We start to learn more about our role and we improve. Eventually we brave a milonga where we see all those ladies sitting down. Men dance the night away, regardless of how good they are, whilst only the best (or best looking) ladies dance as much as they’d like. Then we see them – the lady who leads or the man who follows – and we think, ‘Could I do that?’ We think a bit more and start to chat to people about the idea and then wham!
‘You can’t do that. It will ruin your dance.’
‘Well, you could, but no-one will want to dance the other way with you again.’
‘Only people who can’t get dances try that.’
So, is it true? Should we stick to just one role? Historically, so the accepted wisdom says, men learnt tango with other men and by following first. Only once they could follow well, were they allowed to try leading – whilst also following another ‘new’ leader. This makes sense. Once you’ve been pushed around the floor by a well-meaning but inexperienced leader, you’ll never want to inflict that on a follower again.
Women, on the other hand, might be allowed to learn by dancing with their father or brother. They only ever learnt to follow as this was all they needed. Men far outnumbered women and so women had their pick of partners. Nowadays the reverse is true, and so it’s more often women who decide to try the other role. And who get those comments. But why? Is it true that learning to lead will adversely affect your following?
I started learning to lead several years ago, when I was already a decent follower. And I heard all those comments above and more. But it wasn’t long before I also heard comments along the lines of ‘you’re the best man in the room’ and ‘I wish the men could dance like this’. In truth, I couldn’t dance at all as a leader. Put a piece of music on and ask me to dance and I was like a rabbit in headlights. But there are a lot of transferable skills and I could lead the short sequence we were learning in a way that was sympathetic to the needs of my follower. After all, I had first-hand knowledge of what those needs were.
So, has it ruined my following? No, of course not. It has helped my following by making me a more sympathetic partner as well as giving me a better understanding of the timings involved in the dance. I didn’t embellish well (hardly at all in fact) until after I learnt to lead, when I realised where and when I could, without disturbing my partner.
So why is this myth still heard? As with all aggressive speech, it has its roots in fear. Fear of you becoming a better dancer and not wanting to dance with them, or maybe of you taking dances away from them. Whatever it is, it’s not your fear. If you want to try the other role or simply want to improve your dance, just go for it. You have nothing to lose – except, maybe, some bad habits!