In any partner dance there is a leader and a follower. Traditionally leaders are men and followers are women but nowadays the cool thing is to be able to do both and interchange.
The Challenge to Let Go of Control
As a naturally assertive person, who rather enjoys being in charge, learning to follow was both a challenge and a liberation. The art of following involves being responsive, waiting for the signal, and going where you’re sent. Basically you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s all about letting go, trusting your leader and keeping your balance. Scary? Absolutely, but so exciting! Imagine moving free from any planning, spontaneously reacting to the moment. The best dances are adventures where you are whirled into new territory, or conversations where you’re posed challenging questions and find your partner enjoying your answers. As a follow I love the freedom of not knowing and the discipline of dancing within a pattern that someone else is creating.
Learning to Lead
But the time has come for me to LEARN TO LEAD. I want to join the cool kids who switch effortlessly from lead to follow, untrammelled by conventional genre roles. How difficult can that be?
One beginners lesson in and I am amazed at just how difficult it is to lead. Essentially I’m still dancing the same steps, sure there is a little left hand right hand, left leg right leg confusion going on but the startling difference is in the role. I’m now in charge of directing the dance! Suddenly I’m counting the beat like crazy whereas, before as a follow, I simply ‘felt’ the music. But now it’s my job to start the move on the first beat of the bar so I need to know where that is.
I have so much responsibility. Everything that happens is created by me. This is terrifying. I am producing the dance, making it up step by step and I’m limited by my own capacity. At the moment I only know how to lead four moves!
I Love Good Leaders
I understand for the first time so much more about what leaders are up to; how generous and creative they are. The gift leaders give to me as a follow when they shape a lovely dance.
I try leading a beginner in a dance and together we stumble through a song using just the four moves I know. It’s fun. Emboldened I go for a big finish as the track climaxes, leading an improvised spin and my follow, taken by surprise, squeals in delight and gasps as I swing her round. I think – ah yes that’s your bacon – when it goes well leading is a big time thrill – this powerful sense of having ‘given’ your follow a good time.
So I begin to understand why it’s so liberating to experience both roles, lead and follow. And maybe there’s a deeper lesson here – that in any healthy relationship there should be a balance of leading and following. I’ve always envied same sex relationships for their freedom to choose the areas where each partner assumes the lead according to skill or desire rather than confirming to the traditional roles that heterosexual couples easily fall into.
Learning to move between leading and following is an important life skill that we should all develop. As children we followed our parents but as adults we will eventually take responsibility for leading our aging parents. In all such transitions we can find ourselves on the wrong foot, feeling oddly out of time and space.
Now that’s dancing
So not just on the dance floor but in all areas of my life I am trying to discover where I need to take the lead and be assertive and where I have to let go, trust and keep my balance. Now if I could get that right – I’d sure be dancing.