Discuss – 10 Reasons Men Lead

I stumbled upon this on FB from a link on Manu’s page and I thought it was important enough to repost. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it:

Some people, sadly, have a bit of trouble with the idea that in social dance men lead and women follow. There are still hang-overs from the 1980s with their absurdly assertive women, and the political correctness of the 1990s, which make some people uneasy with anything which suggests that a man might command and a woman obey. These attitudes lead some people to question the way partner dancing is conducted, even that it might not be an acceptable activity in a modern society. These attitudes are the enemy of fun.

If you ever find yourself having to deal with someone who says that it is wrong for women to follow the leads of men in dance, here are a few arguments you can use against them. They should make you feel better, even if they do nothing to convert the person you are talking to.
1. Someone has to leadIn a social partner dance, the object is to get two people dancing as one, without any need for choreography. This allows strangers to dance with each other, and is fun. Someone has to lead, therefore. If both try to follow, nothing happens, and if both try to lead, then contradicting leads will be given and the dance will come to a crunching halt.
2. Men are taller than womenThe average man is six inches taller than the average woman. In the vast majority of mixed-sex pairings, therefore, the man will be significantly taller than the woman, and fairly often the difference will be very great. It is a simple fact that it is far more difficult to lead someone who is taller than to lead someone who is shorter. If the follower is taller, then the leader will have to stand very close to her in order to reach above her head, giving her little room to turn and little room for error.
3. Men are stronger than womenThere are many moves in social dance, which involve the leader’s supporting the weight of the follower. In wild dances like the Jitterbug, the leader might even have to throw and catch the follower. Whereas it is easy to throw someone lighter than oneself, it is blinking difficult to throw someone much heavier. Also, such moves require a great level of trust. The follower has to trust the leader to catch her. If a woman were to lead a dance with a man, then in order to do any of these moves, the man would have to trust her absolutely to catch him, and he probably wouldn’t, especially if she were a stranger.
4. It avoids argumentsAt a social dance, one does not want a dispute, a clash of wills, or an awkward moment. If I go up to a woman at a dance and ask her for next dance, then since it is an accepted convention that men lead and women follow, there is no argument or discussion over who leads. Instead we can just get onto the floor and start happily. I don’t have to ask her if she wants to lead. She doesn’t have to feel obliged to let me lead. She doesn’t have to admit that she can’t lead. We can just dance and enjoy ourselves.
5. Each sex can specialiseIf the convention were changed so that men and women were equally likely to lead a dance, then all men and all women would have to learn both the leader’s part and the follower’s part. Learning to dance takes long enough as it is, but this requirement would mean that everyone would have twice as much to learn, and each part would interfere with the ease with which they danced the other, as all lefts and rights get reversed, and some habits which are good in a follower are annoying in a leader and vice versa. Not only would everyone take twice as long (or longer, and that’s if many can be bothered with all this – plenty of people drop out of dance lessons as it is) to learn, but at every dance they attended, they would get half as much practice at each part. The net result would be that everyone would be a lot worse at dancing. If each sex specialises in one part, then the learning period is bearably short, and each sex becomes much better at its one role.
6. Sex is part of the funIn truth, of course, one often does see women dancing with women, and occasionally men dancing with men (deliberately badly, and with big cheesy grins). Always, though, the best dances one witnesses in an evening of social dance will be between one man and one woman. Partly this is because of reason five, above, that each has specialised, partly also because the man will probably be taller and stronger, but mostly because there is something in the chemistry between men and women which means that each dancer raises his level. If a woman dances a “shine move” (one where she struts her stuff independently of him, showing him how good she is) with another woman, she will never dance it quite so well as she would with a man. She will always rein-in slightly, because there is something sexy about dancing as a couple.
7. Men prefer itMen are show-offs. Men get pleasure from dancing well, not simply from dancing. A partner dance is an opportunity for a man to be masculine, and give a woman a good time. This is surely a good thing for both men and women. If a man is stupid, he might try to show the women how strong he is by shoving her around brutally. She won’t like this and will never dance with him again. If he is considerate and sensible, he will look after his partner and she will enjoy dancing with him. If she looks happy at the end of the dance, that is his reward. Men get a big kick out of that sort of thing, and we are, after all, doing this for kicks.
8. Women prefer itDespite what the politically correct may try to get us to believe, women don’t actually find men who are followers in life as attractive as leaders. Weak yes-men do not win the hearts of women, while strong and decisive men generally do. Dancing with a man is an opportunity for a woman to assess him. If she is leading, she will learn less about him, and the sensation of having a man follow her is not as pleasurable as the sensation of being well led by a man who is a decisive and skilled dancer. Deny the biology of the situation if you like, but you won’t refute it. It remains true that men and women both enjoy partner dancing most when he leads and she follows (for much more on this sort of thing, see my essay in the evolution section on why men won’t dance – you’ll need to use your browser’s BACK button to return here).
9. It isn’t command and obeyIn fact, the leader’s part is not that of a ruthless dictator, nor is the follower’s part that of an abject slave. In reality in partner dancing, a woman can contribute a great deal to the dance, and a good leader will let his follower shine. People do not like to be coerced, but they do appreciate competent leadership. A good leader will keep the partnership in synch, but this requires good following. The partnership is just that: a partnership of two people who are equal but different. The woman plays an active role in keeping the partnership together. A man who is coercing his partner into each move, while dancing with a woman who is simply allowing him to do so, will look like a man shaking a rag doll. Watch a good dance couple dancing together and this is not what you will see. Instead you will see two people each bringing their skill to the dance, each working to maintain the partnership, and each having fun.
10. You need to get out more This, I suppose, isn’t really a proper reason, nor perhaps the best sort of thing to say in a discussion with someone who is already of the opinion that there is something inherently dodgy about men’s leading and women’s following in dance. I put it in for two reasons. First, it brings the number of arguments up to ten, and second, it expresses to some degree my frustration with people who put correctness above enjoyment. Perhaps there is something bad about men’s leading in dance, but I know from experience that partner dancing has a lot good about it, and I’m pretty sure that whatever harm might be done by men’s leading is easily out-weighed by the good that comes from the fun people have dancing with each other. If we forbid ourselves to participate in any activity which isn’t perfect in every way, then we will miss out on life.

