I recently arrived home from one of the largest Zouk congresses in the world. It was full of all kinds of social dance partners, but there are a few that truly stick out in my mind. One was a dance where, after the first 20 seconds, I became very scared for my safety. But, unlike every other rough dance I’ve had, the leader managed to transform this dance into one of my most memorable of the weekend.
It was clear from 0:01 that the guy could dance. He had good body control, good footwork, and was very musical. However, there was a caveat: he over-led every single movement. This meant that most of the steps were led with such force that I had to hold myself ‘on guard’ at all times. Needless to say, this does not make a dance enjoyable.
About 20 seconds into the dance, he attempted a turn that would place my arm into a hammer lock position (This means that my arm would be bent behind my back at a 90 degree angle). Just FYI: I don’t do hammer locks with rough leads; it’s a recipe for an injury. So, I didn’t follow the lead. I just did a little sway on the spot.
Now, the lead assumed that the reason I hadn’t followed was because I didn’t know what he was doing. He led it again – ironically with more force, and with the added pressure of the thumb digging in to the top of the hand.. I again didn’t go there, and instead just responded with a body movement. Rather than let it go and carry on, he made eye contact, began the lead again, and started trying to use his other hand to force-turn me. Recipe for a nightmare, no?
I refused to move. Instead, I shook my head, leaned in close and said, “I know what you’re trying to lead. I’m not going there because the way you are leading is too forceful and it’s hurting me.”
Eyes wide, he stopped looked at me for a good 2 seconds. Based on the fact that he’d tried to force-lead the movement, my guess would have been that he would leave the dance angry and insulted. He decided to prove me wrong. Very deliberately, he conducted the same lead again – but with a gentle movement. I followed.
We danced 3 more songs in a row. They were effing fantastic. The person from the first :20 seconds of the song was gone, replaced by a considerate, gentle and expressive lead that I loved dancing with. It turned into one of my best dances of the night. There are a couple takeaways for this, both for leads and follows.
Follows, the leads who care about you and want to give you a good dance will listen to you. This doesn’t give you a carte blanche to say mean things about their dancing; no one is perfect. It does mean that you can use your voice (and your body) to communicate when things aren’t going so well for you. You aren’t relegated to be a passive, submissive part of the dance; you can ask (or comment) in a civil way to obtain the dance you are looking for.
Leads, this guy erred only in one thing: trying to force the initial movement. Everything else this lead handled absolutely wonderfully. Rather than take offense, he adapted his dance and ended up making us both happy. He could have been offended or discouraged, but instead he changed his approach to resolve an issue. Would it have been better if he had picked up on the initial dance body language I was giving? Yes, but no one is perfect. You all have this power: to adapt your approach to make follows happy. It only requires an open mind and paying attention to what the follows are saying – verbally and non-verbally.
You sound like an extremely high-maintenance, princess primadonna follow that the average lead would not enjoy dancing with. If you’re that picky with a simple hammerlock, which sometimes requires extra momentum when the follow isn’t responding, especially if it’s a multi-spin h-lock (that’s why he kept repeating the lead…he obviously would’ve thought you were a newbie), you should probably stick to solo dancing. Women like you are the kind that make social/partner dancing a pain to enjoy.
Wow, Danny. You seem to have missed the whole point of the article.
I don’t consider it high maintenance to not follow a led movement when I’m in danger of injuring myself by following through. If your follow isn’t responding to the ‘simple’ hammerlock, don’t do a hammerlock; something is wrong. On that note, hammerlocks are particularly notorious for injuring a follow’s shoulder because she has no power to engage muscles to protect the shoulder joint in that position.
Extra momentum does not equal extra force. Even if I *were* a newbie (which I’m obviously not), it isn’t appropriate to force said dancer into a movement they are not comfortable with.
This very congress, one professional follow had to sit out due to a neck injury. Another Facebook post featured a professional follow with a fractured finger who is now out of work for several weeks. Dance safety – and the ability to decline to do an unsafe movement – is not a ‘primadonna’ issue. It is not being ‘picky’. It is not being ‘high maintenance’.
If you think that a woman is a high-maintenance, princess primadonna follow for protecting herself from potential injury, maybe you are the one who should stick to solo dancing so that you don’t hurt anyone.
Danny, there is a difference between following a hammerlock and being forced into a hammerlock. Partner dancing does not mean that you can force your follow to do any move you think is cool, even if it is dangerous. It is something you should both enjoy and feel comfortable about. Gentle leads should be enough for that. In that case Laura did indeed follow the hammerlock.
Danny wins the taking words completely out of context award.
