Not an Odalisque

Adventures in Heteronormative Culture: The Ceroc Dance ‘Weekender’

with 13 comments

This weekend I’m going for my first “dance weekender” which is distinguished from an ordinary weekend by £130 and the addition of the letters “er”. It’s not classy and it’s not cool; it’s at Pontins. I’m dreading three nights on the lumpy mattress of in my “budget chalet,” but not as much as I’m dreading the suppressing my feminist rage for three days. If I never blog again, it’s possible I’ll have exploded in ‘The Chill Out Zone’, look for pieces of my body there.

Ceroc has never scored high on the subtle-understanding-of-gender metre. They provide training and examinations in dance teaching, but their teachers don’t think anything of calling women ‘girls’ and making jokes about how the stranger I’m dancing with wants to grope me. The average punter doesn’t seem to mind, though; in fact, indignities caused by fellow dancers are much greater than with the teachers. I’ve never been felt up by a teacher. I’ve never been pressured to do close moves I’ve said I don’t want to do by a teacher. I’ve never been complimented on imagined weight loss and then had my imagined positive reaction parodied by a teacher. That’s all been fellow dancers. Sometimes I look around the room and think that I’m the only one there to dance, everyone else seems to be involved in a vast, insulting and semi-consensual meat market. At least no one has followed me home from the dance hall in an attempt to start a sexual relationship, as happened to one woman I know. So I don’t suppose that many of their other customers care about the awful way Ceroc handles gender identity issues, and I don’t suppose they’ll change any time soon. Most people won’t even see a problem.

Ceroc weekends operate “gender balanced booking” and use it to attract people to their events. I can see why. It’s frustrating to be at an event where there are twice as many women as men, because you’ll only be able to dance half the time, or less than half, as some women have partners to monopolise. I’ve left early after hours of boredom because of a bad gender imbalance.

There are two ways to deal with the problem. One is to separate gender from dancing role, so that the make up of the crowd doesn’t define the evening. The other is to exclude some women or include more men to balance the numbers. It as the reverse of the problem so many fetish and swingers’ clubs have.

As a feminist, I tend towards the first option. In dances like Lindy Hop, which attract a younger, more liberal crowd, I see plenty of women leading. It happens occasionally in jive, and is usually a symptom of a man shortage. To convince more women to lead and men to follow, we would have to reform the culture of jive. At your first lesson you’d have to be told you can choose to lead or follow, we’d have to change the language of ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ to ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ and take all of the gendered assumptions (whether that’s jokes about groping to comments on men having better spatial awareness) out of the lessons. The whole sexualised atmosphere of partner dancing would have to be dialled back. That would suit me well, as I’m uncomfortable with the assumption that the men I dance with are having a sexual interaction with me—one’s over eighty—and I suspect it contributes to them not respecting my boundaries.

I have to recognise, though, that I’m not like most jivers. There’s a reason it feels like a meat market: a lot of people are there to find sexual partners. I’ve seen the vultures swoop in at the beginning of the freestyle, after the lesson, in their tight dresses and high heels, to flirt with the men. Hundreds of men seem to have awkwardly tried to ask me out, or ascertain if I’m single. I’ve learned to recognise the recently-divorced look, and the look of the nice guy whose friends have told to get out and meet people. They want to dance with people of the opposite sex because most of them are straight. How many hobbies bring you into contact, physical contact, with so many people of the opposite sex over the course of an evening? And if you can’t think of scintillating conversation you can just concentrate on the moves. Do the men who are enjoying this really want the women clamouring to dance with them just to pair off together? Do the women want to forego the chance of meeting someone who’ll sleep with them, so they can dance with their friends instead? It seems unlikely.

That’s the cuddly side of heteronormative culture, straight people who don’t mind gays, but don’t want them getting in the way. There’s a nastier side to it, though. I’ve attended one (non-Ceroc) jive club where an individual was forced to leave because (s)he didn’t conform to the expected gender roles. (S)he wore a dress, and had masculine characteristics. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether (s)he was a male-to-female trans woman, a cross-dresser, or any other gender variation. I do know that (s)he wasn’t allowed to take part in the lessons because some men complained they weren’t comfortable dancing with another man. They felt that the finger-tip touch necessary for jive was too sexual. They were happy to do it with any woman in the room, and happy to see women do it together (lesbianism doesn’t count, right?) but not with men. So the people who ran the club saved its male members from such an awful fate.

At what point does recognising the desires of the (straight) majority cross from pragmatism to homophobia and transpobia? I don’t know. I’d be happier, though, if I thought the question had crossed the minds of the people running Ceroc. They explain their gender balancing here:

We made the decision to introduce gender balancing into the weekender market as we believe very strongly that both boys and girls should have the same freestyle opportunities.

