i’ve been getting into swing dancing lately – have any of you ever tried it? 

 [ha! i say “any of you” as though speaking to some mass of people.  unless “mass” is defined by “one – sometimes,” i am, perhaps, delusional.  (c:  but on with the delusion!]

i love it.  i have had so very much fun, and i think i’m learning a good bit.  the great part about the social dances i’ve been to is that they start out with a lesson where all the “leads” (usually guys) stay put and all the “follows” (usually girls) rotate around to different partners for the duration of the lesson.  this is a great way to learn from folks who know a little more and/or to learn by helping others figure out something new.  i’ve learned all sorts of new twists and turns and sharpened my basic skills by dancing with guys who have been doing this for years. 

 though, undoubtedly, a great burden is placed on the men who lead, i’m learning that there is, in fact, an art to the follow….

you have to actually. follow.

 with apologies for the split infinitive, it’s true.  you can’t just get complacent in the rhythm of the dance and execute expected moves.   a couple might go through a whole song without varying from the basic “side, side, rock-step” pattern – but the lead might also change it up randomly, leaving the follow to rock-step out of turn when he’s trying to get her ready to do some cool new spin.   or, worse – she might start to lead him into moves that she wants, mixing him up and throwing him off his role in the dance.

 i usually go dancing with two guy friends, and they’re great dancers.  They’re really nice guys off the dance floor, and they are equally gracious (as well as talented) on.  They’re also very helpful in pointing out how I can improve my form. 

For example, friend A and I were trying to learn the Lindy Hop one evening – and for two die-hard East Coast Swing dancers, this is a bit of a trick at first.  We were trying to master the basic step – the swing-out – and were having a bit of trouble.  I was the main problem: I kept trying to travel where I thought the step was going, fighting friend A’s guidance for where I ought to be. this past weekend, though, i think we got it.  for me, that meant catching the rhythm so that i could properly follow – much more than just sort of hanging on the end of the guy’s arm, waiting to be spun, dipped, etc.   i’m catching on to the idea that you have to let the guy know you’re there – that you’re ready to follow him.  he’ll lead if he has an idea that you’ll come with him. 

 it’s easy to consider following a passive act, but it involves holding your body in gentle opposition to his – responding with slight pressure to his hand in yours, or leaning into his hand on your back.  definitely, you have to trust that he won’t just forget you’re there and move his hand.  to lead, he has to pay attention to his follow.  in fact, one of his main jobs is to make her look good – to create a sequence of steps that show off her movements.  one of my favorite moves to dance is the pretzel, for exactly this reason: at the beginning of the count, the lead lifts both the girls hands up overhead, letting her far hand go and letting her near arm slide against his for several counts as she does her own shimmy-thang at the other end.  sure, he gets to swivel around a bit, too, but it’s the girl, with her swirly skirt and hips, that really gets to show off.  it’s his job to make sure she gets to shimmy her heart out for that measure.

i’m not married yet, but this always makes me think of the interaction between a married couple.  there are clearly defined roles, and one person is the designated “lead,” but that doesn’t mean that the “follow” just rolls over and plays dead, to be dragged along through life.  it means that she keeps close to him, watching what he’s doing, trusting him, and responding to his cues.  and at certain points in the dance, she gets to shimmy her heart out.  (c: