Specifically, we were partners in a contra dance (a form of dancing where long lines of couples progress up or down the hall, repeating the same set of figures with each new couple. You dance constantly with your partner, and generally once or twice with everyone else in the set.) We were both allowed to touch anyone else in the set, we just wouldn't touch each other. This was a mutual decision based on our own amusement, rather than a spite decision one of us made against the other.
And it was fascinating. I'd previously only witnessed no-hands dancing between very good couple dancers, stepping through a one-step or swing based on very good eye contact and knowing each other very well. I'd never gotten a chance to do it on my own, and certainly not in a dedicated way like this. Of course, my partner is a talented dancer --I would have never tried this with a new dancer, as not being able to give them weight or help steer them would be a huge detriment to everyone involved.
The first thing I noticed was that dancing without hands has to be a little more precise. You don't get the physical cues from your partner that let you know you're in the right place. You have to pay better attention, and you have to adjust your body just a little more to compensate, especially if there's only one non-touching pair. (I refer specifically to things like a circle of four, which benefits from everyone being strong and well-balanced. When there's a broken link, it makes the circle that much weaker.) Most importantly, when swinging with my partner, I had to pay enough attention to pull away myself when I was in the right place. I couldn't rely on my partner steering me to the correct position like I often do.
The second thing was something I was already familiar with, at least in passing. Dancing without touching is arguably more intimate. Because you can't steer with physical cues, you have to do it entirely through eye contact, expressions, gesture, and if possible, verbal cues. I wouldn't dance like this with someone I didn't already know and trust to be a strong enough dancer to keep up. Having to trust someone not to be confused or led astray, paired with having to trust yourself not to mess up can be an enlightening moment --or an utter disaster.
Of course, contra's a lot easier than most dances to do without touch. The steps have already been decided by someone else, so you don't have to worry about leading or following successfully. Additionally in our case, we were still getting the necessary physical cues from everyone else in the line. If neither of us were touching anyone it may well have ben a more difficult dance.
I did enjoy the experience, and look forward to getting to try it again sometime. My mind is already trying to work out a more interesting way to swing when all you have to go on is eye contact --you can get the motions pretty easily, but it's impossible to get the speed without something to anchor against. And of course, I fully intend to get good enough at couple dancing to pull a strong partner around the room by just a clever smirk and a tilt of the head. And if nothing else, touch-free dancing has a wonderful effect on those watching, as the audience tries to figure out just what it is you're doing, and how much you've practised.
She is very much a historian. She spends her time looking through ancient dance manuals and resources, reconstructing dances that no one has done in two hundred years, and getting every small detail as perfect as she can. For her, accuracy is the chief goal. She is trying to bring back to life dances no one has touched in years, and she wants them to be as exact a recreation of the nineteenth century experience as she can get. This results in very precise footwork, arguments over hand-holds, and endless repititions of figures as we try to figure out how the great dancemasters would have split setting-traveling-setting1 over eight bars.
And the dances she teaches are beautiful, and exciting, and accurate. I've been to some of the balls she's hosted, and it's a joy to watch a room full of period-costumed dancers whirl through a period-accurate dance.
But I can't do that.
I am too dramatic, and too distractible. I want my dancing to include flourishes, I want to show off. I want to be silly, I want to goof-off, and I want to do whatever is the most fun over whatever is the most accurate. Most importantly, I want to take the good pieces out of every dance form, and put them into other forms. My perfect dance has the intimacy of a waltz, the flirtation of Scottish Country, the solos and fancy footwork from Regency, and the mindbender from squares. And most importantly, the gender(s) of the people dancing doesn't matter a whit to what role they start (or end!) in.
Perhaps the simplest example of this comes from my favourite couple dancing group, hosted down in Maryland. At Oella, they dance a lot of vintage dance forms, to a lot of modern music. Sure, you can get period music for some stuff (or have it recorded, as my historian friend does), but there's a lot of great modern music that just happens to make a good waltz, or one-step, or even schottische3. Dancing the dances I love, to the music I love? What could possibly be wrong with that?
