Scoring More Social Dances From the Same Partner

Wrapping up our theme on getting more dances and dance partners when social dancing, it’s time to take a look at what actually happens during the dance itself. If you score an awesome dance partner, you’ll want to get more dances from your new friend, right? Then here’s the secret: make sure they have as much fun as you do.

Surprisingly, this doesn’t have to mean you need to dance as well as they do, although of course that helps. Rather a sense of humour and fun, creativity, and courtesy will be the real point scorers for your partner - just like in a romantic relationship.

That was good for me, was it good for you?
That was good for me, was it good for you?

Only Refuse if You Must

Ladies, unless you’re being asked by Arm-Twisting Arnold or sincerely need to sit one out, NEVER tell a potential partner no. Guys hate being turned down, and frequent refusals will have you dancing alone faster than a rocket sled on rails. If you do turn someone down, back up your excuse by not dancing with someone else until the song changes.

That was good for me, was it good for you?Guys, there’s many reasons why she might not feel like dancing at the moment - most of which have nothing to do with you. If she refuses you a second time however, take the hint and don’t ask again for that evening.

Dance at Your Partner’s Level

Showoffs might look good to a casual bystander, but they are a real turn-off for their partners.

That was good for me, was it good for you?
'I love being thrown around the floor!' said No Dancer Ever.

Leaders should start with basic steps and gradually work into more advanced patterns. This is a great way of establishing your partner’s comfort level. Followers, even if you know how to dance 5 turns in a row and arm-style like a pro, restrain yourself until you're sure you won’t overwhelm your partner by doing so. And no back-leading!

Entertain Your Partner

This is where the real chemistry of social dancing comes into play. Understand that for the duration of the song, you can smile, flirt, laugh, and be playful with your partner, even if your husband is standing a few feet away. Let your personality shine through the dance, and show your partner with your face how glad your are to be dancing with them.

Scoring More Social Dances From the Same Partner
Maybe a bit too much personality...

I encounter this very rarely, but I guarantee it’s a perfect way to put your partner at ease and have them smiling with you, no matter how much of a beginner either of you are.

Make Light of Mistakes

Be willing to laugh at yourself if you make a misstep. You might say ‘okay if anyone asks, I meant to do that’,  or just shrug and smile. Sometimes I like to smile and stick out my tongue as if to say ‘well, THAT could have gone better.’ Your partner can’t be annoyed with your foibles while they’re laughing along with you!

Scoring More Social Dances From the Same Partner
Look at that face - you can't really be mad at him, can you?

That was good for me, was it good for you?

Be VERY careful about calling attention to your partner’s mistakes. Usually smiling to let them know it’s okay is the best course of action.

Missed the earlier articles? Here’s Part 1 and Part 2

Dance Turns 2: Leading / Following the Spot Turn

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot Turn

Ah, the spot turn - easily one of my favourite movements in all of partner dancing. Last time, we took a look at the underarm turn as the informal ‘spot turn’. Now it’s time to look at the true spot turn; that is, a couple turning together around a common point. Don’t know what I mean? Check this out:

There’s a lot of little elements that make this movement smooth and fun, so let’s get to it.

The ‘J’ Lead

The initial goal is to start with an open break (both sides break-step back), then come together by contracting the arms, creating the momentum for the turn. Consider the letter ‘J’.

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot Turn
My God, it's beautiful...

Note it’s long body, with a little hook at the bottom curving to the right. This is exactly the shape the leader’s left arm makes as he brings himself and his partner together. The main action is the movement towards each other, with the hook to the right as the little ‘afterthought’ at the end.

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot TurnThe J hook that initiates the spot turn is often overlooked by a day-dreaming follower. Be on your guard whenever he initiates an open break, but don’t anticipate!

Incidentally, followers can make this rotation easier by…

Aiming for the Right Side

Remember your high school years, when you’d be walking down the hallway, and some jerk would slam into your shoulder and send you spinning? Likewise, followers are aiming for the inside of the leader’s right shoulder when they step forward to reconnect. While there’s no actual collision, the rightward turn of the shoulder will give you a much stronger lead around the circle.

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot TurnLeaders can visualize the right side of their body as a door swinging open to make the turn stronger. Just don’t lean into it - keep the shoulders parallel!

By stepping towards the leader’s right side, the follower should end up stepping in between his legs. Stepping outside the legs will cause you to run around each other like you’re doing the do-si-do.

