On Lead and Follow

A search for quotes about “lead and follow” provides many references to leadership friendship, and other relationships. Although they are very applicable, Lead and Follow is also about ballroom dance.

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When starting to learn ballroom dance, the focus is on hold and basic feet movements. At that stage, Lead and Follow is more like memorizing: Lead does this, then the follower does that. More steps means more memorizing. However, in time, Lead and Follow becomes very important – and it’s not easy. So what is Lead and Follow?

Lead and Follow is the essence of social ballroom dance, which is not choreographed. Lead and Follow is an interaction between two people that allows them to synchronize motions to compliment each other and the music. Lead and Follow is about dancing together and enjoying each other with the Lead being responsible for initiating steps and patterns while navigating the floor and planning ahead while the Follower interprets and executes the signals from the Lead.

Given a variety of skill levels present in a social ballroom dance setting, it is paramount the Lead recognizes their partner’s ability level and leads within that level. I frequently see the following at social dance: A lead is given, but the follower didn’t respond with the expected step. The Lead then goes into instructional mode of “When I do this, you do that.” That is not Lead and Follow! Yes, some of their problems may be due to skill level differences, but most is due to the lack of connection between the dancers; therefore poor directions delivers poor results.

I still recall one particular lesson we had with an instructor who wasn’t our regular one. (It probably was within the first or second year of our lessons). Her points were simple: Leads should be subtle, but clear; Followers needs to tune in to detect the subtle signal, and then respond accordingly. Both leading and following are difficult skills, but can come with experience.

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Lead and Follow requires a connection between the partners because that connection is the communication line transmitting signals through a strong frame. With the goal of moving together as one, signals travel through any of the following (or combination of): whole body, core, shoulders, hips, back, elbows, arms, hands, legs, and feet, plus extensions and compressions.

For me, my dance frame has been strong for much of my dance journey. Therefore, I notice when my partner’s frame is weak – which makes communication difficult. No wonder dancers struggle when both frames are weak because the communication line is (at best) on life support. I also know why ladies with good frames who struggle when they dance with men with poor frames.

Developing clear and subtle leads is a never-ending journey – and I admit that I haven’t always been subtle. Even though my frame, connection, and subtlety have improved with time, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Yet, I now know that Lead and Follow is more like a series of act-and-react actions. After all, what if my partner does something different from I anticipated? It could mean my lead wasn’t clear – but it also means I have to react by keeping the time and adjusting my next movement while disbanding my anticipated plan – and then my partner must react to my adjusted signal – and then it’s back to me. This act-react cycle is ongoing throughout the entire dance until the music stops.

When things get out of whack, I admit to enjoying the maddening flurry of steps with a skilled partner to get us back in sync. Fortunately, I possess an ability to do that much of the time – although I may never duplicate the series again because I don’t know what I did. On the other hand, I also enjoy leading a less-experienced dancer to do steps they didn’t know.

There are numerous analogies for Lead and Follow. Lead is speaking while Follow is listening. Lead is communication while Follow is translating. Lead is the driver while Follow is the passenger. Lead is the offense while Follow is the patient defense. I’m sure there are more, but hopefully these analogies make sense.

No matter the ability, Lead and Follow is about the connection between the partners on two levels: with each other and with the music. My favorite dance partners are the ones with good frames that serve as the foundation of a good connection and they know how to follow.

On the other hand, two people who have never danced together can have a magical first dance – a dance that is socially flawless – well, as long as they have a strong connection with each other.

Recently, I have had some remarkable dancing with people I’ve never danced with before. The reasons are simple – a strong connection between two people, the ability to read each other, and comparable skills levels. For me, those times are euphoric – and at the end of the dance, two people can smile, look into each others eyes with amazement and appreciation, and thank each other for a wonderful dance.

Enjoy this video. Although this couple practiced this routine, the majority of the steps/patterns in their routine can be done with Lead and Follow in a social ballroom dance setting – well, assuming the dancers know the dance – in this case, Bolero.

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On The Room

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The moon is bright in the night sky while casting shadows into the room. A beam illuminates a floor vase containing several rose stems – yet the floor was open.

