Leading and Following

Keith Morris examines the setup for effective Leading and Following in a dance partnership.

By Keith Morris

Initially my intense interest in this subject was brought about by a comment made during a lesson I was having from the great Doreen Freeman. “You young pros (I was 40 something at the time but flattered any way) just don’t know how to lead.”

Now to be able to understand the context in which this comment was made we need to take a little look at one aspect of the history of dance, certainly here in the U.K. anyway.

One of the ways professional dancers earned a living in years gone by was waiting in the “Pen”. This is not the writing type, but areas of the Ballroom were pros gathered and were paid per dance. Consequently the more adapt you became at leading and following the more dances you were asked for and therefore the more money you earned.

Sadly with the demise in the U.K. of the Ballrooms in the 1960’s this part of the profession to began disappear and now no longer exists. Doreen, incidentally, after a moment’s consideration agreed wholeheartedly with this observation.

Nowadays these days people learn routines or programmes with one regular partner whether they be a social dancer, medallist or competitor of a certain level. This is also a reason for the lack of floor craft which we as judges / adjudicators regularly bemoan. But that’s another story. The consequence of “programme dancing” is there is no reason to lead or follow. And how many times have we all over heard dancers say “I’ve done it wrong I forgot my routine.”

Now the question arises, how do we as male dancers persuade our partners to follow us round the ballroom floor? Some folk would say “with great difficulty” others would say “take your partner around the neck and squeeze tightly until she acquiesces”.

Over the years I have developed a pattern when preparing to dance with a lady regardless of her standard. One must first understand that a grip of iron is not essential for the man to lead, indeed a feather light almost gossamer touch is far more acceptable. The lady however needs to be aware of the man’s presence.

As leaders we have to enter a mind set and routine before we take hold of our partners to dance.

Setting Up

First comes the invitation: the man offers his left hand to his partner’s right hand with his weight over his left foot. Simple.

Secondly, and most interestingly, contact: from about the third rib down to the hips, slightly off centre, a well known coach once said “Boob to button or titty to tie, as this will align your bodies in a position so that the lady isn’t continually putting her feet under the man’s.

Thirdly, and for me most importantly: the upper side of the man’s lower right arm has light but firm contact with the underside of the lady’s left arm. I often use the phrase “the man gives the lady the elbow”. This is the all important confidence builder from the lady’s point of view. She is secure (rightly or wrongly) in the knowledge that her partner is in control of their joint destinies on the dance floor.

Fourthly: the closing of the man’s right hand on the ladies back with very light pressure, as after all the poor girls have to breath!

Now that everything is in place we can replace the weight on to the right foot ensuring the shoulder, hip, and ankle are in line and the knee relaxed. We can now attempt to move.

You will notice I have not mentioned the man’s left arm in all of this. If you look back in time the development of the “wide top” has only come about over the last 30 years or so, getting even wider over recent times. For me this part of the hold is purely decorative and serves no purpose other than an evening of the picture and it looks better than just dangling there.

There is of course the matter of which side of the body is the dominant one in all of this. Once again it’s the connection between the man’s left side and his right arm. I say arm and not hand as we do not need to squash the lady to enable us to guide her into the space which we require both of us move to into.

We now have the basis for the ability to lead our partner and in return our partner to follow us, as the lady now has the support and framework to be able to extend upwards and outwards with confidence.

I fully understand that there is a lot more in attaining perfect posture and balance in this, our chosen passion of dance. And as such it is but a short resume of my observations which I have put together which have worked for me over many years of dancing, adjudicating and now examining.

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