Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Followers! Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear From Your Leader (but were afraid to ask!)

So Ladies! This is your turn to get some feedback from your leaders. The comments below are generalizations of what I have heard from leaders, as well as my own experiences as a leader. This is written in the spirit of increasing awareness and opening a dialogue - both here and hopefully between you and other dancers. After all, we can't fix what we are unaware of!


Guys like to look like they have it all under control - and when they start this dance, they usually feel totally out of their element.

Followers - please, be patient with your leader - especially the newer guys (and by that I mean, anyone with less than a year's experience). Most come in feeling that they have 2 left feet (and some seem to be right!), and many come in worried that they will "look stupid". Many want to look like Jordan Frisbee overnight and they find it frustrating when they realize that it's just not happening this week (or month, or year!). They see other guys who they feel make it look sooo easy to lead and they forget that that guy was likely just as awkward and uncoordinated when he started and he's been dancing for several years or more.

Just as I mentioned to the leaders in my last blog that it is their job to adjust their lead to the followers abilities, so we followers must consider the abilities of the beginner leader while he is in the early stages of learning this dance. I have had a leader say to me that a follower "sabotaged" his dance (when she was likely doing her version of adding styling and perhaps back leading a bit), another that said that he felt that "x" follower didn't like dancing with him because she kept making faces (and I understand, when we are trying to figure things out, it often shows!), and another who basically called the instructor to tell her he was quitting EVERY WEEK for 6 months because he thought he would never get it (and THANKFULLY he is still dancing with us today because the instructor kept encouraging him to stick with it!).

My basic rule of thumb with a real, raw beginner is to tell him that I am really happy to follow the two moves he just learned for a whole dance (and I MEAN IT!) . I explain that I understand it is not easy, and I tell him that we all started where he is, and I am happy to just let him practice with me because I really, truly want him to learn the dance so I have more leaders to play with in the future. I keep my follow simple (as doing ANY styling will often get you a deer-in-the-headlights response at this point) and I make it a point to SMILE a lot! Afterwards, go ask another follower to ask him to dance - the new guys are often scared to ask anyone at that point and it is our job to put them at ease and show them that we really appreciate the effort they are making.

As the leader starts to get better, you can add a *little* styling, but if you see that it really throws them off, tone it down a little. If they ask you for help, unless you actually lead yourself, your best bet is to find the instructor and ask them to help him (and you act as the dance dummy for him). You can say "I don't lead myself, and I don't want to give you bad information, so lets find "X" and see if he/she can help us figure it out". After that, if you are dancing later, you can let him know when he is getting it right that you can feel the difference - let him know that you noticed! Encouragement and positive feedback in these early stages goes a loooong way with our leaders!

2) LEADERS LOVE IT WHEN YOU LOOK AT THEM AND SMILE! : Take it from someone who has had to teach herself to smile - I know it isn't easy sometimes when we are concentrating...but if you look like you are having fun, a leader will forgive you a lot more if you miss a move, or if he has to work harder to help you through a move (because you have your own stuff to work on!). Don't be afraid to flirt a little - this IS a flirty dance! As Angelique Early told our dancers in one workshop, "Fall in Love" with your partner for that 3 1/2 make him the center of your attention, let him know that you are having fun, and forgive his mistakes (after all, you are probably making a few yourself!). Fun followers with flaws get more dances than self-centered, pouty ones that make faces when the leader goofs up (and then proceeds to tell him what he is doing wrong).

3) DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK THEM TO DANCE: Many ladies come to this dance from other dance communities where the leaders are the ones who search out a partner. Or we have women come in who just assume that the guys will ask them. Then I hear complaints that "No-one is asking me to dance".  The WCS world is an equal-opportunity community - we encourage followers to ask the leaders to dance too! You will find that once you become more pro-active you will also get more people asking you to dance. Why? Because you will be seen on the floor and like it or not, people in general will normally ask familiar faces first. Yes - there are some who seek out the newbies, but trust me - it's just a human condition to seek out people who you are already comfortable with. It's nothing personal if you find yourself sitting in a corner with no-one asking you to dance - it's more likely that you just are not being noticed because of your location and body language. If you just can't bring yourself to ask the leaders, then at least stand up near the dance floor as a song is ending, and smile and tap your feet, and ACT  like you WANT to dance! Make eye contact with the leader you are hoping to dance with as he comes off the floor. Just as we ladies learn in relationships, guys can't read our minds. Let him KNOW you want to dance with him!!!!

Also, if you see a new guy, go ask him to dance. Yes - you  might do side passes for 3 1/2 minutes, but just keep remembering point # 1 above! It is in our best interests to encourage them!!!!

4) FOLLOW THE LEADER: This is a difficult point to discuss, as following has so many different aspects and nuances that are hard to explain. But I will do my best to give you some points to think about.

