Ageism in the Swing Community
Just my observations and opinion on it by Burnie
Recently while promoting revitalizing an old venue that is restarting I met another dancer who surprised me with his ageism.
He was smug and said ‘oh, I went there once… There were a bunch of old people there…’
I looked at him and figured he was early 30 year old with his dance partner who looked barely out of high school. His point seemed to be that before it was run by old people and only old people went there. And, he seemed to be either asking me or telling me that if I’m restarting the venue that those are the only people who would go dancing or who would attend. He certainly didn’t and won’t again.
Then later at our first dance a young woman was sitting in the hall. I invited her into the dance and she was practically glued to her seat almost refusing to enter.
Her reasoning was not enough people. But, it was just getting started with a few dancers all not in her age group. As she awkwardly told me this she was typing on her phone. Perhaps telling others she wasn’t going in? That’s maybe another blog about the negative domino affect of social media killing venues and the scene?
These are dancers so young perhaps they never met Frankie Manning at age 94 before he died. People are still teaching what they call ‘savoy’ style from how his body was from when he was older.
His body couldn’t show the frame and stance from his famous movie spotlights. So many dance bent really far over mimicking his older body frame and older body stance.
You don’t see him in those films as bent over as you see many people dancing now-a-days. Yet, so we have many young people are mimicking his older body frame style and dancing like they have an ‘older’ persons body. Or Balboa revivalists whom had never met an ‘old’ timer and teaching a ‘style’ of leaning over your dance partner… (perhaps these are reasons for another blog…)
But, with no respect for other dancers the same age of whom they are mimicking.
Perhaps they never met great Bal dancer ‘old’ timers who were dancing into their 80s and 90’s. Some we were lucky enough to learn from in their prime: Maxie Dorf, Willie Desatoff and Hal Takier. How about Ray Hirsch who was one of the few dancers filmed doing Collegiate Shag. How about Dean Collins known for his smooth ‘Hollywood style’ and who’s style was taken by Ballroom dancers to create West Coast Swing; Now that community is inter-generational and respectful. But, also known in the Lindy community as being the older crowd.
So, what happened to our Lindy, Bal and Shag Communities?
Are they disrespectful because we aren’t giving them older role models?
Norma Miller who danced in Frankie’s troupe is still here. But, who knows for how long…
How do we solve this ageism problem as a Lindy, Bal, Shag Community focused on dances from old timey era from old timers who are or have passed away?
That’s my question for all the dancers.
I googled and found this article on how we treat our elders-below; Do you have any ideas or suggestions on these subjects?
Ageism on the Dance Floor
Posted on August 8, 2016 by Roger Weiss — 3 Comments ↓
I’ve been thinking about the swing dance scene and how its changed over the past 20 years. It’s not as cross-generational as it used to be.
I’ve been in the swing dance scene for over 35 years, first in NYC, then San Francisco and now Boston. In that time, I’ve been friends with, seen, and danced with a lot of dancers. I taught and ran a monthly swing dance in Boston for over 26 years, and used to teach Lindy way back when.
So, when I go to a dance where a lot of young dancers (20s-30s) are in attendance, why do I feel so out of place? I thought maybe it was just me, but I’ve spoken to other older dancers (both male and female), and we all seem to share the same observations. I was recently reading an interesting article – “The Top 10 Worst Things Leaders do on the Social Dance Floor“. It had a lot of interesting viewpoints, but I was especially drawn to an article it linked to: “An Open Letter to Young Women at their First Swing Dance“. In this article, the author focused on older male dancers. Here is some of what she said:
“For too long we’ve let lecherous older men prey on the young women who come here to have a good time, intimidating them into close contact and taking advantage of their naiveté. They hold women too close, they make suggestive conversation, they touch women inappropriately. This often drives women away, which weakens the dance scene and indirectly perpetuates this predatory behavior.”
Imagine if we replace the word “older” with “Black, Muslim, or Jewish”? The discrimination in that statement becomes quite evident. As I see it, this charge should not be directed at “older, creepy guys”, but to all creepy guys. From my perspective, putting such a negative label on older male dancers also weaken the dance scene. Women need to be more aware and stand up for themselves. If anyone acts inappropriately towards them, they need to call him on it and/or to end the dance. If they feel uncomfortable confronting someone, then try reporting the incident to the dance promoter. It’s up to us as a community to keep our dances safe.