Ultimately, the two of us are just going to have to work around each other. This is where that ever-important relationship skill of "communication" comes in --knowing whether a dance will be strictly historical or a looser interpretation beforehand will help the dancers adjust their expectations. If it's really important to you to have mischief, you can ignore the historical sector. If it's really important to be accurate, skip out on the more ridiculous balls. For me, it's not particularly a problem --I like dancing, and helping her to create accurate dances ensures that they'll be around for the next generation of dancers to enjoy.
And for her? Well, I'll limit my compulsion towards doing the macarena during boring set dances to cases when it would be amusing rather than insulting. Chaos is fun, after all, but only when it's controlled enough to keep the dance coherent. If I combine my differing dance ideologies and come out with something less than the parts, I will consider myself to have done something wrong.
1: I'm not actually joking about this. I think we did eight bars of dancing at least a dozen times, going back and forth between "set for 2 bars, travel for 2 bars, set for 4 bars" and "set for 4 bars, travel for 2 bars, set for 2 bars". (No one liked my suggestion of "set three, travel two, set three"2.)
2: For good reason --I tried dancing that and it was horrible in every possible way. Don't set for an odd number of bars. It's terribly awkward.
3: I have been told quite firmly that Sweet Home Alabama is not _actually_ a schottische. I continue to be unsure of this fact, and think you just need a pairing willing to do a damn fast schottische. Any volunteers?
When I learned of this nonsense, I knew immediately that I should be a part of it. So I promptly signed up to teach some classes in Cross-step waltz, and then forgot all about it until today. Since Splash is this weekend, I've chosen to spend today frantically coordinating all the various bits and bobs I need. Never let it be said that I am organized about my instruction.
As it is, I've settled things down some (with well over 24 hours to go!) and now have a pretty good sense of what I'll be trying to teach, and how I'll be trying to teach it. Best of all, I've spent the day ferreting around the internet, googling every possible combination of words to get myself some cross-step music that won't be, well, boring to me or my students.
Hopefully, I'm ready for this. I'll try and remember to post back with a report, or at least a list of the songs I used and how well they worked. And if this goes at all reasonably, well...I have dreams for dancing in this city, and being able to teach people some little things fits in well with those dreams. But that's a post for another time...
Please, when trying to indicate that people dancing the same role should be facing each other, use just that terminology. Do not say "someone of the same gender". Do not say "someone who looks like you" (although that's at least good for a laugh). Say, if you must, "gents face gents, and ladies face ladies" but if you do, don't follow it with some sort of 'humorous' disclaimer aimed towards someone who appears to you to be dancing on the incorrect side of the floor --you do not know their motivations, and they may be in entirely the correct place.
Just say "face someone of the same role". It really is that simple. It gets the point across, and no one has to wince as you assume a gender for them. No one has to feel hurt or insulted that you called them a gentleman or a lady or called them out for being in the wrong place. No one has to gnash their terrible teeth and stay politely silent because it's just not worth it to speak up.
"Someone of the same role". It would make those of us who's dance-gender and real genders don't necessarily line up a whole lot happier.
For those not in the know, the Regency Assembly is a big formal ball recreating the dances and traditions of the Regency era --roughly the Napoleonic war, or "when all those books by that Jane Austen chick were written". Regency dancing is not the most popular dance form I do (that would be contra) and as such, there is an unfortunately small fanbase. The Assembly is one of the only chances we get to come together as a group and party. It's the time when you show off your gorgeous new clothes, your delicious new recipes, and your awesome elaborate new dance moves.
I am preparing for it by stressing out, and wishing I had realized it was so soon so I could make a better pair of breeches. And stressing out more. Regency dancing is particularly fraught for me, because it's one of the only dance forms in which I only take one role --that of the gentleman. I prefer to dance gentleman for several reasons, but one of the big disadvantages lies in that I find the role to be more restricting than that of the lady --both in clothing and in partner choice.
