Connection Magic: the Invested Follow and the Responsive Lead

Dance World Takeover has an extensive series going on right now on sexismconnection, and the concept of equal opportunities for leads & follows to contribute in dancing (not necessarily in that order).  I initially found most recent post, The End of Lindy Hop as we Know It, a little abrasive. I understand where the idea of “Equal Opportunity Connection” is going, but I struggle with some of the word choice and arguments.

However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Rebecca and I are talking about two different sides of the same coin. In reality, every teacher, blogger, and dancer thinks about and explains it a little differently, but the similarities in these different explanations far outweigh the differences – and that’s awesome. The more ways the awesomeness of the connection of Lindy Hop can be explained, the more likely each individual dancer will stumble across an explanation which makes sense where others didn’t.

For me, blogging is a way to make sure I understand how I feel about a particular subject. So just to make sure it’s clear: this post is not a rebuttal to DWT, but rather an exercise in putting a similar concept into my own words.

Leading and Following are pre-defined roles, and that’s important

The words “lead” and “follow” might be gendered (that’s a whole different conversation), but I think we can all agree that these roles are important. In fact, partnered dancing depends on moving together around the dance floor, and for that to be possible, there must be predefined roles.

The lead is tasked with the important job of giving structure to a dance by leading a variety of moves, as well as directing the momentum of the follow (and often employing some floor craft in the process). The follow is tasked with the equally important job of paying attention to the moves being led and maintaining the momentum so that the movement on the floor is cohesive; she must be ready to change direction at any moment, even in the middle of a variation.

The reality is that having a single lead in the dance is as important as having a single follow. If both people were attempting to lead or follow simultaneously – or worse, to constantly fight over who was in charge – then there would never be an organized movement on the floor.

However, there’s a bit of leeway with each of these roles. Just because a person leads does not mean he or she is “in charge,” and just because a person follows does not mean that he or she has no say in what happens.

The Invested Follow

A friend recently shared with me a bit of her own dance philosophy, which really clicked with me: she advocates the Invested Follow. This concept addresses the importance and equality of the follow’s role in Lindy Hop while recognizing that partner dancing requires the predefined roles of lead and follow.

So what’s an Invested Follow, you ask? An Invested Follow actively contributes to the dance. The follow might lead a break in movement, or she might change the pulse or the shape of a movement, and a good lead will pick up on that and respond appropriately. She does not follow passively, but rather takes opportunities to influence a moment.

The Responsive Lead

An Invested Follow isn’t going to have a very easy time of it if the lead is never paying attention; as such, the counterpart to this role would be the Responsive Lead. This person pays attention to a follow’s contributions, and is influenced by the follow’s actions; this lead “listens” to the follow and responds in kind.

A responsive lead is important to encouraging a follow’s dancing because it shows the follow that the contributions are welcome; some of my favorite moments have been when a lead sees my movement, adopts it, and then takes it to the next level.

When both lead and follow are invested, awesome things happen. And if you're lucky, photographer-extraordinaire Jessica Keener might be around to capture the magic.

When both the lead and the follow are invested, awesome things happen. And if you’re lucky, photographer-extraordinaire Jessica Keener might be around to capture the magic.

On “Pure” Follows and Leads

Have you ever danced with a guy who runs over all your moves while he mostly stares at the floor to contemplate the next sequence he’s planning? Or have you danced with a follow who has a glazed look on her face as she stares vaguely over your right shoulder, and she barely does more than a swivel when you lead six swing outs in a row?

Pure follows and leads are boring.

We’ve all danced with these people. But more importantly, we’ve all been these people. The Invested Follow and the Responsive Lead are important concepts because they encourage us to pay attention to each other while we dance. And that’s awesome.

In all the leads I’ve danced with, I’ve never come across one who said “Please don’t throw in your own variations – I was planning something!” Even when I dance with beginners, they love when I throw variations or influence the next movement – I mean, they’re often confused and sometimes intimidated, but they want me to contribute because it’s another way to learn and, most important of all, it’s fun.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that when you have an Invested Follow and a Responsive Lead, magic happens. You might not know who initiated every move, but amazing things come when both participants take an active role in the dance.

I’m going to stop here because I’m pretty sure the horse is dead, and we can stop beating it with sticks (meaning, I’m pretty sure every blogger has spoken about this to some degree – and in fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about it myself). The bottom line? The roles might be defined, but the amount you contribute to and influence the dance is directly related to your active participation.

