Just a Dance


July, 2016

Last night, my husband and I went to a couples dance class.

Now, the dancers among you already know it’s nearly impossible to think about anything else when the cogs inside your brain are whirring and swinging and tapping, really trying hard not to fuck things up.

We had fun. We laughed. We didn’t think about our jobs for an entire hour.We played along with the roles of Leader and Follower.

As the Follower, I felt like the stereotype of the small girl, the pretty smiling one with the dainty step. The strong hands of a man guiding me. Felt the silliness to giggle at my missteps and the need to explain myself. I felt the male gaze on my low cut top and the feeling of safety that a man was in control of the dance. And somewhere, lurking in my subconscious… that he must like me if he wants to take charge.

Part of me liked it because that’s what I’m conditioned to like. And another part of me revolted.

I felt the definite tendril of dissent bubbling in my veins as I was being pushed around the dancefloor by someone else, someone who by the very nature of the dance, was claiming power over me, simply because he wore a penis and I did not.

It troubled me and I wondered if I was overthinking it.

My ego thought so and was saying “It’s just a dance! This has nothing to do with equality. Get over it!” So, I applied the acid test. Is this the feeling I want my daughter to feel when she is dancing? To have a man’s hands on her back shaping her into the What She Is Supposed To Do And Be mould?

The little quiet voice was asking lots of other awkward questions too:

Why is it that the man always leads?

Why is it that the woman must follow?

Why do the men stand still while the women move around the circle dancing with each male partner, having to share so much of herself?

Why does a man politely check in with the husband first before asking his wife to dance?

Why is it expected for the woman to say yes when a man asks her to dance?

Why is it okay for a woman to consent to be touched by a stranger’s sweaty hands?

Are those hands okay so long as it’s in the vicinity of a dancefloor?

I felt a pang of guilt when I said “No, thank you” to the Strange Man Stranger when he asked my husband if he could dance with me.

“I don’t want to dance anymore” I lied, and I had to back that up with a flurry of urgent activity to leave the building and out into the rainy night. You know, to prove my supposed point.

Actually, I would have quite liked to stay, to watch the others on the dancefloor and try and understand this peculiar custom.

At first glance, it seems like the men are in a privileged position. But they also have to take on the disadvantages of that position – they don’t get to meet and socialize with other men.

And as young children watch their parents dance, I wondered if these dancing norms start shaping their behavior into competitive, gendered, power plays for heterosexual coupledom?

Perhaps I’m worrying about nothing. That it has no reflection on the culture we are living in today. That couples dancing is not about power at all. In which case, no one would have any problem if we switched roles. The woman could lead while the man followed.

Argh! Noooooo! My brain exploded with frantic screaming.

“That isn’t right!”

“Men always lead!”

“They are in charge!”

“Stop trying to be difficult!”

And that old chestnut “For women to be liked, they must be subservient”.

I raged.

There, there Empress. Get it out. Get it out.

The realisation that this sort of conditioning is so subtle. That it takes strength and courage to listen to that tendril of dissent, to sit in the uncomfortableness and then follow the breadcrumbs to see where they lead.

The realization that this particular dance genre was not the empowerment I’m searching for as a woman approaching 40. And sure, it might empower other women and all credit to them – they need to do what they feel is right. But I want to feel free, to dance with abandon, to feel my own blood coursing through my veins first. Then to reach out and touch another if that suits me and only if I really, really want to do it. And no surprises here, only if the person I’m touching really, really wants me to touch them too.

This morning as I go about my day a little bit stiff from last night’s shoe-tapping swinging, my dream is for everyone to always move freely.

May we always enjoy our birthright of dancing however we feel like it, with whomever we feel like and wherever the Music Muse leads us.

May we only ever have our movement defined by our desire and our physical capabilities, and may that never be dependent on our gender or on what lies between our legs.

Yes! Let it become so and in that process, may it become Just a Dance.


Rhea Dempsey is a Birth Attendant with experience at over 1000 births. She is passionate about supporting the birthing Primal Woman during a crisis of confidence.

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