Read: lindy hop followers bring themSELVES to the dance

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.
Dogpossum comments:

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.

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8 responses to “Read: lindy hop followers bring themSELVES to the dance”

  1. dogpossum says :

    Thank you for your kind words!
    I always try to take Frankie as an example for leading: he loved dancing, and he loved the ladies. That’s a good place for me to start.

    I have been mulling over a post about lead/follow analogies, but I haven’t quite gotten there. I want to explore the ‘dancing as conversation’ analogy, and how it might mean different things to different people depending on how they think about conversations. But I haven’t quite gotten to it, yet!

    RE the follower amending their dancing to suit their partner’s experience. This is an interesting one. On the one hand, I’m all ‘of course we should work _with_ our partners, rather than just dancing on la-la-la.’ But then I think ‘hang on, didn’t I just remind myself that women should stop compromising their creativity just to make men feel ok about themselves?’ I think I’ll go with that last point.

    Leaders should learn from their very first dance that a follower could do anything or bring anything, accidentally or deliberately. After all, followers have to learn that _immediately_, so why not leaders?

  2. @thorfi says :

    The most fun dances I have, whether I’m leading or following (which I do much less frequently) are when both partners are communicating and having a conversation, especially so when that conversation includes the music…

    The best conversations are physical, visual *and* auditory too – not just one layer of that. Even in a non-dance context that’s true – good conversationalists talk with every layer, not just one.

    I think “dance technique” helps you *have* the conversation, just as knowing the rules of grammar helps you write. But having dance technique skills or knowing rules of grammar doesn’t at all tell you what to say!

    There’s “dance vocabulary” similarly – e.g., its much easier to lead side-by-side Suzie Qs on someone that’s endlessly practiced Suzie Qs than on someone who’s never done one before. It’s *possible* to lead them on the latter case, but it’s much much harder.

    Same as it is hard for me to have a conversation in Mandarin, since I know about 50 words of it… I can sort of slowly talk about food, but that’s about it. 🙂

    Your beginner leads and follows don’t have many words, and barely understands the outer structure of the grammar… and has to think in eights at the smallest… Your super advanced leads and follows aren’t thinking of the words and grammar at all – just dancing in the moment.

  3. sleepingglitter says :

    So are the best follows are the ones who can amend their dancing to suit their partner whilst not compromising their creativity?

    Not sure changing what you do for your partner should be a gender issue (although in reality it often is, just watch any dance floor, with the possible exception of 9:20 Special in San Francisco) most people would change their language depending on if they having a conversation with friends, children, older relatives, their boss etc.

  4. Sarah says :

    It really is worth thinking about how we are teaching our new dancers and how that affects our community. On one hand we want to make each other comfortable and happy on the dance floor, and so should be cooperative and considerate. But maybe a little discomfort is okay, if it lets both partners dance and not just the lead.

    If the goal is a more even spread of ‘voice’ between the two partners (and it may not be; that still seems to be a contentious view), then we should work with that right from the beginning. Maybe this means to stop using sexist metaphors to describe leading and following, or maybe it has to do with having everyone learn both parts right from the get-go. Maybe it means that we teach follows as much as we do leads in classes.

    We should look at our education as the source of what our community is now, and the tool that we can use to affect change we (might) wish to see.

    • sleepingglitter says :

      I have been very fortunate to have learnt my Lindy (and Balboa) basics from extremely gifted female teachers or from teaching partnerships in which the both partners contributed equally. I think this makes a huge difference to the way people dance. I always find it slightly jarring when I go to dance class and the teaching is aimed at leaders and there is really nothing there for the followers.

      I think it’s often the simplest things that make the most difference. I loved the fact that from day 1 we were taught about what to do with our left arms when doing a swivel with the stress being that the follower should move in a way that reflects their mood and the music. Wave it in the air like you just don’t care if that’s how the music grabs you, keep it down by your side if you are feeling shy and contained, hold onto your skirt if you fancy that twee vintage look, etc.

      At the same time leaders were taught to throw in very simple twist twist steps and to allow the followers to be the focus of dance whilst they worked out what to do next (and that this was a positive thing to do). Followers being taught that this was a point in the dance where they should let their personality shine through. .. and if they needed to do this for 30 counts of the music whilst the leader worked things out well, you just have to keep going, get creative, enjoy the music and smile!

      I think this was of teaching gives beginners a good into to the contrasting aspects of the dance (there are times when a follower needs to focus on following but there are also times when you are free to express yourself.) I also think it helps to get across the idea of a partnership and gives an insight into how important a follower can be in keeping a dance going.

      • sleepingglitter says :

        Perhaps this explains why I like dancing with beginner/intermediate/crazy leaders more than advanced dancers? Once a leader has been to a few international workshops, learns how to do crazily complicated patterns and realises that they can lead every step I take, they often remove the spaces in the dance that I had to express myself and I don’t (yet) have the skills to inject myself back into this much more complicated style of dancing without awkwardly disrupting what they are doing.

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