Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of watching a clip of all all-female group dancing rueda together. The person who posted it online added below the video that he doubted whether we should actually let our ladies dance. Although it was said in jest, he does raise the subject of ladies leading Salsa and multiple issues such as gender equality, sexism and traditionalism.
There may be some element of truth lurking behind the comments he made. After all, women are known to be terrible at parallel parking and absolutely awful driving at all for that matter. Surely it’s a terrible idea to give them free rein over the dance-floor and we are just asking for multiple dancing injuries, and more importantly excruciatingly BAD salsa that will lead salsa dancing down the inevitable path to a slow and painful death?
Let’s take a look at ladies leading Salsa and consider whether they can they actually meet the challenge of learning to lead and more importantly, whether we should let them at all.
Traditionally men lead
Let’s start off looking objectively at tradition. In Salsa (and all other partner dancers I’m aware of) men traditionally take the role of leader and women take the role of follower. That’s just how things were in society when these dances originally started and the way it still continues today. This is how it works best. This isn’t machismo or sexism- you should hang up your feminist ways outside of the dance-floor. Having pre-assigned roles enables each person within a group do their job to the best of their ability. As a result, there is no ambiguity, no fighting to guide the path of the dance nor dictate the moves. Everything goes smoothly and both individuals can work together in different but complimentary ways.This is part of the beauty of the dance.
Why do ladies want to lead?
For some, learning to lead offers the perfect opportunity to take your Salsa dancing to a whole new level and will really polish your skills. It gives you new insight into the whole experience of dancing Salsa plus it can make you a better follower as you can understand the the dance from the leader’s perspective.
If you are feeling like you need a little something to inject some renewed enthusiasm into your dancing, learning to lead might be the thing for you. It’s fun to learn to challenge the gender roles a little and try to show that it can be done. It’s also a great opportunity to do some bonding between friends- you can actually dance together for a change and not pass like ships in the night or make do with catching a sweaty 5 minutes together between dances.
Of course there are those who just want to do things differently, to assert a little ‘girl- power’ into proceedings or even just learn to lead for the sake of it. These all sound like some pretty good reasons, right? But just because you have good justification doesn’t mean it should be done.
How does it feel? Do we like it?
Women are used to being lead by a man, so how does it feel as a women when you are lead by another woman? Again, it’s a bit of a mixed bag of experiences. For me, it feels a little strange, uncomfortable and out of the ordinary. Everything about a woman in this role jars against what I expect as a follower; her lead is softer, there is no (normal) man-woman chemistry and everything about her style seems to be different to that of a usual male lead.
However, there is one huge advantage to being lead by a woman- you don’t need to worry about a man’s ulterior motives when you are dancing. This sits really well with British sensibility and character and is great for when you are healing from a bad experience with someone of the opposite sex. But does it feel like real Salsa? I would say no.
How does it look when a lady leads?
Take a moment to think about it now. If you are male then it’s likely that you will feel pretty excited at the sight of two women dancing together- it seems to awaken lesbian fantasies in some. I’m speaking from experience here. Do we really want our salsa to cross the line into porn?
Aside from this, when women lead, everything has a tendency to look lost. Everything lacks contrast. There is no distinct male energy to drive the dance forward, everything seems softer, calmer and the entire dynamics of the dance change as a result. We need to have the hormonal sandwich contained in a M-F dance to have a complete authentic dance. Think about the concepts of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy for a second. We need two opposite things to complete the jigsaw and to compliment each other. Think of strawberries and cream, salt and vinegar (!) or even Osbanis and Anneta. It’s impossible to deny.
Take a look at the all- female rueda below and try to tell me that it doesn’t look any different to ‘regular’ rueda. It looks different and unusual and, of course, that is partly why its done. But does it look good? I’ll leave that up to you.
Are ladies any good at leading?
Most women can indeed physically lead. However, there are some that say that women are lacking in several skills that will seriously hinder their ability. Take that old chestnut of spacial awareness or more specifically, the lack of it. Do women have what it takes?
Men also (usually) have the height advantage when it comes to dancing. Generally men are taller that women which puts them in a positions where they can actually ‘reach’ better. Although this doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider those times when you have danced with a taller woman or a shorter man. Makes it a whole lot harder doesn’t it?
Let’s also remember that dancing is a whole lot more than a set of moves in a certain combination- you need good connection with your partner, great connection with the music,and a big dose of chemistry even if you don’t realise it. A little testosterone from the lead adds a certain something that lady dances just don’t offer.
Saying all of that, women tend to be far more sensitive partners then men and can often ‘feel’ the dancing needs of their partners. Yes, technically they can do it, but do they look good?
A large section of the male population (though thankfully not all) would assert that women should know their place and stick to tradition. Female lead are great for a novelty act but not to be taken seriously. But is this really true? After all, this was how women’s football and rugby started and look at it today. Whilst dancing is about the experience of dancing itself, matters like gender roles are important. For me, when women lead, it changes the dynamics of the dance, and not always in a positive way, I prefer the authentic article with a good dose of hormones and male-female dynamic. That’s not to say that ladies shouldn’t lead. It’s just that it changes the whole experience, and in my opinion becomes inferior. Call me old- fashioned if you like…
P.S I am a lady that leads 🙂
Image © Vladimir Pustovit
When I asked if we should be letting ladies lead- I got your attention didn’t I? But seriously, do you think women should lead? Should we take same sex dancing couples more seriously? Share your thoughts in the comments section below: