Start at the beginning: how does following work?
The man controls the woman's shoulders, she keeps her hips with her shoulders, and that gives the man control over her feet, both for step placement and rythm. When a woman is just beginning it is hard for the man to lead rythm for her because she does not yet know how to follow, so the usual starting place is with the rythm, but in some dances, like east coast swing, rythm is so easy to lead and follow that the woman can follow it with no instruction whatsoever, except maybe to have the rythm whispered to her a bit so that she can have confidence that she is doing it right.
Swing is easy to lead for three reasons: 1) A lot of time the man is shaping and redirecting the woman's momentum rather than straight stopping and starting it, so he does not need a lot of control, 2) the positions in swing give the man a lot of control. 3) When the man does have to squarely stop and start the woman's momentum, he is generally stopping her from going away from him and starting her coming back towards him. It is easy to stop a woman from going away. The man just keeps hold of her hand and stops himself. If she lets her arm extend all the way so that she gets jerked at the shoulder he just tells her that he could lead her more gently if she would keep a little bend in her arms.
Other dances take more technique because the man will often be stopping the woman from coming towards him and then starting her going back. In order for the man to stop her from coming forward, she needs to have resistance in her arms. She can't let her elbows get pushed back past her sides or that will be the lead vanishing into thin air. The man can put pressure out there to stop her, but if there is no resistance in her arms, the pressure will never get to her shoulders. Thus the very first step listed above: "The man controls the woman's shoulders," turns out to be the tricky part. The woman has to learn how to give the man control over her shoulders. Letting her hips then follow her shoulders is probably the easier half of the equation to "get." So:
How does the woman give the man control over her shoulders?
To impart force to the woman's shoulder, the man needs something to push against. Thus the woman keeps "tension" or "resistance" in her arms. There is a resistance to collapse and actually a slight pressure against the man. There should be just enough tension between the couple so that the resistance in the woman's arms is live and can act as an antenna. Then when she feels increased pressure, she gives increased pressure back. She does not try to time it. She just resists collapse in the arms as hard as she has to in order to not collapse! The man will not impart more pressure than he has to to control her shoulders, which she then uses her own motive force to follow with her hips, so the man is not using a lot of force. The application of pressure by the man and the mirroring of pressure by the woman becomes very clear and refined and articulate. With very little force the man can have precise control of the woman's shoulders, and if she is adept at using her own motive force to follow her shoulders, he gains precise control over her feet. This is the miracle: it works.
Exercise: you are a foodcart
There are a variety of exercises that teachers use to try to teach students how to keep proper tension or resistance in their arms, so that forces imparted to their hands and fingers will carry through to their shoulders. Typical is to have pairs of students face each other a foot or two apart, put their hands together in patty-cake position, then lean in against each other, each leaning in enough to match the pressure of the other's lean, while keeping tension in their arms so they do not collapse on each other. (A single person can do this with a wall as their "partner".)
This exercise is not bad for learning how to have tension in the arms. It teaches the woman to match the pressure she feels from the man, which is just what she needs to learn. Unfortunately, this exercise teaches her exactly the wrong thing to do with her feet! In order to resist and offset her partner's lean, the woman in this exercise must resist, not just in her arms, but she must resist all the way down her body to the floor. That is, her hips and legs are resisting too. But her hips should not be resisting, they should be following the force applied to the shoulders. If the woman is recieving that much force to her shoulders, she should not be standing still, she should be zooming backwards!
Thus I use a different exercise with a different metaphor. I tell women: "you are a food cart, with steel arms and really good wheels." Then I'll give them a little push on the hands. If they let their elbows go behind them I will remind: "steel arms..." until the push gets through to their shoulders. If the push gets through, and they resist from the floor instead of just in the arms, I remind: "and really good wheels." If the push gets through, and it causes them to roll back, but then they stop their own backward movement, I emphasize: "really good wheels. Once you are rolling, you keep rolling, until I impart a force to your 'handles' that stops you." If she has any trouble understanding I say: "I am a foodcart. Push me." She gives me a little push. I resist with the arms, letting the force go to my shoulders, and I follow with the hips, rolling back, just as if I had ball bearing wheels and was pushed. Then just practice a little. Give her a push back. Catch her "handles" to stop her. Give her a tug to get her rolling front. Use a slight force to stop her rolling front. Give her another push back, etc.
