“The Journey of a Dancer” Series – 3 – Becoming a Graceful Follower – 1 – A Follower’s Passive Qualities
Bruno & Eglantine
If we had to separate following skills into 2 main categories, I suppose that these would be the following:
- Passive Qualities
- Active Qualities
The active qualities are not necessary for the Follower to follow. However, the passive qualities are absolutely necessary for the Follower to be called a Follower.
In this first post, I will discuss mainly the Passive qualities of a Follower, and in the second part, I will discuss more of the Active qualities.
1 – What does it mean “to follow”?
To follow, in dancing, means to listen. And to act on that. You listen to a lead, a cue… And you react to it, without adding or transforming what it originally was. In its purest form, following means just that.
Some dictionaries describe to follow as “coming after, moving behind in the same direction”, “accepting as a guide or leader, accepting the authority of…”, “conforming to, comply with, or acting in accordance with…”.
What does this tell us?
Brazilian Zouk, being a partner dance like many others, requires two people to dance harmoniously together, or, at the very least, not stepping on each other’s toes. This means that someone needs to take the lead (be more active) and someone needs to follow (be more passive). Intrinsically, it doesn’t mean that followers never get to lead. But the main part of a follower’s role is to follow and wait. Although this might not sound very glamorous, it is probably the best part of partner dancing since we, followers, can be completely in the present and not worry about anything more than “right now” which makes us more prone to be in a flow state.
Good leaders can achieve a similar state, too, but it’s not the majority who can dance spontaneously to the music.
2 – Where & How can we learn to follow more efficiently?
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to learn it in your weekly classes. Classes sometimes teach followers to follow, but often not. They usually have a leader-focused approach and followers just have to hang in there. However, classes teach you patterns, and they teach you technique, which are, ultimately, necessary for following skills to function properly, like a well-oiled wheel (Check this article about the importance of basics, written by Jukka V.).
If you do have a teacher who explains you why you are following what you are following, and who teaches you about lead and follow techniques, then make you sure get the most out of him/her!
I’ve often heard leaders complain that some experienced followers had become worse, with time, and that they used to follow better when they were beginners – because they weren’t expecting anything and had to simply feel the lead. Because of this danger, followers should be careful with becoming too active during classes. If you are trying to do the move for your partner, you are not helping yourself at all (nor him).
Generally speaking, I would say that if you truly want to learn to “follow”, the dance floor is still the best place for that. So get your bum out there (after your zouk classes) and go dancing with a partner. Just try. Be attentive and listen. Feel. And react. This will activate whatever technique you learnt in the classes and will be the place where many breakthroughs will occur.
Photo by Berg Chabot
A few pointers which can be useful on the dance floor:
- Be aware and use all your senses -They are the best friends a girl (and guy) will ever need… Although you might not want to “taste” your partner, vision and touch will be impossible to avoid.
- Forget patterns – The advice given to leaders, to help them get more creative on the dance floor, holds even more true for followers. You must forget that your fellow dancer has learned that same combination in the lesson which you also attended, last Thursday. If you must anticipate anything at all, it would be to:
- Only do what he asks for and resist the urge to do it for him (both in a class and on the dance floor). You will improve your following skills as well as his leading skills at the same time. This applies, especially, to when you are dancing with “weak” leaders, who are unsure of themselves.
Only do what he asks for. If it is not what he wanted, he will have to think and he will try to correct it the next time–> Improvement occurs.
If you try to help him and you do the move which you think he wants you to do, not only will you make him think that his leading is clear enough, but you will also just be guessing, whether it was a correct guess or not, and you will be perceived as a bad follower = a follower who is not listening. Only if the leader is extremely insecure, or you are worried about looking awful, you can help a tiny, tiny wee bit.
Another way to think about this is to keep still. Stillness is one of the best things we can use as followers. All of us will surely have gone through this stage, in zouk, where we feel that the guy is leading our head from side to side, and we start going crazy and shake our heads… If you think you’ve never done it, then you just weren’t aware of it, but believe me you have done it 😛 When you feel unsure of what you feel, and find yourself in a similar situation, and you cannot see, just stop… Stop and feel. Only after you regain the feeling of the contact with the leader, then you can move again. You will make your leader very happy by “not doing” instead of “doing, in the wrong places”.
- Wait. Be slightly late! But… not too much! You must wait long enough for the leader to actually give you the lead, but once he does begin a lead, you must react and move by yourself. This is included in the earlier definition “coming after, moving behind in the same direction”. It can be said that the follower is always a little behind the lead but not behind the leader! These are two different things.
Ideally, the leader will lead you first and then move, himself, which should result in you both moving together at the same time. In close contact, this may not be needed at all. However, when moves requires space between the 2 bodies and the use of extended arms is present, the lead should always be just a little ahead of the leader’s own movement, so that both can move together.
