There’s No Need To Ask Directions If You Ever Lose Your Mind

Man, Saturday night… Saturday night… you know what? Let’s have a bit of a discussion for a few minutes, because some things from Saturday night are driving me a bit nuts.

Friday night and Saturday morning I was having kind of a grumpy time, so on Saturday I decided to get out of the house and go to a movie, get some dinner and then go to a dance party to try to turn things around. I went and saw a movie that was childish and hilarious to make myself laugh, and then ate a bunch of food that wasn’t exactly made out of items from my normal strict diet when I’m doing a bunch of weight training, and then I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall because I had heard that a party was going to be happening there that night. When I got there, Lord Junior had just started giving a class in East Coast Swing, and there were more women than men, so I changed my shoes quickly and jumped in the line to help out.

I didn’t recognize a lot of the women that I danced with during the class. I thought it was just me at first, since it has been a long time since I have been to a social dance like this, but when I started talking to the ladies I found out that many of them hadn’t been dancing for long, and more than a couple of them were just coming out for the first time that night. Then I didn’t feel quite so bad for not recognizing them. There were a lot of young, single, attractive ladies at this party, and I was actually quite surprised that HotDog wasn’t around that night. He always seems to show up for parties when young, single, attractive ladies are in attendance and then proceeds to be a creep trying to hit on them all night. I would have thought that his warning system would have been going off, telling him that he was missing out.

(What would he call his warning system? Babe-dar? Hottie-sense? I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere that I’m missing…)

But even though HotDog wasn’t there to bother these young ladies that night, there were two other culprits that were doing the bothering in his place. One of those men I have actually written about before. It took me a bit to find it, but remember Mr. Grouchy-Face? Yeah, he was one of the two. The other guy was actually given a nickname by a couple of the girls that night. They were calling him ‘Vader’ because he was really tall and they didn’t think he was very pleasant. I’m sure you can figure out the reference. The name was funny to me, so I’m going to use it here.

I don’t know exactly what it was that these two guys were doing, but it was creepy enough to make these young women avoid them. They were even hiding from them. Seriously! Let me tell you, there were several points during the few hours that I was at this party that I actually had women hiding behind me, as if I were a tree or something. Not just one or two women, but several of them used me as a shield to avoid one or the other of these two men throughout the evening as the guys were walking around looking for a partner to dance with when a new song came on.

Beast mode.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a part of me that felt really good being used like that. After all, A) that tells me that through all the heavy weight lifting I have done, I have gotten to be huge enough that women can hide from view behind me, which makes me feel like a total beast, and B) what man doesn’t like the white knight feeling of helping out a woman in need? But it also makes me feel terrible as a guy when I hear that other guys are making these girls feel this way.

It’s unfortunate that there are so many fewer men in the ballroom community than there are women, because that allows guys like these to develop a overinflated sense of importance through lack of competitive selection pressure. A lot of women will avoid directly confronting these men and telling them how they feel, because the women just want a chance to dance with someone during the evening rather than sitting out on the sidelines. I have heard the complaints from lots of ladies, because I can dance and talk to them at the same time (it’s a skill, like walking and chewing gum), and the women will tell me that there are some men that they don’t like dancing with very much. Yet I still sometimes see those same ladies accept dances with the men they complained about if offered.

Another complaint that I have heard about often over the many years that I have been dancing (I’m getting old, aren’t I?) is of older men who must feel like it is their duty to teach things to younger ladies at a social dance, even if the lady did not ask for the instruction. It’s one thing to repeat a figure that didn’t go so well if the lady asks you to try it again, but it’s something else entirely to pull her aside during or after a song to try to impart your knowledge to her, especially while her eyes are darting back and forth like a cornered prey animal that is trying to find an escape route.

The worst case of this I ever saw was a few years ago. An International Viennese Waltz came on, and people who wanted to do the dance started to pair off and take to the floor. One guy went over to a young girl and asked her if she wanted to do the dance with him. She said no, not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t know how to do Viennese Waltz. A pretty valid reason for turning him down, one would think. Right?

