body, movement, & dance, sex, dating, & relationships

Dancing for Sexual Health

Responding to a question about my last post, paraphrased as: What is positive, empowering dance music, and what makes it much more fun to dance to than misogynistic, degrading dance music?

Some reasons I love dancing:

• I get to move my body, and that feels fantastic.
• What matters is that my body moves, not how big or small or curvy or tall it is.
• I can’t fail; the harder I try and the more energy I put into it, the better I’m doing, by definition.
• I get to emote: As I move, aggression and frustration exit my body, and the joy and celebration expressed by my movement enter deeper into my body, and I can feel that joy and celebration.
• I get to act: I’m very much in my own body, and yet I get to perform by acting out the lyrics I hear. I am myself, yet I have this opportunity to connect with characters and feelings outside myself. I feel a part of something.

Among favorite positive-coping pastimes, dancing stands out because it does not involve verbally expressing my feelings or any direct conversation with another person. I’m not journaling, I’m not talking to friends, and I’m not blogging. I’m not expressing myself through words, which is the best way to ensure that I have direct control over what is expressed about me in that moment. Instead, I’m more fluidly a part of the moment and a member of the scene. This silent membership leaves me vulnerable. When I’m not speaking, the “scene” has much more power to define who I am and what I’m expressing, especially given my way of participating in this particular scene, as outlined above.

A sketch of my experience while dancing to music with a great beat but denigrating lyrics: I pick up the beat, and start dancing. I recognize the lyrics, and start singing along. I’m moving, and smiling, and beginning to perform fabulously. But the lyrics I’m singing aren’t fabulous. Maybe I’m singing about how great it is to watch my big butt move while I dance. Or maybe I’m singing out my desire to get some stranger into bed that night. But wait, this isn’t my body and my desire, right? I’m just inadvertently singing along. My facilitator at the MVP training made the following argument: The singers don’t know who you are, personally, and that you wouldn’t actually say such a thing. No, the singers don’t know you at all. But they do sing about you. Yes, if you’re dancing along to their song, they are signing about you. And just as I dance and sing the anger and frustration out of my body, I’m dancing and singing these negative, hurtful messages right into my body. I’m internalizing them, quite literally, whether I’d like to or not. And that’s when I start thinking about my body as a vehicle for sex and attraction instead of joy and celebration. And that’s when I start worrying about whether I’m doing it right, whether I’m impressing others in the right way, whether I’m adequately sexy but not too much so, whether I’m wearing the right clothes or shoes or earrings. And that’s when it does matter how my body is shaped in comparison with everyone else’s, because that’s what the lyrics tell me. I’m getting insecure and being objectified and as the lyrics move on and on, it sounds more and more like I’m dancing in order to show how attractive I am rather than dancing for my own joy and celebration. Is this about dancing, or is this about thinness and availability and sex?

A sketch of my experience while dancing to positive, empowering music: The music backs up the exact reasons I like dancing. The lyrics emphasize emotional expression, personal rights, and the complexity of relationships. In acting out the lyrics, I celebrate characters and feelings that resonate with who I am and what I believe in. Expressing those lyrics confirms my personal desires, and I’m thrilled to imagine that these lyrics are about me and my life. I emote. Some songs help me express feelings of upset, anger or sorrow. Other songs help me seek joy. I celebrate my beliefs, my friendships and my body as I smile at the people I’m with, dancing sometimes with them and sometimes with myself. But I’m always dancing for myself, not for an onlookers or dance partners. Other people’s gaze and opinions need not provide me with validation. I find inner validation in how great it feels to move. I feel warm, happy and successful. I feel optimistic. I feel stronger and more ready to take on life the following day. I feel more connected to myself, my body and the people I’m with in positive, emotional ways. When I wake up the next day, I look up the lyrics from my favorite songs the previous night so I can memorize them, and sing them to myself when I need an extra moment of coping during the week. And maybe while I’m signing the song to myself, I’ll close my eyes and picture myself dancing to those lyrics in order to return, for the moment, to the scene of release and joy as celebration courses throughout my body.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

3 thoughts on “Dancing for Sexual Health”

  1. Anonymous says:

    so then…how do we, not just individually but in community, make decisions about what counts as positive and empowering? if we don't want to just erase all sexual references from our music (which we might not want to do if we are "dancing for sexual health"), what does it sound like for music to be sex-positive, and how we decide that not just for ourselves, but as we attempt to create spaces for sex-positive dancing in our communities?

  2. KB JD/MPH says:

    I'd like to recommend some spaces to dance where positive music is already played. Check out their websites:

    Dance Freedom, Harvard Sq., Wednesdays 8-10:30pm, $7-12 sliding scale

    Dance Friday, Brookline Tai Chi Center, 8-11pm, $7-12 sliding scale

    Monthly Dharma Dance Jam, the Dance Complex in Central Sq., Cambridge, 3rd Sunday of the month, 10:30 – 12:30, $7-10 sliding scale

    These regularly-occuring dances all have awesome music, are alcohol/substance free, are 'barefoot boogies', have a wide age range, and are about being in touch with your body and dancing however you like. Dancing at these spaces is FUN and FEELS GREAT not to mention safe and free of sex-negative/woman-negative language I always hear in clubs. These dances grew out of communities with values I support, and that I feel are supportive of positive human development, individuality, and healthy sexuality/spirituality.

  3. Mimi says:

    Thank you, KB! When I get a chance I will definitely check out some of those spaces, and I'll report back on the blog! Fantastic idea, and also builds on the anonymous comment asking about how we form these spaces as a community.

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