How to connect better as a follow in partner dancing.
It seems like not a day goes by in dance class where I’m presented with a new challenge to overcome. If it’s not the guys asking questions about how to execute a pattern its the ladies wondering how to style during a movement. To say my students keep me on my toes would be an understatement. They always inspire new thoughts and ideas in me which ultimately make me a better teacher.
As my students inquire about new things, I am always presented with an opportunity to address a situation in a manner that is clear and speaks to the specific individual. Naturally, there are common mistakes that students make on both the lead and follow side of the equation and I’d like to take this time to address one of these situations now. Hopefully by the end of this post, the follows who read this will have a better sense of this problem and an actionable way to correct the issue.
If the suspense isn’t killing you yet, I’m speaking about the dreaded ‘hovercraft’ syndrome. If you’ve seen Star Wars or Back to the Future, you’ve no doubt seen these awesome vehicles which hover without actually touching the floor. It’s a sci-fi fixture and is something every nerdy fan like myself dreams of one day riding. But wait, how does a hovercraft have anything to do with Latin dancing? Well, glad you asked!
Get the hell out of my way
A lot, and I do mean A LOT of the time, women in dance class can be, how to best say this, assertive. Assertions to the point where they completely disregard the fact that the steps they learn actually have to be danced with another person. For whatever reason, I’m working with several followers who suffer from this affliction. Fear not ladies, there is a cure. As a lead, if you’ve ever felt like the girl you danced with wasn’t quite connected with you, the main culprit is likely hovering.
Take for example the humble cross body lead (CBL). It’s a very common step that everyone reading this should know. If you don’t please visit our class schedule and get to class ASAP. Now then, a simple cross body lead had the follow walking forward as the lead opens the slot with his footwork allowing the lady to pass. In a very literal sense, the follow crosses the leads body. Seems easy, no?
Let me tell you what actually happens more quite often as I first teach this step in detail. As the man does his CBL footwork the follow practically shoves the guy over and plows through the slot in a mad dash to get to the other side. While plow might see dramatic, it’s a very real way to describe the force and intent on the followers end to get to her next position.
In theory, this might not seem like a big deal, but there are several issues with this approach. On one hand, the move is getting done. I can also get a frozen pizza and nuke to for 10 minutes and get that done as well. The problem is, I don’t think anyone will mistake that frozen stuff for a pizza cooked in a wood burning oven. Point being, getting it done isn’t the same as getting it right.
Why is this a problem?
In order to fix this issue, we need to make clear how hovering is an obstacle that we should overcome. On one hand the act of hovering with someone means that you aren’t connecting with your partner. As a hovering follow, you actually don’t connect and feel how to move with someone and this causes a disconnection. Your lead also feels like he never can connect with your body because you are constantly in motion. While being in motion is certainly a part of dancing, connection calls for us to be responsive to another person, and we can’t accomplish this if we aren’t moving in unison.
Furthermore, hovering takes us away from the point of partnering which is to have a physical conversation with another body. How do we move in space with another person? How to best accomplish this while still doing what is required of me in my role? These are good questions to ask and we should consider practicing and social dancing in a manner which allows us to work on good habits as opposed to simply getting through the dances.
So what to do?
Let’s look at this issue in 2 common places as it relates to lead and follow, open and closed position. In open position, the partners are not in a frame and any variety of different hand holds can be employed. For our purposes, we’ll use a common 2-hand open hold. If a lead executes his CBL footwork and body positioning and allows you travel down the slot, take a moment and move WITH him as opposed to THROUGH him. Take a dance friend and follow every nuance and body movement that comes from a CBL and train yourself to move at the same speed while covering the same amount of space as your partner. Remember, it’s not a race, it’s a conversation.
The same holds true in a framed CBL as the lead and follow can perform a basic CBL and take one step at a time and make sure the connections are staying intact. By connections, I’m referring to the hands (traditionally a leads left hand and the lady’s right) and the hand to back connection (traditionally the leader’s right hand to the follow’s left shoulder blade). Moving at a really slow pace can keep you honest with your movements and train you to stay with your partner. With a bit of repetition, we can eradicate the dreaded act of hovering with our partners and learn the basics about moving WITH someone!
I’m well aware that I nerd out a lot of this technique stuff and I know that there is so much involved in good partner dancing. Trust that I still work on my skills aggressively and know I have much to learn. Take to heart that all of the techniques that we discuss here on the blog or in class compound to make you a better dancer.
Now then, start connecting!
If you enjoyed this blog, share it with others and comment. Help me out before I run out of things to talk about! =)
Until next time, to your dancing….