Ways to Address Dance Role Disparities in Your Dance Scene

You are a scene organizer or a prominent dancer in your community and you have noticed that there are significantly more people who prefer one role (leading or following) than the other in your classes and/or on the dance floor. This is a common problem in many dance scenes where there are two roles necessary to dance. It does not matter how long the dance scene has existed in its community. Attendance will fluctuate, often not in equal numbers of people who prefer leading and following.

It’s a tricky situation because as a scene and event organizer, you have multiple reasons to try and achieve the most equal ratio of leaders to followers. Arguably the most important reason, you want people to have enough partners to choose from without having to stand around waiting for their turn in the rotation in class or not having any one to dance with during the social part of the evening. It can be excruciating to watch this happen.

However, you–yes, you! The scene organizer or prominent dancer–are not completely helpless. Here are a few ways to help your dance scene keep a more reasonable ratio of leaders and followers.

Emphasize That Dance Is (Supposed To Be) Fun

Sometimes it is hard to remember that for most people, dance is at most a hobby and least something new and cool thing to do or try out on a random night during their week. They did not show up to be stressed out or worry if they’re “good enough” to dance with another human being without the structure of a class. They came out to have a good time.

The best way to address this sort of anxiety is to remind people in class, during announcements, and in passing conversations that we’re all here for the same reason: to have fun. If all that you remember once you step on to the dance floor is just hopping from one foot to the other to the music, that’s okay! As long as no one is getting hurt, there’s no reason to worry if what you’re doing is “correct”.

By emphasizing the fun of the dance, you’re simultaneously de-emphasizing any unwanted feelings of responsibility that people might feel towards the enjoyment of other people. The average dancer came out to enjoy themselves. It should not be their job to ensure the enjoyment of any one else. That’s the responsibility of the event or dance organizers and the people that volunteer to keep the scene functional. They are the one’s that are the most invested in the community and it’s their job to set the tone for any one walking through their doors.
It’s very easy for those of us for which dance has become more than just a passing hobby to take dance seriously. We enjoy it and we care. That’s why we become involved and choose to spend much of our free time working to improve. The average new person off the street is just looking and trying something new and hopefully find something that they genuinely can enjoy.

Every Ego Is Equal On The Dance Floor

It can be easy to place an emphasis on one dance role over the other, especially in the beginning when the learning curves can seem overly skewed to one skill being harder than the other. In most people’s experiences with leading and following, leading can seem overwhelming while following feels incredibly passive, but that’s because following becomes more nuanced as leaders become more experienced and confident in their own choices.

The best way to address these inverse learning curves and the accompanying frustrations is to remind people that everyone is learning. Even the very best dancers work to perfect techniques the teach to the beginners every week. Reframe mistakes as things that are necessary in the learning process and can sometimes be just a really cool variation.

On the social dance floor, encourage everyone to ask everyone to dance. And (more importantly) practice what you preach. If people see the scene organizers asking people to dance regardless of their dance role or skill level, they’ll be encouraged to do the same. Encourage your higher level dancers to dance with beginners.

This will create a community where the emphasis is on the social aspects rather than dance skill.

(NOTE: Another good way to take any pressure off is make sure that people understand that they are never required to dance with anyone. “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer. And if someone says no to you, it’s not a rejection of you as person, just that the person doesn’t want to dance at that moment. No one owes anyone anything and should never be made to feel as such.)

(ALSO NOTE: This does not excuse anyone from being a jerk.)

Invite Regulars To Your Lessons

A lot of what we have talked about will take time to implement and see the results, and sometimes you do need some quicker actions. One of the absolute best quick fixes is to invite regular dancers as ringers to your classes that have more of one role than the other.

Other than evening out the numbers, this will also benefit your scene by:

  • Giving extra practice time to those who might want to hone their dancing skills. It’s quite common to have to revisit the basics to become better dancers.
  • Encourage regular dancers to try out the opposite dance role. Even if they still prefer leading or following, knowing the other side of the dance will only improve them as dancers.
  • They’ll meet the beginners! Newcomers will feel easier dancing (and even asking) people they recognize and know by name rather than a stranger on the other side of the room.

It’s a win-win-win situation!

Be The Change You Wish To See In The World

I touched on this earlier: The absolute best thing you can do in your scene is lead by example. You don’t have to be an organizer or an instructor to do this. You can talk and lecture until people’s ears fall off, but unless you practice what you preach, then you might as well be saying absolute nonsense.

Don’t be afraid to show that you’re human, that you make mistakes.
Show through demonstration that no matter what role in the dance you choose, you can initiate the next dance by asking.
If someone comes to you with a complaint, engage them, encourage them with easy solutions. Dance with them. Surprisingly, showing that you are approachable will encourage others to do the same.

Taking your frustrations out on your scene by saying what other people can do better will only succeed in making people feel anxious or uncomfortable and will only undermine your efforts in building your community. If you see a problem perpetuating in your community, address it on the community level and then be the leading example of change.

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