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“Right to Refusal”: Practices of Consent in the Pittsburgh Swing Dance Community

Standiford, Hannah (2021) “Right to Refusal”: Practices of Consent in the Pittsburgh Swing Dance Community. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In 2015, professional swing dancer Steven Mitchell was outed online by several women as a serial sexual abuser and was ostracized from the swing dance community both within the United States and globally. The first woman to share her story was Sarah Sullivan and her blog post detailing her sexual assault has been translated into at least seven languages. Within a week, swing dance organizers began having conversations online, leading to changes in practices of consent and the promotion of safer spaces during dance events. While etiquette of the swing dance revival starting in the mid-1980s dictated that dancers should say “yes” to any dance, current practices have shifted to encourage dancers to feel empowered to say “no” for any reason.
This thesis joins a small but growing body of literature on social dance in the field of ethnomusicology and other fields including dance and performance studies. There are a number of scholarly works regarding swing dancing but their approach is typically historical while texts employing ethnography all focus on large cities. By investigating a small dance community in Pittsburgh, this thesis offers a perspective that may be applicable to other small swing dance communities in the United States.
Based on interviews and participant observation in the Pittsburgh swing dance community, I will examine the ways that requesting consent for dances, accepting or declining dances, and expressing discomfort during movement has changed between the swing dance revival to the time of my research in 2019-2020. By recasting “no” as an anticipated and acceptable response, the Pittsburgh swing dance community creates more opportunities for participants to set healthy boundaries and normalizes rejection. Dancers learn both how to request consent and how to handle refusal, essential to discourses and practices surrounding bodily autonomy. Social dancing is unique as it demands physical contact, offering a place to rehearse respecting the bodily autonomy of others and asserting one’s own bodily autonomy. This thesis will conclude by looking at potential advantages of social dancing as a site of cultivating new rhetoric and practice around consent and safer spaces.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Standiford, HannahHMS76@pitt.eduHMS76
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWeintraub,
Committee MemberHeller,
Committee MemberHelbig,
Date: 20 January 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 April 2020
Approval Date: 20 January 2021
Submission Date: 3 September 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 111
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: swing dance, consent, bodily autonomy, digital activism, safer spaces
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2021 19:24
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2021 19:24


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