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Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance. Thanks to this guide, you'll learn the secrets to leading and following. Isaiah McClean, via Unsplash. The most difficult thing to master in ballroom dance, salsa, tango, swing, Latin—or any other kind of partner dancing—is not the steps.
It's the interaction with your partner! It's simply impossible for two people, dancing in close contact, to move seamlessly if each person making their own decisions, choosing their own timing and doing their steps independently. They must coordinate their moves perfectly—and the only way to achieve that is for one person to direct the moves and the other person to follow. If you were wondering why the Antonio Banderas ballroom movie was called "Take the Lead"—now you know!
If you're a ballet or contemporary dancer, I can hear you protesting already - there's no such thing as Lead and Follow in your world, yet you dance with a partner all the time! But there is an important difference. Dances like tango, salsa, swing and ballroom are, first and foremost, social dances. On stage, you both learn a choreography: you and your partner know exactly what steps to dance, so you can practice together until you're perfectly in sync.
In social dancing, there is no set routine. The dancers improvise their steps according to the music being played. Obviously if both partners tried to do that, it would be a recipe for chaos - so it makes sense to appoint one person to decide what the steps will be, and the other person follows.
That's the concept of "lead and follow". Who le? In a partner dance, one partner is facing forward while the other has their back to the direction of travel. Obviously, the person who should lead is the person who can see where they're going - and that is, in fact, the rule. Politically incorrect though it may be, usually that's the man. As a dancer used to dancing solo for most of my life, learning to follow was especially tough for me - but it's not easy for any woman! What's confusing is that you go to class and learn a routine -- so when it come to practising them with a partner, why not dance the steps exactly as you've learned them?
The reason is that as you progress, you'll learn that partner dancing isn't about set routines: routines are just a way to teach you the individual steps, and get you used to how they combine in different ways. When you go social dancing, you'll be dancing with partners who haven't learned the same routines as you, and may put the steps together in a completely different order.
Jim Moore. That's why it's important to get used to following right from the start, even when you know the routine -- because learning to allow your partner to lead isn't easy. If you don't practice it constantly, you won't be able to switch it on suddenly when you need it. If you're following correctly, you won't take a step until your partner tells you to. He may do that by pressure with his hand, by shifting his weight or even by making a hand al - but whatever the al is, you must follow it instantly. Practice and you'll be able to respond in a split second, so fast that your audience won't even notice any delay.
If he gives the wrong al, you forget what you were expecting to do, and follow the new al instead. No exceptions. It's hard, especially in this day and age, to surrender so much power to a guy. Especially if you're in a beginners' class and the man isn't giving you clear als.
Which brings us to Lead and Follow has always been the secret of good ballroom dancing! Marrickville Library, Sydney Australia. The Lead - usually the man - has a much tougher job than the Follower. Sure, it takes skill for the Follower to read the als given by the lead and react to them with split-second precision, and she often has more complicated steps to execute.
But it's up to the Lead to remember the choreography, if there is any - or worse, to make up the whole dance on the fly, from his repertoire of moves, to whatever music is being played - and then transmit his instructions to the Follower clearly without saying a word!
That's why the female stars on Dancing with the Stars have an advantage - because their professional male partner is responsible for dictating the steps. They don't have to remember the choreography - they just have to respond to his direction. Whereas the male stars will lose points if it's obvious that the female professional is Leading them. Unfortunately, that means female beginners give up trying to follow and start dancing their own steps, so the men aren't forced to learn to lead - and it becomes a vicious circle.
If you're using force to move your partner, you're doing it wrong. Mastering lead and follow well takes time and effort. It's easier if you have a regular partner, because you can learn the right give and take together. It can be very frustrating to learn how to follow, then go to a salsa class and find yourself dancing with men who won't give you a lead! Equally, it's annoying to learn how to lead, then go to ballroom class and find your female partners resisting your direction. In both situations, we tend to grin and bear it out of politeness - but in your own interest, it's worth plucking up the nerve to say something to your recalcitrant partner.