Once we get to later points, like resisting side to side leads, so that turning forces will get through to the shoulder, the foodcart metaphor is again applicable: "imagine you are a foodcart with wheels that roll in any direction, and I push your handle to the side. In order for your arm not to be pushed away from your body, you have to push back against my force, which gives me something to push against, so that my force gets through and turns your shoulders. You follow your shoulders with your hips, and makes you take turning steps."
There are many nuances to add: advanced arms are not like "steel handles." For front and back leads, the upper arm locks in place and the forearm is about half relaxed. For side to side leads, that forearm tension comes into play to allow side to side forces to get through to the shoulder. Also, a foodcart is inert, while the lady uses her own motive force when she is following her shoulders with her hips. When the shoulder is led forward, she steps forward, impelling her own weight so as to keep her balance. I have never found misunderstanding about this to result from the foodcart metaphor. Women are live. Their tendency, in trying to do their part, is to take steps that were never led, rather than to act inert. Getting them to try to be a little bit more inert, to feel their momentum and follow it, is the beginning of their learning where their attention should be: it should be on their momentum at that moment, and on the forces imparted to it. They are not supposed to know where they are going. They are not executing patterns as the men do, but live entirely in the present, feeling and responding to the shaping of their momentum by the man. For achieving an understanding of the woman's role, the food cart metaphor seems to me to be an excellent starting point. The trickiest part of learning to follow may be learning to do the opposite thing with one's hips and one's arms: while the arms resist, the hips follow. The food cart metaphor unites these two seeming opposites into a coherent whole. Steel arms and good wheels. Ah ha. I'm a foodcart.
Tip: never look down!
A beginner lady's first instinct is to look down at the man's feet to get a clue about what she should be doing. Wrong! Looking at the feet will put your mind in the wrong time frame! As described above, the lead flows from the shoulders to the hips to the feet. I say to ladies: "I control your shoulders. You follow with your hips. That gives me control over your feet. As far as you are concerned, you don't even have feet. Your feet are mine. I am the on who controls the feet. Your job is to keep your hips with your shoulders."
When the man leads the woman's shoulders, he times his lead so as to move the woman into each step. That is, the lead comes before the step, well before. If the lady is looking at his feet to see where to step, she won't be getting any information to go on in this way until the step occurs. That is a full half second after the lead into the step occured. Thus her mind will be in the wrong time frame, and that will make it impossible for her to feel the lead. She needs to look up and feel the connection to the shoulders and follow that.
It is very important not to get wrong habits, and nothing will make a woman more oblivious to what she needs to be feeling and reacting to than looking down. The lead comes at the shoulders. Her job is to keep her hips with her shoulders. Once she has learned how to follow, then her mind can go down to her feet and she can learn how to step correctly, but as a beginner, she does not even have feet!
Resist pulls as well as pushes
The principle of tension, and responding to tension, applies not only when the man imparts a pushing force, but also when he imparts a pulling force. In order for a pulling force to get transmitted to the woman's shoulder, the woman must pull back (resist letting her arm extend). That gives the man something to pull against, which gets the woman's shoulder coming forward. (This will in turn bring the woman's body forward, as she lets her hips move with her shoulders). If the woman fails to meet the man's pull with a pull of her own, her arm will just extend and no force will be transmitted. The lead will disappear into thin air and the woman whe will not follow (until her arm is all the way extended and she gets jerked at the shoulder).
Mirror relaxation as well as tension
Women often go through a stage, when they first learn to give tension and resistance, where they only give tension. But a part of mirroring tension is mirroring relaxation. Just as increased pressure calls for increased resistance, lessened pressure calls for lessened resistance. Indeed, many leads will be ballistic in the sense that the man will impart an initial moment of momentum then completely relax his arms, so that the woman will follow her momentum with relaxed arms, so that he can place her arms where she will wrap up into them or in some other way he can place the woman's arms where he wants them. If she does not mirror relaxation but keeps her arms rigid, then he can't put them where he wants to, and if he tries it will stop her momentum prematurely. The "stiff arms" stage is a good sign. It means the lady has learned to have resistance. But then she needs to be learning the next step, which is to mirror relaxation.
