When Dancing Becomes Groping: Time to clean up the dance scene!

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“Woops, my hand slipped” he says with a creepy smile as he attempts to continue the dance, acting like nothing has happened. The follow then spends the final minutes of the song in quiet discomfort, half-fearing another “slip of the hand” from her lead.

As with a lot of my most emotionally charged articles, my motivation for writing this one came from recently observing something that bothered me, a lot.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2nd annual “Dublin Fever Fest” Latin dance congress and it was great to be back in Ireland, on “home turf” so to speak, catching up with friends and dancing at an awesome dance event.

As with any congress, I danced a lot myself but I also took time to rest every now and then and observe the other amazing dancers at the event. Unfortunately, those moments of free time allowed me to observe some things that I was not too happy to see and hear about things that were equally unpleasant.

Guys, this is never allowed on the dance floor!

Guys, this is never allowed on the dance floor!

Touching while dancing
Let’s back up a little and just get a few things straight before I start tearing certain people some new A$$holes.

When we dance, we touch. Salsa, bachata, chacha, kizomba, zouk, swing, whatever, all require, to a greater or lesser extent, some degree of intimate physical contact. And with that close, physical contact comes another, very important aspect of social dance: Trust. The follower is trusting the leader to lead her through an enjoyable and just as importantly, safe dance.

That safety comes in the form of making sure your follow doesn’t crash into others on the dance-floor, not using an overly aggressive lead and also respecting her body! Failure on any one of these issues is simply not cool and in some cases is downright low. Of all of these, the greatest betrayal of trust, the lowest of the low in my books, is inappropriately touching a woman during a dance.

Accidents happen
Now, a lot happens in a short time while dancing so at one point or another all leads will make a mistake. The good ones (the real men) will apologize and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve had a lot of dances since I began dancing and I now I have unintentionally grazed a boob or bottom while trying to execute certain moves… accidents happen. I always apologize and usually my face glows redder than a tomato from the embarrassment.

However, while many cases are accidents, I know from what I’ve seen and heard that there are some men that intentionally try to cop a feel while dancing.

…THIS SIMPLY HAS TO STOP!

Someone can take advantage during any type of dance, the close contact makes it possible but I would be willing to bet that the majority of offences are committed during two types of dance in particular: bachata and kizomba.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t dance Kizomba and I have probably only ever taken 4 classes of it in my life (all with a significant amount of time in between). I have however, danced it on occasion and I’ve seen it danced by others frequently. I have nothing against it and I’m definitely not trying to bad-mouth it here.

Both of these dances have two things in common; they are danced with very close physical contact and often in a sensual manner. While these are often the main attractions of these dances, they also make it easier for people to put hands where they shouldn’t be. Bachata, in particular, because of the varied leads used in the dance.

Unfortunately, some people (the dregs of dance society, in my opinion) interpret the sensuality and closeness of these dances as an invitation to make (unwanted) physical advances. I honestly don’t know what makes some guys think that this is ok. Maybe they’re the kind of people who don’t experience physical intimacy outside of the dance world (that might be why they were originally drawn to dance). Maybe they’re unable to differentiate between the sensuality of dance and genuine physical attraction/desire. Maybe they’re just creeps. None of these are valid excuses.

I have written about such creeps in a more humorous tone in a previous article here on LDC about God Awful Dancers. The archetype was called “Wandering Hands Will” and while I wrote the article to give readers a little chuckle, the truth is that creeps like this could ruin dance for their “victims”. Inappropriate touching simply shouldn’t be accepted.

Case in point
Let’s get back to the original stimulus for writing this article. I was watching some people dancing bachata early in the night and dancing in front of me were a middle-aged man and a young, very, very attractive girl (I later found out that they had never danced before). All seemed fine until the guy turned the girl and started dancing with his front his front to her back. If you know bachata you’ll know that this position is common and it’s normal for the lead to place his right hand on the follows stomach to lead other movements. The problem here was that the guy decided it was perfectly ok to place his hand directly under her breast, so much so that he was pushing into it. The look of discomfort on the follows face was instant. Luckily it’s also common in this position for a woman to place her hand over the man’s and she immediately went about using it to move his hand lower down her stomach to a position where he was no longer copping a feel. She was probably overly gracious by finishing the dance with him although the look of discomfort (along with a look of being truly pissed-off) stayed with her for the rest of the song.