They lock eyes. He gives a slight nod and extends his hand as he hears the music. She glances down, then slowly raises her head displaying her coy face. She gently touches his hand. Without words, he slowly leads her to the floor.

They stop. Without connecting their eyes she accepts by moving closer to him. He gently embraces her and awaits the right beat while slowly lowering their joint grasp nearer to them.

He moves is a subtle way. She responds to the signals as a language. She moves her legs indicating her presence and interest.

He slowly walks. Their heads are close, but their eyes do not connect. She wants to see him, but her eyes remain closed. Without sight, she responds. Their legs touch; sometimes as a slow caress. Other times as a sharp flick. He gently guides her sleek frame to swivel – sometimes slow – other than quick.

Their arms and the embrace physically connect their bodies as one. The music connects their souls. Although their mental images are different, their thoughts are the same – yet they move as one.

Their embrace strengthens – but not physically. They transport each other. He continues leading to the rhythms and images in his mind. She responds with her desires.

He slows – leading to a gradual stop. The music ends. They pause.

The room is empty. There is no music. The moon shines on them casting a shadow of one onto the floor. They stare into each others eyes … and a rose blooms.

 

Full Disclosure: As the Categories in the sidebar indicates, writing fiction is not my forte. Once I saw this video, a story unfolded in my mind, which led to another meager attempt at fiction. Even though fiction is outside my comfort zone, I appreciate your feedback. For those who don’t know, the dance is Argentine Tango. Thanks for reading the 282-word story.

On the Other T

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The streets you walk are stone in the old city. People are milling around – some on the move while others stand talking to others or observing others. The smell of street food is constantly challenging you.

Your ear detects music starting from within a nearby building. The rhythms remind you a fusion of African and Latin sounds; then a haunting bandoneon (concertina) and violin join the rhythm. The music draws you into the building like a magnet. The place is alive – some conversing, some focusing on the music, others dancing, and others watching the dancers in sync with the rhythms. Your soul is touched. You are hooked.

The history of many dances is a combination of myths, legends, unrecorded history, known events of time and place, a blending of cultures, and word origins. The cultures of Africa, Portugal, Spain, Britain, Italy, Poland, and Russia integrate with the lower-class locals of Buenos Aires. The result – Argentine Tango.

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The initial spread of Argentine Tango is linked to the sons of wealthy Argentine families who travelled – but at home – Argentine Tango became an important part of their culture – even having a Golden Age (1930s – 1950s) – but then the military dictatorship suppressed the dance for nearly 30 years.

Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango (American and International) are different dances – not different styles of the same dance. Their 4/4 timing and musical rhythms have some commonality, but not always.

Ballroom Tango is dynamic, dramatic, edgier, staccato, sharp, and strong – but Argentine Tango is sensual, intimate, personal, interpretive, and smooth. The dancer’s alignment to each other and their holds are different – as are the steps and their timing.

Key Elements of Argentine Tango

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The Embrace
The embrace refers to the contact and position of the dancing partners, which can be open, closed, or someplace in between. In the closed embrace, partners connect chest-to-chest, heads touching, and bodies leaning forward (think of an inverted V). In the open embrace, the space between the partners vary. No matter the embrace choice, the bodies should not be arched away from each other as in ballroom. Also unlike ballroom, arms are more inward with the elbows down (not out).

Because Argentine Tango is improvisational, communication must be clear and through the connections between the partners. For the lead, communication is subtle, so every little movement counts. Followers must tune in to detect the subtleties, so some followers close their eyes to immerse themselves into the embrace, the music, and the dance experience.

The Walk
Argentine Tango is two people walking together in the embrace. A step involves moving to all the weight being on one foot (which creates a free foot with no weight). The next step may include another step or a weight transfer to the other foot.

There are many important aspects to the walk. For instance, pushing into the step is paramount over reaching for or falling into it – plus, maintaining a firm and balanced contact between the upper bodies in the embrace.

The are two types of walks: parallel (even) and crossed (uneven).

The video below involves two accomplished Argentine tango dancers – but note – they are just walking. Notice their embrace, weight shifts, posture, and how good they look doing the most-basic steps.

