Thursday 23 April 2015

More Ponderings of Male Psychology for Self-Serving Purposes

Last night I had a particularly good time at swing dance. First, there was a surprise guest: B.A.! Sadly, he didn't stay to dance, but it was nice to see the dear chap in the ballroom. There is no-one I'd rather dance with than B.A., but strangely now that we're married he doesn't care so much for dancing. Let that be a warning to you all.

Second, I was asked to dance by the best dancer on the  floor, which  was undoubtedly way more exciting for me than for him, but it is no doubt in his interest to dance with promising newbies to help us become better and better and one day actually desirable dance partners. Meanwhile, his generosity may have been inspired by my shameless flattery of last week. In my view, it is okay to tell a guy he is clearly the best dancer in the society around when he actually is. 

N.B. When I was young, I thought insulting men a little bit was super-charming, and now that I am no longer young, I realize that this was perfectly ridiculous and instead women must tell men we like what is good about them. Try not to do this when the other ones are listening in, however.  

This may sound very funny, but this is the first weekly occasion I have frequented a male-and-female environment where men and women (as men and women) are equally important to the smooth functioning of the planned activity.  Yes, sometimes women are "leads" and sometimes men are "followers", but most of the time men are leads, and women are followers, and very few men seem to be comfortable dancing with other men, that's just the way it is. 

As I mentioned before, the problem with having fallen in love with swing-dancing--after having hated dance classes all my life--is I'm back to caring about what men (as men) think of me. Naturally, I want them to ask me to dance. Of course, at swing-dancing women ask men to dance all the time--even my friend and inspiration Alisha Ruiss asks men to dance--but I was long ago indirectly cautioned not to do this imprudently by a chap who had thought a lot about the issue. 

To paraphrase, or blatantly make it up from memories, the authority said something like, "The job of the man is to lead, and the job of the woman is to follow and make it all look nice. The job of the man is also to ASK, and the job of the woman to say yes or no. If a woman says No to a man, he does not like it, but he just asks some other woman. But if a women asks a man, and he says No, she is devastated. So naturally a gentleman does not like to say No and dances with the woman even if he does not want to, and then he is resentful, especially if she tries to lead or is a really bad dancer in some other way. And then of course he will never ask her to dance, and so she will just ask him or some other man, and the situation gets worse and worse."

YIKES! And yet even Alisha, who won second place at the Lindy Hop International Championships in 2010, feels she has to ask men to dance, so who am I to sit prissily on my chair all night when I want to dance? And, of course, the best way to become a better dancer--especially a better follower--is to dance with people, as many different people as possible, as often as possible. 

So I consulted my expert again, and once again to paraphrase/blatantly make it up, he advised:

1. Be as good a dancer as you possibly can be.
2. Be young.
3. Be good-looking.
4. Be well-dressed.
5. Be young.
6. Be good-looking. 
7. Be interesting to talk to. 

This is where I repeat my mantra that we can ask men what they think, but we will not always like the answer. Fortunately being young and being good-looking are secondary to being a good dancer in this schema, which is also my experience. One of the most popular regulars at swing-dancing is a 45+ Frenchwoman who is not only a great dancer, she could charm the birds from the trees. As she leads as well as follows, I have learned a lot from her about the zany spirit which animates swing,which apparently can be expressed by chanting "A-whoop-a,-a-whoop-a, a-shooby-dooby-dooby-doo" while dancing.

My attitude is that the shy, the beginning, the quirky, the older-than-me and the female leads are fair game for my invitations, whereas I should wait for the really great male leads, and the confident young whippersnappers, to ask me--or not. There is no point sulking about not being asked; it's a free country, and men can ask whomever they want, or they can go outside and smoke, or they can stand on the sidelines like Mr Darcy and glower.*

As for being interesting to talk to, I suppose that all depends on your environment. One of the great advantages to Edinburgh social life is that there are so many Poles in it, and if you, a non-Pole, say, for example, "Litwo! Ojczynzno moja! Ty jestes jak zdrowie", you will instantly get the Pole's attention, good or bad. Of course, the Edinburgh swing scene is so international, reciting a bit of super-famous Spanish, French, German, Estonian, or Italian poetry could also have the same result I achieved last night, e.g. "That's so cuuuuuuuuute!" In short, tailor your conversation to what other people, not just you, find interesting, e.g. very rarely your job or children. 

 I know I have long recommended dance classes for meeting people, but  people who go to swing-dancing (and tango, etc.) week after week, year after year, go because they love the dancing so much. Making friends is obviously secondary and takes time. To "break into" the social dancing social club, aka the Cool Kids (who might be total nerds off the dance floor, but on the dance floor they are obviously the Cool Kids), you have to be patient and persistent, good-natured, show up week after week, and figure out the unspoken rules. 

