Many leads I’ve met are frustrated by a paradox they see in the dance world. It can often seem that follows say “I want a guy who leads solid, connected basics – not advanced patterns”. Yet, the same follow is completely smitten by a lead with really, really cool moves that challenge the follower.
Obviously, this can lead to a fair amount of frustration. Leads *really really* want to be a great partner dancer and give their follow an amazing time. They want to look good on the floor, and be that lead that the follows can’t wait to dance with.
You want to listen to the advice to get a really solid foundation, but it feels like that foundation is never actually enough to make you a favourite dancer in your scene.
So, what gives?
Well, basics probably aren’t going to make you my favourite dance partner- but it will make you a *good* dance… even possibly a *great* dance! It may even be one of my most fun dances that night.
Despite the dance probably not being my favourite, I would still rather dance with a lead that has solid basics and connection than one who does advanced patterns. They may even be one of my preferred partners.
No, I’m not contradicting myself. See, there’s an unspoken end to that phrase:
“I would rather dance with a lead that has solid basics and connection than one who does advanced patterns with no regard to connection, the music, or basics.”
Obviously, if you can do solid basics, have epic connection, are crazy musical, and have REALLY COOL patterns, you’re going to be among my favourites. But, those dancers are really rare. Like, REALLY rare. Many scenes don’t even have a single lead at that level. Why? because it’s really really hard to GET to that level. Most of the time, those people are doing dance professionally.
BUT, if you aren’t one of those super-epic dancers (like most of us), there’s an order to what I like most in a partner:
- Cool Patterns
There’s a reason for this order. Most things in the list require an earlier number in order to be pleasant. For example:
- Cool patterns are useless without musicality, basics, and connection. They have no relationship with creativity (you can just mimic patterns you’ve seen – even if super complicated)
- Creativity relies on knowing the basics and connection. Most creative dancers are also highly musical, because they are creating movements in order to fit the music. Creativity without musicality can be fun as an experiment, but is best used with some sort of musicality.
- Musicality is useless without basics and connection.
- Basics are best with great connection.
- Connection can exist without any other pieces, and it will be safe and pleasant.
Therefore, I’d rather dance with someone who only has connection and basics in comparison to someone who has musicality or patterns – but no foundation. It’s safer and more comfortable.
In that case, what should leads focus on in order to become ‘great’ dance partners?
Well, in my opinion, they should focus on basics and connection first. Once you understand what the basics are (and trust me, you will ALWAYS still need to improve them as you progress), you can start the process of becoming musical and creative. This can include learning more advanced patterns – at a SLOW speed.
I personally like to start introducing musicality relatively early, but only in relation to the basics. For example, slowing down or ‘hitting’ an accent with a movement you are comfortable with. Even a basic step can be ‘musical’, if it is danced in a way that ‘feels’ the music. Musicality does not equal complexity, after all.
The SLOW speed is critical here. Many leaders fear that follows will become ‘bored’ if they move slow, or the lead feels uncomfortable moving at the slow speed. Followers (at least in many dances) do not get bored by slow. It gives us a chance to connect with you. If the lead is feeling uncomfortable dancing at a slow speed, it usually means that they haven’t mastered that movement yet.
Learn to dance at a slow speed, and you will find it easier to become a really good lead.
Sidenote: the slow speed is awesome for learning more complicated patterns because it gives you time to think and connect. If you can maintain connection, you can explore and be creative with more complex movements.
You can become a favourite dancer – but only with hard work. Most people underestimate the amount of work it takes. You need training, social dance experience, solo practice, partnered practice, and more in order to really ‘master’ a dance – and you’ll still have more to learn. Even your teachers should still be training and growing. (Sidenote: if they’re not into improving themselves, it’s not a great sign…)
There’s no special ‘timeline’ on becoming a favourite dancer – and you will never be everyone’s favourite. How long it takes you to become a ‘favourite’ depends on your background, physical abilities, capacity for learning, dedication to training, and more.
But, the path to becoming a favourite does not reside in complicated patterns at fast speeds. The answer can be found in becoming a whole dancer – with connection and basics at the core.
Love this and agree completely!
