Partner dances such as Salsa and Bachata are well known for looking flashy, sexy, and no doubt captivating to watch. Whether they’re dancing socially or competitively, dancing involves physical exertion, skill, in order to compete against each other indivisibly or as a team. Since partner dancing was established there has been a long tradition of sexist behaviors that have become the “norm” in the dance world. The hegemonic ideology in the world of dance is that men “lead” and women “follow.” This has been the dominant ideology since the dawn of partner dancing, we argue to break the gender norms for leads and follows.
Gender Roles – Lead & Follow
In every dance community and in dance competitions it regularly thought of for males to lead and females to follow. This structure, unfortunately, is implemented during the early stages of learning whether it is forced or done by the influence of others. Students assume they have to lead or follow based on their gender. Giving a gender label to lead and follow will inevitably lead to a sexist structure. These labels oppress men and women by limiting their dance abilities to just one role.
In dance, there is a vast majority of male leads and female follows. We would like to ask the question:
If sexism is not a problem in the dance community and competing events, then where are the men and women who specialize the opposite dance role?
Introduced as Lead and follow
When introducing talented artists and competitors it is very popular to introduce the lead then the follow. Artists such as Daniel & Desiree and Ataca & Alemana fit this norm. In World of Dance 2018 competitors, Karen Forcano and Ricardo Vega were introduced to the world as Karen & Ricardo. Although not caught by many this simple act of introducing the follow then the lead shakes the standard of lead and follow introductions. On Brazilian Zouk artists, Thayná and Léo’s official Facebook page, these they market themselves with Thayná’s name first and Léo second. However, it not always the couple that introduces themselves as lead and follows, but the institution in which they are introduced. Their agents and event coordinators have a say on how these dancers are introduced and if their names will catch on and draw in the attention of the audience.
Male Dominance in Workshops
When learning how to dance and compete, there are many instances where the male takes control and dominates the class when teaching patterns. They offer little time for their co-instructor to teach their part and the follow usually has to interrupt the lead in order for their point to be heard. It can be argued that many workshops are tailored for the male lead. The attention is focused on male leads in order for them to lead their female follow into different move styles. There is little attention paid to the women that are following and are usually told: “Ladies don’t think just follow.” (Ruper, “The Perfect Follow A Journey in Dance”, 2016). This is extremely limiting for follows, thinking is important for their safety and pleasure of the dance. Follows need to be aware of their surrounds while also studying their lead so they can adapt to their style in a way where it’s comfortable and enjoyable for both the lead and follow. When female follows are not given attention in workshops this only perpetuating the idea that male leads are doing all of the work and the female lead is they just for show.
There needs to be equal time for both the lead and follow instructors so that their students are offered a well-rounded class and follow students are able to actively learn and engage in the role as follow. Workshops should not be taught as lead does this and follow follows but instead should be taught communicate and suggest moves effectively. It is important that they are also able to enjoy their roles as lead and follow while enjoying the dance they are sharing together.
Same-Sex Partner Dance
When dancers of the same sex share a dance with one another, there are often mixed reactions from people these vary between male & male dances and female & female dances. When two women dance with each other it is considered “sexy” or a “sex show” however, when two men dance with each other, they are laughed at or even frowned upon.
Salsa dancers John & Andrew go against the norm in when competing and showing their brilliant connection and partner work that they share with each dance. They are often greeted with strange looks until they start dancing and are left with looks of awe. Men and women can both lead and follow whether it is for fun or they want to actually learn the technique of the opposite role. There numerous benefits for learning the opposite role because it teaches perspective and actively puts the dancer in their opposite’s shoes. They will learn from the experiences and will be able to better understand their opposite’s role and how they should feel and think. Learning both roles for men and women will make them better dancers in the future.
Men and women need to have equal opportunities of connection and dance in their chosen roles in a way that works the couple. We want to strive for freedom from the oppression of gender expectations for leads and follows in the dance world and focus on enjoying the dance itself together.
Ruper, S. (2016, July 26). The Perfect Follow A Journey in Dance. Retrieved from http://theperfectfollow.com/subconscious-sexism/
Brightly, R. (2013, September 05). Why Men Don’t Understand Sexism In Partner Dancing. Retrieved from http://rebeccabrightly.com/men-understand-sexism-partner-dancing/
Daly, A., Hanna, J., & Schechner, R. (1987). At Issue: Gender in Dance. The Drama Review: TDR, 31(2), 22-26. doi:10.2307/1145810