If you’re interested in what other people think about this, check out the yehoodi thread. 😀 Thanks Manu!!!

15 thoughts on “Discuss – 10 Reasons Men Lead

  1. Lindsay K. says:

    I got distracted by the “Why Men Won’t Dance” link, and I need to be doing something else right now, so it’ll have to stay open in another tab for a while, patiently waiting.

    Anyway, I’ve got no qualms about the idea of men always leading on the dance floor. When you think about it, the girls have more fun really, because they get to do all the fun flashy stuff (like swivels, hello!!) while waiting for the next move 😉

  2. Meredith says:

    I think this is my favorite quote:

    “If a woman dances a “shine move” (one where she struts her stuff independently of him, showing him how good she is) with another woman, she will never dance it quite so well as she would with a man. She will always rein-in slightly, because there is something sexy about dancing as a couple.”

    Jo, have you read the “Why Men Won’t Dance” link? OMG. Go read it. RIGHT. NOW.

    Thanks for posting this! I would love to hear some arguments in favor of men and women both leading and following, outside of “there aren’t any leads/follows to dance with, so I had to learn”. ..

  3. Freddie says:

    “the best dances one witnesses in an evening of social dance will be between one man and one woman”

    Obviously a statement from someone who’s never seen Gio dancing as a follower. He can even do Madonna.

  4. @thorfi says:

    … Heh. I think it’s far simpler than all this – the answer is “why not?” It’s the same answer to the question of “why shouldn’t men follow?”, or “why shouldn’t women lead?” Why not? Who needs a reason, beyond, “well, it can be done, so why not?”

    I don’t actually buy many of the arguments here – lots of them sound like simple justifications, not good reasons, and I even where I am down under I can name plenty of great counterexamples just amongst locals I know, let alone from elsewhere.

    It also feels like plenty of those arguments are simple reflections of a mostly male-dominated society. (And if you think western society isn’t male dominated any more, you perhaps need to go do some research that’s well beyond the scope of this debate.)

    For me personally, I started learning dancing as a lead because of the default men-lead thing, but I found after a couple of years that I really needed to learn to follow as well, in order to actually come to some understanding of what was going on on the other end of my arm. Learning to follow is something I’ve continued to do for some years since then, and I see no reason to stop doing so. As I’ve gone on I even find that there are plenty of skills that are useful in both contexts, even more so as I get better at both.

    Of course I am now more skilled as a lead than I am as a follow, and that will likely continue, but all that means is that I’m aware of the skill difference. I’m not about to jump into an advanced workshop as a follow yet, for example.