The Patterns/Figures/Steps
Argentine Tango is not choreographed or fixed with predetermined patterns. Although a lead-and-follow dance, the subtle nature allows the dancers to appear moving as one.

Besides the walk (caminar), other common steps/figures include the cross (cruce), leg hooks (ganchos), figure-eights (ochos), turns (giros), opposite-direction turns (contragiros), displacements (sacadas), foot-by-foots (llevadas de pie), cuts (cortes), breaks (quebradas), links (baleos), and others.

Let’s bring back Sebastian and Roxana for a dance involving more than just walks.

Not all Argentine Tangos are created equal because different styles exist that depend on factors as floor size, type of embrace, length of steps, speed of music, and culture. Styles as Salon, Milonguero, Milonga, Tango Nuevo, Canyengue, Vals, and others have their setting in both place and music.

Argentine Tango has found a place on the stage and screen. Tango Argentino was on Broadway in the 1980s. Forever Tango (in the mid-1990s) toured the US as a show before having a long-running stint on Broadway

The big screen has provided a long list of Argentine Tango scenes through the ages. Here’s a snippet. Argentine Tango serves as an important backdrop in The Adios Buenos Aires (1938), The Tango Bar (1988), Tango (1998), Assassination Tango (2002), and Tango Libre ( 2012). Dances scenes also provide impact as in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Scent of a Woman (1992), Evita (1996), and Moulin Rouge (2001). Scenes from Shall We Dance (2004) and Take the Lead (2006) fuse elements of Argentine and ballroom into their tango.

For those who want to compare, here’s my past post on Ballroom Tango.

Personally, I know enough Argentine Tango to be dangerous because I rely on my ballroom instincts, musicality, and ability to improvise to be a solid beginner. On the other hand, ballroom also gets in the way of the posture elements necessary in Argentine Tango. I would love to learn more, but the city’s Argentine Tango studio is further away than we prefer.

To conclude this post, below are 4 Argentine tangos to enjoy. Each is well done, different, and full of sensuality. Which did you watch or enjoy the most?

On Let’s Swing

When think of the emerging music of the 1920s and 30s in the USA, swing music come to mind. The initial craze led into the Big Band era that continued into the 1950s.

From the likes of African-American giants as Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, and Louis Prima to Big Band icons as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman to the new generation of swing of Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, then onto the more contemporary sounds of Brian Setzer, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, swing has maintained a presence for many years.

Even within a generation, not all swing music is the same. Different music with different rhythms at different tempos also means different dances. Swing dance broke the rules of dance as it was fast, loose, and free … so the purpose of this post is to examine a few of the mainstays of swing dance.

Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop’s roots a traced back to the Harlem community of New York City, and influential dancer George “Shorty” Snowden. Life was a buzz with Charles Lindbergh’s successful solo flight over the Atlantic, and his name became attached to many things.

The dance, a fusion of Charleston and Foxtrot, moved out of Harlem and became popular – and also took on another name – the Jitterbug. Interestingly, this dance remains popular today – especially in clubs specializing in Lindy Hop/Jitterbug. Enjoy this classic movie clip that includes dance legend Frankie Manning.

 

Jive
As a variation of Lindy Hop, Jive became popular in the late 1930s, then American GIs took the dance to Europe. Although variations as boogie-woogie, swing boogie, and modern jive exist, today’s jive is a competitive ballroom dance.

 

East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing evolved as a simpler version of Lindy – that is, East Coast was easier to do and easier to teach. Arthur Murray Dance Studios were instrumental in popularizing this dance, which also became part of the competitive ballroom dance circuit.

Because of tempo variations in the music, one could subdivide this dance into single-time swing (fastest music, slower steps), double-time swing, and triple-time swing (slowest music, fastest steps).

 

West Coast Swing
With a Lindy style that was more anchored and whippy, dancer Dean Collins left Harlem and took the Lindy Hop to the California. From this, West Coast Swing developed into a slotted dance where dancers are either on or off the slot (track). West Coast Swing music is typically slower than East Coast Swing music with more of a smooth, blues, R&B, cool jazz sound. This video involves two good dancers dancing improv (not choreographed).

