The politics of dancing

Last weekend, I took a girls’ trip to Las Vegas with twenty smart, hilarious, amazing women. We ate a lot, drank a lot, sat by the pool a lot, and danced a lot. And while most places we went seemed to be having a dudebro convention of some sorts (hey, dudebros need vacations too!), most of the time, we had our fun and weren’t bothered by obnoxious douchey behavior all that much. Except on the dance floor.

One of the nights, about six or eight of us took to the club to cut loose and let our hair down, so to speak. I love dancing. I’m not terribly good at it, but I don’t think that those two things necessarily need to be connected. No one’s going to take a look at me dancing and offer me a contract as one of Beyonce’s back-up dancers or a featured position on MTV’s Spring Break specials. I mean, even if I weren’t a good decade too old for those things, I have a tendency to make stupid faces, yell along to the words in a most un-cool manner, and flail my arms and legs about in a way that can’t be taught; it must just be observed. And possibly laughed at.

So our group of women carved out a space on the dance floor, and we were having a great time, laughing at each other, dancing, making general asses of ourselves. And, as they do, guys would creep up to the periphery of our area and start dancing “with” us. Some, as they do, got a little too close to some of the ladies in our group, but took the hint pretty quickly when whoever their target was would spin around to the other side of the group, leaving the interloper dancing by himself as we quickly closed ranks, excluding him from our group. But just as many ignored the clear signals that we just wanted to be left alone.

One of my friends got far more than her fair share of dance-floor suitors. I’ve been out dancing more times than I care to remember in the past fifteen years or so, since I was old enough to get into the clubs, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I commented that it was like an anthropological study. “R” was the youngest out of our group, pretty, and obviously having a good time (as were we all). She seemed to catch the eye of quite a few “gentlemen,” many of whom indicated their interest by invading her personal space, attempting to cut her off from her group of friends, and ignoring all protestations and uncomfortable facial expressions when they got too close. “It’s a dance floor,” you might say. “That’s what happens.” Well, sure. But why?

Why is it not OK for a group of women to dance with each other? Why does it seem to be an implicit invitation for every slimy greasebag to dance up on an unescorted woman? Why is it acceptable to ignore every possible facial, physical, and verbal cue that we just want to be left alone to dance and have a good time in peace? Why does it seem to be a natural progression of things to start insulting and getting angry at a woman who indicates that she’s just fine where she is and doesn’t desire your company or your body parts? Even politely trying to decline a “dance” with a random stranger just opens you up to an attack, even if it’s just to call you a “stuck-up bitch” or to say that you “aren’t that pretty anyway.”

One guy, after numerous failed attempts to dance with my friend, told me I was the “second prettiest girl” in my group of friends. First of all, is negging still a thing? And if you’re trying to pick someone up, telling them they get the silver is a pretty poor way to go about it. I’m still trying to figure out the motivations behind that one. As an old married broad, I know I’m not putting out any “hit on me” vibes, so was he hoping that by (sort of) appealing to my vanity, I’d put in a good word for him with my friend? And after having been ignored by all of us for a good three or four songs, why would he think it was OK to then try to strike up a conversation? Did he think that by insulting me and the rest of my friends, he was “getting back” at us for not welcoming him into our group? Or was he legitimately under the impression that a line like that would get him anywhere? After I ignored him, he made one last attempt to grind up on yet another one of us, then moved on to a different unsuspecting group of girls after failing to get a reaction from us. Another guy made repeated attempts to untie my friend’s skirt, and after being thwarted, repeatedly, stayed and continued to try to dance with us.

Are we still at a place where men feel that they’re entitled to interact with a woman’s body however they want to, just because she has the audacity to be out in public, dressed up, dancing, having a good time? Clearly, the answer is, “Duh.” A dance floor is still the Wild West as far as gender politics are concerned. And in that environment, women are expected to perform for men. Our good time is only measured by how much the men around us enjoy watching us. Any attempt to make clear that we’re fine just with the company of those we came with is met with mockery, derision, insult, and aggression. Don’t believe dancing can be aggressive? Just watch how a man responds when he starts grinding up on a woman, uninvited, and she tries to move away or indicate she isn’t interested. It can be a dangerous game, just trying to enjoy a night out with the girls.

It’s not to say that all men in clubs are animals. One of my friends was approached by a man who only wanted to tell her, “You look like you’re having the most fun in this whole place.” And you know what? She was. She, like the rest of us, was dancing for her own benefit, enjoying a night out with the girls, not interested in performing for the sake of anyone but ourselves. And it shouldn’t be such a battle to have a good time that way.

(This post originally appeared in Persephone Magazine.)

3 responses to “The politics of dancing

  1. Pingback: Who am I, you ask? « Elizapedia

  2. That’s one reason I don’t go to clubs (never having lived in an area that had them is another). My impression as a man (though not a dudebro) is that people are much more polite to each other at swing dances and contra dances.

  3. I’m a man. I’m going to attempt to explain how I’ve felt on the dance floor, and I’m going to try to avoid mansplaining.
    A guy on the dance floor can’t have fun without a woman (says society). Dancing alone is not cool for men (except when the man is amazing at dancing.) Dancing with men really doesn’t work (in our culture), due to the internalized homophobia that all men are currently indoctrinated with. Yet, I want to dance. But, I came to the club alone, or with male friends. I want to dance with a woman, but the music is so loud, and I’m not very good at reading signals.
    I personally end up not even trying to dance. I refuse to be a creep. But the result is the only time I get to dance is when I bring a partner with me.
    In other words, good (non-creepy) single men are excluded from the dance floor. This is not women’s fault. I feel like the club setting, with the loud music, and there being no possible way to communicate other than body cues (that so many people can’t or won’t read anyway).

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