Don’t Finish the Lead’s Sentence!

Posted by Jake on 8th September 2015

Follow up to the workshop last night at Smokestack, about how follows can avoid anticipation.  It was such an interesting session, that I’ve written up our findings – but what do we mean by anticipation?  Credit to Nicky Lloyd Greame for many of the ideas in this post.

Think about when you’re having a conversation with someone, and it’s their turn to speak.  You’ve listened to part of what they’re saying and you’re confident that you know what they mean and start formulating your response – only listening with half an ear to the remainder of what they have to say.

This is a terrible way to go about a conversation!  The reason they’re still speaking is that they want to further qualify their meaning and you’ve missed perhaps the most important part of the message. Like if you skim read that last paragraph...

What’s this got to do with dancing?

The same things happen in a lead and follow partner dance.  Except the conversation is somewhat more one-sided.  For most of the dance, it is the lead that is speaking and the follow who is listening.

With their physical signalling, rather than their voice.  But the analogy holds.

Anticipation happens when the follow has decided what their partner is going to say before they’ve said it.

So why’s it bad?

Perhaps the most serious reason this is bad idea, is because the responsibility of keeping both of you safe on the dance floor largely lies with whoever is leading.  Let’s say a hazard presents itself, and the lead has to change the move last minute to keep the follow safe – in that case the follow must be listening and responding right up to the last moment and ready to respond.  Particularly on a busy dance floor.

It’s also going to hinder your development as a follow – you just won’t be able to hit the high levels if you do this.  There are moves that you simply won’t be able to do if you’re not truly following.

Anticipating moves is also going to throw the lead off their flow, because they have to constantly compensate for the unexpected behaviour.  This ties up a large amount of their concentration, brain power that is much better suited to choreographing cool moves and connecting with the music!

What can the follow do to improve?

Don’t finish the lead’s sentences!  Truly listen to the lead’s physical signals at all times, don’t second guess what’s going to happen.  A truly useful exercise you can do to achieve this – is to dance with your eyes closed.  It makes you so much more aware of the physical signals you’re receiving.

Get your frame, timing and footwork right.  Throughout the dance, have the mind-set that you’re trying to do a basic step – anticipate doing a basic step, if you’re going to anticipate anything!  It’s the lead’s job to suggest you don’t.  If you have this mind-set and go with the lead, you’ll find yourself stepping into a magical place.

Be prepared to get stuff ‘wrong’ and laugh it off.  Or even better pretend it didn’t happen – play it down.  If you watch the top dancers in the world carefully, they get stuff ‘wrong’ all the time but they’re expert at covering it up.  That will give the lead the freedom to experiment, which leads onto my next point…

It’s not just the responsibility of the follow!

As a lead, if you dance with a particular follow a lot – and have a predictable set of moves and patterns; then anticipation is pretty much inevitable – if you’ve been dancing a long time leads, personally I’d lay the blame at your doorstep, not at the follow’s.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of this and constantly push myself to get out of my comfort zone.

Someone gave me a great piece of advice once – when you find yourself doing a move or pattern that you usually do, change it at the last minute.  Even if that means getting it ‘wrong’.  Get yourself out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

If you were going to turn your partner left, turn them right.  If you were going to turn right, turn left.  Turning your partner into hammerlock?  Put both hands high, or neither high and see what happens.

As a follow, if you can relate to this, the please don’t be hard on yourself.  Just try and create an environment for the lead that means they feel free to experiment – heck, even ask them to experiment and try new stuff if that’s what it takes.  Remember play it down when things go ‘wrong’.

Get out There And Do It

Hopefully I’ve inspired follows to work hard at not finishing the lead’s sentences, and given leads a right royal kick up the proverbial to mix up what they do and keep challenging their partners – particularly those they dance with a lot.  It’s in your own interest at the end of the day.

Notice that I wrote: ‘For most of the dance, it is the lead that is speaking’; a partner dance should truly be a conversation – with the lead listening as well, and responding to the messages they’re getting back.

And that’s not to mention follows hijacking the lead, but that’s a post for another day…  Suffice to say that follows don’t have do as they’re told – but consciously deciding to hijack the lead is a very different thing to anticipating the lead and not truly listening.

Anyway that’s it from me, would love to hear what you think in the comments!

By Jake

Nearly a decade ago, I resolved to run a salsa night the way I thought it should be run and the idea for StreetSalsa was born.  The rest as they say is history..

I've made some of the best friends you could wish for through dancing, and want to share what a life-changing experience dance can be.

By Richard on 8th September 2015 at 21:46

Quacking post, Jake. Sorry! I'm constantly giving myself a kick up the proverbial with this and your post may be the final push I need to actually do something about it. I'm glad I'm not the only one challenging myself here! I think I've spent way too long hiding behind the excuse of "but I really want to perfect these moves" that I've gotten robotic. Not good!

