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!