by Loui Tucker

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This article appeared originally in the June 1996 issue of Let's Dance!


       "There aren't enough good male dancers to go around."
       "We hardly do any couple dances in our group because we have so few men."
       "I wish they wouldn't play so many couple dances -- I don't have a partner."

       You have heard it all before. You know that there have always been and probably all will be more women dancing than men. Perhaps you too have heard the rumors that dancing in Israel is focusing on longer and longer sets of couple dances and more and more couple dances in general. It seems there are more and more couple dances being created for too many women with too few men for partners. So what's the solution?
       May I respectfully submit that women should learn to dance the man's part in the couple dances? Women should learn to lead! Women can dance with other women.
       The hierarchy seems to be:
              1st choice: dance the partner dance with a man.
              2nd choice: sit out the partner dance.
              3rd choice: dance the partner dance with another woman.
       I'd really like to see the second and third choices reversed. I believe that if any woman takes the time to learn how to lead, she'll find that the benefits far outweigh any perceived drawbacks.
       I've mentioned this to other women before. I have heard reluctance, resistance, even refusal to consider the idea. I've heard a lot of reasons:
(1) I'll get confused and forget how to do the woman's part.
       I started dancing from the lead position soon after I started teaching in the early 80's. For many months, because there were so few men in the class, I taught no couple dances at all. When I finally began to add some couple dances to the repertoire, I felt it was silly for me to use one of the few available men to demonstrate the dance. If, as an alternative, I danced the man's part with another woman, that meant two women (the one who was my partner and the one dancing with the man I freed up) would learn the dance who would otherwise sit on the sidelines. It wasn't long before I became adept at switching back and forth -- perhaps it took a couple of months. As with any new skill, there will be awkward moments, but if you take it step by step (I'll give some suggestions later on in this article), I don't think this awkward stage will last very long. Once you overcome that initial "But-where-do-I-put-my-hands" reflex, you too will be able to switch easily from leader to follower.
(2) I don't know how to do the man's part and I'll look awkward.
       First of all, despite what you're probably fretting about, it's not the footwork that will be a problem. We all reverse footwork all the time in non-partner dances. We learn to dance Part A to the right, and then we reverse the footwork and dance back to the left. The problem with many couple dances is what you do with your arms and how you hold hands -- and that really isn't all that hard to learn. It just takes practice, like everything else in dancing.
(3) I come dancing to dance with men, not with other women. If I am seen dancing the man's part, then men won't want to dance with me in the future.
       I believe that the more you are on the dance floor, the more visible you are. And the more visible you are, the more desirable you are as a dance partner. If you are obviously smiling and enjoying yourself, you'll be a seen as a potential partner. If you're sitting on the sidelines with a glum expression on your face, that's the image that will stay in the minds of the other dancers. I think it's better to be viewed as a woman who will dance with another woman, than as a woman who doesn't dance the partner dances.
       Also, I think it's logical to assume that the more you dance, the better dancer you will become. Everyone likes to dance with a good dancer, and practice makes perfect, isn't that what they say?
       Perhaps women who have this misgiving can compromise by just doing only a few of the easiest dances with another woman, ones that don't involve ballroom position or pivot turns. Save the more complicated dances that involve pivot turns and ballroom position to do with a man. Later on in this article I have some suggestions for "Level 1" dances to start with.
(4) If I become a good leader, I won't be able to relax and let a male partner lead, and men who ask me to dance won't ask me to dance a second time.
       This is a variation on the prior objection and, again, time and practice will help. I still get teased by my male friends who ask me to dance and lead me onto the dance floor saying, "Remember, Loui, you're doing the woman's part." Actually, I think it's a little like changing from driving a stick shift to driving an automatic. It only takes a few times of reaching for the clutch and trying to shift into third before you remember that you can just put it in drive, sit back, and relax.
       From my personal experience, I have had exactly one male partner in nearly 15 years tell me to stop "back-leading." [For the record, I was reminding him, using some mild hand pressure, of the sequence in a dance he didn't appear to remember as well as I did...]
(5) Women won't want to dance with me.
       Partly true. Some women don't want to dance with another woman. They will politely or not-so-politely say, "No." Or the woman will dance with you and it will be clear that she's not enjoying herself and you will make a mental note not to bother her again. I'm sure the same situation happens with men who ask women to dance. Men survive the experience of rejection and so will any woman who asks another woman to dance.
If this is the only concern holding you back, I suggest you start by talking to a female friend about this issue in advance and suggest the two of you try a couple of dances together, perhaps trading off trying to lead.
       (Pssst! Want to know a secret? In my experience, women are better dancers than men. Of course there are individual men who are wonderful dancers and individual women who are dreadful, but as a group and in general, I have found that women are better dancers. Plus, women really enjoy dancing with someone who can lead well. If you can learn to be a good leader, you will not lack for partners and specifically you will not lack for good partners.)
       I would like to offer a simple guide to women who'd like to take a stab at learning to lead. I should mention that these are the suggestions I've made to men who are just learning to dance when they say they want to learn all the most difficult couple dances (after just two dance classes and they are still struggling with the Yemenite step).
              --- Start with some of the couple dances that have the same footwork for both parts: Ilu Tsiporim, Rikud Ha Sombrero, Adama Admati (Seadia's), Ahuvi Chazor, Laner V'Lebsamim.
              --- Work your way up to fairly simple slow dances that reverse the footwork but have a simple handhold or perhaps a Varsouvienne handhold: El Haderech, Hinach Yaffa, Shnei Shoshanim, Dodi Li, Se'e Yuna (Yankele's), Geulim.
              --- Next try dances that include waltzing or polkas in ballroom position: Na'ama (Bentzi's), Chof Shaket, Besof Ma'agal, Lech Lisfat Hayam.
              --- Finally, work up to dances with pivot steps: Atzay Hatsafsafot, Ahava Pshuta, Marina, Remez.
       I wish leading were not considered to be the sole territory of men. Leading shouldn't be gender-based; anyone can do it. I also believe that both men and women dancers would benefit from a workshop on good leading techniques. If Hagigah can offer a workshop with Edy Greenblatt teaching Yemenite styling and Camp Yona can have an workshop on ballroom dancing, and Hora Keff can offer a session with Danny Pollock teaching oldies --- why not a session on how to lead?
       Women, if you go dancing in order to dance, then why limit yourself? Why let the lack of a partner keep you on the sidelines during couple dances? Take this tip from someone who learned to lead and enjoys it: it's a skill you won't regret acquiring.