In partner dances, there are two roles: the leader and the follower.
How do we choose which one we do? Traditionally men are leader, and women are follower.
But do we actually really choose which one we do, or do we just follow tradition?
What were your motivations to start leading or following?
Men leading and women following is a gender issue, but this blog post will not reflect on this, as many people have dealt with the topic before (here and there for instance). We’re going to look at this question from the perspective of dancing. Shocking, isn’t it?! Of course, a large part of what we do is social: there is dance etiquette, gender bias, etc. However, the basis of what we do when we join a Lindy hop community is to dance!
In our scene, there is a small but increasing number of women who choose to take classes as leaders, and currently no men taking classes as followers (as of yet!). These women are onto something.
They shared some very interesting insights with me about why they started leading. Two of our female leaders started as leaders right from the beginning. Their motivations differ; Anne made a practical decision as she wanted to join classes with her friend, and Tineke was just not interested in following. Other women leaders are on the other hand seasoned followers who then turned to leading. Their reasons all converge to becoming more challenged in their dancing, acquiring a better understanding of the dance, getting to know the other half of the people constituting the dance scene, and also, not having to wait to be asked for a dance.
When asked what they enjoyed the most about leading, the responses varied but they all came back to dancing and having a nice challenge! They describe leading as making decisions, being creative, how their own movement affects the movement of their follower. It’s also more than dancing, for one it simply corresponds more to her character.
Women dancing at the Savoy
So for the followers who now also lead, do they feel like this has improved their dancing? Their answers are clear: yes. One of the reasons is that you get to go over figures (or moves) you’ve learned one more time, but from another perspective. Marike explains that, “you pick up stuff you might have missed before”. Peggy describes that she’s become more sensitive to leading as a follower since she is leading herself. And finally, Sarah shares that, “it showed me more clearly how you work together when you dance with someone. It's not only up to the leader to decide what happens in a dance. You are equally responsible as a follower, and equally equipped!”
Leading and following require many of the same skills: your posture, your bounce, and your body movement are the same. Many of us start Lindy hop without much of a dance background, we discover the dance, and we discover ourselves. We also figure out that the more you can have control and awareness of your body, the more you can express yourself and the more you enjoy dancing. However, you can never dance with yourself, so you can never know how what you do ‘feels’ to your partner. It’s almost an existential problem! Marike phrases it as such, “as a leader you can experience the difference in dancing with different followers, what feels nice and what feels less nice, and I can then check if I do or don't do those things as a follower.”
Learning the other role of the dance is a really good way to improve your dancing. The bonus side of this is that if leaders can follow, followers can lead, in the end everyone can dance with everyone.
If you want some inspiration, check out this YouTube Playlist, where very talented Lindy hoppers share a dance and light up the dance floor, no matter what their gender is!
Men sharing a dance
A big thank you to the dancers who contributed their experiences for the write-up of this post!