Trigger warning: description of sexual assault
My passion for swing dancing began with the best first date ever. After dinner and a movie, my ex taught me swing dancing… or what I later would learn was very sloppy East Coast Swing (a sub-genre of swing dancing). The relationship didn’t last, but my love for swing dancing has.
I’ve been dancing for five years now and it’s always brought so much joy to me. It’s exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. It’s a great stress reliever. The music is incredible. And the people I meet are even better.
I’ve always felt safe in the community. Even when other women occasionally pointed out the creepy, socially awkward guys who I shouldn’t dance with. Even when a celebrity within the worldwide swing dancing community (Steven Mitchell) was accused of sexual assault by many women just a couple years ago. Even when Facebook groups popped up in response to this scandal and people shared many stories of non-consensual experiences at dance events. These awful stories sparked a worldwide conversation about consent in swing dancing. Nowadays in blues dancing (another sub-genre of swing dancing), the instructors in my scene always mention consent in their classes. It’s been exciting, especially as the survivor of many sexual assaults, to see a consent culture bloom within our communities.
That being said, no scene is perfect or without its… bad apples.
I went to a blues dancing party last weekend. During the lesson the instructors, as always, mentioned how consent can be practiced on the dancefloor. They normalized saying no when someone asks you to dance, and showed an example of nonverbal consent in the context of dancing. If anyone makes you uncomfortable, they said, do not hesitate to tell us.
I’ve been to these events before and have always enjoyed them. I love the freedom and creativity of blues. It’s a fun challenge for a person like me who prefers to rely on a set structure in a dance. The night was ordinary at first — just a string of dancing, smiling, chatting and of course eating more than my fair share of the snacks that were provided.
And then I asked an acquaintance, L, to dance. I met him four years ago through swing dancing. I never knew him very well, but we would dance sporadically. I wasn’t even entirely sure what his name was. Now I’ll never forget it.
L was doing a spin (a free spin from open, for those of you who are familiar with swing dancing). In this move, the lead completely lets go of the follow as they spin. Rather than keeping his hands off me like he was supposed to, his hand slid across the front of my chest, just barely touching the bottom of my boobs.
There was no doubt in my mind that it was intentional. No one had ever touched me there during a dance before. He knows better. He knows that it’s not normal or okay to touch the front of someone’s ribs (even lower down) during a dance. People have accidentally touched my chest during dances in the past. I know what an accident feels like. They immediately yank their hand away. They stop in their tracks. They look at me with a horrified expression and say “I am SO sorry! Are you okay?” L did none of these things. And it was very clear that he meant to touch me there.
I was so shocked that I said and did nothing – just tried to collect myself. I’ve been touched there non-consensually in the past, so what he did triggered me. I was reliving my past assaults all over again in the middle of the dancefloor. And I kept dancing. When the song ended, I smiled and thanked him for the dance. I avoided him for the rest of the evening, vowing to never dance with him again. I tried to go on with my evening and have fun. I tried to pretend that what happened was not a big deal.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I found myself wondering whether it was an accident and if L really touched my boobs. The touch was so soft that I was unsure at first. But now, I know what I felt. I just didn’t want to admit it. I kept on holding onto the idea that it was an accident and that he didn’t actually touch me there. That’s easier than admitting to myself that he touched me without my consent. That’s easier than admitting to myself that I’ve been sexually assaulted. Again. Fucking again. God only knows how many times I’ve been through this now.
The night it happened, I considered telling the event organizers and suggesting they keep an eye on him… but I never did. I was in denial until a few days later when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized it was sexual assault (definition: any non-consensual sexual activity). So I told them. I’ll go more into detail about reporting this to the event organizers in an upcoming post.
The next day was rough. I went from downplaying the situation to getting hit full force with the gravity of it. I’ve been through worse, but this still shook me up. I was stressed most of the morning until a nice, long walk and my schoolwork took my mind off of it.
As I’ve said, this isn’t my first time being sexually assaulted. Not by a long shot. I’ve been through worse, so in reality the most upsetting part of this situation is that I’m back to square one. I’m frustrated that I’m being forced to deal with the baggage of sexual assault all over again after coming so far. I’m frustrated that I was on the verge of going four years without being sexually assaulted, and he took that away from me. I’d always taken comfort in telling myself that with every new day, the past gets further away and less relevant to my life. Four years felt like a long time. Now the clock starts all over again.
Realizing the full magnitude of the situation is of course upsetting, but I know that I can make it through this. The only good news about already being a survivor is that I have the tools to heal from this. I know that I am strong enough to handle this. I have a support system already in place. I have this blog which is dedicated entirely to my healing journey. And I have more confidence than ever before.
In fact, I have enough confidence that I’m going to call this guy out. Honestly, I was super excited when I made that choice. My past boyfriends who have assaulted me knew that I wasn’t okay with what they did, but I don’t think any of them understand the full magnitude of it. Some of them learned a little from what they did, but this time could be different. I have a chance to make a real difference here. I can take a piece of my burden, put it firmly on his shoulders where it belongs and say “This is yours.” It’s a long shot, but I can teach him that what he did was wrong and why. I can make sure he never does this to anyone else.
I barely know him, so I don’t care what he thinks of me. I don’t care if I hurt his feelings. I don’t care if he retaliates and paints me as a liar within the swing community. I know many people will stand behind me. And those who don’t support me and make that apparent will be doing me a favor. I would never want to dance with someone who condones sexual assault. I have nothing to lose. He can’t take swing dancing away from me.
I do care if he doesn’t listen to me or take me seriously. That will hurt. But I will be able to rest easy knowing that I did my best to prevent other people from going through what I did. I am under no obligation to teach him how to be a decent human being, but for the sake of other women, I will try.
I will post more updates as they come… Wish me luck.
Thank you for reading this post. You can find my backstory here.