The Lindy Hop community has been having a "spirited discussion" about an essay written by a UK dancer called "Ten Reasons Why Men Lead and Women Follow." You can see much of the debate over on the Yehoodi.com forums.
The issue got me thinking about why more men don't follow in this dance, or any other social dance that I know of (outside of gay-oriented dances and clubs.) I personally love to follow, even though I am totally pathetic at it. Mostly I follow when dancing with my friend Voon, one of the best "ambidancestrous" dancers that I know. But in general I find following a quite different and pleasurable kind of experience than leading, which I wish more guys knew about.
So in that spirit, here are my "Seven Reasons Why Men Should Follow in Social Dancing":
1. It will make you a better leader. This is important. As a beginner leader, you can learn all sorts of bad habits that are hard to correct. If you start out learning how to both lead and follow, you will never "stir the pot" or yank a follower's arm once you have had that done to you.
2. It will make you a better dancer in general. Like all things, after awhile you get into patterns and comfortable positions when dancing. Dancing the opposition role goes against your muscle memory and forces you to re-learn a step from a different perspective. This helps keep you nimble and intentional with your movement, instead of stiff and formal.
3. It will make you a better teacher. Being able to show a follow how to do a move with your own body and from your own experience is so much better than imagining what following might be like.
4. You will more attention on the dancefloor. How many times have you watched a crowded dancefloor and then seen two guys dancing together and couldn't stop watching them? Or a guy following a gal? When done even moderately well, it's really eye-catching because it goes against what you expect to see. That's one of the reasons why this video of Max and Thomas dancing together is so popular.
I'm sure I've missed a few reasons. But hopefully I have made a sufficiently strong case that men should consider learning to follow as well as to lead. A word of warning: you might prefer it!
UPDATE 4/2/11: Sarah Carney created this sweet compilation of video clips of men following and women leading.
7 thoughts on “Seven Reasons Why Men Should Follow in Social Dancing”
Now the next question is how do we create ways to make it happen. Having brought up your observations fo fellow dancers, it seems that the guys don’t feel confortable taking the follow spots in a class where there are commonly more follows than leads and therefore decreasing the class ratio?
This would also help explain why more girls lead, to even out classes. And I know I personally started to lead mostly out of frustration of not having someone to dance with when a really good song would come on.
8 – They did it in the 40s. Frankie used to talk about his army days and how there were no gals to dance with so he would dance with his army buddies.
your word of warning is meant to be funny but it’s really the biggest problem, isn’t it? for a hetero-identified man to prefer following is uncomfortable for a number of reasons that include:
1. the challenge to their self-concept
2. the dissonance between the pleasure of successfully performing their social role and the more visceral pleasures of the experience itself
3. the signification of homosexuality to the pool of potential (presumably hetero-identified) partners that is one of the factors keeping people involved in the scene at all
4. the increased likelihood of the act being read as signification in the first place (because it doesn’t conform to the larger social norm it seems like a statement rather than a neutral act)
5. lack of role models (even most male professionals only rarely follow socially – in fact, being seen following may hurt their brand image!)
6. there is an aesthetic of following that has developed for women that simply hasn’t developed for men.
7. because the gender imbalance is typically weighted towards women, there are simply fewer leaders for men who want to follow to dance with. there isn’t the same kind of motivating frustration that arises from sitting on the sidelines.
8. in our culture men only touch in very specific contexts. the physical intimacy of following another man (the more likely though not exclusively so man-as-follower scenario) is something that takes getting used to for most men.
when i teach a beginner course i usually teach both roles (time permitting) because of your first 3 points. i also want to create an environment where it isn’t expected that everyone will or should perform the traditionally gendered roles of the dance. sometimes it’s worked out fine but i’ve often encountered resistance from the students.
Alex, really insightful comments, thanks for sharing.
You bring up good points about the connections between social dance culture and the larger culture that it is embedded within. Within Argentine tango I don’t think that men dancing with men is automatically interpreted as a homosexual act. But in our culture, that is the more common assumption.
While one might be comfortable as a man following assuming its meaning is understood within the dance scene does not mean that you can project those understandings to a general public or an online audience.
It’s not the same thing, but a similar issue is pretty present with me, a very happy female lead – I am often mistaken for a lesbian.
For a few years my most regular dance partner and travel buddy was another woman and we both lead and followed, and the regional dance community all seemed to assume we were a gay couple.
I don’t MIND, and it doesn’t seem to directly affect how people treat me. Just a couple of notable moments where I was like, what the hell? I’m dancing with you, not hitting on you.
But like I said, this isn’t exactly the same thing. Take #8 – there are many more times in our society where it is acceptable for women to touch each other.
even though the mythology of tango has men dancing with men (for practice and only by necessity, naturally!) in my experience it’s still equally uncommon to see men dancing together socially (for pleasure). that said, regarding physical intimacy between men, in argentine culture men kiss on the cheek which does not in any way signify homosexuality (to them, but not us, those deviants!).
more on touch: in the dance world the sexual implication of touch is a tricky subject. if you are interested in dance qua dance then creating an etiquette system that eliminates all sexual implication from an embrace is just sensible. if your primary interest is in dance as a social community then eliminating sexuality from touch is problematic. if you embraced a stranger the way we do in tango in any other social context, the odds of your future sexual liason are very very good. agreeing to that level (and much less) of physical intimacy is a fairly reliable indication of sexual interest. it’s problematic to agree to the sexless etiquette because it removes an important way to evaluate the response (to you) of your partner. however, the interests of social comfort within the dance scene may be better served by an etiquette that precludes sexual signification. how should these be negotiated? i don’t know! i wish there was more discussion around this.