I was pretty pissed off from seeing what I had seen so I can’t even imagine how she must have felt. You can rest assured that the creep didn’t get a second dance.

Another occurrence from that same weekend happened when a male friend told me something that had happened to a mutual female friend. We had been chatting and joking around and he happened to tell me that our friend was “a little ticked off” because she had just been groped. I asked where and he said “In the kizomba room”. My immediate reaction was to jokingly say “Well what do you expect” and I’m honestly ashamed of myself for saying it. Why? Well unfortunately, that’s exactly the attitude that some of these “hands-on” creeps have when they dance. They assume that just because they’re in a dark room, dancing sensually with a beautiful girl, that they can take liberties with her. They assume that the environment gives them permission. THEY HAVE NO SUCH RIGHT!

It ain’t just the guys
It needs to be pointed out that while the majority of these offenders are guys, I have personal experience of women taking such liberties too. While it is different for guys (we’re (usually) bigger and stronger than our partners which gives us a sense of security, so most of us can (nervously) laugh off such advances) it’s still not right for anyone to violate another’s personal space.

What’s to be done?
MEN: This problem starts with offenders. While the majority of leads are perfectly respectful of their follows it is the despicable few creeps that can seriously tarnish our dance scenes. I seriously doubt that any such offenders would even look twice at an article like this but hopefully, for the men who do, it will re-enforce this anti-groping attitude and help it diffuse deeper into their dance scenes. All I have to say is this:

Treat your follow with respect and remember you NEVER have the right to touch her in places or in ways that make her uncomfortable. If there are ways or places that you would only touch your girlfriend/wife, then they’re probably not suitable for the dance-floor. 

WOMEN: You do not have to tolerate inappropriate touching when dancing. If you feel like a lead is taking liberties with you on the floor, feel free to end the dance right there and then and don’t feel like you ever have to dance with him again. I know a lot of women may feel obliged to finish a finish a dance once it’s started but if he’s making you uncomfortable, it’s your right to end it.

If women stop dancing with such creeps, hopefully they’ll get the hint and clean up their act (or leave the scene if we’re lucky).

Furthermore, if it ever happens to you in a class I would encourage you to discreetly let the instructor know so that he or she can deal with the offender. In the case that the offender is the instructor (which I know for a fact does happen), then it’s time to find a new class.

However, I do ask that women be sure that someone is taking advantage before they take action. I say this particularly for some women who may be just starting out in the world of dance and aren’t yet completely familiar with the different types of leads and the level of intimacy of some dances. I say this just because I don’t want follows to start accusing leads left, right and center of inappropriate behavior.

But if they genuinely do step out of line, let ‘em have it!

Towards a Better Dance Scene
My intention with this article (apart from blowing off steam after witnessing some truly appalling behavior) is to try and restore the feeling of trust and comfort that is necessary in a dance scene. If we can genuinely trust each other more, we’re all going to enjoy ourselves more. And that’s what dancing is all about 😀

I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter in the comments below.

Keep dancing folks.

24 Comments

  • Eleanor Bowen says:

    I loved this article…I witnessed the same thing on Sunday night at the fever fest..I am a beginner at kizomba and was enthusiastic at the opportunity for all the practice, but did have one incident where guy started to grab my breasts and then my bum…he also kept repositioning himself in front of me ….I walked off anyway, totally disgusted..It didn’t put me off though and I had some genuine good dances after…

    • I’m sorry to hear that happened to you Eleanor but I’m glad you didn’t allow it to ruin your night.
      Don’t ever dance with him again and make sure other dancers know to avoid him.

  • Amit says:

    It mostly happen at salsa because being fast dance ppl take advantage of it. Bachata and kizomba are slow dance and any girl have enough time and sense to judge the action of a pervert to stop it. In another aspect, If a guy is young and handsome then girls also do these thing but no one tell the same or write article. They grab you in thigh or move pelvic muscles so closely that you have to go back. I have never heard sorry from a single lady on these action but they expect us to be gentlemen. Why being young it become a sensual and beautiful dance but in case of a old man..it is creep act. Also don’t target bachata and kizomba. ..salsa, zouk are similar and what you say on tango ?

    • I mentioned it in the article that women are sometimes the perpetrators too and you’re right there is almost a double standard in that it seems more acceptable for women to do so. It shouldn’t be that way.
      As for tango, I’ve never danced it so I can’t give an opinion but I’d imagine that it happens too.