  5. Cari says:

    Thank you for re-posting this — I’ve been following the discussion for a while now, but am annoyed by (1) follows who are bringing feminist bullshit to the table, (2) men who brush it off, and (3) people who know that the lead-follow dynamic is good, but talk about it without making a valid or intelligent argument. This is not only valid, but incredibly well-said.

    I especially appreciate the comment about leading and following as a “partnership of two people who are equal but different” — because a dance would be beyond boring (and challenging) if we brought the same things to the table. Instead, leads and follows occupy different roles, in my mind, so that both may contribute to the dance.

    I do think there is something to be said for being able to choose the role you wish to enter when you first start dancing, if you choose to specialize in the role which your gender tends to shy from…but that would again invoke reason #4 — not to mention all the reasons involving body differences (height, weight) and a vague sense of sexual appreciation.

  6. Cari says:

    @thorfi, I would like to add that I honestly like following. I honestly prefer not to have to make 70% of the decisions in the dance and instead focus on my footwork, variations, and stylings. I would never want to specialize as a lead because honestly — I like being the center of attention, and that’s how I feel as a follow.

    So while some of the reasons seem like justifications, I think that many are actually based in biology — as humans, we’ve had a pretty long time to evolve, and that’s already created some clear roles within humanity. And while those roles can be challenged by anyone who chooses to do so, sometimes it’s easier to go with the flow.

    However, I would like to say that the societal stigma against those roles changing could use an attitude adjustment — for example, I always say yes when an unknown female asks me to dance; I explain that I don’t lead, but I accept the dance because if she wants to lead, who am I to stop her?

  7. Christina says:

    is this sarcasm? is this satire? Christ, I hope so, because otherwise it reads like the incredibly insecure screed of a man who is desperately grasping at some sinking straws in a society where men are losing the ability to boss women around just because they have a penis.

    Oh, and yes, I’m a woman who primarily follows. But one who is offended by the phrase “the 1980s with their absurdly assertive women,” because, really, why would it be absurd for a woman to be assertive?

    So, “[my] thoughts on it”:

    “1. Someone has to lead.” Yes. But what about that says it has to be the “man”?

    “2. Men are taller than women.” If this were a legit reason, it’s be taboo for men to dance with women taller than them. Obviously this happens all the time.

    “3. Men are stronger than women.” If this succinct statement, as well as its attendant drivel, were a legit reason, men would never dance with women were stronger than them/who they couldn’t throw around. Obviously, this happens all the time.

    “4. It avoids arguments.” Convention is convenient, but I’ve never seen an argument break out between two men or two women when one asks the other to dance. Use your words and ask for what you want! (Some advice that could be applicable to many relationships.)

    “5. Each sex can specialise. (sic)” This only recommends that each dancer pick a primary role when they set out. Like reason 1, it doesn’t recommend a role based on gender for any particular reason.

    “6. Sex is part of the fun.” Sometimes. Not every dance has to be sexy, and men who think this make up the bulk of my “creeper creeper” category. But then what about men who love men? Women who love women? are they just not allowed to play? And I’ve seen plenty of men dancing with men dances that were wonderful and skillful. It has a different dynamic, yes. But it’s not “always bad.”

    “7./8. Men prefer it/Women prefer it.” People should, by all means, dance the role they prefer. But even if it were true that men prefer that women never lead, I don’t buy they have any authority to tell women want to do. If a woman wants to lead (or a man wants to follow), and she has a willing follower (or he a willing leader), who else’s business is it? No one’s but the two who are dancing.

    “9. It isn’t command and obey.” Good. But then why did you say that it “make[s] some people uneasy with anything which suggests that a man might command and a woman obey. ” in the intro? And why, in our society, would a man commanding and a woman obeying make anyone uneasy? Oh right, because that is the model for much of the history of our society and our hobby does not occur in a societal vacuum.

    “10. You need to get out more.” Blow me.

  8. Beth says:

    I’m tired of hearing that it’s “feminist bullshit” to disagree with this list – I think this list is bullshit as far as “why” men lead. As much as it seems many people would love to take it as it is, I’d argue that like @thorfi says – we live in a male dominated world, and that fact can’t be treated as unimportant. When these dances were just starting, there’s no arguing that it wasn’t men who were doing the vast majority of decision making – women didn’t have that option. And as great as it’d be to have a parallel universe minus the male dominated society to compare to, we have to take what we have with the history that exists.