Absent a major overhaul of jive culture, this is understandable. What’s less understandable is the wording. I’m not a girl. I haven’t been a girl for nine years, and I’m one of the younger members. This is the sort of language they use throughout the website and literature. There’s also a conflation of “male,” “man” and any other word signifying the individual may have a penis. Take this email they sent me, a woman who has already booked:

All the accommodation for this event has sold out. However, if you are a MALE and have a friend who has already booked an apartment and can accommodate you, then for £99 (per person) you can still come and enjoy this event.

They repeat at the end that the offer is only available to “MALES”.

To try to stop people cheating the system by pretending to be MALE when they are not in possession of a penis, stewards will be checking that everyone is wearing the correct colour-coded wristband (I haven’t got it yet, but who thinks it’s going to be pink?). How they’re going to check? Will men have to strip at the entrance to the dance hall to display an all-important penis? For women, will just unbuttoning a blouse be ok?

I’m lucky, I wear dresses and make up and feel relatively comfortable with my birth gender (as long as people don’t make stupid comments about multitasking), so I don’t think that I’ll be misgendered even though I don’t shave my legs. That gains me admission to a club I don’t really want to be part of, because what happens to the butches, trans people, the queers and the intersexed? Why should they have to justify themselves at a dance event? And who are these stewards to tell me that they know more about my gender identity than I do?

If it really is about dancing, and not about getting straight people laid, than committing to leading for the weekend should have as much weight as having been born with a willy. If it is about getting laid, I’ll stay in Manchester and do it a more cheaply and enjoyably with people who know better than to call me ‘girl’ or use ‘female’ as a noun.

Here’s my plan: next time I’ll go in drag. Who’ll chip in for a couple of natty three-piece suits and a pair of snazzy black and white wingtips? I’ll provide the hat. Not only will I dance better than half of those willy-owners who claim to lead, I’ll look a hundred times more suave. Send cravats!

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm

13 Responses

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  1. I don’t think Southport is as heaving a meat market as you’re making out.

    There are a hell of a lot of great dancers out there for this weekend, doing amazing dancing. Truly an eye opener to all the different styles. (That and the drinking/sleep patterns of those in the know – you’ll forget the lesson patterns quickly, so go enjoy the freestyle, and the good DJs when they are on).

    Seemed that you could go to nap 7-11pm, then get up and dance till 4-6am fairly comfortably. Fast just progresses to blues. And the ones doing it right are playing and dancing, not sleazing.
    Yes there are folks dressing to impress, but check out their dancing – it might be pigeonholing them (or at least discrediting their dancing capabilities to simply say they aren’t there to dance primarily/also).

    Is it a slight undercurrent of feminist annoyance on the women dressing up, for themselves and others?

    Maybe i’m wrong – but that’s the impression I got when I last went.

    As for lead and follow vs guy/lass – last time I checked, Jeff at Ceroc just said he didn’t think there was anything sexist about rule 10. (the man leads, the woman follows) which allows them to use the words man and woman, rather than lead and follow (some of the teachers will have the house to use the latter). The tradition of men leading in ballroom and ceroc and salsa are there.

    But…. see double trouble, Jack and Jill, hijacking, role swapping, and the bluesy/West Coast Swing/Lindy play you get. If your lead isn’t about focusing on the follow… It aint all that.
    (Tango traditionally having guys learn with guys, guys learn the female role first and such – it’s history has it as one of the most progressive dances, role wise, though it’s lost really due to lack of interest in drilling the practice in).

    2 women dancing around seen a lot more than 2 guys as they’re over it, it isn’t an issue. Which says a lot about male and females views on things.


    October 12, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    • To clarify, I’ve never been to Southport, so I don’t know if it’s a meat market. I was examining possible explanations for the policy, in the context of other parts of jive culture I’ve experienced. I didn’t go into the ways in which heterosexuals in committed relationships may like to be in a heterosexual atmosphere as their comfort zone, but perhaps that would have been useful.

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have no issues, feminist or otherwise, with women dressing up, as long as safety is taken into account. I dress up myself, although after one incident involving copious blood I stay away from women in spike heels.

      I’d hate to underestimate Jeff at Ceroc, whomsoever he may be, but what qualifies him to speak the last word on sexism? I’d be very surprised if anyone did represent their own organisation as sexist. To reply to your argument from tradition, there are plenty of things that have been going on for a long time that are still undeniably horrific—hanging, for example, or serving mushy peas. That said, I do sometimes think of getting into dance forms with a different tradition, like tango as you suggest.

