What does it mean to be a ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ follow? No, seriously, what does it mean?

I’m getting pretty curious about how these ideas and words circulate.

I haven’t heard a decent international teacher use the idea of ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ follows in years. But I still hear it at a local level.
This makes me think that either local teachers aren’t updating their learns regularly by taking classes/workshops (for whatever reasons – cost, time, inclination, etc), or those mid-level traveling teachers who do a _lot_ of teaching are still using the term and concept.

Anyways, now I’m starting to think about these quick-fix jargon type words (frame, light/heavy follows, compression, extension, etc), I’m wondering what people really mean when they use these terms.
It doesn’t seem to be used in reference to leads, which immediately makes me suspicious.

There seems to be this persistent myth that follows are 90% responsible for connection, which is then related to the idea that a good follow ‘just follows’, which suggests that following is magical unicorn trait. That tied to this inexplicable ‘heavy/light’ thing suggests some scary stuff about body size/weight and gender.

To turn it back into a teaching issue, how exactly does using this term and concept help people learn to dance?
What exactly are teachers trying to communicate to their students when they use this language?
I mean this as an honest question.

What is the difference between a ‘light’ follow and a ‘heavy’ follow?
The former responds really quickly to a lead, with no delay? The latter takes longer to respond? If this is the case, then how do we account for a follow takes the ‘right’ amount of time (eg 8 counts)? And then, how is this time measured?

Is it about time?
It really feels as though this idea of light/heavy follows is about response time. And this idea of ‘response time’ is separated from the idea of ‘time’ in a rhythmic/musical sense. A beat is a beat is a beat. The band sets the ‘time’, and if a follow is keeping that time, then they are always ‘in time’ and never ‘too late’ or ‘too early’…

Unless it’s all about responding to the lead. In this case, then it’s not that follow is too late or too early, but that the follow is not keeping the same time as the lead. This is a) bullshitly control stuff, or b) both partners neglecting the music, because we both have a responsibility to take care of the music.

Or is it about weight, mass?
But if it’s not about time, then is it about actual physical weight? That seems weird, because as a fat chick, I can easily make my hand float in my lead’s hand to ‘feel light’. It has nothing to do with my physical body weight.
Even so, I don’t think that the actual weight of a hand (or a body) is the issue, as we aren’t dead weights, we are active bodies, moving ourselves. Unless leads are asking follows to be dead weights physically wrenched around the floor. But that’s dumb.

Or is it about touching someone?
So perhaps it’s meant to be a way of talking about connection, in the physical and emotional sense? ie the difference between a limp hand that’s just being held by someone else, or a situation where two people are actively holding each others’ hands?

I’m down with that final scenario: when we dance with someone, we _both_ hold each others’ hands, and we both hold each other in our arms. Including follows. We are actively present with our partner. We are here, now.
But even here, we have moments when we aren’t 100% on. When we’re tired, or laughing too much to stand up properly, or when we’re holding our loved one, or … etc etc etc.

Can we just throw this term out the window?
Again, I think that I’m most interested in the idea of partnership as active, responsive, ever-changing, mutable. A ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ partner sounds like a fixed state. I don’t want to be a static or fixed state. I want my partner to know how I feel all the time, and vice versa. Because this is communication, not a leader giving follows directions.

What is ‘frame’ and do I want to use it when teaching?

Frame, a key element in lindy hop. With the diversity in students we use several different methods of showing/feeling/explaining what frame is. Still I notice that we have some students who we don’t seem to reach.
What are the ways you use to explain frame to your students?

I’ve been thinking about this issue since I read a post about it on fb. Miro’s comment, “I don’t know what frame is and we never use this term in our classes. Can you please explain what is your understanding of frame?” really stuck with me.

I think I’d like to turn the original question around, and ask “What do you want to teach in your classes that you’re grouping under the word ‘frame’?”

Again, this is where planning classes in terms of ‘goals’ and ‘values’ is so useful.
What do you want to _achieve_ in this class?
What stuff do you group under the term ‘frame’?
Why are these things important to you?
How can you get students experimenting with these things in class without you spending 10 minutes on a long explanation?
…or, what are some fun dance steps that employ this principle, or a single step with a bunch of variations (eg turns) that you can work on in class, with gradually increasing levels of difficulty, until students have a sense of how it works?

