I usually try to reassure dancers when I’m dancing – follows, I will tell that the follow is always right. Leads, I will tell them that the lead is never wrong. And while one intention us to reassure them, it really us how I believe the lead follow mechanics end up working. I think that being right or wrong is an internal perception – you are wrong if you don’t do what you want. The lead-follower dynamic on the other is more an exchange if desires and how these requests are fulfilled are up to the actors. I’m not entirely certain where I fall in the debate of how much leading the follower should be doing. At one point I believed that the ideal would be symmetry, where either out both could be leading or following. But like many things in the world, this view of the world us a bit simple, and ignores the unique difficulties and nuances if each role. Perhaps mastery of both roles completely would be the ideal hypothetical end point, but mastering just one role is already an infinitely long path. I’m not saying that one should not try – knowledge of the opposite role can be humbling and enlightening – but rather mastery will be elusive. Sometimes you want to dance your best and for most, we will have invested more heavily in one of the roles.
So what is leading? At its most basic, it is “asking” – and by default the lead initiates most if the leading. On the other hand, a lead cannot operate in a vacuum – and actually, the more complex the lead, the more the lead has to pay attention. Following is, in the best description I’ve heard thus far, the “fulfillment” of the lead. But it’s a bit like Batman – you may get what you need rather than what you want. Well, you might rather get what she wants 🙂 But the more complex the “move”, she will be responding to what is being led – and each response is actually a potential query.
It really parallels a conversation – an overused, but apt metaphor for the dance. Sure, you can exchange pleasantries pretty much automatically, and this can be a perfectly relaxing way to pass the time. But a true conversation can quickly take unexpected turns. A follow’s response can both perfectly fit the lead, and yet be completely be unexpected. As the lead, you have to adapt – sometimes this takes the dance in a new direction. Sometimes you will lead something subtle and it will pass unacknowledged. Not everyone gets all your subtle jokes, your nuanced leads – and sometimes you’ll just have to let it go and wait for a different audience.
Still, resolving the inherent asymmetry to the lead-follower dynamic seems a bit incomplete in my mind. And, of course, different leads can approach this completely differently – while I enjoy it when I get unepxected results in my leading, some leads are much of the mold that there the lead is to be entirely clear and that each move is a result of a a proper lead. Most of the time, it all exists in a continuum – some leads are meant to be specific, and some are very open to interpretation. And this is also changed by the perspective of the follow – some may see opportunities where others will only see a single proper response. I guess there is sometimes a bit of negotiation during a dance…and sometimes some suprises. I like surprises =)