I was once social dancing with a person who was a relatively newer dancer who was not only self-conscious about her dancing, but also self-conscious that she was somewhat bigger than me (not that I’m exactly a giant!). She said, “I feel so heavy when I dance.” And it was an apt observation—she was indeed what we sometimes call a “heavy” follower. Now, I’ve danced with “heavy” followers who I could probably lift with one arm, and “light” followers who likely weighted 50% more than I do. As you might surmise, that term has nothing at all to do with physical size or weight.
She asked me for advice on improving her movement on the dance floor, so after the social dance (since teaching on the social dance floor is one of those things that is strictly verboten by anyone at any time), we went off to the edge and walked through a few simple movements. While her timing wasn’t entirely precise, it was close enough so as not to be the source of the problem. I then led her through a turning move and discovered the source of the apparent weight problem. She was putting on the brakes during the turn. In other words, she was not allowing herself to turn smoothly through a travelling turn in an attempt to keep control of her balance. Because of this, turning her felt “heavy” to both of us because it seemed as if she needed to be dragged through the motion. It wasn’t her physical size but rather, the flow – or lack thereof – through the move.
This lack of confidence also shows up when a follower uses five or six or ten little steps to make it through a travelling turn rather than the three steps prescribed in a (salsa) turn. The leader perceives a slowing in the flow through the movement which feels like a heavier weight. Conversely, when a follower flows through the motion and turns smoothly with only a hint of guidance from the leader, she dances with a lightness and grace that is wonderful.
I pointed out the observation that she was “putting on the brakes” during the turn, and suggested that she likely did so because she hadn’t yet learned to trust the disorientation of a travelling turn. After guiding her through the form a couple of times, I invited her to trust my lead to keep her safe and she let herself go – or more correctly, let herself flow – through the move. Her dancing improved 100% with that small adjustment.
When we do travelling turn drills in class, I notice that most students are able to do the motion in the drill. But, when it comes time to dance the travelling turn with a partner in the middle of a pattern, they revert to the former, putting-on-the-brakes habit. Trusting yourself to flow through the move means keeping your dance foot off the brakes. Do this, and you’ll find that your dancing will improve every time, when we…
See you on the dance floor.