Posts Tagged ‘following’
Thursday we had a band, and it was fine and nice and everything, but there was this problem. See, they insisted on playing different tempos.
In our scene we have an extremely high percentage of swing dancers who have been dancing for two years or less. And almost to a person, these newer dancers have spent those two years learning how to do a swingout.
It isn’t their fault. Swingouts have been presented to these people as the holy grail of swing dancing. The message they get is that you can’t really say you’re a dancer until you learn to do a really fast swingout. It is completely understandable if, as a result, they assume that a fast swingout is all you need. In any case, it seems that for many, the swingout is all they’re interested in learning.
Because this is true, they grouse about fast music. See, many dancers have fallen into the trap of thinking that social dancing is nothing more than an opportunity to practice swingouts. I want to tell you right now that if you think social dancing is for practicing stuff, you’re wrong. Do that somewhere else. Social dancing is for being sociable first; dancing is secondary.
So anyway, people in our scene, especially the newer people, seem to have a lot of angst around music tempos. Tempi? They’re either mad that the music is too slow, because they want to practice their swingouts. Or they complain that the music is too fast, because they want to practice their swingouts.
If you’re a relatively new dancer, whichever camp you fall into, whether (A) you want your music faster or (B) you want it slower, you’ve probably succumbed to a common misperception. You probably think that slow music is easier to dance to, and therefore (A) you’re never going to get better by dancing to slow music, or (B) you’ll never be able to keep up with that harder, faster music.
I want to tell you right now that this is a fallacy. Slow music is not easier to dance to. It’s harder.
On Thursday, about half the songs this band played were slower and bluesier than what many in our scene are used to. And as I looked around the room, there were very few couples actually dancing slow. Instead, I saw a lot of people trying to do their fast swingouts to the slower music. Because they’d never learned to dance slow, they were trying to get that crazy spinny, momentum-y feeling they try for in their normal swingouts, and it wasn’t working. Instead, I saw a lot of “yank, stop, yank, stop” type stuff going on. It wasn’t pleasant.
Slow swingouts are not going to work until you’ve actually practiced doing them slowly. There’s a lot of balance and connection stuff that is much more difficult at a slower tempo, so don’t assume that because you can do one fast, you can do it slow.
Instead,( and leaders, I’m talking to you here) the next time a very slow song comes on, try this:
1. Put your right arm around your partner, and then assume you’re going to pretty much leave it there for the rest of the song. No breakaways. Reason being that for a less-experienced follow, hanging out in open position during a slow song is very embarrassing. She feels she needs to be moving around out there in some sort of sultry way, and she has no idea how, and she feels like everyone is staring at her. Unless she’s a blues dancer, keep her close.
2. Now, keep it simple. Forget about doing “moves” of any kind. No pretzels, no dishrags, no Texas Tommys. All you’re going to do is shift your weight from side to side. Balance your center of gravity over your right foot, then balance over your left foot. Leave both feet on the ground. Relax. Shift, shift, shift. Try to do this in time to the music.
3. If you get bored, you can throw in a quick-quick every now and then. What I mean is that as you’re shifting from side to side, you can do a quick shift-shift, exactly the same as the slow ones, except twice as fast. Still, no breakaways, no turns, no random Charleston footwork. Just breathe. Shift, shift, shift.
4. Once you’re comfortable with this, then you can try shifting around in a bit of a circle. Say you start out facing the east wall of the room, move around a little until you’re facing the west wall of the room.
Leaders, if you’re afraid of boring your partner with this stuff, let me tell you that if the follow knows anything about dancing, she will love it. This type of leading gives advanced follows something to work with. If you give her any room at all (don’t squeeze her with that arm), she’ll come up with all kinds of interesting ways to move her body, which she can’t do if you’re flinging her around. You may actually pick up some ideas on how to move yourself, so don’t be afraid to sort of copy what she’s doing if you feel like it.
Follows, if you’re not used to this kind of treatment, you may be momentarily confused as to why you aren’t being flung around. Don’t worry about it, just listen to the music. When you’re being led this way, your job is to stay connected, and then within that connection to explore moving yourself to the music. Don’t try to be fancy, just do what feels nice and normal. You can strike up a little conversation if you want. Slow music is for relaxing.
Once you’re able to dance this way, then take it to the next level by going to a few blues-dancing classes. You can still be a swing dancer, you don’t have to switch over to the blues dancing scene, just learn a little blues dancing for those slower songs. The information you learn about balance and connection is the stuff that is never taught in swing dancing classes, and it will teach you exactly what you need in order to do a comfortable, SLOW swingout.
As promised, here are the notes from the workshop Mindy and I taught on Sunday:
First, we discussed the difference between a weight change and an axis change. A weight change can be limited to just the foot itself, while an axis change shifts your center of balance completely from one side of your body to the other.
