Jun. 7th, 2009

joreth: (dance)
As everyone here by now should know, I'm seriously interested in anything ballroom dancing, but also interested in many other styles of dance. I watch Dancing With The Stars, but I don't follow So You Think You Can Dance, although I like the show.

So You Think You Can Dance is another "reality-competition" show, but unlike Dancing With The Stars, the competitors are all already very good and/or professional dancers. This is not ballroom, this is a very wide variety of dancing to pick the best all-around dancer. Dancers from every discipline come to compete against each other and there's some pretty amazing stuff. The one season I actually watched all the way through, a world-class swing dance champ got on the show for his swing dancing abilities, but he won because he was able to learn hip hop, jazz, contemporary, musical-theatre, latin, and a whole bunch of other styles. I've seen some fantastic tap dancers, hip hop dancers, break dancers, "lockers", jazz dancers, ballet dancers, ballroom dancers, and many other styles that I can't even think of right now.

But, ballroom really holds my heart when it comes to dancing, so I just don't keep up with this show like I do with the other one. However, a few days ago, I was sharing a mutual love of dance with my ex, [livejournal.com profile] sterlingsilver9, who prefers the calibre of dancers on SYTYCD, as opposed to the really-good-but-still-amateurish dancing of DWTS. It's the beginning of the season, and we watched the auditions. I saw some fantastic dancers, and I was shown just a glimpse of some pretty bad dancers (fortunately, SYTYCD doesn't reward the bad dancing with a lot of airtime, unlike American Idol and their bad singing auditions).

Near the end of the episode, we were introduced to Mitch, a latin ballroom dancer who is impatiently pacing outside the restroom, waiting for his partner. Of course, the lead up is for the show to make it all the more shocking when his partner walks out of ... the men's room.

Mitch and his partner Misha are competitive same-sex ballroom dancers. Misha is gay and Mitch is straight. I'm not entirely sure about Misha, but Mitch had a female partner once upon a time, and when that relationship did not work out, he agreed to partner with Misha in order to continue dancing and competing.

Now, same-sex ballroom dancing isn't actually all that revolutionary. It's still not nearly as common as traditional ballroom dancing, but it's a whole *thing*, like being taught at studios and it has its own competitions and stuff. Outside of the dance world, I wouldn't expect people to have heard of it, but within the dance world, if *I've* heard of it, it ain't that new.

So, the reason for the journal entry is because of the judges reactions. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the judge who also happens to be a ballroom dancer would have difficulty with same-sex ballroom dancing, because ballroom dancing *does* enforce some pretty strict roles (at least in competition ... in social dancing, it's not that unusual to see girls dancing with girls and people taking the "opposite" role to teach, etc.). But I was surprised at the judge who came across with a very "alternative" personality having any sort of issue. I mean, she sat there with a mohawk and facial piercings and a bright pink, flowery top that looked like someone hacked off the taffeta skirt from a 1983 prom dress, complete with puffy shoulders. And the fact that all 3 judges have spent their entire lives in the entertainment industry, dancing specifically, you'd think they would have learned at least a little bit of comfort around homosexuality and/or gender roles.

But, no. All 3 judges were so completely flumoxed by two men dancing together that they couldn't even judge their dancing technique.

Let me say that again. 3 professional dance judges were so distracted by the contestants' gender that they could not even focus on their dancing technique.

This is absolutely unacceptable.

They tried, but they all admitted to getting too hung up on the dancers' genders to adequately judge them and all 3 needed to see them dance with women in order to give them a "fair" critique. I was particularly incensed at Nigel's comment at the very end, when they asked the dancers to stick around for the choreography section and recommended dancing with female partners, when he said "You never know, you might enjoy that!"

And, I have to admit that I am just plain old surprised to hear professional judges, all of them, admitting to never having ever seen same-sex partner dancing and it being so unusual and so contrary to their own preferences that it interfered with their judging abilities. I'll let Greta Christina rant about that part, though, since she does such a good job of pointing out the extremely well-known (in pro dance circles) choreographer who specialized in playing with gender roles. Hell, has none of them ever even seen Victor Victoria with Julie Andrews? Or what about the famous Trocadero Men's Ballet (for whom I was their Master Electrician when they came to Clearwater)?

These two men weren't doing anything overtly sexual in their dancing, they were wearing pretty standard male dance outfits and nothing was amis that I could see. They were good dancers, but they did mess up on a trick and fall. But what really makes them stand out is that they switched back and forth between the lead and the follow positions within the same routine.

