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I just finished listening to a very powerful video from Kizomba Harmony’s Billy Myles. It focuses on the rape culture underpinnings of many dance communities – and I have to say I agree with almost every word.
This man wasn’t the first to start opening the issue of rape. However, Myles’ influential status gives him a very strong platform to wrench the lid further off the proverbial can.
But, I’m not here to re-hash what this man said so brilliantly in this video. I’m here to talk about why what he did is so very important to the dance community.
Many social dancers place our communities on a pedestal. We view them as wonderful, loving, community-oriented places where everyone can be themselves and find joy. We prefer not to look at the dark corners.
How do I know this? Because every time I write an article about a ‘dark corner’ topic, I get people reminding me about ‘how good we have it’ – and ‘how good’ dancers are. And, sometimes it’s true. There are amazing people in dance.
But, we’re not that good. We’re not a superior group of people who are magically exempt from issues of the real world because we happen to dance.
On the contrary, our communities are a microcosm of the larger world, tied together by one thing: dancing.
That’s it; that is literally the only thing that ‘defines’ our communities. Some people dance because they simply love it so much. Many are also there to meet people or to stay in shape. And yes, there is a small minority who dances for nefarious reasons.
Dancers include people from virtually every walk of life. From hardcore conservative Christians, super-liberal social justice warriors, misogynists, feminists, jerks, kind people, poor people, rich people. The list goes on.
This means that we have the same problems as the rest of the world.
Because our communities are on a pedestal, we hesitate to shine light on our bad parts. I’ve lost track of the number of people who don’t want to talk about ‘drama’, or don’t want to ‘scare people away.’
So, they don’t talk about the problems lurking in our dark corners. They don’t talk about rape, theft, assault, abuse of power, drug and alcohol use, and depression (to name a few).
Yes, these topics are dark. And yes, they may scare some people away. But, not dealing with the issues does far worse things than open condemnation.
For example, there was an event where several first-time congress girls were groped on the dance floor by ‘professionals’. When I talked to the girls, they told me about the experience – and how they didn’t think they’d be travelling anymore.
Why? Because they thought this behavior was normal.
Just think about that: when we don’t talk about the things that shouldn’t be happening, newcomers who are exposed to that behavior think that this behavior represents our community. Is that really the impression we want to give people about our world? I reckon that will do a lot more harm than talking about the issues.
Most serial killers didn’t start by killing someone. They ‘scale up’ to the behavior over time.
The same happens with almost any type of bad behavior. The first time is the ‘hardest’. After that, subsequent incidents tend to become both more severe and ‘easier’ to commit. This includes bad behavior in dance scenes.
When victims of poor behavior are shuffled into corners and silenced to preserve reputations or prestige, we allow these behaviors to flourish. The perpetrators of bad behavior become drunk on power – even though that power is only evident in the dance scene.
Further, future victims become less likely to speak out. They may either mistakenly believe they are alone, or feel like it won’t make a difference anyway.
Most of the reports I’ve seen of bad behavior come from anonymous sources, influential individuals, or people who have left the dance scene. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s intrinsically linked to having less to lose, or the clout to be believed.
If we want to expel the shadows, we need to face the issues. We need to talk about (and condemn) them. Turning away and pretending it doesn’t exist won’t work.
If you are a dancer who prefers not to think or talk about the issues, you are enabling the behavior. You are the ostrich that sticks their head in the sand.
That doesn’t mean that you need to be on the front lines – or that we should (as the video puts it) ‘witch hunt’ based on unsubstantiated stories. Or, that we need to make a hard-line decision without all the information. But, you owe it to our wonderful community to not ignore the bad parts.
What Myles did was shine a light squarely on a major issue within our communities. They have chosen not to ignore what goes on in every community – not just Kizomba.
In 2017, let’s think about illuminating our dark corners. That doesn’t mean we have to forget about all the brilliance and wonder – it just means we need to take off our rose-colored glasses and exchange them for clear ones.
I’m ready to see these changes happen. Are you?