Lead and Follow


Most architecture schools have a Beaux-Arts Ball every year.  This comes from the tradition of L’Ecole de Beaux Arts, the famous Parisian/classical school of architecture, which had a Ball de Quatr’Arts every year (the Four Arts Ball)–a fancy masquerade event where all the students and professors got together and partied.


(For the sake of the author’s wish to remain as anonymous as possible, if you recognize this place, please don’t mention it and instead simply observe the beauty)

My school’s Beaux-Arts Ball was this past weekend, and it was at an undisclosed very beautiful location.  I believe it was built around the turn of the 20th century (I could be wrong) and is ornamented so intricately it’s gorgeous.  The ball was held in this location last year as well, and the first thing everyone did upon walking in was go “OOOOH!” and start photographing the inside.  Monumental staircases, balconies, alcoves, and the most delightful gilt detailing–all done in a sort of Indian style, with bodhisattva and elephants all over.  It is funny to me that everyone finds this place so beautiful because my school tends to lean in the Adolf Loos direction: ornament is crime and structural rationalism is pure and elegant.  It is also proof to me that beauty is not dead and still has an effect on the soul.

However, the discussion of the gorgeous location is not the point.  The point I am trying to discuss is the loss of actual dancing.  I am in the swing club at my school and learned quickly that you can do West Coast Swing to most pop songs.  But not most “house music” because it doesn’t really have a rhythm that can be danced to.  You can sway from side to side and step on alternate feet and move your arms and call it “dancing,” but there’s no actual technique or lead-and-follow or footwork involved.  What has been lost is the beauty of the partnered dance, where there is a clear lead and a clear follow and the leader’s job is to make the follower look beautiful.  The follower’s job is to do whatever the leader tells her and make sure she doesn’t go too far from him.  I spent the entire night counting the time of the “music” in my head, trying to find one that could have West Coast danced to it.  The selections were few, far-between, and not very good, so I was glad to find one once in a while.  But only one of my guy friends actually knows how to dance West Coast and he was elsewhere… so I tried to do it on my own.  It’s really, really hard–that particular dance is a slot dance, and I require momentum and control: in short, I need a leader.

When I looked out at the dance floor, I saw what looked like a writhing orgy of black and skin (architects always wear black; I stood out in blue).  The style of “dance” was what is called “grinding,” and it is pretty much obscene… not to mention that very few people show up to Beaux-Arts sober (being in the sober contingency is a little frustrating sometimes).  The whole thing made me sad.  What has been lost is an appreciation for culture and beauty, as well as any skill in dancing whatsoever.  Most dances which would qualify as “ballroom” dances are inherently gendered: the lead and follow is built in.  It requires sacrifice and submission on both parts; the leader is in charge of making all the decisions, whether he wants to or not, and the follower has to obey, whether she wants to or not.  Otherwise, they’ll go nowhere and probably run into each other.  And I really like that; it means that “Do you want to dance?” becomes a question which doesn’t involve some guy trying to rub himself all over you with music so loud you can’t hear yourself think and instead an opportunity for humour as you try to learn his leader-signals (each leader has his own little quirks) and follow what he tells you to do, while sometimes (or often) having to stop and say “wait, WHAT?” if his signals don’t translate to actions well.  It requires genuine attention on the part of both parties, making the social aspect more apparent as you can actually talk to each other.

Everyone should know some kind of real dance, even if just a little.  Gentlemen, learn to dance; especially if you are actively looking for a nice young lady.  I can virtually guarantee that she will be quite impressed if you know how to dance properly.


2 responses »

  1. True dance really is a lost art…and what passes for “ballroom” on “reality” shows is so immodest, I won’t let my children watch it : (
    Wouldn’t it be nice to re-learn the social graces?

  2. It really would; plus, from what I know, those “ballroom” dances are strictly choreographed, so we never get a view of a truly social ballroom dance setting outside of clubs and colleges, basically. It’s kind of nice to be standing or sitting somewhere and have a nice young man come and offer his hand and say, “Do you want to dance?” I just have to pray he’s patient, since I’m not very good!

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