Thanks to everyone for your thoughts about followers’ tendency to “fill in” with extra, un-lead moves. I heard a lot of people saying that it is hard for followers to just stay still, that it doesn’t come naturally. What is surprising to me about that is that none of this comes naturally. Anyone who saw me trying to walk around in my first pair of 3″ heels can attest to that! Everything in tango takes some learning. So why is standing still so much more difficult?
One obvious answer is that followers don’t just stand still. Followers have to react to the lead, sending them any which way! They have to sense and then execute a backward step, a weight shift, a side step, a suspension, a forward step. They have to be ready for moves that can pivot them around, take them off-axis, and interrupt their steps. And, if they are beginners dancing with beginners, they have to do all this with excited, eager leaders who may not have very clear leads. Who may not realize that their leads aren’t very clear. Who may, in fact, lecture the followers or get frustrated when the followers don’t respond as expected.
For every time a follower utters, “I didn’t feel your lead!” I’d bet you can find the leader who says, “You were supposed to do XYZ!” And if a follower isn’t convinced that she should be able to feel that lead, she might instead decide that guessing and going for it is a better option. Because, after all, her leader expects her to get it. It takes determination to just stand there and refuse to move until you really do get it. It also takes a kind and knowledgeable leader to work with a follower so that she knows what’s going on and how to “read” his leads. (Conversely, it takes a patient and honest follower to help those beginning leaders understand how to give clear leads.)
I think followers choose to fill in when they are worried about missing a lead. When they think they should know, but they don’t. They get used to seeing a pause as an expectation—an expectation for them to do an ocho, or a gancho, or a boleo, or something other than just pausing. So how do we convince followers to just stay still? I have a few ideas:
- Teach leaders to never lead a follower verbally, unless she asks him what he is trying to lead (at which point the two should work out why the lead didn’t work)
- Teach followers that stillness is the default, and that it’s ok to stand there like a log if you don’t feel the lead
- Encourage advanced dancers to assist in beginning classes (with proper incentives!) and to dance with beginners in practicas, so that they get experience leading and following people who have a sense of what it should feel like
- Develop and use proper communication in practice settings that avoid blame and encourages exploration of the movement
- Teach beginning leaders and followers separately (as described in my previous post) so that followers are less likely to “help” their leaders early on