Ballroom Dance > Lead and Follow vs. Routine

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by DancePoet, Feb 17, 2005.

  1. DancePoet

    DancePoet Well-Known Member

    I know of a couple who competes at a very high level with their ballroom dancing, and they do all lead and follow without a routine.

    What are the pluses and minuses of lead and follow vs. routine?

    Are there others who prefer this and why?
  2. dancin_feet

    dancin_feet New Member

    To me the two are completely different types of dancing. Though to do a partner "routine" you do have to have a certain amount of lead/follow skills in case something goes wrong you can cover.

    To me lead and follow is a constant challenge and that is what makes it enjoyable for me. The thrill of being twirled around on the dancefloor, not knowing what you'll do next is fantastic. I call it choreographing on the fly. 8)

    A routine is a different sort of challenge whereby you both know what is coming next so the emphasis is not necessarily on lead / follow, but on styling and really putting your all into what you are doing. You can also add steps or lifts that would be difficult or impossible to lead / follow and make it work in a routine. Choreographing to tell a story is also great fun, though you wouldn't be looking to do this in competition.

    I love both types, but to me, being a good lead or follow is where the real skill is. Anyone can dance a routine and get the steps right if practiced over and over and over again. All competitions should be lead / follow IMO. Only exhibitions or "performances" should be choreographed to add the extra flair.

    But then that's just my personal opinion ....... :wink:
  3. DancePoet

    DancePoet Well-Known Member

    When I started competing, it was all lead and follow. And this does seem to be more ... authentic. Yet my current instructor has taken us down the path of using routine. As a back up, I work with my partner on lead and follow, because in competition, if someone is in the way, we'll need to be able to do lead and follow.

    Somehow, I like the idea of at least planning which moves I will use, but even this seems to stray from the concept of lead and follow.
  4. dancin_feet

    dancin_feet New Member

    I've never understood the point of a routine in standard / smooth. How can you choreograph something when you don't know who's going to be in your way, and when? Latin I guess you could pretty much choreograph the whole thing and not stray too much.

    But yes, I think it steals away from the real skill that is partner dancing. I want to watch a couple and think they are doing a routine when they are not.

    Thinking about what moves you want to incorporate to me isn't creating a routine. I think every lead would do this to a certain point so they don't fry their brain out on the dancefloor trying to think of moves. During competition yes I guess you would want to do the moves you do best, and planning to do them would be OK. In true lead / follow though, the follow is always a blank canvas. To try to stick to a routine that both partners know just seems to take away that "magical" element to me.
  5. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    I agree, but it would be impossible to regulate. While that is the ideal scenario, I believe competition dances became "routines" because those couples who practiced a particular sequence could focus on small details and make it look better than those who didn't. Eventually it got so you had to do a routine to be competitive. I know some couples who just try to do the lead/follow thing and even though they are very good there is that little bit of hesitation in some places where the follow isn't quite sure or doesn't follow as smoothly because she's guessing. That's all it takes for the judges to decide this couple isn't as "good" even though in reality they may well be far superior to the other couples on the floor.

    I like my competition routines to be a combination of both types. We practice a routine but work on some specific elements that are "foundational." The rest is open to whatever happens because it leaves us that much more flexible to deal with floorcraft. This has seemed to work well and it sure is fun. Just the other day in a comp routine we were constantly in proximity to another couple who had a similar routine. I decided to do something completely unexpected to get past the traffic and it was delightful for us and the audience, who knew exactly what was going on.
  6. DancePoet

    DancePoet Well-Known Member

    I agree.

    A very nice idea! 8)

    I like this viewpoint and thanks for sharing. :D
  7. dancin_feet

    dancin_feet New Member

    I agree Adwiz that in this day and age and the path that competition dancing has taken it would be impossible to regulate, but we can all dream, can't we?

    Everyone hears the stories of the top competition dancers who can't lead or follow to save themselves. That is sad because that is where the true heart of partner dancing lies.
  8. Kitty

    Kitty New Member

    standard or latin?