First, the number 1 rule of following is WAIT! This is easier said than done, especially for beginners. We are taught the moves first, rather than how to dance. So it is easy to just see the leader start to move in the general direction of a move you know and to then just start a move that seems to fit that visual cue. Often followers don't even begin to really get the concept of what true following entails for months, or even years after they start dancing. Yet this is where the true magic of partnered dancing lies - in the ability of the follower to settle in the anchor (on the 6-and-a) and wait that milli-second longer before taking her "1" - and THEN in being able to stay that fraction of a second behind the lead.

WCS patterns are like legos - we take bits of one pattern and incorporate it with bits of another pattern. So basically every 2 beats you can be going into a different pattern than the one that you started on. This is where beginners get really confused, as they have not been exposed to enough patterns and pattern combinations to really understand that, in the end, there are no set-in-stone patterns once you start to dance! It is this ability to be flexible and creative with your partner that has hooked so many of us in to this dance. So - what can you do to increase your "follow-ability"?

One of my favorite things is to dance with someone I totally trust (and who preferably is a really clear lead), and ask them to lead me in basic moves. Then I shut my eyes (as we can subconsciously follow what we see easier than what we feel), and tune in to what I am feeling. At first, you may get off balance and you may have trouble with trusting the process, but keep trying, even if you have to open your eyes every few seconds at first. Concentrate on allowing yourself to totally settle onto and over your left leg at the end of each pattern in a relaxed manner, and wait to feel the lead. Several things can be fixed with this exercise - if you normally take large steps, you will likely find yourself not striding as far -  self preservation keeps us a little "cautious" here...which in turn actually helps us stay behind the lead! In compression moves, you are likely to actually go into compression as you won't visually stop yourself. You will start to feel more of the nuances of what the leader is doing and how it affects you. Do this for one song every time you dance, and you will likely start to find that your dance begins to change a lot as you learn to relax and trust both yourself and your leader.

Privates are another great way to work on this. Many of you take lots of workshops yet never take a private, but in truth, this is something that you are unlikely to really master without at least some one-on-one time with a professional. Yes - I know - most of you may just want to be social dancers, but at the same time, I hope you want to at least get to a point of proficiency where your follow is somewhat light and yet leadable! And the better you are, the fuller your dance card will be! There are many ways to take privates without it breaking the bank. I often ask someone to split a private with me....we both get something out of the time and we can also provide each other feedback in the days and weeks after while we are working on what we learned. To further reduce costs, you can ask the Pro if they will do "mini-group" privates, where 4-6 people split the hour. Again, you will have some one-on-one time with the Pro AND you get several people to practice with for feedback.

If a leader does a move and you totally miss it, you CAN ask him to lead it again. Sometimes that is all it will take for you to "get" the move. If not, then perhaps you can find your instructor and ask him/her what you are missing. (Note to Leaders: this is NOT an invitation for a 30 minute lesson! It is an invitation for you to lead the move again, and to perhaps to make sure you are being very clear in your lead the second time around.You can give a few suggestions about where you are trying to get them to go, and no more. If they don't get it, then either you need to fix your lead or they are just not ready for that move. Either way, it is your cue to not lead it again with that partner!).

I can assure you, if you can really work on this, your leaders will thank you by asking you for many more dances. Why? Because it takes a lot out of us if we are continually having to change and adjust the patterns that we are intending to lead because you, the follower, have (usually unwittingly) put yourself in a place where we cannot execute the next part of the move. In my last blog I told the leaders we have Cruise Control, Power Steering, and Power Brakes. It is up to US to make sure we do our best to make it easy for them to lead us with minimal effort.

The bottom line is that this dance is a PARTNERED dance - partnerships assume that all parties do their best to assume responsibility for their role in the partnership. Yes, most of us are social dancers, and that is often interpreted as "I only need to learn some basics and nothing more". Well, yes, you are within your rights to assume that, but honestly, if you went to a parking lot and told you could drive any car you wanted, wouldn't you pick the Ferrarri over the Army-version of a Jeep? So the more you can do to keep learning and growing, the more people will want to dance with you...even if it is slow progress, we all recognize and appreciate it when someone has improved their dancing. That, combined with a genuine smile will do wonders to keep your dance card full.

Oh - and to both leaders and followers - if your partner does something that you think is really cool, LET THEM KNOW! I was at a dance last weekend, and the most popular leader was not the biggest pro, it was a guy who smiled and said "Niiiice!" when the follower did something that he thought was cool or sexy. This goes both ways. Show your appreciation when you think your partner does something great and/or if you recognize that they have improved their dance. Not only will that get you more dances, it earns you brownie points in WCS heaven :)