Photo : Marshmallow Photographie

In the head of men following

Photo de couverture : Marshmallow Photographie

As a woman dancer, following and leading, I have a general opinion  regarding the reasons that can drive women into taking the lead. I’ve had my share of looking for partners, waiting, sitting, and even subscribing for waiting lists of festivals or lessons where equal number of leads and follows is required, during lessons or balls when you finally end up leading an other girl. That it’s often how the leading begins. For men I cannot say even if I suppose the situation to be slightly different, not motivated by need but by a mix of challenge and curiosity.  But the best way to figure it out was simply to ask them.

A few weeks ago, I opened a questionnaire about men following in different social dances : bal folk, tango,  forro, lindy hop… Why they started, how does it feel to change roles, what types of people are leading them, their best memory as a follower, and if they had faced opposition at some point. I received a lot of answers and I want to thank the 122 men from various dances and countries who participated and everyone who shared the questionnaire (strangely : mostly women).

It took a while to read all your interesting answers and choosing which ones to publish has proven difficult because they were all great, so excuse me if your testimony isn’t in the list.

What are you looking for ?

Those who want to have fun

Initially I am only leading, changing roles came with « playing » during dancing events. With friends we took the habit at the end of the evening to try/learn to steal/sawp partners in a fluid manner. And little by little, girls (mostly follow but who learned how to guide) also tried the stealing/swaping but including swichting roles, placing us as followers. So I began with others to experiment the role of follow, and not only as part of the dance. Now we regulary switch to understand how to lead a movement by testing it in both roles.

Vincent, France (lindy hop)

Before I knew how to guide well, I wanted to learn how to be led, just for fun and make the dance more original, out of conventions, changing role in dance classes, steal leaders, etc. That’s the first reason. Using it to be a better lead is only the second reason.

Baptiste, France (lindy hop)

Those who want to improve their leading

At first I was a follower to better understand what should be led or be felt when leading someone. Then it became a pure moment of relaxation and expression, where I don’t feel any pressure to make someone do things, lead them and make them understand variations, but just let go and play with it !

Martin, France (bal folk, lindy hop, blues dancing, salsa, kizomba)

I lead 90% of the time, but I like to be led too, you put yourself in your partner’s shoes and you understand the subtlness of a good lead, what can hurt or what’s not clear enough. It’s almost another sport because all my certitudes were shaken when I started following.

Olivier, France (forrò, salsa)

My level as a leader literally exploded when I learned how to follow. It brings true empathy, help understand more complicated variations, which ones requires tact, etc. I also learned new variations thanks to it 🙂 often while following I’m like « oh ! I don’t know that one. It’s great, show me how you did it !

Dorian, Belgium (rock’n roll, forrò, salsa, others)
Photo : Marshmallow Photographie
Photo : Marshmallow Photographie

Some of you are seeing the mastering of both roles as a technical goal, somehow a mandatory step to become a teacher. That’s an interesting thought… For I am convinced that majority many dance teachers are not mastering both roles. To be a good teacher, you need a basic knowledge of both leading and following (let’s hope so), but does it mean they can easily change roles in a social context, and really be ambi-dancers ? That would be awesome but is probably not the case. If the lessons are not ambi or the matter is never discussed during class, I would seriously doubt their « ambi-lities ».

What is an "ambidancer" ? For a dancer, the ability of both leading and following. There is a community called Ambidancetrous, promoting ambidancing.

These are the most interesting lessons. Only people who know both roles can really dance (in festivals, professional teachers always know how to do both !

Maxime, France (tango)

It would be a major evolution in the dance universe if we believed technical achievement is to master both roles.  That would mean ambidancers will become a norm in the future. But today the dance teachers attitude towards leading and following is still blurry. Some are totally pro-ambi, and would either hold ambidancing as an example and teach it, or reject it completely.

