Lead and follow or initiate and respond?
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.