Posts Tagged ‘follower’
So I’m in DC for the Lindy Exchange, and perversely, this post isn’t going to be about the exchange at all. Isn’t that just like me?
See, my sister is a local resident, and since I’m staying with her, I figured it was only right I let her talk me into checking out her preferred form of dancing while I was in town. My sister is addicted to salsa dancing, so on Thursday night we dropped in on salsa night at Dance King Studio in Leesburg.
Now, I’ve done a little bit of salsa, just like I’ve done a little bit of practically every other dance that’s going these days. I’ve even had a little zydeco led on me. Never tried contra, but whatever. I figure if you can follow at all, you can pretty much follow anything.
And that’s generally true. Following is following. You may not follow pretty or look like you know what you’re doing, but at least you won’t get your arm broke off or do anything really embarrassing.
Which pretty much sums up what was happening for me Thursday night. I was managing to get through most of the turns and make it from point A to point B in one piece.
But you know what completely eluded me? The aesthetics of the thing.
First of all, as a lindy hopper, dressing up to go out dancing means something different to me than it does to a salsa dancer. I wore the only heels I had with me, a pair of black Aris Allens that are vintagy-funky-cool at a swing dance, but at a salsa dance they could not have appeared dorkier. Girls dressed up for salsa wear tall, tall spindly spiky things on their feet. Salsa dancers cover the stylistic range between elegant and slutty, but they all appear to be aiming for sexy. This is in no way the aesthetic for swing dancing. And even though I wore the closest equivalent outfit I could throw together, I’m sure people were wondering why I was dressed like someone’s grandma. I felt like a total doofus.
Secondly, there’s the music. Oh, the music. I think that in order to be able to dance convincingly, you need to be moved by the music. And salsa music does not move me, unless it’s out the door. It sounds like circus music to me, and it was way too loud. But my sister, and here’s the important point, my sister listens to that stuff IN HER CAR. Enough said?
Finally, though, salsa dancers just seem to have a different idea of what dancing is actually FOR. As an outsider, it appears to me that they’re really hung up on the whole gender-role difference thing. The men are really manly, and the girls are over-the-top girly. And when a lead approaches me with that Magnificent Beast look on his face, well, it just makes me want to laugh.
Which I actually did, periodically throughout the night. I laughed. Swing dancing makes me laugh a lot, which is why I do it. But salsa dancers don’t seem to like that so much. As a matter of fact, the highlight of my evening was when one of these magnificent beasts led a turn on me, and accidentally smacked me right in the forehead. I about died laughing. I had to stop and have a short fit of hysterics. And the man just stood there, wearing that Mask of Zorro look, not even cracking a grin. Just stood there waiting until I had recovered and could proceed with the serious business at hand. If you don’t think that made me feel like the Special Child, think again.
So basically, salsa dancing, blech.
But I will say that salsa dancers do seem to be enjoying themselves every bit as much as I do when I’m at a swing dance. So I’m not disrespecting the dance itself. It may very well be that I am just way too awkward and unwieldy for this much more adult-seeming form of dancing.
In fact, I’m just perverse enough that I might for the hell of it buy myself a pair of those spiky things and give it a try again next year.
(P.S. Had the honor of meeting fellow dance-blogger Jason from “Dancing Past the Godzilla Threshold” at the lindy exchange last night, and if he’s reading this, he better get ready because I intend to ask him for a lotta more dances tonight!)
Last night I finally got up the nerve to ask one of our hippest and most accomplished young follows, a girl I don’t even know, to dance one with me. We had a acceptably fun dance, and she thanked me graciously not only at the end of the song, but later as she was leaving. That was awesome.
And a lot of other awesome stuff happened last night as well:
I also had a fun dance with a young man where we seamlessly switched roles for each of the verses of the song we were dancing to. It was great, you’da thought we’d choreographed it ahead of time.
I saw one young man who was doing more following than leading. I think he got around to dancing with mostly all of the top-end leads who were out last night. Lots of times I saw him switching off roles with his partner during a song.
I saw a girl leading her male dance partner during several songs.
I saw both men and women freely jumping into the jam circle to dance with same-sex partners, like it wasn’t even any big deal.
