I am of the school that believes that communication is warranted anytime something about a partner's dancing betrays ignorance about something he or she definitely needs to know. I have always appreciated it when ladies have been willing to let me know things I needed to know. That is how I learned to correct many of my own infelicities, and beginning ladies almost always appreciate little tips like "oop, don't stop yourself," if she stops travelling or turning before I stop her, or "hey, I was using that!" if she pulls a hand away, or "hold those slows!" and counting the rythm for her is she is stepping ahead of the beat.
The times to forbear are 1) when you are not sure what to say. Unless you are clear about what the lady is doing, that it is her and not you who are being oblivious, and you can easily help her out, don't try. To follow, she needs to be feeling the lead. If you are going to distract her with words, they need to be ones she can easily grasp and respond to or else the distraction will just be an unproductive interference.
2) If she isn't a beginner and doesn't automatically appreciate help, then you have to be judicious. I will often say: "that step is really hard to lead. There is a trick to it for the lady. Do you want me to tell you?" If she reacts negatively to an offer of communication or to unsolicited communication, desist. (Ladies, be aware that the men will desist if you react negatively to feedback, cutting you off from further feedback.)
3) When communicating through the lead will work better. Often you can clarify your lead, by cheating a little if you have to. If a woman pulls her hand away, causing a pattern to explode, I will often just do it again, this time giving her finger a tiny pinch so that she knows not to pull away. Even advanced dancers will sometimes pull away, if a pattern reminds them of another they have done a lot and the muscle memory has them being released at that point. A tiny pinch will not only keep their hand, it will signal them that the man is doing it for a reason, as clearly as if he said in words: "now don't pull away..." Once she stops showing a tendency to pull away you can stop cheating. In general, make sure you are being clear in your own lead before trying to communicate verbally, but in the end I find that verbal communication (in either direction) about leading and following is usually an enjoyable and productive part of the dance experience. If two people can enjoyable and productively about dance through the use of words, by all means they should not consider it taboo.
Date Last Modified: 8/27/99
Copyright Alec Rawls © 1998