A hundred years ago, a woman going to a ragtime ball or afternoon “tango tea” would often use a dance card. A tradition going back to 18th-century Europe, the dance card allowed a lady to exert a certain control over the gentlemen with whom she would dance at an event. A gentleman would ask to have the waltz in the third set, for example, and if she agreed, she would pencil his name in.

The practice would eventually become hopelessly old-fashioned during the Roaring Twenties and Swing Era. And can you imagine kids at a ’50s sock hop penciling their names on dance cards to the raucous sounds of rock and roll?

But when it comes to social dancing, perhaps we’re destined for a return to paperwork, though of an altogether different sort.

I just went to purchase a ticket for a large swing dance event here in New York, and what should I find but a “declaration of safe space,” a “code of conduct in detail,” and a final admonishment to “contact someone if you need help” and “be safe.” Click to enlarge and read for yourself:

safe space

Now New York is a tough town where you have to deal with all kinds of people, many of whom will annoy and occasionally frighten you. Moreover, this event is not held at a university campus, nor is it sponsored by a college. It’s an event to be attended by the grown-up men and women of New York City, people known for their thick skin.

When faced with this sort of infantilizing nonsense, it’s hard not to wax nostalgic. In the old days of instant justice, any man who got fresh with a woman on the dance floor would be slapped. If he persisted, other men would rise to the chivalrous occasion and throw the fellow to the sidewalk with a knuckle sandwich.

This is also yet another example of how things that were once governed by unwritten rules of manners and decorum are now subject to bureaucratic rulemaking, and virtue-signaling proclamations written in the language of campus social justice activism. Was it really necessary to declare that the event is a welcoming space to people with no religious affiliation, as if atheists might worry that prospective dance partners would be likely to reject them for their beliefs?

And shouldn’t we expect that men attending a social dance event will be reasonably well behaved, and that any creep is a lone exception? This “declaration of safe space” makes it sound as if there is an immediate threat, that the creep factor is expected to be so high that a warning against any would-be harassers was deemed necessary.

Perhaps in the near future an invitation to dance will come with a request to sign a waiver. In the old days, men and women would just worry about stepping on each other’s feet.

3 thoughts on “From Dance Cards To Liability Waivers

  1. “This is also yet another example of how things that were once governed by unwritten rules of manners and decorum are now subject to bureaucratic rulemaking . . .”

    Yes, exactly. As Digby Baltzell said, “honor and decency must be cultivated, not legislated.”

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