Swing Discussion Boards > WCS Following question?

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by jennyisdancing, May 10, 2007.

  1. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Thanks Quix and everybody...your thoughts/opinions are so helpful and any other comments are welcome. I'm really trying to learn and absorb this.

    But I don't want anyone to misunderstand. I am absolutely NOT complaining about leaders who are less than perfect dancers, or who are beginners, or who don't have advanced musicality. I will gladly dance with anyone who asks. We are all learning.

    My issue is that, in the venues I have attended, I would say the the majority of the leaders (not just a few) are guys who hang in little cliques with others who already know the same step patterns, and the few times they deign to dance outside their clique (i.e. with people like me) they get annoyed that the follower doesn't happen to know their sequence of patterns.

    And I fault some dance teachers for creating 'pattern monsters'. Most partner dance classes that I have taken focus on steps, steps, steps, so naturally, the students believe that's the important part. The teachers spend much less time teaching how to position your weight and body line, leading/following, connection, feeling the beat, etc.

    Aren't those things fundamentals that should come before teaching steps? Or do they just assume that even a beginner knows those things already? I sure didn't and I am working on it. That's why I mentioned my tango class because they are focusing on those fundamentals and I think it makes the learning process a lot easier.
  2. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Interview with Nigel & Dan in "Dance Spirit"
    Why do you react so strongly when medicore dancers say that they 're dance teachers?
    talk talk talk
    "Dance teachers should be certified in this country."

    If you've watched "So You Think You Can Dance", you've probably heard the judges make similar remarks, and others such as, 'You should give your students their money back".
    I cheer.

    Watching the dance lessons at my country western place, I sometimes wonder how I learned about the relationship between music and dance.

    Most teachers that I know don't have a strong realtionship to the music. Many of them aren't even in time with the music when they dance. How could they possibly teach something they don't really know?

    Then too, most people I talk to think dancing is "to have fun". What difference does it make if you aren't dancing to the music?
    Funny though, some of them keep coming around, and are actually beginning to be aware of the relationship between movement and music.

    Learn the patterns, but please don't give up on being musical.

    Talk to people about different teachers, and try to find out which ones emphasize the music. Watch the guys dance. Look for the ones who are keeping time, even if they are only leading simple patterns. Compliment them. Let them know you noticed. Tell them how important the music is to you. Ask them who they learned from. Ask them if they'll dance one with you "some time". (don't go overboard, of course)

    It's almost always harder to to something right than to just do it.
    I know how hard it is, because it took me years to get where I am now (where ever that is).
    Learning to dance, and dancing well, can be looked at as a long term project (sorry). But it can be very rewarding, too.

    (tango? I'll have to read your posts again.)
  3. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl Active Member

    I have the same situation in my ballroom scene, a fairly large group of people who have been dancing together for years. Most of the leads, IMO, are at best average (but that's not what they think!). They know tons of fancy moves because they take the same classes all the time and are totally unwilling to scale back the complexity of the patterns they lead. I usually avoid the events that they dominate, but recently I was at one. One of these guys tried to lead a ronde (a step where you sort of sweep your foot in an arc out to your side). I know how to do a ronde, but virtually never do it socially (because nobody outside this group leads them on the social floor). I could not figure out what he was doing and he got angry and snippy. The funny thing was that, earlier in the evening, I had spontaneously done a ronde with another leader because he led it so perfectly I was doing it before I even realized it! The problem with the leads in this group is that they think they are better leaders than they are because the ladies in this group know all the same moves and have danced with them long enough to adapt to their leads. For me, the only solution is to avoid dancing with these guys.

    As to how to handle people who criticize and/or "teach" on the social dance floor, here's a thread on the topic:


    No, they don't assume beginners know this. But I guess they've learned from experience that the average beginner wants patterns and won't come back if there is too much technique at first. And it's hard to teach technique in a group setting. You'll get those things from the beginning if you take private lessons.

    But some teachers do include more technique sooner than others, so you might shop around a bit, if there are any other classes in your area. In wc swing, if you can find anyone who has studied with Skippy Blair, from what I've heard, her teaching technique involves more attention to technique and musicality at the beginning level.
  4. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Exactly, Waltzgirl. Unfortunately 'those guys' comprise pretty much all, or nearly all of the leaders at my local wcs venues...which means I have to stop dancing there entirely. I was at one of those venues last night and my frustration led to my posting this topic. I will have to ask and search around some more to see if there's any place that has a different crowd.

