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Lead and Follow Concepts

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Lead and Follow Concepts

Post  Admin on Mon Nov 09, 2009 12:23 pm

credit to ballroomdancers.com

The Principles of Communication

The skills involved in leading and following center around principles of communication. The best leaders are those who communicate their intentions, while the best followers are those who respond well to the leader's intentions. This is facilitated when both leader and follower do their part to maintain open lines of communication.


At some point or another, we've all been frustrated by a poor telephone connection. Nothing makes having a conversation more difficult or miserable than when you're trying to talk over static, pops, clicks, and other general interference resulting from a poor connection. It sure makes you appreciate the times when you do have a clear signal!


The lead-and-follow process can be likened to a telephone conversation: The better your connection, the easier it is to have a conversation. So in the coming sections, we will explore some ways to improve your connection, so that you can lead and follow through "fiber optics", rather than two tin cans and a string!



What is a Connection?

Definition >
A connection is any physical point of contact between two partners in a dance position.




According to this definition, a connection can be any point where you actually touch your partner. While this is technically correct, it's not entirely accurate. Normally, when we think of a connection, we think of a point through which you lead or follow your partner. So it's not enough to simply touch your partner or hold their hand. In order to lead or follow, your connections must do more. For example:

A connection must have TONE.
In order to function properly as a transmitter of signals, the connected body parts should maintain a certain degree of muscle tone. If the connection is limp or weak, the lead-and-follow signals will not run through it.

A connection must be ACTIVE.
A working connection is a living, breathing thing. It must be alive, responsive to the situation, and ready to transmit and receive signals. In addition to being toned, it must also be flexible, and ready to change to accommodate any situation.

A connection must be MUTUAL.
It takes two to have a conversation. Both parties must do their part to maintain the connection. When one person falls short, the conversation dies, no matter how much the other may try to compensate.

The Basic One-Hand Connection

To illustrate the basic technique, we will use a very simple one-hand connection, where the man holds the lady's right hand in his left, at approximately waist level. Once learned, this technique can be applied to almost any other hand-to-hand connection.


The elbow should be held low, slightly in front of and outward from the hip. The forearm should extend straight forward from the elbow, roughly parallel to the floor. Leader's palm should be turned upward; follower's palm turned downward. The connection is sturdy but not heavy, without any squeezing or gripping of the partner's hand.


There are many reasons why we use this specific positioning of the arms and hands. Most importantly:

1. The point directly between each partner's center of balance is the point of maximum leverage. Placing the hand connection in this area improves the partners' sensitivity to each others' movement.

2. At waist level (or slightly above), the forearm is roughly parallel to the floor. Both forearms are aimed directly into one another, so that the energy moves straight down the middle of the connection, without deflecting out to an angle.

Let's take a closer look:

STRONG. Energy directed straight through the middle of the connection.

WEAK. Energy deflected off to an angle.





Hand Positioning

In the basic one-hand connection, the man's hand is extended with the palm turned upward, while the lady's hand extends with the palm turned downward. Both hands should be very lightly cupped, with the fingers held together (not spread apart).



Tips

Don't grab or squeeze your partner's hand. Not only are your fingers very poor transmitters of lead and follow signals, they're actually distractions. The more you squeeze, the more you muddy up the connection, and the more difficult it is to communicate with your partner. Besides, it hurts!

For similar reasons, don't press down on your partner's hand with your thumb.

Don't spread the fingers apart, or stick them out in various directions. The thumb can be held loosely apart from the fingers, but the fingers themselves should stick together, as though you were wearing mittens.

Keep the hand loosely cupped. This creates just enough friction to hold the connection together when tension is applied through push or pull, without the need for a grasp. Don't allow your hand to flatten-out completely, as it may cause you to slip and lose the connection with your partner.

The Concept of "Push & Pull"

Definition >
Push & Pull: Tension applied to a connection through the direction of body weight toward it (Push) or away from it (Pull).



Do not be fooled by the slightly misleading terms... Push and pull have very little to do with an actual pushing or pulling action of the hands and arms. As the definition suggests, the concept of Push & Pull center around the direction of body weight, either toward or away from a connection.

PUSH

PULL


When both partners shift the body weight towards each other at the same time, the result is a tension which creates a "pushing" sensation through the connection.
When both partners shift the body weight away from each other at the same time, the result is a tension which creates a "pulling" sensation through the connection.




"Push"

To achieve the feeling of "push", you and your partner should shift your weight towards each other to the point that you can feel each other's body weight working into the connection. This will create a natural tension through the connected hands.


PITFALLS...

Be careful with your interpretation of "shifting weight forward". It should not be necessary to literally pitch your body forward. A good weight connection can be established almost invisibly, without any change in your posture.

Don't allow the elbows to compress backwards behind the hips as push is applied to them. Make sure that you have enough tone in the muscles to maintain the position of the arms and hands.

The hands and arms should use enough muscle tone to maintain their position, but not so much that they actually push on their own. Whenever hands and arms try to act on their own, they stop transmitting signals which are being sent by the body, and the true communication gets interrupted. It's very easy to fool yourself into thinking you have a weight connection, when in fact you and your partner are really just superficially tugging at each others' limbs.



"Pull"

To achieve the feeling of "pull", you and your partner should shift your weight away from each other to the point that you can feel each other's body weight working away from the connection. This will create a natural tension through the connected hands.


PITFALLS...

Once again, don't confuse "shifting weight backwards" with literally pitching or slouching backwards. A pull connection only requires a subtle shifting of weight backwards, without any change of posture.