I have loads of good memories. One of the funniest was during a Forrò festival in Bruxelles with my teacher Marion Lima. I had decided to attend all the saturday’s workshops as a follower, lady styling included (which my feet regretted for three days, demi-pointes doesn’t come naturally). Anyway, I am surrounded by women and Marion decides to make of me her test subject. I spent the workshop alternatively leading and following, with all sort of jokes about my « style ».

Matthieu, France (lindy hop, blues dancing, forrò)

The teacher stopped me from following even though several leaders were waiting in the circle for a rotation so they can dance.

Thibault, France (lindy hop, blues dancing)

In the lindy hop scene I felt the roles were more « traditional ». For instance: when our dance teacher was showing a move for the followers, I wanted to learn it too and practiced with the women. When the teacher saw this, she looked at me disapprovingly and told me that this was just a move for the women. I found the comment weird at the moment and even more bizarre two months later when she explained the exact same move to the leaders (in this case all the men). Apparently, we sometimes had to do that move too. We just couldn’t learn it together with the followers.

Florian, Belgium (bal folk, lindy hop, forrò)

How it feels

Nuage de mots : following
Your words

Those who actually discovered movements they didn’t know were possible

The dance with someone whom I had never danced with before and she was a really good leader (Slovenian, and in Slovenia there are not enough leaders so the women get to practice leading a lot, hurray 🙂 ), doing all kinds of interesting new (for me) variations and we connected so well that it was like we were one. Everything just worked and felt natural. It totally blew my mind that it could be like that because I had never experienced that feeling before as a follower…

Bram, Belgium (bal folk, tango, salsa)

Having followed, and switched with a dancer who was used to lifts and dips that I have never done before, with total ease, and even made me do them, without me knowing what I was doing.

Gregor, The Netherlands (bal folk, lindy hop, blues dancing, kizomba)

I was led a waltz by someone very experienced. I had no idea I could move like that. And the small and simple movements he made me were exactly as he meant.

Stefan, The Netherlands (bal folk)

Those who lived very strong moments

I danced with a man who made me turn and waltzed for 10 minutes. It was a magical moment. I felt his reassuring presence. I let myself go with the music.

David, France (bal folk, others)

Micro blues dancing in Switzerland (Blossom Blues), just listening and following small close embrace movements, getting very emotional at the gentle guidance and then challenging movements of the female lead. Made me happy, sad and I felt supported.

Neil, United Kingdom (lindy hop, blues dancing)

During a trad festival, after a week of dances that left me slightly limping… Last concert, shade and lapping of the river below, an invitation, a look, and already embraced without thinking about the muscular pain… The music enveloping us and nothing is important anymore. The sweet mazurka took us to a place with one shared energy, a single axis, as a single body… we didn’t know who was guiding anymore.

Yann, Spain (bal folk, tango, lindy hop, forrò, salsa, others)

When sometimes there are magical moments where someone leads me on a sudden quadrupel-beat tempo on the music and I actually understand it and am quick enough and it works. When the leader leaves me space to improvise. When I can relax into the arms of a man completely – I am male and straight, so it is a great relaxing feeling to let me be carried away only by the dance and the music and the leading, to let myself fall into it without even the slightest, tiniest sexual or romantic or nervous element – just the music, the dance, and trust and corporal proximity without anything that disrupts this.

Paul, France (tango, others)

Those who found inspiration and new goals

I have found following has brought back fun and energy into to some dances that I was finding boring when I lead them – if you don’t follow, you miss out on the privilege of getting to try dancing the wonderful styles and moves of many wonderful leads. I also find that most of the time I am very conscious of what I am doing when I lead, whereas when I follow I can let go of a lot of that conscious thought and be ‘absorbed’ into the dance, which feels great.

Dan, UK  (bal folk, lindy hop)

Those with funny discoveries

It was real fun to dance tango with a man wearing a beard.

Julien, France (tango, rock’n roll, kizomba)

A mazurka led by a women who amused herself by making me arch my back. Obviously with my morphology of man, it look differently. It was interesting and fun.

Frédéric, France (bal folk)

I followed a man on stage during a show and I could sense it was eye opening for many people in the crowd. We are simply not used to see that.

