“Just follow my lead…”
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done (but makes all the difference in the world, according to Ed Sheeran). Being effective in following a lead means that each partner – both lead and follow – are connecting in the three ways that we covered in the prior three newsletters: to the music, to their respective partner, and to the floor. The cue for the lead first comes from the music. Being on the beat and dancing at the right tempo according to the music is a critical element of coordinating lead and follow. Dancers who have become used to dancing to a count in their head often find themselves breaking on the “1 1/2” or “4 3/4” or even worse, on the “3 1/8!”
However, the music provides more information for following a lead (and leading a follow) than simply the obvious rhythm. The music conveys whether the lead will be more staccato – fast and snappy – or more smooth and lyrical. It tells us whether the dance will be smoother or more energetic.
Students who have exclusively learned rote patterns often fall into the trap of not leading and following, but rather having two people each dancing a separate pattern, together. The leader dances his part, and the follower dances hers – it’s only by good fortune that they happen to be more or less coordinated on the social dance floor. If a follower comments, “oh, I haven’t learned that one yet,” when a leader attempts to lead a turn combination, you know that she is effectively dancing solo with an inconsequential partner. Conversely, when a leader attempts to complete a rote turn pattern regardless of whether the partner is following it or not, he, too, is dancing solo by rote. For the follower to successfully follow a lead, it’s sometimes necessary for the leader to follow the follower. By this I mean, the leader must observe what the follower is doing, and adjust on the spot in case the lead message was miscommunicated, misinterpreted, or simply beyond the skill of the particular follower.
Finally, the mood and tempo of the music will suggest ways of weight shifting, foot placement, and other body styling that enables an effective and artistic connection to the floor. Ideally, each partner will tune into the other to feel how their partner is translating sound into specific motion, and expressing the ideas of the music through their body moving across the floor. Again, in this mutual observation, with lead following follow and follow following lead, ” Every day discovering something brand new, I’m in love with the shape of you…”