Hi all – I’ve created a Facebook group for Naked Basics where we can all gather to connect with others who read or post to this blog. Start putting faces to names and getting to know others who share a love of dance – and an intellectual discussion of dance. And please spread the word about this blog and the Facebook group to anyone you think would be interested. Thanks! – Eric
Two weeks ago, I began this discussion about communication between the partners, and last week I picked on the leaders for overleading (which, perhaps not surprisingly, was rather well-received by followers).
Yes, a large part of the problem in partner communication is the failure of the leaders to not listen and to not provide the opportunity for the follower to participate. However, another big problem is the failure of the followers to properly communicate with the leaders.
In my experience and observations, I’ve noticed that often when followers try to participate in the dance (e.g. play, extend patterns, change speed, etc.), they end up tightening up their frame, or else pushing or pulling the leader. And this happens suddenly, without warning, as the follower interrupts the leader to express herself. Sometimes it disrupts what the leader is trying to accomplish, either ignoring what he was trying to lead or ignoring him altogether. To use the conversation analogy, it’s as if the leader is talking and mid-sentence the follower suddenly yells something out loud – sort of a dancing version of Tourette’s syndrome.
Let’s face it, followers: You don’t like it when leaders throw things at you suddenly. You don’t like it when they tighten or use their arms to communicate with you. And you don’t like when they ignore you or interrupt what you’re trying to do. So why is it okay for you to do the same to the leader? Bottom line: it’s not.
The truth is that while leading and following are different and distinct roles with their own rules of engagement, communication – and the means of communication – are the same for both partners. There’s no double standard here: leaders can’t do one thing while followers do another. Just as it is in our every day lives, there are proper and appropriate ways of communicating, regardless of who is involved in what roles.
For followers, I would propose that there are three basic principles for you to keep in mind when trying to communicate with the leader – the same principles that hopefully guide how leaders lead:
- Use your body – not your arms. I think it’s fair to say that arm leads stink. Well, so do arm follows. There’s no need to tighten up or squeeze or pull or push to tell me something (unless we’re about to bump into someone and it’s a defensive move, and even then, do it as nicely as possible). Your arms are a means of transmitting information, but the message should originate with your body. Again, it’s the conversational difference between talking and yelling.
- Give advanced notice before you do something. You know those leaders – the ones whose leads seem to happen at the last second, if not late? You know how those sudden signals throw you off balance, both physically and mentally? Same is true for leaders when followers suddenly do something unexpected, especially if they’re still actively leading. Just as a good leader gives you a prep or starts leading a little in advance so that you are prepared and can successfully execute a movement on time, good followers who are properly communicating will signal their intent to the leader in advance. This is the driving equivalent of signaling before changing lanes and the conversational equivalent of saying “excuse me” to interrupt the speaker before speaking yourself.
- Make sure you use clear signals, which means getting your partner’s attention, usually by doing something different. Leaders give signals to tell you what they’re leading, but these signals are only effective if they are clear enough for you to read them. As followers, you not only have to be clear, but you have the added challenge of overcoming the standard dynamic (that he speaks and you listen) and getting him to listen (or at least stop talking). There are several different signals you can use to get his attention (all relating to changes in connection), but these signals need to be clear and used consistently.
Communication is key for any relationship, including a partnership in dance. Good followers know how to properly – and thus effectively – communicate with their leaders. I find that too often the conversation in dance classes is about the content of what the follower does (the footwork variations, the body styling, etc.) and not about how to communicate what the follower does to her partner. What results is a bunch of followers unsuccessfully participating in the dance because they do not know how to communicate what they’re doing to their leaders – or even that they’re trying to do something at all!
Followers, how do you try to communicate with your leaders? Leaders, what do followers do that get your attention and let you know what they’re doing? Teachers, how much do instruct followers on how to communicate to their leaders when teaching a variation for followers, especially one that changes the timing or execution of the pattern? How important do you think this idea of communication is for followers to learn and at what stage in their development should they start learning these skills?