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot Turn
Which can be fun too, I suppose.

Rather, you want to stay facing towards each other, but slightly turned to the right so the lead will take you forward and around, not sideways, tripping up your feet.

Every Step is a Pivot

If you find it’s hard to keep facing your partner, try dancing the spot turn on your toes. Any easier? With your heels off the floor, your toes are free to turn to keep you facing your partner. Of course, you don’t normally dance a spot turn this way, but keeping your weight off the heels and on the front part of your feet will allow you to turn more comfortably with getting ‘stuck’.

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot TurnConsider buying some latin dance shoes to help you with turns in the long run. The higher heel brings the weight onto your balls, making turns easier.

The Human Top

Remember when you used to do this? (This is Nostalgia Week, apparently)

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot Turn

The excitement of it came from the centrifugal force that pulled you away from each other while you spun. You probably noticed it got stronger if your feet were closer together (try it with a friend now if you like, I don’t judge).

When we spot turn, we likewise want to stretch slightly away from each other with our upper backs. Followers will feel their back settle more firmly in the leaders hand as the momentum carries you both around in a breathless woosh!

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot TurnBe care to avoid bringing in your frame too closely - it makes your legs fly out instead! And no dancer likes a surprise mule kick.

Dance Turns 2: Leading Following the Spot Turn
Now imagine that with stilettos.

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn

Turns are a huge part of any dance, and spot turns are probably the most common of the lot. So it’s amazing how few dancers know how to do it properly. As I’m sure you know, a poorly executed turn can lead to wrenched arms, loss of balance, or even a nasty fall. Here then, is a quick look at the basics for leading and following a smooth and comfortable spot turn.

Hang on, what’s a spot turn again??

A spot turn is ‘officially’ a turn made around a spot between the couple, (for instance, the spot turn in salsa, or the spot turn combination in bolero.) However, it also is used informally to refer to any turn in place, like the underarm turn in salsa. In this case, the ‘spot’ the person turn around is one of their feet, which remains in place to keep them from traveling away from their partner.

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn
Careful when traveling… You might not finish with the same partner you started with.

The underarm turn is simpler, so we’ll cover that first (the other will be explained next week).

Prepping for the Turn

EVERY action you lead must have a ‘prep action’ to let your partner know what you’re doing and smooth out the movement. The simplest version of this is to raise the right or left hand (depending on which arm she’s turning under) a few beats before the turn itself.

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn
If the follower needs space, the leader’s elbow may come slightly outward. The follower’s elbow is always down, making an ‘L’ shape.

Your hand may need to rotate in your follower palm to make the turn easier. Here’s a couple examples:

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn
Coffee-cup and two-finger (more advanced) connection respectively. Thanks to Christopher and Rick for posing for me!

Your aim is to provide just enough connection so her hand doesn’t slip away, but loose enough so it can still rotate with her body.

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot TurnLeaders, NEVER squeeze your partner’s hand while she is turning - her wrist may get twisted and cause injury.

The Ryan Gosling Method

What’s the most common mistake followers make when making a turn? I’ll give you a hint:

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn
The gate’s open? Run for it!!!

Remember that the leader raising his hand only tells you a turn is coming, not that it’s happening. To keep you connected with your partner and ready to move when the turn actually starts, I employ the Ryan Gosling Method (or your favourite cute celebrity).

Imagine a picture of your heartthrob tied to the back of the wrist of your elevated hand, which will be positioned in front of the shoulder on the same side. No matter what, keep the picture in front of you until the turn comes to a close. (Of course, you want to keep a light connection into your partners hand so you can feel when he turns you.) You’ll find that you cannot turn on your own, or ignore the lead to turn, without loosing site of your fantasy love.

Circling the Halo

When leading the turn, less is more. A small circle over her head will get her around just as much as a giant caldron stir. So imagine a glowing halo just over your partner’s head and using your forearm only, circle it with your connected hand to lead her around.

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot TurnMake the circle just above her head, so you’re not making her have to limbo underneath it, or declaring her a boxing champion 😉

Leaders can practice the turn without their footwork initially, to get used to the timing of the hand movement. Just make sure you give her room to turn! We’ll take a look at true spot turns next week.

