Why Men Don’t Understand Sexism In Partner Dancing


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Can women be prejudiced against men? Sure. Can minorities be biased? Yup. But sexism/racism (or any other "ism") isn't only about bias! Rather, "isms" are about bias + power. So no, I'm sorry, biased or not women do not have the same power in society as men nor do minorities have the same power as majorities. Ignoring this profound difference is the luxury of being in a socially privileged position.
Wrong. Degree of power has nothing to do with isms. Like saying spousal abuse only happens with men hurting women and not the other way around.

Abuse is abuse, racism is racism, and sexism is sexism regardless of the perceived power of the perpetrator relative to that of the victim. And wrong in any case, whether or not the harm is thought to be greater or smaller because of the perceived power imbalance.
In my personal experience I have not experienced sexism in dance. Quite the opposite actually. I personally really like the more traditional gender roles in partner dancing. I lead because I teach but I would always prefer dancing with a man than a woman. I have had some great dances with women but for me it is not the same.
There are many places in life where I have to take charge, its nice that on the dance floor I can follow a lead and still feel strong, sexy, creative, expressive & feminine.
I love to improvise and have never received any complaints or funny looks from my male partners, on the contrary, they enjoy it! Never have I felt lesser than on the dance floor because I am a girl.
Sexism is a serious problem for women on a daily basis but on the dance floor? Nah... I think women need to ease up and let men be men.
I think feminism gets pushed too far... Of course I don't want to be discriminated against because I am a woman but I still like my doors opened, chair pulled out etc...I like to feel protected by a man...Next guys will be afraid to flirt because its "sexist" :p
And BTW I love dips;)


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Frankly, I found the article to be overly feminist, overly sensitive tripe. I'm going to have to come back later when I have more time and break it down bit by bit.

I will say that sexism absolutely does exist, in all aspects of society. It pisses me off. It also exists in dance. I just disagree with a lot of the ways the article pointed out.


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A lot of the sexism depends on the community of dancers that you're apart of. I've been places that almost every asks everyone else to dance so in large part the sexism doesn't stem from partner selection bias. Some of the attitudes though can be terrible though but a lot of it has to do with the role of the lead, which are typically done by men, versus the follow. I was following this lady and she kept giving me teaching moments when in all honestly she couldn't lead worth a damn. Hell I've even had follows try and correct me on how to lead that were just starting out.

A lot of the sexism in the dance world stems from societal roles genders play. Most of the problems that get perceived as being sexist are simply people being assholes or not realizing the skill level or comfort level of the person they are dance with. For example if you notice that someone doesn't take hijacking well then don't hijack, if someone doesn't take dipping well then don't dip them, if you see someone that hasn't danced all night ask them to dance, if you haven't danced all night ask someone to dance. The most important thing you can do while social dancing is to accept that everyone has a different style and are at different places in their dancing. Try an accommodate your temporary partner as much as possible. Don't keep spinning someone and get mad when they stop spinning because they're getting dizzy. Don't hijack beginner leads or leads that aren't comfortable being hijacked.

I don't like SJW but I'm sure everyone here can be in agreement that sexism does exist in the dance world whether you agree point by point with the arguments in the article.


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My biggest issue with the article kind of flows from my reaction to the idea that it's a bad thing to refer to people by their roles. When I refer to "leads" or "follows", I'm trying to chip away at the idea that the roles are inherently gendered. Sure, sure, in practice they heavily are. But they don't have to be. The author seems (at least to my reading) be wanting to fundamentally redefine the roles. And maybe that would make sense for lindy - I'm not particularly well versed in that style. But for ballroom, at least, I feel like the roles are a fairly reasonable distribution of responsibilities. I'd personally prefer to preserve the roles while making them a bit less monolithically gendered. Of course, the biomechanics of hold favor the taller partner being the lead. And becoming truly proficient in both is hard. So I think things will always skew in their current direction. But things could be better than they often are.

As far as 'ism's go, Steve's definition of racism and sexism as being bias+power is a fairly standard academic one. I had a professor in college who distinguished between racism and racialism where the presence of power was the differentiator. That's a somewhat non-standard definition of racialism, but the basic idea is a distinction that I think has at least some value. (He also broke oppression down into four categories - personal/institutional and direct/indirect. Those are also distinctions that I often find valuable to think about. That fourth quadrant can be darned sneaky.)


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1) Referring to men and women as their dance roles.