The restrictive clothing should be obvious: as a gentleman wearing proper period menswear, I am wearing four layers above the waist, not counting the bra or (for the more serious or endowed) binding. If that weren't exhausting enough, the neck should be swaddled by two of those layers, and wrapped quite thoroughly in a cravat. Huzzah for clothing that literally keeps you from turning your head!
As for partner choice, there is a certain degree to which ladies in a dance hall, especially of the vintage variety, get more freedom in choice than the gentlemen do. Because Regency dancing is typically skewed to feature more ladies than gents, the ladies are free to dance with each other, safe in the knowledge they are unlikely to be depriving a gentleman of a partner. It makes me sad to limit my potential choice by half, but it's a sacrifice I accept in exchange for some of the other freedoms of playing the boy.
At any rate, I intend to be there in my dashing dark blue tailcoat, attempting to keep my swearing to a minimum, and not set anyone on fire. This is a _formal_ event, after all. If you're there, do say hello, and if you're in Boston and want to come along, let me know --it's a dreadfully dull trip by myself, and my carriage has space to spare.
And so a few months ago, I let myself get pulled into a rounds dance, by one of the more proficient leads. He led me through the steps, giving verbal instruction for the things that couldn't be easily steered with hand motion, and well...the inevitable happened. I enjoyed myself. Hey, it's dancing, and in case this (poor, neglected!) blog wasn't a tip-off, I really enjoy dancing.
So that happened, and after it had happened once, well. I let it happen again. Not often, mind, but every few weeks, or months, I'd let myself get partnered with someone who can lead, and have them push me through the moves. And because I'm a good follow, I could do that. Theoretically, I could do that forever, just throw myself in the arms of someone talented when I'm at Tech Squares and want a dose of couples-dancing.
That's not actually how I dance. Ever. I don't think there's a form in the world that I could only do one role of and be totally content. And so I had my first dose of actual rounds instruction on Tuesday1. I learned a whole single waltz, from the lead position, with all the little components that comprised it. Huzzah!
My first reaction remains one of uncertainty: while strictly-following any couples dance feels about the same, properly leading a rounds dance, and doing all the called moves, is just downright *strange* in comparison to the rest of couples dancing I've done. I think part of the difference is that rounds dancing is a much more performative dance than most other couples dancing I do. There's a lot to it that involves pointing and posing, transforming the dance from just between you and your partner into something involving an audience as well.
Rounds dancing is also a lot more...frantic, for lack of a better word. I am used to, when setting my own pace as leader, being able to take time for myself or my follow to regain our footing and get back into the groove of the dance. Rounds dancing doesn't give you that time to refresh --there is no "basic step" that you return to in between doing flourishes. The whole dance is fancy footwork, and it can easily be overwhelming. (I treat it the same as DDR: when I get lost, stop, pick an upcoming point, and re-start there.)
I think I'm going to keep trying to learn, though. I still don't think of it as couples dancing in the sense I'm used to, and I might never, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. There is waltzing, and there is rounds-waltzing, and both are dance-forms I tentatively enjoy.
Plus, and this is important, rounds dancing is teaching me new moves to do as a leader. It might take some effort to translate them from the middle of a sequence to the middle of an unstructured dance, but learning new things to do as a lead is always a valuable experience in my book. I already have an advantage going to rounds dance that I have a lot of practise with keeping my footing steady to the beat. I might as well have an advantage to bring back to more typical couples dancing as well.
1: This is where I admit that my timing was awful --I am not going to be in town for the next two Tech Squares night. No more rounds learning for me, at least not until next month or something.
In Square Dancing, I have begun to learn the Advanced level1. We just finished A1 last week, and presumably in a couple weeks will start A2. Huzzah for us! There are new difficult calls, and some really really interesting concepts that I don't get to enjoy in the regular Tech Squares group, which runs strictly mainstream/plus.