Dance Turns: Leading and Following the Spot Turn
Circle the halo, circle the halo…

The Basics of Ballroom Dance Frame

Basics of Ballroom Dance Frame

Pic of ballroom frame

Welcome to one of the most overlooked elements in beginner ballroom dancing - and one of the most important. Step on your partner’s feet a lot? Feel off balance frequently? Having trouble connecting with your partner, or feeling the lead or follow? You can blame most of that on a poor ballroom frame.

The ballroom frame has many definitions, but my favourite is one quoted teacher and friend, Arpad Raymond:

“A ballroom frame is the positioning of your arms and body that creates room for you to dance.”

Let’s take a more detailed look at how to maintain that space between ourselves and our partner.

Basics of Ballroom Dance Frame
No matter who your partner is.

With Open Arms

The two most common holds in ballroom or Latin dancing is the closed hold and the two-hand hold. I’ve thrown these pics up in a previous article, but here they are again:

leading vs following part 2
Closed hold
leading vs following part 2
Two-hand hold

Pics of closed and two-hand hold

Notice how the connected hands meet in the centre, in neutral territory. The arms round forward, like like they are about to hug each other. Also, the two-hand hold curves down to the waist, so that a marble rolling down your arm would stop at your wrist. A couple must never let the elbows go past the shoulder, or the hands past the elbows - this collapses the frame, and inevitably someone will miss the lead, or get stepped on.

Ballroom Dance Tips

In a ballroom dance (not Latin), the follower will be offset on the leader’s right, so her centre faces his shoulder. This allows you to step in between your partner’s feet, so you can dance more closely together.

Under Pressure

Imagine you are an olympic diver poised on the edge of the diving board: body straight and relaxed, weight poised on the balls of the feet, ready to spring into action.

Years of ballroom dancing have prepared me for this...
Years of ballroom dancing have prepared me for this...

When we connect with our partner, this forward incline creates a shape between you that looks like an upside down V.It also helps create a light but responsive pressure forward into your partner’s frame where your hands connect with your partner (in dance lingo, your ‘contact points’).

Since we always want to start our movements from our chest, pressing slightly into each other helps the leader send information more quickly to the follower, and they can more together as one unit.

Sweet Surrender

When in two-hand hold, small changes in how the arms are positioned can make a big difference. The leader will keep his elbows slightly outwards, as though they were resting on the arms of a chair. The follower will keep her elbows in-line with her wrist, which she can do by rotating her wrists so they face upwards, then rotating then back down but keeping the elbows in place. This helps creates a straight line of energy from the wrist to the shoulder, so she can respond more quickly to a lead.

A Final Word… About Feet

If there’s one thing I’ve seen literally trip up couples more than anything else, it’s focusing on where to put their feet instead of where to move their frame. Try it sometime: throw caution to the wind, trust your feet, and put all your attention on your frame, and moving your body with your partner. After a few repetition, your feet know their parts already - let them move on their own, and they won’t let you fall.

Basics of Ballroom Dance Frame
Mom? Let me explain...

Help! My Partner Can’t Lead (or Follow)

My partner can't lead or follow

We’ve all been there. You’re out on the social dance floor, trying to move with your partner, and for whatever reason it’s just not clicking. Maybe you’ve got a full compliment of steps you can’t wait to try out, but your follower seems to be completely ignoring you. Or maybe you’ve practiced following every dancer in your group class, but this guy won’t even lead half of them (and you can’t feel the lead for the other half). What’s a dancer to do?

For Leaders

Take it slow. Start simple. Most followers need a few basic patterns to catch your rhythm, and it gives you an idea of their skill level, before you overwhelm them with advanced spins and dips.

Take it easy. Often followers have trouble with a specific lead or step, but can do many others just fine. Don’t take it as a personal challenge to ‘make’ them do it, let it go and enjoy the rest of your steps.

Take it confidently. Many inexperienced followers tend to back-lead, i.e. anticipate what the leader is doing and move ahead of them. I personally enjoy making a light joke about it:

my partner can't lead or follow
I’ll let you lead the next one, what do you say?

If that’s not your style, you can certainly ask them politely to slow down a bit. Again try a variety of steps, as it may happen more in some patterns than others. If they are virtually ignoring you, match their rhythm as best as you can, and grab a reliable favourite on the next dance.

For Followers

Remember to wait. Trying to dance to your interpretation of the timing can cause you to move into a step before he leads it - and therefore feel no lead. An instructor and friend of mine put it best: the leader dances to the music, the follower dances to the leader. A big part of the fun is learning to move with your partner’s internal rhythm, whatever it may be.

