After writing a series on learning nontraditional dance roles, I met a dancer who competed a partner in reversed roles.

It all got started around the time when the British Dance Council debated banning same-sex couples from competing, so Tsotso and her friends got into a discussion of gender roles. The group together agreed that Luis, a guy, is one of the best follows they know. And one person suggested, they’ve already danced togeher in reverse roles for fun sometimes, why not compete?

Tsotso describes Luis as one of the most dedicated and talented dancers she knows. He loves to watch Yulia and Riccardo dance and would effectively reproduce Yulia’s techniques from videos (thousands try but few succeed). So Luis follows very well and also enjoys following. He sometimes would complain he doesn’t get to follow as much as he’d like.

So Tsotso and Luis registered to compete in MIT Open 2015 for Gold Latin role reversed, since collegiate competitions allow nontraditional roles. They had a great time and received lots of support. They even made quarter-finals and semi-finals for most of their dances. Here’s a sample of their dances:

Tsotso thought that it’s harder to switch from lead to follow than the other way around. I was confused, because I recall Richard Powers mentioning in Social Dance 2 and 3, which covers role reversal: men usually take to following faster than women take to leading. I gave Simon as an example.

Tsotso mused that it may be harder for leads who dance competitively than for those who dance socially to switch to following. Competitive leads often only dance with one partner for years at a time and do much more choreography than improvisation. So they do not get to practice the flexible and adaptive mindset required of all social dancers as often. But what competitive dancers sacrifice in adaptability, they gain in precision and power.

We also discussed that switching roles earlier in dancing may be a factor. At Stanford’s Social Dance classes, students start learning role reversal only months after learning to dance. By then, leads haven’t gotten as ingrained with leading mindsets yet and follows don’t know enough dancing to easily learn lead. So that may explain the difference observed by Richard Powers and Tsotso.

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