    Luckily there is a fantastic teacher in my area (actually a national champion) and I started her classes this week. She covered it all - proper steps, weight, positioning, musicality. I'm sure I will get a lot out of it. Yes, her group classes cost more than others but they are worth every penny.

    Unfortunately, most folks in my area are too cheap for that. Instead of seeking out a fine teacher like this, they would rather pay 8 or 10 bucks for a social dance where they get admission, snacks and start the evening with a lesson where they learn a bunch of flashy patterns. They do this a few times a week. They could spend the same amount of money to take quality lessons and go to fewer dances, but they won't.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful advice. It's helping me a lot.
  5. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    If you are starting at a new studio, it seems like the perfect time to link up with another circle of dancers. This studio must have some group dances you could try? There are plenty of good leaders out there who are nice ;)
  6. vegas4x4

    vegas4x4 New Member

    Hi Jenny,

    I am a beginning (5 months) westie leader and I certainly don't envy your position, but maybe I can offer some advice.

    1) People say you don't need to learn patterns, you should just be able to follow. I agree to some extent, but it seems to me that women need to at least understand the "types" of patterns that are lead, especially as a beginner, which means keep going to classes and learning patterns. I'll probably get flamed for this, but I really believe that you have to understand that you body can be put into certain positions. For example, no matter if I am dancing WCS, ECS, or two step, if a woman has never been into hammerlock position, they will almost always lock up before ended up in hammerlock and I assume because their mind is careful that they aren't about to be hurt. After they have been into hammerlock even just once, usually they don't lock up again.

    You won't be able to learn every pattern nor should you want to, but I think experiencing different types of patterns is necessary in an educated dance like WCS.

    2) I'm sure you already do this, but just as an observation, it seems like a big issue with patterns breaking down on both the girls and guys part is when frame breaks down. I'm always thinking up, back, and down with my shoulders to keep my lats engaged and keep from overextending my shoulder.

    3) If a pattern totally breaks down, I would recommend against "stopping dead". If you know which direction the guy was leading you, just make your way to the end of the slot. Usually you can put your hand out and just pickup the dance. That's an important habit if you ever want to compete, since if a pattern does breakdown, a judge can blink and miss your mistake if you head to the end of the slot and just pick back up your dance.

    WCS is not an easy dance on either side and I hope that you stick with it and find some better behaved leaders. I fully agree that it is the leaders job to "test the water" on the first dance with some easy patterns and work your way up from there. I personally always lead the easier patterns and if the girls are following them well, I usually keep dancing "up" until either I reach my limit or the girl reaches hers, maybe that's bad, I don't know. On the flip side, maybe you're dancing your basics so well that the guys think that you're able to dance up a bit. I wouldn't view that as a bad thing. I was out dancing this weekend and I lead a couple girls in a top spinner and it didn't quite work out, but we just picked up where we left off, no biggie, big smile on my face :)

  7. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Jeff - You shouldn't be flamed at all - I totally agree that as a follower, I do need to understand that there are different types of patterns that generally follow a certain structure in terms of timing, direction and position. Once I know that, it's a lot easier for me to follow a new pattern.

    p.s. after perusing the salsa message board, it sounds like the leading/following problem that I raised is pretty universal, and not specific to WCS. I found this enlightening post which sums up a lot:

  8. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    I agree with #3 above. If I mess up a lead or lead something that a lady doesn't know how to do, stopping really messes things up. If she keeps moving, I can usually adapt and we get to regroup at the anchor step with a good laugh.

    Obviously, it is easier said than done. From the opposite side, the first few times a woman hijacked my lead, I was really scrambling to figure out what was going on. Then I figured out about filling space for a couple beats until it is my turn again.:D
  9. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl Active Member

    You're welcome! You're doing absolutely the right thing to learn from the best teacher you can find. And it will get better, even with troublesome leads. It's called "beginner's hell" for a reason!
  10. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl Active Member

    I don't think you'll get flamed for that (besides, flaming is not allowed on DF--we have some vigilant moderators!).

