Being around the dance scene for over a decade, 7 of which in a professional role as a traveling instructor and event organizer, I’ve become aware of certain things in regards to how sexism and patriarchy can show up in the dance scene. I’ve interviewed many female follower instructors on my podcast and have listened to their stories. There are two podcasts that jump to the top of my mind on this topic. The first is my 4th episode with Laura Riva titled “How To Follow Like A Boss” which was released in April 2016. The second podcast is the 99th episode titled “Discussing Patriarchy | Women in Kizomba Series: Part 2” with Julz Tremblay which released January 2021. Definitely check those out if you get the chance. This list I'm sharing now was created in collaboration with Julz Tremblay and myself in preparation of the second podcast I mentioned above.
So there have been ideas that have been stewing in my brain in regards to how the dance scene is currently run and how followers tend to really receive and put up with a lot of unfair treatment on multiple levels. This blog is an attempt to spread awareness and some potential solutions from my limited experience and perspective. Please forgive me and give me the benefit of the doubt if I did not word something in the best way.
Hopefully it will empower female instructors to avoid getting taken advantage of, negotiate better terms, and to find their voice when teaching future dance classes. Hopefully, it will also provide perspective for male leader instructors and event organizers to be more proactive about creating more equal spaces for the followers who attend their classes and events.
Disclaimer: I recognize that I have male privilege and thus have biases. This list is not exhaustive by any means. I am not portraying myself to have been, as, or to be perfect in these dynamics in the future, I’m continuing to learn as I go. I do not and cannot speak for every social dance scene. Feel free to reach out with any questions, suggestions, or advice about this topic, my contact info is at the bottom of this blog. I’m continuing to learn on this topic and I will use this platform to share more as I learn more.
1. It's more common to not have an experienced follower present to give proper attention and value to the follower's role in dance classes.
Male leader instructors should proactively look for a follower to teach with and spend enough time lesson planning so both of them feel prepared to teach the class. If a follower assistant can not be present then the male instructor should lesson plan with both the leaders’ and followers’ roles in mind.
2. The phrase "just follow" still gets used too often, which dismisses follower technique. This grossly oversimplifies the actually very complex skill set of following.
Instructors should spend more time understanding the follower role to provide better instruction and tools for followers to improve their skills through awareness.
3. It's more common for follower instructors to not be given the space (or if space is available, they may not feel confident enough) to use their voice to give instructional value to the follower students taking the class.
The teaching couple should spend the amount of time needed ahead of class to plan, practice, and answer potential questions. When it's time to teach the live class the talking between the leader and follower instructor can be shared more equally since everyone feels more confident and prepared.
4. It's more common that the follower students show up in higher numbers from local classes to festivals; thus the follower students actually fund more of the dance scene activities with dollars invested versus the lead students.
With the statistic in mind, instructors and organizers can be more proactive in ensuring that the follower role is getting the same amount of instructional value from the class since the followers are also paying as much as the leaders.
5. It's more common for a male leader to get a follower assistant to help teach the class he was hired for without the assistant receiving compensation, even to offset her expenses so at least she doesn't come out of pocket.
The solo male leader instructor and the event organizers can be more proactive is budgeting for a follower instructor or assistant to attend the event (see #4) with enough planning so adequate lesson planning can occur to ensure equal instructional value to both roles.
6. It's more common for solo male instructors to get hired versus solo female instructors. The solo female instructors must also demonstrate a high competency of both leading and following to even have a chance of being hired solo and solo male instructors do not.
Solo male instructors can be more proactive about learning the skill of following so they can provide equal instructional value to both roles in their classes, if they desire to teach alone. Event organizers can work with the instructors they are hiring on the lesson planning to make sure that both roles receive equal instructional value. And obviously, event organizers can also make it a point to hire more solo female instructors as well to provide more opportunities to hone their crafts and establish themselves in the scene.
7. It's more common to find male instructors tagged in dance demos while the follower is not tagged or recognized.
Event organizers, instructors, attendees, and anyone who enjoys watching social dance videos can be proactive about ensuring that both the leader and follower are recognized and tagged in each video post and reshare.
8. It's more common during a partnership breakup for organizers of dance events to give all of the bookings to the male leader instructor leaving the follower instructor empty-handed versus splitting the bookings 50/50.
Followers in dance partnerships should come to an agreement with their dance partners about what will happen to future event bookings if the partnership ends.
9. It's more common to find male leader instructors earning a higher, disproportionate amount of pay (even in an actual professional partnership) than the female follower role.
The partnership should discuss the price they are giving to event organizers for coming out to teach. There should be a conversation around sharing the responsibilities of admin, marketing, and social media work behind the scenes needed to promote the partnership. From here the partnership can find an equitable split of money earned from private lessons and joint bookings.
In light of the following ways I listed the role of following is undervalued in our dance scene, I've been having the phrase "followers are phenomenal" on my mind a lot. I've been using it a lot in my private lessons with followers to let them know that the skill set of following is truly PHENOMENAL! Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, please share it with your friends if you found value!