Discursive differences: rhythm-first and ‘technique’
I know quite a few teachers who focus on old timers, and/or who’ve been teaching for a very long time, learning originally from old timers insist that they “don’t teach technique.” This is patently untrue, as of course they teach technique, they just don’t use jargon or frame it as ‘technique’. An insistence on a solid rhythm, for example, and how to do it, is of course a discussion of technique.

So I think there’s a general trend in some of the modern lindy hopping world to revisit the roots of lindy hop… or rather to imagine how an OG might have learnt or taught other people (primarily by show-and-do), and to abandon verbal descriptions and language-oriented classes.

There are, of course, lots of problems with white middle class people imagining how black working class people from previous generations learnt and taught. I mean, why not just go to a street dance class today, or join in on a cypher if you want to learn how black kids learn to dance?*
I also think there is some low-key racism going on, imagining that black dancers just ‘naturally have rhythm’, rather than their devoting extensive hours and focus to developing physical movements and techniques. Learning to dance, or developing a dance style is a matter of craft, far more than it is an act of ‘creative inspiration’. The inspiration might get you on the floor, but it’s hundreds of hours of good, solid work and craftsmanship that keeps you honing your art.

So while I’m all about ‘natural movement’ and all that, I’m also very much aware that becoming a really fucking good dancer requires lots of work, and lots of iterative experimentation. I mean, Remy’s great, but he didn’t get that good just by stepping onto the dance floor. Dood practices a LOT. Endlessly.

*Because doing that would be admitting that a black kid in urban Baltimore knows more than a white middle aged, middle class person running a dance class.

So what is ‘frame’ anyway?

If I was to take this idea of ‘frame’ and untangle it, within this ‘rhythm first’ teaching paradigm (which I guess i do belong to, with some equivocations of course), what would I think of as ‘frame’?

It’s a hard one, because i simply don’t think of dancing that way any more. Sure, I was on board in the early 2000s when all the (American) kids were wiggly hopping and focussing on technical exercises and some mystical ideal lead/follow dynamic. But these days I aint got time for that. I want to have fun.

So I’m guess the idea of ‘frame’ is to do with how we communicate movement between partners?
I notice in a lot of discussions of ‘frame’ the focus is on follows, with the attendant idea that a ‘good dance’ is about a lead transmitting movement/leads to a follow, who then perfectly executes them? That sounds very boring to me. The idea that we need to develop a perfect way of holding our bodies and muscles (whatever that may be) so we can be a conduit for a lead’s creative vision makes me want to go do some crocheting.

I mean, it’s also not historically useful. If we look at footage of the OGs in the olden days, we see lots of bodies that isn’t technically ‘perfect’ in a 2000s sense of frame. But it gets the job done, and it’s bloody good dancing.

So, if we rework the concept to sit more comfortably with a more equitable and interesting idea of leading and following as partnership, the goal of ‘frame’ is to share musical ideas. Cool. But also not cool.

How do we communicate ideas to our partner?

I have a lot of tools available to me for sharing musical ideas: my eyes and ears, as well as my sense of touch. I can literally call out a move, or tap or clap out a rhythm, or demonstrate a rhythm for my partner to see. All this in addition to what they may feel when we are touching.

I think this sense of touch is really important in lindy hop, but I also think a lot of peeps who are really into the idea of ‘frame’ neglect all these other, truly social ways of communicating. It’s ok to talk to your partner, for example. I can shout out “charleston!” in a big apple, and it’s all good. I can scat a nice melody as I dance. etc etc etc.

I also like to rethink concepts of ‘momentum’ and ‘energy’ in musical terms. So while I might use ‘frame’ as a way to explain how a partner maintains or increases and decreases a rate of movement in concert with their partner, I have another tool. Music.
Rhythms are, in dance, a way of explaining how a body moves through time and space. ie, how long it takes to move a body part.