Tip: hold those slows!
Another crucial lesson for beginning followers is to learn to hold their slows. Many dances have a "quick, quick, slow" rythm, with the slow taking two beats to a quick's one. 90% of the times a woman gets off the rythm, it will be because she failed to hold a slow. This is because when someone is not sure what to do, the urge is to do something, which generally means take a step. But if a woman does not know what to do, the reason is usually because the man has not led her next step yet. She needs to wait! Hold that slow. Think of it as coming into balance, where you will hold balance until the man takes you off the slow into the next quick quick. Indeed, much of the artistry of dance comes from the man waiting until the last moment to lead. The idea is that, in a slow dance, an admixture of speed is needed, to give the dance dynamic range, and often one will want to emphasize this by holding the slow as long as possible.
Here is a trick that can help you hold your slows and wait for the lead:
Tip: Don't pick up the foot you are leaving until you have to.
As soon as you pick up the foot you are leaving, you have to start moving it somewhere, but until you get the lead for the next step, you don't know where to move it to. Consequently, you shouldn't pick up the foot until you have to, that is, until the lead makes you. If the man is waiting until the last instant on the slow to lead, it is expecially crucial that you are following this rule. Don't glue your foot to the ground. Just don't move it until the movement of your hips, following your shoulders, moves it.
Clarification: Mirroring pressure means always responding, never initiating or anticipating
I want to clarify that when the woman mirrors the man's tension (and relaxation), I mean by reacting. Because of this, she will never, even ideally, have the same pattern of pressure as the man because reacting is fundamentally different than initiating. The man will be doing things with pressure that the woman never does. The man is always trying to precisely time pressure, so he can precisely time the woman's steps. The woman never tries to precisely time her pressure. She feels the level of pressure that the man is asking for, gives it to him, and then he uses it to transmit a precisely timed lead and move her. If two people have a really good connection, with lots of communication, the woman will sometimes be mirroring pressure in a very complex pattern, but she is always following, always reacting, always a touch behind, which is crucial, because she can't know what he is going to lead and there are always a hundred directions he can go, so as soon as she guesses, she is bound to be wrong. Following is learning patience. The mind wants to leap ahead to where it might be going. The woman has to say to herself: "No. I must wait for where he takes me. That is where togetherness is, and togetherness is what I want." That is what partner dancing is: a way to be be together in movement, moving as one. The man has to learn how to constantly think ahead. The woman learns to live entirely in the present, being contantly suprised, having her patience contantly worked and constantly rewarded as the man waits as long as possible to lead the lady, creating the elements of fast and slow. Somehow these different roles seem to fit our different natures.
Even rythm can be led
If a woman can get the feel of having tension and responding to tension, she does not even need to know the basic step of a dance to start doing it. The man will be able to lead all of her step placements. In many basic figures, he will even able to lead the rythm. Since he has control over her shoulders, and her hips are following her shoulders, he has control over which foot her weight is on, and if she is responding to tension, he can control the timing of her weight changes. By the same principle, he can take her out of the basic rythm of the dance, and lead "syncopations." The limitation here is that leading the rythm often requires a position between the man and the woman that gives the man a lot of control. Often (particularly in "open" positions) the man has limited control of the woman's weight and counts on her to maintain the basic rythm unless he leads her out of it. Thus the woman does have to be keeping the rythm herself. At the same time, she must not be determined to do the basic rythm when the man leads her to make weight changes outside of the basic rythm. That is how to fall down, which is why many men don't lead a lot of syncopations with beginners. I will sometimes take the opposite tack and, if I feel that a beginner is getting the rythm from my lead, I will lead her out of the basic rythm, precisely so that she won't fixate on the basic rythm and start doing it herself. That would be a step backwards. If I've got her following rythm I want to take advantage of that to show her some of the terrain of rythm.
(Don't worry. No one actually lands on their rear end. Nature invariably takes over and the woman moves her foot under her weight before she can take a tumble. It can just be a bit of a shock for her to realize that she would have fallen if she had not had a self preservation reaction with it's attendant flash of adrenaline. As women become experienced with forced weight changes, and come to realize that they will automatically step with their weight and won't fall down or otherwise lose it, syncopations become second nature.)
