Leading and following naturally

My apologies for the long silence, but as many of you know, my life has gone through a lot of change over the last few months. I’m happy to say that I’m back online and I’ve got a backlog of posts awaiting your reading and feedback! – Eric

Anyone who has ever walked somewhere with someone else already knows how to lead and follow. And if you’ve ever walked down the street holding someone’s hand, then you know how to lead and follow… while holding someone’s hand.

If you’ve done this you know how to move in a way that guides the other person and in a way that responds to another person – without forcing them, without manhandling them, without hanging onto them. You already know how to move yourself in a way that communicates with someone else without using words.

It’s my belief that the reason so many people struggle with lead and follow is because we as dance teachers give them all sorts of information that distracts from what they already know. We focus you on how to hold hands, how to hold your arms, where to lead, and where to put your feet. Plus, we teach classes focused on patterns, where the leader learns how to move the follower and the follower learns to do what he wants. The result is a mindset in which “leading” becomes equated with “dictating” and “following” means “being forced.”

I started working with my students last month to shift the current paradigm, attempting to define “leading” and “following” as something other than “move” and “be moved.” For the leaders, we looked at the physical change in leading that results when you think of it as “inviting” – invite the follower to go down the slot, invite the follower to go under your arm, invite the follower in and back out. The body movement is the same, but nature and feel is more relaxed, more natural, and, well, more inviting. For the followers, we looked at just going where you were being directed. The followers assume the responsibility of moving themselves, which improves their posture, balance, and ultimately their body flight. It also takes the mental focus off of the leader and puts it more on what they feel, which helps to avoid anticipation and anxiety about what is being led. The result for both partners is more in line with what we do naturally when we guide and are guided through physical contact.

It never ceases to amaze me how much our mindset affects and influences how our bodies move and react. By returning to what our bodies already know, and adopting a different mindset about what it means to lead and follow, we can establish a more relaxed, trusting, and stable partnership, which opens the possibilities for collaboration and creativity.

How do you think of leading and following based on what you’ve learned? How does this new paradigm above make you think about your role in the dance? Teachers, what do you think about leading and following and does the way you teach reinforce that idea or something else?

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