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Leading vs Following

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Leading vs Following

Post  Admin on Mon Nov 09, 2009 12:23 pm

Leading vs. Following
by Tricia Meikle
November, 2001

In the "battle of the sexes" it's hard to say who's on top. But when it comes to dancing salsa it sure is great to be a girl. Following is an immensely enjoyable activity that is incomparable to anything else. The mystery of not knowing what move is coming next and being led into a new pattern or turn can be thrilling. When following you let your mind go, follow, move your body to interpret the music and to express what you're feeling. Moving gracefully to the rhythm of the music can create a sensation akin to floating. It's common for the follower to feel a "rush" after doing multiple spins, a new turn pattern or a nice dip. Being led by someone with a great connection and lead can be a wonderful experience. There's nothing else like it. One of the best parts of following is how totally different every dance can be depending on whom you're dancing with. Over the span of a few songs a followers dancing style can range from sexy to technical to funky to laid-back to match the style of your partner. The "high" one getsfrom a hardcore dance is what makes us sacrifice hours of valuable sleep and keeps us coming back for more week after week. But nowadays being a girl doesn't necessarily mean that you will be following. The trend now is to switch roles with your partner. So now when you go to a nightclub you can often see girls leading guys, girls leading girls and guys leading guys. I always thought that if I were the man/leader I would quickly tire of salsa, as I would only be able to do my own limited repertoire of moves. It was my belief that since the leader doesn't get to enjoy the type of variety in style and moves that the follower does, it couldn't possibly be as much fun. Having said all that learning to lead has totally changed my mind.

First of all leading is really hard. If you want proof just look around you next time you go dancing. Not that following is easy; it's just hard in a completely different way. Nevertheless, we have to give it to the "guys" leading requires a lot of thinking. Leading well requires that the leader think about navigating on the dance floor, music and timing as well as executing the moves correctly. In my case I find that when I'm leading I'm not really dancing. I'm concentrating too hard on connection, execution and collision avoidance. It's really difficult for new leaders to remember the moves they know fast enough to put together a decent combo. There are commonly a few too many basics in between turn patterns while deciding what move to do next. However even though leading is hard (especially at first) it is also really FUN! It is exciting to successfully lead intricate patterns. It's also kind of cool to be able to do the moves that you want to do when you want to do them. As the leader you become the choreographer for the dance. It can give you the opportunity to express your creativity in a new way. Another bonus is that styling becomes a lot easier because you can give yourself as much time as needed. As the leader you are in the driver's seat.

Now ladies I know you're thinking I'm not giving enough respect to followers. Don't get me wrong; following also requires a lot of skill. If you're a leader think about how many dancers you consider to be good followers on any given night at a club. You can probably count them on one hand. In general it's probably easier to follow than to lead. It's certainly easier to fake, especially when following a great leader. However following WELL is just as hard as leading. Good followers have to have great balance and quick reflexes. It's a totally different mindset from when you're leading. When following you have to clear your mind and focus on the connection to your partner and the connection to the music. You have to be ready to read and respond to all of the leader's signals at all times. This is no easy task as it is so easy to unconsciously anticipate the leader's moves and sometimes over-commit or miss the signals altogether. The ability to respond quickly and accurately to a lead should not be underestimated. Followers have to adapt to various styles of leading depending on their partner's style. Sometimes the same move can feel completely different when led by people with different styles. After following someone with a really strong lead it may be hard to recognize the signals of someone with a very subtle lead. Also a certain level of trust is required when following which can be hard to give at times. Comparing leading and following is almost as difficult as comparing apples and oranges. Let's just say that to be good at either requires a lot of skill and practice. Usually you will find the opposite role harder at first but that can partly be attributed to the fact that you haven't had as much practice. Keep trying. Even if mastering your partner's role is not your goal you should try the other role at least once so you can better appreciate what they have to go through.

The benefits of learning the other role are numerous. Probably the biggest plus is that both partners have been in each other's shoes so to speak and tend to cut each other some slack. Followers who've tried leading now try very hard never to anticipate a move because they know how much they dislike it when they lead. Conversely, leaders who have tried following usually start to pay close attention to grip and handholds now that they've been the victim of a few thumbs. Also having the experience of following gives a leader a better understanding of what a follower needs to feel when being led. The biggest upside to being able to both lead and follow is that the number of people you can dance with is now increased. You're not only limited to people of the opposite sex, you can dance with everyone!

When properly executed, the level of communication involved while leading and following can be considered one of the most complex types that 2 people are able to do (vertically). However even when not executed perfectly leading and following can still be an extremely enjoyable, exciting way to spend your free time. It really is a team effort. The most important thing is that both you and your partner are having fun and enjoying the music. So get out there and see what life is like on the other side, you might be surprised at what you discover.


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