Recently in my work at a middle school, I was the staff member attending a class taught by a guest dance teacher. This delightful 80 year old man was trying to teach a group of 10 middle school students how to jitterbug. The class was made up of six girls and four boys almost all of whom were in the 8th grade. After the teacher had shown them the first move, he wanted them to pair up in boy/girl pairs and try out the move. The kids were all quite giggly and embarrassed about having to dance with someone of the opposite gender. The teacher had to take each girl by the hand and walk her over to a boy with whom to dance. They dutifully completed the dance moves and then immediately went back to stand with their same gender friends. By the time the instructor had shown the second move, it was clear that the kids were more comfortable dancing with their same gender peers. The only “problem” this presented was who would be “the guy” and lead. It turns out it really isn’t a problem at all. The kids took turns leading and each child learned to both lead and follow. Watching them work out how to be comfortable and enjoy the dancing without worrying about gender roles made so much sense.
When I was learning to dance, I always resented the fact that I had to “follow” the male lead. Who made up that rule and why on earth did I have to follow it? Why did I have to wait for a boy to ask me to dance? At our school dances now, everyone dances with whomever they choose. There is no judgment, just fun. These children naturally figured out that each person should learn to both lead and follow and dance with whomever they please. What a beautiful metaphor for our society!
Those of us who grew up with traditional male/female gender roles outlined throughout our lives have a harder time moving out of that structure in our minds into a more freeformed space. While I try very hard to have an open mind about all things gender because I truly believe it is the person inside who counts, I still find myself getting tripped up by learned behaviors and thought patterns from the culture of my earlier life. There are many times where I have to stop and remind myself that I am thinking in old ways. I am thankful to have this generation of children to remind me that we all need to both lead and follow in the dance of life.