Saturday, June 18, 2016

Are We Too Sexy for this Dance?

Last night I called a dance in Jacksonville FL that was truly inter-generational.  There were folks ranging in age from 6 to 60s (70s?) with everyone dancing happily together.  Isn't that the ideal we've always wanted in the contra dance community?

I've read facebook posts from many communities saying they're losing young people, especially young women, because contra doesn't feel like a safe space for them. I see responses from the older generation (MY generation) saying "flirting is the contra way" and that young people are being too sensitive, or the young people are just using it as an excuse to avoid dancing with older folks. 

Is flirting really the contra way?  Since when?  Well definitely since I started dancing in 1996.  But I was freshly divorced so flirting was a lot of fun for me!  And I considered it "safe" flirting.  I could do it without sending the message I was going home with anyone but myself. 

I think it's time to make adjustments, and as a caller, I want to withdraw my participation in making contra about sex, even "innocent" sex.  A phrase like "gypsy until you can't stand it anymore and then melt into a swing" implies that the sexual tension is so high you just can't keep your hands off each other.  Really?

When you think about it, a phrase like "snuggle-up next to your partner" is creepy if you're talking to a 16 year old girl partnered with a 60 year old man.  "Another beautiful lady coming your way" is not something I want to tell a 7 year old boy about to dance with his grandmother.  Who cares if she's beautiful or not?!  It may not even be a "she" coming your way!

I am using those scenarios as a yardstick to determine how I want to talk to the dancers.  Would I feel comfortable saying that to a small child dancing with an adult?  If not, I say it differently.

If it is true that "flirting is the contra way," do we want to change that? What if it was "community is the contra way."  Callers have a huge responsibility for culture-creation in our community.  We're the ones with the microphones.  If you're a caller, I invite you to examine the language you use when talking to the dancers.  What phrases can you change to make the dance a safer place for all ages?