    in latin people are doing usually "real routines",
    while in standard - groups of steps.
    you can't really do a routine in standard as you have to constantly make decisions based on alingment, other couples' positions and so on. what you can do is rehearse small groups of steps, say a natural turn followed by a spin turn followed by reverse turn followed by whisk followed by a chasse from promenade followed by a natural turn, and then a different group, then another group and so on. So now you have options, but every time you do a natural turn (or double reverse, or spin turn), you can choose based on the alingment which group to go into.
    This is different from lead and follow as it allows you to rehearse transitions between steps. Also the follower knows that there are only certain possibilities after certain steps. It is better for the follower to do groups of steps in practice (rather that pure following all the time) as some things can only be learned by knowing what is ahead. It is difficult to learn details of footwork and cbm and so on for the follower if she doesn't know what is coming next!
    Also by practicing groups, leaders get it firmly into their muscle memory how to lead the next step, and which step to lead, so that they don't have to think about it.
    Groups are kinda prepared solutions. Like "this is a groups I do if I see lots of open space in front of me on the long wall of the room" "this is when I need to stop because there is traffic ahead" "this is what I do on a short wall" and so on...
  9. Kitty

    Kitty New Member

    if this is latin, you'll probably always do routines...

    if this is standard....
    you are viewing the situation from present day viewpoint, but really look at it from long term point...

    1) it is necessary for you to do routines or groups (short routines) in practice in order for the follower to learn well... she can build a reflex of right footwork and body position (to later follow this step correctly) if she practices it consciously for a while. She CAN'T practice it consciously unless she knows what is coming. True following is when you know which step you just did only after you are done with it :) which is not always good for practice.
    2) so today you are building whisk chasse natural turn spin turn combination into your muscle memory by doing a routine... tommorow you learn another combination and work on that one, while these steps are in the past, you won't even think of them, you'll just do them. There will always be something you are working on as a routine that is not lead and follow yet, while other things that were routine before will become just easy flowing lead and follow things. Think about it: beginners lern their first rumba routine - 2 basics, 4 new yorks, back to beginning. Does that mean this is how everyone does rumba? by agreeing on the number of NYers and basics and doing a routine? It is just the learning stage, aimed at learning the steps. Today you (and I and so on) won't even think about these steps. You'll lead them automatically, I'll automatically follow, whichever number of NYers you decide to lead, no problem.

    to summarize, don't think that if you are doing a simple routine today (esp. in standard) that this is "how it is done" and "competitors always do routines". You don't know what is ahead since you are not ahead yet :). Most probably this is a learning stage...

    (but open latin is indeed often purely routines as a lot of open latin stuff can't be lead - like side by side things or certain dips...)
  10. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    I've generally been fairly anti-routine, but was given a suggestion the other day that I was able to re-word into something I might consider. Basically, this was that material might be developed to a higher level of accuracy if a partner did know in advance what she was supposed to be doing. The reason I might be willing to go for that is that I do see how it would help build reflexes that would make those figures and combinations work better when at some point in the future they do occur unexpectedly. Of course most of the syllabus remains as an option to draw from in a floorcraft emergency... but I do see there could be a quality difference between planned an unplanned material in the near term.
  11. Egoist

    Egoist Member

    Dancing without a choreography is like dancing without make-up or without a costume.

    Bottom line, competing without a choreography* is foolish. A choreography will present you at your best and will allow you to focus when you practice. Yes, you should be able to lead-follow, but only in emergencies.

    I am, actually, of the opinion that for a couple to look good they have to lead-follow. I.e. they are lead-following even though they may not know how to lead-follow (and I know couples that do well in competition but can't dance socially because they don't know how to lead or follow).

    *A choreography may not be the entire dance but sides that are mixed and matched depending on the circumstances.
  12. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    The true art of ballroom dancing would be to be able to do this in real time.
  13. dTas

    dTas New Member

    i agree with you Chris. competition relies too heavily on routines and choreography. its taken a path and come to depend on knowing what comes next to be able to look good.

    but to get "more pure" (lack of a better term) would be to dance "in the moment" perfectly every step and be able to react to the music and to the surroundings and change if necessary.

    by all means practice (and have in your dance arsenal) your choreographed "pieces" and when you see an opportunity then use it, but to have an entire choreographed routine and then have "options" in case of trouble seems the wrong direction.
  14. ReneeJoan

    ReneeJoan New Member

    The next time you are watching a play or movie by Woody Allen or Neil Simon, watch very closely what you are seeing. Everything looks completely spontaneous. It appears that these incredibly witty, incisive people are having a completely spontaneous, impromptu conversation and someone with a camera just happened to be standing nearby, capturing it, and allowing you, the audience, to share it.

    Only that's not what's happening. Every word has been carefully scripted by one of the finest living writers on the planet. The lines, the gestures, the movements within the scene, carefully rehearsed by the most skilled actors of our generation. Nobody improvs the lines in a Woody Allen or Neil Simon play. If you do, the camera stops, and you redo the scene -- as written. The reality is that if you were to simply set up a camera in the living room of someone's home at a dinner party and recorded the actual conversations, it would not be worth watching. It would be boring as all get out.

