Traditional Gender Roles in Partner Dance

September 23, 2023 By Isabelle Sophie Martinet

Is partner dancing misogynistic? At the very least, is it sexist? Given that the men are meant to lead and the women follow, one might think so. Not only that, but the men are meant to show the women off too. In some dances the man’s frame is described as just that – a frame: through which the lady is viewed. Even the use of the word lady is a bit suspicious. I would not say that it is misogynistic or sexist. However, it is hard to say that when it comes to the roles between the sexes, it is not traditional.

This can be confronting for some of us. And it might even put you off partner dance. Given the many benefits that can come from partner dancing (including the simple fact that it is fun), this is a shame.

If you find this traditional attitude toward the role between the sexes off putting, but you still like the idea of partner dancing, then I can make a recommendation to you. This came from a dance teacher of Argentine Tango that I took classes from in Hong Kong when I was living in China.

Side note: when I was in China I found that Latin and Modern was done very well and that the Salsa scene was well developed; however, the rest of street Latin (including the tango) was not so developed, and I got my ‘fix’ in Hong Kong on the weekends. The instructor would travel to Buenos Aires once a year to keep up to date, and he was very keen on the whole culture around tango as well.

Back to the story: The instructor cited an article about how traditional Latin men (and their dances) were on his Facebook page. The article spoke about how a Latin man should always walk to the outside of the curb if he approaches a lady while walking along the side of a road and others things that by today’s standard seem perhaps quaint, and maybe a little out of place.

The instructor did not dispute how this seemed, but he added his own thoughts: Thoughts that I think are an excellent guide for those of us slightly affronted by this attitude in dance. In a modern world where the traditional gender roles are often frowned upon in an attempt to achieve equality, we can sometimes feel that we have lost some of our identity. This might be our femininity if we are a woman or masculinity if we are a man. Dance offer a chance to explore and enjoy this without the fear of being judged.

Basically, we need to remember that it is just dance. While it might have elements not appropriate within modern society, it is only a very small part of that society. It can at times be more like acting, and it need not be an indication of how other parts of our lives should be played out. If you view it as a chance to explore another aspect of yourself (and maybe even reaffirm the way you live and act at other times), then it is beneficial to engage in these traditional gender roles for a relatively short time. Use it as a chance to better understand yourself.

If however, you still feel an urge to break away from the traditional roles while dancing, then a Lady can always try some hijacking. It’s not common, but it is valid in a few dances.