I think the funniest thing was when two excellent leads realized they were approaching the same girl to ask her to dance. To be goofy, they started dancing with each other instead. They went on to finish out the song together and it was an amazing dance to watch.
Need I say that all this role-switching warmed my heart? And on just a regular old DJed night at a regular old weekly venue too. I’m proud of Portland for generating all this crazy dance energy. And if the beautiful city of my birth were to end up known as the most ambidancetrous scene in the world, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit!
My struggle with learning to lead continues. I’m making deals with myself about how many times a night I have to ask a girl to dance. And I’ve gotten to the point where I now have a small, select group of follows whom I’m not terrified to try and lead.
As nervous as I am about leading “real” follows, oddly enough I’ve never been timid about leading guys. Maybe it’s because I’m just more used to dancing with guys in general. Plus, when a girl leads a guy, it’s naturally sort of funny. The sight of a girly little lady trying to muscle some big brute around the dance floor is full of comic potential. So if something goes badly awry, everyone just laughs and goes on. Whereas when a girl is leading another girl, it seems like the leader has to actually be serious and lead properly. After all, we’ve complained about bad leads for years – the last thing we want to do now is become known as an arm yanker or creepy hand tickler.
I’m starting to process this notion that if I’m ever going to get to be a really good lead – beyond the level of “Isn’t that cute, two girls dancing together” or “We do this because there aren’t enough guys” – then I’m going to need to start thinking of myself as primarily a lead, not just a part-timer.
So I’ve been poring over videos of the Decavitas. Rebecka Decavita is my current dance hero. And now I’ve got a weird question:
Does it matter what you wear?
It seems like most of the time when Rebecka leads, she’s wearing pants. Is there a reason for that?
I know this sounds like a dumb question. But after all, the follows are the ones who are spinning around a lot, and girls wear skirts partly to emphasize those spins. Is there something about the solidity of legs in pants versus the mobile quality of skirts that makes this dance look better? Is there something objectionable about the look of two skirts swishing around? Or would that look even cooler?
Part of the problem, as always, has to do with shoes. I struggled for years to find shoes I could dance in that also looked good with skirts. Now I’ve found my perfect dance heels, and I’m so used to them that I feel awkward dancing in sneakers. Yet I’m pretty sure flat shoes are better for leading. Well, there’s no way I’m going to try convincing myself that my buttery old Aris Allen oxfords should be worn with dresses. That would be too hideous. Do I now need to begin the hopeless quest for a decent-fitting pair of pants?
I had this idea for years where if you’re dancing with a guy and he’s wearing a hat, if you want to steal the lead from him, you snatch off his hat and stick it on your own head. Then you wear the hat as long as you’re leading, and when he takes the lead back he gets the hat back as well. Isn’t that cute?
So I’m pretty sure that what you wear should have something to do with what role you’re playing in the dance. But I’m just not sure what that means. And I’m not so devoted to learning to lead that I’m willing to become a full-fledged cross-dresser to do so. Pants make me look nine feet wide. But sneakers-with-a-skirt makes me look like Alice from the Brady Bunch. So what do I do?
So my sister dragged me and some other folks out to salsa last night. I was sitting there with a non-dancer friend of mine, watching the dancers, and he asked me a question.
“This dancing thing,” he said. “What’s the point?”
Of course, I laughed.”There has to be a point?”
“No, really,” he said. “I mean, other than romance or whatever. What’s fun about it?” He seriously wanted to know.
Spotting a potential dance convert, I immediately switched into proselytizing mode. After I blathered on for a few minutes, I started organizing my thoughts. And here’s what I came up with.
“I think for the leads,” I said, “the fun part is dreaming up stuff that matches with the music, and then seeing if you can transmit that to your follow and get her to do what you dreamed up. And for the follow, the fun is in seeing if you can stay totally open and responsive to the lead while keeping in control of your own balance and movement.”
“Oh,” my friend said sagely, “connection.” Well, he hangs out with a lot of dancers.
“Yeah,” I said, with that give-your-life-to-Jesus tremor in my voice. “Connection.”
“Sounds sort of like a game,” he said.
“Exactly!” I said.
And I guess that’s definitely a huge part of the “point” of dancing for me. It’s that game of follow-the-leader. I think I approach every new dance, and every new dance partner, like a game of skill.
