So how do I know if I’m hijacking?

In an earlier post, I put forth my definition of “hijacking” and explained why I think it’s a bad thing – disruptive, disrespectful, and just not nice. When we touched upon this subject in my classes last week, the followers understood that hijacking is a bad thing, but a question remained: how does a follower avoid hijacking? If the follower can – and is even expected to – participate in the dance, what is the difference between hijacking and playing or otherwise participating?

For me, it comes down to one thing: leader’s intent. What was the leader indicating at the time the follower interrupted? Which end of the slot was he sending you to and which way were you turning? To ignore the leader’s intent and change the nature of the pattern/movement is to hijack.

Think of the airplane hijacking analogy: If a pilot was headed southwest from New York towards Los Angeles, then redirecting the flight to London or even Boston would be hijacking. However, heading towards Los Angeles but “taking the scenic route” – a different and perhaps longer route that nevertheless heads in the same direction towards the same destination – would be playing.

Okay, so now you want to know what this means in practical terms. Let’s say you interrupt a tuck (left side pass or sugar) on count 3 or 4 of the pattern. By this point the leader has raised your hand to signal an outside or right turn, and his body should be signaling which end of the slot he wants you to head towards. You can interrupt, play, extend, etc., but hopefully you will respect the leader’s intent: you’ll still finish with an outside turn towards the suggested end of the slot. To me, to do an inside turn or go to the other end of the slot (other than the one he intended) is to hijack.

Of course, that sounds somewhat conservative (even to me, now that I reread it!). But there are three things to keep in mind here. One, when you agree to dance with someone, you agree to take on assigned roles: one of you will be the leader, the other the follower. And it is understood that the leader will do much of choreography and that the follower for the most part will follow his choreography. That said, the second thing to keep in mind is that a good leader should and will select choreography that invites or encourages a response or participation from the follower. In an ideal world, she, in turn, might do something that provokes a response, and the two partners spend the whole dance working off one another in what is truly a conversation or dialogue. (All of this conversation, naturally, would revolve around the music.) The third thing to keep in mind – and perhaps the most important thing – is that there are always exceptions to the rule.

I have danced with followers who have hijacked and I have danced with those who broke the rule of not hijacking. There is sometimes a fine line between hijacking and not not hijacking, and I’ll be the first to admit that leaders will vary greatly in their perception of what is or is not hijacking.

But being the intellectual nerd that I am, I’ve found that there are three criteria that make not not hijacking acceptable to me:

  1. What she does must be musical (so that it makes sense, has purpose, and is clear to me); 
  2. What she does must be effectively communicated to me (so I am prepared and not lost); and
  3. What she does must be really damn cool (in other words, worth it to interrupt what I was doing to do her thing). 

Ideally, what she does also involves me or engages me in some way (other than asking me to catch her when she suddenly drops) but if she wants to take a moment to herself I really don’t have a problem with that as long as it meets the criteria above.(For the record, this isn’t impossible – a few advanced followers who are good communicators have not not hijacked while dancing with me.)

Again, I admit that hijacking and what is acceptable and what is not are subjective and vary from dancer to dancer. Maybe I’m really conservative in my viewpoint (though I believe there are others far more conservative than me), but I can say that I love a follower who participates and plays and dances when I’m leading. Honestly, I bore myself easily and I like the back-and-forth, having something to work with and play off of; it can be really stimulating and inspiring. That said, I do hate it when a follower repeatedly ignores what I lead to do whatever she wants. I think it’s fair to say that any dancer would agree with me when I say that I am not a tool to be used for one’s selfish means but a partner to be respected, acknowledged, and listened to.

In my classes I teach followers to push the envelope a little bit – to walk that fine line between hijacking and not hijacking. I do this mainly to teach followers the proper communications tools but also to encourage them to push the envelope a little bit (given that most followers don’t play at all or very little). However, I remind followers that there is a line, and for me, it is defined by leader’s intent.

How do you distinguish between hijacking and not hijacking? Followers, what guidelines do you use when following? Leaders, do you really care if she hijacks? Am I the crazy one here laying out rules or do you agree that there’s a limit to the follower’s playing? What is that limit? And teachers, what do you teach your students about playing and hijacking?

