The art of following

There are two main roles in a couple dancing – leading and following. Typically woman is a follower, and man is a leader (however I happened to see two guys dancing tango shifting they roles all the time – impressive, I have to admit). Me myself being a representative of a follower, pushes the article about following being released first.

So, following, what about it? It’s easy, one says. One doesn’t need to know a bunch of figures, put them in sequences and make sure hands don’t get too cluttered together 🙂 Stereotypical men’ attitude. But following is not that easy if one has to do it.

The challenge of following is … to follow: read the mind of the leader, sense his intentions, and respond on time.

Reading your partners mind/signals is one of the parts of challenge. The main reason  (what followers think) is that partner is leading too harshly, or too loosely. It is possible that a follower is not holding a right tension, i.e. has spaghetti arms or stiff arms, which makes it impossible to lead. There is a way to test if your (follower’s and leaders) arms are in good tension. Try two extreme cases with your partner.

Case 1: Leader and Follower stands in front of each other. Follower relaxes arms completely (aka. spaghetti arms) and Leader tries to lead by going forward (backwards for follower). Be careful, the Follower is not sensing a thing.

Case 2: The same position. But Follower pretends to be a wall, aka. stiff frame. Do the same thing again. This time it should be very difficult for a leader to do anything.

Now you know how it shouldn’t be in dancing 🙂 Try to do the same with various tensions on your arms. In a perfect case, both partners should always try to keep balance of tensions between them.

The other part of challenge is that timing is probably the most limiting constraint. Happens once in a while situation like this, < Oh, that’s what my partner wanted to do, but it’s too late to do it >. The problem is that the follower is not ready to take action in some given moment. The important thing to keep track of in order to be prepared is <where the weight is in your partner>. I talked a bit about it on this blog here. If you know where your partner’s weight is, you can prepare better for what is coming. Also, keep directionless basic step to be available to change direction if needed.

In the martial arts there is a concept of zanshin, which refers to a state of awareness or relaxed alertness. Even though dancing is not a martial art and one is not in danger (being stepped on with high heels doesn’t count), but zanshin state is a very useful concept to grasp not only to followers but also to leaders.