    It's the same with dancing. A performance is not the same as watching two people social dancing. A story is being told -- must be told. This is what choreography is all about. The choreography is carefully worked out, and carefully rehearsed. When skillfully done, it will LOOK to the audience like the most incredible, spontaneous dance of two people who just happened to meet there on the dance floor and decided to dance. That is the skill and genius of the artists (performers and choreographers) to create that illusion, to create that willing suspension of disbelief that will enable the audience to enter that magical world and open their souls to the story being told.

    Only the most skilled actors, dancers, and musicians can truly improvise on the spot (jam) and create a performance like that. Mozart could do it, Beethoven could do it, the great Jazz masters can do it. I think a breathtaking genius like Savion can do it. And when you are privvy, as an audience, to that living act of creation it really can take your breath away.

    The tango competition I did two weeks ago required that all competitors dance a completely improvised number with no prepared choreography. I was very fortunate. I was dancing with my teacher, who has fifty years as a performer under his belt. And the reality is that in tango there are a lot of standard "elements" and patterns, (the various exits, the fan, the sweep, the half turn, the half moon, cortes, figure eights, swinging gates, beaters, etc.) all of which are carefully rehearsed, but putting those elements together is where the improvisation occurs. I may have been responding spontaneously to my teacher's movements, but I suspect he was pulling out a lot of standard choreography that he's been using for decades. He's just skilled enough to make it LOOK spontaneous.

  15. dTas

    dTas New Member


    i'm not sure if i understand where you are going in your post. first you start by saying that "extreme" choreography is good but then talk about an impov tango competitoin.

    which is better?

    i agree that when doing a "performance" choreography really comes into play. you have match moods and emotions. but you also have pre determined music that you can match your choreography to.

    but competition is not a performance. its partially impromtu since you don't know the music and you have to share the floor. a place where choreography and lead-follow start to clash.
  16. ReneeJoan

    ReneeJoan New Member

    Well, I guess "better" depends a lot on "better for what".

    For a performance, carefully prepared and rehearsed choreography is probably "better." However, as you mentioned, and as every artist knows, at the moment of performance, there is the living moment of creation, and at that moment, as prepared as you may be, you are leaping into the unknown. There are unforeseeable factors that you cannot control, no matter how carefully you prepare. Your partner can miss a cue, forget a line, forget a step, lose the rhythm. So can you. Violin strings break. Shoes come off. Heels get caught in cuffs and hems. Seams burst. Sound systems go dead. Someone else trips and falls next to you. Cameras flash. And best/worst of all, the Muse speaks and you decide to answer. The ability to take that imperfect moment and turn it into great art, to be flexible and responsive not only to your partner but to the moment itself, to be open to inspiration, these things are also "better." If you've ever been there when something spontaneous like that happens, the Jazz trumpeter begins to jam, the pianist improvises the cadenza, the dancers very obviously begin doing something unrehearsed and unprepared, these moments are electric and beyond price.
  17. madmaximus

    madmaximus Well-Known Member

    Well said RJ. Very well said indeed.

  18. dTas

    dTas New Member

    YES! Renee! THAT i understand.

    thank you! :D
  19. robin

    robin New Member

    I don't think anyone competes without "choreography". Even if you just learn syllabus figures, all you're doing is learning bits of choreography with pre-defined options of how to join them together.

    On the other hand, even if you have a completley pre-defined routine and present it as a show, that doesn't mean you can stop leading and/or following. I think the idea that the only purpose of lead/follow is to indicate what the next figure is going to be is very simplistic. Every natural turn needs lead/follow to create shape. Every step, however much rehearsed, only works correctly by the interaction of the two dance-partners, and their reaction to each other. This, for me, is lead/follow. I don't think it is possible to move as a unit and truly dance "together" without lead/follow.

    I don't think much improvisation happens in dance competitions. Sure, people chose between a number of options, but all these options and ways of connecting them have been trained. I don't think there are many occasions where someone does a "new" step in a competition, without having ever practiced it beforehand.
  20. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    This is generally true, but maybe not exclusively.

    When is creativity really most likley to strike? It can come randomly when you are far from the dance floor, but sometimes things just suggest themselves in the moment. Of course you can only use those ideas if you are in a position to - but part of traing towards top condition is training your reflexes and impulses to the point where you can almost start to trust them.

Share This Page