Tracie’s Top 10 Survival Tips for Followers:
(instructor’s note: all of these tips are based on general rules of thumb in any kind of partner dancing. We all know that rules are meant to be broken!)
(1) React, but don’t overreact.
Internalize these lead/follow technique rules: your lead brings your arm up into turning position, it’s probably a turn. So engage your core and have your turning arm engaged, but don’t assume which direction the turn is taking or how many turns he’s going to lead. If he opens up 90 degrees off your left side (i.e., opens the slot) it’s probably a cross body lead. So do your half basic and be ready to travel, but don’t assume that he’s going to lead you into a turn, or even straight across (because he could also check you) – don’t go through the slot until he tells you to.
(2) Pay attention to the dance conversation.
Remember that all partner dancing is a conversation. What is his body rhythm telling you? Definitely do not watch his feet – pay attention to his entire dance frame. His body tells you where to go next – does he get out of the way (for a travelling pattern) or is he staying on the spot (for an on the spot pattern)? His arms will communicate what to do next (turn or check) but his body rhythm will always give you hints as to what type of move is coming next (on the spot or travelling).
(3) Keep your frame
If his body rhythm is going to communicate with yours, you have to make yourself receptive to the dance conversation. If you are tense in the chest or the hips (or in the knees or your arms) you are blocking his ability to communicate with you. In order to provide something for him to communicate with, you must provide a solid follow body – this requires you to have an engaged core (from your sternum to your bellybutton), but remain soft in the shoulders and hips and “elastic” in the arms and legs (don’t lock your knees or elbows).
(4) Remember that Tension does not equal strength, and softness does not equal “floppiness”
You’re not in a wrestling match! The more complicated a move is, the more signals he needs to communicate, which means you need to provide adequate tension in your follow to be more elastic (i.e., to absorb the force of his lead and use it to help you move), but not strong. The tougher his lead, the softer you need to be (tension without strength, softness without being a limp noodle).
(5) Be a little bit stubborn (but not desperate!).
Maintain connection as much as possible. Don’t take your hand away unless he tosses it away. Don’t disconnect from his hand on your back unless he pushes you hard enough to disconnect. On that same token, don’t “give” him a hand that he doesn’t ask for (i.e., don’t assume a hand change) and only reconnect when he initiates the reconnect.
(6) Be square with your partner at every opportunity.
General rule of thumb in turning is that once you start a turn you must complete it (with proper weight changes and timing) until the turn is completed. If he leads you into 1.5 turns (in any direction) and does not check you, you must continue turning until you face him (complete 2 full turns). Once he leads you into your break step on your right (i.e., your basic step and your frame is square with his) then you know for sure that turn pattern is over.
(7) Try to stop thinking of what you “should” be doing – just do whatever your leader tells you to do, even if it feels a bit odd and unfamiliar.
Sometimes leaders feel like experimenting – they’re trying something new with different hand holds or they were watching a youtube video (or another dancer) and are trying a new move for a first time. Mistakes will happen in the way he leads you because he’s still learning how to lead the new move properly. All you can do is follow the lead as per your rules of thumb – if you don’t do what he expects you to do he’ll realize quickly it’s his lead and not your follow.
(8) When in doubt, rely on your foundation technique of body rhythm and weight changes.
In other words, don’t stop moving! Always do your 1-2-3, 5-6-7 steps with full weight changes. It is always better to move through a pattern then to stop dead in your tracks when faced with something unfamiliar. When in doubt, do your basic!
(9) Styling is gravy, but your dance is the meat. Sometimes meat is ok by itself!
For higher level dancers the desire to add as much styling as possible is pretty strong – especially if you go out dancing a lot and know pretty much all the music that the DJ plays. You can’t help but hit those awesome trumpet lines with some wicked arm styling or those marimba hits with some fancy footwork, but sometimes styling compromises your follow body and causes you to disengage your core. Be aware if you’re falling off balance because of the arm styling or if your styling is making him nervous and he’s not able to lead you properly. Reign it in and enjoy the dance for what it is!
(10) BREATHE and relax. It’s only dancing!
If all else fails (but it shouldn’t) a good basic rule of thumb is just to RELAX. Breathe, and expect the unexpected. keep your core engaged and focus on your body rhythm and turning arm(s).
And the most important survival tip for followers is to go out and PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. The more people you dance with the more you will learn how to read different types of leads.
Good luck and have fun!
>> So there you have it, amazing tips from a Salsera Pro! Have any comments, ideas and tips of your own? Please comment!
Stay Shining Salseros!