    I think there’ve been enough number by number breakdowns of why the items in this list are either non-relevant or just completely ridiculous, so I’m not going to get into that, but I’d like to comment on the “men/women prefer it” numbers – I’d guess that everyone prefers their primary role – people who are primarily leads have to think a hell of a lot more when they try to follow, and vice versa. Having preference for your primary role has nothing to do with the underlying WHY the role was chosen in the first place.

    I’d love to have really been given the option to lead when I started dancing – but we weren’t separated by preferred roles, we were separated by sex. It wasn’t until I’d been dancing as a follow for months that leading for women was mentioned as anything other than a skill to have to make your following better. I’ve definitely seen it getting better – more men learning to follow and women learning to lead because they enjoy the roles. I love that these discussions are happening – that there’s a push to use “leaders” and “follows” instead of gendered nouns. I love that the majority reaction to this article seems to have been disdain and eyerolls, with thoughtful discussion tearing it apart.

  9. christina says:

    @Cari, how is “I always say yes when an unknown female asks me to dance;… I accept the dance because if she wants to lead, who am I to stop her?” not some “feminist bullshit” that you say you dislike so much? because that’s definitely a feminist position.

  10. Sarah says:

    Aside from performance or competition* most Lindy Hop doesn’t rely on one partner being stronger or more massive than the other partner. A swing out more requires coordination, cooperation, personal balance and the efficient exchange of energy, than the exerting of one’s power onto another.

    I keep hearing this idea as the strongest argument for men to always lead, that they are stronger. But we don’t need to be strong to lead.

    I’m a woman and I can lead anyone who can follow. I don’t have to be stronger.

    If we have a partnership that requires the lead to muscle the follow around, that isn’t good Lindy Hopping – we know that. Good Lindy Hop is about control and cooperation. If you’re fighting each other, you’re not doing it right anyway.

    *In regards to performance and competition, there is already physical conditioning/training that goes on at some level. Aerials are acrobatics. Aerials do require a solid base and a controlled flier – but that doesn’t predicate male or female in either role. Every single body is different and we train and choreograph scenarios that work for our bodies. We all always adjust for everyone always.

  11. @thorfi says:

    @Cari: Oh, I agree that there are definitely physiological reasons why some things may simply, on the average, work better one way than the other… But the thing is, we’re all quite varied individually. Even amongst all the male leads I know (ignoring the several female leads) there’s such a huge variety in physiques that it is not sensible to say we should all dance the same way.

    As for preferring following, to be honest, I actually prefer it too (partly because I have a martial arts background, and the mental “reactive/in-the-now” for following feels closer to that than the mental “planning ahead” for leading), and also wish the stigma against role changing was much lower. 🙂

    I also sometimes feel guilty when I follow just because of the social aspect. There just are less men in dancing, and therefore less leads, and therefore if I go dancing as a follow, not only am I “competing” for a lead (just as every follow is because of the general numbers issue), I’m reducing the number of available leads by one as well. :-/ I wish that wasn’t the case, but it unfortunately is.

  12. Lloyd says:

    Hello everyone,

    I’ve just found out that this thing I wrote many years ago has got people talking. Glad you’ve had some fun with it. I had to read it again to remind myself what I wrote. Possibly I could have been invited to the table earlier? Possibly it was better that people could argue over the piece without feeling the breath of the author on their necks.

    Anyway, I won’t reply to anyone in particular here. Instead I’ll just make the general comment that a lot of people are not agreeing or disagreeing with what I actually wrote, but with some idea they have brought to the piece themselves, reading in between the lines. Clearly, my statements paint with a broad brush, but they are not wrong because of that.

    “A good leader follows the follower” – I was told that in my first ever Lindy lesson. I was too inexpert then to fully understand it, but I think any half-decent lead knows what it means, and I repeat it often.


  13. Catherine says:

    Something that I love about dancing is that is can be sexy OR fun OR a revelation OR mild OR provocative OR theatrical OR caring OR goofy, etc, etc. It is a way to connect with people completely different from yourself. In dancing with a partner it is a simple equation: me+my dance partner+music=us dancing the way that feels right at the time.

    I find it so disheartening that someone some individuals assume that what is between my legs dictates my preferred role in dance or life in general. Seeing skilled people do things well is enthralling-and if they can lead AND follow well-woh!-amazing!

    Ultimatly gendernormative and heteronormative arguments (like the above) alienate individuals who don’t fit the very narrow gender-roles outlined. I think that this is the very logic and mindset that keep more people from joining the scene or becoming more envolved.

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