dance community is an extension of our intimate relationships. After all, when we dance with people it’s a form of intimacy. Can we come into that environment, into those relationships, with the tools and values that we would in any healthy relationship? Can we allow people to be who they are and to do what they need to do?
It’s important to give people a chance to wait for the song to start, to listen to it a little and then to decide whether they want to solo dance, or to dance with a particular person, or sit out. It’s important to give people that space. Can we approach our dance community without making demands on people or making our entitlement their problem? Can we remember that it’s not always about us? Because that’s good manners no matter what scene we’re in.