I so agree. With no intention of coming across as a snob, I truly believe that private lessons are key. The learning that happens in private lessons will not happen in group lessons. It is not possible. Private lessons help someone achieve what you have detailed above. I’ve been dancing since 1997. I have had years of private lessons and group lessons, gone to so many dance parties. I can see and feel when a lead maybe has learned a step, but, it doesn’t feel right and good. That person usually ends up having never taken a private lesson. But, I always am kind and gracious no matter what my experience.
Private lessons certainly do help, but a great instructor and mentor (even in a group or semi-private setting) can still do wonders! There are people who cannot afford private training, but may be able to maximize the benefit from group classes. It is more difficult, but can be done!
I don’t question the author’s honesty, but given the number of follows I’ve danced with who had worse connection skills than me (and that’s saying something) I question how widely her priority list is shared. Also, actions speak louder than words.
I’d caution against saying that because some follows don’t have the skillset, it automatically follows that it’s not the most important thing to them. 🙂 There’s a reason follows love certain feel-good pro’s regardless of level – and it’s usually because of connection 😉
I’d be curious to know what you mean by ‘actions speak louder than words’, since the actions I see definitely follow the connection train.
Apologies, I was referring to “follows say “I want a guy who leads solid, connected basics – not advanced patterns”. Yet, the same follow is completely smitten by a lead with really, really cool moves”.
That’s exactly the paradox I was trying to explore 🙂
The point was that the cool patterns are fun and awesome when there is ALSO good connection. Leads don’t see the connection – only the patterns. Therefore leads assume that because follows like the lead who has those patterns, not realizing that what makes the lead so awesome is the connection + patterns. The patterns are useless without the connection.
Ah, I read the opening and instantly saw the situation much more cynically: flashier patterns than other leads establish higher social status, which in turn attracts follows and inclines them to judge the higher social status lead favourably.
Unfortunately, I read the rest of the article with that lens in place.
Just because a follow loves good connection in her partners doesn’t mean she realizes the need to develop that skill in herself.
Agreed, though perhaps this is partially because self awareness is so much more difficult to acquire.
Sadly, I think a lot of follows are given the short shrift on this point. So often, I hear the a follow has been told in a class that s/he just “needs to follow,” when the role is far more complex than that. If you hear that enough, you’ll figure there isn’t much more to get out of classes, and/or, you’re already doing everything you need to do. Follows need the same attention from day one that the leads need, and honestly, I really do believe that good follow teachers aren’t given the same space as good lead teachers.
I wish we could arrange the survey with thousands of followers worldwide to prove it. Just to show the results to beginners who usually do not believe in basic and connection and looking for “cool moves”) BTW:same thing about opinion for “lady’s styling” without a connection among leaders lol
“same thing about opinion for “lady’s styling” without a connection among leaders”. I haven’t heard of this before, could you explain?
I believe Anna is talking about follows who learn how to make themselves look good, but ignore the partnership with the lead. Therefore, there is lots of arms, foot and body styling – but without the connection that the lead needs to have an enjoyable dance with the follow.
Laura explained my point below. I think that it is the same paredox for leaders: they would hardly prefer “cool lady`s style” without any connection, but sometimes followers concentrate mostly on their own moves than learning to listen and follow.
I’ld like to add, that the order you put
Is also my priority list when i choose my follows. This is what is needed from every dancer, leads and follows, to become “great partners” and to have a really pleasant dance. This also the order i like to teach.
About “favorite” partners, don’t be blind, that has a lot to do with biochemistry and not only dance skills. Literally how you flirt with your partner and make him/her FEEL good is crucial 😉
There will be a follow-up article addressing follows. 🙂 I’m not ignoring them.
As to favourite… I don’t think it necessarily has to do with biochemistry – although it can help at times. One of my favourite leads is an elderly gentleman. We are not ‘attracted’ to each other at all, but we have a really fantastic dance chemistry.
There are many other favourites of mine who are similar: no attraction (either direction – and yes, I know this for a fact) but just amazing dance chemistry that makes them a favourite! Feeling good doesn’t have to be attraction or flirting well!
Laura, you are soooo right! As a lead, I really don’t want a 3 minute date every time I dance, which it seems that some follows always want. Hey, let’s just dance for dancings sake. Dancing with connection with her following you and you following her is fantastic on its own. Every dance doesn’t have to be about sex or romance or love or getting lucky later. BTW, I think most DJs pick too many songs along these lines also…
Great article! I encountered that paradox around the time I really started to understand the basics.