Another great experience was dancing while wearing a kilt. It was great to follow because the kilt was lifting in a nice way.

Pierre, Belgium (tango, forrò, others)

How it’s not always an easy choice

I was very glad to read men who never encountered any objection or rejection in their following. It seems that when you dare to ask for partners you turn to people who are the most likely to agree : the people already dancing ambi.

Even though some of you shared various problems that happened in their follower’s life, things are obviously more difficult for some of you :

??? I don’t understand the meaning of the question. Or I am afraid to understand. Does it still happen ??

Loïc, France (bal folk)

Opposition ? Absolutely. In almost every dance when I started following and even today (after five years of following and four years of being a dance teacher) it still happens at some point almost every time I go dancing.

Pascal, Switzerland (bal folk)

Those who felt objection at some point

Implicitly and explicitly. « Why are you doing the woman’s role? » « Ladies rotate ». « Je ne danse pas avec les monsieurs ». When dancing with another guy, two women will come up and try to fix the situation. Laughing (out of nervousness) at the idea of a guy following. Awkwardness of wondering if I’m flirting with a guy by asking him to dance.

Greg, UK (bal folk, tango, lindy hop, west coast swing, blues dancing)

When there are a moderate or large amount of women left over then sometimes if men dance with each other then you can get a bad vibe from some of the women, who feel they are left with no one to dance with.

Matt, UK (west coast swing, blues dancing, others)

Yes, several times ! The most frequently it’s made by women followers who were complaining that I dance with another man, while they expected us to make them dance…

Idrissa, France (bal folk, lindy hop)

A man told me during the lesson « You are doing it again ?!? Will you wear a dress next week ? » And some women who give the impression that I’m stealing their leads !

Robin, Pays de Galles (lindy hop)

Is women’s lack of leaders an obstacle to men following ?

As a woman I never suspected we could be part of the problem to the point of making men feel guilty of following. It looks like we have our own prejudice about leading and following to get rid of.

Are we part of the problem ?
Are we part of the problem ?

For some bal folk dancer’s, there is a (typical) problem : group dances mean you don’t only dance with people likely to accept a man to follow, but with everyone. Might be an issue even if it’s for a 20 seconds part of dance. Even if it’s just holding hands and not a full embrace.

It happened several times during mixers that my partners choose to leave the dance rather than dancing with a man.

Vincent, France (bal folk)

The comments or embarrassment from men were not because I was following, but that they didn’t want to dance with me because I am a man. It’s more complicated than the fact that I’m a man following. We are touching to the heteronormative scheme of social dances : the symbolics of seduction, couple, the man leading and the woman following are melting. Some men are uneasy when I ask them to dance. The most humiliating memory was probably that man in a chapelloise who refused to touch my hand during the 32 beats of our part of dance together. The most absurd (in my opinion) was that dancer who didn’t understand that I invited him to dance bourrée 3 temps*, and who explicitly said he would not dance with a man

Idrissa, France (bal folk, lindy hop)
(*) Note for the non bal folk dancers : Bourrée 3 temps is a face to face dance that doesn't involve touching your partner.

Some point out the lack of ambi habits in latin dances…

During a Kizomba lesson, the teacher himself says it’s not a role for men to follow (a vision I believe to be outdated according to the idea it belongs to the man to give a direction to the dance, and to the woman to have as a main quality to let herself lead, feel what the man wants and supposedly « give it some style »).

Romain, France (bal folk, kizomba)

Dancing forrò has been challenging because the community is very sexist in this regard. The blues community is less sexist but it is still not perfect – I feel that it has made progress over the time that I have been dancing, and maybe i have even contributed to this.

Michael, New Zealand / Scotland / Portugal (blues dancing, forrò, others)

Not being recognized as a follower can also be experienced as rejection or opposition. In fact, it is only acceptable to some people as a phase, an experiment, but not as a role you’d genuinely embrace and own. Of course gender roles are an issue for all and we are all committed in changing mentalities.

