|February 27th, 2015|
There are a bunch of ways contra dance can work with different amounts of leading and following:
None of the dancers have "lead" or "follow" as part of their role. Everyone does what the caller says, but sometimes you'll help out someone who's newer or confused by increasing pressure a little bit at some connection to hint to them where they're supposed to go.
Anyone can "lead". When experienced dancers are dancing together, either one can think of an interesting variation and signal it to the other by the same sort of connected pressure.
The jet/port/gent/lark role "leads" and the ruby/starboard/lady/raven role "follows". When experienced dancers are dancing together, the lead can indicate variations to the follow. In general the follow doesn't lead, but if they do want to then first they lead a role swap to put themself into the leader role and lead stuff from there.
In the abstract I like the idea of (2) the best, but in practice it requires being much much more attentive to do safely, because when you're considering leading something you need to be sure your signal won't combine poorly with any signal the other person might decide to send at the same time. On the other hand the main criticism of (3), that it perpetuates a system of men telling women what to do, is valid, but I think this is something we can fix by making it clear anyone can dance either role, removing the gendered language, and encouraging people to try both roles.
(If someone finds themselves in a "lead" role they don't have to lead anything, and if they find themself in a "follow" role they can reject the suggestions of the lead and just do the dance normally. The lead/follow dynamic is something that works fine even if many of the dancers don't want to participate.)
My favorite way to dance is (3) as a follow with imaginative and creative partners and neighbors, and a close second favorite is (c) as a lead with partners and neighbors that enjoy following. But of course it's all fun and I'm happy to dance however.
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