Part of the thrill of being a lead in dance is being able to create the framework and shape the dance into something beautiful and creative. With a good follow, you can create magic on the floor. Better yet, you can do so effortlessly.
But sometimes, leaders get so wrapped up in doing what they want that they forget about their follow.
Last month, a group of us danced outdoors by Niagara Falls after Canada Zouk Congress. It was gorgeous, beautiful, and honestly a magical experience. There was, however, one caveat: we were dancing on concrete.
A Note about Concrete:
For those of you who don’t know, dancing on concrete as a follow is not easy. Dance shoes get shredded in no time, bare feet shred skin instead. The only shoes that tend to stay on your foot in an outdoor setting tend to be rubber soles that don’t spin well. Sometimes, you can find a pair of shoes that has a slippery enough sole, but it isn’t easy and they don’t tend to last long.
I was leading and following on this particular day. As a result, I was in a unique position to really appreciate how bloody hard it was to dance full-out on the pavement. At one point, I asked one of my favourite follows in attendance to dance. She was hesitant because spinning on the floor was hurting her knees, but she still really wanted to dance.
So, I told her I would dance with her – with no spins.
It was hard. It was really, really hard to dance an entire song without defaulting to spins. As a lead, you get so used to defaulting to your patterns – and spinning a follow is a nice cop-out in a lot of situations. It allows a lead to do something “fancy” while taking away from the fact that they just completely lost where they are, or aren’t sure what else to do.
When you take away a crutch like that, you force your creativity to come out. I had to do more body manipulation, more travelling in straight lines, and more creative movement than I’ve ever done in my life. In situations where I couldn’t find an alternative, I had to lead through it at 1/2 time or slower to make it plausible on concrete.
But, all this rethinking my dance was worth it, because it proved that I respected and cared for the follow I was dancing with. At the end of the song, I was able to say “See? No turns” – and she was able to enjoy a dance without throwing her knees out.
This is too rare – and my follow told me so too.
As follows we have all experienced the lead who went beyond our limits in a particular situation. Many times, it is even a lead that we usually like who just didn’t respect our conditions on a particular day – like the concrete. In partner dance, it is so critical to take care of your partner first – particularly if you are a lead.
What is involved with respecting your partner?
- The conditions: Is it crowded? Bad floor? Sticky floor? All of these are hazards that disproportionately tend to affect follows. Pay attention to them, and adjust the dance.
- Her conditions: Is he/she new? Injured? Tired? Did they just walk in from the cold and are not yet warmed up? The best thing you can do for a follow is to take these into account without her having to ask or speak up. Anticipate the need by putting yourself in their shoes.
- Your conditions: Are you new? Are you warmed up or injured? Are you drunk, or even a little tipsy? Ask yourself how this will affect your partner.
When we take care of our partners, we allow the other person to relax into the dance with us. When we are at peace in a connection and do not have fear or worry about what is coming next, we have the pleasure of unbelievably connected and entrancing dances. However, even an ounce of trepidation or worry can unhinge all of that connection.
It is my firm belief that no one who actually cares about social dancing oversteps these boundaries on purpose (or at least, very few people do). I do think that there are many who have overstepped them from a lack of knowledge or understanding.
So, use this knowledge. Assess the situation from the perspective of your partner. Anticipate what the issues may be before they happen – and respect them doubly if your partner verbally states them.
Challenge yourself to find new ways of dancing as a lead; own your own discomfort by pushing yourself to be creative – rather than force the other to adapt to your comfort zone. You will grow, and your partner will thrive.
Be the lead that dances without spins if she needs it. Be the lead that dances without dips if they don’t want to hurdle towards the ground. Be the lead who slows down beyond the music to be present with your partner and their abilities. It will only lead to glorious things.
This is a GREAT article. We dance a lot outdoors in NYC and I do so wish that each and everyone who dances (both outdoors and indoors)would heed this wisdom. I learned to dance mambo/salsa ‘back in the day’ when shines were the thing, not multiple spins like the youngsters do today. Thanks for writing this. Great blog, Dancing Grapevine!!!
Yes bring back the art of conversation to the dance, the ask & response kind, not the I’m in total control of you dance.
Removing the “crutch” – finally a take on salsa/mambo dancing sans the NEED for multiple spinning; indeed, a cop-out. Thanks – a real dancer from the PALLADIUM – (circa1950’s).
Excellent points made clearly. Leaders in Tango need to consider how much pivoting is possible in outdoor or ‘sticky’ situations for all the same reasons outlined above. We are in this together and followers need consideration when floors are difficult.
I really enjoyed that piece, thank you for sharing. As a person who both leads & follows I appreciated the sentiment. I thought some readers might enjoy this piece I wrote for the Huffington Post a few months back:
Thank YOU! AMY
Great article and a very necessary topic. I was coming back after an injury and requested my partner take it easy on my turns. That lasted 2 passes and I spent the rest of the song bailing and worrying about reinjury… don’t even get me started about balance issues that come with stuffy ears from allergies. The list goes on and on.
It is always a joy and privilege to dance with a considerate leader. They are the ones who turn a dance from a conductor leading a soloist to a beautifully harmonized duet. That’s what we love.
Great article, well done and too true! I have danced on concrete and asphalt, dirt grass and gravel, and it’s tough to turn on any of them.
I commented this to some regular partners at an outdoor milonga, but they did not seem to adjust their dance to the conditions.
Please keep posting to spread the word!
While it might appear bewildering when it is performed in a fast dance, the grapevine can be broken down into simple moves involving stepping and crossing – practice it in front of a mirror a couple of times, and once you get the hang of it, you can incorporate it into your dances.
It’s much easier to spin and turn on concrete/stone in leather (not suede) soled shoes – less friction compared to rubber/synthetic.