It happened, especially when I was starting out and the best compliment I could get was « you’re okay for a lead ». A lot of leads try to follow a bit, but I don’t want to be a lead who follows, I want to be valued as a follower in my own right and think I’m getting there now.

Max, UK (lindy hop, blues dancing)

Not in blues, in Lindy during classes guys occasionally comment that they find it strange. I’ve been congratulated on being brave. One guy said he only thinks guys should follow if all the women lead for a change.

John, UK (lindy hop, blues dancing)

If life wasn’t tricky enough for LGBT/ non binary people, well, social dances might just not help getting it easier.

I’m a transgender man (female-to-male), and people often mistake me for a woman so they think I should follow. If I follow, then people treat me like a woman even outside the dance. This makes me very uncomfortable with following so I much prefer leading, even though in an ideal world I would love to lead and follow equally. I only follow if I know the leader knows I’m a man being nontraditional instead of a woman being traditional.

Jeremy, uk (others)
Virtual hug

Good luck to you Jeremy, and a special thank you for speaking up.

Some of you asked me why, or may wonder why, I am not talking about queer scenes, like the ones existing in tango or ballroom, where they already break the gender-based roles in dancing. And the truth, it’s a scene I don’t know well so I don’t feel comfortable to speak for them. They were created in reaction to different issues, often political, in favor of LGBT rights, and in reaction to competition circuits banning same-sex dancing. That’s very interesting and needs more articles/books/movies to explain. That’s why I believe we should take their example and help bringing their openness to the heteronormative dance scenes.

The Queer and OpenRole Tango Communities are such rich and rewarding ones, I am infinitely happy they exist, in this often so pretentious, arrogant, traditionalist, sexist, machist world of tango. Discovering them has also been a journey into how much our society has constructed such strange habits about who happens to have what gender. So there is also a more general aspect about this, a philosophy. I also like physical touch: I often cuddle both with my male and female friends, but this will always be private, at parties, etc. But with Queer/OpenRole tango, I can show to the world that it is not terrible to touch another man. I can show them how happy my face is being in the arms of a man, or of a woman, and that neither needs to be a sexual encounter. This is a wonderful gift and thing.

Paul, France (tango, others)

Those who experienced refusal

Strangely, most of you declare they are willing to dance with anyone, men or women, but when you develop your testimonies, your are mostly referring to your dance partners as females. And frequently it happens that they refuse when you’re asking them to lead.

I would say the main obstacle to dance with men is my courage, which is far too weak. When I receive a refusal, I often have the cowardice that comes back for a second try with someone else. When I put myself in a guided position in front of a woman and she refuses, I have lots of examples of refusal sentences: « I have a sore arm, I do not like to guide, I do not know how to lead, I would prefer if you’re the one leading ».

Léandre, France (bal folk, tango, other)

The offer to follow is usually welcome, except from follows who are not interested to lead.

Simon, Québec (blues dancing)

She said « well no, you’re the man », then she dropped me because my leading didn’t suit her…

Etienne, France (bal folk, others)
No thank you

Those (many of you) who like to be lead by women

There might be many reasons for you men to ask your female followers to lead you. Amongst the reasons you gave me and the ones I can think of, there is :

  • you are asking your friends and regular dance partners
  • your are mostly switching, sliding from lead to follow with your usual followers
  • Asking an other man is more difficult
  • you prefer dancing with women

When I am guided, it is mostly by women, and I believe they like it too and they realize the difficulties that we face.

Olivier, France (forrò, salsa)

I am a man, dancer leader. Spontaneously I will lead and I love it. But it happens sometimes to be guided by women (we learn a lot that way on a technical plan, and it helps improve itself as a lead), when during a conversation we come to try the experiment. It stays occasional, with people I have a good feeling with.

Frederic, France, Bal Folk

When I started leading, I turned towards the persons the more likely to be the best followers, able to understand, forgive and compensate my stumbling technique. Other women. As trained leaders, I thought you would turn as well towards leading experts : other men. So I am asking : why are you asking followers to lead you ?

