Question: What do all the following scenarios have in common?

  1. A follow is encouraged to walk off the floor if their lead unintentionally executes something rough. The lead is also called an “idiot” by the advice-giver.
  2. An advanced dancer is told that they’re selfish for dancing several times with their favourite dance partner.
  3. A scene leader is told that they’re self-centered for not giving more to their community.
  4. A girl gets rejected for dances because she wore something “too revealing.”
  5. A lead gets excluded from a social dance competition because he’s not “devoted to dance enough” for a competition where follows vote for their favourite social dance lead.
  6. A follow gets told by a lead that he’ll partner her if she “loses 20 pounds.”
  7. An aspiring instructor gets ostracized by local scene leaders.

Answer: They’re all true stories that have happened to people I know. And, they’re all mean.

The Myth of “Friendly Dancers”

Dance communities are wonderfully friendly to those of us who are lucky enough to exist on the inside of the friend circle. I still love the dance community. I think it’s a wonderful and welcoming place. But, I also think it is important to recognize that they may not be welcoming to every person who enters.

This doesn’t mean that dancers are particularly unfriendly. On a whole, we’re generally welcoming. But, we certainly don’t have a perfect record. There are still individuals who spread negativity within scenes. There are people who think it is appropriate to be mean to beginners who aren’t “working hard enough.” And, there are people who perpetuate the examples I gave above.

Most importantly, most of us will (at some point) be mean to a fellow dancer – whether we want to admit it or not.

Intentional, Passive, and Unintentional Meanness

Not every remark that is mean is intended to be so. But, that doesn’t make it less mean. However, I’d say that the majority of mean remarks are intentional – even if unacknowledged, or claimed to be unintentional.

Intentional Meanness

If the intention of a comment is to chastise, shame, humiliate, demotivate, cow, or embarrass, the comment is intentionally mean (even if the advice or request is reasonable or constructive).

Many times, the speaker isn’t honest with their intention. It’s very human to gain a feeling of superiority when we ‘call out’ something someone else has done. This can feel good, since the speaker feels they appropriately “punished” the “offender.”

But, many times, a person who says these things may say that it was “for their own good,” or “to protect others.” In my opinion, this is usually a way to cover up a need to feel superior, or anger at a person. While the speaker may say that it’s because “they care”, a reasonable communicator who cares will also care about how their message is felt and received.

Intentional meanness can also be talking badly about someone behind their back, where such talk causes others to think poorly of or ridicule them.

Passive Meanness

Passive meanness is when you see something that you can help fix, that you know is impacting another person, but you choose to let them suffer anyway.

For example, I once saw a girl who had a dress that rode up and revealed her thong. Near me, a bunch of dancers were pointing and snickering. None made a move to tell her that her dress was up.

I decided to tell her. She found a friend, who had double-sided tape to hold the dress down. After this, a guy came up to me and said “Why did you tell her? Now I can’t enjoy the view.” Later, he followed up with “Well, she deserved having her ass out. No one wears a short dress with just a thong.”

Sitting by and enjoying “the view” because a person “deserved it” is cruel. Who knows why she didn’t wear shorts? Maybe she forgot. Maybe she was new. But, it isn’t a license to do that.

Passive meanness also includes exclusion tactics, where a person is iced out of the scene because they don’t ‘fit’, but no one actually makes comments about them that are ‘mean’. For example, refusing to acknowledge a person.

Unintentional meanness

Unintentional meanness is when a remark is delivered with an honest intent to help, but is communicated in a way that causes the recipient to feel bad.

I stress honest intent here. Regardless of whether you consider yourself ‘blunt’, a ‘poor communicator’, or ‘awkward’, this only applies if you honestly did not desire to cause the recipient to feel bad.

And, even if you are a ‘blunt’ person, an honestly unintentionally mean remark will carry a feeling of guilt after it is delivered. It will also carry with it a desire to communicate better, to avoid causing that hurt in the future.

