To lead or to follow. Couldn’t we all have the best of both worlds?

(from ForróLetters #7)

by Anna Linda Fazenda

Almost every time I sign up for a forró workshop, party or festival, I need to answer a seemingly easy question: are you registering as a leader, or as a follower?

I understand perfectly the logic behind this question: organizers wish to have a balance of participants. Sometimes they go as far as to have separate registrations for each role, and one may find that there are no more slots for your preferred dancing role. However, I often find it hard to answer this question and wonder: what if everyone could be both? Wouldn’t that avoid unbalance? Wouldn’t it make the dancefloor more inclusive?

From the very first time I started dancing forró, trying both roles seemed like the logical way of properly learning the dance, and eventually I did and continue to learn both roles. I understand this approach might not be for everyone, however I see many benefits that I will try to illustrate to motivate all of you to learn the opposite role if you haven’t already.

One of the main benefits I see is that it makes learning from others much easier. When I dance as a leader, I pay attention to how it feels to dance with different followers and what makes some partners more comfortable to lead than others, and subsequently I try to adopt these qualities when being led. When I dance as a follower, I pay close attention to what makes the movement to be followed clear, and often I also learn new creative movements that my leading partners proposed during the dance and adopt them as my own the next time I dance as a leader.

Another great advantage of knowing how to dance as a leader and a follower, is that you never have to wait for a partner of the opposite role to become available. I can literally invite anyone I please (and who agrees to dance with me of course)! I often hear complaints at parties that there aren’t enough people in the opposite role. Part of me wants to roll my eyes a bit and say:

“Hey! Why don’t you try the opposite role for a change! You might like it!”

© Arnaud Ypersiel

Lastly, if you are lucky enough to be dancing with someone who is also able to perform both roles, you are able to switch roles within the dance, sometimes even without changing dancing positions, and that my friends, opens a whole world of possibilities where connection and playfulness are intensified to a whole other level!

As I said before, I understand dancing in both roles might not be for everyone and some dancers will have a preference towards one role or the other, just like they might prefer a particular style or rhythm. However, I can’t help but think gender roles have a big part to play in this and sometimes we do not stop to think about how we are somewhat conditioned by limiting beliefs based on people’s genders.

Earlier I mentioned imbalance in dancing roles, which happens quite often both in parties and classes. If I am being realistic, that imbalance is mostly due to more women being interested in dancing than men. I cannot tell you how many parties I have been to where I see a massive line of women waiting to dance and at the same time, I see men struggling to even take a bathroom break without being asked to dance by the women who were patiently waiting for their turn.

This might be the reason why more and more women are taking on leading. However, men who pick up following are a bit rarer to find. This is slowly improving, I must say more and more men are starting to ask me to lead them. Sometimes even men with whom I have never danced with before! This is a definite sign of things improving on the dancefloor. However, part of me always wonders if the same man would ask another man they don’t know to lead them without feeling embarrassed by it. Couldn’t this become the new normal?

In fact, I am of the belief that the male dancer still primarily carrying the role of the leader is one of the reasons less men dare to try couple dancing. Generally speaking, we can say it is easier to begin any couple dance as a follower, allowing more experienced dancers to lead the dance and show you what movements are possible, than to start by trying to lead others when you have little or no experience.

Therefore, if the role of the person leading did not have a gender attached to it, it may sound less daring to men (or anyone for that matter) wishing to begin dancing forró, since it takes a lot of courage to ask someone to dance with you when you barely know what you are doing. Also, it might attract more LGBTQ+ people to our dancefloors too, but this might be a topic for another article :)

All in all, I hope that I have managed to pique your curiosity in getting just a bit outside your comfort zone and trying a new dancing role. To change our dancefloors (and our societies) we must first change ourselves.

Thank you for reading and see you soon on the dancefloor! Would you like to lead, or follow? 😊