Swinging Both Ways
Posted May 24, 2012on:
There are probably some who are going to glare at me for saying this, but one of the things I love a lot about the swing dancing scene is how gender-bending it is.
With ballroomier styles of partner dancing, seems to me that people are a lot more locked into old-fashioned gender roles. Men lead, and women follow. Men wear pants, and women wear dresses. One man, one woman, period.
But with swing dancing, men lead and follow. Women lead and follow. And not just instructors. Many of us swing both ways. Frequently you see two girls dancing together; not infrequently you see two men. Lots of times you see a woman leading a man. There just isn’t enough sexual innuendo in swing dancing to make this either provocative or creepy (depending on how you look at such things).
Furthermore, there’s some question about whether leading-and-following is necessarily the best way to think about these roles. Often it’s more like suggesting and responding, on both sides. There’s a lot more conversation back and forth. Among dances where partners actually embrace each other, this aspect seems unique to dances along the swing/blues dancing continuum.
As for dressing according to gender-based dictates, now, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen a man swing dancing in a dress. But it’s completely within the swing aesthetic for a girl to dance in jeans, even at the most prestigious of dance events. Whether she chooses to dance in a skirt and heels, or in jeans and sneakers, seems to depend mostly on how vintage-y she’s feeling that day. And swing dancing is the only kind of dancing I know of where heels and sneakers are equally acceptable for women.
This is a big part of what makes swing dancing such a joyful thing for me. There’s a nostalgia about this music and this dancing, and it doesn’t just have to do with nostalgia for the mid-Twentieth Century. It also taps into a nostalgia for childhood, the days when we weren’t women or men, just kids playing together. Swing dancing doesn’t feel like romance to me nearly as much as it feels like play.
I know I’m grossly overstating things here; swing dancing certainly can be romantic, provocative, and, yes, creepy. And my lack of information about other dance traditions must be perfectly obvious. For all I know, Viennese Waltz may be just as gender-neutralizing as Collegiate Shag. What do I know?
Well, I don’t, really. I’m just throwing it out there. What do you think?