Partner dancing, partnership, togetherness, connection, cooperation… if you’re not interested in these things why not try solo dancing?
Let’s take a simple scenario. A teacher explains very clearly that you must be able to do X, Y and Z competently to take this class and recommends going to another class, happening at the same time, where you can learn those moves if you can’t. During class certain people (leaders in this case but same applies to followers) clearly don’t know what X,Y and Z are let alone how to lead them. One leader cheerfully admits he’s only been dancing 4 weeks and has no idea what he’s doing!
WTF! If you jump into a class like this you end up making the class all about you. What is your partner supposed to do? Back lead the moves whilst attempting to talk you through? Do you both stand there like lemons? Do you shove your partner round the floor in some vague attempt to do the same as everyone else?
Partner dancing implies that you will be dancing with another person. In a dance class, that person has their own reasons for dancing and their own learning needs. It’s pretty unlikely they paid for a class so that they could act as your personal coach and walk you through the basics. Please think about the person attached to the end of your arm as well as yourself!
Feel better now…
Fascinating stuff from Nathan Bugh – Ladies first
…when it comes to learning and teaching lead/follow skills, the follower’s technique is a much higher priority than the leader’s. Her dancing ability, her awareness, strength, balance, use of the floor, etc. are the elements from which spring her following ability AND the leader’s leading ability. She is the beginning of the logic in the dance. In class, the followers empower the leaders to learn. Leaders judge their progress according to the results that their partners embody. Followers are the focus of the lead/follow process, and they have to follow before the leaders can lead….
Although I agree with this:
“Oftentimes, good following is the answer to bad leading. For example: the best way to help a slow leader is to wait for him”
You also need this to happen:
“If you are a leader, have patience with the teachers who are follower-focused, because they are actually working for you too! Be kind to your partners, and encourage your partners to dance honestly. Don’t make your partner feel pressured to act out the steps you are attempting to lead. Make sure she gets, from you, the support she needs to master her technique.”
In my experience, it’s pretty rare that a lead will give you the support necessary to do this. I know I am a pretty sh*t follower. I know this because during class I get tutted at, given disapproving stares, been told I am not doing it right, been told it must be me because the move works with everyone else, get plenty suggestions about how to improve, and during one particularly humiliating class, I’ve even been told by a leader that they didn’t want to practise with me because I was doing the move wrong and they didn’t want to learn the wrong technique!
Sometimes I wonder why I still dance!
I had a rare compliment about my following recently which got me thinking about how much of my following is down to experience and how much is down to skill.
I was led into a move that required the follower to keep spinning and do a second turn to make the move work, the lead in question was thrilled that I continued to turn and dismayed that most followers did not keep going – because I kept turning I was deemed to be a good follower.
Now, I know that I am not a good follower, I anticipate, I am often off in my own world, I rush things, I frequently cock-up, sometimes I am just going through the motions, I don’t exactly hijack but there are times where I communicate to my lead quite strongly that I want a couple of beats to ‘express myself’ or to slow the dance down and so on. So what prompted the comment?
Followers are often told to keep going until the lead stops you but I know very few follows who can really do this out on the social dance floor. I mean *really* do it, really can carry on a movement they have been given with commitment and without hesitation until something else comes along. Think for a moment about what that actually means and how accepting and how much trust you must have in partner to make that work. This is a skill and it’s a skill I don’t have.
I know to keep turning at the end of a spin because I have been to classes where I have been taught that a double spin is a possibility therefore I need to keep going. I know I can follow a number of moves that other local lindy followers can’t because I have learnt certain moves in workshops and now I am open to the possibility of them happening again. At some level, I know what to do through experience rather than skill.
Not too sure where I am going with this other than it makes me feel a little bit more positive about my dancing. I doubt I will ever develop awesome following skills but I can get by with experience and the more experience I get the better I will become.