- Prepare for the move to end in several versions so that you cannot guess – This actually shouldn’t be something you should think about. But if you are really struggling with waiting or feeling the lead, one good way is to keep in mind why we wait. If you know that there are at least 2 options to every ending, that forces you to wait. Some teachers give combinations and teach different endings and possibilities to change the movement halfway through. This is gold, for us, followers. If you think that there is only one possible ending to a beginning, you will go for it without waiting for the lead. And then 2 things can result from this: Either the leader does lead what you expected but he feels like he has no control and is waiting for you to finish… Or he intended to lead something else and faces 2 choices himself: Follow you or stop you so you get attentive again and he can continue leading.
Every millisecond of the dance should be spent, waiting for the lead (only if it doesn’t come, you can take the initiative but we will see that later).
- Be responsible for your own weight. Engage your center, your weight. You need to feel each other’s weight at all times. Don’t use your arm muscles, hold the area around your core/stomach so you aren’t a vegetable, and put your weight just a bit forward (over your toes). Keep your frame (Elbows stay in front or, at best, sideways). You want to lift your partner up, not push him down with your weight (Check this cool article to learn more about Heavy Followers and how to avoid being one). The fundamental rule for managing your weight is that you should be able to continue holding yourself and dancing fine if your partner and you stop dancing together – that’s where the role of the frame comes in = never let your connected arms move farther than your side and behind your center. When your arms start pushing that border, it’s your clue that your body should be moving.
- Be aware of the space around you – your eyes should always precede movement. Look where your partner is sending you. This often happens with boomerang, as well as when the girls use arm styling. Especially in crowded parties, less is more: Dancers should adapt the length of their steps according to the space available. Don’t be blind and expect the leader to do all the work for you. You can see spots that he cannot see, and so, should be in a position to help him. Sometimes, collisions happen because of the follower. So it’s good to keep in mind that we, too, have some responsibility. The leader has to do his best to not throw you into other people, but when you walk into a new space and your head is straight and your eyes are open, it’s ultimately your job to check where you are stepping.
Now, during the class, despite having said that you cannot do much beside hoping that you will have a teacher who cares about your following skills, there is still something you can do:
- Ask yourself: “Why am I doing this move”? – The moment you ask yourself: “Why am I/are we doing/dancing what we’re doing/dancing?” You’re introducing a reflective critical moment. If you cannot answer why you had to step in a particular place, or why you had to do this move with your head, or this or that, you should ask the teacher. Ideally, teachers will explain to you why you’re doing what you are doing without you having to ask, but it isn’t the majority. Also, some of them may be more like the dancing type and might not have thought so much about details if it came naturally to them as dancers. As a follower, your job in the class is to learn and understand why you had to follow the way you were asked to follow, and ask the teacher about it. If you don’t, your following might end up looking completely different on the dance floor because you actually didn’t understand what or how to follow the move.
3 – The Follower’s Mistakes
There are many things which a follower can do, mostly out of ignorance, I’d say.
I saw a great video some time ago. It was about tango, but, like most partner dancing advice, it applies to every other partner dance, including Zouk. In this video, they differentiated 4-5 types of followers:
- The Graceful Follower; also, Strong Follower when helping a weak Leader
- The Weak Follower
- The Self-serving / Showing-off Follower
- The Fighting Follower
4 – Surrender
Finally, one big concept which encompasses more or less everything else, is the concept of Surrender – which is about letting go of control – it’s a vulnerability that many people are afraid of, but which is necessary, I would say, in following; particularly if you are interested in hitting that Flow state.
In Tantra, surrender is the first “key”. It does not mean that you have to give up or lose anything. Rather, you have to accept to lose control, and only when you do, you will realise how good it feels and you will wonder why you couldn’t simply do that earlier. Like tantra says, “it is allowing the pure nature of your connection to everything in flow”. You are not trying to achieve anything, you are in total acceptance.
Although these qualities were mostly passive qualities, they are certainly not the only ones a good follower should have. However, because they are absolutely critical and fundamental to being a good follower, I wanted to start with this. In the following post, I will add quite a lot about the active qualities of a follower, which really make the difference.
Check-list for the dance floor:
- Use all your senses (mostly vision and touch for following skills)
- Forget about the patterns you learnt during the class
- Do only what he leads you to do
- Wait / Be slightly late
- Be prepared for absolutely anything
- Move your own body weight
- Be aware of your surroundings
- During the class – Ask yourself: “Why am I doing this move”?
Author of this article: Gaëlle Céline Le Vu
Contributors: Mikko Toiviainen
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Cited Works and Articles:
Tantra Article on the First Surrender
Guide to Etiquette
Tips on Following: Tips on Leading & Following in Salsa Dance, How to Lead and Follow