I’ve Been Lying
But I’ve seen the error of my ways.
For years, I’ve told students it took me three years to learn to follow. Recently, I was having a conversation with a fellow dancer and realized: it took me three years (and a world class Argentine Tango dancer) to make me want to follow. The distinction, I discovered, is quite important and may help many follows out there. Because his lead was soooo undeniable, and sexy, and life changing — I never wanted to back-lead again. I wanted to feel that way in every man’s arms. (More on this later.) So I dove into following with an open heart and mind.
Once I did this, it was quite simple to learn to follow. Of course there’s technique that’s challenging, but once I had conquered the mountain of my mind…the hard part was over. I mentioned in my previous article, I had huge misconceptions about following. I thought it submissive. Less important than leading. Less fun.
I was wrong on all counts.
And if you’re reading this thinking, she doesn’t know what I’m dealing with — I have to back-lead or else we won’t dance! I’m here to tell you, your back-leading is the biggest obstacle to your (and your lead’s) dancing.
(For ease of read, from here on out I’m going to use the typical genders of leads as men and follows as women. Obviously, these roles are independent of gender and can be switched whenever parties are game. I just want people to fulfill the role they agreed to.)
Back to back-leading: it’s tantamount to him driving you somewhere in a car and you grabbing the wheel whenever you want. Needless to say: it’s Dangerous.
Or, using one of my favorite analogies of dance being a conversation, it’s like you’re cutting his Every Sentence off with your own opinions. How long would you want to talk to someone who did that?
Follows, we must give our leads a chance to say something. We must listen before we respond. And respond, we do! Then he listens to us. Then he responds. And the beautiful cycle of communication (and breathtaking movement) continues into eternity…or at least until the end of the song;)
Now maybe he’s really shy and can’t decide what he wants to say. Or maybe he’s confused and mumbling a bit. If we constantly step on his sentences, he’ll never learn to express himself. And ladies, don’t we love a man who can express himself? We must create a safe space for him to learn, and mess up, and smile anyway. Just like we parents (try to) do for our kids. Mistakes have to be okay, nay, encouraged, because they are a part of life.
You might be worried, “He’ll step on my toes!” Sorry to tell you this: but you’re never going to be a dancer without getting your toes stepped on occasionally. Once he learns not to do it, someone dancing beside you will (and it usually hurts more because you don’t see them coming…and they’re almost always wearing stilettos.) Consider it collateral damage. Accept it and move on. Dancing is worth it.
I am happy to tell you —toes heal! I usually forget about the infraction 15 seconds later. On the rarest of occasions, it’s taken 15 minutes to feel better. Pedicures can be repaired. Hurt egos when you yell at him, or show your disapproval, are much harder to fix. It can be done…it just takes a lot more courage and grace.
But Allison, he just stands there!? So stand with him. Let him find the beat. Or let him find what he wants to move to. Even if he’s offbeat. Maybe it’s artistic license?;) It’s better to dance together than play bumper cars the whole time ’cause you’re on rhythm and he’s off. Once you’re on his timing, encourage him to move in any direction and promise to do your best to follow him.
It’s going to take practice. Everything worth doing, does. It’s going to take patience. And kindness. And courage.
Still not convinced? Let me tell you why you want to follow. Because as the follow, you’re the priority. His goal is to make you feel like the most important woman in the room. (Which you are, for that song. Maybe longer:)
The common analogy here is, “You’re the picture. He’s the frame.”
I don’t know anyone who goes to a museum to look at picture frames. But I know lots of people who go to see the art work. My personal opinion is: what you create together is the work of art.❤ But let’s roll with the previous analogy for a moment. He’s trying to make you look your best. Period. If you back-lead, ergo you don’t accept his invitation(s), there’s little he can do.
Now you may titter, “Only I am responsible for looking my best.” And I agree. To a point. Which is why we practice on our own. To turn solidly. To shape in interesting ways. To move in a dynamic fashion.
For me, it doesn’t matter who my frame is… I’m’a look good. Because I bring my skill set to the table. But my greatest gift to my “frame” is that I fill the space he creates. I take the back step he asked me to — the way I want to take it. I turn the direction he asked me to — with the flirtatious or sexy or comical tone I want to add.
I fill the space he creates in any way I choose to decorate it.
And that’s the freedom and fun of following. If I want to slow down during a turn: I can. He needs to know how to listen too, for this to work; but when it does…wheeewww. It’s gettin’ hot in here!
And what most people don’t understand is the role of lead and follow is constantly switching. Like I said before: he invites, you accept (or don’t) and he proceeds from there. Every time the woman turns, the man becomes the follow — because she may turn differently this time. She may not travel like she usually does. She may be dizzy. She may not finish the turn. The lead follows the follow through space during those moments.
There’s a saying in Ballroom dancing: the person going forward is the one driving. Which means: follows, we don’t sit on our stilettos and make him do all the work. We have to show up. Push into the floor. Engage our center. We have to be 50% of the partnership. Which is also the fun of following. Instead of thinking, “Ugh. I have to do what he wants.” Think, “Watch how amazing my 50% can be!”
It’s an opportunity!! Let’s seize it.
And gentlemen, leading is a privilege. One I hope you honor enough to work on. Group classes are great. But group classes aren’t to learn to dance. Group classes are to get you to fall in love with dancing, so you take private lessons to get better. Try one with a local, legit, professional. It should change your life. (And, if you put the time and effort in, the life (or night;) of each follow you dance with.)
Now for the painful truth. The final, and scariest, aspect of following…
It takes an amount of trust most people never give. Yes, you have to trust the man you said yes to dancing with. You realize there may be some hurt toes and maybe scratched shoes (ladies, I’ve never liked a pair of shoes more than my chosen dance partner). You’re aware of the risks and you take them anyway. (Sounds like Love, right?:)
But here’s what most follows don’t realize: it’s really trust in yourself, you need.
Unfortunately, something many of us struggle with. Well, No More! You have to trust your legs will support you. Or that you’ll heal quickly if they falter;) You have to trust in your ability to hear him. Or listen until you do. You have to trust in your ability to be Art people want to see. And you all are, ladies. You all are.
My skill level is not defined by the lead I’m dancing with. Yes, it took an amazing lead to enlighten me — and I hope you have the same experience one day. Until then, fight the urge to use that ol’ crutch, “I can follow a good lead.” Of course it’s easier. But your guy may just be beginning. And you have the opportunity to give him a gift. Try this one instead, “I can follow.”
So, next time you find yourself cringing at the thought of following: Surrender your ego. Release your fear. Say goodbye to your impatience. Say Hello! to your utter grace and beauty.
Embrace him, and all his flaws — as he will do for you — and trust.
Now reread this article and pretend it’s talking about relationships/life in general. Life really is a dance;)
See you on the hardwood❤