Rather than using a bunch of words or abstract exercises to teach students about ‘momentum’, I could have them experiment with a stomp off and a triple step at various tempos, figuring out how much weight to commit on a stomp off without getting ‘stuck’, and explore the things these two steps have in common and and how they are unique.
I could use a bunch of words to explain these similarities and differences, but then I’d have spent a bunch of time and brain making a dance step into words. When I don’t really need to do that, not to teach, and definitely not for my own dancing.

The advantages of see-and-do vs talk-heavy teaching tools

I am increasingly convinced that verbalising dance (ie teaching with heaps of words) slows down learning and teaching. It privileges some people (the ones who are good at words, and translating words into ideas into visualising movements and then into actual movements). It’s not really helpful if my goal is to get people moving their bodies and laughing. And when I’m actually social dancing, breaking down a lead (if I’m following) into words and concepts and then back into actions is far too slow a process for actual dancing.

If we only have an hour each week, I don’t want to give all my attention to touch. I also want to avoid verbiage, and find quicker tools for sharing a concept. I want to play a lot of music, I want to have a lot of fun. I want students to feel confident and enjoy what’s happening.
This is why instead of using complex jargon and explanations, I like reminding people that they have a lot of useful skills for social dancing. They know how to hold someone in their arms, they know how to hold hands with someone they love, they know how to lead someone to the snack table to get a plate of food. So I don’t need to explain these things in incredibly technical detail.

I keep thinking about the way I’ve had teachers explain a handhold in lindy hop. Lots of talk about ‘energised fingertips’ and precise position of fingers and palms and stuff. But I _know_ how to hold hands with people I like. As a teacher, I’m actually less and less interested in telling people how to actually hold hands and which fingers go where. I honestly don’t care. They should hold hands in a way that makes it work, doesn’t hurt, is culturally appropriate for them, and feels right.

I want to let go of jargon like ‘frame’ because it slows down learning, it privileges a very white, over-thought idea to dance, and it steals time from historically-grounded classes. And we talk too much.

How I describe connection in lindy hop

Someone on the facey asked ‘how do you describe/explain connection?’ and this is what I said.

I don’t often talk about connection in class. I usually use the word to include a whole bunch of stuff:

  • the human/social connection between partners (mutual respect and collaboration).
  • the physical contact (ie where we are actually touching each other)
  • the rhythmic connection (ie our shared relationship to the music, our shared sense of groove v two people just randomly grooving independently).

ie my three ‘rules’: take care of your partner, take care of the music, take care of yourself.

But my favourite description is: We are a team, and if partner X does something cool, it’s a win for both of us in the team. I also like the Jenny/Rikard description of lindy hop as a rally car: the lead is reading the map, and pointing out that there is a turn up ahead, but the follow decides whether to take the turn, how fast to turn, whether to stop and reverse, etc etc etc.

I don’t talk about all the technical body stuff in class if I can help it, as a one hour dance class is not the place to learn about turning on your pelvic floor – we go to pilates for that.

But if I want to improve the way two dancers are ‘connecting’, I will ask them to do a few things that have effects on their biomechanics:

– Look at each other (because the gaze actually affects the way we hold our heads on our necks, how we orient our torsos, and all the way to our feet. eg when the lead bows to the follow on the beginning of a swing out, if the lead looks at the follow, they won’t collapse their head and shoulders by looking at the ground, and they won’t create a strange off-set connection by looking to their right shoulder).

– Ask them to observe how they are touching their partner, and what messages this contact sends their partner (eg I ask the follows to observe their left hand on the lead’s shoulder – are the fingers making a claw? what message does that send their partner?) I don’t ask them to change what they’re doing, but to observe their own bodies. There’s nothing at all wrong with telling your partner you are freaking out by having your fingers clench into a claw on their shoulder; it’s important to communicate like this.* I also ask them to observe _themselves_ rather than their partner at first, because follows are often pressed to think of their bodies as a conduit for the lead’s ‘vision’ of a move, erasing their own sense of self and volition.

