This is a longer response to Marian’s question on my last post. I had made a comment about Hilde and her tendency to anticipate but I used the phrase “despite that”, she was one of the more talented female dancers at our little studio.
That prompted this response from Marian.
Does her liking to lead affect her ability to follow? I inquire because I’m curious about how gentlemen tend to feel about ladies who lead. Threatened? Impressed? Resentful? Supportive? I know you cannot speak for your entire gender, but I welcome anything you wish to share.
I realize that I may have misinterpreted her original question so let me answer one version of it right away. If you are talking about a lady being a leader like at a group class or leading another lady at a party, there is really no issue there. I used a lady leading a lady since most guys don’t want to learn the follow parts but a lot of ladies seem to like learning the lead. And, just learning to lead creates no problems.
What I was referring to was when a lady anticipates what the man is trying to do and beats him to it. In Hilde’s case, she did both. At the end, when the gender numbers didn’t match, she did the guys part at a couple of groups. But she’s also notorious for doing her own thing and not paying attention to what is being lead. This may not be what Marian was after but since she said she’d welcome anything I wish to share, that’s my opening to provide a rambling response.
As I said in the response, it is more anticipating rather than leading. The most classic example of this is doing an open break to an underarm turn which comes up in a lot of dances. The lady is supposed to wait for the man to trigger it by raising his arm. A lot of women know it is coming and simply start their turn before the man has a chance to raise his arm. There are certainly other examples but it comes down to the lady deciding what she is going to do on her own and starting the move before the man has given any sort of signal.
There are certainly other things that would qualify that are less of an issue. Take my example from above. If the man is tentative and doesn’t raise his arm high enough, a lady may push his arm up to give herself some room. That is still the lady taking the cue from the man but clarifying the signal. And, I won’t talk about the type of back-leading that most good female pros can do to subtly direct you or keep you on time. Their job is to make you look good and so adding a helping hand from time to time isn’t really a problem.
How do men feel about this? Well I could say unscientifically that the vast majority of arguments couples have are around lead/follow. Mostly it boils down to the man saying “you didn’t go where I wanted you to” and the lady saying “well you didn’t lead it”. There are of course other variations but it all comes down the man expecting the lady to do one thing and she does something completely different. But she doesn’t give him the Monte Python tag line “and now for something completely different” which would probably make most men laugh and more forgiving. (Oh dear, I’ve gotten off track here – my inner quirkiness coming through) To get back to the point, I would clearly say that most men would not be impressed or supportive in that situation. Most are frustrated or ticked off that the lady didn’t do what they wanted her to do.
Now, to be completely fair, this can be either person’s fault or it can be a joint effort. Lead/follow can be very subtle and there are so many steps that are very similar so a man leading one may give the lady an unintentional false signal to cause her to do something else. And, he may not be skilled enough in the lead and his lead is too soft and she really doesn’t feel it (this I have been accused of in the past). So she just guesses what he wants and hopes for the best. I’ve also had situations where Z or Kid T suddenly veers into someone else’s routine. They just get on autopilot because many of the routines will have similar steps at some point but they branch in different directions. The good thing is that when they do that, they’ve typically apologized and made it clear it was not me.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, if you don’t feel a lead, then you should say so rather than just making something up. Granted, it will likely lead to an argument but even when you guess right, you aren’t helping the man truly learn to lead. A lot of us end up having a few steps we simply enjoy doing and it can be easy to guess our patterns and just anticipate but then you are letting the man get lazy and that doesn’t help him become a better dancer.
When we were at the other studio on Friday, the instructor said something really interesting. I wish I could remember it exactly but he called it something like the 47/3 rule meaning that in the beginning, the guy has 47 things to remember and the lady has only 3. I didn’t have a voice recorder to remember what those three things were but he was using that to make the point that the lady should focus on just those three things. Having written this, I wish I had remembered more because it doesn’t make much sense to me now and I can see why ladies may want to help. I think he was trying to say that you shouldn’t which I did agree with.
In answer to the basic question, does it impact her ability to follow, the simple answer is “yes” and it has a huge impact. There is a Michael Jackson quote that goes something like “the worst thing a dancer can do is think, you have to feel”. When you are anticipating, you are thinking. You are thinking about what the next move is and what your feet need to do and how you need to move. You aren’t reacting to what the guy is doing. You aren’t FEELING what he is doing. Just my opinion, but then it isn’t so much dancing as it is two people doing separate parts. Dancing is a union. It is two coming together and merging as one. You get the subtle (and perhaps not so subtle) clues and react to them and the moves flow seamlessly from one to the next to the next. This is another one of those situations where I truly lack the words to explain the difference but, trust me, there is a huge difference in how it feels. And there is a huge difference in how it looks. I’ve seen couples struggle down the floor when both people are trying to drive. It can be cringeworthy when the guy does “x” and the lady does “y” and there is that moment when you know something has gone horribly wrong. Sometimes, you can fix it and sometimes you are both just stopped in your tracks and having to start over.
I’ve been lucky at some of the events to dance with ladies who were good followers. Most of them hadn’t seen me dance and had no idea what moves I was going to do next but, when it is done right, there are none of the awkward moments and it just feels right. (There I go with those feeling again!)
I happen to think lead/follow is one of the harder things to learn. As the guy on Friday said, it is done with the body and not the arms which is the mistake most guys make as they are starting. It requires the proper poise (forward for rhythm) and a good, solid connection that doesn’t waver. Keeping in the right position and keeping the connection is difficult and avoiding the temptation to arm someone into position is also hard. Likewise, I suspect it can be very hard from the ladies side to just let go and not think as much about their next step but to try and feel what the man is attempting to communicate. But, if it was easy, then everyone would do it. The non verbal communication that goes on that creates a real dance and a real partnership is truly important. Anticipating and back leading may help you get through a particularly rough partner but it really doesn’t help either of you advance. OK, I’ll get off my soap box now.
Ladies, if you want to learn to lead, go for it. I don’t have an issue with that at all. Don’t expect too many men to want to learn to follow though. Sorry, but most of us just aren’t wired that way. But, when you are the follower, don’t try to lead!