A few days ago, I published an article about how a leader I danced with managed to turn a really rough and scary dance into an amazing one. It was meant to show how respecting and communicating with your partner can lead to amazing dances – and rescue them when something is going wrong.

Most leads and follows resoundingly agreed with me; a true testament to how considerate and wonderful our dance community is. Many commended the lead on adapting our dance and giving us both a good experience. Many understood that mistakes happen, and sometimes it’s easy to forget to adapt to the partner – and that sometimes we need reminders. Most saw what a great, positive experience this was…

However, not all leads took the story that way. I say leads because so far not a single follow has protested against the story. The most blatant (and disrespectful) opposition was from a comment left by ‘Danny’, which has inspired the #DontBeADanny hashtag. But… he was not the only one who expressed that sentiment.

This article, dear leads, is aimed at those of you who feel that the rough experience I had was somehow a reflection of me not following, hijacking the dance, being picky, etc. That it was him compensating for me ‘going where I wanted’ instead of listening to the lead. That I am an unenjoyable follow because I endeavored to avoid a movement that could cause me permanent injury.

Let me say this: I am not here for your enjoyment. I’m here to enjoy the dance WITH you.

I, and all follows, are human beings. We have a right to safety. We have a right to not engage in something that makes us uncomfortable. We are not your playthings. We are not bitchy, icy, stupid, a primadonna, or high maintenance for making ourselves safe and comfortable.

If this offends you, too bad. It shouldn’t. I’m not criticizing your worth as a human being – or even as a dancer – when I decline a movement. It’s about me – not about you – and what I am comfortable with. If you think that it’s not OK for me to dance within my comfort zone, please never ask me to dance.

Do you have any idea how many follows TRY to please leads and end up with serious injuries? Who end up having to leave dance for good? Who end up ruining their dance weekends because that one guy did something without respecting their body, and they felt that in order to be ‘good enough’ they HAD to follow?

We want to be WITH you in the dance. We want a partner, not a dictator. We want to share joy with you; not be your puppet flung every which way. It’s scary – and irritating – to be treated like your enjoyment of the dance is secondary.

It doesn’t matter whether the follow doesn’t know the move, or just decided not to follow… it’s NOT OK to force a move. 

Is it OK to guide a more novice dancer by trying to repeat the move, add additional support, and try to gently guide her body into position? Yes. Is it OK to use your strength to contort her body into something she isn’t following? Hell No.

It’s irrelevant if she decided not to follow something vs. if she doesn’t know something. If you can’t guide her into the movement using the best of your technique and support, you shouldn’t proceed with the movement. Forcing it is always the unsafe option.

Saying “he obviously thought you were beginner” implies that it’s OK to use force on beginners who haven’t reached the stage of their dance journey to understand the movement. This isn’t OK. What if you hurt them? What if they hurt themselves?

It also implies that the only ‘acceptable’ reason for not following something is not knowing what the lead is – which is false.

It’s Not OK to tell follows that they don’t have the experience to make these judgement calls. 

If there is a major hurricane warning on the television for your city and there is a chance you could end up in danger, what would you do? The meteorologist says that there’s a 50/50 chance you could end up in the middle. Would you gamble?

What’s the outcome if you leave, and nothing happens?  You get to return home.
What’s the outcome if you stay, and the storm hits? You could die.

In the world of dance, follows are the citizen and the meteorologist is our experienced opinion. Maybe we don’t always get it right; maybe that dip or hammer lock would be OK. But, when it feels risky, not all of us feel like gambling on that chance – we’d rather make sure we go on to dance another day.

Not to mention, you don’t have knowledge of what WOULD have happened if we followed the move. Maybe it wouldn’t have been OK. Maybe that would have been the move that benched us forever.

Be careful of conflating ‘Not following a potentially dangerous movement’ with ‘Not following’ or ‘Backleading’. 

Backleading is going where I think the lead is going or where I want, regardless of the lead.
Not following in general is not connecting to the dance – period.
Not following a dangerous movement is our judgement call to protect ourselves.

Do not tell us that we are automatically backleading or not following the whole dance by not executing something unsafe. We have enough experience and skills to elect not to follow a specific movement without compromising the rest of the dance. We also can make mistakes and backlead one or two movements without being on constant autopilot. Do not assume it’s an all-or-nothing, where we either follow NOTHING or EVERYTHING.

Do you get every lead right? Doubt it. Do you sometimes abort movements that you’ve started? Yes, you do. We all exist in the middle. How would you like us to say “Well, you led these couple things wrong, so clearly you are a poor lead.”

Good follows are used to compensating for leads’ shortcomings all the time. Good leads are also used to compensating for our shortcomings and comfort zone. That’s what makes them great PARTNERS.

Yeah, we KNOW leads aren’t trying to hurt us!

“But he probably didn’t know!”
“But he probably forgot to adjust!”
“But he probably thought you were a beginner!”

Well, yeah, we assume that he’s not intentionally trying to hurt us. I’d be writing a seriously different angle if I thought there were leads out there relishing the opportunity to winch my shoulder. But really, when it comes to injury the outcome generally matters more than the intention. Rather than excuse the behavior by lauding his ‘good intentions’ or his ‘unawareness’, take a cue and realize that this is an issue that leads need to be educated about.

Realize and pay attention to make sure you are one of the considerate leads who adapt, just like great follows adapt to you. Meet us in the middle, and be aware of what you need to do to keep us safe. We know you’re not trying to hurt us – but all your good intentions to lead that cool move mean nothing if I end up with a torn shoulder ligament.

Listen to us – We’re Saying Something Important!

If you devalue our words and actions by saying that these negative experiences were somehow our fault, you are missing the point.

We don’t make ourselves feel unsafe in dance – someone else is, usually unintentionally. If it is because we are new, how does that somehow make it OK for us to be afraid? If we are experienced, why is it our responsibility to fight through the fear and do things that make us feel insecure? Why is this OK for you?

Why is it more important that leads get a follow who responds to everything than for follows get to feel safe in dance? 

It’s not. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.


Photo: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios