Follows: what if I told you that you have just as much power to shape your dance as the lead?
It’s true – and it starts from the second you begin dancing. Much the same way that a lead can ‘test’ the follow’s abilities before launching into full-on dance mode, we have the ability to ‘test’ the lead’s ability and assess how much we would like to give into the dance.
The First 5 Seconds
In the First 5, you will probably learn whether the lead is planning on connecting with you for the rest of the song. If the very first thing they do is to launch into a pattern, you have a very good idea of what to expect from the rest of the song. If they spend a few seconds making sure your weight is on the right foot and your bodies are in sync, this tells you how much they will likely care for your well-being the rest of the song.
In general, a lack of connection can signify:
- He is New – You can help the dance by bridging his gaps
- He is Drunk – Be Careful
- He is Bad at Connection – Be Careful
- Something Else – Be Careful
As a follow, you have the ability in the first 5 seconds to ask for connection. Try to jump on their wavelength. See if they listen. Sometimes, a new-ish lead can be very sensitive to connection and will jump on-board if you create the opportunity. Other times, a very experienced lead will show that they may have all the moves and style, but they may not ‘be there’ for the follow at all times.
Do keep in mind that there is a subset of leads whose connection is almost impossibly light. Sometimes, these are not preferred as many follows really like the feeling of being ‘moved’ by the lead, and they may confuse these individuals with people who just don’t ‘have’ connection.
In the alternative, these leads are frequently very unlikely to hurt a partner because they are SO concerned about making sure they don’t force something. With these leads, keep in mind that as a follow you will likely be responsible for keeping yourself safe and your own movements centered. They will likely not hurt you, but they are also less likely to step in and take control if you push your own limits too far.
The Next 25 Seconds
Dance with your lead – but keep your wits about you. See if they are respecting your limits, or forcing movements to work. Do they slow down when they feel resistance from you? Do they let you finish movements, or jar you from your base position? Are they a dip-lover – and do they keep you centered?
This is where you can really establish if you trust this leader. Personally, I do not execute any movement where I do not feel secure in what the lead is doing, but this period establishes the threshold for what I’ll be comfortable with. For example, if he dips me at a moderate but controlled pace during this time and I feel centered/secure, I am more likely to follow him into a sharper lead the following time. If something doesn’t feel quite right the first time or he leads it too quickly, I am likely to abort.
Follows: always remember that at ANY time with ANY partner you are NEVER obligated to follow a movement you are not comfortable with. Never. Nada. Zilch. Doesn’t matter who the lead is, doesn’t matter who you are. Doesn’t matter if it’s during a competition or social dancing. You are the controller of your own dance – not the lead. The lead gives you options, but it is up to you to take them.
You are just as responsible for the dance.
You do not owe anyone an explanation for not completing or doing a movement.
You get to determine how ‘into’ the dance with the lead you want to go – and you do not need to sacrifice connection to do it.
The Rest of the Song
Dance how you are comfortable. I love the feeling of giving in to connection and movement; it can be thrilling and empowering. However, I never advocate blindly following everything. If something feels wrong, stop.
This is especially pertinent for those who are new to a style of dance or who have less training, as you’ll need to think more about when something is crossing your ‘safety threshold’. For a more experienced dancer, these behaviors can often be seen coming from a mile away and decisions to abort can be made in a split second. For less experienced or trained dancers, it may be a last-minute or less-than-connected decision to not do a movement. Both are fine.
“How can I still enjoy my dance if I’m thinking??”
Trust me, these tips do not take away from enjoyment; they allow you to be more engaged. They also give you the autonomy to make a dance your own. If we are passive in all of our dance movements, we are not tapping in to our own potential to truly push our dancing to the max. Following is a decision, among many other things. Following is your ability to interpret. Following is your ability to create within someone else’s imagination. When we embrace our ability to influence our dance and set our output in correlation with the lead’s abilities, we open up more possibilities for a fun, connected, and insanely creative dance.
“Filling in the Gaps”
It’s a well-known fact that no lead is perfect. One thing I hear from follows often is “well, he didn’t lead it so I’m not going to do it. ” This works well in class – but it’s not likely to make you the most favored social dancer.
The beauty of being a follow is that we have the power to interpret. We can interpret the sentence “Water give now?” to mean “Can you please give me a glass of water?” The more fluent we are, the easier it is for us to translate the imperfect – which is why advanced follows make a beginner lead’s job so easy.
Keep in mind imperfect is not equal to dangerous. I never advocate doing something where you feel unsafe, but part of you test-driving your lead is understanding where the gaps are that you can fill in to make the dance more enjoyable. Instead of viewing their gaps as shortcomings, view them as opportunities to create and fill the dance with your own style.
The same way an advanced lead should make his repertoire manageable for a beginner follow, an advanced follow should use her expert interpretive skills to execute the smaller and more rudimentary repertoire he has – and she can do this with as much sass as she likes.
- You have 50% of the power. Use it.
- You are responsible for assessing what you will/will not do in a dance
- You can act as an interpreter for a beginner lead
- Always be proactive, not passive: assess your dance so that you can maintain autonomy.
Dance on, my gorgeous follows
Good information. This piece and the counterpart are very safety-conscious, and you actually mentioned that leads usually get blamed for injury regardless of whose fault it is. It might make sense if this addressed how follows can keep their lead safe and be an active participant in avoiding unsafe situations.
“Following is your ability to create within someone else’s imagination.” – I love that description – beautifully said! Thank you for another great piece.
What’s the best way to give follows opportunities to creatively contribute to the dance?
In my opinion the good way to do this is to make pauses, where the music pauses like for example at the end of a phrase of section. Then, the follow can use this time to do something on her/his own while both partners are standing and do not moving anywhere.