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.


13 replies on “The Politics of Dancing”

In Quebec, where I went to university, the age to drink and get into clubs is 18, which means that some clubs have a pretty gross mix of 18-22 year-old university kids being hit on by 30-40 year olds. A lot of them don’t take no for an answer. My group of friends went out dancing a lot, guys and girls; even though we were clearly dancing with our guy friends and/or boyfriends, we all got back-humped a lot. I can remember one night when this guy wasn’t leaving me alone, and this gay friend of mine started dancing with me, both of us figuring Sweaty McHumperson would take the hint and move on. Nope! He followed us and kept grinding on my ass until the group surrounded me and made him go.

The first couple times I took this as a compliment, innocent, naive girl that I was. Then I realised a lot of the guys were old, creepy, and hitting on me because I have a large chest. Now it just bugs me. Ah, youth ! ;)

My friend’s sister has the greatest deflection. She starts to dance with the guy- making him feel like his tactics are working- then she booty bounces guy away. She literally knocked a guy to the ground doing this a couple of weeks ago. It was amaing, the guys never see it coming!

I remember going to a hen’s night and some dude started chatting to me even though I clearly wasn’t interested. He wanted to tell me how beautiful my friend was (who was getting married). He then proceeded to follow us from club to club and try to win on to my friend who just wanted to dance and have a laugh before getting married.

He really thought he was in with a chance and despite being told sternly several times that she wasn’t interested and he should just stop following us he wouldn’t. He didn’t leave until one of the girls got right up in his face and told him to go using several choice swear words. I think that’s the last time I went to clubs and pray it’s the last time ever.

I was under the impression that Las Vegas is just a 365 day never ending dude-bro convention. My brother in law frequents it enough that it should be.

I have danced in a club a grand total of once in my life, mostly because I don’t have the patience to fend off guys from myself or others. It all just seemed like too much work for me. I used to live in Toronto’s Clubland. I think there’s a major perception out there that the real reason people (both men and women) go to clubs is to meet potential relationship partners, not to have fun. Women who go out to have fun with each other don’t exist in the grand Clubland scheme of things.

I partied a decent amount in undergrad, and my female friends and I had a few different strategies for dealing with the sneak attack dancers. I was good at pretending to be drunker than I was and stumbling away while promising to return with more drinks, then never coming back. We’d also give each other thumbs up or thumbs down when dancing with somebody new to indicate whether or not we were having fun and actually wanted to dance with them or whether we wanted somebody to come by and pull us away. And when we’d go out with a particular guy friend of ours, he would swoop in and begin dancing frantically until the offender went away. I hate that this was something we had to strategize about!

Having been on a girls weekend to Vegas recently and experienced the exact same thing, I loved this article. Laughed so hard at/with your description of your unique style of dance. Mine is very similar: flailing, interpretive dance to the words of the song, lots of shaking and other ridiculata. I love dancing.

Oh, and if anyone needs lessons on defensive dance-floor capoiera to keep the bros at bay, that’s your girl right there. It’s just a shame that so many violent arm movements were needed to keep the men away. That’s why the arms, right? Right?

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