Amidst the #metoo’s, the sexual harassment claims, the confessions, and the Silence Breakers, it seems only necessary that we address this issue as it manifests across our dance circuits – that we put an end to the complicity running deep within our community.
We’ve all witnessed the gendered and sexual transgressions that appear to so easily manifest amid the blaring music and dim lighting of a congested after-party. The crowd on the dance floor becomes a simple pretext for women to be groped and prodded without their consent. Making friends with her at the mixer sparks the notion that he can “win her” at the after-party. Simply agreeing to dance invites an assumption that he’s going to “get some tonight.” Yet, even as we hear these conversations and witness these behaviors, some of us turn a blind eye, some of us feel powerless and uncomfortable, simply whispering “gross” to ourselves, and then chalking it up to “hookup culture.” Of course, by no means are we implying that consensual hook-ups are inherently wrong. However, to consider forcible actions and demeaning language as justifiable “hookup culture” is an extreme fallacy – a fallacy that many of us have internalized and excused as merely the result of “horny men.” By maintaining such a “boys will be boys” mentality, we implicitly pardon these behaviors, thereby allowing the same experiences to ensue for someone else.
Often going unnoticed is the undercurrent of sexism that builds up to the sexual harassment occurring at the after-party. Throughout competition season, during practices, bondings, within group chats, female and femme dancers are constantly diminished to their looks alone. Their skill and grace is hardly recognized, but rather lumped into the objectification of their bodies – bodies treated as mere pieces in the game of who can “get” her at the next competition. This socialized behavior is maintained by men encouraging other men, policing each other’s masculinity and implicating that it is contingent on objectifying women. Though not all men engage in these behaviors, systemic power dynamics that favor masculinity put women in a particularly vulnerable position when they are reduced to “hot bodies” by the men who do engage. Some women have even begun to internalize this dehumanization, perceiving the staring at after-parties as desirable attention and wishing for the label of “hotness” to be cast upon them. Thus, the oppressive roots of objectification have been normalized, deeply impacting women’s psyches and creating a fleeting boost to their self-esteem, which in reality has been damaged for years by growing up around such omnipresent objectification. Such perceptions of women’s bodies are largely perpetuated by oppressive language such as “get some” and “I could f*ck with her” – phrases so frequently and casually used in our society that the degrading culture undergirding them is forgotten. The sexual harassment and assault that occurs at after-parties then serves as a tragic reminder that this culture exists. But what if we didn’t need a reminder? What if we had addressed this culture – standing up to such oppressive language – before it got to this point, before women had to say “#metoo”?
This competition season, we’d like to call to action our community across DDN – dancers, other competition boards, D.J.’s, judges – to put an end not only to the nonconsensual behaviors of after-parties, but also to the treatment of women’s bodies as prizes to be won, to the blatant disregard of their talent and beautiful personalities in favor of sexualizing the physicality that cloaks them. We recognize that we’ve allowed these issues to manifest during our own competition, and we would like to sincerely apologize to those who have undergone such experiences under our watch. Now, we are challenging ourselves, and we invite you to join us: let us grow to be aware of the behaviors occurring at after-parties as they happen, actively stop what we see as coercive, and call out those who use oppressive language against women both intentionally and unwittingly. In the face of resistance from friends who jokingly urge you to “chill out,” let us stay firm in our resolve. Let us discover our agency and finally begin to tackle the deeply rooted culture of objectification that underpins why so many women must proclaim #metoo.
This piece focuses on the objectification of women as it relates to sexual harassment and assault within our dance circuit. We recognize that objectification of all gender identities exists, and we call you to action to combat this issue as well. Finally, we acknowledge that this piece does not reflect the experiences of everyone in the community.