11 thoughts on “M&E 018 : Ambi Dancing”

  1. Maybe because I have done just a little following, when I take a class as a lead, I pay just as much attention to follow notes/instruction as that directed to the leads. If I want to be an active participant in what my partner is trying do do, I need some understanding of the mechanics and aesthetics of what is happening.

  2. Huh. Okay, so I was at Pirate Swing 2017 (I think I might have been the lead Michael mentions around 8:05 in this podcast) and I’d like to share the story of how I wound up in the standard Lindy and Blues track, rather than the ambi track. I actually registered for the ambi track initially, kind of assuming that since I’m a nontraditional lead, that was clearly the place for me. But when I went back and reread the track descriptions, I realized that I didn’t want to spend half my time in class working on following. Becoming a good lead is really important to me, and I felt like learning following techniques and ideas would be a waste for me – given my specific dance goals at that point (obviously learning more about your non-dominant role is never a bad thing per se, it just wasn’t a priority for me then).

    So I emailed the organizers and asked to be switched to the standard Lindy and Blues track, which I enjoyed much more than I think I would have enjoyed the ambi track. However, Michael brought me (or dancers like me) up in order to question why ambi tracks are important, if nontraditional dancers can just sign up for set-role classes in whatever role we’re working on at the moment. Even if I don’t utilize them myself, I think ambi tracks are very important, and these are the main reasons why (Michael and Evita mentioned a couple of these in this podcast):

    1. They provide a good opportunity for dancers who just don’t have a strong role preference (and, while I would say this is rare, it does happen) to enjoy both roles and learn more about both of them simultaneously.

    2. They help to desexualize the dance by affirming an everyone-dances-with-everyone mentality. And while yes, Norma Miller might raise an eyebrow at this, it is helpful for dancers who may feel uncomfortable or unsafe with the romantic/sexual connotations of partner dancing, particularly if they’ve had bad experiences with this in the past.

    3. Although our community, in general, strives to be open and inclusive, ambi tracks offer an explicitly welcoming space to LGBT+ dancers, particularly nonbinary folks who don’t want to associate themselves with a role that carries gendered connotations.

    4. It’s freaking hard to be a nontraditional dancer, especially if you’re on the self-confidence struggle bus. As pointed out in the podcast, encountering every new rotation partner with a shiver of “Will they think this is weird? What is they don’t want to dance with me?” is really rough and can make it difficult to focus on class material. While I hope that we can eventually eliminate those concerns achieving a dance community in which all dancers in all roles are welcome, an ambi track is a way to immediately alleviate that fear and let people explore their role preferences comfortably.

    I am fortunate to have bucketloads of supportive friends and to have the self-confidence to take a set-role class as a nontraditional dancer. But that’s not the case for everyone, and I think that for as long as ambi tracks and classes continue to be helpful and beneficial, they should be offered where possible.

    Thanks for the great podcast! Hoping it will spark some good discussions. 🙂

    • Thank you for this very eloquent comment Mary. It’s really great to hear your perspective. Thanks for writing.

    • Mary, I like you. I’m a woman but I lead 100% of the time. I’m not at all an ambidancer, and wouldn’t want to be in an ambi track, but I know people who lament having to pick one role or the other for every workshop weekend because they love both and want to get better at both roles simultaneously. Workshop tracks like that, and competitions that let people compete as both leaders and followers, are awesome and I want to see them at more events.

      That said, I also know how tough it is to be at an event, even a local event, in class with many people I don’t know. Men have charged at me from across the circle when they saw I was by myself because the class was lead-heavy and they were thinking “oh! oh! there’s a follow!” Or follows who’d get to me and think they were in some weird pile-up of out-follows. Clarifying my dance role all the time is something I’ve had to get used to, and thankfully it’s not an issue all the time, but it’s a little scary, because there’s always a concern someone’s going to get mad at me for “ruining the community,” or taking a “spot” away from man if the class is lead-heavy.

      So I can see why female leads and male follows might see ambi tracks as better environment for them even if they’re not ambi. It would be awesome if there was a non-traditional event that offered a welcoming space for both ambidancers and non-traditional but single-role dancers alike. It seems like most progressives in the lindy community are pushing for universal ambidancing, rather than just generally de-gendering the dance and making it acceptable and normal for people to dance whatever role(s) they want. I see the benefits of teaching both to beginners, but I think ambi classes should always be optional.