“A Nantucket sleighride was a term used by Nantucket whalemen to describe what occurs immediately following the harpooning of a whale. The whale, realizing it had been harpooned, would attempt to flee and thus drag the whaleboat along with it. The speed of the “sleigh ride” would vary depending on the species of the whale, with certain species (e.g. humpbacks) giving faster rides. The Sperm Whale was the whale that brought the most thrill, reaching speeds of 23 mph (37 km/h). The resulting thrill ride for the sailors would last as long as the whale could swim before it became exhausted. “
Just heard someone’s following technique described as like going on a Nantucket sleigh ride, i.e. you hold on for dear life whilst you are back lead through various moves until the follower wears herself out…. I really hope my following technique is never described in that way!
Another weekend, another workshop, this time a Lindy workshop which challenged my notions of lead and follow yet again.
My original Lindy Hop teachers were old school and part of the 1980s revival. I’ve heard their teaching being referred to politely as old school, less politely as old fashioned. Whilst leading and following and was taught as an important aspect of the dance there was (and still is) a strong emphasis that leaders should be doing their moves but that followers should also feel free to do their own different moves and a reminder that in the original 1930s dance there was plenty of choreography, (which might be initiated by the wiggle of an eyebrow so followers pay attention), but also plenty of stuff where follows could interpret leads an invitation to follow or as an invitation improvise depending on how the music grabbed them.
Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of the “attitude” I was originally taught. Connection and following skills rather than follower spontaneity and improvisation seem to be prized and rewarded by leaders so that’s what I’ve focused on. It’s a focus that has been reinforced by international workshops and other local teachers who value connection over improvisation.
Fast forward to the weekend, and I attend a lesson taught by a couple of well-known Swiss teachers (it seems unfair to name drop when I might have misinterpreted their message). I felt like I was going back to my roots. Leading and following was replaced with ideas about leaders initiating a movement and followers responding. A large part of the class focused on rhythms and building our own rhythmic patterns independent of what the lead was doing. A question came up along the lines of “do you have to take a step if your partner steps” and the answer was, of course, “no, providing the leader has given you space to do this”.
For the first time in a long time I feel invigorated and excited about Lindy Hop. Trouble is I know very few leaders who will give me the space to respond to the music in this way. My local leaders seem to be following an American (?!?) pattern of leading followers through pretty much every step they take. As a leader I can see the advantages of this approach, but guys (and in my scene it is almost exclusively guys) sometimes it’s nice to be just a follower responding to a leader but sometimes it’s nicer to be a dancer responding to the music.
EDIT:Space was a poor choice of phrase. In the class it referred to physical space as in, if you are standing side by side and the leader has his arm around you, you have no space to do this. If the leader has his arm on your left hand side then you have a lot more space/room to do these sorts of moves.
Life has got in the way of dancing and blogging recently but I’ve been catching up with the Lindy blogosphere over the weekend and the following post really resonated with me. Dogpossum’s “lindy hop followers bring themSELVES to the dance; lindy hop leaders value this“. There’s some good stuff in this post and the breakdown of Mickey & Frida’s Invitational Jack ‘n Jill dance at ILHC 2009 is definitely worth a read.
I think the idea that a female follower (and I am talking about women, because most followers in Australia are female) should somehow moderate her creative self expression by ‘just following’ a leader is utter rot.
This made me think about my previous post and I’ve changed my mind about leading and following analogies, I think they are useful but they need to change depending on the level of the people who are dancing. I’m probably not alone in having danced with a beginner, unconsciously thrown in a variation (possibly just a twist twist instead of a rock step) which has thrown the leader to such an extent that he had to stop the dance to regroup. I think there is a level at which a follower needs to ‘simply follow’ and many beginnerish leaders ‘need’ a follower to be passive to develop their skills. As leaders and followers become more experienced and develop their communication skills then the dynamic changes and the analogy needs to change. I’ve yet to make up make up mind where I think the other end of the spectrum should lie. All I know is that I do not have the skill to start adding clouds to a dance without seriously disrupting the Lindy Hop leaders I usually dance with. I really like Dogpossum’s comment:
Much more importantly, a good leader should be continually adjusting their leading – the moves they select, they way they change their weight, the way they make the music visible – to suit the follower. This is how I try to lead. I feel that because I have the power to choose the moves, I owe it to the follower to accommodate her abilities, interests and mood. This is what I owe her.