The most useful of these is the "As couples" signifier, which the caller can use to preface any call which is normally done in groups of four or fewer2. The dancers will then perform the call as though each couple were a single person dancing --no problem at all for someone who's spent a lot of time dancing gemini3, and is used to being half a dancer, and a lot of fun as people pivot around each other frantically.
And in Scottish Country Dancing, I spent a week at a delightful dance camp called Pinewoods, where I had four classes in Highland step dancing. Highland is a performance dance, the first kind I've learned (discounting the ballet classes I took when I was six and seven), and involves bouncing. LOTS of bouncing, with very precise footwork, and intricate flailing of the arms.
I'm sure there must be a proper Highland class somewhere in the Boston area, I just need to find the beast, and see if there is time in my tight schedule to participate. I'm already dancing three nights a week, every week, and I'm hopefully about to get a job in the real world, and lose a bunch of time there.
At any rate, it's nice to be back to the beginning level, sometimes. While I love the joy of dancing and knowing just how to go, there is a particularly delicious challenge to learning new things --and a particularly satisfying smugness when you get them right. Perhaps I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for more opportunities to broaden my dance repertoire. You know. In my copious amounts of free time.
1: MWSD levels run thusly: Mainstream; Plus; Advanced: A1, A2; Challenge: C1, C2, C3
2: I assume. Someone can feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
3: Gemini is when two people stand tight together, each with their outside arm available, and behave as one dancer --the left person being the left hand, and the right person being the right hand. I really need to create a glossary. And/or a post talking specifically about this.
Especially when the terminology references role in a form of dance you enjoy, and you write passionately on the subject of dance and role and gender on a regular basis. Then it's both disconcerting and a little embarrassing, and means you have to go off and revise your opinion of certain terms.
To wit, I have been using the Modern Western Square Dancing terms "beau" and "belle" incorrectly for almost a year now, a fact which only came to my attention now that I'm learning the A1 level, and there are calls where the correct definition becomes relevant. See, when I first heard the terms, it was as "beau is the person on the left (typically male), and belle is the person on the right (typically female)". I assumed that they were referring to the roles --whether you had the left role or the right role.
I was wrong. The terms beau and belle specifically mean person standing on the left at that moment, and person standing on the right at that moment. Meaning if you have a gender typical couple, who then sashays (switches positions), the woman will be the beau, and the man the belle.
I've spent a little bit of time thinking about it since then, and I've come to decide that this is actually totally brilliant and acceptable, especially if you dance in a group as devoted to queer dancing as Tech Squares. It's a little frustrating to have one more thing to keep track of --in a square dance, you need to know whether you are a boy or girl1, whether you are a head or a side, and now whether you are a beau or a belle-- but it opens up opportunity for more complicated strings of calls, as it simplifies the calling from "person on the left, do this" to "beaus do this".
Also, looking back to my previous entry (four months ago in April, gak!), it seems like Pi-nerd has already explained this to me, and I just completely put it out of my head. Oh well. Now that it's something I have to worry about, it'll be easier to learn the concept. I would love to see it called more often in the Tech Squares mainstream/plus group though, both to give everybody more practise in keeping track of what identity the are right this instance, and because I think the terminology is elegant.
1: Starting-beau or starting-belle? It's not completely gender-free, and god is it clunky, but it's at least trying.
Then it comes time to describe the roles in a set dance, and my tongue stumbles. Lead and follow are no longer accurate descriptions, because most of the time, neither person is doing anything of the sort. Relabeling the gents as leaders simply starts to reinforce the leader/male, follow/female dichotomy that I'm specifically trying to avoid. And so the problem remains: In a set dance, you are one of two roles. How do we label these roles?
The words I've been using are "lady" and "gent", for lack of anything more recognizable1. Most of the set dance forms I do label them along similar lines. The least gendered role names come from ModernWesternSquaresDancing, where the technical terms are "Beau"(gent) and "Belle"(lady). Still gendered, albeit in a more archaic fashion, and unfortunately unused --I almost exclusively hear the words boys, girls, men, or ladies when calling one role to do something specific.