 

Shag
As another variation of swing that developed from the upbeat music of the 1930s. Shag developed in the African-American communities of the Carolinas, and then spread across the country. DIfferent variations include Collegiate, Carolina, and St. Louis. This video is interesting because is uses multiple dancers.

Swing dance isn’t limited to the above as other variations include Balboa (Bal), Rock and Roll, Western Swing, Imperial Swing, Jazz Dance Swing, Rock and Roll Swing, Acrobatic Rock and Rock, Washington Hand Dancing, Push and Whip, DC Swing, and Charleston. Even in competitive dance, American Style Ballroom Swing is different that International Style Ballroom Swing.Swing dance is also the foundation other modern dances as disco and country line dancing.

Speaking of line dances, let’s end the post with a classic. Shim Sham originally appeared as a tap routine in Harlem during the 1930s – but it morphed into a swing dance, then into a line dance for today’s swing dancers. Let’s bring back the great Frankie Manning for some Shim Sham.

Any favorites? Which of these do you wish you could do? Better yet, can you dance any of these swings?

Which of these dances should have its own dedicated post?

On Rumba

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Some say Rum’-ba, others say Room’-bah – some spell it as Rumba, others Rhumba.

Real interest in Latin music began about 1929. In the late 1920’s, Xavier Cugat formed an orchestra specializing in Latin American music.

Some dances accentuate the relationship between a man and woman. Rumba is a woman’s dance as she uses her rhythmic, sultry moves to charm her partner. Yep, Rumba is foreplay by dance with the woman controlling the signals.

Rumba first appeared in Cuba during the 1880s as an energetic dance that was a blend of Spanish, West Indian, and African cultures.

It’s initial lewd nature caused it to be restricted to private events.

Forerunner dances of Rumba are Son, Danzon, Guagira, Guaracha, and Naningo. In the 1940’s, Son was a popular dance of middle-class Cubans while Danzon was the dance of wealthy Cubans. Today’s American Rumba is a modified version of Son.

Although Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer introduced Rumba (the dance) to Americans in 1913, it was a movie of the same name that caused promoted the dance to many – Rumba (1935) starring George Raft and Carol Lombard.

Monsieur Pierre and Doris Lavelle popularized Rumba in Europe during the 1930s – which helped Rumba become a competitive dance in 1955.

Today, Rumba is a popular competitive and social ballroom dance.

The match between the musical rhythms and the body expression of the dancers make Rumba one of the most popular ballroom dances throughout the world.

American-style basics

  • Music: Repeatable 4-beat pattern in 4-beat music
  • Pattern: slow (2 beats), quick (1-beat), quick (1-beat)
  • Steps: Short, compact
  • Hips: Expressive hip motion called Cuban motion

Basic Rumba box step …

… and the basic box with Cuban motion.

Rumba styles today include American ballroom, International ballroom, Cuban, Catalan, Flamenco, African, Yambú, Guaguancó, and Columbian. In general, differences are based on choreography and the music’s tempo.

Night Club-Two Step and Bolero are different dances, but actually variations of rumba

As a “dance of romance”, polished Rumba is a beautiful dance.

… and we end with a Dancing With the Stars version of rumba.

Any thoughts? Which videos did you watch? Have you danced Rumba? Do you think you could learn?

On a Close Encounter of …

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I recall hearing and reading about the hub-bub between John Hurley and Kelly Monaco in Season 1 of Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) – but I didn’t watch. As a sports fan, having ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne in the Season 2 cast caught my attention – so my wife and I watched DWTS for the first time on January 5, 2006.

We watched the entire show. The next day was the results show, and my wife asked, “Don’t you want to see what happens?” I had seen the first night with Kenny, and that was good enough, but she was curious – so we watched the elimination of Kenny Mayne.

Season 22 (of the 2 seasons per year) starts later this month. Since that first episode we watched, DWTS was the first domino that led us into the world of ballroom dance. We’re still watching the show and still dancing. Who knows how much money we’ve spent on lessons, dances, and shoes – at least I can blame Kenny Mayne.

