Feminism dancing

Oh this is fun…

Background: I started ballroom dancing again.
The attitudes of the men and women (on average) are quite interesting.
Some teachers go so far as to assume that the woman is – of course – the driving force behind the pair’s participation.
The words “Men, you are the ones who must lead.” are a perpetually recurring mantra. Because most men there are not very good at it. In fact, most suck.

Why is this so? It didn’t use to be, did it? My impression always was that the men in my parent’s generation loved to dance.

Might this have to do with – gasp – feminism?

To everyone reading this blog it is probably quite obvious why women are so overwhelmingly fond of ballroom dancing.

Let’s do some googling (all emphases in the following quotes are mine)

This feminist explains:

I never feel so happy as when a gentleman is moving me, gracefully, energetically, across the dance floor, with style, with his own little flair. The men who can manipulate me to do kicks and spins, who, I can just position myself ready to follow and the rest is just dance… nothing is more fun, more amazing, and, I will add, more sexy.

Problems arise, if feminism is deeply rooted.

Another feminist says:

Once I began to be o.k. with being touched by a stranger (really it’s just holding hands…), I fought for every ounce of control I could muster. “What do you mean the guy leads? What about what I want?” my feminist beliefs would shout inside.

So I resisted – he wanted to turn left, I struggled to go right. He steered me to the side, I would attempt a turn instead.

Truth be told, we danced like crap – not because of him, but because I kept wanting “control” of us.

This is one as well who would not survive long on my dance list…

People must have said to you well you can’t call yourself much of a feminist if you’re doing ballroom dancing you’re walking backwards all the time being led around by a man – was that there within it because your piece of research – at the heart of it – is quite a bit about gender roles?

There is sometimes an underlying current of can you be a feminist and a ballroom dancer. I mean for me personally you can be both and a sociologist as well because I don’t think walking backwards, following a man’s lead necessarily means that you’re not an active person, thinking for yourself and that it has a bearing on your kind of life outside of the dance floor.

But of course it is – it’s part of the standardisation that the woman is the follower and the man is the leader. There were quite a few women who’d learnt to both lead and follow, they had experience of both roles.

When they were following arguably that gave them an advantage over men who generally can only lead. There are examples of quite feisty women that wouldn’t be told what to do, that demanded being treated with respect, that would say I’m not going to follow you if you’re dancing off time, if you’re dancing the wrong steps in the wrong place.

Yes, the feisty woman. Dreampartner of avery competent male dancer there ever was.

The obvious incompatibility of ballroom dancing and feminism is a common strain upon the feminist mind.

“As a feminist and a ballroom dancer, I’ve had trouble assimilating my personal views with my passion for this sexist sport, where the man always leads and the woman always follows,”

Sadly the article does not elaborate how exactly she brings these opposites together. Only an example how her rationalization hamster every now and then can take a breather:

She said the highlight of her evening was when two women, dancing together, placed first in the merengue among 42 entrants

Brilliant this answer on yahoo:

I’m a feminist and I enjoy watching and dancing, ballroom. If I could lead I would but that’s not the way it is. I could do it better than many of the men I dance with. They don’t seem to know you can put your hand firmly on a women’s back to lead without being accused of harrassment.

Now, where on earth could a man have gotten the impression that touching a woman firmly might get him a harrassment trial?

The hamster at Stanford U is also quite strong. The roles, they claim, actually aren’t opposed to feminist ideals:

The main reason I don’t care for the term “following” is that it doesn’t accurately describe the role.

Women do not “follow.” They interpret signals they’re given, with a keen responsiveness that is not at all passive.

As with a language interpreter at the United Nations, a dancer’s ability to interpret signals benefits from intelligence and experience. Leads, if you want to make a good impression on your partner, show her that you respect this intelligence and experience. How? If she does something that you didn’t intend, recognize that she still made a valid alternate interpretation of the signals you gave her. She didn’t make a “mistake”.

No, don’t just recognize it. Show her that you know she didn’t make a mistake, by flowing along with her during her valid alternate interpretation. She’s dancing — try to keep up with her.

In other words: “Man, it’s your job to lead but only when you actually lead the way she wants to follow. Otherwise follow her. Comprende?”


Summing up so far: women love love love to be in Alpha’s arm, as long as he’s capable of fulfilling that role. If not they give the man hell.

