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Social Dance class deals with gender disparity


Social Dance 1, one of Stanford’s most popular introductory dance classes, was forced to reopen its doors this fall after reaching full capacity to correct a gender imbalance of 17 more males than females.

“I don’t like to deny anyone the chance to learn social dancing,” social dance instructor Richard Powers wrote in an email to The Daily. “If someone wants to learn to dance, I don’t want to turn them away. So instead of kicking the extra men out of the class, we spread the word that there is room for a few more women in the class.”

According to Powers, Social Dance 1 almost always has a few extra men during the first few days of the quarter, with the gender imbalance usually only being off by about 10 percent most years. Even with the trend of gender imbalance, Powers always remains confident that the class will sort itself out.

“The Social Dance 1 classes are well-known on campus, so it doesn’t take long for the class to balance,” he said.

In an attempt to resolve this year’s 17-member difference, a few students who were enrolled in Social Dance 1 took it upon themselves to reach out to other females. Meredith Lehmann ’16 tried to help enroll more girls in the class after learning about this year’s imbalance.

“On the first day of class, the professor said ‘We’re short 17 girls,’” Lehmann said. “So I sent an email out to my dorm chatlist and asked other girls I knew to sign up. We were close to gender-balanced by the second Monday of classes.”

Despite all the discussion around gender, Powers was quick to point out that role balance is a more important issue in Social Dance than gender balance.

“It’s actually a matter of ‘role balance’– the lead role (some say leaders) and the follow role (some say followers)” Powers said. “In 21st century America, especially California and Stanford, social dancing is about people dancing with people, in a playful lead/follow dynamic.”

“More than 90 percent of the time [the lead/follow dynamic] ends up being the tradition of men dancing with women… We’ve evolved beyond turning that tradition into a limitation,” he added.

Powers referenced the fact that some students, both male and female, have already taken social dance before and are returning to the class to learn how to dance the other half of the lead/follow dynamic– an option that then allows for males and females to dance with partners of the same gender.

“Stanford students are exceptional, and therefore are ready for exceptions to older traditions,” Powers said.