“Let’s create a dance where it’s just like a conversation"
October 15, 2016 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Liquid lead ballroom dance: "Seeing a petite woman dip a man who’s over six feet tall can strike the viewer as odd and different, but it breaks the traditional boundaries set by gender roles. It’s clearly possible for anyone to dance what has typically been prescribed for female dancers and male dancers, and it doesn’t matter who leads. In the end, it’s a negotiation."
posted by sibilatorix (18 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
This is so good. I want to see more of it! I want a Strictly Ballroom that does this.
posted by emjaybee at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Relatedly, in the social dance world, a friend of a friend is involved in the Ask Me to Dance project:
Men don’t always lead. Women don’t always follow. And plenty of people aren’t men or women. So why do we use gender presentation to pick our dance partners?

The Ask Me To Dance Project seeks to disrupt the traditional association of gender and dance role by providing a visual reminder in the form of wristbands. AMTD encourages dancers to wear wristbands that say "ask me to LEAD" or "ask me to FOLLOW" (or both!).
posted by btfreek at 7:47 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

15-20 years ago, I spent an extended weekend in the snowy autumn at a YMCA camp in the Berkshires attending a Gender-Free Contra Dance Camp. Contra Dancing is traditionally called with male/female roles, but for this weekend, it was armband/barearm. Surveyor tape was available and you'd tie a length of it around your upper arm and if you were wearing that you'd dance the part called as armband, if you weren't wearing the tape you'd dance as a barearm. It wasn't even a lead/follow sort of situation. It was a comfortable queer space with SO MUCH DANCING OMG SERIOUSLY and always a good time with good people.

Also, thinking about going to the gay rodeo in Albuquerque and going to the gay country bar there and watching same sex cowboy couples do country-western lariat style dance moves without knocking off each other's hats, which is pretty amazing.
posted by hippybear at 8:11 PM on October 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Radical, revolutionary and beautiful. This explains so much about my love of, and discomfort with, traditional dancing.
posted by Thella at 8:20 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

The social dancing that's ballroom dancing but without judges and competitions has been doing this longer. And I know it's spreading out of specifically LGBTQ contra.

But, you know, you don't actually need a movement and an audience and an armband. You just need to agree for the upcoming measures with the person you're dancing with now.

(I am put out by commercialized, competitive International Style Ballroom seeming to forget that they aren't ballroom dancing in toto. At least use a capital letter to reflect the capitalism.)
posted by clew at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

The best leader I ever danced with was in Tango class. The regular instructor was out and the sub was this tiny Russian woman, five foot two at the most. I towered over her, but she was such a strong leader we were moving around the floor much more smoothly than I ever had with a male leader.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:44 PM on October 15, 2016

In the Star Trek: Next Generation episode "The Outcast," a person from a (usually) gender-neutral race asks Riker questions about male-female roles for humans. The character Soren asks Riker who leads when two people dance together, and he answers "whoever is taller." I always loved that answer because it meant dance roles were not gender-specific.

Fun fact: Soren is the name of two different characters in the fantasy world of Tornor created by Elizabeth A. Lynn. In both eras they are lesbians.
posted by datawrangler at 8:46 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Valentino is the tango between Rudolf Nureyev as Valentino and Anthony Dowell as Vaslav Nijinsky.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:50 PM on October 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I go to a queer contra dance on occasion. It's really one of the funnest group activities I've done so far, and it's great seeing people of all genders, bodies and ages putting on swishy skirts and having fun.
posted by picklenickle at 10:51 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

same content sans TED-voice here for anyone else who's developed a deep aversion to the TED.

You may be as relieved as I was to see that just a few months after his TED talk Trevor seems to have almost completely shed the TED. He had a pretty bad case of it, though it didn't seem to affect his partner at all.
posted by lastobelus at 12:05 AM on October 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I watched "switch lead" female performers doing fairly traditional ballroom at a show a few weeks back. It was way more interesting for me as an ignorant observer to watch the forms shift between lead and follow.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:51 AM on October 16, 2016

Also, one of the Harry Potter movies had a "switch lead" dance (Yule ball scene, in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire").
posted by datawrangler at 1:41 AM on October 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I LOL'ed -- leave it to the ballroom folks to think they invented these things.

Major vernacular/street social partner dances like salsa, swing, tango have had the idea that the dance is "just like a conversation" for... uh.. decades at least? And those dance communities have had same-gender partnering, and lead-follow switching for years, because it's awesome:

Lindy Hop:
Max and Thomas in 2003
Gio, Adam and Voon in 2012

West Coast Swing:
Ben & Maxime in 2015

Argentine Tango:
Fernando, Ariadna, Federico & Ines in 2010

Los Hermanos Macana in 2009,
2010 and 2015

Ozhan & Serkan in 2009 and 2016

Gaston and Moira in 2014
posted by kanuck at 5:39 AM on October 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

Just here to chime in that this is pretty much already happening in social dance scenes I've experienced. I'll grant Burlington may not be the best barometer, but almost everything is taught lead and follow without gender reference and we have a healthy proportion of non-traditional gender roles and expressions in the individual dancers. It's part of what I love about it. Even when it causes a laughter filled log jam of confusion when no one in the contra square can figure out who should spin who (or when my salsa partner couldn't do the follower styling being taught on a turn because if he reached his arm straight up his 6'8" frame meant he was punching the ceiling).
posted by meinvt at 7:04 AM on October 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Major vernacular/street social partner dances like salsa, swing, tango have had the idea that the dance is "just like a conversation" for... uh.. decades at least?

Yes, exactly! Totally agree with kanuck's point. I teach blues dancing (another vernacular social dance), and in our scene we specifically teach the lead and the follow roles without any reference to gender at all, and we encourage people to ask what their partner wants to do for a specific dance, rather than assuming their role based on what they look like. Lots of folks in our scene dance both roles. It's great.

The idea of switching/flowing between roles in the midst of a dance is cool too. It's fun to dance a "switch" dance where you pass the lead back and forth, and there is definitely a technique you can use to do it that is more than just switching your arm positioning. You can change how much "tone" (muscle tension, more or less) you are using, to signal that you want to either drop or pick up the lead.
posted by aka burlap at 10:02 AM on October 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Adding New York's Tango Mujer to kanuck's list -- couldn't find videos of them per se but here's at least two of their members in a very inventive piece.

Kanuck, aka burlap, and meinvt, if love to go dancing with you sometime if you've got regular access to dance scenes like these :) weirdly, a lot of the dance I've found in my 17 years in NYC is very gender-rigid, to the extent that I gave up social partnered dance in favor of African. The huge exception was Dance Manhattan, which Tango Mujer called home and which also had a strong gay presence in swing. I think I heard Dance Manhattan closed, though :(
posted by gusandrews at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

gusandrews, I'm in North Carolina. If you're ever down here give me a shout & I'd love to go out dancing with you. I don't know much about the tango or salsa scenes in NYC, but Brooklyn Swings is run by Jenny Sowden, who is great, and I would expect the gender politics there to be non-icky. :-)
posted by aka burlap at 4:30 PM on October 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

In the ballroom scene of Disney Parks' Haunted Mansion, the ghost women always lead the ghost men in the waltz. It happened by accident the first time; the Imagineers made the dummies dance the usual way, forgetting that what the guests viewing the scene saw would be a reflection of the dummies in a large panel of glass. They decided not to go to the effort of reversing the turntables that move the dancers, and then it just became a tradition when they built replicas of the attraction in other parks.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:54 PM on October 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

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