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  One thought on “Connection Magic: the Invested Follow and the Responsive Lead

  1. Evin
    27 July 2013 at 7:29 am

    Good job, Cari. It’s a good start to what I consider the lead/follow partnership to be, and thanks for taking the idea and playing with it yourself!

  2. Jon Tigert
    29 July 2013 at 4:10 pm

    What’s wrong with 6 basic swing outs in a row? You making fun of my dancing?!

    • 30 July 2013 at 3:26 am

      Jon, this is how I feel about dancing only swing outs with you:

  3. 29 July 2013 at 4:47 pm

    This is the best-written article I’ve read on the subject. Most of the others just made me mad. The horse is dead, but you did a good job. Also, I’d never read your blog before, so this was a nice find.

  4. 29 July 2013 at 5:25 pm

    “But more importantly, we’ve all been these people.”
    –>Disagree. Not all of us have been those people.

    “In all the leads I’ve danced with, I’ve never come across one who said ‘Please don’t throw in your own variations – I was planning something!'”
    —>Then I think you’ve danced in a fantasyland, because there are definitely leads who don’t like it when a follow changes things up…it’s why we keep having conversations about sexism and gender equality in the dance. It’s also why some of us go to blues dances more, because there is more room for a follow’s voice within that culture.

    • 30 July 2013 at 5:19 am

      Thanks for your comment, fennablue!

      I was a little over-the-top using “we” to say that everyone has been a pure lead or follow at some point; I merely meant to point out that many people go through phases where they don’t pay attention to their partner while dancing.

      As for leads who get frustrated with follows who contribute their own variations – I stand by what I said, but I acknowledge that the reality is a bit deeper than I’ve covered here.

      First, I can’t comment much on Blues, since it’s not my dance of choice; however, I don’t think it’s useful to compare the way follows contribute in Lindy to the ways they contribute in Blues – to me, that’s like comparing a Dolphin and a Gorilla: they’re both awesome animals, but that’s about where the similarities stop.

      As far as Lindy Hop, I do believe that the vast majority of leads in the Lindy Community appreciate when a follow contributes to the dance her own personal flair, especially as the leads get more advanced; however, I also think leads appreciate it more when 1) the lead feels “heard” in that the follow responds to his lead and 2) the variations fit within the structure of the dance. Personally (as a woman who leads, so feminism is not an issue here), I find that when a follow bowls over my lead or ignores the structure of the dance, I am frustrated because I feel like she’s not dancing with me – it’s more like she’s solo dancing while attached to my arm, and my presence is unnecessary. But when a follow throws in her own thing and it contributes to or influences the next movement – well, that’s a blast.

      I have a lengthy response to the fact that you brought up feminism in this discussion, which I will not go into – but for me, this post is not about feminism but about how to have a good connection as either a lead or follow, no matter your gender.

  5. 29 July 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I came here to read this post (which I did) but then I realized you have notes for your classes and I was like OMG I’m glad someone else does this!!!

    • 30 July 2013 at 3:39 am

      Thanks! I’m glad to know, too!

  6. 30 July 2013 at 6:51 am

    Well that was simply and concisely put and as good an explanation as i’ve seen. The magic happens when both parties are investing and responding to each other whilst maintaining the essentials of their roles.

  7. Anonymous
    12 January 2015 at 9:08 pm

    I’m saddened that despite saying it’s not a gender issue but about connection, that you still gender the follow as “she” and the lead as “he” in your arguments – a simplication, sure, but it makes those outside of those roles feel unwelcome.

    • 12 January 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Thank you for your comment! I am sorry that it has potentially made you (or anyone else) feel unwelcome.

      I know that using s/he in my posts goes against many arguments for gender-neutral language. I personally disagree with many arguments for gender-neutral language, which I detail here. However, I recognize the subject is complex, and that there are many positive arguments for gender-neutral language. There’s a hopefully-mostly-unbiased post about that here.

      My use of gendered pronouns is a conscious choice. I try very hard to be inclusive of all genders and choices through my actions, but I do not believe there’s sense in denying gender as a factor in our lives (and our dancing).

      I hope you understand my reasons, even if you do not agree with them. I will try harder in the future to indicate my acceptance of all roles regardless of the pronouns I use.

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