Annie Get Your Gun

I’m pretty sure no one ever came home one day to say, “Wow! I had a great day! I was carjacked!” And I doubt anyone ever said, “That flight was fantastic! We were hijacked!” You know why? Because hijacking is bad.

Hijacking is stealing by stopping and coercing someone. If this doesn’t sound very nice, it’s because it isn’t. Whether it’s hijacking a car at gunpoint, hijacking a plane with the threat of explosives, or hijacking a lead during a dance. Doesn’t matter. Not nice.

In terms of dancing, “hijacking” is when the follower either ignores a lead or else completely changes it from its original intention. It isn’t nice. It’s telling the leader, “Sorry, I don’t care what you want to talk about, because we’re going to talk about this.” If someone were to say, “Hi, how was your day?” it would be rude to ignore the question and say, “I’m going to eat some chocolate.”

A question was posed recently to a dear friend of mine, Maria Blackwell, a fantastic dancer and teacher who gives more of herself to her dance community in St. Louis than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Her student asked if a follower went to play, wasn’t she taking over the lead? Maria smartly answered that there are rude and polite ways of interjecting – and sometimes it’s a fine line which is which.

I could write a whole treatise here on partner dynamics, but suffice it to say that the way to avoid hijacking is to acknowledge the lead and follow it through, even if you give it your own spin. Taking the lead and playing with it is expressive following. Ignoring the lead and doing what you want – even if the music “calls for it” – is hijacking. And that’s just rude.


  1. From the viewpoint of a fabulous leader (Eric), being rudely hijacked is not his cup of tea. Nor should it be. Actually, the follows don't like doing it TO their leaders, either. MOST of the time, it is not our intention, but it's hard to get in some ideas while figuring out how to do it AND being embarrassed trying something outside of the box. He isn't talking about these type of mistakes we make as we grow into our dances.Boiling it down as small as I can, the subject of "mistaken" hijacking (not purposeful) means two things (in my opinion). (1) the leaders have GOT to get better at musical interpretation as well as sensitive to a follow's small indications that she has ideas … and (2) the follows have got to learn how to get his attention (a large part of it is physical) if she is inviting HIM to join her rather than "allowing" him to join her if he so chooses.One of the reasons that the ladies WANT to play, is that the leaders are stuck on the drum and the thousand other things that they have to keep in mind while leading. If I get a leader that can hear other stuff in the music and "accent" them, I find I have ZERO need to interject anything except a smile and a "woohooo, thanks for the ride!"The better the leader is in sensing the nuances in the follow's hints and also listening to the WHOLE song, the faster his reaction to either help her, match her, or contrast her, will be. But that also means she has to be better at getting his attention without OVERWHELMING him or ignoring what he has led.This is not a subject that will ever be exhausted. There will always be a "different circumstance."

  2. Maria: Thanks for your great comments! I totally agree that if the leader is providing more opportunities for the follower, and/or setting the follower up for musical interpretation more often, there is less need for the followers to interject. (Less need, not less desire or interest or ability.) But you raise another important point: followers communicating to their leaders. I find this is a huge problem – that followers aren't taught the proper tools (and there *are* concrete, specific tools to use) to communicate to theleader. So that even when the follower isn't hijacking per se, she nevertheless disrupts us without any indication. Followers don't like it when leaders throw things at them without warning – leaders are the same way! As always, the responsibility of successfuldancing lies with *both* leader and follower.

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