Leading and following are very different skills and most people are either natural leaders or natural followers. Not unlike the rest of life, you have about a 50/50 chance of falling into the category society has assigned to your gender. If you’re heterosexual, you won’t have much opportunity to dance if you choose the non-traditional option, but if you’re gay you have choices. I once saw an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation featuring a planet where there is only one gender. Everyone looks kind of like an androgynous lesbian. One of the crew asks one of these people, “who leads when you dance?” The response was “Whoever is taller.” A pretty unimaginative response, I remember thinking at the time.
If you are learning to dance with a particular partner, and you’re lucky enough not both want the same dance role, that’s not the criteria I would choose. And if you’re single, you can just pick the one you want. Here’s how I help my students decide. Leading is a left brain skill. The leader is directing the dance. People who like to be in control are usually natural leaders. Do you like to drive and hate being a passenger? Do you think of yourself as a control freak? Do you like to know in advance what’s going to happen? Leader.
Following is a right brain skill. Followers don’t have to think or memorize any moves. People who like letting go and turning off their brains when they’re on vacation usually like to follow. Do you like going for rides? Like surprises? Follower. There are other questions if these don’t fit, but you get the idea.
You also have the option of learning both parts, and that’s fun even if you strongly gravitate to one role. You can dance with more people and be more in demand as a partner. I’m a natural follower. For me, following is fun and leading is work, but I enjoy leading under the right circumstances. Leading is all about giving a gift to your partner. A good leader’s goal is to create the most delightful experience possible for the follower. When I’m dancing with a really good dancer and she say’s “You’re my favorite lead!” I feel like a million bucks. Leaders get to be heroes and everyone likes to be a hero now and then.
It’s also fun to switch back and forth when dancing with a partner who also knows both parts. The hardest thing about leading, once you’ve got the how-to-dance part handled, is remembering your repertoire. You forget when you’re under pressure, but get all kinds of ideas when you don’t have to. So when I go blank, I can pass the lead to my partner and when I get a great idea, take it back.
Nevertheless, I don’t subscribe to the idea that everyone should learn both parts. Dancing is for fun. If you love to lead and hate to follow, then lead! There are few enough advantages to being gay in a homophobic society, so take advantage of this one!
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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