Don't allow the elbows to extend or straighten as pull is applied to them. Make sure that you have enough tone in the muscles to maintain the bent position of the elbows.

At the same time, remember not to use too much tension. The most common symptom of overuse of arm muscles when pulling is the contracting of the elbows towards the body.



Reminder >
Don't forget that connection is mutual! Push or pull therefore require both partners to be shifting their body weight toward or away from each other at the same time. It just doesn't work when one partner shifts weight toward while the other shifts away. Part of the skill of following therefore involves the reaction on the part of the follower to the leader's suggestions of push and pull. Exercises later in this lesson will focus on developing this skill.

Leading Directional Movement

In a closed position dance hold, leading directional movement is a relatively simple process: Since the partners are directly connected at the center, the leader simply moves in a direction, and the follower will (hopefully) automatically respond with equal movement.

In open position, leading directional movement is just as easy, as long as the weight connection has been established, first.






Step 2: Move body weight in a direction. No physical pushing or pulling is necessary. >


The tension applied to a connection gives the leader a means by which he can communicate the direction of his movement. Once either push or pull has been established, the connection has been effectively "switched on", and the leading or following of directional movement can begin. With the tension in place, the leader does not need to do any additional pushing or pulling through the arms; He only needs to move his body in one direction or another. The follower will automatically feel and respond to his movement through the active connection.



As illustrated by this incredibly complicated looking flowchart, the connection is first established, and then the body moves. The connection can then be maintained or released. If the weight connection is released, another connection can be established in a new direction.

Push Backwards, Pull Forward

Rule of Thumb >
Push is most often used to lead the follower to step backwards, while pull is used to lead the follower forward.



In theory, any direction of movement can be led with either a push or a pull connection. There are many instances where you may wish to simply establish a connection such as push, and maintain it throughout a series of movements with many directional changes. Again, this is possible because once the connection is established, the follower can feel the leader's movement in any direction. But in general, we will be discussing push as a method of leading the follower to step backwards, and pull as a method of leading the follower forward.

Perspective: Leader

Your job as the leader is to clearly communicate your intentions. The best way to do this is to move your body from one foot to another, in a clear direction. The more you attempt to manipulate the follower's movement by pushing or pulling her with your hands and arms, the more superficial and less effective your lead becomes. In fact, it's best not to think of leading your partner at all. Instead, simply lead yourself. With the right connection, your partner will have no choice but to follow.

Perspective: Follower

Tip >
Following is REaction. In order for a reaction to take place, there must first be an action. If you react before your partner acts, you're not really reacting at all... you're second-guessing. And unless you're a psychic, your "predictions" will not always pan out.



As the follower, your job is to produce an equal and opposite reaction. If the leader pushes, you push. If the leader pulls, you pull. If the leader moves, you move. Always respond to an action in kind.

But while this may seem logical enough, it's surprising how many followers don't quite get it right. The most common mistake is to react to the feeling of push by taking a back step, or to react to the feeling of pull by taking a forward step. Remember, the leader's invitation to push or pull is not an indication of where to move. It is merely an attempt to establish a weight connection toward or away from each other.

So when you feel the leader's weight shifting toward you, you should shift your weight towards him. Don't actually take a step. Before you can take a step, the following conditions must be met:

1. You've both shifted towards or away from each other, and you can clearly feel each other's body weight.

2. Through this weight connection, you actually feel him take a step.

To take a step before you establish the weight connection is to second-guess the leader's intentions, which you now know is an ineffective and error-prone method

Leading Oppositional Movement

Oppositional movement occurs when two partners move in opposite directions, such as they do during a Rock Step in East Coast Swing or Jive.





Step 2: Push away with arms (subtle). >

Step 3: Move in opposite direction. >



The technique for leading of oppositional movement is slightly different than that of leading basic directional movement, where partners move in the same direction. In order to lead oppositional movement, a slight and momentary push or pull "impulse" from the arms and hands is necessary. Otherwise, the follower would move in the same direction as the leader. Still, the pushing or pulling impulse of the arms and hands is not a substitute for the weight connection altogether. The weight connection must still happen before the impulse.



Use of Arms

When used properly, the arms and hands can aid in leading oppositional movement. But what exactly is "proper" use of arms and hands? What makes the use of arms an aid, as opposed to a distraction? Here are a few hints:

1. The weight connection must still be established, first.

2. The impulse should be a subtle action, not a strong yank or shove.

3. Instead of pushing the connection away from your body, push your body away from the connection. This is important enough to repeat, so here goes...

Tip >
Instead of pushing the connection away from your body, push your body away from the connection.


But while this may seem logical enough, it's surprising how many followers don't quite get it right. The most common mistake is to react to the feeling of push by taking a back step, or to react to the feeling of pull by taking a forward step. Remember, the leader's invitation to push or pull is not an indication of where to move. It is merely an attempt to establish a weight connection toward or away from each other.

So when you feel the leader's weight shifting toward you, you should shift your weight towards him. Don't actually take a step. Before you can take a step, the following conditions must be met:

1. You've both shifted towards or away from each other, and you can clearly feel each other's body weight.

2. Through this weight connection, you actually feel him take a step.

To take a step before you establish the weight connection is to second-guess the leader's intentions, which you now know is an ineffective and error-prone method.

Think of the connection as a fixed point in space. In order to step back, push your body away from the connection. Leaders -- this applies to you, too! You do not need to literally push your partner backwards. The follower will respond to the impulse resulting when you push your own weight backwards.

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