Learning to follow, is just as important an art as learning to lead. It's always been said that behind every great man is a great woman. And although the man is the head of the household, the woman is the neck that turns the head. In this 21st century, it's best said, that behind every great leader is a great follower. Even though the leader is "in charge" on the dance floor, the follower should keep in mind the "air quotes" used previously.
This equates to the follower being an active part in the partnership. Although there can only be one leader at a time, it does not mean that you "just have to follow". In addition, most followers use the line- "I can follow, as long as I have a good lead". The same can be said in reverse. So which came first the lead or the follow?
While you ponder that question, let's take a deeper look at the three tools you will use as a follower.
- HOLD YOURSELF. Ever try to pick up a child when they don't want to be picked up? It's one of the hardest things in the world to do. On the contrary, it's the easiest to do when they pull themselves onto you using their muscles. Dancing is exactly the same. A follower that holds themselves is much easier to move, than a follower that doesn't. Be sure to lift your frame up when connecting with the partner. The frame should rest lightly on the leader and press forward as oppose to downward. Try this the next time you dance, and you'll notice a longer line of leaders wanting to dance with you.
- As an exercise, hold a rod or broomstick, chest high, shoulder width apart. The light rod will create a natural resistance the longer you hold it. The goal here, is to keep your frame, and the rod, up for a lengthy period of time. Next, try dancing to an entire song. The longer you do it, the stronger your frame will become.
- CONNECT YOURSELF. In a previous blog, I wrote about connecting to your partner as a leader. The connection for the follower will be the same. The only difference is, the follower will focus more on the reaction time to what the leader decides to do, rather than creating a lead.
Think for a moment, the time it takes for you to react to a person offering to shake hands. Or lifting their hand to give you a high five. I would imagine you react within seconds, right? Following is similar. We all have the ability to follow and it can be one of the most rewarding things. Being in the passenger seat sometimes is more relaxing than being the driver.
- Just like the exercise we did earlier, as you hold the rod, have a leader hold onto the rod in front of you. Keeping a forward pressure, allow the leader to move. Focus on feeling the direction of the leader and move your body into that direction. The goal here is to focus on your response time. Have the leader move in different directions as you respond to where they are going. Your reaction time will get faster the longer you do it.
- MOVE YOURSELF. To quote the great John Clark, "to follow, is to partner. And partnering requires effort." As an etiquette, when someone opens the door, they are inviting you to step across. They don't pull or push you across the threshold. At least not most of the time. Just like in dancing, when the lead is given, your job is to take yourself there. You can't wait for your partner and expect them to push you into the direction. So the first rule when following, is to move your body when the leaders give direction.
- For the last exercise, we'll practice on how we move our bodies on our own. Start by practicing a sequence of patterns. It could be a routine created by you or your instructor. The goal is to get the body to move fluidly from one position to the next on balance. If it's a rhythm dance, work on your body action and hip motion. If it's a smooth dance, work on length and size of step. The more you practice this, the better you will be when you actually dance with a partner.
Following allows you the comfort of NOT being in charge. That's right, I said NOT. Most think, to be in the drivers seat is king. However, it's nice to go along for a ride. Think of it like a roller coaster. You get on with the expectation of having a good time. Sometimes it's bumpy, sometimes it's smooth. Sometimes it's fun. Sometimes it's not. But, you still get a ticket to ride, regardless of the outcome. I realize not being in charge may be harder for some more than others, however, following is a skill that everyone should learn. One thing you do know for sure. It's always an adventure.