Laura will not necessarily mention her credentials, but she is an international instructor with a high level of respect from multiple dance communities.
You, however, as Laura said, missed the whole point of the article. Hammerlocks are only simple once said follower is in a comfortable position to hold it and one missed detail in leading it could lead to an injury. If you ever injure someone, they can legally sue you for that injury. The more advanced a lot of dancers get, the less tolerant they are of poorly done dancing.
Most follows are not in a strong and stable position of dance, because of rough leaders. This can be taught, and safety is definitely a priority over making a move work.
There are many reasons people enjoy dancing, but once people have tasted something easier/better/safer, they don’t want to go back to something worse. Your response is simply inconsiderate towards safety, and you don’t get it. I don’t know if anyone else will say it, but your attitude is not welcome in any dance community. Keep dancing! Just not with the rest of us who do appreciate this article.
Are you out of your damn mind, child?
Go back and re read her blog, slowly.
Also, I’d suggest you take some actual technical lessons Danny. I’m more then happy to help.
Until you do, stow your shit about women being the cause of anything you can’t enjoy.
I left my website in case you’d like that technical help.
Hi Danny. I had my wrist aggressively sprained from a poorly executed hammer lock a few years ago. It snapped automatically as my arm was poised ready to receive the lead. I couldn’t use that hand to dance, write or drive for 6 week. Im far from delicate, I have followed a million and one hammer locks in my time & I like an assertive lead. That being said, your wrist and elbow have a natural range of motion, and if someone forcefully twists and jerks your arm with no respect for that, something will break. Most guys don’t realise when they’re doing this and it’s hard to explain when a really defensive response comes up. It’s not a personal attack. It’s a – literally you’re going to rip my shoulder out of its socket – type thing. Maybe you’re one of the dream guys who has a perfectly effortless smooth lead and you can’t comprehend how another lead could get it so wrong. Fortunately I can lead too, so if we ever cross paths on the dancefloor, maybe we can dance and afterwards I can show you the difference between a well executed and a dangerous hammer lock.
And that was The Danny Method on “How to Identify Yourself as an Undesirable Lead!”
Laura, Danny’s being an ass. This is a good article.
I’ve followed gentler dances than zouk and found that what men lead can be surprisingly painful.
Hopefully I never have chance to dance with Danny !
In defense to the lead that you’re talking about in your article, I’ll draw upon some of my experiences.
As there are light leads and forceful leads, there also light follows and heavy follows. And every lead/follow has to adjust to every new partner. Some don’t know how to adjust, and some forget to (as I think the lead referred to in the article forgot to).
I have found that some movement leads are not recognized, or don’t seem to make it past a threshold to be recognized as a movement lead at all. So, in those cases, I have to add more force, or additional indicators, to adjust. The lighter the follow, the less force I need to use.
One occurrence that comes to mind is when I switched to a follow that I have dance with many times, and I know she’s a light follow. Part of the way through the dance, she said, “not so much force”, and it reminded me that I had forgotten to adjust to my follow (Thank you Maysa for speaking up), and that I needed to correct that.
I probably forget to adjust to each partner more often that I realize, and I’m guessing that it occurs more often as a night/congress progresses.
Well said. We are not perfect, and personally I love when followers give me gentle, vocal feedback. Yes, I may pick up that something is wrong, but mistake it for being my lead that is too soft/vague. Then “fixing” the issue makes the entire situation a lot worse.
Of course it’s my fault, I openly admit it. Still I really do believe that most (almost all) of us leaders do try our best to give the follower a nice and enjoyable ride. The success of each dance is measured by the size of the followers smile!
I can’t even answer, I’ll be mean…
Talking about Danny, just to be clear.
Wow Danny – I hope I never have to dance with you. Your
As a Follow AND a pretty damn decent Leader, I can tell you “Extra Momentum” (as you say is needed for the Hammerlock) does NOT equal FORCE. A PROPERLY TIMED Pulse (as that “Extra Momentum” is properly known) takes only a minimal about of extra energy. Key words being “properly timed”.
Second: Hammerlocks are NOT simple, especially if you have a follow who either already has shoulder issues, or has had a shoulder injury (even worse, if it was caused on the dance floor… because now she will likely be more cautious of these moves), or has poor range-of-motion. The FIRST way to freak out a follow is to try to FORCE a Hammerlock. Think about it…you are trying to get her into a position that is normally used to restrain a person… it’s not a “normal” place for arms to willingly go. So if you try to man-handle her into doing it, odds are the smart ones will stop (as the OP did) and not go there. The ones who get hurt are the ones who actually *try* to be a “nice” follow and who get man-handled into a place where her arm physically can’t go.
