On Multiple Connections

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In November 2014 I posted this collaboration with a photographer around the word connection. Below are a few thoughts from that post.

Connection: A correspondence between two partially ordered sets
Connection: Causal or logical relation or sequence
Connection: A relation of personal intimacy
Connection: A means of communication or transportation
Connection: synonyms including coherence, continuity, link, affinity, association, kinship, liaison, linkage, relation, relationship, union

This past April I wrote a ballroom post about Lead and Follow. Since that post, I continued thinking about the role of connection in ballroom – especially in a social ballroom dance setting. After all, our instructor preaches it! The Lead and Follow post included the following paragraph:

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.

In ballroom there are other connections beyond the physical connection between the dancers:

  • the physical connection between two dancers
  • the connection between dancers and the craft
  • the connection between the dancers and the music
  • the mental connection that some partners have with each other
  • the connections between friends
  • the connection between instructor and students
  • the connection between the feet and the floor – and I imagine a few more.

The music is part of the setting. The music can be traditional ballroom, contemporary, and from a variety of genre. In general, I see three key factors from the music affecting ballroom dance: timing, tempo, and rhythm.

Timing: Whereas waltz music is in 3-4 time (3 beats per measure), the other ballroom dance are in 4-4 time (4 beats per measure.

Tempo: How fast/slow is the music? For instance, Rumba and Bolero music are similar, but Bolero is slower. Viennese Waltz is faster than Ballroom Waltz. Three-count Hustle music is slower than Four-count Hustle. East Coast Swing is faster than West Coast Swing, but not as fast as Lindy.

Rhythm: The background rhythms supporting the music provide the musicality and the feel for the dance. Whereas a friend would say one can dance Tango to Foxtrot music (and vise versa), I say that would be a mismatch between the music and the dance because the background rhythms supporting the music are vastly different – therefore not even close.

Regardless of the place, the music sets a tone – a mood for the dancers to explore. Therefore, different dances provide different moods: Cha cha is playful and sharp. Foxtrot is smooth and classy. Waltz is grace and elegance. Rumba is rhythmic and sultry. Bolero is fluid and romantic. Salsa is lively and party-time. Quickstep is exuberant and glamorous. East Coast Swing is fun and energetic, but West Coast Swing is bluesy and slinky. Tango is strong and edgy, but Argentine Tango is personal and intricate.

Different songs provide different moods. For instance, the elegance of waltz serves to transport the mind to a beautiful place. The beauty of the dance fits with the beauty the music provides. Music comes from many sources – including popular songs. However, not all danceable waltzes set the same mood. Yes, I’m picky on that count – for instance, many country waltzes are for a bar or a barn – not a ballroom.

So to put the two thoughts together. Two dancers with a strong physical connection in their frame and contact points in the presence of the right music, the dance can be special. The dance can be a moment that one may never forget. At the end, the dancers may look into each other’s eyes with special admiration and gratitude for the moment. Now that’s what connection can do in a social ballroom setting.

“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” (Brené Brown, author)

Below are two scenes from popular movies that you may have seen … and these scenes are about important aspects of connection – well, at least to me. Enjoy, and thanks for reading. Does this make any sense?

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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.

Image from Microsoft Office

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.