Let me explain a little what that means to non-dancers reading this. The "lead" position is traditionally the male's dance steps and postures, while the "follow" position traditionally belongs to the female. In many of the steps, the lead and follow mirror each other. Which means, the lead faces the follow, and when the lead steps forward on his left foot, the follow steps backwards on her right foot. All the steps are measured out so that when one person does something, the other person does the mirror step at exactly the right moment and in exactly the right place.

There's more to it, of course, but just imagine marching backwards in a straight line ... left, right, left, right, left, right. Keep on beat. Now imagine spinning around to face the exact opposite direction while still maintaining the same beat so that you're now marching forward, left, right, left, right. Now imagine spinning around to face the opposite direction while maintaining the beat, only when you face the opposite direction, whatever foot you would have put down, now the opposite foot has to go down ... all without messing up the spin or the beat.

That's, essentially, what these men where doing.

I'm classified as, more or less, a beginning-intermediate dancer. Mostly this means that I've learned a lot of steps, but I don't remember them because I don't practice them, and I still have a lot of work to go on my posture and hand movements. But it also means that I've learned a lot of different dances in a lot of different rhythms and a handful of steps of each one. I often take beginning classes as a refresher, but because it's a reminder for me, I pick up the steps almost immediately and usually end up showing other people who are taking longer to catch on.

As a result, I've also learned the "lead" role for several dances. At Frolicon, I took a swing dance class, and, again, it was a little too basic for me, so when the instructor was an hour late and his assistant (who had no teaching experience) tried to fill in, I ended up dancing the "lead" role for her to demonstrate to the rest of the class. I then went around and showed people one-on-one how to do the steps.

First I showed one person the "follow" steps, then I repeated the move with the "lead" steps to show the other person. Then, when I had them dance together, I usually danced next to them, in the role of the person who was having more trouble in that couple.

Every single time, between switching roles, I would have to stop and think a moment to remember which role I was supposed to be performing and which foot started the step for that role. It's fricken hard!

So I have nothing but respect for these two men, fall notwithstanding, for the elevated degree of difficulty and the courage to challenge gender roles on national television.

This just absolutely pisses me off that the judges had such a hard time critiquing their dance technique for the sole reason that they couldn't get over the fact that both competitors were male. I understand that I'm a little unusual in that, when I see two men dancing together, it doesn't twig any response from me other than a critque of their dancing abilities in general. It does, however, look a little wierd for me to see two women together, but that's my sexual preference showing through and I'm totally able to ignore that and look at the dancing.  Surely I, a straight female and very amateur dancer, can't possibly be more professional and better able to judge a dance couple over my own personal sexual preference and orientation than 3 highly trained dancers and professional judges with years of experience and exposure to the entertainment field?

Here is the clip from the show, complete with the horribly anti-gay comments from the judges. And, before anyone makes any smartass comments about the "feminine" or "gay" movements of either men, I want to point out that exaggerated hip movements and extended hand gestures are typical for the MASCULINE role in latin dances. In countries that were not founded by puritans, hips and hand gestures like these are considered signs of masculinity and virility in males and are ultra-macho.

Here are Mitch & Misha dancing together without falling, but this is not the routine they did on the show.

Now, for some other examples of same-sex dancing:

Two men lindy-hoping

Same Sex Women's Tango Competition

2008 Men's Latin Championships

Men's Waltz Liberty Dance Challenge 2007

Interview with 2 female Same-Sex Dance Champions

Female Samba

A tongue-in-cheek male dance

joreth: (polyamory)
I was recently emailed by someone asking about polyamory as a subculture but the position was that it was not. My initial reaction was "of course it is", but I thought about it for a few days before I responded. And my answer hasn't really changed, but here are some of my thoughts about polyamory as a subculture. This will be a bit rambly, as I'm using this post to think through this topic, sort of my "Introvert's" version of "thinking out loud".

People often refer to polyamory as a "lifestyle", and that's a buzzword that I don't feel comfortable using, for reasons I'm not entirely clear about, but I'll take a stab at it. If I have to use a buzzword, I prefer the term "relationship orientation", because I feel as though my poly-ness is something innate, something inherent in who I am, akin to a sexual orientation. But, because the focus is on the emotional connection and the philosophy that my relationships should be allowed to develop naturally, with no arbitrary and artificial limitations on each relationship, I am not comfortable using the term "sexual orientation" to describe it either, which, I think, completely avoids the issue of loving connections and focuses the attention on the sex. But I wholeheartedly believe that my "preference" for poly relationships is as innate and "natural" as my "preference" for heterosexual relationships.