Wrong. Rather than go off to find another partner, this guy decided that he would show her how to dance the Viennese Waltz, and began to teach it to her right in the line of dance! He wasn’t following the line of dance however, just going back and forth on one of the short walls, stopping to talk to the girl when she invariably did the steps wrong. Other couples, many who were not all that good with floorcraft, were forced to try to go around the stopped couple to avoid having a collision. It was really a dangerous situation. Luckily no one got hurt, but that could have ended very badly.

I don’t want to stereotype here, but all of the times that I see this sort of ‘unrequested teaching’ occur, it always seems to be old men trying to teach young ladies things. I wonder why that is? Is it because these men feel good about themselves when they get to impart their knowledge to the next generation? Is it because the women closer to their age don’t allow these men to instruct them, while younger women will often naturally defer to their elders and just go along with it to avoid confrontation? Is there some kind of fantasy going on in the older guy’s head about having a hot young lady, who he would normally never be able to date, giving him her full attention for the duration of the song and possibly afterward until another man comes to take her away for a dance?

I’m a firm believer that a social dance is not a place to try to give instruction, especially if your partner did not ask for help. I might be able to spot you an exception if someone asks you to help them and the two of you retreat off the floor so that you can show them what they want to know, but the middle of a social dance floor should really be off limits. And if your partner doesn’t ask you for help, you shouldn’t put forth the effort to try and be a teacher. Also, if their body language says that they don’t want to be there with you, you should just leave them alone and go find someone else to dance with.

That last point… I cringe sometimes when I see young ladies dancing with a guy like Vader, and their body language makes it super obvious that they don’t want to be there anymore. One time I saw him trying to dance a Latin dance – had to be a Rumba or a Merengue – with two different young ladies at once. Both of them had a look on their face that was more like a grimace than a smile, and shortly after that dance was over one of those women left the party entirely.

Are a lot of men clueless about facial expressions and body language? It looked really obvious to me, but I don’t know how Vader missed that. Plus, there were two ladies giving those looks, so that means he had twice the number of opportunities to pick up on it! If I saw my partner making a face like that, I would have to ask them what’s up because I would know that something is not making her happy. After all, the three major rules about social dancing that I was taught were A) to keep my Follower safe, B) keep her  secure and C) keep her entertained. Body language is a great cue to tell me whether I am succeeding at rule C or not.

Doesn’t that feel like common knowledge? This makes me wonder if some people need classes on dance etiquette, where points like this would be discussed. Maybe something that seems like common sense to me just doesn’t cross other people’s minds. Even simple things like keeping your dance contained to keep other dancers near you safe. That seems like an obvious thing that I should always be doing at a social dance, but I know a few dancers who will do dangerous things, like always throwing out their arms behind them when doing New Yorkers no matter how crowded the dance floor is. Can they really not see that as a potential hazard? Should there be a class that tells you not to do things like that unless you know the space around you is clear?

Anyway… I got a bit sidetracked. What was I talking about before? Oh yeah… to top it all off (and this one’s a doozy), I was told a story at the end of the night on Saturday from one girl. For a little background, this girl had decided to start dancing only about two months ago, as she told me. Not being able to afford private lessons on her salary, she has been going to the newcomer group classes and picking things up as best that she can. She told me that dancing was something that she always loved to watch, and this summer she finally felt brave enough to go out and give it a try to see if she could do more than just watch from the sidelines. Good for her, right?

At the dance party that evening, Vader asked her to dance with him. I’m not sure what style they were doing, but keep in mind that this girl has only had two months of beginner classes at the Electric Dance Hall since she started dancing. The beginner classes that the Electric Dance Hall holds teach the same dance style for the whole month, and this girl has only gone to one class a week, so as far as my math knows, she would have had real experience with two just different dance styles from the beginner classes, plus that crash in East Coast Swing she got in the class right before the party that night started.

After the dance she did with Vader was over, apparently he told her as they were walking off the floor that the dance did not go well. He said that she needed to go home and watch some videos on the Internet to learn the basics of the dance styles before he would ever dance with her again.

