And then I threw up in my mouth a little.
Can I deconstruct that response for y'all a bit? Why that made me sick even though my personal philosophy still leads to basically same result-- I will virtually never say "no" to getting asked to dance.* I swear to god that I am aware that there will be people who think I'm more than a little "Stop the penis party" with this, but hey, this is my blog and my opinion and you don't have to read any of it that you don't want to.
Now the person that did this is a pretty good friend of mine, so after the lesson, I pulled him aside and asked if we could talk.
When I told him that it wasn't really OK to tell people that they had to say yes to dance, as soon as he thought about it for a second, he realized why it was problematic. Equally true, as soon as I considered it for half a second, I can articulate why he did it.
He said that in order to facilitate dancing actually happening between pairs of humans who may be socially intimidated and do not know each other. To try and alleviate the askers' fears of rejection-- if everyone knows that you're supposed to say yes when someone asks you to dance, then it's easier for someone to work up the courage to risk the remaining, very small, odds of rejection and actually say the words to request another person dance with you. To give everyone a script. Person A asks person B to dance, Person B says yes, persons A and B dance together. FSM knows that I found that script comforting when I first learned to dance. His noodley awareness knows that I still find it comforting now.
The other aspect of this, to culturally encourage everyone to be gracious about asking and being asked, is to make explicit the paradigm shift between the last time any of these people may have danced, in high school or at a club, and swing dancing. In hs or club dance contexts, asking someone else to dance is highly intimidating, because the ask is socially and sexually charged, there's a very real chance they'll say no, and the likelihood is that you don't ask people to dance that you don't know. In swing dancing, the ask does not mean you're sexually interested in the other person (you can add that with your body/language, but it's an add-on, not part of the baseline cultural meaning of asking someone to dance), and asking strangers is common and accepted.
But there is, I think, a meaningful difference between telling people that it's fine for anyone to ask anyone else to dance, and that it's polite to say yes (especially to a first dance with someone!), that "yes" should be the default answer, and saying that you are obliged to say yes.
It's problematic to say "have to say yes," because the askers do not own or have any claim on the bodies of those they are asking. They're asking. A dance is a privilege, a gift. The asker is not a feudal lord informing their possessions or serfs that the time has come to render unto caesar. And the Persons B are human people, with agency and emotion and preferences, and all sorts of completely valid reasons to decline a dance, including 'just don't feel like it right this second' for whatever reason. To say someone "has to" say yes removes their agency, and that's just a starter objection, without even getting into any truly pernicious reason why a person would not want to dance with another.
And up until now, in this post, I have been deliberately avoiding gendered language in describing scenarios of who asks whom to dance. But the quote wasn't ungendered- it was a man referring to men asking women to dance, and telling the women they had to say yes, which is even more problematic than the general case, because of the way our society has historically/traditionally expected that women react (accommodatingly) to the needs and demands of men on the bodies of women.
I considered titling this post:
"Declining a dance (a thing that you, Yes, You with the Vagina! are allowed to do.) "but didn't, because while it's delightfully provocative, that doesn't actually sum up my feelings. Because, obviously, I think that men have every right that women have to decline a dance that they, for any reason, do not wish to participate in.
Don't get my wrong- I still think that it's polite and in one's best interests to have standard operating procedure be: 'say yes when asked to dance.' This goes double (polite and in your best interest) for a first dance with someone you've never danced with before. You have no idea how it'll go, and this is when a type of magic can happen. Because sometimes you are gobsmacked out of the blue, and have an amazing dance with someone whose name you may not even know. And I would personally recommend you leave yourself open to the possibility. :)
But even if it's not a gob-smacked-out-of-the-blue first dance, I still came to a dance because... I like dancing! I want to dance. And being asked to dance makes me happy, so I pretty much always say yes. But that yes is a meaningful yes, because I have the capacity to say no.
*Sometimes I will defer a dance ["next song?"], which I don't count as the same thing as a flat, "no," because I try and be scrupulous about finding the person and getting that dance after my inhaler and I or my water bottle and I have had some quality time, or whatever the case may be.