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.
In regards to #5, could you please expand upon ways follows can evade injuring their lower back?
I have a lumbar vertebrae that moves excessively, & possibly a misalignment of my hips, which result in pain exacerbation when I dance excessively. With chiropractic adjustments & limiting how much I dance per day, I have been able to control the pain without requiring ice or NSAIDS. I would like advice in regards to dance technique to hopefully increase the amount of dancing I can tolerate per day. Thus far, I have been told to maintain a tight core, bend at the knees during dips, & provide the illusion of back extension by opening the chest fully. I must admit, I’m still having a challenging time incorporating this advice into my dancing. It’s a work in progress.
Good on you for working on it! This isn’t my blog, but I have some thoughts as someone in a similar state of vulnerability:
Firstly, I’ve learned that if you need your partner to change what they’re doing that by positioning it as a request for their protection, they’re often happy to comply. Using, “Help me protect my back by keeping my spine stacked?” or something similar can evoke the hero mindset that a lot of leads can have. Phrase it in such a way that they get to feel like a really great person for helping you out.
Secondly, I’ve found that working out your core off the dance floor is much more beneficial than thinking “tight core, tight core, tight core” while on the dance floor. And it’s a lot less work in the moment. If you’re not already doing so, I’d look into daily core exercises (maybe 5-10 minutes a day to start) to get those muscles strong in daily life.
Regarding dips, I’ve started resisting them with my body. Rather than sitting into the dip, I try to remain as upright as possible. There are those leads who will force you lower (and those leads need to be talked to on a whole different level), but the majority of leads will feel you go down an inch or two into the dip and then come back up and they’ll go with it. I’m a pro at the tiny-dip.
As far as opening the chest fully, this is in line with engaging your core in my opinion. It’s so much easier to train your body to do these types of things off the dance floor so they’re in your muscle memory when you’re on the dance floor. Get some music and get alone with a mirror and play with chest isolations. Mess around with making your ribcage, sternum, shoulders, etc. do funky things (Not ouchie things. Just dancey things.) when you’re in the comfort and safety of your own home.
Hope some of these things help, at least a little. I feel your pain and I wish you the best!
Because I combine running and dancing, I have a history of lower back pain due to muscle over use. I do exercises to encourage these muscles to get stronger. Also think in terms of getting enough protein and traditional fats and the nutrients like vitamin C, Retinol vitamin A, Zinc, Copper, and sulfated proteins that allow the body to rebuild itself. I had a hamstring pull due to a low copper status for example, prior to this it was unusual for me to get connective tissue injuries other than a mildly turned ankle. The RDA for protein is known to be low for active people.
Check in with an exercise physiologist, for some marathons you can get a quick physiological review for free. I found when I had muscles that became chronically weak, I had to figure out exercises that targeted them directly with static loading of 20-30 seconds in order to get them to strengthen up. Now they are fine with occasional prodding. 🙂 It may be good to do static movements like planks or yoga that engages those muscles, make them stronger and allow the brain to control them better. There are hundreds of muscles in the body and it may take you a while to identify the exact muscle involved.