Remember to accept the steps he offers. He’s not avoiding your favourite steps to piss you off - he just might not know or remember them at that moment. As you gain experience social dancing, you’ll discover which partners know the fun patterns (for you) and which don’t. If this happens to be the latter, don’t ‘force’ your favourite ones. Acknowledge that dancing with this leader is still better than dancing alone (hopefully), and get what enjoyment you can from the dance.

Dos and Don’ts

In general, avoid giving feedback. This isn’t a dance lesson, and most dancers are not looking to be critiqued. Hold your tongue unless someone asks for it, or is doing something that might actually cause injury.

my partner can't lead or follow
Could you do that again, but just, y’know, not so terrible?

A smile can go a long way. Some of my favourite dances had nothing to do with my partner’s skill level - it’s because she was so obviously happy to be dancing, I couldn’t help but be happy too. Even if you’re having a hard go at it, try and smile and make eye contact from time to time.

You now have a few new tools to raise your likelihood of having enjoyable dances with anyone. And if you have a specific issue with a partner that you don’t feel has been resolved by this article, please post it in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Happy dancing!

My partner can't lead or follow

Leading VS Following – Part Four

leading vs following part four

Previously, we discussed some of the assumptions leaders make that can hold back their ability to effectively connect with their partner. Now it’s time to look at the techniques that actually help you get your partner from point A to point B - and keeping her smiling on the way.

Leading VS Following Part Four
Best. Lead. Ever.

Partner connection

I’ve gone over this before, so let’s break it down a little more this time. To effectively lead your partner, you require two things: frame and pressure. For a description of frame with pictures, go to my second point in part 2.

As a leader, stay focused on the contact points, or the places where you and your partner’s hands connect (usually hand-to-hand, or hand-to-shoulder blade). Your frame may flex slightly, but the hand-to-hand connection should stay in the centre, to avoid over-extension or collapsing of the frame.

Leading VS Following Part Four

Both leader and follower work together to keep a light and responsive pressure through the contact points. If you move forward one foot, you entire frame will move forward the same amount. Your partner will move back the same amount to keep the pressure equal. Voila! You’re moving together.

How to connect

When practicing connection for the first time, I recommend you begin in a two-hand hold. Keep the arms rounded towards your partner, as though you were about to give her a hug around her waist. When connecting, your forearms should connect directly with your partner’s, creating a straight line from your elbows to hers. This ensures the pressure should run through the centre of the connection.

leading vs following part four
Wow, my arms are really veiny.

As you increase familiarity with leading, you may switch to a closed hold. Your right arm curves gently downward from the shoulder, as though you were a butler carrying a towel, the hand connecting with your follower’s shoulder blade, and her left hand connecting to the crease between the right bicep and shoulder muscle. The opposite hands are clasped with the follower’s fingers between the leaders thumb and fingers at eye level.

Leading VS Following Part Four
Ignore the follower's pinky finger, and you have the idea.

Initially, you might want to keep about half a foot between yourself and your partner, to avoid crushed toes and egos underfoot.

Leading VS Following Part Four
ARGH! MY EGO!!!

Time to move

When approaching a door, do you kick it open with your foot, or lean in with your upper body? Hopefully most of you answered the latter, because leading through the chest quickly tells your partner where to go. Every direction you step in, start by leaning in slightly from the upper body to give your partner a head’s up. After all, she doesn’t know what you have planned, so let your body do the talking.

Stick to the plan

Speaking of which, make sure you plan ahead! An easy way to this is using what I call the Leadership Game. Start by yourself (or a patient partner) dancing the most basic pattern you know, 3 times. Use those three basics to decide what pattern you would like to lead afterwards. Once you’ve completed the ‘surprise pattern’, repeat the 3 basics, planning ahead for a new pattern, and so on. Put together, it looks like this:

Basic 1 —> Basic 2 —> Basic 3 —> Surprise —> 

Basic 1 —> Basic 2 —> Basic 3 —> Surprise —> etc…

As you get more experienced at planning, you can gradually decrease the number of basics you use, with the ultimate goal of eliminating them altogether.

This completes our overview on how to take your leading and following to the next level. If you feel I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments! Until next time, and happy dancing.

