[Callers] Lead/Follow in a Swing

Andrea Nettleton twirly-girl at bellsouth.net
Sat Jan 5 01:51:35 PST 2013

Sometimes a dance weekend comes along just in time.  So I am at Chattaboogie in TN, and thought very hard about what was going on between me and all the people I danced with, and I think I finally understand why, in my mind, lead/follow are actively bad terms to use in contra, and why when we teach the idea of flourishes, I really don't want anyone thinking of one role as lead, and the other as follow.
The evening rolled along, and I danced both positions with both genders of partners.  Late in the evening, I reflected about which dances I had enjoyed the most.  It came down to one dance with a woman, who is a very accomplished younger than me dancer.  We fluidly played off one another, making no distinction about who was in charge, a different one landing in the 'you go' position at the last second at every possible opportunity.  It was like contact improv in a contra line.  We could not have said who was leading, and neither could anyone watching.  It was transcendent.  The other wonderful dance was with a man.  He dances in the usual position, is a wonderful dancer, but doesn't often offer a flourish.  Instead he absolutely loves for me to create sequences of flourishes for both of us to do, but I end on the right.  Why were these experiences so notable, I had to ask myself.  It is because most men have come to think they must be in charge of flourishes, to the point that they don't seem open to my flourishes, or at best are in a state of surprise which makes reacting to the suggestions awkward.  Most women I dance with are entirely passive, can receive a flourish from me if I am in the lefty role, but don't have anything to give back, sometimes not even good weight.  There are a few who can swap positions, and offer flourishes from the lefty position, but in my transcendent dance, we were completely interchangeable, and the game was who would wind up where.  Even we didn't know!
I think the root of the problem is that, without meaning to, we have begun to foster a culture of expectations of bifurcated roles.  Using the terms lead/follow only codifies and ultimately ossifies something I would like to do away with.  I know some people are only going to dance one role, and some may only be able to participate in one way lefty to righty flourishes.  But I want more people to be able to open their minds to the kind of experience I had tonight.  Using the terms lead/follow to indicate the expectations of dancing one side or the other will tend to shut that down, and I think it would be a crying shame.  We have subtly given up something I treasure.  It is not the right to dance in a staid old fashioned way, it is a formerly pervasive concept of the dance as a an equal opportunity chance to play being replaced with a male dominated one way I am in charge of you thing.  I can't listen to defenses of that, to me, perversion of my beloved play space.  I don't want the experiences I had to be rare, outside the box, ones.  I want them to be as obvious a choice as any.
The discussion began with the idea that maybe we need a better set of terms for the two positions we dance.  This was to acknowledge that some in our community don't want their dance position defined, even by archaic implication, as something to do with gender.  I am not personally bothered by gent/lady, but if I'm going to call to people who are, let the alternate terms not imply something about the dance which I do not wish to convey.   Let them not limit, by seeming to prescribe and proscribe who can and should do what, what we in fact choose to do.  Let's try to generate something humorous, elevating, easy to say and remember, and truly neutral. All we need them for is to say who is crossing in a chain, and who needs to end the swing where in order for the dance not to turn into a mixer.  We could always resort to diagonals for same role moves, even chains for that matter. 
So.  Some people want no change from trad terms.  Fine.  Know that a certain number of dancers may object or not return, but it's your dance.  Some want new terms.  Ok.  If they are awesome, I bet even trad series might adopt them eventually.   Arguing whether we should change them is different from arguing which of the terms we already use to keep using, and different again from evaluating the merits of new alternatives.  It's become a bit of a mash up.  
I don't know whether we should, as a whole community, abandon trad terms for new ones.
That doesn't keep me from gleefully generating new terms, just in case we hit on that totally perfect set.  (See the FB thread.)
But when I see people arguing for terms which by their use change how it is likely for people to conceptualize the roles, in a way that curtails the potential for the kind of beautiful shared dancing I saw and felt  tonight, I have to say no.  No, that is not a set of terms which serve us well.  No fine tuning of your arguments will convince me that they will.  Please, stop defending the terms lead/follow as if they were something we might find desirable.  Broaden your vision to imagine the grace they impede.

Sent from my iPhone

On Jan 5, 2013, at 1:35 AM, Jeff Kaufman <jeff at alum.swarthmore.edu> wrote:

> On Fri, Jan 4, 2013 at 3:20 PM, John Sweeney <info at contrafusion.co.uk> wrote:
>> The middle of a swing is a beautiful (almost) symmetrical move with the
>> man and lady (almost) completely equal. ... But in a swing there is also the
>> entry and exit.
> It depends how you dance.  In the way I'm most used to dancing the
> whole swing is a time for interesting variations, and this includes
> the middle as much as the beginning and end.  I think of the swing,
> middle included, as much more lead-follow than the rest of contra.
> Jeff
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