We have been taking dance lessons for a couple of months now, and besides being incredibly fun and adding so much to our relationship and life, there are many interesting lessons in learning to dance together.
You may have heard that in ballroom or latin dancing one of the partners has to lead, and the other follows. That’s really a cardinal rule and when it doesn’t work it looks a bit like two robots whose dance step programs are the same but executed slightly out of sync.
In principle leading or following your partner sounds quite straightforward, but how does it work in practice? How does one communicate to the other what’s supposed to happen next, and does that in a way so the result looks smooth and elegant?
“Telling” them can work as a heads-up, as in “let’s do a Promenade”, but that is fraught because when exactly the Promenade begins is still up to the person who leads. Most of the time during a dance communicating verbally is out of the question anyway because things have to happen too quickly.
So the only other way is by “touch”, which requires that the partners connect in the right way using the proper “dance frame” and then the partner who leads has to use their body in a way that sends clear and immediate signals to the partner who follows.
Many beginners “lead with their legs” because that’s the part of your body that seems to be involved in most of the action and requiring most of your attention while dancing, but really the leading and communicating have to be done with the upper body, because that’s normally the only part the partner who follows connects with, via the dance frame.
Leading carries a lot of responsibility, because in order to communicate your intentions clearly you need to know exactly where you want to go and how you want to get there. A split second of wavering in your focus and resolve leads to tangled feet and stepped-on toes (personal experience again!).
Also as the “leader” you have to make sure that your partner can trust you to know all the right moves and that you will communicate them clearly so they can do their job, and follow.
The person who follows has to be focused on the communication and attuned to their partner so they can respond immediately and in sync, and of course they have to know all their steps too. Most importantly they need to trust that the “leader” will do all the right things, because without complete trust they will simply execute their own steps, which may be the same but not executed in sync – see the dancing robots again!
Something else that becomes abundantly clear when you dance is that following is much an art as leading is, and contributes to the same extent to a successful dance.
How clear are your communications, and how focused and instantaneous? Are you really “leading with your legs”? How much do you trust and how responsive are you? What is YOUR “dance frame”?