Swing Analogies: A great follower is a proactive passenger
A Note from the Author: Ah, analogies. If you’re not careful, they say a lot you don’t expect them to. This happens especially when you write something on your way out the door for the Holidays. Looking back, the writing wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped. So, this post has been updated in an attempt to clarify a few things. In reading, please understand that (1) this post is about how followers should allow their voices to be heard while dancing. (2) The leader driving a car analogy only refers to a leader trying to decide what moves to lead next, and isn’t meant to imply anything grand along the lines of artistic expression–that requires quite a different analogy (For instance, some poeple have mentioned “creative coloring” analogies–that’d be much more along the lines of a proper creative expression analogy) This is the *only* reason a follower is referred to as a “passenger”–just because it’s the leader who determines the overall moves that are lead, and therefore steers the car. This is an analogy about how followers can influence the driving.
Since it has been updated from it’s original publishing, a few comments might not make sense.
For awhile it was popular (especially in Balboa/bal-swing in the early 2000s) to talk of followers doing their variations without “effecting” the lead. This can be taken to mean that when followers do variations, they should strive for complete invisibility–the leader, with his eyes closed, should not be able to notice the difference.
Aside from being stifling to a follower’s full-body dancing, this idea is unnecessary once you dance with a follower who lets her leader know what she’s feeling to the music, but does so without hijacking the leading (Note: This can be very, very difficult to do. Also note: followers can still be sneaky and disguise her variations for other reasons.)
In dancing terms, imagine a leader as the person driving the car (by “driving,” I mean, the leader is deciding what moves come next). Some followers simply come along for the ride and don’t say much, or fall asleep. Others offer suggestions on how to get where you want to go by expressing themselves.
When a great follower does a variation, and she (1) lets the leader know through her body and (2) is still able to follow what he wants to lead, it’s the equivalent of a passenger suggesting new routes to the leader.
In case my silly analogy is getting away from me, here’s a concrete example. You’re dancing with a follower, and suddenly she hears something in the music that makes her want to do a hesitated movement. She does so–you feel her pulse change, her movement slow down, her weight in the floor change–she is expressing what she feels in the music, and because you felt it in her body, you now know what she feels and can allow that to affect what you are going to lead next.
(You as a leader are now doing a form of following yourself.)
(When the best followers do this at their best moments, they are in control enough to change on a dime and do whatever the leader needs them to do; they try not to force the leader to change his path.)
In this instance, a leader could then decide to put the focus of the move on her hesitation, or could join in with hers, or could use her hesitation as a chance to create a powerful contrast by speeding up the next movement. Basically, by keeping the leader notified of what she feels when she’s dancing to the song, she’s being a part of the dancing conversation.
This only works if the follower is still able to follow when doing her variations. As my partner Kate nicely puts it in classes, “A follower can play with the volume a little bit, but she shouldn’t change the channel.”
In my own hairy analogy, a follower who breaks off connection with the lead or goes against the lead is like a passenger who suddenly pulls on the steering wheel or yanks on the emergency break.
A good follower points and says “How about that road?”
For any leaders reading, this is how you can listen to your follower, and allow her to change the direction of your leading. This will also encourage her to do more, because she will notice you’re allowing her voice to influence your lead–for these moments, she’ll become the leader, you the follower.
The blog, in it’s original form, is posted here with the Jam Celler newsletter: