Last week, I wrote about how the expectations of leaders and followers tend to create a dynamic where the leader talks without listening and the follower listens without talking – usually leading to a disconnect between the partners. In the group class I taught this week, I returned to this topic with my students in an effort to change this dynamic and demonstrate what can happen when we do.
For me, there are two main issues to deal with: 1) leaders who “overlead” – giving too many signals for too much of the time; and 2) followers who don’t actively participate – either because they are too busy defending themselves from bad leads (defense mode), are awestruck by good leads (awe mode), or don’t know how or what to communicate (“I don’t know what to do” mode).
It seems to me that there is a philosophical schism in the West Coast Swing community with regards to how much a leader leads: the “constant lead” camp vs. the “lead-and-release” camp. I don’t like the implication of either label: “constant lead” suggests there’s no room for following while “lead-and-release” sounds like you get the follower going and then let go completely (and it sounds creepily like the fishing term “catch and release”). I’ll pass on commenting further on these two philosophies (for now) but I will mention that while these two are the dominant philosophies, there are other possible variants on the spectrum between the two.
Still, I focused the first half of the class dealing with the first issue: overleading. Overleading primarily results from two things: bad leads and nonstop leading. Bad leads are any leads that create too much force – a force that makes it difficult for the follower to stay balanced and comfortable – usually created by arm leads but sometimes by giving two or more leads at once (another topic for another time). Nonstop leading, or what I affectionately refer to as “Energizer Bunny” leading, is when leaders just keep leading move after move after move without any break – or any relief – for the follower. Of course, nonstop leading goes hand-in-hand with the problem of not listening, but what is there to listen to if you’re always talking?
At the beginning of class, I put on music and told the leaders to lead minimally – give only the leads that are really necessary. Naturally, some leaders just stopped leading altogether, and I had to clarify: only lead as much as you have to in order to get the move done – and nothing more. And then we talked about what happened.
First I asked the leaders how they changed their dancing (if they changed it) and – though the leaders were at first silent – there was general agreement that they the main thing they did was relax. A couple also noted that they moved around less and one or two more consciously tried to lead with their bodies.
Then I asked the follower about their experience: what did it feel like when the leaders minimized their leads? Their responses? “I felt more in control.” “I felt comfortable.” “I didn’t feel any arm leads.” “I felt like I could participate and do more.”
This, of course, comes as no surprise. There’s a difference between yelling nonstop at someone (overleading) and talking with someone in a way that makes the other person feel comfortable and opens the possibility of dialogue (minimal leading). The leaders in class were able to achieve the latter by limiting their leading to body leads and only the movement that was necessary.
Is overleading a problem where you dance? Followers, how do you handle it? What do you prefer and why? Leaders, have you noticed followers responding differently to different degrees of leading? And teachers, what kind of dynamic are you encouraging when you teach leaders?