When trying to understand sexism, calling men and women leads and follows (respectively) adds a layer of obfuscation.
Um, no. It has nothing to do with obfuscation and everything to do with talking about the role and not the person. It has to do with respecting those people who choose to learn the opposite role—it is inaccurate and insensitive to say “Men need to do this” when there are women who are also leading and, admittedly more rarely, men following. It has to do with efficiency—quickly and clearly referring to one group of people so they know who the teacher is talking to.

There are two jobs in partner dancing: leading and following. Each has their own skill sets, responsibilities, and problems. If a leader is not leading, they are not doing their job. If a follower is not following, they are not doing their job (you can often be creative in your interpretation while still following) It has nothing to do with the genitals of the person doing that job.

Labels get a bad rap. Yes, sometimes a label is bad. Other times, it’s an accurate and efficient way to refer to someone. I’m a woman. Woman is a label. There is nothing wrong with that. It defines me because that’s who I am. If I wanted to be referred to as something else, I’d let you know. If I’m leading, call me a leader. If I’m following, call me a follower. Or call me Jennifer. I really don’t give a crap as long as I know you’re talking to me.

Inability to imagine what sexism feels like.

White people can hardly imagine regularly being followed by cops. We can’t imagine being denied housing based on the color of our skin. We absolutely can’t imagine having 10% of our brothers incarcerated.
I’ll be fair here and quote a part I did agree with. Men claim sexism doesn’t exist because they haven’t dealt with it. Some have. It’s really easy to dismiss something you don’t understand or haven’t experienced. I have experienced sexism and it’s annoying and frustrating.

And now a bunch of stuff that is so typical feminism that make you look just silly when you say it, and my responses. I will agree that SOME men are misogynistic jerks who just want to look good on the dance floor while pushing women around. However, in my 20 YEARS of social dancing experience, I can honestly say I have run into very few of that type. Most are more concerned about being fun to dance with so women will want to dance with them.

You’re expected to be submissive to your opposite-sex partner. What you wish to do is not as important as what your partner wants.
Most leaders, IME, want their partner to enjoy herself. He also wants to enjoy himself. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about what she wants. Maybe he’s trying to give her what she wants. Maybe he doesn’t know what she wants. Maybe he doesn’t know how to do what she wants. However, he is the one making the decisions because only one person can drive at a time. Imagine driving a car with two steering wheels. It would be a mess. However, IME leaders like it when their partners improvise a little, as long as she gives the lead back so he can do his job. If you hijack in such a way that throws him off, he can no longer do his job.

You wouldn’t reach across the conveyer belt and ring up your own groceries while your cashier stands there looking dumbfounded. You wouldn’t push your physics professor aside and deliver his lecture. When you become a dance follower, you agree to do a particular job. Let your counterpart do their job. If you want to lead, learn to lead and dance with people who have agreed to follow.

This is all consensual. Being submissive is not necessarily a bad thing. It is actually very freeing because someone else is making the decisions for you. You have your responsibilities, they have theirs. This is not a load of crap as she says somewhere in the article. Maybe she doesn’t find it freeing because she’s too caught up in her feminism and sound bites that cry for equality. Maybe she just doesn’t like following so she should lead instead.

You’re taught that your creativity is entirely dependent on what your opposite-sex partner allows.
Soooo….it’s not ok that this is the case when you dance with the opposite gender, but it’s all sunshine and rainbows when you dance with the same sex? Again, either you agree to the job of follower or you don’t. Learn how to be creative in a way that doesn’t disrupt your partner doing their job, at least not excessively.

In fact, there are times when you are told you are expressly allowed to get creative. AT has moments where a good leader allows his partner time to do an embellishment. In cha cha or salsa, shine position allows both partners to freely do what they want.

You get dirty looks from your opposite-sex partner when you’re experimenting with creativity.
Again, would this be OK from a same sex partner? No. It’s either bad manners or expected because you’re not letting them do their job, and now their enjoyment of the dance is hindered. Is your enjoyment more important than theirs? Why is it OK for you to be uncaring of their needs?

Your opposite-sex partner does the same move over and over again until they can make you do it.
See above re the whole “opposite sex” thing. How dare your partner not know more patterns or want to drill something until they get it right, or want to give you the chance to try it again? He should be the perfect dance partner so YOU get what YOU want out of the dance!

Yes, sometimes it’s annoying. That doesn’t mean it’s sexist.

When your opposite-sex partner can’t get you to do what they want, they use more force. Often this is uncomfortable.
That’s just bad leading and again has nothing to do with gender except that he might be stronger and therefore more willing to cause discomfort than a female leader (although I’m pretty strong, too). Or maybe you’re not doing your job and he’s trying to make something of the dance and doesn’t realize he’s making you uncomfortable. The better you do your job, the better he can do his…or maybe he just sucks. But female leaders can suck, too. And so can followers.

