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Ladies Leading?

Posted: 11:33, Saturday 27 January 2007 by Megan Jones

Updated: 23:15, Sunday 28 January 2007 by Megan Jones

Many thanks to Mike Lim who took some time to pen the following…I wonder whether any of the women who took part in the Leading Ladies workshop held some 18 months ago have any thoughts to add…?

There seems to be a constant problem at tango events – not enough men! The earlier posting on el cabaceo became partly a discussion about negotiating the imbalance between the sexes at milongas. Classes are sometimes in danger of not running and willing women are excluded because there aren’t enough men. And it’s quite evident in practicas, where most of those waiting to dance are women. I’m not sure what we can do about the source of the imbalance; that is, the general reluctance of Australian men to dance. But I’d like to suggest a possible solution. What if we simply set aside the expected roles of men leading and women following?

What if we stopped being fixated about ‘men’ and ‘women’ and instead recognised dance partners as ‘leaders’ or’followers’? Imagine four people wanting to dance: one man and three women. At the moment what usually happens is the man dances with one woman while the other two wait their turn. But if the remaining women were able to lead, they could dance with each other and swap roles as well. Then neither loses out on following; in fact this increases the overall opportunities to dance the follow. A few women at Siempre Tango have already taken on the lead, but I suspect they may still not be able to dance the follow as much as they’d like because despite their efforts there are still not enough other leads around. What I’d like to suggest is us accepting flexible roles which would mean (because this is point) more time on the dance floor. This idea is not radical; think about the origins of tango, where a standard part of the scene was men dancing with each other for the lack of women. I’m not suggesting we pretend we’re in a nineteenth-century Buenos Aires bordello. The cultural convention of one sex taking on only one role is just that: a convention. Conventions arise from particular historical and social situations, which means they can change when the context does.

I know we can’t all swap roles as easily as the music changes, so I think this needs a more deliberate effort. Maybe instead of turning away unaccompanied women for a beginner’s class, some of the more experienced women could come in to learn the lead too. Maybe for the next round of classes, instead of being worried about the lack of men, there could be a special block on ‘Leading for women’. (I’d sign up for ‘Following for men’!)

I only know how to lead and am sometimes conscious of how much I’m limited by my skills and knowledge, especially when I see female friends dancing with more experienced partners and being taken some place beyond what they’re used to. I’d love to be able to have that experience, and in an environment where dancers could lead or follow, it would be possible.

Written by Mike Lim.


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