Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Being a leader is hard...

at Laflx 2010, my very first exchange. Photo by Bret Langham

I'm going back to DC this weekend for Bambloozled.  I have been to DC 4 times in the last year, if you count last year's Bambloozled,  (bblzld, dclx, red hot blues ad bbq, ILHC) and it has been a fantastic experience every time.  DC really knows how to organize an event and throw a party.  DC also knows how to draw in some good dancers.  I always go home from DC on a cloud from both the absolute number as well as the percentage of dances that I've had that are just phenomenal.

Which sort of brings me to a funny story.  "A funny thing happened on the way to ILHC," as it were.  

So I both lead and follow, though I primarily follow.  I first learned to lead because my sister and I were both into Carolina Shag in high school, and both Shag and Swing in college.  But there were a lot of times when my sister and I were around dance music and wanted to dance, but none of the boys would dance or knew how to dance.  I always ended up being the leader.  

Fast forward a few years, to this spring, I started kicking around the idea that it'd be fun to go to a dance as a leader.  Like, seriously cross dress as a boy, try and pass, and lead all night.  The parameters that I thought of were that it should be a big dance, relatively far away from my home scene, and that I'd need to borrow some clothes that more or less fit.  

Well, I have a dear friend from Cincinnati who is pretty much exactly my size.  We've discussed before that it would be amusing for us to learn some aerials with me basing.  So there's a source of an outfit.  Then I just had to decided on an event and find some balls, er, ovaries? to go through with it.  

This is more or less what I normally look like.  Not super-girly, but I am not without curves.  So I've told people that I did this, and they were like, "No way! No way you could really look like a boy." 

 Hurley and me, DCLX 2011. photo by Frank Delys

I'd like to think that I did a pretty good job, though.  
And I thought Friday night at ILHC would be a good venue for me to try going as a lead.  I figure it's such a big event that even if a few people recognized me, that it would not matter overall.  

me as a boy. not pictured: there was also a white tie.

And I know I did a good job, because there were definitely people who I'd met before and even danced with, who did not recognize me at all.  

There was something that I did not count on, though, when I was deciding that ILHC fit my parameters of a good event to try this at: 

All the dancers at ILHC were really, really good.  And I'm a very intermediate leader.  Not quite a rank beginner; I can hold the rhythm through a song with the leaders' footwork, and have a relatively relaxed connection/ I'm not going to torque your arm off, but my repertoire is repetitive and my confidence is inconsistent.  Maybe equivalent to somebody who's been primarily leading for about 6 months.

And I have never, ever had trouble asking people to dance as a follow.  Really never.  From the very beginning I was all like, "alright, let's do this!" 

But suddenly, with the possibility of being perceived as a legit, male leader, trying to ask really good lady follows to dance... I was paralyzed with fear.  I was certain they would not want to dance with me when there were so many other good leaders around.  I mostly sat and watched.  I'd thought, in my planning stages for this, that it'd be "easy" to go as a leader, because girls would ask me to dance.  Again, not at ILHC.  Why ask an unknown quantity when there are so many really excellent dancers around?

I did work up the nerve to ask one woman to dance.  And it was a good dance! Especially after I got over my initial nervousness.  I totally pounced on her, though.  She was walking by and I was sitting down and I was sort of thinking "now or never!" so I popped up and asked if she'd like to dance.  I think she took pity on me, a bit.  I'm sure my nervousness was visible.  But she was a fantastic follow and very kind, so the dance ended up being a lot of fun.  It was my only leader dance, though. 

I stuck with the boy-drag for a couple of hours, but I gave up on leading. I followed, with my tie whipping around delightfully on the spins.  

Talking about my revelation (that asking followers to dance is hard) with my friend Mark later, he laughed at me.  "Welcome to leading," he said.  All the sudden, I realized it was different. 

So I have a little more sympathy for newer leaders now.  Before I always sort of thought that whatever your natural role is, it'd feel "natural" to ask people to dance in that role.  But I never considered the self-doubts about whether dancing with me would be an opportunity cost for a follow, preventing her from dancing with someone better.  

I'm not always the best about this, because I am a little shy and prefer to dance with people I know, but I do try and ask newer leaders to dance more often at our weekly venue now.  Maybe not all night, you know, but at least a handful every week.  

Anyway, so that's my "I'm going to DC this weekend and am excited about it and was thinking about this!" blog post for the week.  Hopefully I'll have a fun trip report about Bambloozled to put up next week!

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