There is a moment, at the start of the salsa class, when the instructor says, “Guys, ask a lady to dance”. This is very uncomfortable for me. I have to stand there, on display, hoping that someone, anyone, will pick me. It’s kind of like being back in school and praying that I won’t get picked last when the captains are selecting their teams – only worse because it’s my fundamental attractiveness that is being assessed. I gaze into the middle distance and wait.
Sometimes the instructor will mix things up, and say, “Ladies, ask a man to dance”. This is also a little bit excruciating. In this case, I have to utilise my personal agency and do the choosing myself. This ignites yet another set of fears: if I make a beeline to a particular man, will he think me overly enthusiastic? What if he sees me approaching and thinks, Oh no, not her! I was hoping for that other girl with the pretty long brown hair! Also, it requires me to admit to someone that I find them a little bit attractive. I would rather keep that information to myself, which is why sometimes I pick someone I really don’t find attractive. It’s very complicated for me, and I’m sure there are some meta-narratives going on about women and agency and desire and things like that.
I feel like I should mention – just in case anyone is wondering – that I am in a long-term relationship, and happily so. My man doesn’t come to salsa classes because it’s not his thing, and this is fine. Despite all this, I still wish to be attractive to other people, and – of course! – I still find other people attractive. The salsa scene is a place where people play with feelings of desire, within the bounds of a single dance – which I think is what makes it so tantalising.
After the class is a social dance, where a live band comes on and people go nuts whizzing each other about the dancefloor. A colleague gave me some advice about this recently. She said, “Dress pretty, so all the good dancers ask you to dance.” My aim, when I go to salsa, is to dance as much as possible – I have no time to waste standing up against the wall watching everyone else. Picking out some awkward steps with a beginner who has no rhythm is not much fun either.
So the next week I dressed as pretty as I could muster. I was hoping that this would cause all the male dancers from the intermediate class to queue up to dance with me: my bold lip and fabulous feather earrings fooling them into believing that I was a lot more than two classes into my salsa career.
But it didn’t really work out that way. In fact, I have figured out that the way to maximise my time dancing is to take matters into my own hands and do the asking myself. Of course, it’s a bit confronting, as it requires me overcoming some of the afore-mentioned fears. Being seen as an overly forward woman. A bit desperate maybe. Look at her on the prowl, surely these men are thinking. She has to do the asking because otherwise no one will dance with her.
But here’s the truth. It doesn’t matter whether a man finds me pretty or not. And it doesn’t matter if he thinks I’m too forward, or too desperate, or too anything. I can’t read any man’s mind, and even if I could, his thoughts have no bearing on who I am or what I can do.
And another thing – if he doesn’t want to dance with me, he can just say no!
Screw dressing pretty – I’m just gonna ask the people I wanna ask, and dance the night away. Woot!