And finally: You called the OP “an extremely high-maintenance, princess primadonna follow”. From what I understand, she is a well known top instructor in her field. Even if she wasn’t, you may want to note that the lead didn’t just politely finish the dance, they had THREE more afterwards. Once the lead realized that he was overleading, he adjusted and obviously enjoyed the rest of that dance if he went back for 3 more.
Perhaps Danny YOU are the “high-maintenance primadonna” dancer. Certainly your post makes you sound like one of the arrogant leads I occasionally come across who seem to have forgotten the #1 simple rule of leading: No matter what, as a Lead, my job is to look after my follow. To ascertain her(or HIS!)abilities in the first phrase of the song and to ADAPT my lead to what she/he is capable of. Never EVER would I try to force a lead on a follow… if anything, I go with less to start with until I get an idea of her/his abilities. And you know what? I have tons of women… AND men!… who ask me to lead them because they heard from someone else that I’m a pretty decent lead and I won’t hurt them. And I’ll take that ANY day over a first place trophy that I might gain by goat-roping a follow into a Hammerlock or any other potentially dangerous/scary move….
Laura, I always love to hear your take on social dancing. So many well-written insights and such a professional perspective on the dance and the social interactions surrounding it.
I want to give total respect to this lead you danced with. Listening to your feedback and adapting made him a better dancer and turned a negative experience into a positive one. It shows real confidence, respect, and maturity on his part. It saddens me that I’ve heard several stories of guys who, when told their lead is too rough, decide to lead even harder to vent their frustration and show that they were holding back before. Obviously that’s dangerous, immature, mean, and can border on physical abuse. That this man chose to listen and adapt is fantastic.
I’m generally not a fan of verbal feedback during a dance unless the person asks for it, but this is a case where I think you absolutely were right to speak up. Your safety was at stake and he was clearly not understanding your body cues. It’s one thing to criticize someone for their shortcomings, another thing to speak up to protect yourself from the very real risk of injury.
I don’t need to pile up on the earlier commenter. But I do want to state for the record that I LOVE dancing with you- easily some of my favorite dances of the Congress- and I think you and women like you make your dance communities better for everyone. Shine on.
Don’t come to Seattle to dance zouk unless you have changed your attitude. I will personally eject you.
I agree with Danny. Yes yes Laura you are making a point about a dancer who adapted to you, but at the same time you are exposing how picky you are and that partner dancing is not for you. I remember being new at salsa and finding a lot of discouraging people like you. Not everyone is up to your standards and partner dancing is like business; sometimes you loose, sometimes you win. It takes a long time for a lead to learn to adapt the strength to different dance partners. It’s basic physics. I remember finishing a dance with a 5’10 180 pounds partner, and starting to dance with a 5′ 105 pounds. It requires years of experience to adapt to different body types and styles. After 5 years of dancing.I never have heard of an injury coming from a hammerlock. And who knows, maybe you just made up the whole story.
Maybe you should read the other comments from people who have been hurt from hammer locks.
It’s too bad you think that it’s better for a follow to risk injury than to set boundaries.
I’ve been dancing almost 10 years. I teach to the blind. I am highly adaptable and dance many styles. I dance with people of all levels, and am not picky. I will dance off-time, only the basic, practice a new move with you, move slow or fast, complete complex movements, and respond to your level of connection. However, if you are hurting me, I’m not going to follow you.
I have never been hurt by a beginner. I have been hurt by drunk advanced dancers, and dancers who think they are not beginner because they know a bunch of moves. I will take a beginner over an ‘expert’ any day, happily. I’d rather spend 5 minutes doing basic, mediocrely executed movements than dance with someone who thinks they know what they are doing – but doesn’t.
A good friend – who is a professional dancer – has a chronic injury from a hammer lock gone wrong. Three others have commented in various places after this article also saying they have injuries from such movements.
Lastly, why would I make up a story like this?
If it’s like a business, the threat of imminent injury is the business risk you don’t take. If you really think that follows should risk injury to not ‘discourage’ a lead, I don’t think social dancing is for you.
I would like to start by addressing your statement that Laura is picky. She did not refuse to dance with this particular lead or even try to end the dance. She simply refused to follow a move that she thought might put her in danger. That doesn’t make her picky, just autonomous. Boneca is just a name of a move, not what a follow is supposed to be. I have to say I’m glad she did chose not to follow it. I love dancing with Laura and and if she was injured I’d be very sad.
This was in no way about Laura’s standard in who she will dance with. I have scene her dance with people of all levels, this is simply over an issue of which moves she felt comfortable doing with a particular style of dancer.