This seems like something Frankie Manning might have said and I can only imagine how awesome a lead Dogpossum must be. The second part of this post that really grabbed my attention is:
There is almost always a shortage of men of a higher dancing ability in a scene, and there is often a sense of competition between women dancers for the attentions of male partners. On the social and competitive dance floor. This competition is seldom articulated, is demonstrated more through the oblique social manoeuverings that characterise women’s power dynamics more generally, and to speak about these issues at all is to jeopardise your future possible partnerships.
The reason this resonated with me is because I want to improve my dancing. To improve my dancing I want to dance with the better leads. To dance with the better leads I need start competing with other women for their attention. (Of course to really be in with a chance it would help if I changed how I dressed, lost a few pounds, was at 10 least years younger, etc.) Trouble is I’m really not interested in playing the necessary games right now.
I feel like I am at a crossroads. Do I carry on dancing with the more unusual leaders who care about having fun, come up with strange combinations of ballroom jive, Ceroc, rock and roll and wedding/Dad dance moves, don’t give a dam about how their dancing looks, but do care about responding to the music in a way that’s full of creativity and self-expression even if it’s horrible to do watch. Or do I change in a way that allows me to dance with the better leads who want to focus on proper technique, known steps, looking good and accurate following? Do I drop the fun factor and tone down the self-expression for dedication, constant criticism/review and advancement? I’m not suggesting either approach is right or wrong, just feel somewhat frustrated that it seems impossible to do both and that followers must make a choice that leaders don’t have to make.
“No offense Bobby, but it feels so frustrating to read and listen to this kind of description of what following is about : “colouring” the painting like some people like to put it, or being a “passenger”, the listener, the second half that shouldn’t say too much, but just a little, to make the dance more “pleasant”.”
However, Bobby has rewritten his post and in the new version he notes:
“The leader driving a car analogy only refers to a leader trying to decide what moves to lead next, and isn’t meant to imply anything grand along the lines of artistic expression… This is why a follower is referred to as a “passenger”–just because it’s the leader who determines the overall moves that are lead.”
Let’s take the leader driving a car analogy that extra mile (groan) and consider (not too seriously) what impact a leader’s driving style has on their follower? If we contrast Bridgestone’s article about how tyres tell the tale of individual driving style to how leading style impacts on their follower there are some obvious parallels.
“Driving style is something that differentiates drivers. Just as designers can produce two very different looking cars which can be lapped within hundredths of a second of each other, so too can drivers in the same vehicle practice the art of driving in a very different manner, yet achieve a very similar lap time.”
Refer to Jerry Almonte’s post Connection Collision and the bit where he’s comparing the way Nick Williams and Todd Yannacone lead (there’s much more in the full post):
Notice that Nick is pretty micro musical with his movements, but does not always micro-lead… Todd usually gets credit/criticism for leading these massively complicated patterns. But outside of that, notice in his dance that he is always leading something. When it’s not super complicated, it’s pretty simple (e.g. swingout, underarm turn), but he’s always leading.
“Threading a Formula One car through the twists and turns that make up a race circuit is an art requiring great skill.”
Yup, threading your follower around the dance floor requires art and skill, colliding your follower with other dancers, pillars, walls, chairs, DJ booths and so on demonstrates your lack of skill and will quickly turn other dancers against you just as crashing your car/crashing into other cars will end your season pretty quickly.
“It’s also an activity where there is no one best way to go about it.”
Often forgotten by people who have just attended workshops by [insert top Lindy Hop Instructor name here] is that there are many styles of leading. Refer back to Jerry’s post for more.
