Do dance weekends make you more passionate about dancing?

I’ve been reading the posts on the vernacular jazz dance tumblr and pondering if dance weekends really make you more passionate about dancing? VJD comments:

“So I went to an event a little while ago. Usually you always read how travelling for dancing will make you more passionate about the dance yadda yadda. Whereas this event pretty much destroyed my dancing mojo.

This is about the icky feeling of having to compete for leads with other follows. More often than not, I was asked for a second dance by wonderful leads, but over the whole weekend I probably got asked to dance no more than five times. Rationally, I know this is not because everyone hates me, but because all free leads get snapped two seconds into a song due to the imbalance (this is also why I didn’t enjoy the social side of Herräng very much). I hate what it does to my state of mind – often the eagerness to please takes precedence over fun or establishing a true partnership.”

I completely understand and agree with these sentiments. I’ve come away from many events feeling exactly the same way but I haven’t seen this discussed much. Who wants to come back from a big event and tell everyone that it was crap?

If you go as part of a group then, yes, events can be amazing but I’ve found travelling as an unknown single follower really tough. There are often huge lead/follow imbalances which means you have to compete for leads. If you know a lot of people in the scene then you will get more dances because people recognize you, say hi and ask you to dance. (Same happens in local dances although leaders often make a point of asking you to dance as the out of towmer which is lovely). I don’t even think dancing ability counts for that much. I’ve been at European events where I have seen minor American rockstar follows (who have a queue at home) have to compete for leads in the same way as everyone else. I’ve seen awesome masters track followers do all right things at post workshop dances and still be relegated to the non dancing sidelines.  Simple fact of the matter is that most people dance with people they ‘know’ and if you don’t know anyone it’s hard going.

I totally get the eagerness to please thing too. Dogpossum puts it better than I can:

There is almost always a shortage of men of a higher dancing ability in a scene, and there is often a sense of competition between women dancers for the attentions of male partners. On the social and competitive dance floor. This competition is seldom articulated, is demonstrated more through the oblique social manoeuverings that characterise women’s power dynamics more generally, and to speak about these issues at all is to jeopardise your future possible partnerships. Or to at least believe that commenting upon this status-driven and deriving state of affairs will affect your desirability as a partner.

Again, bluntly put, women lindy hoppers have been convinced that the uppity woman will be punished. The uppity follower will be dismissed as a ‘poor follow’ and ‘miss out’ on dancing with the ‘good leads’. Who usually represent their scene’s dominant notion of ‘preferred’ masculinity/leading rather than actual, solidly capable leading and dancing. The uppity follower, I’d argue, will suffer the consequences of a heteronormative, patriarchal culture.

Of course the answer is to learn how to be an amazing lead but if you really enjoy following then you’re a bit stuck.

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6 responses to “Do dance weekends make you more passionate about dancing?”

  1. Tan says :

    Thanks for posting – I can really relate to this. I’m a single (UK-based) follower and hate the whole competing for leads thing – I’m happy to ask most leads to dance but I refuse to stalk/chase after them and often this means I get few dances. Unfortunately it seems the Lindy system (the behaviour of many leads, follows, promoters, organisation of events etc.) rewards chasey-stalkey behaviour and doesn’t reward the sensitive follow who likes to let leads finish their previous dance and catch their breath for a couple seconds before asking for a dance.

    It would be nice if leads didn’t pander so much to the follows who hog all the dances, and it would be nice if those follows realised that if they are dancing 100% of the time when there are 50% more follows than leads, then it’s kind of like they’re taking more than their fair share of dances. I think there are also plenty of things that could be done during the organization of events to ensure that single follows don’t miss out (on booking, and on social dancing once they’re at the event).

    And yes, it does seem that people want to play it safe and dance with their friends a lot of the time – even to the point that they travel half way round the world to dance with the same people! I get it – it’s nice to have regulars that you dance well with and feel comfortable with. But yeah, not so fun for the single dancer who has travelled with the express purpose of mixing and with dancing with new people. Sometimes I try to to go round the room in a circle and ask every lead I come across to dance. Unfortunately because of the lead/follow imbalance often there are too few leads standing around the room (and most of those will be deep in conversation or obviously tired, and therefore most likely not interested).

    And yeah, rationally I know not getting dances doesn’t mean that everyone hates me (or even hates my dancing) – but it’s does knock my confidence about a bit….(sorry – super long comment – could go on forever!)

    • sleepingglitter says :

      Thanks for your comment.

      I know how to do the leader pounce thing (as in dance/song not finished, lead not quite let go of current partner, jump in) but I hate it. I would rather go for a meal, be a tourist or go to bed early than spend the evening competing for leads.

      Organizers definitely need to do their bit to help too. Usually ratios are ok in workshop classes but evening dances can be a nightmare especially if there is a women only track and the social dancing is open to everyone. I’ve travelled to events where there are 4 followers to every lead, yes I might have had fun with the other follows but it really wasn’t what I was there for. Do any follows go home from events like that with a positive vibe about their dancing? If you are going to have a girls only track for styling and jazz why not also have a track for girls who want to lead socially but don’t necessarily want to learn to be full on leaders? Get someone (Swedish) to teach it in a creative way with the focus more on expression than connection/crazy moves.

