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:
- What she does must be musical (so that it makes sense, has purpose, and is clear to me);
- What she does must be effectively communicated to me (so I am prepared and not lost); and
- 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?