Leaders & Followers… it’s about YOU… & your partner… and listening
Dear Leaders and Followers,
It’s time go past stereotypical comments and over simplified concepts about social dance and unearth some more humane sensible truths. Comments like: “When there is a problem it’s always the leaders fault” or “A follow just follows” I think downplays the importance of the other partner in the dance and does not paint the full picture. It also causes unrealistic expectations for both leads and follows. So here are my thoughts on these types of comments versus the reality I have experience both as a proficient follow and lead in social dances and teacher.
There is this very common misconceptions in social dances that leads are the bigger part of the equation, to the point that many teachers focus almost entirely on the leads when teaching. Personally when teaching I always aim to empower women and make them realize that they are responsible for their part in the dance and that their part requires skills and practice and can bring them much better social dances in the long run. It is true that the lead is responsible for his part of the dance and that since he is making the big picture decisions in the dance as a leader, if he is not clear in his lead it is difficult for the dance and the follow to look good. However, even the best lead cannot make up or compensate for a total lack of skills of a follow. Any good lead or follow will adapt to a certain degree when needed to help their partner have a better dance, and I think that is an amazing thing to do. But I have learned through experience (both as a lead and follow) that I can adapt up to a certain point and it can still be a good dance for both partners, but that I have my limits I choose not to cross to prevent injuries (over compensation is possible as is dangerous behaviors and movements from unsuspecting inexperienced dancers) It is an unrealistic idea that because you are dancing with a good lead that they can make up for all of a follows shortcomings. A lead cannot make you do the right steps on the right beat, they cannot make you do a good body movement, they can indicate turns and lead walking patterns, but they can’t make you react in the appropriate way. And anyway a lead shouldn’t make you do anything, they should open a door by giving an indication that a follow should walk through by responding and interpreting the indication, using her skills to execute an appropriate step and, if really good, putting her own flavor on it, We can as a lead adapt by putting a bit more force and direction, containing and directing scattered energy, changing the step we were aiming for to adapt to how the follow is responding… But I can also say that although I am happy to do those things, and that I always try to encourage and dance with all levels of dancers, I do have the best time and dances as a lead with empowered, responsible and creative follows. Leading a follow who knows her part and is responsive, connected and creative in the space I give her, is an amazing feeling. Not only does it makes it a more enjoyable dance for me, but it also helps gives me the freedom and inspiration to dance at a higher level and be more creative and musical. Because we are truly dancing together, both adding to the dance, the need to compensate disappears and we can just dance and have a flowing dance conversation. Can’t beat that!