Meditatin’ : A Leader/Follower Conundrum
Meditatin’ is a series of random thoughts.
Recently, I was talking to some dancers in a scene that will remain anonymous, when I heard a story that went like this:
At this one swing dance, there were many more “followers” than “leaders.” It just so happened that two of the people known for being some of the best leaders in the scene decided to dance together, switching between who led and who followed. Midway through the dance, a small gang of the other followers broke up the two from dancing. Their reasoning: There were too many followers already present for it to be fair for the leaders to be dancing with each other.
I personally have seen something like this before in other swing scenes; it was not new to me. However, at the time of hearing this story, and for a few hours afterwards, I was increasingly and increasingly more stirred emotionally by it.
I do sympathize with the small group: Most scenes are follower heavy, which means followers are less likely to have a night full of dancing than leaders. And for followers for whom following is their primary or only role to see two good leaders dancing with each other means that there are two followers who are missing out on those dances. Also, one of those group members happened to be the studio’s owner and a friend of both the leaders. The owner had both a vested interest in making sure the followers were pleased and an intimacy with the leaders which allowed for bold action.
However, I was stirred because I couldn’t help but feel an injustice had been done to the two dancers broken apart. First off, just because you are a good leader does not mean that you cannot also be a (good) follower and enjoy the act of following. Every person has every right to have a dance in the role of their choice without harassment. So, one way of looking at the scene above is that a leader and a follower enjoying a dance together were split apart for doing what almost everyone comes to a swing dance to do.
Secondly, every person at a dance has the right to dance with whomever they wish, period. Just because you are an advanced leader or follower, or a beginner leader or follower, does not mean you are supposed to dance with someone. Everyone at a dance is responsible for asking who they want to dance, and accepting or not accepting the offers they are given. This is exactly what the two dancers above did. One asked the other to dance, they defined the terms (“we’ll both lead and follow, and switch roles”), and they both agreed. So, another way of looking at the scene above is that two people who had agreed to dance with one another were broken apart for doing what is everyone’s responsibility to do.
What makes this a little more tricky is if people assume leaders = men and followers = women. For instance, the group of followers was composed of women. The two dancers broken apart were both men. So, the story was told to me as “A group of women broke up two men dancing together” rather than “a group of followers broke apart two leaders dancing together.” It’s a subtle difference, but a subconsciously influential one. Now, simply mentioning this can severely inflate its importance in this specific conundrum, because gender and dancing is a current topic of passionate opinions. But I want to stress that it’s not really the main point, only a subtle variable that plays a small role in helping the bigger problem.
Suffice it to say, if people remember that in the modern era, leading and following should not be bound to gender, and that people are allowed to enjoy both, it will make them think differently of two “advanced leaders” deciding to dance together. Which is the real heart of this matter: people’s right to dance with whomever they wish, and people’s responsibilities to wait their turn.
So, there is the conundrum, and my current, personal solution to it. I welcome further thoughts in the comments section.