Therefore, when you go a class or an activity to "meet people", you should pick something you are really going to be interested in, be willing to work at  (which includes coping with feeling stupid for the first few months) and will stick to even if all the men have girlfriends.

Update: Another guy's eye view. Don't forget my mantra. Meanwhile, that's tango. Don't wear dresses with slits in them to swing. Swing is for the good kids in saddle-shoes. Tango is for those scary sexy people.

Update 2:  Man on salsa. Sweaty backs--who knew? I guessed about the shoes. As soon as I go to London, I am getting proper swing shoes.

Update 3: An interesting and useful quiz for followers.

Update 4: Interesting advice for swing.  Sadly, it is really very hard for me to achieve vintage hair, unless "vintage" means 1970s, in which case I rule. And one of the Coolest of the Cool Girls in Edinburgh is always in perfect vintage make-up, hair and clothes.


  1. Do Catholic men in the UK loathe salsa or Latin dances? I once attended a party, where everyone was devout Catholic and men seemed really disgusted when Latin music was played.

    Yep, the shoes. I agree, they really pay attention to them!

  2. NB. This party was in Poland.

  3. Salsa is a popular option at the University of Edinburgh, and the one guy I know who is really into it is Polish. He is not devout, however. There is a very funny and touching movie about British men and salsa called "Cuban Fury."

    There is also a big tango scene, of course, and I know exactly one church-goer in it. No--two. There's a girl.

    I am not sure how many Catholic men in the UK are involved with partner dancing at all! Catholic men in the UK are a very small minority to start with,

  4. I am a musican, and therefore a good singer but a bad dancer. To me, partner dancing classes sound like they might actually be more torturous than death by a thousand cuts.

    Pearlmusic, what sort of Latin music was it? When it's good, it's very very good, when it's bad, it's horrid. Perhaps the gents were disgusted not so much but the idea of Latin partner dancing but by the poxiness of the music.

    1. Julia, I guess we share the same profession, wow! I am a 'retired' (not active anymore) pianist and academic music scholar & teacher. We'll have to exchange e-mails :)

      Perhaps this was just about quality. I can't tell now, as I cannot remember the music, actually. Just remember it was like: "could you turn that Latin music off?"

    2. Cool! What was your specialisation?

  5. Julia, at first they definitely are. I hated partner dancing classes worse than burns. However, then I made myself do a whole weekend workshop, and at the end I knew enough to know what I was doing and to actually enjoy it. Now I think it must be the whole process of the thing, rather like forcing yourself to speak a second language in the second language environment. For the first few weeks or months, it's hard, you're clumsy and you want to die. And then, because of all your hard work and practice, suddenly you can do it. As a musician, you have a good sense of beat, and that is very very important in dancing!

    1. As a musician, I also have a sense of what it means to do something difficult for months on end with little to no progress to then just suddenly have the brick wall come crumbling down. Let's hope that happens with the Polish music I'm learning right now.

    2. Julia, what Polish music are you learning?! Chopin or...?

  6. I loved latin/ballroom lessons from the first one - but I have always loved dancing lessons of other forms growing up- I wish more Catholics would get into the social dancing scene, as I had never experienced such a situation where the men were men and leaders and the women were women and lovely followers and while dancing together, each has their own steps and role to play.
    It's definitely easier to get a asked to dance as a complete beginner, as compared to an intermediate. I agree with those articles re: how to get asked to dance more, but really, some nights you dance more and some a lot less.
    My general rule of thumb is, don't ask guys to dance, when you are dancing (no matter with what level of dancer) smile, have fun and always always say, 'thank you, I enjoyed that'. Oh and keep on with the lessons, otherwise your 'usual' partners may have progressed out of sight, while you haven't and you can't follow their exciting new steps..
    I have friends who won't even try lessons because they're not comfortable with the level of personal space (or lack there-of). Not as if it's tango, but still.

  7. It occurs to me suddenly that tango is not too wicked for me; the problem may be that I am too wicked for tango.

  8. Meanwhile, it is interesting that partner dancing is such a rare opportunity for women to do "woman stuff" while letting a man do the "man stuff" and it all comes together as men and women strive to do "their stuff" as well as they possibly can, in concert with the other.

  9. I'm so so happy you are loving it!! There are some politics and unspoken rules but overall it is a great community :) Hopefully you'll get the chance to head to an out of town event at some point - that's always exciting and adds new perspective!

  10. Alisha! I hope to go to the big London Lindy Hop Exchange next year, and when I am next in Toronto, I will certainly go out on the town! Naturally there's always Glasgow...


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