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Two Lead Philosophies

There are many philosophies of leading, just like there are many philosophies of following. My personal philosophy has been developed over years of talking to folks about how they dance, and also comes from someone who specifically started out as a follower. I could say this philosophy is entirely in my head, but the reality is, it was shaped by the culture and scenes I've developed in.

Leading to me is very rarely about telegraphing to my follow what's going to come next. I'm certainly not saying I always succeed, but my personal mantra is to be dancing first, and leading second. My own body is the only thing I can one hundred percent control (and even that is a bit of a bold claim) so to me, the primary pleasure in the dance comes from expressing the music within my own body. That expression often takes the shape of leading turns or peculiar shapes that create momentum for my follower, but that expression is not in service of telling my follower what is going to happen next.

This philosophy is also rooted in a feminist understanding of the lead-follow dynamic. I believe that anyone can study any role, but there are certainly gendered ways to understand lead-follow relationships that appeal to me less. These gendered ways can be overly patronizing: the lead tells the follow where to step, what to do, how to do it. My own philosophy pretty aggressively discards those notions; both lead and follow are dancing, together, and while the lead is providing a context and a musical interpretation that has impact on the follow's dance, this is scarcely a unidirectional information dump. This ideology is hardly unique to me, but it informs my dance (and life) philosophy.

I had a conversation with a student yesterday about how to change from a side-to-side slow drag to a traveling walk in a blues context. Another instructor had suggested that fully committing his weight before changing directions meant that the follower would already be prepped to continue the pattern, and so he should partially cheat his weight transfer to change the direction. This is antithetical to my leading philosophy - cheating your weight as a lead to telegraph to a follow is essentially not trusting your follow to come with you when you take your next step.

In my recent article about trust, I talked about how important it is to me to trust my follow to manage their own weight and expectations of repetition. If my weight is shifted entirely onto one foot, and I trust my follower to complete their weight shift as well, our next step can go in any direction. The follower's job is to do this - to complete their weight changes, and to be stable enough in that weight change that they don't fall on to the next foot before that step is lead. This provides me freedom, and additionally, flexibility on a crowded dance floor; this is quite different from having to not quite complete my weight change to telegraph the next movement. It also provides the follower freedom; if their responsibility to me is solely completing weight changes and maintaining their balance, that leaves so many other pieces of the dance for them to explore outside of that.

I understand that this sounds a bit like a value judgment of the other style of leading, and to a certain extent, it is. I don't find that that particular philosophy as attractive within my feminist understanding of partnered dancing. However, if one's philosophy prioritizes clarity of lead over trust, it is absolutely a valid choice to telegraph. There are certainly other feminist philosophies of leading as well. I am always interested in hearing about what drives other folks' choices in dance and informs their pedagogical decisions.

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