9.7 On What To Lead When Social Dancing

“*Do not do aerials on the social dance floor, especially with a dancer that does not know the aerial. THIS INCLUDES DIPS. Remember, people have bad backs. If you’re going to dip, be cautious.”

Aerials are something that you need to practice separately first, and with a spotter who knows what he’s doing. I originally learned aerials by flipping over the gymnastics horse. We used the springboard for the horse at first to get the idea, then went to a flat-footed start after we’d developed some height. We were using the horse to make sure we got _high_ enough for the move to work.

Since I learned aerials as part of the basic gymnastics taught in school, I’m not sure my method is the optimal one for someone who’s never done much tumbling. But the main thing is that the _woman_ is providing almost all the force in this move. You do _not_ want to pull on her. When you both get the timing down right, it looks like you’re slinging her around. Same idea as the move where it looks like the guy picks the woman up and tosses her into a backflip. The man is mostly acting as a spotter, keeping her flight path in the right place. The woman is the one providing the momentum.

When I go out social dancing I follow a few rules of thumb.

    The idea is for both you and your partner to have fun for the given dance.

  • I only lead steps that I have mastered to a certain degree. It is not fun for your partner to try and follow a step that is led poorly. So don’t do it. Save it for practice.
  • For each of the dances I dance frequently I have a repertoire of a number of basic (or very leadable/ followable) steps. I also have a few fancy steps but I only use them when:
      I can lead them well.

    • I think the follower can handle them.
    • and everything else has gone smoothly.

    If all of the above is true I might throw in a fancy step. Usually only one per dance. If done right it will make a good impression and leave a good feeling. So the “balance I am advocating” is do the basic steps because you do them well. If conditions are right do a fancy step but there is no need to over do it. One done really well will be more fun and make a better impression than any number done poorly. This will leave your partner with a good or at least neutral feeling. Which is much better than a bad feeling. I mean you do want her to dance with you again, right? Over time you will acquire enough basic steps and fancy steps to make a dance interesting to a wide variety of partners. Simple perfection is so much better than clumsy complexity.

Leaders, do not start with your most complicated patterns – start dancing basics. Once you feel your partner is connected and following well then try to do more advanced variations (if there is enough free space).

“*If a follower misses a lead or falls behind, you can just keep the beat for an extra few beats until the follower gets her balance back and is grounded again.” Followers should come out on time and be ready to accept my Lead, but the considerate leader will notice if his follower gets off time and will wait for her to catch up, skipping a beat or two if necessary.

“*If the follower is not responsive to a lead for a particular figure, do a different one and show the person that figure after the dance. A poor leader will force the follower through the figure. A good leader will compensate.” Leaders are in sort of a schizophrenic position. On the one hand, they’re The Authority and You Shall Do What We Lead. On the other hand, they want to please, not only to make you happy but to make you want to dance with them again. A good Leader follows almost as much as he leads. While it is technically the guy’s job to lead, it’s also his job to stay with the woman if she misinterprets his lead or just screws up (meaning that it’s the leader responding to the follower’s actions, instead of the other way around). A good leader also doesn’t lead moves that are unreasonable for his current follower. Leaders: 1. Dance within your limitations if your partner is your equal or better; 2. Dance within your partner’s limitations if she’s not as skilled as you. Likewise ladies, if you try something and get a shocked look from the leader, cut it out. It is equally wrong to repeat something that disorients the leader.

“*Know the difference between West Coast Swing and East Coast Swing. The two dances are different and mixing styles often leads to developing bad habits in the other style. There are similarities and many motions can be used in both, however, doing West Coast style East Coast Swing muddles up leads and can really throw off a leader’s timing. That is, the follower should always be right with the leader maintaining the connection. Further, a follower can get thrown off by being in the slot sometimes and not being in the slot, etc.”

Skippy Blair asked a great question once: Q: When two people are dancing together and they have different styles, whose responsibility is it to adapt to the other, the man or the woman? A: In a social situation, whichever one is aware that there IS a difference and can make the adjustment should adapt. But if that dancer is paying for instruction, they should be corrected. Then the student and their partners don’t have to do so much adapting.

So you just asked someone to dance but to your dismay, you find that this person cannot lead/follow anything – he/she’s so heavy to lead that you FEEL that you just want to STOP – in your mind, your dancing (as a couple) looks awful – and in spite of all these, he/she seems to be enjoying herself! What do you do?

Dance is a SOCIAL activity. Which means, it is more important to socialize than to dance perfectly every time. Keep in mind that not everyone is interested in becoming good. For some, it is enough to just get up and do some vague moves, more or less in time with the music.

Everybody has to start somewhere. Where would you be if more advanced dancers refused to dance with you when you started out? Where would any of us be? When I started I was so bad that I didn’t even know I didn’t know, if you follow my meaning.

If your partner is below your level, dance at his/her level. Stick to basic, change of places, fallaway-throwaway, etc. At the end of the song thank her and take her back to the table. You are not required to do more than one song.

Finally, how you LOOK dancing with someone, whether it’s in your mind, or very real, is totally irrelevant (unless you are so insecure – or so vain – that you care what people think about how you look for ONE song!) If you are kind and generous, she may realize how little she knows and start practicing. Who knows, one day she may be better than you and you’ll wait in line for a chance to dance with her. If you are mean, she may stop dancing completely; she may go around saying things like “dancers are such snobs” etc. and that is a loss to the entire dance community.

Followers: “*Don’t anticipate.” Just be responsive.