*Disclaimer: I feel the need to add that is my personal opinion based on my personal experiences and not a view on how leads and follows should interact. I have nothing but admiration for the social dancers, leads and follows, who can fearlessly ask anyone out to the dance floor without the anxiety and neuroses and I clearly have.
I’ve been trying to put this into words for a long time, to explain to my frustrated dance friends why I can’t approach a lead I’ve never met or hardly know and ask him to dance when those same leads are expected to do just that with me. And I’ve had no other explanation than it feels wrong. I don’t know what kind of lead they are. I’m not that confident. But there must be other leads who feel that way, but are still expected to ask. So what’s the difference? Well, I finally found the phrase of why (I believe) follows are taking a bigger risk than leads in making the first approach:
Leads pick the level.
When a lead asks a follow to dance, it doesn’t actually matter if they are above, below, or the same level as them, because it’s the lead that chooses the level. Sure, he could choose to (be a jerk and) dance above the follow and give her a fairly frazzled and upsetting dance, but it’s still his choice, and the follow doesn’t have many options other than try to keep up, try to take control back, or call off the dance. And because the follow was the Lower Level, they will leave the dance feeling it was bad because it was their fault from their lack of skill. I know that because in my first few months I spent a lot of dances feeling this way. Sure, if the lead is the lower level, they risk coming across as bad or boring. But as a follow I can say if they lead to the best of their level, I’m going to appreciate it all the same and level doesn’t really matter when they’re fun.
Getting back to the ask, I am accepting on good faith that when they say “Do you want to dance?” they really mean, “I will dance at your level or a mutual level.” Now, in the strain of equality, when a follow asks a lead to dance, they are saying the same. “I will dance at your level.” But the catch is follows aren’t picking the level. So it makes sense to say they mean, “I can dance at your level.” Except I don’t know that. If I’ve never met them or danced with them, I’m taking the risk that whatever level they chose to dance at, I can keep up. Sure I can ask with the same good faith as accepting, that they will be the good lead and go for the mutual level, but something feels wrong about that. Like “Hey, you wanna dance, but only by my rules?” And maybe it’s just me being paranoid and neurotic, but I just feel the whole thing makes me out to be pretentious and arrogant. And no one wants to dance with someone like that.
So, unless it’s my friends, or a lead I’ve danced with before and I know will dance to my level, I don’t ask. I can’t ask.