Key skills: rhythm, timing, jamming and FOLLOWING

With some key skills of rhythm, timing, and jamming in mind, how does a follow communicate to a lead that they would like to extend a 6 count send out into an 8 or 10 or 16 count send out?
How does a lead communicate the same thing?
We looked at this in Jenny and Rikard’s class (Herrang teachers’ track 2017). I’ve done this a few times, but I’ve been tired each time, so I always forget details.
Ok, so a good option is for the follow, on being ‘sent out’ (eg after count 2) to simply not move so far or so fast. They just take a longer time getting out into open. If the lead is paying attention, then they figure it out.
How can you take longer?

  • Change the rhythm of the step from step step triple step triple step to something longer.
  • Orient your body in a different way. eg if you turn to face your partner more, and make it clear with your body that you’re staying on the spot, the lead will figure it out and not try to ‘push’ you out.
  • It helps if you have something to do when you’re not moving so far in space. I suggest jazz. aka dancing. Which then implies: if you don’t feel the music suggesting you take longer on this move, then why take longer? Just need a break? Want to change the pattern? It’s all good. But have a good reason to do what you do.

How do you then signal to your partner that you’re ready to ‘start’ the shapes again?

  • You can just hold out your hand and smile up at your partner in a ‘What now?!’ face. But that’s weird.
  • Another way is to use a triple step to create a finish point or some other sort of rhythmic ‘full stop’ to say ‘hello, I’m done!’
  • Jenny also talked about creating stretch to say ‘hello, here is the connection again, would you like to suggest another shape?’

This is where my brain was blown:

  • You can create stretch in A MILLION DIFFERENT WAYS.
  • The easiest way is just to back away from your partner until your arms are literally stretched. BUT you are a flexible jointed creature of great ingenuity!
  • You can create a stretch by getting really loooow, so your arms are drawn a little more stretched.
  • You can create a stretch by getting really hiiiiigh, so your arms are stretched.
  • You can turn into your own arm, so your arm gets ‘shorter’ to create stretch (think about Al Minns doing worms on 7-8,1-2 of a swing out, where he crosses into his own arm and it creates a stretch that then sprongs you back together from open into closed).
  • I think the key thing is that this change in connection says to your partner, “Hello, friend, something is changing!”

I knew this about stretch already. But I hadn’t thought consciously about applying it this way. I know I play with the concept a lot when I’m social dancing (eg as a follow I extend the time I spend in open during a swing out by allowing the stretch to develop until I’m ready to sprong in; as a lead I may keep the connection more relaxed until I have a clear vision for the next few counts).
But I hadn’t thought about applying it this way in a teaching context.

I would never ever ever start the class with this point: “hello, let’s talk about stretch.” Because I think that technical exercises or theory in space are useless. I’m very function-first. So in this case I’d come in with the question, “Let’s see how we can extend a 6 count move to an 8 count one,” and then gradually build up the dancing from an ordinary 6 count send out, then adding in each element as we went.

As Jenny and Rikard pointed out, both leads and follows can do this stuff.
In my brain, I think that I signal the approaching end of a ‘shape’ (as a lead esp) by: reorienting my body (towards, away, whatevs; it creates a stretch or changes the connection or just plain makes it easier for me to look my partner in the eye); by doing a triple step or another step that feeds some energy into the connection/my body and gets me prepared for leading or initiating something different; etc.

Teaching this stuff:

  • Check in with your partner:
    As a teacher, I tell my students to “Check in with your partner.” They are looking to see if their partner is ready to do something new (or still jazzing out), are checking to see if their partner is ‘getting’ the rhythm they’re doing, checking to see if the call-and-response stuff is working, etc etc etc. This establishes a visual connection, but the act of looking at your partner also reorients your posture and body – by turning to face your partner with even just your head, you change the way your body and muscles are working.
  • As a very simple example, I have the leads remember to ALWAYS look at the queen of the world when you’re bowing to the follow. Because as soon as they drop their heads, the connection is broken, because they tend to hyper-extend their arms out of the shoulder, and different muscles are engaged. By looking up, they engage different muscles.
  • But that’s too much to say to noobs. Just say “Look at those mighty swivels!” or “Check in with your partner” and they get the picture.

I find this approach much more sophisticated than other stuff I heard during the classes I did that week and the next.
Following is more than just choosing to follow or not to follow. This is a limited paradigm. I want to completely revise the framework we use for thinking about leading and following.
eg I heard one teacher explain a follow’s contribution to a move as being ‘choosing triple steps instead of step steps’. But this choice was dictated by how much energy the lead was asking for in a particular turn. This was simply a matter of a follow working within this paradigm of a follow’s options being ‘follow or not follow’.
This is such a boring, overly-simple and limiting way of thinking about what follows can do.
I think a follow should always be choosing what footwork they do, and their choices should be guided by:

  1. Function (eg a triple step feeds in energy and can be faster than a step step in a turn),
  2. Aesthetics (what they want to look like),
  3. The rhythms they feel,
  4. The rhythms they hear in the music,
  5. Adding texture and contrast to what the lead is doing,
  6. The way they feel at the time, and the things they want to express.

If my only choice, as a follow, is to do what a leader is doing (and ‘asking for’) or not then what is the actual point of being a person with a brain and creativity. Why not just be a copying robot. BORING.

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