I’ve never been what you’d call a natural follower.
I’ve never been on a march or rally, and I don’t queue. Not since I hit 50, anyway. Life really is too short for queuing.
My natural instinct is to be the follow-ee, not least because I don’t trust anyone else enough to follow in their footsteps. However, this hasn’t always worked out well. On a recent flight to Spain, when we landed I purposefully set off in what I thought was the route to passport control. Not at a casual stroll but in a real “I KNOW where I am going, the rest of you can dawdle all you like” kind of way. When I came up against a security barrier and double-locked doors, I turned back, only to see 200 fellow passengers who had clearly been impressed by my leadership qualities.
This week, I decided to start Argentine tango classes, thinking that 40+ years of ballroom dancing would stand me in good stead.
There was one thing on the form that bothered me: I had to place a tick beside “Leader” or “Follower”, as the class was limited to seven of each.
Men tend to tick the former, women the latter: it’s just the way things are for most dances, particularly Latin American ones. But I knew, from my ballroom dancing years and some very weak “leading” males, that this did not bode well. I recall one partner who walked off the competition floor from me in Butlin’s annual championships in Minehead because I was moving my arms in a different direction from his during the Bambi Blues (What can I say? He was wrong; I was right. Why would I follow someone who was leading me down the “Doesn’t stand a snowball in hell’s chance of winning” route?).
Another partner was rushed to hospital for stitches when I flipped back a little too vigorously during a step called the Dead Man’s Drop in the Rumba. Let’s just say he dropped more than I did. Not my fault he couldn’t hold on. Weak leadership. See what I mean?
I tentatively ticked “Follower” for my tango class and arrived to find three leaders and three followers, but with the teacher (female) able to do both roles, she informed us that she would be a leader for the night.
The class started well, as we were required to do “warm-up walking”. So far, so good. Feet at an angle, sliding across the floor in my new dance shoes, torso straight, eyes ahead, and all accompanied by faint tango music playing in the corner. I was enjoying this.
Then, we had to partner up. Now, which part of “Right foot forward” is it so difficult for a so-called leader to understand? That was one man. The next was even more trouble. Having been told that we had to move anti-clockwise around the floor, he decided to set off on a collision course in the opposite direction.
“I’m the leader!” he informed me, when he came up against forceful resistance.
“But we’re going the wrong way!” I insisted, a little too loudly.
“I like to break rules,” was his response. Try that next time you’re in bloody Argentina, I wanted to scream.
Luckily, I then had to move on to man number three, whose technique involved stepping on each of my big toes every other step. Followers, we were told, have to go along with whatever the leader wants in tango. Really? Even if they want to send your feet off on a path in which the only outcome is certain amputation? I don’t think so.
His arm wasn’t helping. The teacher came along and told us that our arms were too low – “You’re pushing hers too hard,“ she began, before adding: “or she’s dropping it.”
Hang on a minute. I am NOT dropping my arm. Decades of ballroom dancing have ensured that I even go to sleep with my right arm in ballroom dancing hold. I am just trying to stop this dolt who is breaking every bone in my feet from dislocating my arm, too.
Ninety minutes is a long time in tango. It is an age if you are a follower dependent upon leaders intent on hospitalising you at the earliest opportunity.
All the followers (female), by the way, were picking everything up pretty quickly, but as with most things in life, men just can’t multi-task.
“I can’t talk and think,” said man number three, as he bulldozed my toe for the tenth time in two minutes.
Having signed up for the intensive course, I’m determined to see it through, although my bet is that the bone crusher won’t turn up for the second class. Whatever your views on Che Guevara, unlike these guys at least he knew how to lead.
So, I can’t wait to get past the basics and sign up for private lessons. Then, perhaps, I will set off for Argentina, where, knowing my luck, I will be robbed, kidnapped and sold into tango slavery.
It sure beats living limbless in New York City.