If the ignored follower is an un-excised vestige of the murky patriarchal past, why is it such a persistent problem? As with the mistakes made on the dance floor, one must first look to the leaders. (The submissive-follower paradigm is another aspect of this same problem – something to be addressed another time).
At the same time, followers must remember that the road to equality is not an easy one - just ask Susan B. Anthony. The battle for the right to have a say in things has been going on for a long time.
Let’s explore a few of the cures: The simple solution, it seems to me, is to modify the ‘tradition’ that only men (or leaders) get to ask the women (or followers) to dance. As leaders can ask followers, so should followers need no permission to ask leaders to the dance floor.
Additionally, it is possible to encourage leaders through reason (see below scenario) or social empathy via mixer games to ask more followers to dance. Enforcing that is preposterous, of course, as no one wants tango police.
(As a side note: some women who love to tango but have become fed up with not being asked to dance, have turned the tables in an inventive way: they learned to lead, thus changing their role, and outflanking the ‘tradition’. We applaud that wholeheartedly, though it’s only a partial remedy.)
So what are we gonna do about it?
It is hereby declared that at VZ Tango milongas it OK and even encouraged that followers may ask leaders to dance, directly or with the cabeceo. Leaders know that is often no easy task - shyness, insecurity, fear of rejection, etc can come into play for all of us. So followers – brave up and ask!
BE AWARE: Other venues may not be accepting of this idea - test the waters gently when visiting other milongas. Milage may vary.
It is hereby declared that at VZ Tango milongas, cabeceo is not required, especially for dancers whose visual acuity may not extend past 23 1/2 feet. It is OK at VZ Tango milongas to go up and ask; however, be prepared to be turned down on occasion. (That is what the cabeceo was designed to avoid.) Again, other venues may not be accepting of this idea - test the waters gently when visiting other milongas. Milage may vary.
It is hereby further declared that our VZ Tango 3rd Saturday milongas will introduce some mixer elements, such as ladies' choice tandas or waterfall tandas. This is as far as one can reasonably go to ‘force’ the issue. Participation is still optional, of course.
And just to remind leaders: Dancing with less experienced followers can only improve your dance as it requires that your lead be clean and clear. The dance floor is a social occasion. Communication is the core of any community, and not communicating (or dancing) with someone also communicates. So how do you wish to be regarded in the community? Rule of thumb: Take care of each other! Your behavior does not go unnoticed. Although challenging one's skills with a better dancer can be good for your dance, endeavor not to focus exclusively on your favorite dancers at the expense of the community.
Scenario: An experienced leader chooses a newbie follower who is not very good from the Bench Of Idle Dancers and is very careful and compassionate on the floor, adapts to any hesitancy, misstep or imbalance. The dance is not elaborate or larded up with fancy show moves, and the lead is kept clear, each of the follower’s steps is cared for, and there are no surprises. Is this a boring dance? Far from it! An experienced follower may well regard such a dance as a beautiful relief from frenetic move-meisters. To an inexperienced follower it is a confidence builder, and may even provide early ‘tango moments’. And what then happens to this follower who was seen successfully navigating the floor without stumbling through a complicated performance? She gets asked to dance again, gains experience and becomes a stalwart of the tango community. And how will this follower regard you in the future? Have your own fundamental skills improved? Enough said.