Part One     Part Two     Part Three

Leading VS Following Part Four

Leading VS Following – Part Three

leading vs following part threeLast time, we explored how a follower can better connect and move with her partner. Now leaders, it’s your turn. We’ll start by debunking some of the assumptions and myths that mislead your leading (pun intended). Once these are clear, you will be free to start training with good habits instead of struggling to unlearn bad ones.

Myth #1: ‘If I dance small and slow, I wont make a fool of myself.’

Welcome to man’s greatest fear on the dance floor - disappointing his partner. Believe me, I’ve been there, and I know it’s not fun. Want to feel confident and in control instead? Then learn to go big or go home! A friend of mine once said ‘if you’re wrong, be really insistent about it’. Pretend the confidence you don’t have (yet), and make the mistake big enough for your instructor to see.

Myth #2: ‘If I look down, I won’t step on her feet.’

Since we don’t normally move this close to someone else, it’s only natural that we want to watch our feet and make sure we don’t tread on our partner (or he/she doesn’t tread on us). As a result, we end up looking like we are more interested in finding change on the floor then dancing with our partner.

leading vs following part three
Oh hey, a quarter!

Lead as though you were pushing a shopping cart, or opening a door - that is, starting the movement from the chest, rather than the feet. With a good connection, the follower will feel the lead and respond by moving her feet before you get there, so you won’t have to look. Besides, keeping your head up makes you look confident and balanced.

Myth #3: ‘If I lead more strongly, I will hurt my partner.’

I’m not talking about shoving her with your arms here (which may indeed hurt her), but leading from your frame, i.e. your chest and arms. Remember, you are in charge, and she needs your guidance. You are doing her no favours by giving her a ‘soft’ frame, any more than you do yourself favours by relaxing your hold while pushing a shopping cart so it crashes into your chest.

Leader VS Follower Part Three
It hurts more than you think...

Pretend that your arms are in a cast right up to the shoulders, and make sure that they stay there when you move, so your connected partner can move with you.

Myth #4: ‘If I mess up my steps, my partner will move me back into place.’

A dangerous assumption. Even if she says so, rest assured your partner does NOT want to take care of you on the dance floor - the responsibility is yours to make sure you move as best as you can, without relying on your partner to save you. In the worst case scenarios, I’ve seen the lady back-leading constantly to make up for her laissez-faire partner, while trying frantically to move her feet out of his way. If you really want your partner to enjoy herself and feel more connected with you, put in some practice time and don’t let her dictate where she thinks you need to be.

All this said, remember that no one learns to dance overnight. Ask your practice partner for patience - you are learning to take of not only yourself on the dance floor, but her as well. In return, you will learn how to score more and better dances, while forging a more satisfying connection with your partner. In the last article in this series, we look more closely at the different techniques to move your partner comfortably and confidently across the floor. Leader VS Follower Part Three

Leading VS Following – Part Two

leading vs following part two In the last article, we tackled the psychological reasons why ‘following’ in a ballroom dance may not be as bad as we think it is. Now, we look at specific techniques that help us connect and respond to our leader. Then we will finish off with a learning strategy to polish these techniques with minimal frustration.

1. Posture

I’m sorry, students of British boarding schools, but your teachers were right - you do look better when you stand up straight. Imagine yourself on a diving board, poised on the balls of your feet, ready to spring into action. This will keep your balance when your partner pushes against you, avoiding that unpleasant ‘falling backwards’ feeling. Don’t lean on your partner - if he slips, you’re both taking a hard trip to the floor.

leading vs following part two
Hopefully not as spectacularly as this though...

2. Frame

Our frame is the space we create with our arms and body, prepares us to receive a lead without getting stepped on. A good frame uses muscle tension in the arms, shoulders, chest and back to decrease response time. Imagine pushing against the branches of a young tree. It bends, with resistance, against your pressure, but snaps back into place when you release. This how you want your frame to behave when your partner leads you.

leading vs following part two
Closed hold
leading vs following part two
Two-hand hold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Pressure

Now that your frame is in place, it’s time to establish your partner connection. I recommend about 5 pounds of pressure to start, on each point where your hands connect with your partner, and vice versa. No matter where he moves you, or how quickly, return as soon as you can back to that optimal pressure-level. You are water through which he is swimming. Resist him like water, not like air (very little pressure) or rock (too much pressure).