“But someone has to say these things!”

Well, absolutely. Someone needs to tell the painful dancer that what they’re doing hurts. And, that person can choose to be mean or kind. They can choose to call that person an “idiot”, or they can recognize that the person probably doesn’t want to hurt people. So, instead of yelling “Dude, stop f***ing winching my arm!” and walking off the floor, they may say “Hey, that hurts. Please stop.”

Of course, if someone tries to be kind and their words fall on deaf or defensive ears, then it becomes appropriate to stand your ground and/or walk away. But, this shouldn’t be the first reaction.

Types of Meanness

Although there are more than the types listed here, the most common ‘types’ of meanness that I have witnessed in the dance scene are power trips, moral meanness, selfish meanness, and vengeful meanness.

Power Trips

Sometimes, mean behavior is the result of power trips. The mean individual may have a feeling of fear, jealousy, or insecurity about something new, changing, or threatening. So, they may try to shut it down.

This can happen at organizer level, but also at the level of social dancers. And, it can kill the mojo of some of the most promising new generation dancers.

It’s hard to let go of those feelings. But, if you see it in your community, encourage the people struggling with jealousy or fear to let go of the meanness. Encourage them to practice acceptance and inclusion. Try not to pile on the bandwagon and tear the new person down. You’ll usually have much better results trying to support the upcoming individual, than trying to suppress them.

Moral Meanness

Sometimes, we attach our own personal morality to others. For example, some more conservative scenes may denounce women who dress “too sexy.” That may parlay into an assumption that the woman is trying to “entrap” the good leads, and take them away from the other “more deserving” women.

It is tempting to make these judgements, but they’re frequently inaccurate and cruel. They’re based on an external opinion we have. Sometimes it’s based in dance culture. Sometimes it’s based on personal values. But, whether a girl wears a backless top, a guy wears a skirt, etc, it doesn’t mean that person is bad. They certainly don’t deserve to be treated poorly because of it.

Selfish Meanness

Sometimes, we may begrudge an advanced dancer who dances “too often” or “too long” with certain people, and is therefore being selfish.

The irony is that these things are frequently ruled by selfishness on the part of the person doing the judging. It is fine to have a personal code to not dance too long, too many songs, etc. But, it is a bit selfish to say that they should abide that code so that people like them have a chance to get something they want from the “selfish” person (for example, a chance to dance with a pro).

Once again, some people do have trouble admitting that this is what they want, and put it under the guise of “but I am saying this for everyone else; I’m fine.” If you truly are fine, spend your time facilitating those people you think need kindness – rather than judging the people who aren’t living up to your code.

Vengeful Meanness

This is the person who calls others an “idiot”, or criticizes a dancer for not trying hard enough. This comes from a place of anger, where the meanness is a form of ‘just desserts’ for the target.

While it can lead to a feeling of vindication for the person who ‘puts them in their place’, it is highly detrimental in a community where the vast majority of people aren’t trying to actually be irritating, hurtful, or rough.

The best way to counteract angry meanness is to approach each undesirable trait as unintentional until proven otherwise. Lead was too rough? Try a kind verbal correction first. They refuse to listen or fight? Then they’ve proven an unwillingness to listen, and it’s time to stand your ground.

In Conclusion

Meanness is something that dance scenes can struggle with. It can be overt, or it can be simple exclusion. It doesn’t mean everyone who has been mean is a bad person. In fact, most of us have been mean at one point or another.

But, we can make a conscious decision to try to stop the behavior. We can practice conscious inclusion and kindness – and try to make up for when we have been mean. And, we can kindly help others who have a ‘mean streak’ to understand how they’re hurting (instead of helping) the dance scene.

While, on a balance, our scenes are generally more positive than negative, we should be aware of behaviours that alienate, ostracize, or hurt our fellow dancers. The only thing we stand to gain from this awareness is an even better community.

If you have thoughts on the article, please feel free to leave them below.