Red Flags

Today I read Me Ra Koh’s list in “13 Characteristics of a Date Rapist: A List You Need to Share.” I greatly appreciate this list because it enumerates what I call “red flags”:  behaviors that people do that concern me, and which, if there are enough of them, lead me to create distance from them in order to protect myself, because, in addition to being traits shared with rapists, these are traits that just generally don’t make for good people who I want around me.

Most of my social encounters are in the dancing world, and, unfortunately, many items on this list become unclear or seemingly irrelevant when applied to the dance world.  For this reason I think it’s critically necessary to refine this list for the dance world. So I’m going to attempt it.

**As Me Ra Koh also points out: these are characteristics of people who commit date rape, having these characteristics DOES NOT make someone a rapist. I would add that a single instance of a single item could be a faux paus, a bad day, a myriad of things. One or more of these applying to multiple interactions is where alarm bells need to start sounding (alarm bells being a tier or two below rape whistles.)

I’m including Me Ra Koh’s item followed by the dance-world addition or adjustment. I’m also writing this primarily for female follows (most rape victims are women and most women dance as follows) This convention is inherently flawed (men can get raped and everyone can/should dance both roles) but it is also the perspective I am most familiar with, so it is what I write from. These concepts can and should be applied across genders and dance roles. Without further ado:

13 Characteristics of a Date Rapist: Dancer Edition

1. Displays anger or aggression, either physically or verbally (The anger need not be directed toward you, but may be displayed during conversations by general negative references to women, vulgarity, curtness toward others, and the like. Women are often viewed as adversaries.)

In my experience of the dance world this point most commonly comes up in “negative references to women” and “women viewed as adversaries.” If I guy is complaining that follows won’t dance with him, and not in the “how do I fix this” way but in a “how dare they” or “what’s wrong with them” or “I don’t like them” sort of way, this is troubling.

2. Displays a short temper; slaps and/or twists arms

nuf said.

3. Acts excessively jealous and/or possessive (Be especially suspicious of this behavior if you have recently met the person or are on a first or second date.)

Seems like this trait doesn’t show up often at social dances. It can be a helpful indicator when dating a non-dancer. If the non-dancer is uncomfortable or jealous about you going out dancing, that is troubling.

4. Ignores your space boundaries by coming too close or placing his hand on your thigh, etc. (Be particularly cognizant of this behavior when it is displayed in public.)

This might seem irrelevant since dancing automatically puts you in close physical contact with another person. We normalize this, but that does not mean that “everything goes.” Quite the opposite. If anything makes you uncomfortable, that’s something to take note of. It’s possible you’re ignorant of the move he’s trying to do; he’s possible that he’s ignorant that he’s not doing it right. Either way a rapist would monopolize on that big question mark in your head, so that question mark needs to come with a big red flag. In situations like this you could try to get more information by addressing it with him directly, or by bringing it up afterwards with a friend or dance teacher (and don’t be afraid to name names! Similar reports from others about the same person is important information!) Or you could try keeping your distance from this person for a period of time (think months) and then re-evaluating to see if he’s gotten better. Improvement might indicate it was innocent ignorance; unchanged behavior would be more of a problem. Point being, if you’re uncomfortable create space in some way, shape or form. If you assert yourself or avoid/turn-down dances with him, or otherwise create space and he ignores it or get’s angry about it, that’s an important red flag.

5. Ignores your wishes

The follow role has often been conceptualized as subservient to the lead role. So what are the follow’s wishes? There are concrete ones: a lead who leads a bunch of dips when the follow already addressed that she couldn’t do dips due to an injury, or a lead who runs his partner into other couples, or a lead who dances in a potentially injurious way (poor technique like cranking during turns.) There’s also a more subtle level: leads who don’t let a follow have a voice in the dance. Obviously inexperienced dancers aren’t going to have this skill, so that should be weighed accordingly.