  • Tim says:

    Unfortunately Pirates and Gropers are part of the scene. Bad intent is everywhere, and unfortunately there is not much else to do about it than make your list and refuse the gropers. Unless it is too obvious or uncomfortable and you stop the dance. In my experience, however, woman are equal in crossing boundaries that should be respected. From using other dancers to make their boyfriend or husband jealous, to full force groping between the legs and kissing necks, from wanting a romantic finger lock to throwing chairs towards you after being politely declined, and from hitting on you in any way during the dance, to scratching and leaving finger nail impressions in your neck, head, arms and body….

    Not cool, but then again, we can all loose ourselves to passion…and I rather focus and remember the good dances than the bad ones…and sometimes, the ones that were bad, turn out to be the most awesome and vice versa. After all, we are only human.

  • Tim says:

    NB. Please put your hand on the shoulder blade, not the rib cage…

  • Michael says:

    I saw sometimes that the male is smartly initiating then the female gets excited, becomes responsive and accepting to this level of touching specially if they know each other … so both of them get along at that part … some times in public spots and other times in darker areas …. will this then be appropriate as long as both liking it?

  • JeaneL says:

    As an intermediate, it’s so hard sometimes to tell salsa style vs. an inappropriate move by the leads. Most of the time I tend to write it off as it’s their style, I can’t reprimand them, but I am still highly uncomfortable, ex: excessively low legs-in-the-air-head-to-floor dips, prolonged T-stance with a lot of staring, chest/body rolls where there is physical chest contact, flipping follow around grabbing tightly to front of ribcage (but sometimes they miss…)

    Because of the speed and the effort in following new moves, I can’t quite anticipate these and prevent it. Honestly I think it’ll be wonderful if such moves were no longer in the standard salsa repertoire but that is impossible. I request one of the leads I see commonly that I need some space and no dips and he’s been super respectful of that and no longer tries the overly intimate moves that he usually does with other follows. So that’s not a bad idea if you still want to dance with a certain lead, or you can just avoid them.

    • The acceptable level of intimacy probably varies for every person and that’s why I cautioned that it’s sometimes difficult for beginners to know if they’re being taken advantage of or not. What you did, by laying out your boundaries with one of your leads sounds like a great policy to me.

  • Cristabel says:

    I like to read this article how to be safe in the dance floor good i am learned to be safe I like to meet new people in social Dance.
    The people don’t know dance always have trouble and approach always drinks alcohol and fight the Nightclub.

  • Just Jacob says:

    To elaborate on the neighborhood of your disclaimer: I dance a lot of kizomba and have found that this is ironically not as big of a problem as one might expect among people who also primarily dance a lot of kizomba. Perhaps because the dance is so close, the boundary lines are even more clearly defined about what level of contact is appropriate and what is off limits. I hear this topic of conversation come up with much greater regularity than it does for any other style I know–both within and beyond the Latin dance community. Let’s remember that the dance of kizomba (derived from the term for “party”) ultimately comes from the dance of semba (derived from the term “a touch of the belly”)!

    Where I do see a lot of problems emerge is with the newer dancers possessing a background in bachata or salsa or whatever who discover kizomba and want to dive straight into tarraxinha styling before they can even deliver a clear set of basics, much less a saida or weight transfer with any knowledge of what is considered good or poor dancing within the scene. When I think of guys and girls I’ve seen cross the line like this, I wonder if a common misconception is not only that newness to the dance but also a confusing of connection with sexual expression–as if closing a spatial distance from one’s partner automatically also meant sexual escalation with that partner. In that event, we’re really encountering a broader cultural challenge: How do we relate to others (and ourselves, I suppose) as physical and sexual beings with intentionality and awareness on both of those features of our humanity independently? For some people, the only time they allow someone to be “kizomba level close” to them is when there is some sexual or romantic intent, after all. Moreover, how can we swiftly educate someone who is clueless about the social mores we have chosen to create a healthy community when those newcomers are likely to transgress a boundary they are not used to encountering?

    • I do feel that there is a certain amount of common sense/social awareness that is needed in order for a dance not to become inappropriate. Teaching people how to behave is one thing but I really think there are social norms to adhere to, even when dancing.

