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Leading and Following

Maja Serveby Maja Serve


I was trained in England by some of the greatest teachers at the time. They all helped me find things of value. I do however feel there were two teachers that had more influence on me then any other teachers. Those two teachers were Benny Tolmeyer and Janet Gleave. The main thing that my teachers taught me was to focus on the use of the center to create the body movement. Over the years of studying under Benny, it became very clear that he had a system that he followed to get the students to a successful level. I was fortunate enough to spend a year with Benny after I retired, learning his system. Because of this focus of working from within to create the outer expression, I call this the Body School. I will talk about the above subject with the Body school as the foundation for the principles I will be describing.


My training made me aware there was not just one person leading and one person following. We were actually asked to not use the words "lead" and "follow". It was suggested that if you use those two words, you are indicating that only one person is consciously working and the other person in just hanging on. It was very clear to me that all the teachers, men as well as ladies, were very active. I learned very early that it was a misconception that one would lead and the other would follow, the words are used as I described above. Rather, the words I always heard used to explain the actions were to "Initiate" and to "Respond".


The man starts by initiating his 4 jobs. While the man is indicating what he wants from the lady, she is responding with the first of her 4 jobs. Then the lady takes over and does her other 3 jobs. It is now the man's turn to respond to her 3 jobs.


Now this may sound a little complicated, but it is really very simple. Each person has 4 jobs that they are responsible for. The jobs are very different from one another. Let me go through each of the 4 jobs to make it simpler to understand.


The man's 4 jobs are Steps (what), Timing (when), Direction (where) and Power (how much). The lady's 4 jobs are Flexibility (listen), Mobility (move herself and her partner), Selling (presentation) and Collection (come back to neutral and get ready to listen again). He will indicate to the lady what step he would like to do, when he wants to move, where he wants to go, how much and what power to put into the movement. The lady listens to what the man wants with her flexibility. Once she has read and understood what he wants, she does her 3 other jobs thereby taking over the action of initiating. She uses her centers to move the man across the floor (sometimes called "inviting") in the step, timing, direction and power, as he indiocated to her. She then sells the step, timing, direction and power to the judges and comes back to neutral to get ready to start the procedure all over again. So, in short ,the man initiates the first part, and the lady responds. Then the lady initiates the last part and the man responds. I sometimes say it is like the man has the first word and the lady has the last two words. Of course, a great lady always makes the man be the king of the partnership and she, of course, is the queen.  


Let me make it even simpler by using an everyday example. We, the man and the lady are in business together (dance together in a partnership). Together, we own a factory. Let's pretend this factory is a chocolate factory. I have noticed many of my students like chocolate and have found when I use this example students tend to listen more closely. The man is in charge of the production line. He produces the chocolate and decides when to go into production, and the flavor, shape and quantity of the chocolate are produced. Once the product is produced the lady takes over. The lady is in charge of the sales department. Her job is to take the chocolate to the customer (judges), convince them to buy the chocolate and get money (marks) for the chocolate. She will then bring the money back to the man. Once she is back in neutral position, the production starts all over again and the factory is running smoothly. If the man gets into the lady's department, there will be no chocolate produced, so stay focused on your own jobs. If the lady gets into his department, no product will be sold and no revenue will come in. The factory will soon close down its production and the sales departments won't be focused on their job.


Benny had three great sayings that I think are appropriate here.

1) Don't expect anything from your partner. If you get anything, take it as a bonus.  

2) Don't wait for your partner to be perfect, as it may ….or may never happen.  

3) If you feel your partner you are not focused on the only person you can change; namely yourself.  


Now, let me go into a little more detail of were the indications/initiations come from, of course using the Body school as the reference. In the Body school it is believed that there is an upper body connection (in the ribcage) and that that is the most important connection. There is, of course, also connections in the arms (man's right arm and the lady's left arm) and in the hands (man's left hand to the lady's right hand and the lady left hand on the man's upper arm). The man's body indicates the timing, direction and power, and the hands indicates the directions. When the actions of the body and of hands are put together, the lady gets a clear indication of what step it is the man wants to dance. She now knows what he wants her to finish. The lady indicates the movement by moving her centers. The lady uses what is called "the three active centers" to move the man across the floor. She then uses her sternum in either a pendulum swing action or a metronome swing action to change the angle of her top-line. Finally she will bring back the sternum and centers to the starting position so she is ready to listen to what the man wants to do next.  


This is, of course, a very simplified version of what happens between the man and the lady in regard to "initiating" and "responding". It would take a longer article than this for me to write all the aspects and nuances that the dancer must develop to achieve excellence. I do however hope that the article cleared up some questions on the subject and maybe got you thinking of finding more questions and more answers.