Long-time watchers may remember Season 2 as it included guests Drew Lachey (a Cincinnatian who won), Stacey Keibler, Jerry Rice, Lisa Rinna, Tia Carrere, George Hamilton, Tatum O’Neill, Giselle Fernandez, and Master P, It also introduced us to professional dancers Tony Dovolani, Maksim Chmerkovsky, Louis Van Amstel, Cheryl Burke, Anna Trebunskaya, and Edyta Śliwińska – the Polish-born dancer who easily catches the eye. Besides, many of us would love an opportunity to dance with the partner of our choice …. Just once! Did you hear that Edyta? Anna? Sharna? Peta?

To those of us old enough to remember the variety shows on television, DWTS is a blend of a reality show of today and the variety shows of yesteryear – especially on the Results Show when top artists perform – such as this appearance by Michael Bublé in Season 9.

Like any business, dance studios aim at making a profit. Every studio has their way of increasing sales, which may include providing coaching sessions. The “coach” is usually an experienced dancer/teacher from out-of-town who is part of a normal lesson – of course with an extra fee. Yes, coaches are an outside perspective providing a new set of eyes for suggestions, but it’s never interested us – after all, we are social dancers who don’t compete.

As part of one of the sales promotions are our current studio, we earned the right for a drawing – and what did my wife select? … a free coaching session. We talked with our regular instructor about the upcoming coaching possibilities, so we selected Agnes. Plus, I took a group class with her last year, so I knew she had a pleasant demeanor … as well as being an attractive woman. (At least I’m honest.) 😉

Early this past February, we had our coaching with Agnes. A wonderful lesson – and I had a few steps with her. In our chit-chat time, I discovered that she’s Polish and now lives in Los Angeles … but why I didn’t wonder if she knew Edyta is beyond me! After all, look at the connections – Polish, dancer, Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, my wife was gone on her girls’ cruise – which meant too much time on my hands – so I searched Agnes. On her website I discovered her personal story of dance and journey to the USA – her dance accomplished as a winner or finalist in the most prestigious dance competitions, and her appearances on Dancing With The Stars.

WHAT? I had in my arms and danced a few steps with someone who has been on the show! My wife and I had a coaching lesson with someone who probably knows cast members – including Edyta! … and yes … in the video above, that was Agnes and her partner dancing to Michael Bublé … and odds are, we watched that episode!

With YouTube doing what it does, I saw other videos, of Agnes and her partner Urs … including the entertaining, unique dance video below that demonstrates grace, variety, speed, strength, versatility, control, and probably more. TIP: After watching up to 2:50, save yourself time by forwarding to 4:50 … and enjoy watching the lady I think of as my Close Encounter of the Dance Kind.

On a Spot for the Bucket

Blackpool may not mean anything to most – but it holds significance to some. Eight years ago, it was unknown to me – very insignificant. Today, it’s on my Bucket List.

Blackpool is on England’s western coast – in Lancashire county – north of Liverpool and northwest of Manchester – and one of England’s most popular seaside resorts.

Today, Blackpool offers its infamous tower, a giant ferris wheel, an amusement park, a seaside promenade, gardens, a water park, Madame Tussauds,, and other attractions. Actually, this doesn’t seem like a place for me, let alone my Bucket List.

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For me, Blackpool is about it’s famed dancehall. The original Blackpool Tower Ballroom dates back to 1894. During the dance craze of the 1920s-1930s, dancers filled Blackpool’s ballroom floor.

The ballroom still hosts one of the world’s most famous and long-running ballroom dance competitions (Blackpool Dance Festival) with dancers from across the globe coming to compete. The ballroom has also hosted other dance competitions and BBC shows Come Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing.

I’ve stated (several times) that my wife and I don’t compete – we dance for fun and being with friends … and to be honest, attending the famed festival isn’t the reason for its Bucket List status. Unless reserved as a rental space for an event, the ballroom has regular hours for open dancing.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Better yet, the ballroom also hosts an afternoon tea with dance to the sounds from the mighty Wurlitzer organ – which sounds quite delightful.