Noooooooo… I can’t believe what I’m hearing!

Yeah. He really told her that. What. An. Ass.

Seriously, what in the world is going through his brain that made him think it would be OK to say that to any dance partner he has, let alone a young girl who is still a dance newcomer? Why in the world does he think that he is such a good dancer, and thus allowed to pass judgement on others at a social dance?

Ugh… he was lucky that the girl told me about this at the end of the night after Vader had already gone home. If he had still been around, I probably would have been tempted to go over and break off his robotic hand before frying him with some lightning… or something like that. Hopefully that joke works. I’m pretty sure that’ happened in the movie. Honestly, I think I was a teenager the last time I saw it, so I could be totally wrong. But please don’t yell at me if I’m wrong! My nerd credentials are probably very different from yours, and I’m OK with that.

Anyway… other dance stuff happened this week, but this has been consuming my thoughts since Saturday night. Writing it all out helps, so hopefully it will all be laid to rest now (at least until the next time some guy does something stupid that really bothers me). I did go back through and proofread this and added in a bunch of jokes that hopefully make this post sound less angry, because my first draft felt awfully bitter. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled discussion of dance events next week. Until then, keep dancing!

And guys – let’s all promise each other that we will be good Leaders this week. Maybe working together we can make up for these few bad eggs that are out there.

14 thoughts on “There’s No Need To Ask Directions If You Ever Lose Your Mind

  1. I don’t dance Ballroom, but I do sometimes dance tango, and unfortunately it’s all too common that (mostly) men behave this way and ignore and disrespect other peoples boundaries. I’m so glad that you have been recognizing that this goes on and that women feel safe to talk to you about it!
    It occurs to me ( and this is basically a stranger assigning you more work, so feel free to ignore me!) that you could use your position on the Royal Dance Court to start a conversation about how the community can address this. Develop ways for women to speak up or feel safe say no to dances/teaching. Come up with strategies for more experienced/involved dancers (men & women) to say something/check in when the observe someone being creepy or someone feeling uncomfortable. Most of these creepy guys know they’re being inappropriate, but they think they can get away with it (and usually do) because no one around them feels able to speak up.
    It should open an interesting conversation at least, especially in this time of the #metoo movement.

    1. That’s an interesting thought. I had actually come up with some other ideas I talked over with one of my fellow Royal Dance Court members, but your ideas weren’t in there. Maybe I’ll add those in.

      The thing I keep coming back to is whether to talk this over with a large audience and hope the men that are at issue hear about it, or if there are only a few guys that are the problem do you just confront them directly? That’s a tough question to answer.. I’ll see if I can collect some input from others in the community and see if we can come to a consensus. It’s not an issue I think I could solve myself, no matter how much I wish I could.

      1. Oh, that’s great that you’re already talking about it.
        In terms of your question, my instinct is it’s important to do both. Its important to talk about it with a large audience to start changing the overall culture to make this sort of behavior acceptable. I would say that the large talks aren’t directed at the perpetrators but at the rest of the community to a) say that this behavior is inaccaptable and b) give people concrete things to say or do if they experience or witness inappropriate behavior and c) emphasis that women (or anyone) are allowed and encouraged to say no to men (or anyone) and even end the dance early if they are being inappropriate.
        I do think it’s important to address incidents directly too, because perpetrators are not going to change just listening to lectures. It could be through confrontation or by giving the person being harrassed the support to leave the situation or say something. For this I think it’s important to get organizers and teachers (anyone in a position of authority or respect) on board and actively enforcing the norms of respect. But it’s also something you (and maybe sparkledancer and other friends) can start doing on your own-just a few people speaking up can already start changing the culture by making others realize they have options.
        It could be very useful (though perhaps difficult) to come up with standards that will get someone kicked out of a party, and get the organizers on board to enforce it.
        I hope this is helpful and not too long 🙂 I’m curious to hear how it develops if you want to keep updating us.