– Find a shared sense of groove with the music. So first we may do some grooving alone (usually with purpose in a game where groove is a side effect, not the stated goal), then we work on dancing _together_ and finding a shared sense of groove, where we don’t sacrifice our own sense of timing or rhythm, but we don’t ignore our partner’s. One of the consequences of this approach is that they really ‘listen’ to each other, using their sense of touch, and also their visual sense.

– Looking at each other, and doing lots of call and response work. I think that a lot of hardcore technical classes neglect the sense of sight. But we use our eyes for so much communication, it’s ridiculous to abandon it. And also we are social humans use rely on body cues and nonverbal visual communication all the time. Lindy hop is about visual communication with a partner too.
So I am quite against exercises where you close your eyes.

*This is why I am impatient with technical discussions of ‘connection’ that encourage us to adopt a ‘perfect’ physical connection via biomechanics. A ‘perfect’ connection prioritises ‘perfect’ leading and following, and suggests that a perfectly executed move is the end goal. I would much rather people reminded themselves that they know how to communicate with their bodies, and to trust their own physical reactions and accept them. So I want to see dancers smiling or laughing or frowning or jiggling with excitement or stopping dead or whatevs, _not_ maintaining a ‘perfect’ connection at all costs.

Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)

Other posts in this series:

  1. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 1: a class structure)
  2. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)
  3. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 3: graduated challenges and application)
  4. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 4: Teaching ethos and goals)

The I-go, You-go game is a tap exercise we’ve appropriated for our lindy hop classes and use in lots of different ways. The game involves a caller/leader who claps or dances a step or rhythm, and is then followed by the rest of the group/a partner, who repeats back that same sequence in the same timing.
The game is fun because the follower repeats back the rhythm immediately after the leader, without pause, and the leader then begins a new rhythm immediately afterwards. So you’re dancing back to back, in time, with no gaps or time to stop and fuss.
The sequences can be a bar long, two bars, a phrase. Whatever works for you and your group. Obviously the shorter the easier (though a tap bar is a lot more complex than a lindy hop bar :D ). If we keep the tap roots of the exercise in mind, the little sequence should be repeated – so two bards (8 counts), where the sequence is repeated is the best option. For tap.

But the game is wonderful because its simplicity allows you to vary it to meet your students’ needs. Or your partner’s and your needs.

For tappers, this is a good intro to tap jams. For lindy hoppers, it’s a good intro to lindy hop – partnered jazz dancing.

We have been using this game as a core part of our beginner (and now higher level) lindy hop classes for about two months. It’s successful not only for students’ learning, but also for our own learning, as teachers and dancers. I like it because it embodies the call and response of lindy hop, and in fact, we now present lindy hop as ‘a long call and response game’ to our beginners. This is a nice way to get around the political issues of using ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ as titles. Though we still use those terms too :D

From a musical perspective, you can listen to a pair playing I-go, You-go, and hear it as an AABB phrase structure. And when you begin to think of the game like this, you can imagine a million other variations for teaching other lead/follow and musical skills. It’s also a MASSIVE amount of fun. Students enjoy it because it feels like fun, and the quick pace means you don’t dwell on mistakes or errors, you just move on immediately to the next challenge.

What rhythms do you use when you’re the teacher leading the whole group?

Depends on the point of the exercise. With the total beginners in this class, we wanted them to just use one rhythm (step step triple step). Why?
– To really make them feel comfortable with this as a time step (so comfortable they get bored and long for improvisation or something different).
– They learn to hear the difference between a rhythm clapped straight or swung.
– We wanted them to feel confident in the rhythm so they’d then experiment with shapes, direction, other parts of their body.
– The main point is that they really focus on their partner: a ‘win’ is where the person responding gets it ‘right’. So the caller understands that being very clear and deliberate is the point (ie you don’t try to trick your partner or be unnecessarily complex).
– I was fascinated to see that after starting this way, they incline their body towards their partner, then keep this orientation in closed/open. They really focus on their partner. So you don’t need to say things like ‘look at your partner’ or ‘check in with your partner to see how they’re going’. They’re already doing it.
– I learnt this from Rikard and Jenny in the Herräng teachers’ track, but I-go, You-go is a tap exercise. Except in tap you have to reproduce rhythm, pitch, specific part of the foot, AND shape.
– This game is also an exercise in mindfulness. So we begin with a big apple warm up (a fun, simpler I-go, You-go game, then consolidate and concentrate the same skills in the teacher led and then partnered versions. By the time they get to actual partner dancing, they are really using these skills intently. That gives them the ‘take care of your partner’ and ‘take care of the music’ elements of lindy hop. When you shift to closed position for gliding, you can say ‘we’re still playing the game. But now you can’t seethe whole of your partner. Use your sense of touch, and the shared sense of timing from the music’. It’s better not to actually articulate that stuff, but to just get them to learn by doing.
– This game also teaches you to learn-by-watching (eg “I’ll do it three times then you do it,”) so you don’t need to break stuff down or talk a lot when tackling specific moves.

