Wednesday 2 December 2015

Dusting Off the Shoes

Today is Artistic Wednesday, and I must praise the committee of the Edinburgh swing-dance society I fled earlier this autumn. Depressed by the snobbishness of the society, particularly the evil LEADS, I decided not to spend another penny of household income in lessons and workshops. As regular readers will recall, I was late in dropping out of the last workshop, so I got a nasty phone call from a male stranger.

Now, this next part is genius. This is how you win friends and influence people.

Feeling irate, I emailed the committee to tell them that I had had an angry phone call from a member of their team and please take me off their list.

The committee emailed back to say they were really sorry and the individual responsible would no longer be on the team. They hoped I would come back as I was a valued member of the society. I recognized two of the three names signed to the bottom of this email, and I remembered that they are friendly women, one particularly cheerful and kind.

I was a bit taken aback that the chap was leaving the team (surely not because of my email?), and I giggled at the idea that I was a valued member of the society. Although if I have learned anything from the Leads, it is that I am not a valued member of the society, I felt flattered all the same.

So I wrote back to thank the committee for their email and to explain why I was not coming back. I had met many great women, and a few nice men, but the power imbalance between the Leads and the Followers, exacerbated by the local habit of women asking men to dance, was just too much. Also nothing marginalizes Beginners more than group dances like the Shim Sham, which are never taught, for we have to stand back looking on wistfully while the Advanced folk take to the floor.

(I learned all the power imbalance and marginalization lingo at theology school, and it is very useful for talking to university students.)

I expected nothing but a cold silence, for who was I to tell them how to run their society, eh? But to my amazement, I received ANOTHER email from the society telling me that I was right about the power imbalance, and how they had come up with a Code of Etiquette in which to train up new Leads, and as there would be a workshop on the group dances this coming week, they were inviting me to attend for free.

At this point I thought, Holy guacamole. Maybe I am a valued member of the society! 

So I wrote back to tell them that  I would take them up on their invitation and, what's more, throw in the £3 for the social dance. There are, after all, two or three chaps there that I enjoy dancing with, and sometimes a fellow Canadian turns up who is happy to talk to anyone.

Of course, I am not convinced that I want to go back to spending my Wednesday nights smiling away and saying "Oh, good job" to a pack of male dance snobs. However, I must admit that the committee really care about winning and keeping new members in their society. And that you really do catch more disgruntled flies with honey than with vinegar.


  1. Ooh, do tell more about this power imbalance story. I have been going to tango for NCGs&NCBs on and off, and it's very interesting. I've tried to keep Seraphic principles in mind and also learn to "listen" as a follower, which you may guess has been a learning experience but one I'm glad for. However, while I wish many fellows were stronger leads, a couple of fellows seem to think that being the leader means getting to push the follower around. This is disappointing, but also interesting, as I noticed that a couple of my friends who are about 5 years younger than me considered the most stubborn and pushy fellow a great lead. It's possible I'm less tolerant, but I think it's more that I have more confidence.

    The other interesting thing is that it doesn't have to be a "loud" (physically) lead to be effective! One of the best partners I had was essentially the dance version of soft spoken, so I had to "listen" better, and we had good communication through it.

    Fascinating experience, dance. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to it for the Christmas milonga. :-)

  2. I am not even sure where to start, for all my old misgivings about partner dancing have come roaring back! Before I really got into swing-dancing, I thought of it as a man pushing a woman around a dance floor. Now I think of it as a woman begging a man to push her around the dance floor because it's so much fun when you actually figure out what it is that he wants her to do. BLAH!

    Hopefully Alisha will chime in to save the reputation of swing. If the two people dancing really like each other, and rehearse together, I am sure it is fantastic. For example, there are some happy dancing couples who are regulars in the swing-dancing scene. Unless they are really gregarious or really fast learners, I don't think I would recommend that married women take up swing-dancing without their husbands--and do husbands ever want to take up swing-dancing?

  3. Oh that's great news! Excellent thinking on the marginalsation lingo - if it's a university based group it probably meant the bad leaders had to suffer for their sins with a 350 comment pile up about safe spaces on the fb group.

    As an aside, I wanted to let you know that the BBC 1 series Capital (which is quite bad overall) has some nice opportunities for Polish oral comprehension, one storyline features a standoff between two polish builders working together on a renovation project. Includes a memorable scene where the NCB [nice Catholic builder] tells his philandering colleague, 'Women are not fitted kitchens, you cannot return them to IKEA if you keep the receipt' haha!

  4. I am glad that they are teaching etiquette to new leads. Surely it one of the first things they should learn! Follow etiquette would be good to teach too really. I know that you have had bad experiences with leads - but I appreciate that it is very difficult for men to stick to dancing long enough to become decent at it without being humiliated by a visibly bored and impatient follow.
    When I was learning to dance in Major Canadian City, one of the first things we were told, by the male lead teacher who looked sternly about the room as he said this, was that if anything goes wrong, it is ALWAYS THE LEAD'S FAULT. Also, the lead's principal job is to make the follow look good. If he can't adapt to a follow's level and manage that, that is HIS problem.

  5. I've always wanted to dance like Fred Astaire or Michael Flatley but I was no good because of my big feet. People kept tripping on them. I even tried ballet but that failed too. Whenever I stood on tiptoe my head hit the ceiling and brought a few tiles down.

    God bless.


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