4. Wait for your partner

It’s tempting to ‘back-lead’ when we recognize a pattern our partner is guiding us through. Despite this, the best thing you can do for your partner, and yourself, is practice making him move you - make it clear if he doesn’t tell you where to go, you aren’t going anywhere. This helps him because he has no choice but to give you stronger signals, and helps you by teaching you how to respond to your partner, even if he surprises you.

leading vs following part two
I don't care how handsome you are Gatsby; if you want to lead me, LEAD me.

5. Focus on the connection

When we are less comfortable with a pattern, we tend to panic, and our conscious brain takes over and starts interfering with our honed dance instincts. leading vs following part two To avoid this, we need to stay focused on where the information is coming from, i.e. the connection. Focus on the pressure in the contact points, increase the pressure if you need to, let it become your whole world. Trust that your instincts will react accordingly, and stay calm. Make your partner throw different variations at you to practice.

Putting it all together

If you take one thing from this article, take this: the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Start with each technique in order; each one builds on the next. For instance, you might practice walking slowly, ending on the ball of your foot each time. When that starts to feel automatic, add on your frame, and so on.

If you get overwhelmed or some of the earlier techniques are starting to slip, back up and try again. REMEMBER: be patient with yourself. To paraphrase a wise monk, the more you take your time, the faster you learn. Good luck!

leading vs following part two
P.S. Stay tuned for part 3, when we look at how the leader can take charge on the dance floor, while still leaving his partner time to shine.

Leading VS Following – Part One

leading vs following part one‘I’m the leader, you’re the follower.’ Does that sentence make you want to grind your teeth? You’re not alone. Many people hate having to ‘surrender’ to another person to make the dance work. What they usually don’t realize is that the ‘follower’ has a power of her own. The big moves might be mostly up to the leader, but the follower adds the embellishments that make up much of the dance’s personality.

In this article, we’ll change the way we look at ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ on the ballroom dance floor. And find out the playing field is a lot more level than most people realize. Let’s start by looking at how the definitions have changed over the years.

Leading and following: Not what we think they mean

It’s important to realize that we are not talking about women obeying men here. Applying that definition to leading and following today is like thanking someone who calls your performance ‘awful’ (it used to literally mean ‘full of awe’, or ‘inspiring wonder’). There isn’t even a requirement on which sex leads and follows anymore.

leading vs following part one
It’s freedom baby, yeah!

Today, leading is more synonymous with ‘guiding’, while following is more like ‘interpreting’. The leader initiates a move, then stays with his partner and moves with her though the pattern. The follower receives the lead, then expresses it in a way that fits her personality. True, this is planned out in advance if it’s a performance, but in a social dance, if you are holding out your hand to lead a turn and she decides to arm style instead, it’s up to you to adjust to her.

A game of mutual trust

When a leader and follower start dancing, they are entering into a tacit agreement: the leader gives the follower comfortable, enjoyable leads, and in return she doesn’t steal the show with her own styling. In other words, the leader is offering a better dance together than she would get alone. 

Yes, the follower gives up some control over the dance. In return, she gets the increased power, connection, and teamwork that comes with moving in unison with another person. If he breaches the agreement by showing off at her expense or physically hurting her, she is within her rights to walk away and leave him in the middle of the dance.

leader vs follower part one
Darn. Maybe I shouldn't have started with the Watusi...

The leader is the coat hanger, the follower is the coat

I can always tell when there’s a good leader on the dance floor: The follower looks amazing. That’s because the leader’s job is to show off his follower. He is the strong sturdy coat hanger, she is the beautiful coat he presents to onlookers, as if to say: ‘this is MY partner! Look how beautiful she looks!’ In some ways then, the follower gets the more fun part of the job, because she gets more opportunity to show off. The leader provides those opportunities, and the follower potentially makes herself look worse if she doesn’t respond to them.

A note on body image

Let’s face it: some of us don’t like what we see when we look in the mirror. And we feel even worse when we let a partner - usually of the opposite sex - get near us. Understand that, while standards are stricter in the competitive dance world, most social dancers do not dance with you solely based on how flat your stomach is. They dance with you based on how you MOVE, how you CONNECT. And that has nothing to do with how you look, believe me. One of the ‘lightest’ followers I’ve ever had the pleasure of dancing with weighed 300 pounds. But she carried herself so well I didn’t feel any of it.

leader vs follower part one
Fat? Whatever man, I make this look good!

The bottom line is, both sides gain more control of their own bodies, not each other’s. In the next article in this series, we look at the more technical details of how the follower can move in unison with her leader.

