I’ve been wanting to talk about boundaries in social dancing for a while. The reason it’s a tricky topic is because when we take the two roles dancers can have – being either a leader or a follower – it looks like the follower “should” do everything that the leader is leading to her. However it doesn’t mean that followers don’t have any say in what is being done to their body. I’m here to remind you that whatever boundaries apply in your everyday life, also apply in social dancing.
You Have the Right to Choose Who You Dance With
Let’s start with something you have power over even before the dance begins – you are free to choose who you dance with.
I know it’s generally expected that you “are nice” and dance with everybody, only saying no in extreme cases – like when the lead is hurting you or has very low standards in personal hygiene. However the reality is that you have the right to say no for whatever reason you have and you don’t even have to explain why.
You simply say “no, thank you” and smile. Your reasons for not wanting to dance with this person are valid, even if they might seem unreasonable to someone else. As long as you decline the invitation politely and respectfully, there is nothing wrong with saying “no”.
You Don’t Have to Do Everything the Leader is Asking
You remain in control even when the dance has started – you don’t have to do any moves or figures that make you uncomfortable, emotionally or physically, despite the leader leading them to you.
It’s true that when your partner is using physical blocking, holding you in place or something similar, you don’t have much choice, but for the most part there are plenty of moments where you can relax your frame and simply abort the movement.
For example, when I’m being lead too many turns or spins by my partner, but I am tired and don’t have the energy for that, I’ll relax my hands and skip some. I’m not being rude, I always smile, sometimes even verbally add that I’m too tired for that many spins. If they care about making the dance an enjoyable experience for both of you, they will understand.
(If you’re interested, I have another blog post with some specific examples of getting out of unsafe movements!)
You Have the Right to Not Dance in a Sensual Way
A more serious example would be when you are lead sensual moves (eg body rolls) but you feel uncomfortable dancing like this, in general or with that specific person.
Many popular social dance styles nowadays are quite sensual, eg kizomba or bachata, so some people would think – if you’re not dancing sensually, are you dancing [insert dance style] at all? The answer is yes, you can dance those styles in a non-sensual way (and that’s probably how it was danced originally). Leaders would simply need to stick to the basics, use more turns and play with footwork or arms.
Therefore, as a follower, you definitely have the right to not do the sensual moves, even if they are lead to you. If your partner is getting uncomfortably close to you, you can gently pull back. Any socially intelligent person will understand your signals and tone it down. If they don’t, you have the choice of never accepting an invite from this person again. If everyone in your community dances in a sensual way, you have the choice of not dancing this style at all.
It’s Your Responsibility to Cancel Dangerous Movements
There might be some movements that are a risk to your health, but the leader doesn’t know that, for example you cannot do cambrés or dips because of a back injury or something like that. In this instance it’s your responsibility to take care of your body and not do those moves despite the leader leading them to you. Even if you don’t have any injuries, doing more advanced movements has a potential to hurt you if you are not fit or flexible enough.
When this is the case and the leader is about to lead you something that would make your neck or back hurt the next day, stop following or wiggle out of it and explain that you can’t do it because you’re worried about your back/neck/etc. As long as you do it politely, the leaders will happily take that into account and avoid this movement during the rest of the dance. I typically cancel more difficult movements when I am sensing that the leader won’t offer me as much support as I need or is rushing through them.
We’re all part of the social dancing community because dancing is fun. It shouldn’t be painful or unpleasant and there is no need to put yourself into uncomfortable situations. You have the option of choosing who you’re dancing with and deciding not to follow through with movements that cause discomfort in any way. Take care of yourselves and see you in the next blog post!