It’s pretty much instinct for us as humans to move things by using our arms. Enjoying a drink, picking up a book, moving a chair. When it comes to moving followers, leaders tend to go with their instincts and use their arms.
Of course, the difference between moving an inanimate object and moving a follower is that the follower can move herself. In fact, it’s a misconception that the leader moves the follower: leaders, in fact, simply lead. In other words, leaders present a speed and a direction and the follower moves herself in accordance – hopefully.
And hopefully this movement is initiated by the leader’s body (the center, to be precise) without using the arms. The arms are simply a way to communicate a lead from one’s center to the center of the follower, but all movement happens from and by the center. Body leads are smoother, clearer, and cleaner than arm leads, which are often jerky, disproportionate (too strong), and disruptive to the follower’s stability, movement, and timing. However, there are times when the leader must use his arm. Leading a turn, for instance, the leader must lift his arm, which engages the muscles of the arm.
I distinguish this “arm use” – using the arm to shape the follower’s movement – from an “arm lead” – using the arm to initiate the follower’s movement. A follower should be initiated or redirected using the body (body lead), but once she is in motion, that movement may be shaped by using the arms (arm use). That said, an arm “use” that significantly changes the followers momentum then becomes an arm “lead.” So an arm use should not conflict with the original body lead at the start of the pattern, and any changes in momentum should be made by the leader’s center.
The idea here is to make sure that leaders use body leads, not arm leads, and that any arm use is used simply to shape the follower’s movement, not change it. Changes of momentum should be done with the body and the body alone.
I just want this to get PARTICULAR notice. Eric said: "That said, an arm "use" that significantly changes the followers momentum then becomes an arm "lead." So an arm use should not conflict with the original body lead at the start of the pattern, and any changes in momentum should be made by the leader's center … Changes of momentum should be done with the body and the body alone." I feel where this gets misunderstood the most is in J-leads and also in outside turns (leader's casting rather than shaping). What advice can you give to leaders when they are watching dance videos or the instructor in a workshop and they THINK the pattern is created BY the arm? Can you help redirect their observation?
Maria: Thanks for your comments. The J-lead is definitely a monster – it is overdone and usually led too early (on the 1, which should be a body lead). Personally, I teach my students to lead the follower *without* the J-lead, which mechanically is unnecessary if the leader provides a clear body lead.As for dispelling students' perceptions, I repeatedly ask my students how to execute things with their bodies rather than their arms. It has become something of a running joke, I suppose, but effective. I've shown certain patterns (slingshot is a great example) that create an illusion not by using the arms but by moving the body relative to the follower. These sort of examples help the leader to reconsider what he sees others doing.