Last week, I wrote an article on why following is frequently underrated as a skill in the social dance scene. This week, I want to follow up on exactly what I mean by teaching follows how to follow in classroom settings, as well as the things I think need to change in order to teach this. This is my personal opinion on the matter, and I’d love to hear from others what they have found worked or didn’t work in their own dance history in the comments below.
1. Remove the phrase “Just Follow” from our vocabulary: As many people are aware, frequently classroom experiences include the phrase ‘Just Follow’ instead of giving the follows an active role in being a good partner.
2. Teach follows what to look for: The art of following is understanding and recognizing what it is they are supposed to follow, rather than giving a vague insinuation that there must somehow be following involved. In any movement in any dance, there are clear hallmarks that leaders give when they want a specific result. For example, the feeling of extension before the first step in WCS, the feel of a tilted frame in Brazilian Zouk, or a circle drawn with the hand in Salsa to turn.
3. Prepare follows for what it will feel like when it is attempted but not perfect: It is understandable that when you follow movements socially, most leads will not execute it 100% correctly – the same way most follows will not follow it 100% correctly. Teaching to follows means learning how to translate a bad lead into what was implied – without backleading. This also removes the onus on ‘Just Following’ and the dance being the lead’s responsibility since it is, in fact, a partnership.
4. Teach the difference between backleading and helping your partner: A strong follow is able to take the imperfect and make it perfect without the lead feeling like the follow has taken over the dance. This is a learned skill. It means knowing how to hold your own balance and respond to a lead that may not have you in the right place at the right time. I like to call this ‘Troubleshooting’. (By the way, this is why advanced follows feel so good to every guy they dance with… this is what allows follows to bring the best out of every dance, rather than only what they are ‘given’ by the lead.)
5. Focus on what they can do to keep themselves safe: In the event something goes very wrong with the lead, follows need a way to keep themselves safe and recognize the behavior that can lead to injuries. In some particularly delicate movements, there are also other ways to engage the body to still follow and keep connection without putting oneself at risk. This is important – and often not addressed – with follows.