Danciquette 101: How to avoid hurting (or getting hurt) on the dance floor

Avoid Getting Hurt on Dance FloorWho likes a dance where the leader is crushing your hand, while whipping you hard enough around you know you’ll need an extra chiropractic appointment this week? I don’t either.

If your partner is someone you know well, it’s usually okay to ask him or her to change before any permanent damage is done. But bringing up the issue with a stranger presents a difficult situation: How do we avoid offending our partner, while still getting across that they need to try something different? And if you’re the leader, how can you tell if you are doing something that’s bothering your partner?

Followers, let’s look at the worst-case scenario: You’re dancing with a stranger and he’s decided he’s going to show some of those fancy new moves he learned, which unfortunately he’s not the best at leading, and are quite painful on your end. What can you do?

Avoid getting hurt on dance floor
So sorry, but I think you may have broken both my legs. Could you carry me to the nearest hospital?

1.   Is it me?

Before you say anything, make sure there’s nothing on your end that needs correcting. For instance, many followers complain a fast turn hurts their shoulder, while not realizing that to protect themselves they must keep a strong L-shape with their arm in front of them throughout the turn.

2.   It’s not you, it’s me.

Since your average male leader is rather sensitive to being criticized, make it about you. For instance, ‘sorry,  but I hurt my arm yesterday, do you mind turning me a bit more gently?’ avoids telling him directly he needs to work on his leads (which, unless your an instructor, you probably aren’t qualified to make judgements on anyway), and even makes him feel like he’s protecting you.

 3.   It might be you.

Okay, you tried the above suggestion, and he’s just too clueless to realize what’s going on. Try this: ‘Sorry but it hurts my arm when I was turned that fast. Could we try again?’

This is a lot more direct than the last comment, but notice that you are not saying ‘it hurts when you turn me that fast’. It might look like the same thing, but most people won’t feel as threatened if the criticism is targeting the thing that happened, not them personally.

4.   It’s you.

If all else fails, it’s time to exit the dance as tactfully as possible. Plead faintness, claim someone stepped on your foot, insist this song is too lousy to dance to, whatever you like. The point you’re making is you are finished with this dance, while still having the good grace not to accuse them directly. Thank him, then walk away and permanently scratch his name from your dance card.

Avoid getting hurt on dance floor
If you feel like this woman next morning, you should have ended that dance early.

By-the way, all this is assuming you are actually uncomfortable to the point of pain, not just mildly inconvenienced. Because just as aggravating as a leader who’s yanking you around, is a follower who’s decided she’s your personal coach for the duration of the dance. If they don’t ask for help, don’t offer any.

Leaders, now it’s your turn.

1.   Tension is a bad sign

It’s one thing if your partner is tight as a rock from step one (more likely she’s green as grass, or nervous as hell), but quite another if she tenses up halfway through the dance. If she does, she either spotted her jealous boyfriend at the bar, or you just did something she didn’t like.

2.   Watch the face

Was she fun and flirty one minute, giving you the scowl of death the next? Bad sign. A sign of boredom doesn’t mean you’ve faux pas-ed; a sign of pain or annoyance often does.

Avoid getting hurt on dance floor
Oh no, it's nothing. I love dancing with you.

3.   Keep your cool around criticism

If your partner does decide to speak up, assume it must be something serious, and give it proper attention: She’s not attacking you personally, she’s pointing out how you can make the dance more enjoyable for both of you. Swallow your pride, and try it her way, at least for the duration of the dance.

Okay, so now you know something’s up; now what can you do? It’s time to fall back on the tried-and-true basics while you figure out what might be setting her off. Focus on making your movements as fluid as possible - no sudden jerks or stops. Tone down the flair for a few steps, and pay more attention to how she’s responding to see if she relaxes. If she’s still sending warning signs, a polite ‘I’m not hurting you, am I?’ opens the door for her to say something, allowing you to find out more. In this case, a ‘well, maybe’ really does mean ‘yes’.

This a very delicate issue, and no doubt many of you will disagree with at least some of my suggestions. If you think there’s a better way to handle the situation, post in the comments and let me have it! Don’t leave the rest of us in the dark.

Just remember that dance is the only sport where the only way to win is for both teams to work together. So help each other out, and you’ll both have a richer experience for it.

Avoid getting hurt on dance floor