Riffing on my footnote below, I suppose a movement could be started to refer to the people on the left as the Lefts, and the people on the right as the Rights. Two things make me hesitant however --first that both words are called often to refer to hands or directions and second that a good number of dancers seem already unclear on the difference between left and right, especially when presented quickly. Saying "first Left turn the second Right by the right then turn the third Right by the left" is a technically accurate instruction for Scottish Dancing, but it becomes a parsing nightmare as the dancers try to work out what hands and people were indicated above.
I could, of course, use the above when writing here, and it wouldn't be problematic at all --I'm only rarely giving instructions to dances in this blog, after all. However, just finding good words for me to use is only a small part of my problem. I really just want something that can be universally used across dance forms and halls to indicate who's who, without attaching gender to the role.
I suppose the best current solution exists in some of the gender-free contra halls I've been a part of, where the dancers are divided into "Bands" (or "Beads") and "Bares". The people on the left are given bright ribbon to wear as armbands, or mardi gras beads, clearly marking them different from those with bare arms or necks. This is certainly the most well implemented solution, in that not only do the dancers understand who is who, but the caller is able to actually call moves one role or the other, without having to use gendered terms. Unfortunately, the practise seems limited to the contra communities, which make the words less appropriate to use universally. Not because I don't think the terms are excellent, but again, because they wouldn't be recognizable except to that particular crowd.
The conclusion of this post is that, unfortunately, I don't _have_ a conclusion. If there *are* easily recognizable names for the two roles in most set dances, I haven't heard them yet. The choice is two-fold, currently: either attempt to degender the terms Lady and Gent, at least when regarding dance roles, or attempt to bring new vocabulary into dance forms that may very well not see any need for it at all.
Seriously though, this is why I ask my partner what role they want to dance. Because then the onus of choosing a name for the role falls to them, instead.
1: Recognizability is _key_. I could easily declare that the people on the left of the hall when facing the music are the "glucks" and the people on the right are the "shoobs", but unless I'm willing to preface every following post with an explanation, the words are essentially meaningless.
On a semi-related note, should I start keeping a calendar of events I did or am going to?)
I have mentioned before the existence of a mischief maker at Tech Squares. He's a charming sort of boy, who can get away with being a smartass because he absolutely knows what he's doing, where he's supposed to be, and generally where everyone ELSE is supposed to be as well.
And so he leads the rest of the club into mischief, whenever he can find people willing to indulge or join. Recently, this manifested in a square containing him and me and six others of our ilk, all club members during a class review tip1. Accidental on our part --we were what was leftover after everyone else formed squares-- but not altogether a bad situation, especially as the evil smirks began.
"Snap switch?" the mischief maker innocently suggested, and it was quickly determined that everyone was amenable to the idea. After all, there were no newbies to confuse, and the moves called were likely to still be simple enough that everyone would easily recover from any missteps.
Snap-switching, in Modern Western Square Dance, refers to meeting another dancer's eyes, raising hands, and snapping your fingers. The effect is that the two of you have now switched places, and you complete the move, and the rest of the dance, from your new roles. Most often I've seen it happen between one couple, or between one couple and their facing couple. This was the first time I'd ever gotten to dance in a square where everyone was receptive to snapping.
It took very little time at all for our square to reach the ridiculous, as snaps started occurring at every possible point. The pinnacle was when the caller began calling a series of pass-throughs2 and our entire square responded by snapping through each one --rather than the tedious motion of walking all the way across the square, we would smirk, snap, and simply turn around.
This prompted me to start thinking of the situation in terms of a game, somewhat of a competition between the caller and the dancers. You may technically snap-switch for any move, so long as you end in the correct place. But for many moves, the only movement required if you snap-switch is to change your facing direction --pass throughs and trades especially.