I like your idea of changing your move last minute. I've tried this a couple of times, but I think it depends on how well your brain is working that day. It's a bit like my mojo in that respect. Sometimes I try it a lot, and it works really well. However other times I give it a go and royally mess it up.

The problem for me comes in doing it safely. If you're not on the ball it can be uncomfortable and unsafe for your follow. It's very easy to switch things up on the last beat and really hurt them!

Like so many things I guess it comes with practice and constantly pushing yourself - something which I'm now far more determined to do!

By Jake on 8th September 2015 at 22:00

Yeah I think it's probably worth mentioning that there is a time and place for this kind of experimentation. And maybe let to your partner know what you're up to, so they don't feel like they're getting everything wrong!

But with someone you know well, when you're not out dancing purely to have fun but more inclined towards practice - then it's defo an useful challenge to set yourself.

Keep your polished stuff for new partners and those special events :)

By Jake on 8th September 2015 at 22:01

And defo stay safe out there people, if you ever feel any resistance in a move - whether you know it well or not - just let go :)  And try again.

By Richard on 8th September 2015 at 22:07

Good tips - and yes to letting them know what you're doing. To all the follows who've heard me say "Sorry, I'm just dicking about now" (and that is probably all of the follows) this is what I'm trying to do!

By Siobhan on 8th September 2015 at 22:26

Haha Richard yes you've definitely said that to me! I like it, it lets me know I'm not getting it totally wrong.

Great post Jake, so useful. I am really guilty of this and I have been trying hard since I came back to relax more and go with the leads' signals instead of trying to skip ahead.

One thing I do struggle with though - occasionally a lead will me to "let them lead" and stop anticipating a move...but I have genuinely misread them and wasn't trying to lead myself.  When this happens, I never have the confidence to tell the lead "sorry but I couldn't read the signal". How do I do this without being rude?! I feel like it's bad etiquette to tell the lead that I felt the problem was them not me! This can depend how well I know the person of course. I just always feel like I have to apologise...

In the meantime I will continue practising listening - trouble is I always finish people's literal sentences as well as dance ones!

By Jake on 8th September 2015 at 23:08

I could write another article about your comment Siobhan!  But I'll try and be brief.  Personally, I think that the lead in this situation should keep their feedback to themselves.  The world would be a much happier place if people only gave feedback when they were asked for it.  That said, I would wholeheartedly encourage people to ask for feedback.

But to answer your question how do you respond?  I would try not to apologise, although it can be tempting.  You've done nothing wrong.  Whether the lead could have signalled the move better, or you did in fact jump the gun -  I don't think either of you should be apologising.

If you feel that you have to respond, and in this case a stern look might be a more effective response, I would say without apology, 'I interpreted the move as I felt it'.  And perhaps ask them what move they were intending to lead  - to potentially open up a useful, constructive dialogue.  I don't think you'd be rude if you did this.  Firm but fair.

By Richard on 8th September 2015 at 23:14

I can see the desire not to be rude, Siobhan. It's admirable. But then I think if the lead has made such a comment, it's a form of unsolicited feedback itself, and as Jake as pointed out before, these can be really destructive. As such I think if you challenged them it wouldn't be rude at all!

As Jake says, hopefully then you could move forward and try and figure out what went wrong, turning it into something constructive.

By Jake on 8th September 2015 at 23:20

Also, I've just read the main article again and it seems like I'm getting on at the follows to play it down and laugh off mistakes.  This is even more relevant to the leads.  When something goes 'wrong' (what does that even mean anyway?), we should all just smile, play it down and get on with it.

If people had that attitude then the situation you talk about would never occur Siobhan :)  And we'd have a much more creative space to play in where people don't fear 'mistakes'.

By Siobhan on 9th September 2015 at 09:31

Thank you both, helpful as ever! I guess I still feel like a relative newbie so it's easy to feel like 'this lead is better than me, so they must be right'...if that makes sense. However, your points are useful and will help me stop beating myself up! 

By Hannah on 4th October 2015 at 22:30

I've been told before, after apologising profusely for standing on feet, misinterpreting and generally getting muddled, 'Never apologise, it's alway the lead's fault.' After reading this, I definitely don't agree! It is a two way dance / conversation, neither partners 'fault' but I have begun to make a conscious effort to stop apologising and carry on dancing! 

By Jake on 4th October 2015 at 23:10

Yeah the 'always the leads fault' thing is useful but it's not a hard and fast rule. Too many Leads blame their partner when they've led a move wrong! Or tried to do stuff that's too complicated :)