Changing Roles: Reflections on Leading and Following

Florian and I had the idea to do some filming in NYC on a gorgeous spring day. We decided on locations, found someone to film, and were choosing music when I said – “You know what? I’d like us to do one video where you lead and one where I lead.” After all, we’d been practicing both roles together from the beginning of our partnership, and we’ve both been teaching leaders and followers for quite some time.

Florian and I both enjoy dancing both roles. We would like to see the day when it’s not surprising to see women leading or men following – when each person can choose his or her role depending on mood, or the song, or what shoes he or she is wearing.

Currently when a guy is interested in following, it’s expected that he give some kind of rationale, for example to improve his technique or so that he’ll be able to teach both roles. In the blues and fusion dance scenes, it’s not uncommon to see men following purely because they enjoy doing so. I would like to see our kizomba community grow to accept that as well.

So many of the scenes here in the USA are organized, taught, and powered by such women as Monica Kay (Houston), Vicky Vazquez (Phoenix), Elyse Inzinga (Rochester), Emily Anuszczyk (Sacramento)…the list goes on and on. Nevertheless, male leads are still considered the preferred teachers at major festivals. They do a great job, certainly! But it would be lovely to see the same kind of respect given to our female teachers as well.

I remember being heckled in Paris when I took advanced classes as a lead, and the laughing surprise of the MC when I competed as a lead at the SF Got Kizomba Festival. More than once a well-meaning guy has interrupted my dance with another lady, assuming we didn’t have “anyone better” to dance with. I see guys forced to treat their following as a joke to avoid being perceived as feminine- when we were making this video, a passing man hollered “Hey yo, get off my boyfriend like that!” meant to imply Florian must be homosexual to be following a woman (see the last part of this video)

There is historic precedent in semba for men following, if only with other men. Is it so disconcerting to see them following female leads? Also, it’s become more and more common to find women in leadership roles in the workplace and in government. Why not give them the opportunity to lead on the dance floor as well?

We have a long way to go before we reach the kind of equality in the dance scene that I’ve been dreaming of; hopefully this video can be a small contribution to the movement.