    2. One of the major issues that I see bringing this up in our Royal Dance Court is the fact our social dancers are really, really temperamental, and Prez will inevitably cave to whatever they complain about. Case in point–about a year ago the Thespian made a speech about floorcraft ( Floorcraft! Afterwards, we had a dancer or two who felt personally target and attacked, and apparently spent hours on the phone with Prez going on and on about it. Rather than shutting the conversation down, Prez apologized profusely. We’ve never been able to address the issue again, even though we’ve had a fair amount of unsafe situations because new dancers just don’t know basic etiquette. Addressing male behavior that makes some women uncomfortable seems highly unlikely (and there’s the whole other issue of whether the males even realize their behavior is causing such a reaction in their dance partners). It’s a very complicated issue.

      I think the best way forward is to let these newer dancers know they can turn down a request for any reason, with no explanation needed. The Thespian and I certainly checked in with them, and we’re both well aware of when a lady looks uncomfortable on the dance floor, and do our best to help make the situation better. It’s not much, but it’s the best we can do for the time being.

      However, it’s so much easier said than done. I danced multiple times with Mr. Grouchy-Face and Vader. Not because I wanted to, but because I felt very uncomfortable turning them down. They were terrible dances, and I mostly just hoped for the song to end early. I have years of experience in this community, I probably know the dance better than both of those gentlemen, and yet I grimaced my way through each time and thanked them politely when we were done. So… if I feel such pressure to act in such a way, I’m not sure how to start changing that for other women.

      1. Oh man, I had totally forgotten about that incident! Wow, that one takes me back…

        Yeah, I don’t know what kind of response these men would have hearing someone like me talk about dance etiquette. It would probably come across better if someone like you were the one telling the ladies, like in a class or a workshop setting. I doubt that either of these two knuckleheads would attend a class like that, but I still think that suggestions for ladies about how to turn down a dance offer would be better coming from another lady. 🙂

  2. I couldn’t tell who sponsored the party but I wonder if you couldn’t also talk with someone at the Electric Dance Hall (or other places if it happens there as well). As a business, they certainly have an incentive to want people to attend their parties and if the ladies aren’t having a good time, they may stay away. Maybe they could just reinforce some basic dance etiquette before the party starts. Of course, this guy seems like the type who would just ignore those statements assuming it doesn’t apply to him. Maybe you do need to take his hand off 🙂

    1. The owner of the studio did hear about things at the end of the night, much like I did, so there wasn’t much that could be done. The owner reassured the girl that Vader was just ‘a harmless jerk’ (though with more colorful language), and that she didn’t have to take what he said seriously.

      Dance etiquette keeps coming up. I had heard that in the past in my area there was someone who used to give a regular workshop on the subject, but stopped doing it a long time ago for some reason. Maybe I need to talk to some people about reviving that? I don’t know if guys like this would attend, but if others do and the teachings get around, it could help. Hmmm…. something to consider.

      Of course, breaking hands off could also be helpful, right?

  3. This is so true! I’m currently in this situation myself, dancing with some really unsavoury dances and praying they will just be human. Would love to have a dance with you sometime!

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you encounter people like these gentlemen I know. Hopefully there are enough good Leads around you to drown out these occasional bad ones so that you can still have real fun.

      I would like that too! If I’m ever in your neck of the woods, I’ll be sure to let you know!

  4. Yep, I have encountered things like this too. We have one leader in our own social circuit who will only dance with ladies he determines are worthy for him to dance with (and makes that clear to others who ask). He will try to monopolize his chosen few for the night and when they are not available he will sit at a table and do soduko until one is free.

    To be deemed worthy, you must be familiar with the routines from our local dance society because he can’t lead anything else.

    1. Man, that sounds like a whole other level! I know couples that show up where the men only dance with their spouse/girlfriend, but a single guy who prefers Sudoku to dancing with ladies he doesn’t think are ‘worthy’? That is grade-A jerkiness right there!

      I can’t even… he just… ugh… it makes my brain hurt just trying to picture that!

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