      Evita, addressing some of the concerns you voiced, about this dance losing its character if we embrace equality too much, I do not see that happening at all! I’m seeing feminist women get into awesome relationships with fellow dancers, men who wear suits, heck I’m a huge fan of vintage style dresses, winged eyeliner, red lipstick, polka dots, although I often opt for sexy over cute because if I’m too girly men might expect me to be submissive and then get mad when I turn them down or tell them I don’t follow. I think a lot of people like the idea of dating within the scene, but I also don’t want this dance to appeal to creeps who want to use it as a single’s bar. Lots of women will still follow, lots of men will still lead, people will keep dressing up and finding love with each other, and some will find love elsewhere but still make lasting friendships which I think is way more valuable. Sex is awesome, but so is sisterhood!

  3. Thank you Michael and Evita, this was a wonderful discussion! I love that you went deep into a somewhat difficult and controversial topic.
    I’ll share my own experience with ambidancing: I originally learned to dance as a leader. About one year after starting as a leader I learned to follow to improve my leading. I now do not view the improvement of my leading as the primary motivation for developing my skills as a follow. I now socially dance both roles nearly equally, because I genuinely love both. Especially dances in which my partner and I can switch roles back and forth within the same song adds a new dimension to the conversation and creative inspiration for me, and is suuper enjoyable.
    Regarding Michael’s initial brow-furrowing at the idea of ambidance and follows having “space” (28:15) — I wanted to say that I really like the way you two express the philosophy on the 100% commitment to leading & following, and active continuous cocreation of the dance. This philosophy really resonates with me and since taking classes with you two I strive to achieve that level of communication, whatever dance role I may be expressing at any given time. I don’t think knowing both roles and changing between roles necessarily detracts from that. It almost seems like a parallel, but separate topic to ambidancing. In some ways I think learning to dance both roles has bolstered that philosophy for me because I now know what it’s like for a leader to stop leading in an attempt to “give me space,” while in reality killing the flow and energy of the dance.
    In this podcast I especially like how you discuss how the way we interact in the context of the dance reflects how we treat each other outside of the dance. Thank you for highlighting the value respect and trust both on and off the dance floor, this is so important and I love the way you bring that into your classes!

    • Viktor, you are an absolute joy to have in class and I’m grateful the Lindy Hop community has such an insightful and talented young dancer coming up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your AmbiDance experience.
      – Evita

  4. Thank you for such a thoughtful podcast on a topic that is – for a reason – a much discussed one at the moment.

    As someone who mostly follows but also leads, many of the issues you mention resonate with me. The ratio between leads and follows “forcing” you into learning the other role, feeling like you are getting less input as a follow in classes, getting mixed reactions from other dancers when you lead as a female (in my personal experience, these can range from weird looks to awkward jokes about sex change operations and comments on “how brave” you are – mostly from old school dancers) and some leads (who have never followed, as rule) leading aggressively or equating “giving the follow space” to stopping leading altogether to “test” what they can do.

    I have not come across ambi tracks at weekend workshops much, but I think I would probably opt for one if there was the opportunity. I often find that, having done a weekend workshop as a follow, you come home with very little to work into your social dancing in your home scene. Most of the moves you’ve learnt are things that need to be lead, so you would need to teach them to leads – except you can’t, since you were focusing on following.

    The thoughts you offer on the partnership also resonate with me: I feel like I’m a better follow now because I also lead. I am most definitely a better lead than I would be if I didn’t know how to follow. The best dances I have are often precisely with people who dance in both roles. And that’s mostly *not* because we can switch roles mid-dance (which can be super fun), but because the line between who initiates what is blurred and you really feel like you’re communicating with ease, there is a flow and a lightness to your dance – and the feeling of being tested, evaluated or judged is not there. In my local blues scene, ambi teaching is the norm – and I think that has a lot to do with how inclusive and nice the scene is as well.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Minna. I think it’s great that you’re developing skills in both roles, and that not only improves one’s dancing but also builds empathy, something missing in many areas of society. Take care and keep swingin’

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