I put the term "preference" in quotes for a reason. The term "preference" implies that there is a choice in the matter, as in "I prefer chocolate ice cream, but I'll take vanilla if there isn't any chocolate". And there is a choice - in my actions, but not in my motivations or desires. Gay people can choose to engage in heterosexual relationships if they are sufficiently motivated to do so. But I can engage in waste management if I am sufficiently motivated to do so too, it doesn't mean I like it. Throughout history, gay people have been forced to behave in heterosexual manners to avoid persecution, totally regardless of what actually gets their motor revving. This, is the primary reason why I do not use the sexual orientation terms to describe *behaviour*, but instead I reserve it for motivation and enjoyment. I would not call a gay man "bi" if he lived in the 1950s in the Bible Belt and would have been beaten to death had he not married a woman and did whatever he had to do mentally to at least attempt to produce a few kids, and I wouldn't call him "bi" because he isn't *attracted* to that woman, he is merely acting in a manner contrary to his nature to avoid being killed. There are an awful lot of things I would be willing to do, begrudgingly, if sufficiently motivated by threats of death or promise of money, but none of those things would I actively want to do (otherwise, I wouldn't need the threat or reward to do it) and they all would be contrary to my "nature".

Poly as a "lifestyle" is too much like the word "preference" in that it implies more choice than I believe truly exists. I do not think I *chose* to be polyamorous, I think I *chose* to *behave* openly polyamorously. But I think I have no choice in being polyamorous.

Now, some people are more flexible in their relationship orientations, much like in the very broad spectrum of sexual orientations, but, again, I do not think of it as "choice" when it comes to their attractions, motivations, desires, needs, whatever. Their natural inclinations simply have a broader range than mine do. We choose our actions, but many times those actions are contrary to our nature. We use birth control, which goes against one of the strongest natural drives humans have, just as an example.

But I'm digressing. Poly as a "lifestyle" is not a word I like to use because of the possibly incorrect implications of choice. But, that word does include another implication that I think "relationship orientation" misses, which is the sense of community.

When I hear the word "lifestyle", I think of an activity that encompasses a person's whole life, something that bleeds over into many or all aspects of who that person is. This would be something that influenced friendships, careers, homes, worldviews, philosophies, etc. For instance, the first non-sexual example that comes to mind when I hear the word "lifestyle" is that of a rock climber.

There are some people, like me, who enjoy rock climbing and might occasionally get to the gym once or twice a year. It's fun, but I don't have the shoes or the gloves or the harness. I have a chalk bag, but it's never seen chalk - I use it to carry the stuff in my pockets when I'm in the air at work so my change doesn't fall out and hit someone on the head.

But then there are other people. These climbers have the shoes. These climbers have the harness, but they also spend as much time free-climbing as they do belaying. These climbers feel a sense of spiritual freedom when they reach the top and they spend their vacation time and extra money travelling all over the world to experience The Climb. These climbers commune with their version of god in their climbing. This activity affects their diet, how they see the world, how they relate to other people, even what type of work they do (whether they choose a job in the rock climbing field, or they choose one that allows them time to climb). They have their own lingo, their own fashions, their own art, and, of course, their own circle of climbers, who are automatically part of their "family" just for participating in the same activity, having the same language, wearing the same clothes, even if they've never met before.

There's a shared camraderie, built on mutual experiences, expressed through exclusive language, and similar perceptions of the internal reaction to the activity. This is a subculture.

There are lots of things that will bring people together in this manner. Athletes in general are a subculture, but specific sports have their own sub-subculture. People in the horse industry have their own subculture, and there's yet more divisions between the breeders, the traders, and the jockeys, as each aspect has its own unique qualities.

Music is notorious for creating subcultures, most notably the goth and punk groups. Ballroom dancing is another subculture. My own industry of entertainment technicians is a subculture, which is further divided by stagehands vs. technicians, freelancers vs. union, audio vs. lighting vs. video vs. rigging.

For all of these examples, one can dabble, one can appreciate, one can be interested, and yet not be part of that subculture. Or one can be so fully immersed in that subculture that one can base his *identity* on his inclusion into that subculture. I, for example, do not say my "job" is a stagehand, I say I *am* a stagehand because I identify as one in such a way that it encompasses all other areas of my life.

I view myself as sort of an abstract watercolor painting (ironic, for someone who really doesn't like abstract art, but linear categories just don't quite cover it). There are some blotches over here of one color, and some blotches over there of another color, but several of them overlap, creating whole new colors where the original colors merge. When the broad fan-brush of a color is swept across the page, the paint bleeds into the texture of the paper and splays out in a Mandlebrot-like splotch when it comes in contact with another color. Here and there are a couple of lines drawn in wax, so the watercolor wash runs away from those spots like water beading up on and running off a highly-polished car, but those pure, untouched areas are few, and far between (and if you look closely, there is a slight tint to the wax from the color that didn't quite wash away).

