Monday, February 4, 2013

Lead and Follow

On Sunday I was down to 202.8, and suddenly I could see 199, it was RIGHT THERE, but it was a fluke, a trick of waking up late.  I am still proud to have lost anything over a weekend, so I'd rather forget what, for a moment, I'd achieved.

1.  One of the weird things about social dancing is the re-contextualization of touch. I am not accustomed, at least I haven't been since my college years, to touching strangers with more than a handshake. One does not just walk around hugging each person they meet. And even though dance hold is open enough to leave room for Jesus, it was still a little strange and awkward at first to have a stranger put his arm around me.

It reminds me of elementary school, where holding hands with a boy would be Significant, but there is a brief forgiveness period for the time it takes to play Red Rover.  It is a strictly utilitarian touch; we all pretend that we don't actually like it.  We like dancing.  The touching is just an embarrassing byproduct that we all agree to ignore.

And it is a very specific kind of allowance. Proper dance hold leaves space between the lead and follow's torsos. The lead's hand rests on the follow's shoulder blade; the follow's hand rests on the lead's deltoid. And so when someone breaks this rule, puts his hands on my waist, on my lower back, it feels overly intimate. 

I learned all this a long time ago. And yet, when I started to lead regularly, I had to learn it all over again. I had to learn it with women. I felt as if too much contact would be interpreted as an unwanted advance. She might think that I liked it. And so I would dance with only a finger or two of my right hand on her back. I would never close my left hand over hers.

I think it has something to do with agency.  If I am in the default role, then I don't expect anyone to attach any meaning to it.  But if I choose a role, and leading is obviously a choice, then it can mean something.  And if it means something, that breaks the agreement. 

2.  The next ballroom competition is March 2-3, which is the same weekend as Heartland Swing Festival in Des Moines.  The competition after that overlaps with Hawkeye Swing Fest.  (Notice how the acronyms are the same? That's not a coincidence.  There was drama.)  Since the second competition is in Coralville, I can compete in the afternoons and go to the swing dances in the evening, and it will likely render me useless once the weekend is over, but I'm willing to try.  But in March, the ballroom club will be traveling to Minnesota, and I have to decide by Wednesday if I'm going.

My shoes will probably not be here by then, which means that if I compete in March I'll need to lead.  (My regular black dance shoes will work if I dance as a lead in slacks.)  It's funny, because I was so adamant last semester about leading, I refused to switch even when it would be easier for everyone if I did.  And now I'm thinking, Damn.  I guess I have to.  It's harder to switch back and forth than I thought it would be.  At a dance on Friday, I walked up to a guy from class and asked him to dance, but when I held out my arms, we had a moment of confusion before I realized that I was holding out the lead arms.  But, more than just remembering which arm goes out and which foot starts, there is something about the different skill sets of leading and following that makes it difficult to switch back and forth.

3.  I love swing.  I think there will be times when I will make the opposite choice.  But if I don't start saying "yes" to the competitions, I may never do it.  If I keep looking for reasons to stay home, I'll keep finding reasons to stay home.  Not being able to follow isn't a good reason.  Not getting to go to two swing dances isn't a good reason (even good dances with people from all over, two nights in a row).  Or, rather, they are good reasons, and that isn't enough.  I have to do this.

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