One couple I took a private with, told me I shouldn’t suffocate the girl and use a lot of basics. Another teacher I took a private with not long after (a lady for that matter :-)) told me my dance is boring and she is not the only girl who thinks so and I should use all the different moves I know in the dance… So… Yeah…
Well, from my expirience, and follows should feel free to correct me, follows like to succeed in doing crazy dance patterns, while not feeling the lead had to fight with them in order the execute the pattern. When the pattern is executed naturally and comfortably, both sides feel skilled for acomplishing this feat.
This of course, does not depend solely on the lead’s skill… In the end, the lead can only lead, not dance for the follow (also, he wants to give the follow room to interprate and decorate the movement as she desires). If the follow’s connection and basics are not good enough, in order to execute a more complex pattern, the lead would have to actually “dance” for the follow.
Part of the lead’s role in my opinion is discovering how far he can go with the follow, executing more complex patterns while maintaining comfortability, musicality and freedom. The best follows for me, are the ones who let me push far enough, so I can discover new things while dancing :-).
I had a similar situation regarding being told I was either too strong or too weak a lead, then going to a member of staff at a local class and being told there was nothing wrong. While I was able to fix the problem in the end, the experience left a sour taste in my mouth.
I think what Omer is talking about is a little different. In his situation, it seems like the two ideas weren’t mutually exclusive. In the end, it ended up being that the ‘not boring’ dance was the result of good basics + complexity – which is what I was writing about!
Strong vs. weak lead can have a lot of roots. Sometimes, it’s personal preference – in which case the idea is to adapt to your partner. You can usually feel what your partner’s connection is. The more advanced dancer usually has greater responsibility for adapting to the connection of the less advanced dancer.
If your teachers say that there is absolutely nothing wrong, it can either be that you are dancing the way they prefer, or they are happy with the technique you are using. But, keep in mind that there is always room for improvement. Just because you’re not doing something ‘wrong’ doesn’t mean you are doing everything ‘right’. 🙂
beautifully said, and may I add, maybe only for clarification, “it can either be that you are dancing the way they prefer, or they are happy with the technique you are using” If they have no problem with the technique you’re using, it goes back to Laura’s point about the more advanced dancer adapting to the less experienced dancer’s method. I do think, though, it is the special privilege and burden of the instructor to see where even acceptable technique may lead to faulty communication, and how more refined techniques may lead to more universal connection.
Excellent read. Thanks.
Great piece, and as a lindy hop/blues/other instructor and dancer, I can’t agree more with all you’ve laid out here (and for follows, in their own right, as I see you’ve said you’ll write about as well) FWIW, I’ve been in the field for 20 years, and am continually seeking out learning opportunities (another thing I COMPLETELY agree with you on!)
Two of my very favorite dancers are totally different in style: One is VERY into cool moves and complex patterns and highly technical, the other into small, nuanced changes, and much more “street.” The thing that makes them both successful dancers and partners is their unbelievable connection. Truly, it is the zen of dance to partner with these guys.
Some of my other favorites in my scene aren’t particularly skilled, in terms of vocabulary or creativity, but I love dancing with them because they are truly partnering with me, paying attention, and having fun *with* me, rather than *near* me.
I look forward to your follow piece!
There is a reason that the best teachers divide the class and teach the leads and the follows their individual parts in a pattern. Even the best leads cannot expect a follow to accomplish a difficult move if that follow has not learned some follow skills. Therefore, I really believe that when we speak of complexity, class and or practice time is essential. I mean a lot of class and practice. The teacher or practice partner would need to be exceptionally great to be the only person that you lean from too, so I am suggesting that both leads and follows are always in classes and workshops with different teachers and partners. I will not drop names here, but suffice to say, even the best teachers will tell you that what you have learned from one teachers is not wrong, but that they will now teach you their way. I guarantee that committing yourself to learning in this way will take your dance to the next level and you will accomplish the aforementioned priority list eventually. It brings to mind an adage, don’t run before you can walk.
Shared in Korean.
I love it. Thank you.
Wow I am not a dancer but this detailed writings of dance steps and techniques got me excited. Nice explanation.