Leading and following are probably the two most troublesome issues people have with partner dancing. Probably leading more than following, but still both of them.
There are a few excellent articles out there on how to lead and follow – take a look at the end of this article for some of the ones that I think are better. Because of this, there is little need for me to repeat what others have said.
Instead, in this article I am going to talk more about how you can think and some mental tools that you can use to increase your ability to apply the rules and suggestion of leading and following that you can find on other websites.
Let’s just refresh the basis though so that we’re all on the same page.
As a leader you should:
Be clear about where you want the follow to go
Be smooth in your lead
Be in agreement with the music
As a follow you should:
Offer enough resistance to allow for communication
You can probably see form the above lists that the key issue is communication. Many people partner dancing as a conversation. And that’s not a bad analogy. By using the same attitude toward conversation as you do toward dance, your lead and follow can become better. So what does that mean? Well when you’re listening to someone you actually pay attention to them; your mind is not elsewhere. The same goes for when you’re talking to someone. Pay attention to them, think about what you want to say and then say it. If the message doesn’t get through, then maybe try saying it differently next time. If you think you’ve misunderstood someone, then try to think about what they did mean. You might not speak exactly the same language as each other – hopefully it’s just a different dialect or accent – once you get used to it all should be fine. Just like talking, a lot of fun can come from misunderstanding. If you’ve got the right attitude, then miscommunication in lead or follow will not be a major issue for you.
Nevertheless, we still want to be better at it. So here are some things you can try:
Extend your area of perception – we all have a fairly good feel for our own bodies. However, try to expand your sensory field to include your partner. By feeling what you do feel try to work out where their feet are, where their centre of weight is and the twist between their hips and shoulders. This will make you more aware of what your partner is saying or hearing.
Play with rigidity – we are often told that we need to offer the right amount of resistance and force or displacement. However, talking about it is different from feeling it. Play with this as you dance with different people and see the effect. I can tell you from personal experience that you need to consider the level of your partner when you do this – in the earlier levels people prefer force as opposed to subtlety.
Make sure you know what you want to achieve – this more for follows (which can include women if you acknowledge high-jacking). Before you say something you need to know what message you’re trying to communicate. Be clear on where you are going and then lead to go there.
Don’t think too much – leading and following should be like talking: you just do it. Imagine if you thought about each word before you said it. It could be slow and painful conversation. Rely on your feelings when you dance. This is more the case for follows, but it is a two way street. Nevertheless, do not think that this means self-reflection is not needed. You can always think about what happened and how you might want to change things for next time.
Decide what you want to be like – if you need to be more sensitive to your partner, then think the word ‘sense’ to yourself. This will make you more aware of what is going on. You can do the same if you need to increase smoothness, clarity, strength etc. The conscious thought will send the signal to your unconscious mind.
Try a sensory focal shift – this is a bit like being more aware. Maybe close your eyes or maybe focus more on what you hear, feel or what it is that you feel. This shift will open up your senses and make you more in-tune with yourself, your partner and the dance.
These are some other articles that I have come across that I think are pretty good.