Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stop leading to improve your leading

It sounds counter-intuitive but I remember having an "aha!" moment the day I realized this was improving my dancing and my dancing experience in general. Here I am referring to leading as the act of pushing my partner's body by moving my own without understanding how this body in front of mine actually moves.

If you are able to understand how your partner moves you can get her to do a whole lot of things she was not aware she could accomplish. Think of your own body. Hopefully you already have listened enough to your own body to know what it can and can not do. Maybe you feel very good at turns but those back sacadas are not working out as well. This tells you what you should do on the floor and what you should reserve for practica time. In a way you want to develop a similar knowledge of the person you are dancing with.

But how can you achieve such understanding? Well, it takes a lot of listening. One needs to wait a little more and listen a little more carefully. If you are a follower this probably sounds familiar. Turns out the skills that make you a good follower are very useful for a leader as well. This is why I advocate so strongly the cross-pollination between roles. It is amazing how you can improve your leading by learning how to follow.

So instead of forcefully wrestling your follower to move one way or the other stop and listen. Try to understand how her body is moving and how it respond to your input. And then stop and keep on listening some more. Eventually you become more aware and used to her own movements. And then you will start "suggesting" instead of "leading". You move her carefully and try to convince her to take a step instead of just going for it like a bulldozer and hope she will move out of the way.

A key element here is the notion of pre-lead. This is the nest where movement is created. It is a space where you prepare yourself and your follower before going anywhere. This preparation requires a constant feedback between partners in order to establish the basic ground rules for what the communication -the dance- will become.

This is by the way completely independent of the strength on your frame or the power of your steps. I am not saying that we have to dance like we were walking on glass all the time. What the "stop and listen" philosophy will give you is a better connection with your partner, not a wimpy lead. And a better connection does lead to a better overall experience independently of the level of the dancers.

Try it sometime. Suggest your way through the floor. Stop leading so much and you may start listening to a voice you were not aware of before: it is the voice of your follower leading you where she wants to go. Believe me, she will take you to a good place.

The Choke Hold embrace, or, Ladies, relax!

One new trend that I've been encountering among followers while dancing in close embrace is what I can only describe as a choke hold embrace. Their left arm is positioned such that the armpit is positioned against my right lateral deltoid or, even worse, my bicep. An immense amount of pressure is then applied to presumably achieve a strong connection. All I can say is 'Ouch!'. It feels extremely constrictive, especially when I'm trying to turn or even walk on the outside of the follower. Not to mention the pain I feel afterwards from straining against that embrace. Apparently there is a female technique meme going viral among teachers now: somehow the followers have to use their lats (back muscles) to achieve a good connection. I was informed of this by a follower who has a beautifully comfortable embrace, who has figured out how to get a good connection without squeezing the living breath out of leaders.

So now I am on a quest to counter this annoying fad. I am teaching my beginners to focus on connecting at the chest first without any arms, then let the arms fall wherever they fall. I have no idea if this is a kosher idea, but I know their embrace is very comfortable. I'd rather dance with an absolute novice who doesn't hurt my back and shoulders than a more advanced dancer who does.

So,ladies, relax! This is supposed to be a nice, intimate and gentle dance. Don't make it into a wrestling match.