Normal Lindy footwork is a pattern of rock steps (which involve a weight change but no axis change) and triple steps (which change your axis). One way to explore footwork variations is to substitute other non-axis-changing steps for the rock steps, and other axis-changing steps for the triple steps.
Here are the steps we came up with to substitute for rock steps: Kick ball-change, pulse pulse, leg sweep, kick-and, double kick, swivel swivel, swoop (a knee-up kick), boogie back, shorty, suzy, cross cross, and a fast hallelujah (rock rock).
For triple steps, we tried substituting a single step, step hop, kick ball-change step, triple swivel, step scoot, tap step, kick step, knee slap step, sweep replace, cross step step, step heel step cross (half a scissors), kick hop/replace, and a grapevine (either front-then-back or back-then-front).
We discussed other steps that could stand in for either, depending on which foot you choose to exit with: v-slide, lock turn, jump, a quick messaround, cross twist, shuffle-shuffle, crazy legs, shimmy, knees in-out, and a slip-slop.
We reviewed swingouts, and explored bringing the follow in on beat one or beat two, using a kick ball-change to substitute for the first rock step. We discussed the idea of letting the follow finish whatever tricky footwork she might decide to throw in before yanking her into a swingout, and then we discussed the importance of the follow being able to move her footwork variation in any direction in order not to break the connection.
To practice that connection, we explored the “shopping cart” exercise, with each partner getting a chance to both lead and follow. We did this first with plain walking, then with plain lindy footwork, and then with individual footwork variations.
Then we went back to the swingout and had each partner take turns using their own customized footwork variations on seven-and-eight, with the emphasis on musicality and on maintaining a smooth connection.
Thanks to everyone who showed up and participated! Mindy and I had so much fun with this that we will most likely offer the same material in an upcoming workshop, so if you’re in the Portland area keep a lookout for it at http://www.stumptowndance.com!
Have you ever had a dance like this?
Last night I was dancing with this kid who also leads and follows. We were switching off roles, experimenting with cutesy ways of getting into and out of a lead or follow role. Turns out there are a million ways to do this as long as nobody gets thrown on the floor.
So at one point during the song, he looks at me and goes, “Wait, am I leading?”
Both of us crack up, and I’m like, “I have no idea!”
What was so great about it is that we didn’t even stop dancing for a second. We just kept going along, totally connected, totally feeling the music, and neither of us had any idea, or really cared, at that point, who was leading and who was following.
We were just dancing! What a concept, right?
To me, this is the ultimate point of learning to dance the opposite role. You finally get to where it doesn’t really make much difference who’s leading and who’s following. You’re just connected with your partner and the music in one big cooperative project.
I think you only get this kind of situation when you’ve got a lead who’s so open to listening to his (her) follow that he (she) can switch instantly into response mode when the follow initiates something. And you have to have a follow who’s willing to not only feel and act on her (his) own musical impulses but actually take responsibility for communicating them clearly to her (his) partner.
In other words, a lead who knows how to follow, and a follow who knows how to lead. Or, of course, two of one or the other.
And I think there’s just something so symbolically right, so evolved, about all of this.
So what do you all think? Am I wrong?
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!
I’m becoming more and more convinced that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we as a dance culture approach the process of learning and teaching Lindy Hop.
Specifically, the issue I’m concerned with is this: why doesn’t everyone start out as a follow and then work towards learning to lead? Why should beginner guys, who generally know less about dancing and body movement than beginner girls do anyway, immediately start out leading?
It’s truly a situation of the blind leading the blind. In no other field of endeavor would a new person be shuffled immediately into the role of guiding someone else when they don’t know the first thing about it themselves. I’m not saying that following is easy, but it seems like any beginner dancer should logically be taught to move and control his own body before concerning himself with choreographing dance routines on the fly, which is what leaders have to do.
But as my friend Ben said, when I mentioned this rant, er, idea to him, “The problem is, if guys had to start out following, they wouldn’t.”
I guess there’s two reasons I can think of why this might be. One is that guys get interested in dancing primarily as a way of getting to touch girls. And if they had to start out following, they might, horror of horrors, occasionally find themselves dancing with guys instead.
It seems a shame to me that Lindy Hop should still be tied into outmoded notions of dance-as-mating-ritual. Why should the swing culture cling so tenaciously to “one man, one woman”? There’s nothing fundamentally romantic or sexy about this dance; only the obsessively homophobic would find anything disturbing about same-sex Lindy. I don’t know anyone who gets particularly inflamed by shaking someone’s hand or putting an arm around someone’s shoulder, which is about as touchy-feely as this dance gets. And if a man is only learning to dance so he can pick up chicks, he can more efficiently do that hanging out in bars anyway.
The other reason why men wouldn’t start out as follows is even worse than the first reason. It’s the idea that men are “natural leaders” and women the opposite.
This is patently absurd. I’m sure we can all think of real-world proof that the capacity for leadership in a general sense is not a function of one’s physical gender. But it’s even more evident in dance class.