Things get slightly more weird when you are nearing Pro-level, as Jezebel reports:

Annetts paints a Halloween-scary picture of the competitive ballroom dancing scene: Snotty comments about her outfits, physical attacks, and heated competition over coveted male partners have led her to take a “keeps to herself” approach toward the social aspects of her profession. “Sisterly it certainly isn’t and sabotage is rife,” she writes. “I’ve been left battered and bruised as rival dancers have ‘accidentally’ pressed their stiletto heel into my foot or jabbed me in the ribs with their elbows.”

Yes, the Female, the gentle sex. Unless you have some competition in general or – even worse – over some alpha male.

The possessiveness of the silverback is also not quite to her liking:

… one even said he would not dance with me if he heard that I had a boyfriend as he should be the only man in my life

Ah well. If only one could pick and choose from the consequences of gender roles…

But why doesn’t the average man like to dance any more?

Captain Capitalism complains about the lack of leadership on the dance floor.

It is the men I’m seeing deteriorating in their role of leading.

Be it the fact they plain don’t want to be there, they’re tired or even their wife won’t let them lead, the trend I’m noticing goes beyond that. There is a noticeable decline in men’s ability to take command on the dance floor and lead. And I cannot help but wonder if it isn’t the sociological and economic environment that has led to it.

I see more and more men, who just plain have that defeated, domesticated look on their faces. I provide all the instruction, explain step by step what has to happen, and above all else explain to them they MUST pull their wife this way, send her out that way, they MUST LEAD. But when the time comes and the music plays, instead of a Steve McQueen like fashion, they look sheepishly at their wife or girlfriend and barely produce a slight tug on the girl’s hand, all the while looking at her for constant confirmation and approval they’re doing it correctly.


The women of course get frustrated (not only because viscerally women like strong men), but because the dance is structurally failing. They don’t know where to turn. The lead is so limp and the man so unsure, the women is forced to take over and turn herself.

I myself am pondering this explanation:
Imagine a man from lower working class, or even a slave.
This man is invited to play king for an hour every week. He can give commands for an hour and order everyone around.
He has to give his commands in latin (which he of course would have to learn first) and no command of any real consequence is allowed. Only orders like “Bring me a drink” or “You, stand over there”.
If his posture is not quite regal or his pronunciation of those latin words is off, he will be chided.

How much fun, would you think, will this man have in being a king?
For an hour?
Every week?
But not really?

Leave a comment


  1. Supaari

     /  May 24, 2014

    I was really hoping you’d make a comment on whether women are oppressed in dancing, more specifically latin dancing like samba, chacha. I’ve watched a few competition videos on some of the latin dancing cos I wana join some classes. One example is the International Ballroom ChaCha -Bryan Watson & Carmen Vincelj video after 0:16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISmOGkAniZ4

    The lady there is not lead much but I feel it’s off. I don’t know. I’m not clear what you think about the role of each partner in dance.

  2. sokuna

     /  August 8, 2014

    I’m a male who has been doing ballroom dance for about 4 years now, here are my observations.

    I’ve found that most people don’t know how to partner dance, male or female. As one other male dancer put it to me once, “Either everyone is over 50 or you’re teaching all night.” Since I do most of my dance in bars, clubs or at shows where most people are 20’s somethings (and at least half are drunk) I’ve developed a strong lead and I tend towards moves where the follow can’t help but follow. I use fast footwork to step around the follow and frequent turns and passes to hide that their footwork isn’t very complex. If I’ve done my job right, the follow walks away feeling like they just experienced the spontaneous dance number they see in movies.

    Sometimes a follow will attempt to take the lead for turns and spins and I will try to gauge their skill. If they seem to know what they are doing I’ll switch roles but if they don’t I will gently but firmly take the lead back. This is a matter of expediency more than anything else, an experienced lead can cover for a inexperienced follow, but an inexperienced lead may find it impossible to communicate their intentions to the follow, plan more than one move ahead, or have the floorcraft to avoid obstacles or other dancers. An inexperienced lead may not even be able to move in time!

    On occasion to fend of a possessive or blustering boyfriend I’ve danced with them, usually being able to demonstrate skill and dominance (in the form of a firm lead) is enough to diffuse a situation and often they sheepishly apologize for overreacting.


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