Today, I saw a video shared on Facebook. It was a girl dancing to a Bachata song with a guy. She and her partner were clearly having fun. She was also using a fair amount of twerking within the context of the dance.
The person who had shared the video did so with the intent to illustrate how “inappropriate” the girl’s dancing was. The insinuation was that how she was dancing was disrespectful to what Bachata really is, and that people shouldn’t be allowed to dance like that.
This particular video brings up more than one very difficult issue that we currently are grappling with in dance communities today:
- “Share-Shaming” dancers we have never met using videos;
- Appropriation and fusion of various dance forms;
- The “Just-Woke-Enough” advocate;
- How we view women who dance in a “too sexy” way for our liking; and,
- How to maintain a civil debate with people who hold opposite views.
At the outset, I would like to stress that this is not a comprehensive document that explores these topics. Rather, it is an overview based on my thoughts, opinions, and observation of this video, my subsequent interactions with the poster, and other cases I have seen or engaged with.
1 – “Share-Shaming”
Share-shaming is not new. Whether it was the Isolations demo by Leo and Becky that went viral for just being “too-sexy isolations” (taken out of context and shared by non-Zouk communities) or videos of amateurs just having fun, share-shaming is something that happens.
Usually, people will not share-shame a video that includes a person they know. Why? Because they realize it will hurt the other person’s feelings, and they usually have more context and therefore do not judge it as harshly.
It’s much easier to press share and speak badly of a person when we don’t know if they’ve ever seen it, or even with the idea to “punish” that person for doing something “wrong”.
I’ve made this mistake too. A while ago, there was an “Arthur Murray Zouk” video. I had to take a good look at myself and my intentions when it was posted; I certainly agreed that it didn’t look like or represent Zouk. My feeling was that the “professional” in the video should not be holding himself out as one, but I had nothing against the “amateur” in the video (after all, she didn’t hold herself out as representing what Zouk looks like).
But then I thought about it more… that pro. What guidance had he gotten? Does he realize how far departed he is from this dance’s basic structure? Would I have share-shamed him if I knew him, or offered a conversation and advice about why this was uncomfortable and difficult for the community to stomach?
Arthur Murray has a very poor history with regard to appropriating and changing traditional dances (“Only Arthur Murray can take a sexy dance like Brazilian Zouk and make it classy”, anyone?). But, it wasn’t the man in that video. He was not responsible for that. But, he carried the weight of the Zouk community’s disdain for daring to be the pro in that video.
As a community, we need to re-examine how we interact with videos we disagree with. It’s one thing to post a video and say “the way that they do ___ illustrates the issue I have with this practice in the dance. It feels disrespectful because of ____”. It’s another to say “Omg. This is so trashy and stupid. Wtf. They need to be hauled off a dance floor ASAP.”
One is a critique. The other is shaming. Let’s be better than that.
2 – Appropriation and Fusion
Appropriation and fusion is a very, very complicated topic. But, the strong feelings that stem from these concepts often fuel the rage that gets channeled into shaming (another form of punishing or getting vindication for our views on what is “right”).
Appropriation is something we need to continue to grapple with. The use and repackaging of cultural entities by largely white cultures with a strong colonial past is very problematic. Even if you enjoy those repackaged forms, it is worth listening to and considering the complaints brought forward by people from those cultures when they see something that says it is their dance, but looks nothing like it.
This appropriation exists in almost every single style. And, it’s very difficult to extricate what is appropriation vs. simple evolution; fusion vs. a repackaged product. It’s emotional, and highly contentious. It has economic and social ramifications, and often intersects with racism.
But, the conversations about appropriation and fusion are best done without shaming specific people – especially amateurs. There’s an element of ignorance and a lack of education; people who are average social dancers don’t know the complexity of dance history. They went to a class, learned a few movements, and are trying to enjoy it. The burden on appropriation and fusion lies more with the professionals and scene leaders; they should be expected to know and appreciate the history and evolution enough to watch how they engage with the art form – particularly if they’re culturally distant from the form they practice.
One thing is certain: you won’t constructively educate the average dancer by shaming them in a video. You may cause them to quit, though.
3 – The Sexy Woman
Very often, the subject of this ire is a particularly sexy woman. It’s really, really easy to mix her up with the appropriation debate because policing women’s bodies and sexual expression is another issue we continue to deal with.
Further, this policing of perceived sexuality (or “inappropriate” dancing) is also mixed with a hearty intersection of racism, given that many of the more “provocative” styles (dancehall, twerking, and some afro genres) are the origin of some of the “sexual” movements (in the white, western eye). To top it off, many of those “sexual” movements are then performed by white women in the context of other cultural dances.
Even movements that don’t come from a specific cultural dance can sometimes be seen as “too sexy”. For example, “too many” or “too sexual” body rolls, dips, or isolations.