“… a driver’s input from mid corner to exit is often quite illustrative of how tyres are being used. If there is one progressive steering input from the corner apex to the exit, this will usually not cause as much tyre wear as a style that involves many changes.”
Yup, yank me around and I am going to get tired of dancing with you very quickly. Yank me around too much and you will break me. It’s just as hard to dance Lindy without a partner as it is to drive without a car.
“Every driver has their own preference for how they prefer their car set-up, and set-up includes aspects like camber, toe-in, and roll stiffness amongst others, and these all have an influence on how our tyres perform and react to the road”
Yup, as we all know, you dance with some people and things just click.
“In simple terms we hear of drivers who prefer a car that tends towards understeer or a driver who prefers a car that oversteers.”
Refer back to Jerry’s post especially this bit:
Nina is what I refer to as a “passive” follower while Carla is more “active.” Nina can take almost anything you give her and make it pretty. She’s probably the best in the whole damn world at that. Carla is a lot more “vocal” in her following and more apt to take the initiative to extend or even change a lead.
“Warm-up is an interesting area…. Being aggressive will get heat into the tyres quickly, but if a driver is too aggressive he will wear his tyres quicker than a driver who is more sympathetic. “
Do I really need to add anything here?
“Aggressive drivers also need to know how to control their cars in situations of lower levels of tyre grip.”
Slippery floor, aggressive leading… Heaven help you if you end up causing me to land on my bottom! Same goes for dancing on grass, if you try to make me do multiple spins on grass I’m not going to be a happy bunny. As per previous example, followers like leaders who are sympathetic to our needs.
“We issue a safe range of pressures for our tyres and the teams must keep within this range, but there is still good scope for drivers to dial-in to get their preferred response. In basic terms a higher pressure within the safe limits we give will provide more stability, whilst a lower pressure means the tyre heats up slower, but it also degrades less, and is less sensitive to bumps.”
There is so much I could say here but let’s leave it at, leaders, if we’re in for a long night of dancing it might be a nice idea for you to relax a little.
To finish on a more serious note, is following really such an intangible process that it can only be defined by analogy? Are its mysteries so great that it defies direct explanation? Perhaps I am being oversensitive but why do so many discussions like this seem to be explicitly about what the follower should/shouldn’t be doing e.g.
rather than discussions specifically about what the leader should/shouldn’t be doing to allow the follower’s voice to be heard?
“Lindy is 50% Newtonian physics, 30% musicality and 20% magic”
Can’t say I’ve really thought much about what percentage of Lindy is down to physics but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to depend heavily on the style of Lindy that you dance. Hollywood style needs a huge amount of ‘physics’ to work. Light as a feather, super relaxed connection, Savoy style needs an awful lot less.
This post reminded me of Damon Stone’s article about ‘The Science of Following’ in which he writes about the technical aspects of what makes following work (or what makes up Yoyomarules 50% physics ?):
“I believe that all social dance can be identified by 4 Technical Elements, Posture; Physical Connection; Rhythmic Footwork; and Partner Dynamic. While it is possible for you to create your own elements or categories that define social dance, they will need to break down very similarly and cover the same sort of areas, what really changes is where you draw the dividing line. The one thing that has been left out is music… not because it does not drive the movement, but because it is not a universally defining characteristic of a dance. ”
Both posts are worth a read.
Jerry Almonte casts his analytic eye over a range of video clips in an attempt to answer a Yehoodi question about “what are the best follows good at?”
I love the following ULHS 2005 video which Jerry discusses. So many fun, subtle and not so subtle movements to draw inspiration from.
Dan Newsome demos 5 things to think about whilst dancing:
1. Having frame (having frame, arms in front of body, body to frame, matching frame)
3. Keeping and following momentum
4. Filling out (followers looking to create connection)
5. Equal and opposite
1.57 makes me smile, waiting really is one the hardest things to do.