      Not an Odalisque

      October 13, 2011 at 1:18 am

  2. Let me begin by congratulating you on another marvelous post.

    This is ridiculous that there is such discrimination in something that is supposed to be fun and enjoyable.

    Is it even worse that this makes me NEVER want to go to such a dance even though I enjoy my role as a male lead?

    Here in the US we don’t have Ceroc. Prior to reading this post I wished that we did. Now though, you can keep it over there. I’ll keep my Swing and Salsa dances thank you very much. You’re welcome to pop over if you want though! I can’t say the ratios are much better but the discrimination is less.

    So long as you don’t correct our spelling, mention history, or complain about our (lack of) tea that is.

    Only Guy at Zumba

    October 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    • Thank you!

      I don’t think Ceroc is the problem. A lot of these incidents happen at non-Ceroc venues too, but I think it is typical of a particular culture in this area of dance, which reflects parts of wider culture. I certainly wouldn’t single out Ceroc as any better or worse than others, but here I am noting that this event had objectionable practices. In any case, I am going to try a gay salsa class in the hopes of a more open-minded culture. I do hope I haven’t put anyone off!

      Not an Odalisque

      October 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm

  3. I find myself thinking, as I read this, that if the culture of dance is so bad for you, why do you go? I’m a dancer in America. I dance mainly swing dances, but also some ballroom and west coast, and I have NEVER encountered a situation that would make me feel as uncomfortable as the one you have described. I lead and follow equally, and no one has a problem with it. I see men leading men and women leading women, and it’s not a problem. None of this is a problem, because where I dance, it is NOT a sexual event. We are dancers, being platonic, romance and sex don’t enter into the equation (short of friends goofing around or the occasional romantic partners enjoying a sexy blues dance). If I were to find a scene that was a meat market, even only slightly a meat market, I would either stop dancing or change the scene.

    Maybe I’m lucky, because I dance in a scene full of straighties and homosexuals who are free to dance with whomever they please. I’ve danced with transgendered people as well, and it doesn’t even occur to anyone to think about it. I dance in a sex-free zone. Yes, some dancers have problems being called “men” when they are simply leading. Yes, I’ve been in lessons where it takes instructors a minute to stop referring to the leads as “men”, because they see me there. I’m not offended by this, because of traditional gender roles and because everyone is trying to be fair.

    Honestly, though, I just think you need to find a new scene.

    Fenna Blue (@fennarama)

    October 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    • I envy your dance scene. It sounds lovely. To answer your question, I go because I love dancing. I suspect that one person isn’t going to make a radical shift in how so many other people think. It isn’t about the dance, but the wider cultural context. If you have any magical open-mindedness potion, do send it over. Thank you for your comment. I’m going to carry on dancing in the hope that I’ll find a scene like yours one day.

      Not an Odalisque

      October 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm

  4. No more jive for you. Stick with the swing dancers, who at least are trying to change the language even if they slip from time to time. There is pressure on the male dancers to lead, especially when there aren’t enough people willing to do so, which is frequently. I think getting more men (and boys) interested in dancing would ease the pressure for lead/follow to be gendered roles. But even learning to lead I have encountered occassions when there is strong pressure for me to follow rather then lead, which is rather strange.

    I confess I came here because I found out about ceroc and sought something bad to be said about it. I have no idea why I have this antipathy to a style which I have never danced before.

    December 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm

  5. Try West Coast Swing. All the teachers I’ve met (male and female) can both lead and follow. It’s a bit of a stereotype but my experience of WCS is that it requires more skill than Jive (at least at the starter, improver and intermediate levels) so those that are there are usually skilful dancers (often excellent jivers who have moved on to get more of a challenge) and are interested in the pleasures of dancing and getting into the music, rather than try to cop-off with someone or get a surreptitious “dry-hump” on the dancefloor.


    February 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

  6. I don’t understand your outrage against Ceroc. I’ve been to 5-6 Ceroc weekenders. Seen ladies dancing together, guys dancing together, wheelchaired guy dancing, blind man dancing, 80 year-old lady dancing… Both ladies and men ask others for dance. All having fun.
    On weekenders, if you attend classes, you meet people, who you can dance with at night.
    Never experienced what you described.
    If you are sitting and getting bored, it’s absolutely normal to go to somebody you’d like to dance with and ask for a dance, or maybe just chat.
    If you want to feel like a victim of the cruel world, than feel free to do it wherever you want to. But you can change your glasses, free your mind and enjoy yourself dancing there.


