October, 24 2013
Will You Dance with Me if I Lead?

A salsa lesson with iffy male partners led our contributor to question the possibility of gender role reversing in the institution of dancing, where the men are taken for granted as the lead.

by Leony Aurora
Issues
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“Dancing is the only institution in which the male’s position to lead is unchallenged.” – a male friend in his mid-20s.
 
This amusing observation was made by a friend to support his argument that feminist movements had bred a generation that was confused about a woman’s place in family, whether as nurturer, breadwinner, partner, head or whatever. He argued that women would have reached the same level of emancipation we enjoy now—and men would still be the unchallenged leaders of the packs—even without the whole bra-burning extravaganza that rocked the boat of family values. 

I completely disagree with this, of course. Emancipation is about power and since not many men would relinquish power without a fight, the waves of feminism were necessary. I quite like it that the positions of man and woman are now a compromise, something to discuss and agreed on instead of simply assumed, at least in some households. 

Letting somebody take over the direction of our lives has its appeal, of course. In 1997, I went on an all-girl trip to North Sulawesi with my cousins. Uncle Billy was there and he made all the decisions for us: What to do, where to go, what and where to eat, what time and how to wake up (his method was at 7 a.m. with a stereo blasting out religious songs). Not having to think and still getting a great time—and, unfortunately, expanding waistlines—was bliss. 

But that was a week of holiday with a guy who had proven himself to be a superb cook and the guru of good times. Would I like it if I had to follow somebody blindly my whole life simply because he’s got a Y chromosome and I’m lacking one? No. And considering that this was not an easy role for the male lead as well, I would argue that reversed emancipation would not be something that men should yearn for either. Let’s go back to the dance floor on this. 



One Saturday in a salsa lesson, I experienced the extreme consequences of letting men lead. We were standing in circles, changing dance partners after a song or two. The first guy was OK; he spun me here and there in a well-practiced routine that had few variations. I was fine, really, I much preferred repeated steps that run smoothly than clumsy, counted crazy twirls. But he was endlessly apologizing for not knowing more moves and for any slip-ups.
 
It was fine and kind of cute at first, but then he started saying sorry when I was missing a step. Apparently, whatever I did wrong was his responsibility, because he was supposed to lead, he said. Wow, what a burden! Unless they are egomaniacs, that’s not a very comfortable position to be in. This brings me to the next guy, who was so annoying that I seriously considered stumping on his toes. 

We were doing merengue, another type of Latin American dance, and the men were told to turn their partners. So this towering man lifted his left hand, which was supposed to be the first sign to turn, and after three seconds I turned slowly.
 
He barked, “You’re not supposed to turn if I don’t turn you!!” I took a deep breath and decided to give him the benefit of doubt.
 
We danced a bit more and he lifted his arm again, I waited for the little twist on my fingers that would definitely be the signal for me to turn, thought I felt it, and moved. BARK!!!
 
Duuuudeeee, be clear! Don’t lift my hand if you don’t want me to do anything—it looks stupid. I glared and luckily the teacher told us to switch partners. Imagine if a guy like that is leading my life. He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet he still wants me to follow him and gets very cross when he screws up. I think I’ll pass. 

That’s the difference between the dance today and the time when women were unapologetically treated as second-class citizens. Back then I couldn’t say I’d pass. Now I can choose whom to dance with. Even better, I can come over and *gasp!!* ask for a dance.
 
Besides, how often do we dance hand to hand in a classic you-lead-I-follow mode nowadays? We’re more likely to go to clubs and parties and dance by ourselves, sometimes in two, sometimes in a group, but still to our own styles and tunes. We can move offbeat, twist up and down, hands flailing all around. And nobody needs to bark or say sorry. 
 
About Leony Aurora
Leony works in communications, particularly those related to Mother Nature and how we live and grow. A former journalist, she thrives on personal stories and questions, in the hope that her quest will eventually lead to some answers. Writing keeps her sane although, paradoxically, it also induces bouts of insanity.