I have friends who will never come back to contra because they (a queer couple, both non-binary, both usually read as female) were pressured apart and both pressured into dancing with much older men who got closer than they were physically comfortable with. I feel so guilty that I was the one who invited them to that dance.

For the longest time, I didn’t know what to tell people when I taught a beginner’s lesson at a “gents and ladies” dance. “Anyone can dance either role,” I would promise them, “they’re just names that don’t correlate with your gender; except, if you dance the ‘wrong’ one, people will look at you, assume you’re in the wrong place, and correct you, and you’ll end up dancing the ‘right’ one after, but really, anyone can dance either.” Which is it?

I also think about the joy and play that comes with role fluidity; being able to experience both sides of a dance, being able to play with a trusted partner as we swap back and forth and add a new element to familiar choreography. Being able to help any new dancer, regardless of what side of me they want to stand on. The tall, lanky man who asked me to dance, who looked taken aback when I asked if he had a role preference, and then said shyly “could I try… following?” and whose face lit up the first time he got to experience a twirl.