What are the challenges?
One stickler is the preseumption that men and women will fill traditional roles.From my experience, women seem more comfortable changing roles. I didn’t have any strong negative experiences, but I’m quite aware of the potential for awkwardness.
A challenge is finding a lead to dance, especially outside of classrooms, because it’s uncommon for follows to ask leads to dance. So I’m breaking two norms: a male as follow and a follow asking a lead to dance. There are occasionally wonderful moments when there’s three extra guys, and I can offer to follow. When taking classes as a follow I was often the last to dance because I would fill in gender gaps and because most leads ask women to dance before asking men. It’s not all really bad, but there can be some discomfort.
Another challenge is being taller and heavier than typical follows. This is most notable in turning dances like the waltz and with less experienced partners, as the strangeness of having a male as a follow makes some leads more hesitant. There are ways to workaround it, but many dances work better when both the lead and follow give weight and push back. This makes it easier for each partner to move the other and be moved by the other. Because of my size, my partners found it easier to move me when they gave more weight, not less. Dancing is physical, embrace it.
Any tips for other leads learning to follow?
Start at the beginning. Following is quite a different experience from leading, so it’s better not to rush and jump into the middle. Starting on the other foot can be confusing, so it’s helpful to prepare your feet before music starts — such as making sure the correct foot is free. This means you won’t need to think about it when the music starts and you can flow straight into the dance.
Also, consider what you enjoy or appreciate from your partner when you are leading. When you follow, you can offer that to your lead. For example, when I am leading, I always appreciate my partners letting me know that they enjoyed the dance, so I am deliberate about thanking my partners when I follow.
As both Simon and I experienced, learning to dance in a nontraditional role is a very fulfilling experience. Hopefully, more people will try it after learning about our experiences.