A friend of mine recently went out dancing for the first time. To quote her, “I went dancing for the first time this weekend. It was horrible.” In two sentences my mind went from “Oh my gosh, like, I can’t believe you went dancing! Awesome!” to “Wait, what?” As someone who’s done her share of “firsts”, most of them were hard or scary. But, they were rarely horrible. She felt out of control. She had to dance with people she didn’t know, and it made her uncomfortable. She also had trouble following. All this added to what she called horrible.
While I don’t have any definitive advice for the former, I do have some pointers for the latter. What is following exactly? As the name implies, the woman (usually) complements the man’s lead in a certain way. For example, women travel backwards most of the time. This is because the man often goes forward. To put it all together, the man leads by walking forward, and the woman follows by walking back. Of course, things always sound easier on paper than when one actually tries to do them. That’s why I’m here. Hopefully I can shed a little bit of light on what really is a universal endeavor for ballroom ladies.
1) Your Legs Have a Brain, Too
Not really. A concept that needs to be addressed here is one called “muscle memory.” Unfortunately, I’m not as well-versed on this topic, biologically speaking, as I want to be. That being said, I’ll give you the explanations all my teachers have given me. Much like your actual brain, your muscles can “memorize” repetitive action. Given enough, the action will become second nature. For example, musicians have excellent muscle memory. If you’re a musician, you had to carefully arrange your fingers for certain notes. It was tedious, maybe even painful at times. But eventually, your muscles grew accustomed to the movements, and now you can play fluidly. It’s the same for ballroom, especially if you have a teacher. It takes a bit to get used to his/her unique style of dancing, but you’ll eventually learn. It gets better, I promise.
2) “Think Forward”
When I first started ballroom, I had no idea how to team dance with another person. It looked so complicated. Plus if the guy didn’t tell me what he was going to do, how in the heck was I supposed to do it? This is where muscle memory comes into the equation. But, the best tip I ever received was when Isaac, my very first teacher, told me to “think forward.” That is, be prepared for anything. This is more applicable to the social scene than to instruction, but it still helps me. If you’re currently doing a certain maneuver, don’t get comfortable with it. Put yourself in this frame of mind, “I may be doing this at the right now, but I could be doing this at any moment.” I know I’m being a semanticist (philosophy minor :D), but note that this is a state of mind, not a constant flow of thought. Be aware, but not submerged.
3) Physical Connection
This is where some people, including my friend, get uncomfortable. Dancing, especially ballroom, is a pretty intimate activity consider there is often not consummation by the two parties. So having a guy’s hand on your shoulder-blade, yours on his bicep, and your other two hands being held in what I can only call connected high-five, I completely understand her apprehension. Unfortunately, in my opinion, physical connection with your partner is the most crucial aspect of following. I love ballroom photos, especially the one that make it look like they’re sculpted.
Obviously, if you’re out social dancing, you may not want to do what I call “sandwich dancing” where the man and woman are stomach-to-stomach. There is a reason for this, which I will not explain now. Here’s the point: you need a physical connection to dance ballroom. When the man moves, you’ll feel it directly and immediately because of that connection.
If my friend were here, I’d encourage her to keep dancing, tell her what a rewarding experience it can be. Unfortunately, she gave me the impression that she wasn’t going to try it again. Ah, well, not everyone can be a dancer. As long as she uses her gifts happily, I’m happy.
Author’s Note: I’m considering writing a post on dancing stomach-to-stomach (a.k.a sandwich dancing), but I don’t want to bore you with scientific explanations if that’s not your thing. So, should I write it?