Interjection: don't wait until you have a boyfriend to go dancing
The dance frame
The most complete connection between the man and the woman occurs when the two are in "dance position" or in "the dance frame." This is when the man has his right hand on the woman's back (under her left arm, up on the lower part of her shoulder blade), she has her left hand on his shoulder or upper arm (thumb in front, fingers in back), the man's left hand and the lady's right (their "dance hands") are joined between them and to the side, somewhere in height between the lady's ear and the top of her head). Each is offset to the left of the other enough so that the each's right foot is lined up directly between the other's feet. Ideally there is hip contact (i.e. the man and woman are close enough to maintain slight pressure between them where their hips come in contact when lined up so as to step between each other's feet) but in social dancing ladies are generally allowed to choose what distance they want to dance at. If the lady backs away from hip contact, the man should let her shoulders move away from him accordingly, so that she does not have to dance with her butt out.
To dance with contact, each should stand straight, tip their hips slightly forward (tuck the butt under), and have their shoulders up and rolled slightly back--a movement of the shoulders, not the back. The back should be straight, military posture, not arched. There should then be a tiny isometric tension (an antenna amount) between the man's hand on the woman's back and their contact at the hip. No clinching! It is up to the lady to maintain this slight pressure. She must use the pressure at the hip as leverage for keeping her back out against the man's hand. Remember ladies, very slight pressure, the weight of a one stamp letter.
Also, the dance hands should be relaxed with very slight pressure into each other and each holding up their own hand. One of the most miserable things for a man is a woman who hangs on his dance hand. Hold your own hand up! A metaphor that my sister learned from one of her teachers is to think of carrying a teacup across a room dangling your elbow from the teacup. It is the muscles of the shoulder that hold the arm (and the imaginary teacup) up. From that held up position, the arm is relaxed.
Men, if the woman is hanging on your dance hand, it might not be that she does not know what she is doing. Try following! Maybe you have it a little too high, and she has just gotten sick of reaching for the sky, especially if she is short. Bring it down and see if she doesn't hold it up on her own once you get it down where it should be. If she keeps hanging on, they you are faced with one of those dilemnas whether to say something or not say anything and just don't dance with them any more. (I think it is much kinder to say something, but in general one must be judicious about offering advice when dancing.)
Interjection: On giving advice
Following dips: chase constant pressure on the back
The very light tension in dance frame between the contact at the hip and the man's hand on the lady's back should be constant. This constancy is something that the lady can follow, allowing the man to shape her back in various moves, particularly in the club dances. If you feel the pressure from the man's hand on your back lighten, then to try to keep the pressure constant, you need to chase the hand. This allows the man to lead dips. If you feel a man leading a dip by starting to drop his hand away from your back, you want to follow first with your head, since dropping back your head is the greatest weight change involved in a dip. Once the head is back, then the man knows where your weight is and can control it in a sweep across dip or a straight down and up. What you don't want to do is let your shoulders chase the man's hand and when you are halfway down, drop your head. The man is likely to fall on you. (Men, if you start to lead a dip, and the lady keeps her chin up, don't go down any further.) I won't pretend to be any kind of authority on dips. It is rare that I find a lady I can do them with so usually I do not even try.
There are two distinct elements of momentum that must be independently maintained.
In dancing, the man is always shaping and directing the woman's momentum and she is always following her momentum until he does something to change it. She never stops or starts her own momentum on her own but only in response to a lead. When there is no current impartation of force from the man, there are two distinct elements of momentum that the woman needs to maintain: there is linear momentum and there is rotational (or angular) momentum. Absent any current impartation of force from the man the woman should keep travelling in the direction she is travelling, and she should keep rotating however she is rotating. (A person can rotate while travelling in a straight line by stepping forward, back, forward.)
These components of momentum are independent of each other and need to be conserved separately. Thus for instance, the man can change the womans angular momentum without changing her linear momentum (so that she goes from travelling forward across a room to traveling forward, back forward across a room.