After all, you're not only helping yourself - you're helping your partner, and all the other people he or she is going to dance with in future! I'm a guy and I've read this stream carefully. I've been studying International Style ballroom for about 4 years and I'm still figuring out how to lead. I've learned a lot about what it means and what it doesn't mean. First, it's a form of communication and that's 2-way.
As soon as I go into dance hold, I can read my partner - particularly my normal ballroom partner.
And the woman can and does al in general terms how she's feeling and what she wants from the dance. So 'leading' isn't all up to the guy, but I get the final decision. Second, both the man and the woman have to know their steps. Best example - Viennese waltz, where the man and woman alternate the drive. If the woman doesn't do her part, it turns into a mess quickly.
So, following is far from passive. Third, it's a give and take thing. I need to understand what my partner needs from me for frame, where to be, etc. And definitely no back-leading! Done right, it's like a nut and bolt fitting perfectly - you just know. Finally, it's a very interesting form of being a guy - you have to be relaxed but firm and confident at the same time. I'm finding that it's harder for both sides on more difficult steps. My lead set-up and timing has to be perfect and the woman has to execute things perfectly in the window she has.
One other point - as much as possible, I try to study my partner's steps so I know what she needs from me. Sometimes it would be nice to switch roles but I'll stick to the learning curve on how to lead, and leave the learning curve on following to my partner. But it's a team effort. Maybe more - we're one unit with no boundaries when it's right. I mean, I'm a lindy follow and a Salsa lead, and although I think the curve is steeper for beginner le when you are following at a higher level, leading becomes far easier, and then following is the challenge.
I'm far more stressed when i'm following lindy than when i'm leading Salsa. What great comments, thank you. You're making me feel I need to revise my article, because we agree. Leading is not about pushing your partner around, it's far more subtle than that! It's seen as this mostly by people who have a very restricted view on what partner dancing is.
The true communication between dance partners does not require role separation. Kat, the problem is that if you give up and just dance your steps anyway, the instructor can't see he's not leading. So that useless lead just goes on being useless.
If you can't bring yourself to say something to that useless lead, then just do what he tells you and no more - THEN the instructor will notice the two of you dancing badly, and will come over and fix things up. As a follow who has under a year of experience, I get annoyed when a fellow beginner corrects me on the dance floor. I don't want to be corrected by a student.
In group class, we are all learning and I leave it up to my instructor to help me fix my issues. My concern is that they may not actually be right. One lead I can't stand dancing with has a very weak, wobbly frame and I never can sort out what he wants me to do. Yet somehow it's my fault. So I don't recommend saying anything to a fellow student, to me that's up to the instructor. To Yves: You'd think that, but while I was looking for articles on "how to follow in dance," I had to wade through a lot of conservative propaganda about dating and marriage is "just like dancing--the man has to lead!
People may need to lighten up, but unfortunately, it's important in this case to note that this is just about dancing and not a metaphor for how women should let men be in control in everyday life Isn't it funny that we have to preface the whole "political correctness thing" even when writing about "lead and follow" in dancing?
It's as if people are afraid that if he le on the dance floor, we are somehow giving a man permission to boss a woman around in real life. People need to lighten up. As you clearly stated, lead and follow is truly the only way to keep dancing partners from messing up and stepping all over themselves.
In fact, I have found that a strong lead can even make a weak dancer, such as myself, look pretty darn good on the dance floor. Great article, Marisa. Politically incorrect it may be, but the convention is for the male to be in charge the Lead and the woman to follow. It is like good conversation question and answer not like monologue. When i was in high school, we have to learn how to do the swing and I can remember my partner saying to me you don't know how to follow, I get upset to him but I guess he is right.
Oh good, Paula, thank you so much. I'm a ballroom dancer, not a teacher, so I appreciate your opinion. So glad you wrote this, so useful and so needed! I try to promote partner dancing for health and enjoyment, and you have turned out something which will help and encourage so much.Wanting dance partner
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