Why are folks (men and women, both) reluctant to learn to lead in partner dance? We come across perfectly wonderful follows who balk at the idea of learning to lead. And many men we suggest it to frown and start harrumphing and making excuses while looking around frantically for the nearest exit.
What is it that is so intimidating about leading? For the sake of argument and space let's ride right on past all the reasons folks don't want to dance in the first place and get to thinking about why leading is avoided.
Is it because leading has so many moving parts? The lead has got to keep an eye on other dancers on the floor and dancers entering the floor - for safety and route placement issues, make sure the follow knows where to go and what to do without being too heavy-handed, listen to the music, stay on the beat, look competent, not step on the follow's toes, not hurt the follow in any way, give the follow a good dance, remember the steps, try some turns, adjust if the follow is not getting the signals, adjust if the follow is not at the same skill/experience level as the lead, plus the lead has to try to find a way to actually enjoy the whole experience. Otherwise why bother?
But with so much going on - with so much to take care of - how is it possible for a lead to enjoy the dance? Perhaps it's actually not possible at first. Perhaps it's possible that you need to lead a lot to get to that comfortable/enjoyable stage.
As a follow who has taken up leading - both in Argentine tango and blues dance - I can say that it took me years to become comfortable with even the idea of leading tango, much less the actual practice of it. As for blues dance, I began simple leading almost immediately. And I did that out of necessity. We were/are always short on leads, and I wanted to dance, so I began leading.
Another reason I began leading was because I let other women (who started out as follows) lead me. And that opened a whole other realm of dancing - because women make great leads. Maybe it's because we've been follows for a while and know what is needed/wanted in a lead. Women leads seem to be gentler and more definitive all at the same time. I realize that might sound like a contradictory statement. Okay, so it's hard to put into words. Just try it, and you'll see what I mean.
Then there is the whole idea that some follows (who are mostly women) may not want to be lead (for many reasons) by another woman. The consideration of asking to lead another woman, and whether she'll be comfortable with that, adds an entire other level to possible lead anxiety.
Meanwhile, for everyone, it takes practice to feel comfortable dancing. It might take even more practice than that to feel good about leading someone else due to all the responsibilities involved.
As a lead, I worry that the follow is getting bored. I worry that I am not paying close enough attention to something - the crowd, her feet, the edge of the floor, that crazy drunk guy careening around the floor dangerously, my own feet, etc. I worry that the few dance moves I can lead are getting old, and she is not amused by that. I worry that I am too soft in my lead. I worry that I am too rough in my lead. I worry that I am confusing her, and she doesn't know what I want her to do.
I worry a lot more as a lead than as a follow. But... I have been following (since middle school) much longer than leading, so I feel much more comfortable following.
If there's a point to be made, it might be that it's okay to not feel confident as a lead for a while. It's okay to take a lot of lessons and do a lot of practicing in the effort to get to that comfort level.
It's okay to feel apprehensive about leading.
Leads (men and women), hang in there. We're always short on leads, so please don't give up! We need you. Guys, please stick around after the lesson to dance with the (many!) follows during the live music.
Follows, please be patient as we learn to lead. It might take us longer to enjoy the dance than it does you. We may be uncertain longer. We're going to make mistakes. Please give us gentle, positive feedback.
Finally, the reason I (as a lead) am so worried about everything, is that I want to give you, the follow, a good dance. That is my only real goal in leading. It's probably most lead's goal.
So we are doing this for you, follows. Leads should get some points for that alone, right? :)
Hope to see you out dancing - and leading,
Grace (& Kevin)