The I-go, You-go game can also be played with the teacher using different rhythms (and you match complexity to skills). But you need to be constantly assessing their progress. Repeat something slower if they don’t get it. Do a straight version then a swing version if they’re flattening out the rhythm. Get more complex as they get better. Push them until it gets too hard for them to do successfully (so they recognise challenge), etc etc.

A lot of tap teachers teach whole classes like this. It is FANTASTIC fun. No talking, just call and response.

When they glide with rhythm, we do ask them to do their ‘basic’ rhythm (the one we worked on), but we don’t really mind if they do other stuff too. We basically want them to learn how it feels to move with deliberate rhythm across the floor attached to another person. Maintaining perfect rhythm is just a lovely extra.

Teaching: handling distraction and disruption

Someone in the fb ‘teaching swing dance’ group asked this the other day:

Question – How do you handle distractions and/or disruptions

When your students are simply distracted or causing disruptions
When you as a teacher are distracted and/or having trouble staying focused

*Waving to you all from my own little ADHD corner of the world. I’ll respond more personally in comments below.

I read this as a continuation of an earlier discussion about managing excessive talking/cohort distraction.

I missed the point, that she was asking: how do I keep myself from getting distracted. Which is so interesting.

Anyhoo, the discussion continued.

[comment]

If they’re getting bored and distracted, you’re being boring. :D
They’re here to dance, not listen to someone talk about dancing.
Instead of hauling their attention back to you and your voice stop talking and dance. I struggle with this because I’m a total show pony. I LOVE an audience. No, Sam, it’s not all about you.
-> move from teacher-centred classes to student-centred classes.

We used to teach in a crowded public bar venue, with lots of ambient noise and crowding. Things we did:
– we do the ‘come in close’ in a circle thing, then say, “Ok, this venue is quit noisy, so when we say ‘come close’, everyone come in close, we’ll talk, then we’ll all scatter again to dance.” Very effective. I like them to come _really_ close. From here it’s quite fun to demonstrate dancing stuff, so they can see how little room you should use on the social floor anyway. And they can see better as well.
-> I still use this technique now in our bigger space.

– Talk less, dance more. So they don’t get distracted, because you only have a minute or so to talk/listen. So instead of explaining how a move works, the ‘we’ll do it three times’ method keeps them focussed.

– “We’ll do it three times only, then you will dance it _perfectly_.” Gee they pay close attention. But this also trains them to learn-by-watching, which means they really _focus_ when you demo.

– Give them the task, _then_ say ‘rotate partners’ and put the music on. That way they can take as long as they want rotating, and you don’t have to fuss with managing noise, distraction, etc. They figure out: if they dick around, they miss out on dancing time.

– If you give them a ‘tip’ or a thing, they have to dance on it immediately. Don’t load them up with three or more things you saw that need ‘fixing’. If it’s lead or follow specific, you also give one to the other role, then they all dance on it immediately. One thing only for each (or both). Then dancing. Less talk, more dance. Less distracting.

– Rather than stepping in to ‘fix’ something you see while they’re all practicing, let them dance and experiment and fix it themselves. If you step in, they rely on you to help, and they lose focus and get distracted. If they get used to figuring it out, they learn focus and patience and can work on a challenge for longer. Your challenge: knowing when to step in before they get dejected.