If I am dancing with a girl who tends to throw herself into dangerous positions, I will make sure to keep enough connection points that she is less likely to hurt herself and be in a position where I can support her. I won’t lead head motion on follows who put their neck in dangerous positions when they do head motion. Does it make me a picky lead that I choose to only leave moves I feel are safe? If not, why is Laura a picky follow for only following moves she feels are safe.
In the majority of social dances Laura has, she will be the more experienced dancer. We may say it is the leads job to keep a follow safe, but an experienced follow should use her own judgement as well.
Furthermore, rough leads are not most follows’ idea of a fun dance. For that reason, this lead should be very happy that he received a small polite correction followed by several good dances.
Finally, on a personal note, I’ve enjoyed many great dances with Laura. She is an absolutely fantastic social dancer and it definitely is for her. Over those years, she has followed a good 99% of moves I’ve attempted to lead. If Laura is choosing not to follow something, it means the lead is doing something wrong. If Laura is choosing not to follow a large portion of the dance, it means that lead is doing a lot of things wrong. It’s not her responsibility to risk injury to convince a lead they are a better dancer than they are.
Add me to the list of those suffering shoulder injuries at the hands of someone who led a hammerlock with such force that I was literally kneeling on the floor, arm behind my back like a criminal taken down by law enforcement. That was 8 years ago. Thousands of $ and hours in therapy, and still see at PT twice a month to adjust my scapula so it will track without pain. It will be a forever injury until it progresses to the point I will need surgery. I will indeed disconnect if I feel someone is leading so roughly it hurts my (already injured) shoulder. The worst for me are those who start a turn indicating a certain speed of rotation, then1/2 way through (when most leads would be allowing the arms to float down) accelerate the speed like they are starting a pull mower. I cannot believe some of the responses here, it saddens me to realize some people do not respect their dance partners as a human being who will suffer when injured, rather an inanimate object for them to use or abuse as they wish.
Love your article – well-written too! I particularly appreciate the perspective. I recently also told a lead not to pull me around … He did adapt but was very defensive. Thanks!
Danny and Rene:the first obligation of a leader is to make the follower smile. If she’s not doing that, you are doing something completely wrong.
And please try to learn how to follow. I’m very happy to help you out here and to let you experience the different ways if leading (safely, I won’t hurt you). I’m sure you will then understand that different leaders have different energies and that it is essential for a leader to match the energy of the follower. Not the other way around.
“the first obligation of a leader is to make the follower smile. If she’s not doing that, you are doing something completely wrong.”
biggest bullcrap ever… Since when is smiling a benchmark of a good dance or a lead being good/bad?
As a follower, I think it’s good indication of how I feel like I’m being treated.
A beginner lead doing basics: smile
A beginner lead not knowing what he’s doing and is off timed and confused: polite smile
A advance lead shoving me around and forcefully pulling and turning me: I can’t even smile because i’m in such a rush to not lose balance as I get tossed and turned.
For me personally, it doesn’t matter what there skill level is – as long as they are taking care of me for the dance, I am having a good time and smiling. Then of course you have follows with resting bitch faces so that’s hard to say. But if most followers smile disappears during the dance – something’s up with the lead.
Great article Laura. 2 points I wanted to help emphasize:
1) One characteristic of great leads and follows is that he/she LISTENS. Granted, following requires listening. But for leads, that means paying attention to your follow. If the follow is struggling with crossbody leads with a turn, that doesn’t mean that the lead should execute his pre-decided fancy combination-pattern with even more force. If the follow doesn’t pick up on the gentle hints, then you can add the additional guidance. If she is half a second slow in switching her weight, a great lead actually waits that extra half second before leading the trick he wanted to do so that the follow transitions into that move smoothly and feels great and natural. Versus the lead can be adamantly on time – yank her through that execution and make her feel off balance because she wasn’t on time with the footing yet.
2) Followers should ‘follow’ but that doesn’t mean you have to give up all your rights of being treated like a human being. If you don’t like certain things cause it hurts you – hammerlocks, dips, etc you have the right to not follow that. If the lead is tossing you around like a rag doll ignoring the fact that you are a beginner, break away and do shines until he’s ready.
Summary: Listen to your partner and dancers have a right to protect themselves.
1. Any smallest movement executed with enough force can cause injury.
I quit Salsa when I could no longer fall asleep some nights because my arms hurt up to the elbows from pressure from thumbs on the tops of my hands, forceful and jerked movements. It took over a year for the pain to stop.
