Tonight’s musicality class was all about collaborative dance: Response to our partner. To agree, to change, to add.
To me, the transition from me leading everything to a collaborative dance is one of the most exciting prospects. I’d previously seen this as a very advanced skill, one where I’d have to develop my own dance skills to a high level first, but Diego Bado had given me a different perspective on it. Paraphrasing him from a conversation we had …
When we learn a language, we don’t wait to learn the entire vocabulary before we start listening to our conversational partner. We start listening from the beginning.
That made perfect sense, and my first taste of the reality of this idea was great fun.
Of course, there are practical issues. It’s no use an experienced follower proposing a movement I don’t know how to make. And I didn’t yet know anything much about how to listen for proposals from a follower. So my reality to date has mostly been the ‘lead a Parada, pause, slacken the embrace and see what happens’ approach.
Responses to that have varied. Some followers have simply waited patiently (or not) for me to get on with it. Some have decorated for two or four beats then immediately handed back the lead. And some have really run with it, and I’ve tried to follow them until they pause to hand back the baton.
One follower tonight said that some far more experienced leaders don’t do that, so at my stage, I was off to a very good start. But I was really looking forward to understanding more about the practicalities of having the dance be more conversational.
The delightfully mundane secret
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting … I think some subtle signs, some signals which are mutually understood by advanced dancers. But no: the reality was incredibly mundane! It’s just the follower back-leading.
The examples Olga had us practice were the follower proposing a change of pace, and the follower proposing a pause.
For the change of pace, the leader led steps to the beat (technically, to every other beat as the song was a fast one), and at some point the follower would aim to slow them down to either a half- or quarter-speed step.
The principle was simple. Provided the two of you are well connected, the follower resists a step and then leads it at her pace. The leader then follows her pace until she relaxes the embrace and then he takes over again.
The practice was trickier. I was finding at first that I was already committed to the step by the time the follower tried to slow it. That could be that the follower needed to act more quickly, or that I was rushing the step. Either way, the followers who successfully managed it with me were those who signalled their intent early. As I was collecting on the prior step, they were already stiffening the embrace to signal something was about to change. Again, a reminder of the importance of signalling a significant change when leading.
At home, I asked Steph what she did – as I know she’s a very active follower – and she demonstrated. Sure enough, it was a (very assertive!) back-lead.
All of which is excellent news to me! It means I don’t need to be tuning into to some mysterious Bat Signal known only to those of an exalted status – just alert to the possibility that a follower may try to slow me down or back-lead something of her choosing. Provided I understand what that is, that’s fine with me.
So, on the off-chance that an experienced follower who sometimes dances with me is reading this, you have free reign. Just remember I’m a very incompetent follower, so please signal early and clearly, and keep it simple!