9 comments

  1. CLARIFICATION ON "HIJACKING" & "DELAYED FOLLOWING"TO ME HIJACKING IS SOMETHING THAT IS TAKING AWAY SOMETHING FROM A LEADER WITHOUT PERMISSION.. THE FOLLOWER DECIDED TO DO SOMETHING OTHER THAN WHAT WAS LEAD OR STARTED. JUST LIKE ANY CONVERSATION THE LEADER GOT CUT OFF. SINCE DANCING IS A FORM OF UNSPOKEN SILENT LANGUAGE…WHEREAS "DELAYED FOLLOWING" IS SOMETHING OF A DIALOGUE SLIGHT INTERRUPTION WITH UNSPOKEN PERMISSION "PARDON ME NOT YET" IS WHAT IS BEING CONVEYED TO THE LEADER… ANOTHER FORM OF PERMISSION SAYING WAIT A MINUTE HOLD ON FOR 4-6 BEATS FOR ME I WANT TO DIALOGUE IN A POLITE WAY.LIKE I SAID I CALL IT "DELAYED FOLLOWING" ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING I'M NOT QUITE READY YET CAUSE I WANT TO SAY SOMETHING.. IN 4-6 BEATS.. HAHAHHHAHAH I'M SURE OTHER PEOPLE CALL IT DETOUR.. NOT FOR ME I CALL IT DELAYED FOLLOWING CAUSE I'M NOT READY TO FINISH YET I'M HEARING SOMETHING IN THE MUSIC SO I WILL FINISH AS SOON AS I FINISHED MY 4-6 BEATS DELAY FOLLOWINGHHAHAHAH DALLAS TX WESTIE

  2. To me, a good dance is like good improv – everyone says yes. The leader initiates something. The follower says, "yes! and also….. " The leader says, "yes! and also……" Each partner has enormous opportunity to inject their energy, movement and ideas into the dance. It's incredibly fun. 🙂

  3. Eric,I completely agree. As a follower, I see my role as one that expresses the leaders intent. How I express that is up to me but I have to keep it within what was suggested by the leader. Hijacking in WCS in my "opinion" 🙂 only comes from the lack of understanding from a follower as to what she can do within what he leads. So much can be done to "decorate" within the pattern that's led. There's really no reason why any follower should feel the need to hijack. Sometimes I hear followers say "but he's only a beg. dancers and only leads basics. That's the worst type of hijacking "with a beg leader". The follower is only showing that you are also less experienced in musical interpretation within basics. If hijacking was a nice thing… they would have called it something else like "rewarding the leader" ;).. the word speaks for itself!Also… what other type of couples dancing has hijacking? Have you ever hijacked in waltz, chacha, rumba.. etc…? Something to think about :)There's also another component to following that takes years to begin to understand, It's the understanding of body physics and how to follow the leader not only from physical "touching" leads but to constantly watch your partners intent, body movement and trying to match/enhance. When I'm dancing with some leads they say it's like I hear the same thing they are hearing in the music when I dance with them. What they don't realize is that "see" and watch everything they are doing and I've trained myself to react to it.This is connection… not connected by the hands or hand on the back… connected to the leader through his movements and the music.

  4. As Ive heard Szekely say "Hijacking is for terrorist!" LOL! In all honesty, followers. I dont mind if you do it just give me a heads up like "Hey Im hijacking this dance. Live with it" works perfectly.

  5. WCS is a somewhat new dance for me (about 4 years). Rationally, I know that "positive following" is a development of this dance which is made possible by the relative freedom of the dance hold and the convention of the slot, but I still find it incredibly distracting. I try to anticipate the possibility of a detour, but I'm caught off guard every time.~Paul

  6. I love it when I find a partner that is a creative follower and hear's the music. When I dance with this partner we usually "play" at the same time because of the music. I purposely give my follower lots time to play if she wants. The show is her's, not mine and I do everything I can to showcase her. Some play and some don't. I look for the creative player that dances to the music.

  7. When I dance with someone I consider that I, as the leader, is the frame and the follower is the picture. My “job” is to consider the abilities of my partner and then to lead in such a way as to make them feel comfortable in their response to show their abilities. My reward at the end of the dance is a verbal response “that was fun”. Competition is subjective as to the criteria of the “Judges”.

  8. “I think it’s fair to say that any dancer would agree with me when I say that I am not a tool to be used for one’s selfish means but a partner to be respected, acknowledged, and listened to.”

    And your followers feel exactly the same way. I’m an equal in this conversation.

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