The Jig is Up!

Not the way to do it...

Not the way to do it...

In this age where women are aspiring towards an increasing sense of self-determination, is there any relevance to the act of social dancing with a partner? Historically, social dancing played a significant cultural function in the process of selecting a partner for the ultimate purpose of courtship and marriage. Such forms of dancing had a highly structured, formal quality, reflecting the strong connection of the forum of social dancing to the marriage market – particularly in the upper echelons of society, where introductions were made and suitable marriages contracted within the construct of social class.

Concomitant to the gradual breakdown of traditional expectations of marriage and the blurring of rigid social class boundaries, the relevance of structured social dancing experienced a state of demise, particularly since the 1950s. The usurping trend moved towards dancing alone, in an unstructured, spontaneous nature in a nightclub setting, where the primary function conveys an arguably more sexual agenda.

However, the last few years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of the more traditional dance styles, as demonstrated in primetime entertainment such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Such a phenomenon could be interpreted as a desire to counter the uncertainty in contemporary gender relations, by returning to clearer delineations between male and female roles, in an environment somewhat insulated from the shifting nature of day to day interactions.

This analogy, on the surface, may seem theoretical and perhaps strained but I have seen the value in the parallels it presents through the salsa classes I have been attending. In this environment, the rules are clear; the role of the woman is to follow the lead of the man. It is also an opportunity to display the art of femininity in close physical contact with the opposite sex, built around the discipline required to learn and memorise steps. 

I have personally derived a great deal of fun from this exploration – discovering and playing with the subtle variations of expressing feminine sensuality without being overtly sexual. It does us good to revive the lost art of flirtation, where the display of dancing prowess is not – as is the case in the modern club setting – an implied indication of sexual availability. My experience of these salsa classes disposes of that confusion, allowing an uninhibited flow of feminine sensuality, without the expectation of sexual advances.

There is also the additional benefit of being able to switch partners regularly, and in this lies an illuminating parallel to the dating game. It enables you to experiment with different dynamics without any emotional consequences. I have danced with a range of men across the personality spectrum; shy men, bossy men, controlling men, flamboyant men, men who like to draw you close, men who dance with you at arm’s length – the list is potentially endless. This has provided me with an insight to the push and pull of relationships; feeling your way through the aspects of yourself you find flourishing and those you find suppressed, depending on the attributes of the partner you happen to be with.

One partner in particular stood out; in that he was a confident dancer who was able to take the lead effectively. When dancing with him, I was surprised by my initial reaction to resist; as submitting to a man taking the lead felt uncomfortable and even unnatural. My movements subsequently became stiff and I struggled to remember my steps, rendering me unable to just enjoy the dance. This prompted him to wryly observe that modern women find it difficult to allow themselves to be led and gently advised me to just ‘relax and shine’. I couldn’t help but respond to such genuinely given advice and from that moment, I was able to enjoy playing my ‘part’. I left the class with a smile on my face and a playful sway in my hips – fully indulging my feminine side for the mere fun of it.

The episode also left me with some food for thought, leading me to ponder the possibility of not instantly taking umbrage if a man is able to lead – just as long as I enjoy where he is taking me. In negotiating fresh paradigms between the sexes, this is a consideration for both men and women to take on board.


  1. by Keith On May 13, 2010 at 21:48

    Nicely written, interesting. Are we heading towards an androgenous future where our bodily differences will only be significant in terms of sex and procreation?

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