The man's impartations of force direct the woman's momentum changes, but they impart only a fraction of the force necessary to change her momentum. The woman is supplying most of the force herself when she uses her own motive force to follow her shoulders with her hips. Even if a woman weighed a feathery 100 pounds, Arnold Schwartzenegger would get exhausted if he had to do all the work of starting and stopping her 100 times during a 3 minute dance. Let's look closer at how the man lead's the woman to stop and start herself. (Remember, she does not stop and start herself on her own, but only in reaction to lead.)
Imagine the man giving a little pull on the woman's fingertips, leading her to come toward him. That lead gets her shoulders coming forward. In response, she moves her hips forward. That is her job! If she is doing her job at a beginner level, the man does not have to impart all the force to get her going, because she is moving her hips on her own to follow her shoulders. He only needs to get her shoulders going. A good beginner dancer who has learned to give tension and to follow her shoulders is responsive enough to the man's lead that she can be led through patterns without exhausting the man.
Now take it a step further. Suppose that when the man leads the woman's shoulder forward, she does not just follow with her hips accordingly, but treats the pressure on her finger tips as her gas pedal. If there is more than one ounce of pressure, she accellerates herself forward, and so long as the pressure remains above one ounce, she keeps accelerating herself, until when the man gets her to the speed he wants her and "lets off the gas." Further, the more pressure he puts on -- the farther he pushes her gas pedal down -- the more rapidly she accelerates herself. If the woman will react this way, then the man can start and stop the woman with great alacrity without ever applying more than a couple of ounces of pressure. She is accelerating and decellerating herself, using the strength of her own legs. He is mainly initiating the correct balance for her (for instance, to accelerate herself forward, she needs to be leaning slightly forward), as he gives her the message how to accelerate her self this instant (liable to change to a completely different indication next instant).
This is one of the major components of the transition from a beginning follower (able to provide the man with the means to move her) to an advanced follower (knowing how to get herself moving without getting ahead of the lead). To many dancers, achieving a light lead and follow is a constant of good dancing. I am not of this camp. To me, the ability to employ a light lead and follow a light lead just part of the dynamic range of lead and follow that is available to a couple. Dynamic range is to be used. Much of the potential to dance to the emotional content of music and have powerful communication with a partner comes from making use dynamic range in the levels of pressure, degrees of acceleration, and extents to which the man is taking it upon himself to impart momentum changes rather than have the lady alway accelerate herself. Just as a dance combines quick and slow movements, much can be done by having the man take complete control of the woman's momentum and then put her back under the lightest control in turn. In my opinion, good dancing makes use of all of its tools and this kind of dynamic range is a wonderful tool.
Warning: a beginner mistake to watch out for: if a woman does not know to treat "excess" pressure as a gas pedal, she may simply absorb the pressure and continue to do exactly what was doing, but using the pressure from the man to take more of the burden of getting her weight started. That is, instead of responding to the lead and getting her butt moving, she actually just leans that much more on the man. Be aware ladies: if the man gives you a bit of oomph, react! A really bad combination is if the woman is not on the rythm and the man tries to get her on the rythm by giving her a properly timed lead, and instead of reacting to it, she just absorbs it and leans on him. If the woman is reacting properly, the man can put her on the rythm and she never has to worry about whether she can even hear it herself. If she is not reacting, she can become a veritable sack of potatos, demanding to be lugged around.
Resist side to side.
There are myraid little tips for ladies to learn about following. One that comes up in more advanced steps is that ladies need to resist not just pushes and pulls but also side to side movements. That is, if a man pushes your arm across in front of you, it should not just wrap across you but should turn your body. The way to have it turn your body is to resist letting it wrap across. This will give the man something to push against so that his force can be transmitted to your shoulder, which you will then follow with your hips.
Resisting side to side movements can be hard to think straight about if you think of the resistance in terms of your arm. (For example: suppose the man is taking your right arm across in front of you to your left. To follow, you need to resist the leftward pull (i.e. i.e. you need pull back to your right). This will give the man something to pull on, so that his force will get through to your shoulder and pull it to your left, which you will then follow with your hips. Pretty complicate isn't it? Well here is a shortcut. Do it the zen way. Just keep your fingers hooked over his hand, and when you feel him pulling on that hook, just as you give strength to your fingers to keep them hooked, give the same strength to your arm, resisting extension of the arm just as you resist extension of the fingers, and they will be in the same direction. That is, the direction of the force on the fingertips is the direction of the lead, so you can use that as your signal about how to resist with your arm. Just as you let the lead flow from your shoulders to your hips to your feet, so too you can just let it flow from your fingertips to your arm. to your shoulder!