There are a couple of most prominent colors, that give the picture of me a theme, a tone, an atmosphere. These are the ones that represent the subcultures I am a part of, polyamory, entertainment tech, geek, atheism.

Wikipedia defines subculture as: "a group of people with a culture (whether distinct or hidden) which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong", which sounds pretty much like the poly community to me. There may need to be a distinction made between "poly community" and "polyamory", but, seeing as how polyamory requires more people, it's a little difficult to be polyamorous without forming some sort of poly community, even if you only count your own little family. But the poly community is a group of people with a philosophy of non-monogamous relationshps that differentiates them from the larger, monogamous, culture to which they belong.

Wikipedia goes on to say: "As early as 1950, David Riesman distinguished between a majority, "which passively accepted commercially provided styles and meanings, and a 'subculture' which actively sought a minority style ... and interpreted it in accordance with subversive values" and "Hebdige argued that subcultures bring together like-minded individuals who feel neglected by societal standards and allow them to develop a sense of identity" which, again, sounds a lot like the poly community and its struggles with the monogamous paradigm in our culture.

Actually, I don't think these statements could better reflect the poly community had they been written specifically for it.

Polyamory, as a community, as a subculture, brings together like-minded individuals, many of whom feel neglected by societal standards and allow them to develop a sense of identity. Polyamorous people distinguish themselves from a majority which passively accepts a concept of monogamous relationships as The One True Way, by actively seeking out an alternative relationship style more in accordance with what feels natural, whether it contradicts the majority assumption or not. Maybe it's because I just came from our first OrlandoPoly meeting today, but I just can't come up with a way to re-write that statement to be more accurate when referring to the poly community specifically.

Being such a public figure, I've been hearing from the isolated polys in the area ... people who are married or single who are trying to reinvent the wheel, people who want to "open their relationship" but are doing it totally on their own. Some people come to these arrangements by way of cheating and not wanting to lose either partner. Some people read Heinlein once. Some people tentatively visited a swingers club or a BDSM club or an SCA event and heard of someone else who does poly, and are now trying to figure out how to explore this strange new concept without damaging their pre-existing relationship all alone with no support structure.

So, they reach out to me, and people like me, who are public and easy to find. "Wow, there are other people who do this?" I was just told today how much the discussion group was appreciated by these very type of people. Often, they feel lost, floundering among a sea of mistakes and emotions and social programming. But when they heard there was terminology to describe what they are thinking, whole new worlds opened up! When they learned there were other people who wouldn't condemn them, or automatically blame the relationship style for any negative experiences, or who could simply understand where they were coming from, suddenly these isolated people feel liberated, unburdened, loved, and accepted.

When a person lives in a society that appears to universally condemn whatever it is that a person likes, feels, thinks, wants, it's a demoralizing experience. But finding a group of people who are like-minded, and that sense of unity that comes from the shared feeling of neglect, or persecution, or judgement can be a very powerful and empowering feeling.

Especially in a society like the one I live in, which has such incredibly strong negative values on sex and non-monogamous relationships, finding others who share those unusually positive values is extremely important to a lot of people. And banding together based on a shared "subversive values", or values that are contrary to/different from the main culture, tends to create its own culture. How else do people express themselves and share their thoughts with each other when the culture they came from either has no experience with these strange sets of values or outright condemns them?

By creating new language. And new art. And new fashion. And the symbolism attached to this new language and art and clothing and music and even affectations not only gives us a medium through which to express ourselves and to share experiences, but it also gives us a method by which we can identify ourselves and each other.

Look at the poly community so far. We have the heart/infinity symbol, the parrot, the poly flag, the purple mobius. We have our own lexicon that requires its own dictionaries. We have even co-opted some terms and redefined them to suit ourselves. We have jewelry and t-shirts and bumper stickers. We have music and tv shows and even fictional books!

We have history, with notable historical figures. We have art. We have language. We have symbolism. We have an identity as a group and we have individuals who identify as part of the group. We have community leaders and meetings and retreats.

The poly community is the epitome of a "subculture" and I think that's fantastic to have reached the point where it could be called a "subculture". I think the term "subculture" is just about everything the poly community stands for - shared ideals and a sense of community and of belonging, in opposition or in contrast to the main culture from which we came.


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