  • taly says:

    When I was student assistant in a dance studio I had a problem with a man learning zouk that he always realized the movement wrong make my hand pass in his ……….
    and times to times reach my boobs. I had to talk to the instructor because I was extremely uncomfortable. The instructor deal with it and this guy never did again. Once a while I dance with some creeps, guys too close, with a boner and humping on you. Disgusting!

  • Tony says:

    I agree women are sometimes the gropers, but it really isn’t as much issue for men because the male is leading the dance. When I had a woman trying to grind up on me in kizomba, I just opened the frame and started dancing her on the outside until she got the message.

  • Cait says:

    I love salsa, but my preferred dance is bachata, and I will admit that I like sensual bachata. I will also admit that, on a couple occasions, I have had really exceptional dance connection turn into just really good, ummm, connection. It’s rare, but it has happened. However, one issue is a lot of people can’t tell the difference between a man or woman being receptive to a more sensual style, and a man or woman being receptive to them. I understand how this can be confusing since pretty much the only other situation most of us would be that close to another person is right before a lot of things that wouldn’t be appropriate on the dance floor are about to happen. This is especially difficult for newcomers who aren’t aware that in the dance community we typically differentiate between the sensual and outright sexual, usually without the first being followed by the second. Of course, there are still people who should know better, but have never had there bad behavior seriously criticized, and, unfortunately, a few who do know better, but just don’t care. Once in a while, even a normally polite, well behaved dancer does something that crosses the line. I once had one such respectful, well-liked dancer come right out and kiss me during a bachata. He did at least apologize when he realized he seriously misjudged the situation.

    Unfortunately, I doubt this problem will ever completely stop, but the best way to limit it is actually addressing the problem. This article certainly does so quite nicely. I have also taken a few sensual bachata classes in which the instructors specifically went over basic respect and what is and isn’t appropriate, which I truly appreciate. If more instructors took a little class time to explain this, the dance floor would be a much safer place. People also need to remember that, particularly with a new partner, you should slowly ease things into a more sensual style if that’s what you like, and actually pay attention to how your partner reacts. If they tense up, resist being pulled in, respond in a way that limits physical contact or even look remotely uncomfortable, don’t keep pushing. If your partner likes it, you won’t need to push. As far as I am concerned, forcing a sensual “style” onto someone who simply doesn’t like dancing that way is almost as bad as groping. Even if they dance that way with other people, you can’t assume that they are willing to dance that way with you. They might just to be really comfortable with a particular dancer they have known for years, that might be their significant other, or they simply might not be even remotely attracted to you. Sorry, but that very well could be the case. There are plenty of other dancers. Just move on.

    For situations in which you are attracted to a dance partner, it can be difficult because we usually rely on physical clues (i.e. body language) to determine if it’s mutual, and dancing is all body language. You can’t always tell if they like you, or it’s just dancing. If you’re really determined take things beyond dancing, your best bet is to try flirting with said person while they are taking a break. If they still seem interested, then you can try and see if you can take things further.

    Regardless, a lot of it should be common sense. There are certain parts of the human body that you’re not supposed to touch without permission. They teach this in kindergarten. It isn’t rocket science.

    • Zero says:

      It is also quite sad that creeps tend to target very inexperienced dancers and tell them that “this is the way it is danced”, and this can scare newcomers off from the dance scene. Free lessons are often targets as they tend to have zero experience dancers. The best thing I could do (happened in a conference) is that I asked the girl to dance after she danced with the creep for two songs, asked if she’s okay, and told my friends to keep an eye on her.

      When dancing sensual bachata, I often start in closed position and try some of my more intimate and moderately difficult moves before the beat starts to see the girl’s skill level and comfort zone, and then adjust my lead accordingly. I think this might be a pretty good strategy.

      I welcome girls that dance intimately with me but even I have limits. A girl that literally sits on my knee will cause me to not dance with her ever again (that hurts a lot).

  • You’re right Cait, more teachers should discuss the topic with their students and it would help avoid problems. I also really like your ending comment… “it isn’t rocket science”… people should just know better.

  • Dancer says:

    You can’t always assume that every single woman on Earth absolutely hates it when a guy touches her boobs while dancing at a club. There are a few women that would even place his hands on her boobs while she grinds on him. To say even that has to stop is like the equivilant of saying that touching a woman’s boobs, even clothed ones and even with her permission, ought to be a capital felony under Federal law, FBI and Homeland Security enforced.

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