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Improving Problem Dancers

by David Cottle

(This article was originally posted to the Usenet newsgroup <rec.folk-dancing>.)

In the city where I learned to dance, there were a few men that women avoided. The problem, and the charm, I think, of a dance community (and a parallel with religious community) is that it is non-exclusive. Everyone should be welcome. (The proof of a religion is that it works for everyone, and that everyone is accepted; the proof of a successful dance community is that everyone can participate.) But these women had very good reasons (mentioned elsewhere) for not wanting to dance with these men. They also respected the guideline of sitting out once you've turned someone down.

But here is what would happen: Four or five women, all pleasant partners, would be asked by an undesirable male in turn, and each one would turn him down. I (unknowingly) follow the same path and they follow the protocol and turn me down. All of us sit out the next dance. (Ok, maybe they were avoiding me too, but from their looks I would prefer to think that they had been systematically decommissioned by the preceding virus.) For this reason I would suggest that not dancing the next dance is a guideline, and breaking it might be the first clue to the one turned down that there is something wrong.

Which brings me to the next point. It seems to me everyone is discussing how to treat the symptoms (how do I avoid this person?) and not addressing potential cures (how can we improve this person's behavior?). I remember a similar thread a while back where someone pointed out that in a former time the solution to a "cad" at a dance was that the gentlemen of the dance would escort him out.

Perhaps a similar approach is needed. My solution with one of these people was to become at least casual friends - close enough that I could give him some hints about dancing and social behavior. Maybe what some of these people need are a) role models, and b) a friend that can give them some pointers. I believe I even tried dancing with one (when there weren't enough women - this disguised the real intent) precisely so I could give him pointers. Another solution for the minor infractions is to talk often about what you do enjoy about dancing. Someone may overhear and get the hint. Would we ban a child that doesn't follow protocol? Isn't one point of a dancing community to teach people how to interact?

A second solution: Some people suggest that you should give the person a reason why you don't want to dance with them. I agree. But rather than just turning someone down, how about saying in a conditional tone, after a moment of deliberation, "Yes I will dance with you, but would you mind not swinging me so hard / twirling me so much / etc.?" The honesty is good ("I won't dance with you because....") but a conditional acceptance gives the person a chance to change. And it reinforces the link between changing and being a desirable partner and getting a dance with you!

Even if the offensive action is clear, such as in the case of groping, I think they should be told. Nothing squelches inappropriate contact (even phone calls after a dance) faster than exposure. If at the beginning of a dance you say "yes, I will dance with you only if you agree to not pinch me," it's very clear what the condition is. If it happens you are justified in leaving that dance (at the end of the line, of course), and never dancing with them again - they were warned. You are also free from the sit-out protocol. It is clear that you will not dance with him, ever.

But if he is of a mind to change, you may have both improved the dance community and found the makings of a pleasant partner. (I'm sure that in the case of an aggressive style that risks injury the change would be easy to make, and they may learn in the process.) Imagine him saying after the dance "I'd never thought of that. It is easier to dance that way. What else could I improve on?"

David Cottle <lime@uiuc.edu>

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Last updated on July 30, 1996 by entropy@prismnet.com (Kiran Wagle)