There has been a blow-up in the Lindy Hop blogosphere having to do with questions of gender. I speak here about two blog posts in particular. Nathan Bugh, a friend and occasional partner of mine whose teaching prowess and analytical understanding of the dance I greatly admire, wrote a blog post called “Ladies First.” (That’s Nathan in the photo header of my website.) Setting aside the title for the moment, the post essentially makes a pedagogical point, arguing that when it comes to effectively teaching lead/follow technique, the dance is constructed in such a way that the follower’s technique is logically prior to the leader’s technique. I won’t paraphrase the argument, as I think Nathan summarizes it quite well in the following paragraph:
“However, when it comes to learning and teaching lead/follow skills, the follower’s technique is a much higher priority than the leader’s. Her dancing ability, her awareness, strength, balance, use of the floor, etc. are the elements from which spring her following ability AND the leader’s leading ability. She is the beginning of the logic in the dance. In class, the followers empower the leaders to learn. Leaders judge their progress according to the results that their partners embody. Followers are the focus of the lead/follow process, and they have to follow before the leaders can lead.” (emphasis mine)
To flesh out the context of this post a bit further, I would argue that by now it is a commonly observed phenomenon that often in Lindy Hop classes, instructors structure their teaching such that they are mostly speaking to the leaders about how to lead moves. Instruction given to followers beyond “and followers, follow” can tend to be lacking. (As Nathan says in a Facebook comment related to his post, “In moves classes, teachers should make sure the followers have something to practice that doesn’t depend on the leaders’ rightness.”) This phenomenon is one motivation that led to the creation of so many follower-focused weekends in the mid-2000’s, including my own Southern Belle Swing Bash weekend. (NB: In 2009, Nathan attended Southern Belle as a guest leader/helper.) It’s also my anecdotal understanding that the dynamic I’ve just described has improved somewhat, partly due to the influence of such events. In fact, one reason that we decided to stop organizing Southern Belle was because we perceived that the “point” of the weekend had ceased to be as relevant as it once was, which is a good thing.
[Sidebar: This perhaps points to what is often a controversial point among feminists, namely when and whether some particular feminist initiative ought to view its ultimate goal as its own dissolution. For example: ought we to hope that “science for girls” programs ultimately become obsolete, because “regular” science programs finally incorporate a perspective on gender that enables them to effectively do outreach to both girls and boys, thus bringing girls into science at the same rate as boys?]
Given the above context, when I first encountered Nathan’s post, my initial reaction was that it was refreshing to see a perspective (advocated by a high-profile international instructor, no less–and a dancer whose primary role is as a leader!) that elevated the importance of the follower when approaching the pedagogy of the dance.
Not everyone shared my reaction. Notably, frequent gender-and-Lindy blogger Sam Carroll over at Dogpossum was less than impressed. I was disappointed in Sam’s analysis of Nathan’s post, particularly because I have often agreed with many of the points she makes in her blog posts, and I greatly appreciate the service her blog does in keeping gender alive as a topic of conversation in relationship to the dance.
Continued after the jump…