    June 27, 2013 at 12:43 am

  7. Read yr article with interest and having been introduced to Ceroc by a friend I love the exercise and social interaction. I’m a youngster (41) and as a singleton I do get attention but it is never threatening but maybe its because im a very tactless individual and take the pxss out of the players! I’ve met a lot of genuine gentlemen with a lot to teach me both in dancing and life experiences and, with exercise that is helping the weight drop off I’m loving it! In this emasculated world it is nice to be ‘led’ fir a change and im finding it refreshing….


    September 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm

  8. This article reads like criticism of men for oppressing women by introducing gender balancing. In my experience this is totally untrue. In my real world experience, it’s women oppressing other women.

    And so what if Ceroc teachers use words like “girls” and “guys” – I think it’s down to there being too many syllables in women and ladies – when using short-calls to teach to the cadence of the dance you need something you can say in one beat to fit the weight changes which are on every beat in Modern Jive. Taking offence at being a “girl” is working too hard at being a militant feminist in my opinion. There’s plenty of real sexual oppression to address before we tilt at that particular windmill – priorities, please.

    I run dance holidays and have just introduced gender balancing at the request of the women who attend those dance holidays. I have received no requests from men to gender balance. We have a dance holiday coming up in Bournemouth in August – lady’s tickets sold out in 9 days!

    My own, personal, opinion is that the sexual differences have no place in partner dancing. It’s just lead and follow and either role can be performed equally well by either gender – the absence of presence of a penis is superfluous to the whole process. But my opinion is not shared by most dancers, men or women.

    I actually won my first National Modern Jive medal dancing with another man at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool over 10 yeas ago – at the time you never saw 2 men dancing together. As we worked our way through the heats the organisers told us that they’d had a lot of complaints about us – all of them from women who thought one of us needed to be a woman! At a later competition at the Hammersmith Palais our wives thought it was funny to hear the buzz in the audience “those gay guys are good”! To be honest, we did camp it up a bit. I did have a couple of encounters with unreconstructed men with an aggressive “you gay or sumfin’ ” – my stock answer is an enigmatic “give us a kiss and I’ll tell you”.

    Let’s talk about hypocrisy. I regularly have women at dance nights complain to me “there’s not enough men”. However, when I look around the dance floor I always see men available for a dance. So I ask “why don’t you ask those men for a dance?” The reply is always “Oh, I don’t ask”. So I ask the question “are you sitting here waiting to be asked to dance by a man?”. When I’m feeling brave I ask “so, you’re not asking men to dance and complaining that men are not asking you to dance?” I might even stick my neck out and hit that hypocrisy button full-on “so are you complaining that the men are doing exactly the same you are doing in not asking for a dance?”

    So there you have it. women want gender balancing and some of them complain when we give them gender balancing. Oh dear, more hypocrisy. I’m told that my particular gender has to learn “you just can’t win” – more gender stereotyping and I say “no more”. I’m starting to form an image of a militant feminist stereotype and it’s not nice or supportive of men.

    On the subject of “getting laid” at a dance weekender. I do not believe that is the prime objective of a dance holiday with the majority who attend a dance holiday. Nowadays there’s an app for that, probably a specific one. Why go to all the trouble of learning to dance, driving to Camber and sleeping in a freezing chalet on a mattress that’s like a sack of coat hangers? Even if you did “get laid”, you’d avoid the bed!

    A dance holiday is about the social dancing – if you are single you might get laid but be prepared for disappointment if that’s the sole reason you attended. Of the thousands of people I have met at dance weekends I have not had anyone indicate or even hint that they’d got “laid”. Although I do know quite a few people who have told me that they met at a dance weekend, did not have sex that weekend and subsequently married.

    That doesn’t mean the rules of the mating game are suspended at a dance weekend. But my real world observation in the more likely to find someone lovely who shares your love of dance than a grubby and uncomfortable one night stand with a sweaty dancer.

    Andy McGregor

    March 31, 2014 at 6:59 pm

  9. What annoys me is that if a dance is gender based and then that particular dance attracts more couples that stick together for the majority of the evening. Most dances have more men than women. Why can’t a woman or a man decide if she/he wants to attend a dance and if the gender is out then so be it. It also attracts more single people to go along. As a woman if I go to a dance and there’s mostly men then that is the chance I have chosen to take. The trick is to become a better than average dancer and then you WILL be dancing most of the evening.
    Is it acceptable or sex decrimination to dictate what gender you must be to buy a ticket/go to a dance? If it isn’t, why isn’t it?

    Regarding same sex dancing, do what suits, who cares?



    September 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm

  10. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this
    onto a coworker who has been doing a little research on this.
    And he in fact bought me breakfast simply because I stumbled upon it
    for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….

    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to talk
    about this topic here on your site.

    salsa dancing

    November 17, 2014 at 1:21 am

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