Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Nothing Good Comes Out of Wing"

Or so says Jeff, the sage.

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz
Hovers: 1 shaky one

After a good work out and yet still tired from the festivities of the holiday yesterday, Jeff and I approached our practice session with a bit of grim resolve after last week and the weekend. We skipped the round, did a little lazy rumba, and went into our focused waltz practice. I suggested the fallaway-reverse-slip-pivot into double reverse into another fallaway reverse sandwich section. That part is really inconsistent for us, sometimes it's okay, and sometimes it's really out of sync, and sometimes I kick Jeff, so in general it's not reliable.

Jeff has this theory that he's been trying to express to me lately about how my mindset is entirely wrong as a follow. He said that essentially I should not be worrying about fixing things I'm doing to accommodate or fit to the lead, but instead should simply, well...follow. My frustration is that this is very easy to say, but it's kind of hard to work on your problems by just, well...following. It's not that simple. For me, learning to do the steps correctly means learning how to execute them most effectively within a given point of reference, namely, the lead. Obviously that reference point will change as the lead himself changes, or as his lead for a particular figure is inconsistent. However, I figure that I'm in good shape if I know that when I feel such and such, I should always respond in such and such way and to such and such an extent.

Now I think Jeff is right in that some ladies, due to personality or otherwise, just tend to naturally respond appropriately to a lead's movements. Then there's those of us that actually have to train ourselves to do this. Though I wouldn't go as far as Jeff and say that "strong willed women should not be allowed to follow" (and believe me, we must be really committed to this no fighting thing, because those are fightin' words!), I'd agree that some women perhaps have a personality that gives freer reign to the emotions and are much less intellectually and analytically dominant; they feel things out and respond emotionally rather than think about them first, which to a certain extent is great for following. I'm not that woman; I think a lot, and I think about my dancing, and though I try as hard as possible to let go and and not think while following, it's still a struggle. I'm trying to turn my dancing into a kind of reflex; doctors have always told me I have extra good muscle reflexes, so maybe that's something I can harness here. Basically, I feel this, my body naturally does this in response. That's a huge part of why regular practice helps me so much; it really habituates me to respond to certain signals in certain ways.

Jeff likes to talk about lead-follow as him "putting me where he wants me" and me "just letting myself be put there." That isn't active enough imagery for me...it reminds me of a sack of potatoes being thrown in a corner. I like the reflexology concept better. Still, I agree absolutely with Jeff that it's bad when I think too hard or really think at all while following. Again though, it's something I'm constantly trying to stop doing and it's a tough habit to break because I'm the thinking type. Given this, however, I disagree entirely with the ultimate premise that strong-willed women can't be good follows. I told Jeff I'd bet almost anything that each of the top 6 ladies at Blackpool are most certainly strong-willed. You just can't get that good otherwise; it takes too much work. So while Jeff may have to grit it out for a while as his strong-willed overly intellectual and analytical partner figures out what it means for her to follow perfectly, he may in the end get a powerful, responsive, and feather-light "sports car" to drive around the floor at the end of all this. It's just that that kind of machine takes serious time, craftsmanship, and attention to detail to put together, as Jeff knows far better than I do.

Ultimately, I figured out that perhaps the biggest problem is that I tend to assume that problems in our dancing are my fault, due to something I'm not doing right, and as a result I'm always trying to figure out how I could do it better to make it work. I think this tendency is largely due to the much longer period of time I spent training on my own with my teacher and in my own private practice and preparations for pro-am competition, where everything was my fault, and I had plenty to work on myself. I'm so used to assuming that first, that I told Jeff that this often happens; I'll try to fix a problem myself before passing the blame on to him...which he said is exactly the wrong approach. He should be blamed first and if he is examined and found innocent, then, and only then, am I at fault. I think he's right that this would be be the most effective approach (thought maybe not the most reflective of reality), it's just not how I'm used to approaching the bumps in my dancing. Granted, there are times I can absolutely tell the issue is with the lead, but that has not been my first assumption when I feel off dancing a particular figure. We'll have to see how this works. It's probably going to involve me complaining a lot more out loud instead of mentally to myself. Jeff's going to love this...


  1. I think I have a temperament that would make a good follow. But I'm not actually a good dancer, and the most skilled lead wouldn't make me one!

    I think you've hit the nail on your head -- don't assume that all the problems are yours, but do make the effort to dance correctly. Being a good follow will probably always be an effort for you, but I think you can do it!

  2. Sheila, I think you probably would make a great follow if you spent enough time dancing. One thing I've noticed is that there is a pretty big difference between feeling good as a follow and looking good. Simeon has commented on this to me multiple times; sometimes the ladies to who feel great to lead don't look impressive at all, the posture may be poor, there's little energy, etc. whereas some ladies who are challenging to lead can look awesome because they know how to hold themselves well and just put a lot of energy into their dancing. Based on feedback I've had so far, I think I tend towards the later, which is kind of scary for the lead, but I guess puts you ahead of the curve if you want to make an impression when competing. Obviously, you ultimately want both, but depending the person I think one or other of those qualities may develop sooner. It makes sense, as I have analyzed to death what I've seen and heard about posture, position, and movement, so I think I usually end up look a lot better than I actually am when dancing...because I've worked hard intellectually and physically to perfect those things that I can control. Case in point; after my last couple of competitions with Simeon he's commented about how bad it felt as we walked off the floor (basically how I wasn't entirely following his movements), yet his better half complimented me on how good it looked performance wise etc., and she doesn't give compliments lightly. And since most of the judging has echoed her, I guess it may be true. I just hope for Jeff's sake that my following continues to improve and will soon match my other abilities. In our style of dance, it really is the most important thing.

  3. In my (small, of course) experience of following, I've found the "stop thinking" notion to be precisely wrong. You don't stop thinking, you just think differently: FOCUS, or instantly intuit I suppose, rather than discursively figure out. To stop thinking implies to go entirely blank, or as you say, become a sack of potatoes, which nobody really wants. I'd say channel your mental energy towards the other person, rather than towards yourself, if that image makes any sense. You can figure out what you did and didn't do, moves wise, AFTER you stop dancing.

  4. Looking good will get you victories in the short run. Feeling good (while looking good) takes a much longer time and takes alot of work between you and your partner.

    This has been emphasized to me many times on the difference between working with a male pro and working with a female pro. Male pro emphasizes the look irregardless of the comfort between the partners because you don't win comps by looking comfortable. Female pro emphasizes balance and comfort over the look because they don't like getting pushed around.

  5. Sylvia, I'm not sure that when I'm thinking while following I'm not focusing my mental energy on the other person though; that's exactly what I'm doing...I'm trying to figure out what Jeff is up to and what I need to do about it. That's the problem; thinking takes too long and I should be just responding almost automatically. As I was telling Jeff the other night, it's bad when I start to "wake up" while following, because when I get into the right mindset as a follow my brain kind of does turn off and I don't have a lot of mental activity going on, focused on Jeff or otherwise. It's kind of like when you know a piano piece so well you can play it without thinking about it, just by muscle memory. What I'd prefer is to have the following part be something I don't have to think about at all, and then apply my mental energies to musical expression and the performance aspect, which isn't really discursive either, but I think involves a lot of mental energy and focus.