There are a metric fuckton of philosophical posts about following out there. I've been thinking about my own understandings ever since one of the raddest lindy hop follows I know, Jenna Applegarth, posted a mega post a while back. I couldn't be typing them without the thoughtful conversation I had with Cindy Lyons (Tampa) and Avery Finn (Denver) in the wee hours of the morning after Lindy Diversion this past weekend. Credit where credit's due.
I'd like to suggest that when lindy hoppers in general talk about following, there is always a sort of unspoken confusion of what is being discussed. Part of this is we straight up call all three of the behavior patterns I'm going to describe below as "following", despite them actually having very different textures and skill sets. I'm going to define three different terms that I think make it very easy to talk about following in a meaningful way, and then contrast them a bit to firm up those definitions.
I would like to argue that just following is the most misunderstood of these three styles of following. The idea of just following, executed perfectly, would be someone who is functionally completing the leads as communicated to them, with correct timing, but without dancing through the movements. If I asked myself if they would be interesting to watch executing those movements without their lead, the answer would be a resounding no*. Someone who is just following is connected to their partner, but not independently connected to the music.
My words might have some tinge of judgement in them, however, that mostly originates in my personal prioritization of dance. The skills required for just following are still incredibly high. Someone who can perfectly execute just following has to have excellent balance, good timing, solid understanding of footwork and be an active participant in creating connection.
The misunderstanding around just following largely comes from the phrase "Follows, just follow" as a directive in class. Many folks who started dancing in the early 2000's heard this phrase from countless local instructors, and found it incredibly unhelpful. It is much more common now for instructors to be cognizant of the following role though, and to provide specific feedback and advice. I hope we as a community can actually acknowledge that it's useful to develop the skills someone who is just following is using, and perhaps allow the taste of our past to sweeten a bit.
Pure following and just following have been used interchangably by some folks, but I would argue that they're actually subtley different. A pure follow is dancing through their following. Reversing the "just follow" definition of not dancing through their movements, a pure follow's movements are interesting in and of themselves. They are actively engaged with the music, in ways that are visible through their body rhythms, chosen shapes, and quality of movement.
Someone who is pure following is still executing the leads as given, and then, within their own body, they are making dynamic changes that reflect the music. There's an argument, perhaps, for whether or not footwork variations count as pure following: technically, rhythms can be led. But I would suggest that an absence of lead does not make a rhythmically interesting choice a following exception.
When I think of pure following, I think also of some subtle ninja skills that advanced follows have, where they suggest or execute changes in tone, movement quality, shape, posture. These follows are not leading new movements, but they are communicating their understanding of the music to their lead, which might invite their lead to take up their understanding.
A lot of the language that surrounds additive following is coded negatively (e.g., hi-jacks, backleads). Despite this, additive following that honors the idea of partnership and high contribution from all partners to the dance is something clearly visible in the top tier of lindy hop instruction.
Someone who is doing additive following is connected to the music and executing the leads while making dynamic changes to those leads that reflect their personal interpretation of musical elements. Additive following can look like rebounding off a turn deliberately, creating a pause, traveling something in a different direction. This could be considered disruptive, depending on one's viewpoint.
The skills involved in additive following have a lot to do with understanding music well enough to make musically relevant changes, understanding lead mechanics to know when it is safe to shift the movement, and the ability to communicate changes such that leads are not overly surprised.
Just Purely Additive Following
I think that all three of these approaches are appropriate, although I find pure and additive following substantially more satisfying. I will say that both Cindy and I talked about our development as followers essentially going along a path that was first just following, then pure following and both of us are primarily additive follows now. This definitely has to do with the amount of skill it requires to competently communicate changes through connection. It is really hard to confidently add or change the dance while still honoring the idea of following and honoring the music.
I definitely do not want to suggest that there is any higher value between being a pure or additive follow -- both require an intense amount of skill and training. But maybe, just maybe, having these terms laid out will be helpful in future discussions. Chances are, I'll be revisiting this post based on your comments, so let me know if I missed something important.
*Definition shamelessly borrowed from Jon Tigert's definition of dancing while leading