6. Attempts to make you feel guilty or accuses you of being uptight

If you opt not to do a dip or a trick or if you ask him change something about his dancing to make you more comfortable, how does he react? Graciously adapting to what makes you comfortable is good! Disapproval, snark and taking insult are bad. Also, if you are ever accused of being uptight, I would stay away from that person, they’re not worth your time. Especially if you’re doing a close, sultry or experimental dance like blues, tango or fusion. No dance comes with a requirement that you not be “uptight.” If you don’t like the way he’s dancing, then you don’t like he way he’s dancing. If most all of the moves are too-close for your comfort, then maybe the dance isn’t a good choice for you. None of this makes you “uptight.”

7. Becomes hostile and/or increasingly more aggressive when you say no

For a long time it was taught that you don’t turn down a dance. That practice is impractical, unsafe and unhealthy. So say no if you don’t feel like dancing. And if he freaks out about it, then you know that you don’t need to be near that person.

8.  Acts particularly friendly at a party or bar and tries to separate you from your friends

Someone who tries to take you away from the dance you’re there to attend would be unusual, and so it’s probably not surprising that this would get a red flag.

This could also apply to dating a non-dancer. If he wants you to stop dancing, that’s a problem. (If you choose to stop dancing, that’s different.)

9. Insists on being alone with you on a first date

This I would down play a bit if you met in the dance context, only because dancers are always around other people and it can be helpful to get one-on-one time. That being said, public spaces are always best for first dates, avoid entering a situation where you’ll be alone with someone who gives you red flags, and every relationship should have a healthy balance of alone and with-others time.

10. Demands your attention or compliance at inappropriate times, such as during class

An example of this in dancing would be getting your attention while you’re dancing with someone else. Generally we stay focused on our current dance partner, but there are fun/silly things that we do when dancing on the social floor that could be indicators: butt-bumping while he dances with another partner or initiating a steal/swap/4-way dance. I wouldn’t consider these red-flags on their own (cause they can be totally fun!), but I’d take into account how they’re initiated and if there are other warning factors.

11. Acts immaturely; shows little empathy or feeling for others and displays little social conscience

This is another complicated one for social dancers. Social dance attracts people who need the help of a structured social environment. This means we have a lot of moderately socially inept people, or formerly socially inept people(raises hand.) And as a community we want to be welcoming to people who are still learning these skills. So I encourage us all to develop a highly refined palate around empathy. Don’t let people get off the hook for ignorance or good intentions. Good intentions aren’t enough, and ignorance should be reformed. If we really want to be a help to those who are still learning, then we don’t want to excuse their incorrect behavior. Honest feedback is vital for learning. It’s also something that will make rapists feel unwelcome, while those who earnestly want to improve will thrive. [I have so much more I could write on this; It’ll just have to become a future post.]

12. Asks personal questions and is interested in knowing more about you than you want to tell him

yup, applicable just the same.

13. Subscribes excessively to traditional male and female stereotypes

This one can be super tricky to spot when it comes to dancing. Partner dancing has such a long history of gender-specific roles that it can be so easy to fly under the radar. Surprise at dancing the opposite role is understandable. Insistence could be a sign of a problem. In my local dance community, dancing both roles is relatively common, so someone being freaked out by this becomes more apparent and is more clearly a problem. Yet another reason why learning both roles is a good thing.


I see this list as a starting point. To take this further, we need to notice when we’re uncomfortable and honor that, act on that. Better than any rubric that can be written is the wisdom of your own gut. You just need to learn how to hear that wisdom.


2 thoughts on “Red Flags

  1. Don’t forget about a great way to learn how/why to trust your gut – The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker! I’d love to read more about your future post on #11, by the way.

    • Thanks for mentioning The Gift of Fear. It’s a super good source for becoming attuned to red flags! (Although I’m not a huge fan of the title.) I’ll see what I can do about getting more out on #11 sooner rather than later. 🙂

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