Oddly enough, that seemed to make sense to my friend. “That makes sense,” he said.
Well, I don’t know if I actually made a convert, but I didn’t do too bad.
So now I ask you. How would you answer my friend’s question? What do you tell non-dancers about why you love to dance?
There’s this thing beginner leads in my scene do that absolutely drives me crazy.
Maybe they do this everywhere, or maybe it’s just a Portland thing, I don’t know. But what they do is, after sending you out into a swingout, instead of letting you continue the momentum they’ve set up, for some reason out of nowhere they suddenly yank you forward on that last triple.
It always ends up as a yank. Because everyone knows that last triple is where you settle back. It’s the “out” part of the swingout, and it’s the only place the follow can really do styling or whatever. As a million instructors have told us, that last triple is where the follow gets to shine. And then out of nowhere, this professional arm-wrestler is yanking you forward. Ouch!
I was discussing this with a friend of mine not too long ago, and she said she thinks it’s because they’re trying to “body lead.” They’ve been told they’re not supposed to jerk you around with their arms, but instead somehow use their bodies to move you. But they still carry their body weight too high, so what it translates to is that they lean back with their shoulders in an effort to get you to move without using their arms. Of course, they always do give a little extra value at the end of the maneuver by bending their arms anyway.
As I used to tell my kids when they were little, that may be an explanation, but it’s no excuse.
I remember this one time when I was taking a workshop from Naomi Uyama. I was complaining to her about leads who yank on your arm, and asking her what to do about it. She invited me to show her what I meant. So I led her in some swingouts, and tried to imitate the kind of arm yanking that I so often feel on the dance floor.
And you know what? I couldn’t yank that girl no matter how hard I tried. Every time I jerked and tugged on her arm, she just floated. I was getting worn out, but her lovely smile never left her face for a minute; you’d a thought I was Fred Astaire or something.
It actually made me kind of mad. “How do you DO that?” I spluttered.
“Well,” she said patiently, “you just follow.”
So I was thinking about this whole thing with leads who yank you forward on seven-and-eight. And I realized what I should have seen long ago: the problem really isn’t them. It’s me.
The only reason I get my arm yanked in these situations is because I believe, mentally, that I’m supposed to “triple away” on those last two counts. It’s my right and privilege as a follow. After all, that’s where I get to do my styling.
And you know what? That ain’t following.
I know for a fact that if Naomi, or any other brilliant follower, was getting led forward on that last seven-and-eight, she would simply triple forward. She wouldn’t get into a wrestling match with the guy by insisting on tripling away. If I get my arm yanked, it’s because I was tripling away without being led there.
It’s called “actually following.”
I’m gonna have to try that sometime!
I got so disgusted with my leading last night. See, here’s the problem…
Normally, I’m a follow. So when I try to lead things, if the person following me doesn’t follow me just perfectly, I tend to revert right back to my normal role. Then I start following my follow and doing whatever she was inadvertently backleading.
I know I need to just press manfully on with what I was trying to lead and give the follow a chance to pick up on it. But in order to do that I have to overcome a whole bunch of training. See, followers are trained to be responsive, and that’s not such a helpful skill when you’re trying to lead something.
I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing, in reverse, with leads who try to follow. As soon as their leader gives them any sort of opening, I’m sure it’s very easy for them to just jump in and start leading things without waiting to be led. Am I right?
Now, it just doesn’t make sense that as a leader, the only people I can lead are the ultra-accomplished, super-responsive followers. I should be able to lead normal followers or even beginners. I really want to be able to do this. But beginners who try to follow me just end up getting confused.
Yet I don’t want to overcompensate and turn into some kind of roughhousing armbreaker. Just as, I’m sure, leaders learning to follow don’t want to turn into passive noodle-armers.
Anyone else having this problem? Does anyone out there have any good advice?
I came across this post that I really love. It’s from Claudio Santorini and he’s talking about a lot of things from a lead’s perspective that I had never considered before. I feel like a latecomer to the party, since there are already a ton of comments on this post, but it only posted a few days ago. I was going to deconstruct it a little bit, but on second thought, it stands just fine on its own, without my commentary. So enjoy!