Last semester, on a whim, I took a ballroom dance class. I’ve always enjoyed partner dances and social dancing, but I’d never really learned any vocabulary. In my dance class, our teacher let us pick our dance roles- leader or follower- regardless of gender or any other trait, which I thoroughly appreciated. I decided to be a lead, also kinda on a whim. I think my whole thought process was “I want to dance with pretty girls!” At the time, it didn’t feel like a big deal, since the teacher was cool with it and we have a handful of other female-presenting leads in the class.
The other day, I showed up to dance class tired and grumpy. My teacher corrected my positioning, which is literally her job and she was perfectly polite about it, but it didn’t help with the grumpiness. I went to dance with a friend of mine, and proceeded to be a very poor lead and get us all tangled up. I apologized to her and mentioned that I did not at all feel like I was in a good headspace to be leading. I was stressed and preoccupied and felt like shrinking away and hiding. She said she could tell. This friend happens to know that I’m a switch, and she started bratting at me. She said “come on, boss me around” and “make me move.” It was terribly effective. Suddenly, it was a challenge, a goading taunt from someone who wants you to overpower them, but only after you’ve earned it. I got bossy, spurred on by her mischievous grin and the amazing power of brats to get a rise out of me. My leading improved drastically after that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this incident, because it’s taught me a couple of things. Firstly, the headspace I need to lead a dance is eerily similar to domspace. I have to be assertive, self-confident, willing to make decisions and follow through on them, and maintain control of the situation. I have to communicate to my partner what I want them to do, and show them where I want us to go. For both activities, leading a dance and domming in a scene, it is crucial that I be in the right kind of headspace. As demonstrated by my bratty friend, sometimes headspaces can be influenced by people or situations, and I can get where I need to be. But if I try to take the lead when I am in no way emotionally prepared for it, it’s not going to end well.
A second valuable lesson I’ve learned from leading is how to be forceful without being harmful, and how to find that limit for different partners. Sometimes when I’m domming, I’ll get super anxious about being too bossy, too mean, going too hard, and upsetting or injuring my sub. This is a valid and useful fear, but I can get in my head about it and become completely incapable of being dominant. Nonverbal communication in dance requires physical connection with your partner and touch cues, like raising your hand or guiding your partner with a hand on their back. You have to have enough connection and push hard enough that they understand you, but not so hard that you bruise their ribs or anything. Figuring out this kind of balance in leading has been helpful to me in finding that balance in being dominant.
Thirdly, I love platonic power exchange. It can be so useful, like helping me to perform well in class or in the case of productivity domming, when someone (consenually) bosses you into getting your work done. It also does good things for my mental and emotional health. Kink, to me, is not just a fun thing to do during sex. It’s an inherent part of how I interact with and experience the world. The give and take of power is present in all kinds of human interactions, and I am especially aware of and in tune with these power exchanges. To me, that’s what being kinky is all about.