[Callers] gender (and "Alternate Role Terms")

tavi merrill melodiouswoodchuck at gmail.com
Wed Jan 2 10:34:52 PST 2013

Perry brings up a couple things which are often on my mind. As i write
this, i'm thinking there are a few folks out there rolling their eyes or
gritting their teeth at the recent flood of progressive dialogue on this
thread. Bear with me, please...

I consider myself a trans-role dancer (as opposed to cis-gendered; i fully
identify as male, but my gender identity has no bearing on which role i
dance). When i first encountered contradance, it was with callers who
emphasized that "gent/lady" are merely titles of traditional roles which
anyone can play regardless of their gender identity. That idea stuck. At
those dances in rural Maine, there was often a surfeit of female dancers,
and the callers brought along a briefcase full of neckties to help folks
denote roles. (That practice suffers the same limitations that physical
armbands do, if dancers plan on "flipping the ship" mid-dance.)

I'm going to focus this next bit on "same gender neighboring" versus
partnering, so as to include heteropartner-pairs who have swapped roles,
and speak from my experience as a trans-role male (a slightly different
topic than trans-role female partner/neighbor issues, i recognize). The
interpersonal dynamics of same-gender neighbor swings (particularly those
following from a gypsy!) are never far from my mind. It seems that no
matter where i dance, from Maine to Massachusetts to North Carolina, the
sample composition is the same: most men are comfortable with limited
same-gender neighboring; many are energized by the apparent physical
opportunity to swing or flourish more vigorously; some are merely
disoriented by it; and a few are downright uncomfortable.

A friend of mine, a male in his 60s, describes his initial discomfort at
same-gender dance floor encounters giving way to an appreciation for the
inclusivity of the community. He still prefers to partner
heteronormatively, but he recognizes the value of making the dance
community as inclusive as it is, and on occasion actively supports that
value by partnering same-gender. I think that position describes where a
lot of dancers are. Whatever a person's experience of the folkdance
meta-community is, i believe we can agree that one thing which sets it
apart from other social spheres is its inclusivity.

In a few locations i've danced, most recently Bangor, Maine, i've noted a
phenomenon where multiple sets forming seemed to segregate into cisgendered
dancers versus trans-role dancers. I foresee a potentially vehement tangent
in response to this observation. Yes, having sets segregate by some set of
partnering preferences, be it age or role-flexibility (the two often
co-occur) does begin to fragment the community - but it is a patch solution
which minimizes the discomfort to some dancers, offering a choice of
expressions and comfort levels in communities where a strictly gender-free
dance outlet is unavailable.

Will we ever move contradancing to a completely gender-free system? I hope
not. Good or bad, the genderedness of the form is an intrinsic aspect of
the tradition, more so even than in couple dancing; without it, where would
the "proper" dance formation be? Gender-free dance can be a "safe space",
or a playground for more adventurous dancers - offering an experiential
contrast to traditionally gendered dance we would be unable to enjoy or
appreciate if the distinction were erased.

But... terminology, gender, dance roles, partnering issues (broadening to
include other characteristics like age, physical characteristics, dance
skill...). In a discussion thread elsewhere, Scott Higgs described
partnering issues as an "elephant in the room" that can be a major factor
determining whether individuals' experience of the dance is positive or
negative. I agree wholeheartedly, and hope that we as a community can be
more attentive to these issues, following on opportunities like the session
he and Lisa Greenleaf led at NEFFA 2012 to discuss partnering choices and
behavior patterns in a judgment-free zone.

The thing that's really on my mind right now, and seems to be on others',
is that contradance is a unique form, and terms which accurately describe
other dance forms don't really fit here. Can we as a community find a
system of our own, one that innovates while honoring the tradition,
transcending yet including our historical antecedents?

As we move into 2013, i hope we can continue to decloak this elephantine
polylogue, finding ways to both honor individuals' comfort level and
enhance the inclusivity of the community... and get rid of that damn
"lead/follow" thing...

happy new year, btw!

> Message: 3
> Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2013 08:12:42 -0800 (PST)
> From: Perry Shafran <pshaf at yahoo.com>
> To: Caller's discussion list <callers at sharedweight.net>
> Subject: Re: [Callers] gender
> Message-ID:
>         <1357143162.59466.YahooMailNeo at web120701.mail.ne1.yahoo.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
> There are several issues here.? One is the terminology that is used to
> differentiate the two dance roles and second, whether we will ever move
> contra dancing to a completely gender-free system.
> I think that
> we all have to understand that everyone has their own comfort zone.?
> Some people do NOT want to dance with a same-gendered person no matter
> how much you prod them, shame them, or even force them to do so.?? Some
> are willing to try it from time to time, others enjoy it a lot, and others
> want to make all
> contra dances completely gender free regardless of whether or not it
> will chase some members from the community.?
> It is a strong
> uphill battle to at least move from a heteronormative way of thinking.?
> Just recently it was suggested that the way to get someone to contra
> dance (a man) was to tell him that a
>  new woman will be thrown into his arms every 30 seconds.? Reason being
> that most people are heterosexual and might be drawn to dance thinking
> he's going to dance with women.? I suggested that this was a bad idea
> due to the fact that in most dances you'll see men dancing with men,
> women dancing with women, and people switching roles.?
> I think
> that the best compromise is to continue with the gents/ladies
> terminology, but emphasize that these are merely titles of traditional
> roles, but anyone can play them regardless of physical gender.? That is
> what I say in my workshops, and it's usually generally understood.? Any
> new terminology that you use will force people to translate which means
> "man" and which means "woman".?? However, I do understand the baggage
> that these gender-loaded terms do bring.??
> Perry

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