Am I going to break you?

I’m pretty sure it’s been made clear before that I dance as both a lead and a follow. I’m also a woman. I tend to take classes and workshops as a lead because a) I tend to remember the information a little better if I had to lead a movement and b) I’m a bit more experienced as a follow so it is my leading that needs the most improvement.

This past weekend I was in a class of tricks. The class was working on a lift and rotating through partners. I hesitate to call the thing we were doing a lift since there was not actually any picking of people up. The follow mostly does a little hop and that’s the full extent of air. The instructor even demonstrated herself doing the movement all on her own. So very shortly after we’ve been given instruction to go ahead and try the full hop we rotate. A woman maybe 2 inches taller than myself walks up, smiles and asks “Am I going to break you?” For a moment it felt like she punched me. I looked to the man she had just been dancing with, who was about my height and maybe a little leaner and replied “well you didn’t break him”. Looking back, I can understand that she might have been speaking from a place of insecurity about her own body, but it hurt as a judgment that seemed to have a large component of gender involved. It reminds me best of a snippit of an article I read about someone who transitioned from presenting as female to presenting as male.

my experience is related to how other people treat me—what they assume based on physical characteristics. For instance, I’ve always been really small. I’m the person friends lift in the air when they hug me, the one who always gets stuck in the middle seat on car trips, who crawls into tight spaces to retrieve missing items, who wins limbo contests. I’ve never been the go-to person for any type of strength-related task. But early on in my transition, an older woman pulled me aside at the supermarket and asked me to help her carry three cases of water bottles to her cart. Wow, strangers expect things of me as a man, I remember thinking.

And though I’m a largish person, who does lots of physical activity ( I can, and have recently, run with another person on my back. RUN!) people worry about breaking me.

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