So what happens if you set up a square in which each dancer's goal is to move from their spot as little as possible, as started to happen with us? It would require a firm working knowledge of the calls, and of where one was supposed to wind up, but it could lead to an interesting sort of chaos. I suspect it's less workable as you move from Mainstream into Plus, but it could be a cute game for an experienced square that was feeling more than a little lazy.
At the very least, if I can add some polish, it might be worthy of inclusion with other interesting Square Games (very few of which I've gotten to do yet!)
1: Tech Squares is divided into "class members", people who are currently learning the calls from Mainstream and Plus, and "club members", people who have already learned those calls. During class season, the night is usually divided into alternating club and class tips (dances), the latter of which alternate between "review" and "teaching". Review tips are nonstop dancing, teaching tips alternate between dancing and learning new moves.
2: When two people facing each other simply walk forward, passing right shoulders, to end in the other person's place, still facing their initial direction.
(As a complete aside, I must also offer my amusement at the idea of snap-switching ones way through a right and left grand. Rather than walk halfway around the set, one simply snap switches with each subsequent person, changing yours and theirs direction, and merely turning around rather than move. Sheer elegance in its simplicity.)
Dancers like being swishy.
I don't mean in an effeminate, limp-wristed, gay-stereotype sort of way (though I'm sure there is overlap). No, dancers really like it when they can do a swing, a twirl, a flourish and have their garments swirl out around them. It's a neat visual effect, the way the cloth moves, the rush of wind as something breezes past. Oh yes, dancers like being swishy, a lot, and that predilection is not at all limited by gender, role, or dance form.
Of course, there are certain types of dance that encourage it more than others (or perhaps it's the opposite correlation, perhaps forms develop more twirl to them when the dancers wear more swish). The kilt, as worn by dashing Scottish Country Dancers everywhere, doesn't just serve as an emphasis to a well-toned calf. It also provides incentive to keep your moves crisp, for optimal hem-swish. When a friend first got his, he remarked that it was suddenly easier to dance well --making the kilt twirl just so seemed to be the purpose of many moves that he hadn't quite instinctively gotten while he was still wearing pants.
Contra dancers seem to thrive on adding twirls, to every move they can, including (as far as I can tell) the twirls! On the one hand, it makes for a dizzying dance. On the other, it's a great excuse to wear full-circle skirts and watch the hems fly. I've never attended a contra where fewer than fifty percent of the dancers were wearing unbifurcated bottoms, and at some bigger events, that number creeps to seventy or seventy-five!
Even the less instinctively twirly dances encourage the wearing of garments that are kinesthetically pleasing as they move about the body. Oh sure, a lot of vintage lady'swear is hoops and bustles, with enough hardware beneath the skirt to ensure total rigidity. But what do you think the purpose of a tailcoat is? It's not just designed to get in the way when you sit down --tails look splendid during turns, which is quite satisfying to the more vain among us.
There are other good ways to get that visual blur as well. Beads and fringe of flapper dresses. Tiny braids or hair worn loose past the shoulders. Scarves, ties, cloaks and coats. A varied enough crowd of dancers will have all this and more, because let's face it, having your accouterments fly out around you is both visually pleasing and just damn fun!
So grab your skirts, your kilts, that excellent dress or perfect pair of tails. Let down your hair and let it fly. Spin like you've never spun before, until the cut of cloth through air becomes audible to all around you.
Just remember to wear a really cute pair of underwear. Otherwise, it gets a bit embarrassing.
I am not alone.
It's a reassuring thing to note sometimes, when I get stuffily told "I only dance trad1" or glared daggers at for coaxing my male-gendered partner into the typically female-gendered role. I am not alone, I remind myself, when I'm told that gentlemen do not dance with other gentlemen, that a female-sexed body in male formalwear counts as a woman, and other women will feel "cheated" if they have to dance with me rather than a real man.2
I am not alone, and perhaps more importantly, I am not alone in any dance form I do. It is not that certain dancers are a safe haven for me to play with gender and roles where others are not. No, I'm remarkably lucky in that every dance form I've tried (admittedly, mostly throughout liberal New England) has held allies. Not everyone. Sometimes not even a majority. But it's a lot easier to put myself out there when I know one-two-a-few other people present who don't think the gent's role is strictly for males or the lady's role strictly female.
