Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Same-Sex Ballroom Dancing

Laurie and Debbie say:

Coming up right in Debbie’s home town of Oakland is the California Dreaming Same-Sex Dancesport Classic, including the “spectacular dance show ‘Love and Marriage.'”

butch_femme women dancing

The first thing we noticed is how much fun the people in the pictures are having. Second, of course, it’s clearly the time to be celebrating same-sex marriage in California (and don’t forget to vote No on 8!).

But there’s more to be said than that. Ballroom dancing is historically an extremely romanticized heterosexual activity, with very clearly delineated male and female roles. Of course, you can’t tell from these pictures whether these couples are even couples off the dance floor, and if they are, whether these are roles they play for the dance or live out in real life.

butch-femme men dancing

Nonetheless, mimicking romanticized heterosexuality, for the short term or the long term, can have consequences. More than 30 years ago, when Debbie was first meeting Lesbian couples, she remembers clearly people reflexively asking “which one is the man?” a question that is often completely inappropriate. One of the delights of same-sex relationships is the opportunity to re-invent roles to suit individual situations. (This can also be done in heterosexual relationships, of course, but the weight of cultural tradition means it is perhaps harder in a het context.) Also, of course, a couple can look like they’re in gender-traditional roles and something much more complex and genderqueer may be happening.

Gay, straight, bi, trans, and/or more complicated than that, we all carry the weight of gender expectations with us, and it’s not at all surprising that same-sex couples can be drawn to culturally gender-defined patterns (or patterns really close to the canonical gender definitions). And that’s terrific, if that’s what both people want. The cardinal rule of relationships is “Whatever works.”

That being said, there’s a lot of nasty cultural weight in those canonical divisions: we can’t really lose the history of men owning their wives, and thus owning their children, or the history of women being required to have the patronage of a man. We can’t even lose the much more recent history of men as breadwinners and women as homebodies. So there’s a risk to choosing those stereotypical gender definitions; they may come with baggage the couple didn’t expect to be carrying.

This is a lot of weight to put on a one-day dance competition, especially one that has a good many non-gender-stereotyped photos in its slide show. And, at the same time, these pictures are worth a thousand words.

We wish everyone involved in the Dancesport Classic a wonderful time. For the joy of the dancers, we’ll leave you with a quotation from W.H. Auden:

“Dance ’til the stars come down with the rafters.
Dance, dance, dance ’til you drop.”

Thanks to Serene for the link.

One Response to “Same-Sex Ballroom Dancing”

  1. Fat Angie says:

    Those pictures are really nice.

    I had a much more practical thought- it’s easier for a taller person to “lead” during ballroom dancing, and the leaders are tending toward being taller than their partners.

    There are exceptions, of course. Whenever I’ve danced in a class with a girl I’ve been “assigned” to lead. I lead when I’m dancing with men, though, so it’s kind of a moot point. I’d probably lead with women, too.

    What was my point again? lol

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