2. More force NEVER helps. Ever. It especially does NOT help ‘heavy’ followers.
In my experience, heavy followers are such because they never learned to relax and respond to the leading. They are waiting for force.
Force, however, creates a noisy signal. It hurts. It doesn’t solve anything.
What is needed is CLEAN good connection, leading from the BODY and thus good, clean, slightly spring-y (vs fully rigid) frame. Plus a little 2-minute advice set on a) keeping weight on the balls of the feet and b) keeping the connection/game and following the movement instead of getting to figure out the movement worn the brain. The end.
When I encounter heavy followers, I never increase my (soft) lead intensity. Ever. I concentrate on very clean connection. I also in the beginning do some easy moves (steps, even just the basic), ‘off the beat’ – slow them mid-way, wait for my follower to feel the connection rather than force. Yes those moves fail entirely the first few times. But by the end of song one I end up with a much lighter follower who tells me I’m one of the best leaders she danced with. That given that as a leader I know like 10 moves at best.
This only works if you also keep your follower safe. A lot of stiffness comes from feeling endangered by your leader.
I remember one Salsa teacher assistant I danced with. He used so much force I literally had to use all my might to not be slammed into the nearby wall and people around.
I at one point nicely asked him if he could give me a little less momentum because (I tend to politely pretend the problem is mine) I tend to ‘fly off’.
His enlightened answer? “You’re too slow on the turns, you NEED more force”.
Yeah. That I’m usually too FAST on the turns and I was only slow BECAUSE I had to fight to stay upright/re-stabilize myself when he threw me off axis and not slam into anyone/thing never occurred to him…
Force doesn’t work. Technique works. Clean leading works. Good frame. And movement that is signaled properly before it begins and ends. Force? NEVER.
On heavy follows it only works to finish the dance like a great work-out and keep followers forever just as heavy.
My two cents.
I just read this blog, and although it doesn’t completely relate to this blog, I find that and ideal world lies somewhere in between these two ideas.
Laura, I still respect your ideas and concerns of lead and follow interaction. Keep up the great articles!
If a lead only ever managed to learn 1 thing about dancing it should be that when coming in or/and out of hammerlock, the hand goes down till the arm is straight. Learning other things would be good but this is plain health&safety. (Yes, I’m assuming they won’t jerk the hand up and down – I mean surely – OK maybe they would. Sigh)
Wow, Lady, you are extremely patient.
To Danny and the likes: When you start dancing, they teach you a few things about dance etiquette. This has nothing to do with style, level, moves, geographic location, personal preferences, etc. This is just some basic common knowledge. Among other useful things, they teach you this: If he tries to do the move, and she refuses, it’s fine. If he tries to force it second time, she should simply dump him in the middle of the dance. Period. This is normal practice and basic safety. If they did not tell you about this in the beginner’s class, you may google it up or find some instructional videos on the youtube. All those videos, blogs, etc say the same thing.
What you did, Laura, was extremely nice and patient.
I’ve read this article before (probably when it first came out), but since then, I have had the EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE. It was actually at the Canada Zouk Congress! I usually just strong-up and protect myself if the lead is very forceful, but On Monday at Niagara Falls, I was having a first dance with a lead that was so forceful I couldn’t take it. I said, “Can you use less force, please? You’re hurting me” and after a few seconds of what may have been shock/recalibration/digestion, we danced some of my favorite and most memorable dances ever, including a wonderful last dance of my Canada trip! He was so creative, musical, challenging, and expert in his leading that I ended up following all kinds of shockingly fun things! Some of the things I didn’t even know my body could do, and some I didn’t know were possibilities! I still think about this amazingly powerful and shockingly good dance often. (Thanks Vinay from UK!)
I’m glad you spoke up Laura. If I’m the clueless guy that can’t figure out why a move didn’t work, I’d much prefer to be told verbally so that I can adjust if I have failed to read body language.
Likewise I really appreciate when a follow tells me about an injury or a limited movement range they have at the moment for whatever reason. That way I know what to be extra specially careful on and/or what to avoid entirely. Even then, and even with the best of intentions, if it’s 3am and I’ve gone on autopilot halfway through a dance I might accidentally lead bonecca when you told me you have neck pain at the moment and can’t. At these times I also appreciate it when you stop following my lead. The worst and last thing I want is to inflict pain, injury and discomfort onto a follow, and stopping and being politely told why that’s not going to happen is best in my opinion.
Regarding hammer locks, I’ve danced with some follows who naturally don’t have that range of movement at all, e.g. their bones are fused weirdly at the elbow preventing the correct lead for a hammer lock motion. By forcing this you could literally break their bones. Forcing is never a good idea.