Is it possible to be both?
Salsa (or Bachata/Kizomba) dancing is mostly viewed as a gendered activity, where men assume the role of leader and women, follower. Visual representations of these dances typically depict women, being dipped, twirled or spun by men. Time and again female salsa students are told to “just” follow, “turn off your brains”, and to “let go”. Very often salsa partner-work classes consist mainly of instructions to the leader, because that is considered the dominant role in the partnership.
In the light of all this, could I possibly be someone who believes in freedom of choice and autonomy of decision, and yet be a follower on the social dance floor? Can I be a follower and yet influence the outcome of a dance?
The answer to both questions is YES!
Salsa dancing is a conversation and not a lecture!
When two people dance together, the roles of leader and follower are established to allow this conversation to happen.
When I assume the role of a follower, I am choosing to listen actively to my partner’s cues. As a follower one has to live in a moment, actively interpreting their partner’s changing body language to enable a successful dance. Followers must not only be reactive and alert but also, agile, strong and stable. Followers have equal agency in a dance.
My choice to follow and my skills as a follower make or break the dance, as much as my partner’s lead.
Good leaders never dictate a dance. They are always receptive to their partners, observing their center of gravity, their readiness or lack thereof to execute a move, their mood, and their connection. Good leaders listen as much as they speak, if not more.
Finally, skilled dancers connect, not only to each other but also to the music. This connection transcends the realm of physical connection between dance partners and can only truly be reached when one is skilled in their own department, be it lead or follow.
To follow does not diminish your power and it’s certainly not the lesser of two skills.
Having said that, there is room for improvement in the way we approach lead and follow, and several questions to be asked of the status quo.
Does partnered social dancing need to be gendered?
Would it be possible to normalise dancing different roles free from the stereotypical perceptions associated with them?
Can we be more inclusive as a community?
Can we accept fluidity of gender?
Can we accept sensuality between dance partners that is not heterosexual?
These are important conversations that we need to have within our community.
We do have the answer to this question though- Can you be a feminist and a follower?