Lots of female-gendered people dance both roles, simply to make up for the gender imbalance on most floors. I know several male-gendered people (and at least a few female!) who like trying the opposite gender's role, simply for the challenge, to keep their skills sharp. I once met a woman at a ball who had grown bored of dancing with inexperienced partners, and so now dresses and dances the gentleman's part specifically so she can have first pick of the experienced ladies. I've an excellent friend at Tech Squares who's been teaching me how to snap-switch (trading roles in the middle of a figure, back and fourth several times during the dance) specifically because he likes to promote "mischief"3.
And of course, then there are those like me. People whose gender doesn't line up with the binary. Boys who would simply rather dance with other boys, and girls who much prefer partnering with other girls. Gender-queer, sexuality-queer, plain ol' dance-queer. We're out there, and we're clever enough and organized enough (be it through the internet, queer-flagged dance events, "indicators"4, or just straight-up announcing "hi, I'm Kat, I dance both roles") to find each other, look out for each other, and yes indeed, dance with each other.
So hi to the person who changes from a street-casual woman-in-a-dress to a dance-formal man-in-a-tailcoat. To the one with the shaved head and twirly skirt who beamed when I asked if they had a preference for role. To the pair of gentlemen old enough to be my grandfathers, who I see at contras wearing skirts and holding hands and very much in love. Hi to the people who are gendered like me, hi to the people who dance like me, hi to the people who are willing to support me.
You are all awesome people. I'm glad I'm not alone.
1: Trad = Traditional --a man in the gent's role, a woman in the lady's. Don't worry, I had to ask too the first time I heard it.
2: Which is problematic for loads of reasons above and beyond just being unwelcome to someone who is a good dancer (yes me, I'm egotistical like that) and is trying to get more people out and about on the dance floor. Smacks of homophobia, and is awful for me as a not-always-female-gendered mind in a female-sexed body. I know I'm not good enough at being a "real man". You don't have to remind me.
3: This is the same troublemaker who organizes the hexes each week of squares --and half of the reason I got pulled into my first hex (dancing gemini --side by side with another person) after only learning three dozen calls or so.
4: T-shirts or buttons with declarations of queerness. Rainbow bracelets or bangles. Male-sexed bodies in skirts, and female-sexed bodies in tailcoats. Not every indicator is accurate, and certainly not every queer person uses them, but it's sometimes nice to flag yourself to your certain subgroup.
That's only one form of dancing with yourself, though. There's another way to dance by yourself, and that's to close the doors and draw the blinds and clear out a space of your very own. Put music on the computer, the stereo, the ipod. Listen to it, and dance.
There are similarities between club dancing and solitary dancing. The movements are oft the same, flailing arms and legs, shaking hips, jumping and bouncing and twirling around. But solitary...solitary I can shake off even that last pervasive edge of people thinking I look like an idiot. I can move by myself, and I can move for myself. That's important, moving *for* oneself. It means I'm not afraid to get a little silly.
I was doing it some last night, having a melancholy evening filled with Vienna Teng. Her song "Between" is actually an excellent waltz, or cross-step waltz.. I've danced it by myself half a dozen times since the last time I was lucky enough to have a partner. It's becoming one of those songs, where you know every line and note and chord, that you just don't want to share anymore. Cross-step can be adequately danced alone --you just have to not fear swooping a little more than intended.
I also danced to her song "The Tower", which I had never danced before. This is the really interesting part of dancing all alone, to random songs from my 10k+ collection. What kinds of movements get paired with what songs, and with what moods. It's not always the same, after all.