By asking followers to become leaders, many of you are facing regular refusal for some obvious reasons :

  • they believe they are not leading well enough
  • they believe they are not leading well enough, and you are a tall, heavy beginner follower so that makes it even harder to lead
  • they believe they are not leading well enough, and you are a great lead so they’d rather have a great time as a follower and not a struggling time as a leader.

The one who feels unbalanced

Surprisingly, a lot of men are asking women to lead, but there is but one testimony (among the 122) that refers to the size and weight differences between men and women. A lot of followers (men or women alike), say that they like to close their eyes and let themselves being carry by the leader and the music. I know that many – especially beginners – take the assumption literally. It is already difficult for a leader to have to drag around a 55kg (110 pound) girl, but it is nearly impossible with a 80 kg/ 160 pound guy. Exhausting really.

Unbalanced : Let yourself guided by someone of 30cm and 40kg less than me isn’t always easy for me… Carried : let yourself carry by the music

Lionel, France (bal folk)
Guide Moi

My advice : closing eyes : yes. Let yourself directed and let go the control of the dance : yes. Let yourself drag : no. If you have doubts to where you stand in that line : verbalise and ask your partner.

Are you really a follower ?

What I read is a lot of curious men, balancing between lead-listening and following, open to switching. For many of you, following seems to be closely linked to switch or sharing lead. Which is also great. But is not really following.

I try to be attentive throughout the dance and give the opportunity to my partner to take the he/she wishes, regardless of whether we decided our roles or not before dancing. In the end, maybe my level doesn’t allow me to perceive all the calls, but it’s not voluntarily.

Bob, France, Bal Folk & others

Lead and follow are for me two things quite similar. I leave a lot of space to my partners, so they can improvise and make something unforeseen. The people I like to switch with are often like this, and I love being lost between follower and leader, when music takes us to our own game.

Julien, France, Bal Folk, Tango, Ballroom, Others

Listening to your follower and allowing her.him to take liberties is a great quality for a lead  (and as a human being in general). To me, sharing lead is not following, but it’s a first step though, and it may be less scary than dropping the lead altogether.

The ones who organise themselves

Some of you thought a lot about who they are inviting, when or why.

As a reminder, let’s check what is exactly leading, following, switching and sharing the lead.

  • Leading and following : One gives the impulse of moves and directions, the other one accepts that will and actively seconds it
  • Switching is changing the lead and follow at least once in the dance
  • Sharing the lead is more like two people listening, make it simple, two followers
  •  2 leaders, I believe would not be functionnal and would tend to a certain aggressive opposition

In tango, you have « tandas » of optimally 4 songs. In that case, most often the lead is alternating after each song. With friends, I can sometimes ask like: « I’m in a following mood today, will you lead me all the tanda » or just lead without even asking if I’m in the mood. In the queer/OpenRole world, it is general practice to change after each song.

Danny, the Netherlands (tango, others)

When I dance with a women, the most frequently we will switch during the dance. It’s rare that a woman propose to lead me the whole dance. With a man, switching is less frequent, we will have the tendency to to one dance after another, and switch roles after the first dance.

Andréas, France (west coast swing, blues dancing)

But of course there is no rule and everything depends on the person and the situation.

It depends a lot of the person, so I will try to be as specific as possible. With the dancers who seem inexperienced, I rarely propose to guide me. With experienced dancers, I propose just with the position of the arms, and according to the reaction I find myself to follow or lead and to switch (or not) during the dance. I often have a reaction of astonishment. With dancers who seem less experienced , I tend to invite them only if I had a verbal contact before.

I do not dare to invite a man directly. With experienced dancers, I observe their behavior in circles and chapelloises (where I often follow) before inviting them. If they seem open enough, and if it’s a day when I’m brave, I invite them. Sometimes I do not have the strength to dare. 🙂 And in all the dances, I like to try to share the lead, even if sometimes it is very brief, I like the feeling of being in this doubt of who’s leading.