Some opposite-sex partners grasp your wrists or other body parts to get more control.
Like, OMG! Same sex partners do that, too! There are certain moves where it is easier to grab your wrist. As a leader, I occasionally do this because it gives me more control during a move the follower might not be familiar with. She can get upset about it because I’m “controlling” her, or she can look at it as a way to get a clearer message. Personally, I like to look for positive reasons something happened than negative ones. I have no problem being led by the wrist or guided by a hand on the shoulder if it means I have a better understanding of what I’m supposed to do. That goes for me in real life, too.

You don’t get asked to dance again when your opposite-sex partner can’t get you to do what they want.
Well, God forbid someone not want to dance with someone they don’t enjoy dancing with. How dare they?

Remember what I said above about consent? You don’t want to follow my lead? Fine. Don’t consent. Do whatever you want the whole song. And I can choose not to consent to dance with you again. Funny how people complain about getting equal rights but don’t want to give them.

Your opposite-sex partner dips you uncomfortably or dangerously and expects you to enjoy it.
Getting tired of saying it: opposite/same. You get it. Again, this is bad leading and has nothing to do with sex except the leader assumes they are strong enough to hold you up. They probably think you do like it because so many women say, “Dip me! Dip me!” and it looks so romantic in movies. Maybe it’s sexist to assume all women like it, but really your complaint here is the discomfort/danger aspect. You’re not complaining that he assumes you like to spin or do twinkles or cross-over breaks.

Your opposite-sex partners use mistakes as condescending teaching moments (even when you’ve been dancing for a decade).
So is it ok when a woman does this to a man? Nope. And it happens ALL THE TIME. This is bad manners and a lack of social grace, no matter your gender. You can call it sexism if you want, but since it goes both ways I don’t think it belongs in a list of how women are oppressed.

You receive significantly less attention in classes, which are mostly taught by the opposite sex.
Ugh. First of all, the leaders have more to learn, often have a harder time learning it, and their mistakes are more costly. Why would you not want them to get more attention, especially since some of the things you complain about are due to ignorance? Choose one. Either you want them to be better leaders or you want equal attention in class. Yes, the teacher needs to make sure the followers learn their part. But as long as you get what you paid for, does it really matter if it takes the leaders longer to get what they paid for?

And the “mostly taught by the opposite sex” part…seriously? Most of the teachers at my studio are women. It varies by studio and I’d venture to guess that in most cases it has nothing to do with sexism.

Above all, you are criticized and/or belittled by the opposite sex for pushing back against gender disparities such as the above.
And also by your own gender, because you are setting us BACK in our cause by making inane arguments. Come up with some better ones and maybe you won’t be dismissed. Maybe you still will, but at least your argument will have integrity. Fix your own house before you expect others to fix theirs.

3) Defensiveness against impending change.
I won’t quote all the parts in this section. I will agree that “that’s how it’s always been” is a poor reason for anything. I hate that response when I ask a question. However, when someone comes into their first dance lesson (or first month or even first year) and tries to challenge a system that’s evolved for over 100 years and works well for the many, many people who have been doing it for generations, that is also poor logic. Do your job for a while, learn it well, do it well, and then if something really isn’t working, see about changing it. But personally I think the vast majority of partner dancing works really darned well.

And yes…if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Or find a way to do it that makes you happy. Learn the opposite role. Only dance with the same gender you are. Or dance by yourself. But if you’re going to go around crying sexism because of misplaced feminist values, I can’t support you.


Staff member
Wrong. Degree of power has nothing to do with isms. Like saying spousal abuse only happens with men hurting women and not the other way around.

Abuse is abuse, racism is racism, and sexism is sexism regardless of the perceived power of the perpetrator relative to that of the victim. And wrong in any case, whether or not the harm is thought to be greater or smaller because of the perceived power imbalance.
Actually, no. Abuse by definition depends on power... which is exactly why it is power + prejudice that makes an "ism" more than a bias. As JudeMorrigan has noted, this is pretty basic as far as academic scholarship on the topic, so feel free to respond if you want, but personally I'm not going to participate in any more back and forth on this.


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If you want to do partner dancing well, you have to respect and be emphatic to the person you're dancing with. A lot of the sexism in partner dancing is a lack of respect. A lot of leads can be extremely disrespectful and pompous ***holes.
Sure. Followers, too (with respect being a key factor), in my experience.

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