Do not resist up and down
On the other hand, movements up and down should not be resisted. The man is never trying to lead you down into the floor or up into the air, so up and down movements must just be so that he can put your arms where he wants them (like putting your arm up so you can go under it, after which he might drop it back down on your shoulder). So that he can put your arms where he wants them, the rule is: no resistance to up and down movements of the arms. Note, this does not mean that when your hand is up, you should not resist pushes pulls or side to side movements. Your arm should still resist these movements, whether your hand is up or not. Just the up and down momement should be free. The exception is with a ballistic lead, where the man imparts a moment of lead, then relaxes completely. Your arms should mirror this complete relaxation.
So this get s a little complicated. Not only do you have to do the opposite with your hips as with your arms (follow instead of resist) but you also have to react differently with your arms depending on the direction of movement. Luckily it all makes perfect sense, which can help it to come quite easily.
Tip: raising the arm is not a lead to turn!
When the man lifts the lady's arm, it is never a signal for her to turn. Ladies never turn themselves. They turn only when the man imparts a force that turns them. Raising the arm imparts no rotational force (indeed, no force at all, if the lady is following properly and offering no resistance to up and down movements). Ladies: suppose the man (on your left) leads you forward, and raises your right arm for you to go under. You should go straight forward until he imparts a lead to turn you. If he is leading a simple "arch turn," he will stop your right hand above your right shoulder. Since you are moving forward, this stopping of the hand will tend to push your hand behind you. But your rule is not to let your hand get pushed behind you, so you resist. You push back. This allows the man's pressure to be imparted to your shoulder which turns you. If he then moves his hand with you, you will do a travelling turn. If he keeps his hand where it is, it will cause you to turn back in a "paddle turn," the same as if you were walking down the street, caught on to a sign post and whipped back the other way. It is not the raising of the arm that turns you, but the imparting of rotational force.
Notice in the previous example that just because your arm is up does not mean it does not respond to rotational (side to side) forces. What you do not resist is up and down forces. You still do resist rotational forces, no matter the elevation of your hand.
One subtlety here is that sometimes the man will take advantage of the relaxation in your arms during up and down movements to sneak in some unresisted rotational and front to back movements, so he can put your arms where he wants. (Men: this should be accompanied by relaxing your own arms as you go into these movements, so that the lady's mirroring of relaxation will also tend to reduce her resistance to these movements.) An example is turning the lady into hammerlock position (with her arm folded up behind her back). Normally she resists letting her arm go behind her back, so the man dips her arm down and flips it back up as he turns her into hammerlock. The up and down movement, and the ballistic nature of the lead (an impulse, followed by relaxation) induces the woman to relax her arm so that the man can take it behind her back.
By the same token, after a man gets a woman to relax her arm, he wants to make sure he builds tension back up in it before leading her with it. Thus in the above "arch turn" example, when the man has the woman moving forward with her hand above her right shoulder, he wants to build up a bit of tension before timing the lead for her to turn.
Tip: chase all contact
Women should always chase all existing contact between hands arms and fingertips. Never pull away! Sometimes a woman will anticipate that the man will let her hand go and will pull her hand away herself. Yet at virtually every point there are steps that the man can lead by keeping the woman's hand. She can't know what he wants to lead so by taking her hand away (the means by which he leads) she is prone to explode many patterns. So long as the woman is not grabbing on, the man can pull away anytime he wants to. Women should always maintain all contact, and in that way, allow the man to control the timing of when to let her go, which he needs to be able to do. I call it "chasing" contact because, in the open position, the contact on both sides is through cupped fingers, which stay together by each partner exerting a light pressure against the fingertips of the other (always at least an "antenna" amount of pressure, and more when the pressure of a lead is being transmitted).
The more the man's and woman's fingertips are rotating against each other, through turns and other movements, the flatter and more tenuous the connection tends to become. Thus a tenuous connection cannot be read by the woman as a signal that contact will be breaking and she should pull away. Just the opposite: the more tenuous the connection the more the man is counting on the woman to help him "chase" it.
