Latin Dance: So Good, So Sexist
I love latin dance. Salsa and tango in particular. I love it so much that if I don’t dance at least twice I week I tend to spontaneously break out into salsa moves while waiting at the bus, which can look pretty ridiculous when you’ve got a huge bag like I do, and trust me, those cool turns don’t turn out so cool on the bumpy pavement. Let’s just say there’s probably plenty of people who don’t know what to think of the spinning, hair-flipping weirdo over there. I try to get my weekly dose of salsa as often as I can, to avoid this situation.
Which might be surprising to hear from such a staunch feminist, because for those of you who haven’t danced it before, salsa and tango can be really sexist at times.
Most ballroom is like this:
The male is the leader, and he decides all the moves. The woman is called the follower, and is meant to be shown off. She does all the moves that her leader guides her into, the spins and embellishments. Most of the time it’s the men who ask the woman to dance, and a good dance can depend pretty heavily on having a good leader. I’ve certainly danced with some guys who literally stand there while they spin me in off-center circles. Not fun.
That’s salsa. Tango is pretty similar, and classes tend to be filled with sentences like “put her on her right foot” or “you need to get her to turn,” as if women were ships that you are navigating across the dance floor.
Pretty bad, right?
And yet, there’s something I love about all this. Sometimes, I guess I like digging into traditional gender roles.
I think what I love the most about it is that dancing is a place for me to perform my sexuality in a way that I could never do anywhere else. It’s all about sexuality, and that can feel great. I feel like the hottest thing on the dance floor when I’m dancing with a good lead, and that’s incredibly empowering. It feels great to know that people are watching you at your most attractive, and that this is all considered to be socially appropriate. Where else can you shake and shimmy your body and be considered something of an artist? And even as you do this, there are certain dance etiquettes that insure that no one will misinterpret your dance moves as a come on. Obviously, they’re not perfect, but for the most part I’ve never had any creeps.
You know what else I like? I have the power to choose who I dance with. And trust me I do. My friends always laugh about how many men I turn down, but I figure that dancing can be rather intimate at times, and I don’t want to do that with someone unless I really want to. I like to go and scope out who’s there before I dance. Plenty of the time I’ll ask men to dance myself. It sounds arrogant, but I think that’s just because in this society we’re not used to women being able to say no without feeling guilty.
So yes, salsa and tango can be pretty sexist at times. But I like to think that I have taken a dance whose structure is rather old school and based on very traditional gender norms, and turned it on its head. Nowadays, there is nothing more empowering to me than dancing. Nothing makes me as happy, as proud, and connects me more with people I would never meet otherwise. There is no where else that I feel in complete control, even when there’s a man leading me.