    • thorfy says :

      I definitely try pretty hard to make sure I’m not being hogged by the same follows at exchanges when the ratio is bad, and usually make a strong effort to dance with at least some people I’ve never met before – but I’m fairly sure that that is not what most leads are doing.

      I go to pretty much all dance events with my wife, and when the ratio is bad, I can come out of a night having had a great time, whilst she’s had a terrible one because the ratio sucks.

      I also come out of nights when the ratio is bad over-tired, but that’s not something that’s confidence battering.

      On a selfish note, I’d love more leading ladies to be out there, especially since I’m a following fellow (sometimes). When the lead/follow ratio is bad, I often feel bad if I grab a lead, because not only could I be out there leading, I’m taking up a lead that could be leading someone else.

      I do agree there are things that organisers can do (specific stranger-dances at the start of nights, meet-and-greet type things so not everyone is a stranger, etc) to help the situation though.

  2. sasha says :

    Just back from a lindy weekend and the way I feel about it can be guessed by the fact I did a search that led me here! I agree with so much that has been said. There were great workshops for me as an intermediate follow, with a reasonable lead/follow balance, I felt I managed them ok – so my confidence was up. At the socials the balance shifted dramatically and I danced about 6 songs in three hours but some other women seemed to never be off the floor – confidence rockbottom. I go to workshops to improve my dancing – but not for the first time I was left wondering why I had bothered. . I also hate the social manoeuvering that would rival a 17th century french court to be in the right place to catch a lead’s eye or even worse spending the evening steeling myself to try and leap in on a lead at that critical point as he is about to flee the floor for sanctuary before someone else does – but I can’t bring myself to do this and end up watching with increasing frustration women who can get dance after dance. Being friendly and trying to get to know people beforehand at these events, which is what I much prefer, is no guarantee that you will be able to get a chance to dance with them if they are constantly picked off in this way.

    In answer to the idea of more women leading, it’s a good idea in principle and it might work if there is a general willingness of women to take a turn, but that won’t always be the case. We have a very bad lead/follow balance in our local scene, so in desperation three of us ladies learnt to lead, and we are not great but we are ok. Trouble is, we then saw all the other women who have been dancing a while but don’t lead and outright refuse to learn how to do so expecting to dance with all the guys and for us to lead them all night too – so instead of evening out the load, all we got for our trouble was to follow even less – and none of us want to be full-time leads. So that’s not a strategy that has worked for us so far and we now have nights when we will only lead each other, even if that means sitting on the sidelines again. I have talked to other women who lead elsewhere and the general opinion I have heard is the same – a few more women leading doesn’t mean that all women evenly will get to follow more: it only benefits those women who don’t lead!

    I don’t know what the answer is, as I also expect that leads will choose to dance with friends – some they may dance with locally but it’s not the same as being at an event. I really appreciate leads who still do their best to dance with as many different people as possible, sometimes even at the limits of exhaustion. I know that isn’t necessarily a fun experience for them either and puts some leads off altogether as they feel under such pressure. Getting more guys dancing lindy is a work in progress, but in the meantime I feel faced with developing a streak of ruthlessness that isn’t in my nature or more likely resigning myself to a couple of dances an hour if I’m lucky and having a moan about it with other follows in the same position. Wish I didn’t love lindy so much, then it wouldn’t matter!

    • sleepingglitter says :

      Hi Sasha, Really sorry to hear about your experience but at least you know you’re not alone. Re women leading – I think you are right – if you lead you end up following less (and possibly not at all) but on the plus side you do get to dance.

      I feel quite sorry for leads when the ratios are bad. Not being able to choose who you dance with or to which songs can be really uncomfortable. I like to hear the music before I ask someone to dance, especially if it’s someone I’ve not danced with before, if the music is too slow it can be really awkward, and too fast might be too challenging. If follows are cutting in before the previous song has finished then leads are stuck with them no matter what.

      I think all follows appreciate leads (like thorfy!) who try to dance with people they haven’t met before or make a point of trying to dance with everyone at an exchange.

  3. Rebecca says :

    “I’ve found travelling as an unknown single follower really tough.”

    I so agree with this. During my ‘intermediate years’, when the excitement had worn off, but before I’d developed a large network of friends, I had this experience ALL the time.

    As frustrating as the situation is, people mainly love to dance with their friends. Therefore, I decided that the easiest answer for me was to make more, better friends. I also hate being cut-throat in asking leads to dance. So I’ve tried to keep my frustration and annoyance in check and stay focused on getting to know people.

    When I went to Herrang this summer, in fact, it was the same experience all over again. Nobody knew me, and I ended up doing a lot of hanging out. In the end that was great for me, and I got in some really fun (if only a few) dances with my new friends.

    Good luck dealing with it. I hope you keep your head up.

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