In this post, I wrote about what a “pure follow” is, and why you might want to be one.
Today, I want to talk about strategies for achieving that goal.
Of course – it is a forever receding target. We can never be the most perfect, or the most “pure” follows. Never. But I really do think we can come close.
Here are the few ways I’ve discovered that work best, at least for me, in helping enhance my capabilities as a pure follow:
Nobody ever improves without practicing. The more you dance — and mindfully so — the faster you’ll improve, and the better you’ll be.
This happens at home, it happens in the studio, it happens at rehearsals, it happens on the floor. The more frequently you practice (and in a thoughtful way), the quicker you’ll improve.
2. Do more than one dance.
I know I’m pretty obvious about this being important in this blog, but I do several dances. Every single dance I add enhances the quality of dancing I bring to the other dances I already do. Why? Because each dance has its own specific set of skills that it focuses on (eg, kizomba, zouk, bachata, salsa, west coast)…. and these skills are useful in all of the other dances, too. For example, the range of torso motion emphasized in bachata can really help follow a salsa leader who likes body rolls and dips.
3. Listen to your partner.
Try as best as you can when you social dance to forget the moves you learned in lessons–or even moves you’ve done previously with other leaders–and just listen very presently to what your current partner is doing. This is very challenging but can be extremely rewarding both in terms of the quality of your following as well as the quality of your connection.
4. Make social dancing your learning space.
Many people will disagree with me somewhat here. They’ll say – learning is for the classroom. The social floor is for fun. But I think they couldn’t be more wrong. There’s no saying you can’t have fun and learn at the same time. You don’t have to be a burden on your partner. Nobody ever needs to know you’re even doing it…learning on the dance floor. Just pay attention. Notice what your reaction is to different leads. Discover your own programming and presuppositions. Then get rid of it. Try and clear your mind of your predictions and simply go with the flow. Study your own social dancing and learn your own habits, so that you can simultaneously enhance the good ones and get rid of the bad ones.
5. While you’re at it, watch.
Watch other dancers. Learn from their movements. Discern what the more common patterns are… and figure out where they might be broken. Pay special attention to leaders and followers who don’t seem to follow the rulebook, but are instead playful and creative with their dancing. What do they do? What can you import into your own dancing?
6. Assume ‘mistakes’ are your fault.
This is not just the nice thing to do, but it’s also the fastest way to become a better social dancer.
I go into every single social dance I do with a critical eye on myself. If something “goes wrong,” I assume it’s my fault. I pay attention to what’s going on. I press myself to find ways to spin more efficiently, to connect my frame with fewer leaks, and to read my leader’s intentions better. How can I change what I am doing to make this a higher quality dance?
This helps you continually refine your following such that you can follow whatever leads are giving you. It also enables you to be able to follow more. Higher level leaders have more precise, easier-to-follow leads. But they’re not the only ones you’ll dance with. Paying attention to your following and every leader you are with will help you with the whole range of leaders.
7. Ask for feedback from your leaders.
Ask: did I follow that like you intended? What did I miss? How do you think we miscommunicated? If I get a lead a few times in a night that I know I am doing wrong, I seek out a leader and ask them to show me what they intended.
This is directly related to the point above. You can start off by asking these questions in your own head – you will in all likelihood find the correct answer over time – but it always helps to get external feedback. Your own reflections combined with some thoughtful help from other dancers can really help fine tune your following.
8. Take classes from diverse instructors.
Different instructors have different viewpoints on just about everything, from social etiquette to turn patterns to the quality of leading and following. Diversifying your instructor set can go a long way toward getting you out of a fixed mindset and into more flexibility as a follower.
For that matter, it’s important to focus on continuing to learn and expand your range, period. Many people give up on lessons far too early, or never take them at all (myself included). I consider this to be a big mistake, since some instructors have very literal magic to share with us.
When I started travelling to different congresses I noticed my speed of improvement really pick up. Why? Because people dance the same dances with different styles all over the world. Compare, for example, bachata in Cadiz to bachata in Miami, or zouk in Poland to zouk in the Caribbean. There are huge differences between the two. In fact, having danced bachata only in the USA for my first few years, I could hardly follow anything given to me in bachata in Europe upon arrival. I’d say it took me about a solid six months to become proficient in European bachata.
But then when I came back to the USA, I could follow even more of the local bachata here than I could previously, because my skill set had been so expanded.
This goes for hemispheres and nations but also for local communities. DJs and instructors in Boston are different from DJs and instructors in New York, which makes for totally different dancing environments, and totally different kinds of leads.
The more you travel, the more expansive your following will be.
And with travelling I bring my list to a close. These are my favorite strategies for working on the “purity” of my following. Do you have similar strategies? Care about the same things? Want to recommend some ideas to me? (Please? 😉 )