Men&Women (original in PT)

Why do men lead & women follow?

by Rita Morais

The talk of gender roles, 50/50 responsibility, shared leading and overall equality in forró has been taking off in the past years, riding on the wave of feminism that is (thankfully) spreading across all areas of our society and organisational structures.

We see more and more female leaders and male followers, but we have yet to see a woman whose primary (and initial) role is to be a leader and vice versa.

Why is this?

Is this a problem?

Or is this just the “natural” way of things which should not be messed with?

There are many mixed opinions about this topic and even while writing this, I found it hard to lock down all the points I find relevant or believe in. What I am 100% sure is that these topics need to be discussed. Assuming the way things have always been is the correct way has never brought us very far.

So, let’s give it a try, shall we?

Why is change important

Let’s start with a very important question: We all love forró, right? So, why change it? Men and women are intrinsically different, we think differently, feel differently. Bringing more women/men to the opposite side will inevitably proportionate the right conditions for experimentation and evolution of the dance. We would need some time until this is generalized and asking someone to dance does not come with predefined roles – will this be a mess at first? YES! Is it worth it? HELL YEAH!

Why men lead and women follow? – Breaking misconceptions

Men are taller

It’s for sure easier to lead a shorter person, but would that mean we should decide who leads and follows based on height? If that was the case, a great majority of male forró teachers/dancers in Europe would be very quickly excluded from the leading role. Moreover, adapting to the other person’s body is part of being a good leader/follower

Men are stronger

Forró is not an acrobatic dance (apart from some sporadic aerials), a good leader with a good follower search for the perfect balance of contact, direction and “presence”, no physical strength is needed, at all, ever – and this should be taught at every living second of any forró class

– You need to specialise in one role

There’s only so much time to practice the dance you love, but again, that doesn’t define which role to select in the first place, does it? With that said, learning the “opposite role” will for sure improve your main one

– Women only learn how to lead out of necessity

There is still this intrinsically dangerous thought that “Men learn to dance as followers because they want to discover a new side of their dance/get better at dancing” while “Women learn to dance out of necessity – because there aren’t enough leaders” – although there might be some women who started leading for this reason, this doesn’t represent the majority and undermines women as being unable to be interested in all parts of the dance (as men are)

Men naturally like to lead, women like to follow

This is where things get interesting. We can go off on a 20 page dissertation about what is natural, what is cultural/learnt/imposed/expected, but I feel like the only main point I want to make here is: the ones who do should lead/follow and the ones who don’t naturally fall under their role, should be able to easily, without judgement be able to ONLY choose the opposite role

And this is, no matter how many different views I try to take, how much I try to question and break my beliefs, THIS is where I always end up:

You should be able to choose from the start – without a biased tiny whisper that tells you – “you’re a man? you should lead, you will be seen as weak if you follow, you will not attract women if you follow”, “you’re a woman? you should follow, you’re smaller, weaker, trust us, you will like it more if you let go and enjoy the ride”.

It’s hard, of course, to erase decades, centuries of an ingrained notion that strength/power = leadership, leading and following should not imply any kind of power play, when in dancing we are both aiming towards the same purpose and end goal: having a fantastic dance.

In the end, as we say here in Xiado, you should always “Be whoever you want to be on the dance floor”.

If you share my opinion above, how can you help?

In the classroom

  • Ask first timers in a class what role they want to take – don’t assume based on their gender. We started doing this in our local classes and I could see every single brain exploding a little bit… “I can… choose?” well, of course you can! What is this a dictatorship? Most people will still choose the default role their gender “imposes” but they at least feel equal, welcomed, open to exploring the other side of the mirror
  • Make students switch roles often – it is common understanding that once you switch to your least developed role, you almost undeniably reach some kind of “AhÁ” moment, whether it is “wow it’s really hard to follow” or “omg, it’s so tiring to lead someone who puts their weight on you” – so we should definitely encourage this in classes
    • a TIP: we found that actually making leaders dance with leaders and followers with followers brings better results, why is this? Because if you make a follower lead a leader, they are both in their “non comfortable” position, which means the dance will probably suck, the potential for mind blown moments is much higher if you keep one element in their “natural” role, so the other one can experience the correct approach, makes sense?
  • Use the terms followers/leaders and not Men/Women – easy!

On the dancefloor

  • Be open minded – this can be represented in several ways
  • Don’t ever interrupt same gender couples or start talking to them as if their dance matters less
  • Don’t make fun of same gender couples, or “switched” gender couples – I’ve seen this happen a lot specially with male+male xotes when there is an audience, most of the times if there is an audience (big or small) you will inevitably hear comments on the lines of “uuuhh so sexy, kiss him, do this! do that” – I find this fascinating, and here, I dare say, we would be tapping into a much deeper social analysis of toxic masculinity, “soft homofobia”, fear of feeling emasculated etc etc – but let’s leave that to another more… polemic post
  • Don’t change the way you dance – this might happen because people are less at ease or comfortable with their skills in the opposite role, but I find that very often switched dances are not as fun because people turn into “practice mode” and don’t give into the dance at all – the beauty of any dance is the connection, so if you’re going for a switch, commit to it
  • Experiment – most of the best leaders/followers I’ve danced with are somehow knowledgeable in the “other side”, it is incredibly challenging and rewarding to be able to switch and choose what music you want to