“Can I dance with you?”
“Will you dance with me?”
These phrases are universal in the dance scene, yet the answer differs from person to person: from an enthusiastic “yes!” and smile, to lack of eye contact and a head shaking ‘no.’ And the reasons for these answers are various: fatigue, thirst, I-really-need-to-pee-and-I’ve-been-holding-it-for-three-dances, and so on.
Over time, I’ve noticed a trend in my local latin dance scene: dancers known to be homosexual have been repeatedly turned down. To be more specific, I’ve seen homosexual men walk away from other males who refuse to dance with them. I saw it happen once while taking a song break, and didn’t think much of it. I gave the rejector the benefit of the doubt–he’s probably just tired. In addition to this, just because one male asks another to dance doesn’t mean he is homosexual.
But this topic has been resting on my heart recently because I’ve been hearing more stories of homosexual dancers (men, in particular) being turned down in particularly rude or nasty ways. If conventional female ‘follows’ make the effort to be polite when they say ‘no’ to a dance, I do not see why males cannot extend this same courtesy when being asked to dance by another male–homosexual or otherwise. But yet, I have seen and heard of hurtful looks, huffy attitudes and judging gestures being made towards males who ask other males to dance. This hurts because dancing is supposed to a shared art between all, and its root is in community—especially social dancing. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out to me that most of these rejected men were homosexual, that I began to see a bigger problem.
I assume the reasons for this recurring rejection to be various–like anyone else saying ‘no’ to a dance. Some people just aren’t comfortable, and that’s okay. Some people don’t care, but just don’t feel like dancing at that moment. Everyone has their own opinion on homosexuality, and thus it is no surprise that these opinions are expressed on the dance floor. One of the wonderful things about social dancing is that all sorts of people, from a plethora of professions and backgrounds, come together to dance. However, this also means that negative and less-flattering sides of people are also on the line to be displayed.
For me, it is a learning experience when same-sex couples dance together. I gaze in awe at the salsera who steps into the birthday circle and leads her girlfriend around the floor (while ignoring the mind-blown eyes of machismo male Leads around her). I laugh when I see two of my guy friends lead each other on the dance floor, especially when one returns to me out of breath, gasping for air and says “Wow, spinning is hard!” (Yes, now try that in 3-inch heels.) Since the roles of ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ are assigned according to gender without a second thought, mixing up the norm proves to be educational. Typically, male leads have a taste of how challenging following is, and female followers get a sense of all the calculating behind leading. And by this action, it is clear that both roles of ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ are both difficult, and require time, practice and thought. The exchange of respect and awareness can be shared by both parties, and all can agree that dancing is hard, laugh about it, and go eat tacos at a favorite past-midnight spot.
When I first started learning Latin dance, it was an incredible struggle to be a Follow. I felt like the gendered and designated roles of ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ were an extension of a patriarchal society that oppresses females like myself. But outside of my college-liberal- minded views, my muscle memory was working against me. With 12+ years of training in other dance styles such as ballet, tap, and jazz, it was strange not to be in complete control of my body and its movement. The styles of my past training had taught me to be self-sufficient in motion, so I resisted being led, and can imagine that trying to get me to follow a cross-body lead must’ve been like pulling an elephant across a raging river.
Dance is a victim of being gendered, and is generally understood to be a feminine practice. Why moving cohesively and gracefully is seen as a girly practice will never make sense to me, because the power and movement of male athletes is a wonder of its own. It’s slowly becoming more recognized that some of our culture’s greatest athletes, such as Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson, have practiced ballet to supplement and improve their physical condition for their sport.
In any case, certain styles of dance are gendered as well: ballet and jazz are considered girly, while hip-hop and tap dancing are seen as more masculine. From my experience, it seems that the Latin dance community often sexualizes females who take the ‘follow’ role,’ and because males are ‘in control’ as the lead, it is acceptable for men to partake in the ‘feminine’ practice of dance, despite the culture’s deep-rooted patriarchy.
But this isn’t exclusive to Latin social dancing.The classical ballet world which I first started from has its roots in the elite French courts where women were portrayed constantly as ethereal, weak, and in need of saving by men (Giselle, Cinderella, and Swan Lake, for instance). There has been much debate about the roles of men and women in dance, which has led to a more creative and diverse world that has produced companies of men in pointe shoes, dynamic same-sex partnerships, and simply, more male dancers.
And of course, there is the age-old stereotype that men who dance are gay.
But there is also the stereotype that gay dancers, are the best dancers.
And to all of these generalizations and assumptions about gay dancers, I say: who cares?
Dance is a common stomping ground. Dancers come from all walks of life, with all sorts of baggage, and personal library of stories. But the beauty and joy that is dance is the movement of all beings, to music, to rhythm, to life. And when we join hands in dance, we are equal in the experience that is motion and melody.
My only hope is that we can improve on the ways we communicate with each other, verbally or otherwise, on and off the dance floor.
Disclaimer: All views and opinions in this piece are mine. I welcome readers to comment and share their thoughts/experiences below.
***What is your experience with same-sex couples on the dance floor? Comment below to share your thoughts.***