Question by User ilurkcute
So, I have been learning on 2 for almost a year. I am getting more comfortable. So I can lead stronger, and help the slower followers to turn and move faster to stay on beat. But sometimes they appreciate it and thank me and say I’m one of the best leads, other times they make a weird face and say I was too forceful or it was a wild ride. What to do?
Use as little power as you need to complete the moves. Some follows will need little more than the slightest touch, others will need you to use a fair amount of strength, adapt to each individual partner. That said, you’ll never be able to make everyone happy, many “popular” leaders are also decidedly unpopular.
I come from philosophy that the lead is indicated without necessity force. There is no need for force and it prevents you from dancing if you’re busy forcing the follow through stuff. A lot of more advanced turn patterns rely on structure of dance, not manipulation of the follow. That’s why they look effortless and like there’s “no lead.” The lead is there, just deftly hidden in the manipulation of the structure. The ability to take basic follower footwork patterns and take those and put them in contexts or situations where they aren’t normally encountered is part of what makes makes some patterns creative and difficult. Underlying it, the lead is asking for footwork patterns not arms. A “Stronger” lead is more clear and takes away the follow’s options. The indications like asking for hands are more clear with as much time as correct. All the force you need is created by the weight shift in the dance structure… like breaking back is enough… no need to push the follow backwards. That tension caused by both lead and follow breaking back and energy being present in the arms is enough. (One of my teachers uses the analogy, “when you snap a rubber band, you don’t throw it in the direction you want it to go back to… you just relax and let it go.)
The other philosophy is that the follow stays rigid and gets pumped through the turns, manipulated through patterns. Personally, I don’t like that idea for a few reasons, the follow should be able to execute doubles, 1 and a half right/left, etc without assistance from the lead (free turns)… second is that I don’t want to just stand there “churning butter”… that’s not dancing, that’s a trick. Tricks have their place, but not in social dancing in my opinion. I mean I get “showing off” but I’m not that kind of lead. I’d like to dance and not spend all my time manipulating the follow. Otherwise, why bother to have structure?
You can’t help a follow through a turn… if they’re off and you indicated the turn with enough time, they’re off you have to adjust and wait. It’s just as if a lead is off timing as well. If they’re slow to get out of the way or try to lead something off time, the follow isn’t obligated to go. Just be patient, they’re still learning.
There are many patterns can’t be lead with less experienced dancers because they’re off balance and off timing on basic footwork… if they have a fast “1” that comes forward on the 8, or if they like to “prep”/hip twist on the 7/8… both shut down possibilities in the lead. If they have trouble with the basic one-and-halfs and copas, there’s no way I can introduce interruptions or additional turns for a more complex pattern. You have to go to plan B. Learning Plan B and Plan C are all a part of gaining experience as a lead. Even very experience and advanced dancers use backup plans… the best make those backup plans look like it wasn’t an adjustment.
Safety first. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to really hurt our shoulders with rough leading!
So there’s two things here really:
1) Followers shouldn’t be ‘helped’ through moves. Your lead should be clear to indicate what they need to do, but if they can’t do it without assistance then avoid those kinds of moves. Some new followers will be happy to be pushed through a move, and will appreciate it when they are push and spun but they can just as easily appreciate a dance that’s at their level and that can be completed without help.
Meanwhile a more advanced follower will resent you pushing them around. They can complete the turn themselves, and ‘helping’ them just pushes them off balance and stops them from styling and feeling the dance themselves – they become instead an accessory to your dance, which isn’t what they want.
Over all, a clear but light lead is better, unless you only want to dance with beginners.
2) Every dancer has issues. With frame, with posture, with positioning, with timing etc. A follower and lead might have issues that don’t intersect and dance beautifully, but the same people might clash horribly with another partner where their issues collide.
An example: A leader might have a habit of leading spins with their arm too high, breaking the followers frame and sending them off balance. A tall follower might not notice, and might even be grateful that this leader never accidentally messes up their hair – so the leader gets a big thank you and a boost of confidence that they’re leading spins well. The next follower is much shorter and has a loose frame, so they cannot spin well with the leader at all. The follower can spin with others, so blames the lead for being bad. The lead can spin other followers, so blames the follower, and they both end the dance annoyed. Both are at fault, but it can be hard to analyse your own dancing mid-social and very few do.
I mention this because it may be that your lead is generally about right – maybe slightly stronger, but not awful – however some followers simply prefer a -much- lighter lead and so there is a conflict of issues. This can make you feel insecure or doubtful, but I’m sure you’re on the right track otherwise you wouldn’t have other dancers appreciate your lead.
You could also argue that it’s not about ‘issues’, but style – the difference between a ballroom posture and and a lower, more ‘club’ style posture is night and day, but neither is necessarily wrong depending on the dance. The same is true of light/forceful leads. That doesn’t mean my first point isn’t valid – lighter is genuinely better, especially as you become more advanced, but don’t take criticism to heart.
If I’m dancing with someone who has a hard time with the beat, I like to go into closed hold. Closed hold gives me more points of contact to lead from. I can more easily influence our shared tempo.
Mostly, i try to adjust to my partner. I slow down or speed up as necessary. Enjoying the dance, versus getting it perfect, is what I shoot for.
I think of the lead as a suggestion to the follower. I’m not forcing her to do anything. I’m not physically handling her. Imagine you are a dance instructor. You would be calling out the moves, sometimes with more emphasis than others. There’s no physical contact.
Now do the same with both your hands connected. The lightest of touch so you can give nonverbal guidance through the touch but no where near to cause physical force on her. She should be able to use her own weight and balance to execute her (suggested) moves. If she doesn’t move unless you forcibly move her you are not doing her justice. She needs to develop and do those moves on her own and unassisted.