When Rape Culture Hits The Dance Floor

Someone could make the case that I came into the world dancing — my tiny newborn fingers clutched into fists and arms bent at the elbows, quickly shaking from side to side into a shimmy of sorts. At least that is what my father keeps telling me. And I can tell you for a fact that there are very few days since my birth where dancing has not occurred.

I suppose that is what is what happens when you are born into the Efik ethnic group, a people whose melodies and movements mimic the rhythms and waves of the Gulf of Guinea. I guess it explains the confidence I have when I naturally respond to music whenever it is within ear’s reach, knowing full well what my body is doing and being completely in control of how it is done. When I am dancing alone, I am autonomy in motion.

But then came emerging adulthood.

One thing that is often not discussed in feminist conversations is how rape culture plays its role on the dance floor. Click through for a read on this woman's experience.

I started my new chapter as a university student and finally turned 18, the magical age that permitted me to go to most clubs in America. And as irony would have it, I avoided clubs like the plague. I did, however, go to a couple of my university’s dances, attending them with the assumption that acting a fool and moving the music wouldn’t include a man attaching his pelvis to me without my permission.

I was right.

A couple years ago, I also attended a dance at a national science conference for undergraduate research students with a final dance to celebrate all of the wonderful scholarly work that was presented by us students. I came to this celebration with the same assumption I had at my school dances since we were a bunch of classy, scholarly folks.

I was wrong. Twice. And twice, I was beyond furious.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that my body being present on the dance floor was an invitation for men to do whatever they wanted with me. I did not know that merely walking from one side of the dance floor to the other was “asking for it.” I did not know that it was acceptable that in my struggle to get away from the first guy and telling him to stop, having him grind on me without my permission was supposed to be something I enjoyed as the words “you know you liked it” left his lips. The truth is I didn’t like it. I hated it, actually. And though I was fortunate to have gotten out of the clutches of the second guy who violated my personal space, I was just as angry. The behaviors of those men did not flatter me or make me feel desirable. Instead, I felt like a slab of meat, their plaything with which they could do whatever they liked. They didn’t ask for my name. They didn’t ask if I would like to dance with them. They didn’t acknowledge that I was a human being. Instead, they demonstrated rape culture, behaviors and practices that normalize the stripping away of women’s agencies at the expense of whatever a man wants to do with the woman much like rape does — much like when I’m walking out and about and men call me endearing names but call me more derogatory names when I ignore their harassment. Much like how I have been slut-shamed for some of the clothing I’ve worn while others who know me well praise how well put together my outfit looks, leaving me a bit confused as to what modesty really is.

The rape culture conversation has been very present in talks of modesty, slut-shaming, and street harassment. But I have never encountered a conversation about the normalization of it on the dance floor where so many men grab women and grind on them with the assumption that this is want they want. My main motive was to dance in the company of my girlfriends at the conference. Dancing with friends is usually my main motive whenever I’m on the dance floor anywhere. I cannot be the only woman in those spaces that wants to dance with little body contact. I cannot be the only woman that would like to be asked if I want to dance before a man even touches me. I cannot be the only woman would rather dance with a man who makes sure my comfort comes first unlike those two men I encountered. And I wish the third man who actually did all of these things was the rule, not the exception.

Have you noticed rape culture in dance spaces too? Have you been in similar situations? If so, what were your experiences/how did you handle them? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Chelsea J. Rosteski

    I love to dance. I love to dance with my ladies. I don’t mind dancing with my guy friends. And I used to be okay with a little dirty/bump’n’grind. Not any more. Usually if a guy grabbed me from behind I would just turn around, push him off and say/yell above the music: “Did you ask? No? Too bad.” If I had to I’d signal the bouncer to get them away from me if they didn’t take the hint (this only happened maybe once or twice). But I don’t go out at all any more. The last time a very large dude grabbed me by the upper arm as I was leaving the dance floor (I had to pee). He yanked me into his body, said “I love the way you move.” He was so rough that my arms hurt and I had to push and thrash to get away. Finally he let go and I said “You don’t know the meaning of love.” His buddies all ooo’d and I went to the bathroom. Later when I was sitting with my friends he and his d-bag buddies came up behind my chair and he pretended to hump my head. Like for real guy?! I could tell he was at least in his late twenties. And he and his buddies were acting like a bunch of pre-teen boys. Pathetic. I stood up turned around and waved the bouncer over. He looked at them and said: “Keep treating women like this and you can’t possibly wonder why you’re going home alone. Hey boys?” He herded them outside and I haven’t been out dancing since. Fuck boys who are grown adults? Ain’t no one got time for that shit.