Léandre, France (bal folk, tango, others

None of you who answered my call are full follower 100% of the time. If I suspect it exists in the queer scenes, I seriously doubt it may happen in the heteronormative scene, even for those who would like to.

In all the words you are using to describe following, I saw a lot the word “Trust”. It doesn’t mean you have to blindly trust all your leaders, but I guess at some point everyone needs a bit of trust and faith to put his.her body in the hands of a leader who’ll decide where to go and which variation to do. That’s why I am a bit uneasy with some testimonies of men using switching to take back the lead when they feel their partner not good enough or facing difficulties (or so they think).

I adapt as much as I can to my leader’s level, and I take back the lead to show her/him(?) if needed. But most of the time I close my eyes and switch on receiving mode as when you discover a new place.

Vincent, France (bal folk, lindy hop, blues dancing, forrò)

I mostly ask to be led. Mostly to Friends. Often guys but not only. I often retake the lead when I find it necessary (like avoiding people or directing a difficult movement in a narrow passage) or convenient or if I feel a strong wish to do something that my leader don’t make me do. I do have difficulties expressing clearly to my leader what I wish and what I don’t. But then I lead from the follower position and I give it back as soon as possible. It happens that we switch middle of the dance. When in leader position, I sometimes let myself be led if I feel a strong grip or a better idea from the follower or a different perspective (how they feel about the dose of intensity of our couple or energy of music). But then, while remaining in the leader position.

Robert, France (bal folk)

I don’t doubt the thought is genuine. But do you take back the lead to every weaker leader, woman or man ? Or is it just something you do with follower you ask to lead you ?

Switching and sharing lead allows to take back the lead in theory. For me, following is not. If I agree to lead or to follow someone, I personnaly expect of my partner that he.she will build this conversation together with my qualities and my flaws, unless I give back the lead. As a follower, I would not take back the lead to a weaker lead. A lot of people are doing it, men or women, but to me that doesn’t feel quite polite.

That brings us to the definition of following itself, because I feel that a lot of you tried it without actually thinking of what it implies, especially when you already have leading habits. Here is a huge challenge for you guys, to drop your leading habits, and let completely go the deciding part, to discover what actually is “active following”. And of course it is not easy. In her blog, the Dancing Grapevine, Laura Riva says you can’t be the Director AND the Actor of the dance partnership, an interesting thought because as leaders you experienced active followers but maybe without understand what it actually is. Active following is not backleading.

As for switch dancing, I would rather promote something I find more “polite” : the “give back the lead”, instead of “take back the lead”. It’s like a verbal conversation, where you finish your phrase and let the other person respond, instead of cutting his.her speach.

Should we teach ambi ?

Finally, I asked you what you think or learning both leading and following in classes. Obviously as you all experienced both roles, most of you are open to the concept, but not sure how to apply it.

Better atmosphere, often better teaching too. The teacher instructions usually give better insights to both roles.

John, UK (lindy hop, blues dancing)

For an advanced lesson, why not. But for beginners, clearly no given that’s not the situation they will encounter in a bal.

Nicolas, France (bal folk)

It is great. I don’t understand the classes where that practice isn’t encouraged, and where nobody is questioning itself whether they wish to lead or follow.

Adrien, France (tango, lindy hop)

Those who are pro but not so sure how and when

The idea is interesting but I wonder about practical setting up. Would it be too much information at once ? I also wonder about how to build your lesson as a teacher.

Thomas, France (lindy hop, blues dancing)

It’s awesome but beware of what you want to instruct. It’s great to do both, but you’ll need super teachers or it would result in nonsense… Dancers who don’t know either leading or following is an ordeal. It’s better to specialize in one than to do both badly. That’s the way I see it. But maybe it’s the same everywhere !

Yohann, France (tango)

I could assist only briefly to lessons like that. I didn’t like these lessons, but not because of that blended approach of leading/following. In theory, I find the principle interesting, we learn so much by experimenting the other role. On the other hand, I went to workshops where the role you learn is defined (we pick one), but where they make you try briefly the other role to understand/ feel some essential notions (I think about tango). And it’s working great ! (as an educational method).