It has often struck me that the natural capacity, or desire, for leadership in dancing is less about gender and more a stage-of-life thing. Think about it. In dance class, young beginner girls are so often the ones with the noodly arms who are afraid to move on their own; they panic if they’re not being led every second of the dance, and they love being thrown around. But when women of a certain age start out dancing for the first time, they completely refuse to be led. Their arms are stiff, they’re holding their ground and you can’t move them no matter what you do. They’re the ones looking over their shoulder at the instructors, making sure the leader is leading everything correctly, and they’re so concerned with doing their steps right that they don’t follow at all.
It’s the same thing with guys. Younger men who start out dancing are often too reticent to lead properly. Their arms are floppy, they’re diffident and not clear with their ideas, and often they’ll just be holding hands with their partner and moving themselves around in various exotic ways without really affecting their follow at all. And of course, middle-aged men learning to dance are the notorious arm-breakers and thumb-clampers who seem content to just stand in one place, not really dancing, just steering ladies around by their arms. The way they know they’re doing it right is when they get their follow to move from point A to point B.
So I propose that it would be much more rational if everyone were expected to start out as a follow, with the additional expectation that everyone would eventually learn to lead. So you tell me. What’s wrong with this idea? What am I missing?
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?
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?
When I was just starting out dancing, I was terrified to ask guys to dance, and I was terrified if they asked me. I wasn’t so terrified with the guys in my little East Coast Swing class; I knew they didn’t know anything about dancing either, so it was chill. But when I started going out to social dances with people I didn’t know, I was terrified basically the whole time.
Then it started to get easier, and I wasn’t so terrified when a guy would ask me to dance. That got sort of comfortable. But it took me awhile to get over the fear of doing the asking myself.
And this whole time I’m talking about me as a follow.
Well, by now, as a follow, I’ve pretty much conquered my fear of dancing with guys. I’ll basically dance with any lead who asks me.
But now, as I’m trying to focus more on leading, I find that I have to start the whole process over. Now I’m terrified to dance with followers.
Why should this be? It’s like I have two separate brains, a following brain and a leading brain. My following brain knows, for example, that it’s much nicer to be led a million basic steps for the entirety of a song than to be yanked through a bunch of crazy maneuvers by a lead who doesn’t know how to lead them well. But my leading brain is convinced that I need to do a bunch of crazy maneuvers or I’ll be a boring lead. What’s with this dancing schizophrenia?
What’s weird is that I’m actually more comfortable leading guys than leading girls. Even though most of the guys I dance with are really hard to lead, while the girls are nice and comfy. Maybe it’s because if a guy is not a good follower, I figure he’s not going to judge my leading skills; I know the girls know the difference between a good lead and a bad one, and I’m well aware that I’m not a good one. Or maybe it’s just because I’m more used to dancing with men than with women; I’m used to how men feel and how they move, while women feel and move a lot differently. And it could just be because I’m used to dancing with these particular individuals, and not with the others.
But I know that my leading won’t get any better if I don’t try dancing with followers who know what they’re doing. And that’s just a really scary thing for me. Just like when I started out dancing as a follower, when I lead, I’m terrified to ask girls to dance, and I’m terrified when they ask me. There’s maybe two or three girls in my scene with whom I’ve danced enough not to be terrified of them. But going up to some random stranger of a follow and asking her to dance? Terrifying.
Well, I know what I need to do. I just need to make myself do it. I need to make a deal with myself to ask at least one follower I don’t know to dance, at least once during the evening. I need to remind myself constantly that it’s better to be boring than to be rough and awkward. And the other thing I need to do is keep learning new things to lead.
It’s almost like I’m a new dancer. So leads, you can chime in here any time. What’s your best advice for someone who’s just starting out as a leader?
So last week’s challenge, about softening your gaze, was amazingly helpful to me! I found that when I was keeping my head up and looking more-or-less at my partner, without staring anywhere in particular, my turns worked better, I felt more grounded, and most importantly, it was a lot easier to smile! Awesome. Did anyone else have a similar or not-similar experience with this challenge?
This week I have a visualization for you to try. We all know we’re supposed to dance with our bodies, not with our separate parts: arms, legs, hands and feet. The famous “body leading” we always nag leaders about applies equally to followers – we need to “body follow” as well. This is the most comfortable, efficient and safe way to dance and also looks way better than steering and stomping.
Now, the deepest, most elemental part of our body is our primitive fish body, or our spinal column. As a way to encourage us to dance with our bodies this week and not with our parts, I suggest the following visualization. Imagine that you and your partner are nothing more than a couple of spinal columns. While you’re dancing, try to feel where your spine and your partner’s spine are in space, and in relation to each other.
Leaders, explore how you can move your partner’s spine by moving your own. Followers, play with feeling what your partner’s spine is leading your spine to do.
And when you’re solo dancing this week, explore generating all your body movements from the movement of your spinal column.
Well, that’s what I’m going to try this week anyway. Let me know what you think!