8.9 On Leading American Style Ballroom Open Figures

Obviously in closed dance position, American smooth style ballroom dancing lead/follows are identical to International, and the technique is also identical. Many American dance positions are the same except for the man’s left/lady’s right hand positions, and the lead is the same here also. In “close shadow” position (the man and woman both facing forward, man behind and to the left, the lead here is STILL the same, since the bodies are in the same relative position except that the woman is turned around. Hand positions are different, but the man’s right elbow is in the same position as in closed hold. All these leads are “body leads” progressing (theoretically) from the floor, through the feet, legs, and center body, to the woman’s center body.

This same “body lead” progression works in the more open positions, except that if there is a hand to hand connection, the lead progresses from the man’s center body through his arms to the woman’s arms which are theoretically connected to her center body. The techniques here are similar to Latin (see below).

When the partners are completely apart, as in a free spin, the woman uses the indication from the man that led them apart as a guide to movement (how many turns, what direction, etc.) and does something within the logical structure of the dance in terms of rise/fall and rhythm. At the collection point, the man makes adjustments to the lady’s position, picks whatever part of the lady is handy, typically hand or hands or his right hand on her center body, attempts to connects the two bodies into one unit, and prepares to swing into the next figure. After the movement, the man has to figure out what happened, often “fake” to get on the proper foot, adjust his position to match the woman’s, and re-establish some sort of center body connection.

When the partners are apart for more than a measure or so (great fun socially) the leads are totally visual. Normally the woman follows the man, but in my case I am often following (i.e. chasing) my wife, and trying to match her movements until I re-establish contact. The entire process has been summed up as a continuing progression of:

  • The man suggests a movement (“leads”)
  • The lady does something she considers logical (“follows”)
  • The man adjust to her position (“figures out what happened”)
  • They both collect together (“back together”)

It is interesting to me that International Style dancers are very well trained in leading and following techniques as they apply to the myriad of positions and movements in Latin, but have no concept as to how apply similar ideas apply to smooth dance movements (which tend to be simpler). The techniques are the same, it’s only the type of movement that is different. If the bodies are connected in some logical fashion and the leader does a strong movement, like lowering and swinging the body, the follower gets the message, and amazingly enough, often does a similar complimentary movement.