I am not comfortable with the word ‘ambidancetrous’

I need to say this very clearly: I am not aligning myself with the ‘ambidancetrous’ discourse in any way.

I don’t like the implications that everyone should learn to lead and everyone should learn to follow. I think that that’s a dodgyarse approach to lindy hop.
I do feel that we should be able to choose whether we lead or follow or do both (or do neither – something I’m finding with our solo classes, where we get students who don’t lindy hop, but are beginning to come social dancing to solo dance only…. but only in tiny numbers so far).

I don’t think it’s ok to assume that everyone do both. Some of us have very good reasons for only doing one role: for some women, only leading (and only dancing with women) is a very important thing. For some men following is just too confronting. Some women just want to follow, all the time. And only dance with women leads. Some men just want to follow all the time, with male leads. Or female leads. And some of us can do both, but would really rather only do one tonight.

And if we aren’t ok with that, then we are arsehats. Gender is a real thing: it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to partition lindy hop off from the rest of your life (and the rest of your gendered experiences as an embodied person). And sometimes it’s just easier to be a woman who follows or a man who leads. And we have to be ok with that. While we are all capable of – and do – perform gender in a flexible way, who we are, and having particular preferences that are relatively immutable is actually ok.

I think the term ‘ambidancetrous’ is misleading, as it presumes being able to do both is the preferred or optimal state. I don’t actually think being able to do both is the preferred state. I’m actually (and I surprise myself as I write this) pretty much convinced that if you want to take your dancing to the highest level, you specialise in leading or following.
But of course, if you’re a ‘normal’ person, and not working 24/7 to get into the Harlem Hot Shots or whatevs, then doing both is totes fine. And I think the difference really only kicks in at the highest levels of dancing, when you simply don’t have enough hours in the day to devote to both leading and following: practicalities just demand specialisation.

I’m actually ok with doing both roles myself. But I do find that if I want to improve my leading – really improve – I need to spend all my dancing time leading. All my teaching, practicing and social dancing leading. And solo dancing. Because solo is BEST. But I might want to do this – I might just be so interested in and just so much enjoying leading (for example), I don’t particularly want to follow. At all. And my following just naturally might suffer a bit, because I’m not doing it as often. But then, I’m not going to say no when a leading friend asks me to dance. I’m going to follow. And I’m not going to care if I fuck up a bit and don’t do the best following job: dancing! Yay!

And I am very certain that I don’t want to have to go to every lindy hop class and have to lead and follow in each class. Sure, that’s a very interesting idea. But leading and following are DIFFERENT, requiring different skills and methods, and sometimes I just want to work on one of those. Actually, to be honest, I rarely want to do a class or workshop as a follow. I am fascinated by leading. I like following, but I’m just not as interested in doing it, as I am in leading. In classes, anyway. Social dancing is a different thing.

I also have trouble with the suggestion that leading and following in lindy hop are somehow the same. They’re not. Sure, there are similarities in posture, biomechanics, etc etc. But they work in different ways. And when you’re lindy hopping, someone’s gotta lead, and someone’s gotta follow.

Sure, blues might be a different animal and totes open to a less regulated lead/follow dynamic. But lindy hop is different. Leading and following are DIFFERENT. I don’t give a flying fuck whether it’s men or women or WHOEVER leading or following, nor do I care whether I’m dancing with a man or a woman. But I personally think you need to make a choice: in this moment, I am leading. Or I am following.
I feel this partly because the overall structure of a swing song is such that bigger understandings of structure take place over the course of a song, and leading can involve thinking ahead, not just across an 8 or two, but across phrases and the whole of a song. Particularly when the music is faster, and the overall structure of a song is more immediate than it seems in a slower song.

So, in sum, I’m not comfortable with the term ‘ambidancetrous.’ But mostly because I think it’s a clumsy word.

6 Replies to “I am not comfortable with the word ‘ambidancetrous’”

  1. I’m not sure if I’m being paranoid or whatever, but just to clarify, I tagged my reblog of your Dawn Hampton quote with “ambidancetrous” not because I necessarily agree with the idea that the ideal is for everyone to be able to lead and follow to the same standard, or believe that Dawn Hampton is advocating for it, but because that tag is where a lot of tumblr conversations re gender & leading/following seem to be happening.

    Ambidancetrousness as a concept does sometimes get muddled up with the idea of free choice of role regardless of gender, which isn’t great – and I’m not helping…

    1. This could be paranoia, OSYD. I’ve been coming across a range of discussions about ambidancetrous stuff all over tumblr, faceplant and twitter, and it’s been bugging me.
      The way tags work on tumblr drives me nuts. ARGH. The cultural studies in me fights with the information management in me when I read about the way controlled vocabularies fuck with discourse like this.

  2. I agree but disagree.

    Ambidancetrous is definitely a clumsy and ugly word, in that we coincide.

    Being able to dance both roles is not necessarily the best option for everyone, yes.

    If you want to improve in something you’ve got to work on it, “specialize” if you will.

    But in what has been my experience up to a certain level leading and following share a lot, and one can improve certain aspects of one learning a bit of the other. Connection-wise they are complementary, leads dance with their whole body, follows react with their whole body. Doing the opposite role helps understand it a bit better, and so you also learn a little bit how to lead or follow better. Being a male lead learning to follow has helped me place my feet better when dancing as a lead (no more falling down, yay!). I have no insights on the complementary faction, but I can ask around if you want.

    Also it has helped me in other ways. As I teach lindy it helps a lot being able to test the students in both roles if necessary, and that has helped me find better ways to lead, follow and teach. If I only lead I might not indicate some things that help connection, or I would just indicate them because the follow told them. But having been on the receiving ends makes me eager to correct those things.

    Finally, even though solo dancing is great and it does help a lot to improve partner dancing adding it to the discussion is like debating about stick or automatic cars and talk about bikes. It’s driving but doesn’t add to what’s talked about.

    Cheers and happy dancing.

    1. I agree with everything you say here, Jaume, except that bit about solo. That’s wrongtown.
      Solo dance teaches you: to keep your feet under you (or you fall over); to use your whole body; etc etc. I actually think learning to solo dance is more important for lindy hop than learning to both lead and follow. Though of course, why would you choose, when you can do everything!
      I’ve written about this at least one million times, and you can have a look at my blog for those posts yourself.

      Talking about solo dance in the context of lindy hop isn’t like talking about cars in a discussion about cycling. It’s like talking about walking on your own, in a discussion about walking while holding hands with someone.

  3. Late to the replies, but I think you’re right that the word is awkward and carries the wrong connotation. I don’t think the “it’s always better” is intentional from everyone using the label (it is from some, yes), though.

    Part of the difficulty is that there *isn’t* a well agreed common word for someone who likes to do both yet, so people have fallen on ambidancetrous just because it’s a word that’s close enough even if it’s not quite right. “Bi-roleual”? “Kinsey 4 follow?” Hrm. :-)

  4. Do we really need a word? Can’t we just say “I lead and/or follow” ? And if we’re asking someone to dance, we say:
    “Hey, want to dance?”
    “Yep! You want to lead or follow?”
    “Follow please!” or even “Hey, what do you feel like doing? I’m fine with either.”

    You wouldn’t ask someone to dance by saying “Would you like to dance? I LEAD” if you only lead. You’d just ask them to dance, then you’d figure it out.

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