The Tower surprised me by being sharp. I found myself moving in ways reminiscent of the two years I spent doing kung-fu --no actual figures or forms worked into my dance, but the flow reminded me, the quick steps, the give and take of the arms. I'd like to dance it again, to see if that's always the case. Ah, but finding a space where I can dance alone is not always easy --sure the stage at school works, but not if the auditorium is locked, or full.
I always feel different after I do it. It heals, it stabilizes, and yes sometimes it reopens old wounds. Regardless of the mood in which I start, and the mood in which I finish, dancing solitary always makes me feel whole, feel like myself and only myself. Not too shabby for some made-up moves strung together on impulse.
1: Technically I believe they were meant to be fans. But they looked like jellyfish! And tasted delicious.
2: I later talked to at least one other --the reason she provided was that she went to so many balls that were so female skewed that this was the only way she could be sure of A) getting to dance at all and B) dancing with good dancers --there is a lot more choice available to gents than to ladies. It was neat to talk to her though!
Easily the most frustrating part about being dancequeer is constantly having to come up with rebuttals against all the justifications and explanations and reasons why I shouldn't dance across genders, or why I shouldn't dance with other men/other women1.
I consider many of these to be bullshit --I refuse to even bother arguing with anything that smacks of homophobia or trans(queer)phobia-- but every once in a while, someone comes up with a justification for my dancing "normal" that I am actually willing to entertain. One of the most understandable of these is the idea of "think of the newbies": When you dance cross-gender, especially if your partner is also dancing cross gender, you lose the convineince of "go to the lady's side of the dance" or "trade places with the gentleman you're facing".
I understand what it's like to be a new dancer. It's confusing to remember who stands where, and when, especially when it's not consistent. And I believe in extending every support possible to new dancers, to keep them excited for the danceform. After all, if your new dancer finds themself easily confused or frustrated, they'll be less interested, less likely to return.
But only to a certain point, and that's where it gets difficult. Where do we draw the line between "new dancer, who should be coddled" and "experienced dancer, who can deal with wackiness"? I am willing to make the sacrifice of dancing "normal" in order to help out people who have never danced before. I'm willing to make the sacrifice for people who have only danced once or twice. But where does it end? Most dance forms don't have magical level tests you must pass to determine whether or not you are "experienced", and even if they did, experience from skill level is very different from experience from time spent doing the form.
Additionally, is it misleading to dance normal for a new person, especially in a group that doesn't regularly do that, or has a regular population of ambidancetrous or rolequeer2 persons? After all, the status quo for that specific population is to have certain people dance against the norm. If they all dance normal for newbies, then will the newbies be more confused when suddenly people start switching roles again?
Tech Squares, at MIT, seems to have struck a fair balance, in part by dividing their dances into club-only --experienced dancer-- tips, and teaching, or class tips. In the club tips, a little more excitement happens, people dance in hexes instead of squares, or snap-switch places and roles in the middle of a dance, as well as just relax a little more about what genders and roles they are. Because newbies are often present, they get to see that this is a regular thing among the club, but they aren't overwhelmed while actually trying to learn the figures themselves.
Additionally, I've found the population of Tech Squares to be very good about naming their gender when the call requires it. "Boys run around the girls" is often met with the person next to you declaring "boy" as they run around you, to save confusion, just like Load the Boat has people declaring "inside" or "outside" and complex partner-switching figures leading to the person returning home informing their new partner "side" or "head". This provides an excellent cue, and helps direct dancers, new and old, to where they need to go.
It's a hard balance, and most places I've danced aren't nearly as well-arranged to meet both the needs of the new dancers and the dancequeer dancers. So I request advice --how do you easily mark out to those who might otherwise get lost, which side of the dance is which?
 I use this structure specifically to cover instances when I am dressed as and dancing as a man (which I do at Regency events) and instances where I am dressed as and dancing as a woman (which I do at SCD and other formal dance events)
 In case it's not very obvious, I am making up words for this blog as I see fit. I use queer as a non-pejorative term to mean not normal, specifically in terms of dancing your expected role for your apparent gender.