This is where we need to stop and consider a few things:
- Are we considering this movement inappropriate and disrespectful because it’s sexual (to us) or for some other reason? (for example, lack of skill*, etc.)
- Is sexuality actually disrespectful to the origin of the dance? (many dances come from an origin of flirtation or courtship, where sexuality did, in fact, play into the culture of the dance – even if it could also be non-sexual and done between partners with no sexual desire for one another)
- Would we be adverse to this sexy movement if it was the male lead being the more visibly “sexy” partner? (are we unfairly taxing the woman for being sexual, where a man would just be a show off?)
- If it’s not about the movement being “too sexy”, what is the reason it offends our notion of what that dance is?*
* Keep in mind that if it is skill you are worried about and not the type of movement, this is a different type of shaming (aka – shaming someone for not being “good enough” to have fun/show off).
** If you argue that they’re appropriating the movement or dance, you better know what the context is. These aren’t appropriate allegations to make in the absence of context when it comes to specific movements, except in very specific circumstances – and it’s still very often better to not go the public shaming route when it has occurred. There are much more constructive ways to handle the matter.
This leads me to the next issue: the Just-Woke-Enough Advocate.
4 – The “Just-Woke-Enough” Advocate
This isn’t to shame an entire group of people. There are many people who usually display great insight who may have a particular blind spot.
A just-woke-enough advocate is often someone who has read some of the literature, and/or is surrounded by people who are very good at expressing outrage about injustice – but who are not adequately able to consider where they fall short. They’re “woke” enough to accuse other people of appropriation, sexism, racism, and all else – but not able to seriously consider their own motivations when people challenge their views.
And, any challenge of their opinions or views reads as antagonistic, inciting, or trolling. (Telling the difference between an actual debate and reasonable challenge and trolling/antagonistic behavior can sometimes be very difficult)
Before you point fingers: almost all of us have been this person. This includes me. There are articles from almost a decade ago that I removed from this blog because I was not considerate of the impact they had on specific groups at the time I wrote them. In some cases, it took me a long time to be willing to examine why.
A good clue to this is whether you react defensively when someone points out something about how you’re interacting or what you’re saying. It’s really easy to say “I’m not racist! I’m not sexist! I’m not homophobic! I’m not appropriating! You don’t know me!”
I will use an example from a conversation today on the video I mentioned. I said that I didn’t think it was right to shame the girl in the video for how she danced. I also said we lack the context, and it doesn’t appear that she is holding herself out as a representative of Bachata. I asked why it was disrespectful to Bachata that she dances that way, and suggested that if the poster had no issue with other Bachata fusions, this might be indicative that it is the sexual nature of the movements that makes it seem disrespectful – which would be shaming her for her provocative movements.
The short version of the response I received is that I didn’t know the poster, she wasn’t slut shaming, and that it’s disrespectful to Bachata (no reason given). I was also called an instigator for pursuing the matter, and told I was shaming the poster for having an opinion.
I get it. It’s difficult when a person pokes at a post that you shared. The gut instinct is to get defensive and shut down any suggestions that the share was in any way inappropriate. This is even more common when a person considers themselves awake to issues. It’s hard to consider that maybe you hurt someone in the exact ways you struggle against – or that the impression you gave is exactly opposite of how you strive to be perceived.
However, I think that when we do this, we lose the ability to see and examine our own biases and shortcomings. That defensiveness is the exact antithesis to growth. The hesitancy to engage with questions posed at us about our motivations and ideology (and that maybe, just maybe, we aren’t as “woke” as we think we are) is understandable and normal.
That is exactly why we must be so proactive in dismantling our own defensiveness.
5- Civil Discourse Online
I’m not going to play the “free speech” card here. Why? because it doesn’t apply. Free speech is only in regards to censorship by the government, or prosecution by the government for speaking your mind (with narrow exemptions for things like national security or hate speech).
You’re allowed to say whatever you want on your profile. You’re allowed to post whatever you want on someone else’s, if they’ve enabled commenting. They’re also allowed to delete whatever you post, and ask you not to post anything else.
Of course, people are also allowed to think you’re a horrible or wonderful person because of what you say. Your words, shares, and comments have power – and they directly affect how others see you.
My policy is that if I wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, I don’t post it publicly online. I have a weak spot for online debates, but I truly try to do my absolute best to have them in a constructive way. I also continually try to examine where I’ve fallen short of my aspirations or could do better – whether with regards to the Arthur Murray Zouk video or otherwise.
I urge you to adopt the same. Keep an open mind and a cool head. Do your best to recognize when you’ve come across poorly or in a way that is not in line with your intentions. Fix it – or at least do better the next time. Apologize. Acknowledge where you could have done better or made yourself more clear. Examine where your own biases and judgments are.
It does wonders for your reputation, the feelings of others, and the promotion of civil discourse.