Couples dancing is easy to degender. All you have to do is stop calling them the gentleman and the lady, and start calling them the lead and the follow. I've seen plenty of heteronormative dance halls do this already, because they're simply more descriptive titles anyways --it's pretty clear from names alone what the "lead" and "follow" do in a dance.
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.