My estimate is that about 50% of all failures to follow occur because the woman assumes that the man no longer wants her hand and takes it away. This is extremely common when a man is leading a step that has the same beginning as some common step where the man does release one of the woman's hands. Ladies will often assume that the common step is what is being led and pull her hand away herself. The price of this practice is obvious: unless someone points out what she is doing (and many men are loathe to instruct women on the floor) the woman will never be able to do anything but the common step, which will typically be the more beginner step. Also, the man may have gotten himself into a position, in anticipation of where the woman would have ended up if she had followed, from which he cannot lead her if she does not follow. Then not only does the pattern come apart, but it might not be recoverable, creating a break, which is not a big deal, but if it happens a lot the man will start leading only beginner steps.
The principle of chasing contact does not just apply to the hands. Any contact with the man should be chased. If the man leads the woman around him and places her hand on his side, she should drag that contact around his body, which allows him to keep track of where her hand is so that he can pick it up again on the other side. The woman should not, however, let this contact slow her down. The "drag" is a very light fingertip touch. Otherwise, she is changing her own momentum, in violation of the general rule that she is to follow her momentum until the man changes it. She never stops her own momentum. If her momentum leads her away from the man, she should let her arm extend to chase the contact, but when her momentum carries her out of arms reach, she should follow her momentum, and only then let the contact be float apart.
Similarly, if the man places the woman's fingertips on some part of his arm as he leads her to move, she should let her fingertips follow that contact with his arm, dragging down it or up it as the case may be, to the place where the man wants her. Only when her momentum carries her away from the contact should she let the contact fall away.
Similarly in the frame, the woman should constantly chase contact with the man's hip and with his hand on her back. By chasing hip contact she is able to follow rise and fall, and to feel the forces that the man imparts through the hip. By chasing contact with (and responding to pressure from) the hand on her back, whe allows the man to shape and control the position of her back. If he drops his hand slightly away, she chases that with her back and he leads a dip. When he increases the pressure on her back, she moves away from that pressure and is led back up.
Don't use visual clues.
Go where the man leads you to go and do what the man leads you to do. Do not try to guess from what you see him doing what he wants you to do. In the open position: if the man's hand leads you to step forward, and his body steps to the side, follow the hand, not the body, otherwise you will run into him! In the closed position -- say you are doing a Waltz -- never try to guess what position the man wants you to be in relative to himself. He can be moving to an in line position (where you step between each other's legs) or he can be moving you to an outside body position. Never try to guess where he wants you to be in relation to him. Rather, go where he leads you and trust him to be leading you where he wants you to be. If adjustment is necessary, he will make it.
If the man gets you moving fast, then crosses in front of you and leads you to step straight smack into him, do it. That is exactly what he wants. If he leads you to carry your momentum into him it is because he wants to take that momentum and use it. Trust him! Trust his lead. Dance is all about trust. You must trust the man that what he leads you to do is what he wants you to do. That is the point of agreement between you that makes communication possible. The lead is where you look for you information so it is where he sends it. The lead is how he is sending information, so it is where you look. If not for the woman's trafficking responsibilities (watching the man's back) and the need to see when the man is presenting a hand for her to take, the woman could pretty much dance everything with her eyes closed, and in fact it is a good thing to do once in a while.
The only visual lead I know in all of dancing is when the man sends the woman out to a side by side position and wants her to stay side by side instead of turning to face him. He does this partly by sending her out without rotation as best as he is able, and partly by not turning to face her, giving her a clue not to turn and face him.
If the man enters a repeating pattern, do not pick up on the step, pick up on the lead.
Otherwise, when he exits the pattern, you will continue to do the step, rather than follow the lead in its new direction. A typical example here is side breaks. In Cha Cha or Salsa side breaks the man initiates the woman's turn out to the side and then he stops it. If she picks up on the step (instead of the lead) and starts stopping herself, then if he wants to lead her through the side break, it won't work. In contrast, if she picks up on the lead, and gives the man the tension he needs to stop her, then the only reason she stops is because he stops her. Consequently, all he has to do then to lead her through the side break is not stop her (though he will also help her out by imparting a little extra momentum).
This should be enough information and tips to go a pretty far with.
Go try it!
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Date Last Modified: 8/27/99
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