Romain, Bretagne (bal folk)

Those who are already teaching it

That’s what I do with my students, and in the lessons I take.

Gabriel, France (bal folk, lindy hop, west coast swing, rock’n roll, blues dancing)

I give some dancing workshops and I try to at least switch roles a little bit sometimes.

Wim, Belgium (bal folk, lindy hop)

From what I read, there are 3 types of approach :

  • The “truly ambi” lessons, where you learn equally leading and following : at every exercice, you try first a role, then you change roles and do it again
  • The “switching” lessons, where you have a define role, and you change only for some special things (like spins for exemple)
  • The “open” lessons, where you are free to chose your role at every exercise

Apart from an initiation where we have to go directly to the point, I find it awesome ! I think it makes us progress twice as fast ! In more « gendered » dances like salsa and tango, I have the impression there would be more social and cultural  barriers, but it would be great !

Fabien, France (bal folk, forrò)

The idea to learn both roles, but successively

We shouldn’t learn it together, but successively. Once we master one relatively well, we can open to the other role. Else there is a risk of confusion and, in the end, to a poor dance in either role.

Sylvain, France (tango)

That’s good but might be frustrating, especially when it’s just for 1 exercice or 2 where we change roles. Not enough to be at ease for leaders. The best is, to me, to experiment one role in a lesson, then experimenting the other in an other lesson.

Kevin, France (bal folk, tango, blues dancing)

In the dances I do, it is usually useful. There is a current in swedish dances, where it’s automatic and without consideration of the partner’s sex. I would find logical to first learn how to follow (still in the dances I do). Before being a captain, you should be a ship’s boy, something like that. Logical but not realistic.

Luc, Belgium (bal folk, others)

In fact, my tango teacher once told me the old tango schools in Buenos Aires where at first designed for men to learn how to dance. They would enter the school as followers until they were « ready to lead ». So basically the first approach of the dance was as followers for older students until they thought you good enough to have the responsibility of an other body.

The idea of trying both roles before choosing

I think it’s very important to broach the subject as games, and demystify the idea of the man leading / woman following. In tango, the historic fact is that the first couples were between 2 men. It would also facilitate the social bond, would fill the imbalance number of men/women, and would make easier to share techniques man/man or woman/woman. By knowing how the other is feeling, we know if the person leading us control the situation or not. It is as important to me than musicality or rhythm, to learn how to dance without moving (in your head and in your body). But it shouldn’t be mandatory so we won’t scare beginners.

Olivier, France (salsa, forrò)

My view is that classes should propose a discovery of both roles, for people to experiment the advantages of each side of the abrazo, and then freely choose their roles according to their taste and not on their gender.

Yann, Spain (bal folk, tango, lindy hop, forrò, salsa, others)

As I see it, we should try both to know where we are the most at ease. I am much more at ease as a leader, but within the scope of a lesson, it might help me better understand the subtely of guidance and posture.

Vincent, Suisse (bal folk, lindy hop, ballroom, musette)

I find this idea absolutely great ! I personally met leaders with a natural ability and taste for following, and I truly believe the mandatory guy=lead slowed down their progression and potential as a followers.

You don’t agree on the how and when, but you all agree that the old way of teaching is a bit outdated.

I think a lesson that doesn’t teach both is not a complete lesson. A teacher that tries to tie you to a role (for any reason, sex, gender, tradition, custom, morphology…) should deeply review its teaching and educational methods.

Julien, France (bal folk, tango, ballroom, others)

Let’s finish with some poetry

The last word will be for Samuel, who understood the best the true meaning of following !

To follow is like drinking a good wine : first we don’t really like it but we force ourselves a bit. Then we like it and we take pleasure. Finally we discover all the subtlety and richness (as it’s working too for coffee, whisky…^^)

Samuel, France (bal folk, forrò)
Cheers, Leonardo