The Sound of Silence (Or Simply: Consent)

There was a time when I wrote articles about how as dancers, we should say yes to all or most dances. As I dance more and am exposed to more dance environments, I would hesitate to do just that. With Sarah Sullivan’s courageous post a little over a year ago and several other accounts, I can not in good faith tell anyone to dance with just….well, anyone.

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Full disclosure: I did not know what consent was growing up. I mean, I intellectually understood, but my EQ (emotional intelligence) about the issues surrounding consent left much to be desired. As an AAPI cis female, I assimilated into the notion that people like me were quiet. It’s what the media told me, it’s what each Miss Saigon performance reinforces and it’s what Cho Chang tells in the HP series. Love your oppressor, stay quiet, stay where you are. Be terribly, utterly sad and don’t stick up for yourself.

So, as a result, when someone asked me to dance, I felt obligated to say yes. Now, I know better. There are some dancers who will hurt someone when dancing. I have come away from dances with bruises on my hands from aggressive thumbs or leads who say simply, “You need to turn when I tell you.” If that’s not an abusive relationship, I don’t know what is. I have been TOO SILENT on this issue and many others because I was not aware of my own participation in a system of delayed consent.

Follows, leads, ambidancers–you have GOT to understand consent. A dancer can reasonably say “no” to you because you hurt them, physically or emotionally, when you have danced previously. Or, perhaps you were being unintentionally mean. As a fairly awkward individual, people have confided that I can come off cold or standoffish. However, this is different from a dancer copping a feel. Intent and consent matter. I do know when people are being abusive, and I refuse to stand by as we all get hurt.

Swing Dance Nashville does this wonderful thing during their beginner lessons about how to ask someone to dance. From an educator perspective, the organization does a LOT of modeling about what to do and how to do it (absolutely brilliantly). SDN also takes a moment to show what NOT to do, using humor to draw in audience attention. I think many times in the lindy community, we forget to set behavioral norms alongside the standard “how to step.” We need to model, model, model what good practices look like.

On the dance floor, a creative space must exist where everyone can freely express themselves. Physically and emotionally, the space will fluctuate. Perhaps you might be sad one day, so the physical space you need is a close-knit circle of caring friends. Or, if you’re like me, you just need to get out of that physical space to have emotional space. The point is, everyone is different. BUT…you must, must, must always ask questions and realize what consent means. That is a standard we in the lindy community are obligated to uphold.