In dance, we have very often heard the analogy about driving a car.  Usually, it’s in reference to leads ‘driving’ their follows. I’ve used the same metaphor for both leads and follows in respect to ‘test-driving’, and I’ve made allegories about driving in relation to a follow’s role.

But none of these allegories seemed to fit the relationship of social dancing correctly. Follows aren’t cars to be simply driven around. The idea of a lead being a car doesn’t quite work either.

So we’re going to give both the lead and follow their own cars. And they’re going to go for a drive a the big city. Let’s call it Dancadriva, since I’m super creative. This is going to tell us how the relationship in social dancing works.

In this city:

  • The speed limit is the song speed
  • The traffic level is the number of people on the floor
  • Your car is your body
  • The number of lanes is the size of your dance floor
  • Your driving ability is your dance level

Now, let’s go for that drive.

You and your partner get into your own cars. If you are the leader, you know the final destination and need to drive ahead of your partner to show them where to go. The goal is to get you both to the destination – not you to the destination showing off your cool driving skills and losing the follow along the way.

If you are the follower, you don’t know where the destination is. Your job is to try to arrive at the destination by following the lead car. Your goal is not to drive as awesomely as possible, but to try to stay safe and keep with the flow of your lead’s car. Oh, and preferably don’t go past them – that’s not following.

Now obviously, the lead car wants to make sure they don’t lose the follow car. In order to do this, they can do several things:

The more you use these assets, the easier it will be for the other car to stay with you. If you don’t use these powers, you’re going to have problems:

  • If you speed, it’s hard to catch up.
  • If you don’t signal, the other car has to figure out what’s going on.
  • If you change lanes suddenly, the other car has to figure out how to catch up.
  • If you change lanes back and forth for no reason, it’s hella confusing.
  • If you merge into heavy traffic, the other car can lose you.
  • If you give a choice between driving dangerously and losing you, a responsible second driver will no longer follow you.

Now we know what the lead is doing. What is the follow doing? Trying to figure out what the lead is doing.

If the lead is weaving back and forth, the follow is saying ‘…wth?’ and trying to figure out which lane they actually should be in. If the lead forgets to signal a turn, we’re cursing under our breath and slamming on the brakes so we don’t miss our exit. The same goes if they signal literally 1 second before they turn.

And, most of the time, follows won’t follow a lead off a dock into the water. They know the destination wasn’t an underwater mini golf course. They’re not going to total their car because the lead pointed them in a direction and said ‘drive’. Follows do have a brain, after all.

 So, what happens when the lead makes a wrong turn, or forgets where they’re going?

Well, if the follow has truly no idea where the lead is going… they’re just going to wait. There’s nothing else that can be done, and taking the lead is pointless because they don’t actually know where they’re trying to go. Unless they pick a new destination.

If the follow has a sort-of idea, maybe they turn on their turn signal and hope the lead notices. If the lead doesn’t, maybe the follow honks a little to draw attention to the turn signal. Half the time the lead still won’t notice.

By the way, just assume no one has a GPS in this analogy. Assume GPS’s are your dance instructors. They give you a better idea of where you’re going. Maybe you should get one of those…. Hmm…. (just make sure it doesn’t use AppleMaps)

But… how is this like dancing?

 This analogy is like dancing in several ways:

So basically, we’re changing the rhetoric from “Lead drives Follow” to “Lead guides Follow”. Which is so much better than comparing a follow to an a non-feeling, non-living chunk of metal that you operate.

Because, let’s get serious: a lead doesn’t ‘operate’ a follow – they ‘co-operate’ with each other.  

I have seen in comments that some people already have exposure to teachers who are shifting the conversation to a guiding principle and prizing the co-operative nature of dance! Kudos to all those great teachers out there!