There is this thought that’s been eating at the back of my brain for a while…
If you hadn’t noticed, I go out social dancing a lot. I find it to be a good way to practice things while also getting to have fun and meet new people at the same time. Even though I like to attend and perform in competitions, I would consider myself more of an “advanced social dancer” rather than a “competitive dancer” if people were to ask me. There are good things and bad things that come with being advanced. One of the good things, as I’m sure many of you have experienced, is that you can go out to general dance parties or to dance clubs (i.e. non-ballroom style events) in public and look way cooler dancing than most anyone else there. It works really well when you get invited to weddings and women seek you out to beg you to take them out on the dance floor, certainly boosting your confidence whenever it happens. Then there’s the bad side – being more advanced, you end up knowing a lot of things that your dance partners may not, so you never really know what figures will work if you don’t know what they know. When I go out to parties at other ballroom studios, I often dread the mixer dances because I never know if the things I have learned translate to the things that all the women there have learned. Just consider the simple fact that I spent most of my dance life learning how to dance the American Smooth and Rhythm styles, so those are the styles I default to during most songs that come on. Most people I’ve run into while out on dance field trips have studies International Standard and Latin, so there is a bit of a disconnect between the way I usually dance and the way they do. During these situations, I usually stick with the same four or five figures that I feel are safe to assume that everyone knows.
Through the training I have had, much of how I learned to lead is based on a light touch – using the subtleties of certain muscle movements to show the lady I’m dancing with to what I am trying to do. That’s the way Sir Steven does things (many of the ladies who have danced with him have told me this), and I’ve learned most things I know from him, so it would make sense that that is what has been imparted to me. When I first started dancing, I never ventured outside of Land of the Loft, my first dance home. I would go to the Friday night social dances and wander around and dance anything with anyone at the party because we all took the same classes and knew the all the same moves. The subtle movements I would use to lead people during these parties worked very well, since we all learned the dance styles using the same syllabus so we all knew what figures we would choose from when dancing together. Lately, since I’ve been going on lots of dance field trips to all corners of the Dance Kingdom and I’ve been taking lessons and classes at different dance halls, I end up running into lots of ladies that have learned to dance using very different syllabi than I have. Because of this, I run into issues where I will attempt to lead things, and the lady cannot follow and end up doing a completely different figure than I am. I’ve been trying to figure out why this has been coming up more and more. Is it because I am trying to lead with such a light touch, or is it that the ladies never learned the figures that I know?
As I was struggling with the possibility that my leading style may be the problem, I decided to go talk to someone who is a much better leader about my concern. I explained my thoughts on the issue to him. He processed a moment before imparting his usual sage advice. “A light touch to direct the movements of those who cede their power to you is a good way to be a leader, even if the follower doesn’t always do what you are trying to do. Though you want them to do what you tell them to, your follower should still be free to make the choice between what you are doing, and what she wants to do. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings. Never fault your follower for making her own choices.”
I smile and nod thoughtfully. He’s right, of course. Dancing like this is meant to be a partnership, not an exercise in me imposing my will on another person. Still, it is frustrating sometimes when you are trying to do something and everything goes horribly wrong. Maybe when that happens, I need to stop, reset, and explain to my partner what I was trying to do so that the next time I attempt the figure, it works the way I was expecting.
“Why take that risk, dude? Making sure she does what you want is much more righteous!”
A voice rings out from behind us, heralding the approach of another figure of great leadership. His identity is shrouded in mystery, since he is wearing a blue mask, but he seems so recognizable, and his vocabulary is littered with that familiar slang that was popular in the ‘90s. I was in awe, suddenly being in the presence of these two great figures that I have trusted for so many years.
The newcomer continued, “You are certainly more muscular than every girl you’ve danced with so far, bro. If you are having trouble getting all these new ladies you are meeting to follow you, why not flex those muscles more? Ladies would have a hard time doing a different figure than you if you use your strength to put her into the place you want. Think about how radical that would be!”
His exuberance is contagious, so I tried seeing things his way for a moment. I have certainly met Dance Lords during my travels that take this approach when they lead. Lord Fabulous is one such dancer. Many of the ladies at the Land of the Loft have told me that he is the type that will push them through things they don’t know when they are dancing with him. Heck, I’ve gone through that myself when he has danced with me to demonstrate figures during our coaching sessions. That ended one day when I made sure to demonstrate that I was a lot bigger and stronger than he was, and if he was going to dance with me he was going to have to follow what I was doing.
The big rig, sensing what I was thinking, stopped my train of thought. “Do you remember dancing with others who ‘learned’ their steps by being forced through them? Without someone pushing them through, they cannot dance those steps because they have never had to truly learn what to do. If you want to help people learn, don’t bite off more than you can shred. Show them deftly where you want them to go, but do not pressure them to obey. They will appreciate you more if they feel like they know what they are doing.”
“Shyeah right!” The green one back flipped over to us. “Think about how excited she would feel if you totally get her to do crazy-awesome moves, even if she’s never seen them anywhere else! She doesn’t care if she actually knows what she’s doing. She really cares about how many people are jealous because of how cool she looks while dancing with you!”
The two of them kept “discussing” their conflicting philosophies, one with the calm and calculated demeanor wrought from countless millennia of navigating conflict, the other with a great helping of contagious youthful enthusiasm. I walked away, deep in thought, with these two leadership styles still arguing heatedly behind me. I can’t say which one that I side with more on this particular point. There is something to be said about how women respond better to a light touch to show them what you want to do as opposed to bearing down on them. Sometimes, especially when I end up dancing with some of the Dance Ladies that I’ve met throughout my travels, I am afraid to use more than the slightest touch because of how tiny these women are. Then again, some people really struggle with their steps. Even in some of the group classes I have been a member of, there are ladies that have a hard time figuring out where they should be during the figures, so flexing my might a bit more and making sure they end up where they are supposed to no matter what steps they might take does bring a certain measure of results to the class.
Which is a better route to take?
Maybe there really isn’t one that is better than the other. Maybe both a light touch and a forceful hand are needed to work with the plethora of dance partners I will run into through my travels and studies. I still think that my default setting is always going to be to use the subtle movements of my body to direct the dance, since most often I practice with the same few dance partners and they would all know the figures I would choose from. But I can imagine situations where using some strength to direct her movements would be helpful if she doesn’t know the figures that I am trying to lead. As long as I can be forceful without hurting anyone, is that really a bad route to take?
To really answer this, I would probably have to go back in time and major in philosophy in college. Dance philosophy. And with the cost of college tuition continuing to rise, that’s not likely to happen.
Thanks for indulging my crazy thoughts for a week. I promise there will be more actual dancing next week!