Follow Up: From Criticism to Construction

It’s been about a week since I put up a post detailing some of the discomforts I felt with my local dance community and sexism. And I have to say that I’m entirely heartened by the response. I’ve had some people here or there throwing the responsibility for fixing it back on me, but overall people just want to discuss and improve, and that’s GREAT. I feel entirely lucky to be among a community that’s willing to listen to some random girl with a blog.

So one of the responses that I got quite often was “what can we do better”? Now I’m just one person, and so I can’t solve all the problems myself. I don’t necessarily have solutions for all the problems I pointed out, and I would really like to start a community dialogue so that we could draw from more minds and more backgrounds to get all the best ideas. I know that other people out there have ideas that I won’t think of, and I’d like to hear them, as well as hear more about other people’s negative experiences so that we can try to address a holistic picture of sexism in the dance community rather than MY picture of sexism in the dance community. Because of this, I’d really like to invite others to continue commenting, suggesting, and conversing about the issue, and I would really like to facilitate some sort of in-person forum to discuss these questions.

However as I’m not sure that will happen for some time, I do have some suggestions here.

1.Harassment policies at all venues, posted or publicly available.

2.At Heartland the year that I went there was a specifically same sex strictly lindy competition. More of these would be great.

3.More classes that ask their students to switch roles.

4.Classes specifically geared towards experienced students to start fresh with a new part. Oftentimes I think we get stuck after we start in a certain part, and don’t want to put the effort in to go back to the beginning. This kind of a class wouldn’t feel condescending or boring, but would rather meet more experienced students where they are.

5.Potentially a variety of themed dances or songs at events: a gender bender song, a solo jam, etc. I’m not entirely sure about feasibility or usefulness of this one and would like to hear some feedback about it, but I like the idea of having some time set aside for people to try something different on the social dance floor.

6.Invite more same sex teaching couples (when possible).

7.This is more of an individual choice than a community wide effort, but it could be something we could be more conscious of: experienced dancers asking newer dances to dance, and not only asking those of the opposite sex. I know we make a concerted effort to be welcoming to newer dancers, and some of the more experienced dancers also experiment with switching between lead and follow (but generally only with other experienced dancers). But if we want our community to be more welcoming to a variety of kinds of pairings, we have to be willing to model that behavior to everyone right away.

8.More awareness of gender/race/etc equality in our DJs.

The next few are very preliminary suggestions. I would absolutely love and appreciate feedback about the plausibility of these ideas, or variations of them.

9.If possible, some classes that are follow specific, particularly earlier on in dancing, to help follows understand their importance and the benefits of being a follow, as well as to give them more teacher time and focus.

10.Integrated classes between levels: a class with more experienced follows and less experienced leads or vice versa. I think this could help a lot in allowing some of the insights we gain the more we dance to filter down to some of the newer dancers. It could also help new dancers gain confidence. This might also help with the fact that in beginning dance classes we see a lot of simplified metaphors around leading and following. Treating newer or not as talented dancers like they have the same amount of intellect as more experienced dancers can only be a good thing. Even if you’re a newer dancer, you can understand the concept that leading and following are equal.

10a. A potential variation on the integrated class model could be mentors. I know that Peter holds office hours, but he can’t be everywhere at once. If some more experienced dancers would be willing to give a couple hours a week, they could be paired with a newer dancer and given some time to practice or work through things. I think this would facilitate respect between leads and follows, better dancers, and more opportunities for dialogue about the philosophy of dance.

11.More education about rights and space and sexism in the community. I’m really unsure as to what this might look like, but there are definitely some people who really need to be explicitly told that certain things are inappropriate. I’m not sure if this means we have a monthly class about dance etiquette, or when dancers first come in they get some sort of sit down about what’s ok and what’s not…I definitely would appreciate the feedback of teachers here.

12.More discussion around the concept of consent and boundaries. This means understanding that different people have different boundaries and that they may communicate these boundaries to you in different ways. Most of us understand that people can communicate non-verbally: if you go to give someone a hug and they pull away, they are not consenting. We have to respect the non-verbal cues as well. As a strong example of this in dancing, I had a dance in which a leader tried to dip me. I didn’t feel comfortable with it, and so I just didn’t. I pushed back against his lead, and stood on my own feet and basically said “NO” to the move as loudly as possible without actually yelling STOP. However the lead decided to ignore this and attempted to lead the same move two more times with increasing force each time. I know that Shawn has some documents he’s looking at that include dancer’s rights and responsibilities, and I think that posting documents like this, starting a conversation around consent, and exploring what it means to ask for consent is a good start. To leads: you ask for consent every time you lead a move. I give you my consent by either following or not.

An additional piece to this could be to remind follows that while they should follow to the best of their ability, their status as a follow comes second to their status as a human being, and that if a lead leads something they just don’t want to do, they don’t have to. That doesn’t make them a bad follow. It means that they’re setting their own boundaries. YOU GET TO SAY N O. EVERY TIME YOU FOLLOW YOU ARE CHOOSING YOUR MOVEMENT. Remember how much power you have in that.

In line with this, a reminder that clothing is not consent is always great: just because someone is wearing a short skirt doesn’t mean you get to touch her. I realize that sometimes a person might be wearing something that makes it REALLY HARD not to accidentally boob grab or whatever. You’re allowed to not dance with them for that reason. If someone else’s clothing makes you uncomfortable, you can say no to a dance. If you are worried that you might be put in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, you get to say no.

13.Finally, I would like to see the creation of more forums to discuss the philosophy, sociology, politics, and culture of dance so that we can all bring our opinions up and so that we can keep up to date on any issues that might be cropping up. This might mean an internet forum, or it might mean half an hour before one of the events where we hang out and talk, or it might mean a monthly dinner that has an open invite for anyone who comes to dance events.

So thank you to all the people in my dance community for being awesome. I really hope we can continue this momentum and move it into a long term discussion with real impacts.

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