This article encourages women to be wary of older male dancers. Although the author is careful to say this caution does not apply to all older male dancers, I think the negative seed has already been planted. In my years of teaching and running dances, I always recommended that if someone asked you to dance, you should say “yes”. But, I need to amend that. You should not feel obligated to say “yes” to anyone who asks. What I’m suggesting is in the absence of negatives like you’re tired; don’t like the song; or don’t feel comfortable about the person, etc., then say “yes”. If someone gives you the creeps or is too pushy, then say “no”. And if someone is making you uncomfortable, tell the dance promoter. If something feels wrong to you, it probably is, trust your instincts.
When I go to these dances now, I am hesitant to ask young women to dance because I feel they may think I’m an older, creepy guy. Since my years of experience and reputation in the dance community are unknown to a lot of the younger dancers, I usually only ask women I already know. I’ve also heard from many older women about their own frustration, since a lot of the men (older and younger) prefer to dance with younger women. There seems to be plenty of age discrimination going around!
In my days in NYC, I remember many of the women (especially the young ones) lining up to dance with the older male dancers simply because they were the best dancers. Now it seems the older male dancers are sometimes perceived as guys that women should be wary of. So, instead of being respected as the senior members of the dance community, who either helped get it started or supported it, they are now being seen as potential creeps.
Another issue I have with the article is this quote:
“Don’t get me wrong; consensual inter-generational dancing is awesome!”
How did the term “consensual” get in there? How about just inter-generational dancing? Dancing, by its very nature, must be consensual. I used to love seeing families, from grandparents down to grandkids come to dances together.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there has been a fair amount of sexual harassment reported in the swing dance scene. Women need to be aware of it and protect themselves. However, when someone labels a specific group of dancers as creepy, it does not help the swing dance scene, instead it divides people along gender and age lines.
My advice for newcomers (male and female) is to do a lot of dancing and watching. Check out who are the good or fun dancers. And if one of them asks you to dance, give it a shot. As in life, you do need to set reasonable boundaries and be comfortable. Remember, we’re all there to have fun.
3 comments on “Ageism on the Dance Floor”
Dan Gottlieb says:
August 29, 2016 at 11:23 am
There are many reasons why a woman of any age who doesn’t know me may decline dancing with me, all are OK.
If I am dancing with an inexperienced dancer of any age, I ask them if they want any tips, if yes one of the things I teach them is how to place their left hand on the front of their partner’s shoulder and apply slight tension/ push to control closeness. If their partner doesn’t understand this non-verbal gesture, words such as “I am comfortable with this degree of closeness, not closer” may work, if not, end dance and refuse further dances with this partner.
As an older gent, I realize that young woman want to dance with their similarly aged men, as dancing is sometimes a dating / mating ritual.
I’ve made some great dance friendships with younger gals, had some awesome one-time dances with partners who’ve said “You made my day”, I’ve also been turned down cold. I just ask once and accept any no, excuse or lame explanation as a “no”, and generally try to avoid asking someone for repeat dance same evening so as not to be thought overbearing. It’s a tough tightrope out there on the dance floor!
Amy De Rosa says:
August 30, 2016 at 3:13 pm
I was a dancer on the NYC scene of which Roger speaks. He’s correct when he says that many of the older men were highly desirable partners because they were the best dancers.
That NYC scene was so great because most all of us were there because we loved the music, we loved to dance and we just wanted to dance.
Get your priorities straight, folks, and , as Roger says, say no to the people who use the dance scene as a pick-up scene and look for the good dancers whose moves you like and from whom you can learn. It has pretty much nothing to do with age. It’s about dancing!
Paul Peabody says:
August 31, 2016 at 10:04 pm
Thank you Amy and Roger, I couldn’t agree more ! I think Roger calls out this ageism in a succinct and highly intelligent way. I used to go to Metropolitan Duane Hall in the basement of the church on 14th street, when I lived in Manhattan and had a blast , finally passing the acid test of being accepted into the English advanced class , an evening where the lovely Christine Helwig, would walk around for an evening and watch your every move . One would only find out a week later whether one was “accepted” or not. And the main reason I bring this up, is that English dancing as I know most of you are aware, is all about rhythm and “no touching”. BELIEVE me, you can flirt in a delightful and thoughtful way as governed by the personalities of who is dancing without touching. I guarantee those guys out there who are depressed by this issue in swing dancing, try some English Country dancing, . The dance “Nonesuch” and other playford dances are so elaborate and intricate and are indicative of a time when men and women were only allowed to communicate with one another with their expressions, smiles, etc and it was, and is, delightful and lovely. This is the style seen in so many period Jane Austen BBC adaptations . Other than this, I cannot waste energy on a society that professionally and otherwise is in a state of rampant ageism , I just go and do things that make me happy, “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”