Dancing as a Traditional “Nontraditional” Relationship

This month’s topic for the Carnival of Aces is “nontraditional relationships and polyamory.” At first, I thought I might talk about boundaries for future relationships, but that’s so ‘potential’ that I don’t feel I have much substance to hold onto right now. But what else could I talk about, since I haven’t personally experienced nontraditional or polyamorous relationships?

Then I realized … I have. Or, more accurately, I’ve experienced traditional romanto-plato poly-ness, if that makes any sense.

I am, of course, talking about partnered dance.

In various times and places (including the first half of the 20th century in the United States) partnered dance (swing, waltz, etc.) was a space for people to meet, enter a physical, and possibly intimate, relationship with multiple partners, and it was socially sanctioned. Of course, the social sanction means it is ‘traditional’ in a sense.

What about now?

Partnered dance is no longer mainstream. It has now become the domain of lindy hop clubs, waltz classes, and so on, in other words, a specialist hobby. As something that has fallen out of mainstream, it maintains some ideas from a previous era, including the idea that physical contact between people of different genders did not automatically mean they were in / needed to get into a sexual relationship.

And the traditional rules of partnered dance are becoming more flexible. It used to be that men always led and women always followed – but in my swing dance class, the instructor said it wasn’t important what the gender of the follower or leader is.

As I’ve discussed before, partnered dance ties into my own fantasies. I decided I wanted to be a leader, and even though my instructor told everyone that they didn’t have to follow the traditional gender roles, I was the only person in the class who took a role (leader) which is not traditionally associated with my gender (female). One of the other students asked me if I was a lesbian, so clearly somebody perceived this as a queer choice.

And is it necessary to have a follower and leader? No. In my experience, truly abandoning the leader/follower paradigm requires basically completely absorbing yourself in your partner and “listening” to all of their body cues without pausing to judge them. In my whole life, I’ve only pulled this off once. It was powerful stuff.

Maybe abandoning the leader/follower paradigm is like abandoning the dating/romance/sex script and forming a relationship built by listening to each other’s wants and needs?

I think I find the idea of partnered dance so appealing because it can satisfy, at least partially, my desire of physical intimacy without the expectation of sex or even romance. Of course, it’s ‘traditional’, but the rules can be queered, and the dance people I’ve been in contact with are generally open to queering the rules whichever way is necessary to give the participants the best experience possible.

And I’ve had the best experiences under queered rules.


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