– Learn the natural patterns of conversation and noise in the room. Give them a task, then let them do it on their own with music (and a partner). If you’ve already shown them how to talk to a partner (eg your demo about how to touch someone), they have the skills to work with a partner.
Let them go. For a _whole_ song with one partner. It’s only 3 minutes, but a lot of teachers _never_ do this!
You’ll see there’s immediately a rush of noise as they try it. Then a lull as they get ‘bored’ and act all ‘there, done it.’ Then the noise rises again as they a) start yapping randomly, or b) start trying again. The random yappers actually stop yapping and eventually try again themselves. Then the noise crests again.
It’s really hard to learn to not step in; learn to hear those crests and troughs, and observe them, and figure out when you’re really needed. I find they rarely ask for help unless they’re really confused. They prefer to work with a partner, or with their partner and a neighbouring couple!
– During this pattern, they learn to stop and restart themselves. When you do all come back together, make sure you point out that you saw people doing this and you loved it: “I saw people get all confuzzled, then stop, say ‘can we try again?’ and then restart. That’s genius.” I often point out a specific dancer or couple who do this really well – I say, “I saw X and X stop, chill, groove a bit, then start in again.” If you do this, rather than saying “When you get stressed, do X, not Y.” They only hear the negative thing. But if you do it the positive way, they realise a) you’re paying attention, b) you trust them to figure out stuff, c) they can trust themselves to figure stuff out.

c is the most useful, because then they learn to focus and stay on track.

-> Anyhoo, I think this is the most important skill ever. For teachers. Let the class get really noisy and rowdy. They want to socialise and talk.

– Don’t rush them to start dancing after they rotate partners. Give them time to do a proper social introduction, to slowly get so they touch each other. Good social skills, good boundary negotiation, but also good vibes.
-> They come to class for each other’s company. So let them have that time. It’s solid gold. It’ll be noisy, but it’s a _good_ noise. And learn to recognise the difference between good noise and antisocial noise.

I really love this approach. I don’t have to stress about being the centre of attention. I let them actually let their partner be the centre of their attention. You know – lindy hop. <3 <3 <3

[/]

The original poster then reminded me: hey Sam, we’re talking about getting distracted as a teacher rather than distracted students. Particularly when you’re managing anxiety and ADHD while also managing a class.

[comment]

Rather than finding it difficult to stay focussed, my problem is that I tend to find it difficult to stop focussing, and to switch topics or tasks. Obsessive thinking r us. Great for practicing or working on my own dancing, not good for teaching.

I think Byron’s point about using your partner is really good. I often rely on my partner to give me the ‘that’s enough talking’ sign so I stop. Especially if my brain is racing ahead and I forget to let them practice something 2 or 3 or 4 times instead of just once.

I’ve seen other teaching couples use the 2-teacher vibe in a few good ways: – they tag in and out for managing little chunks of a class – eg Pete runs the big apple warm up, I do the i-go-you-go rhythm warm up, Pete does the next bit, etc etc. That way the one who’s ‘tagged out’ can gauge the overall flow and step in with the next step at the right time.

– one teacher may ask the other a question about what’s happening, to help refocus the class: “So, Sam, are you saying that we should _practice_ more instead of just thinking about this idea?” or even “Can you show me how you’d lead that, Sam?”

– switching between teachers leading bits also helps students refocus or retune, because different people use their voice in different ways, or explain/demo in different ways. -> peeps with ADHD can also get really _tiiiiired_ because they’re on adrenaline overload rushing from one thing to another. So swapping in and out with a teacher can give the tagged out teacher a little rest and break.

[/]

I’ve just been thinking about how we may talk about neurdiversity and students, and the needs of students who are managing adhd, anxiety, depression etc, but we don’t talk about teachers managing these things.
I feel as though I’ve been working with that very limited idea of teachers as somehow homogenous monolithic neuro-same. FAIL. Odysseus’ recent blog post about how to attract and appeal to culturally and ethnically diverse students makes me realise: start with MYSELF, and stop making my own identity markers disappear.