    I'd agree that knowing the "vocabulary" of a dance is a huge help to following. And while a follow is learning patterns, she's also learning what the leads for them feel like and to adapt to a variety of leads.
  11. westcoaster

    westcoaster New Member

    Hey all:

    I think Jeff brings up some great points from a leader's perspective. Jeff's comment about "testing the waters" with your follow is really great. Beginning follows don't need one crazy pattern after another- they need to practice and become comfortable with all the new technique and steps they are learning. Throwing in a couple challenges you think they can handle is good, but too much is counterproductive.

    Ideally, a follow should not need to know a particular pattern to be able to follow it. I know as a lead I wind up improvising a lot of variations on the spot, depending on the music, my partner's strengths and weaknesses, floorcraft, and my mood. What's essential is an ingrained understanding of the lead-follow mechanics- connection, leads, positioning, momentum, anchors and compressions, tone, frame... Once all that is in place, then leaders can make up totally new patterns on the fly to match the music and follows can execute and embellish movements they've never done before.

    I encourage my WCS students of all levels to dance with beginners, but tell them to keep it SIMPLE, make sure they feel successful, and use that dance as time to practice their own technique- if you're not having to work too hard to execute crazy patternwork, you can devote that brainpower to making sure your footwork, styling, body positioning, and lead are as clean as possible, and that will make you a better dancer the next time you compete or dance with a more advanced lady. That way a dancer should never feel they are being "held back" by dancing with a less advanced partner- they are also improving as dancers- although I definitely think the best way to improve quickly is by dancing with a variety of experience levels- lower, higher, and equal to your own.

    Jenny, pretty much everyone goes through what you're describing to some extent when they start off, and it sounds like because there's a smaller community where you live that exacerbates the problems. From what you're describing it does sound like the leads are just dancing with the mistaken impression that being a good lead means knowing and executing lots of patterns- the more intricate the better- rather than making your follow feel like the most beautiful, musical, sexy, and important person on the dance floor at that moment. Just know that it WILL get better, and those guys will be lining up to dance with you in a few more months' time (maybe a year or more, but it will get there!). And on your end, I would recommend making sure you practice on connection, frame, and other techniques related to partnerwork, since your experience in partner dance is limited, rather than pattern recognition. You learn to recognize patterns and you can only dance those steps. You learn how to follow and your repertoire is infinite.

    Really long for my second post ever, but those are my thoughts!
  12. uncle joe

    uncle joe New Member

    Here re some following techniques that will help you follow whoever:
    1) keep your arms firm, from your shoulder to your wrist. Not tight and not wimpy but taught.
    2) keep feet moving in triple steps; three steps to two quarter beats except on the rock steps which take one step (weight change) per Quarter beat.;
    3) when the man pulls you toward him, head for his right shoulder, don not enter straight in front of his body like Blocking his momentum;; Entering into close position should move in a clockwise direction;
    3a) take small running steps with weight on balls of feet for, do not let heels touch the floor.
    4) Hand hold is important to keep in constant connection, hold your hand in a rigid claw like position, do not allow your claw hand to open and slide out of ma's grip;
    4) There is a natural body lead that will help you just by leaning subtly in the same directions simultaneously as your partner;
    stand in front of partner with both your hands of their opposite shoulders, any friend man or lady will do. Close your eyes, and have them slowly shift their weight from one foot to the other as you imitate them with eyes closed and arms firm to feel the shifting. When you can sense these moves, have partner take a few side steps with you still with eyes closed. Then have partner rock back and forward as you move with simultaneous with them. Finally have partner move slowly in random directions. This whole exercise should take no more than ten minutes and you will understand and sense even the most subtle weight change and directional moves.
    IMPORTANT: try to keep your shoulders parallel to your partners throughout the exercise.
    For 332 posts on dancing click on BLACK SHEEP, and go to the 'Magic Pill'.
    Joe Lanza
  13. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    "Hi" Joe . . .
  14. LindyKeya

    LindyKeya Member

    Honestly? Learn to fake it. This goes along with others have said above about continuing to move even if the move gets "messed up." If you fake it, you may actually end up doing what was intended (particularly if the guy is a good lead). If he happens to be a jerk, by faking it you can also pretend that YOU did it right, and HE did it wrong.
  15. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    cool to see the new stuff on this thread.

    unclejoe: thanks for the detailed tips - however, are you referring to west coast swing? your descriptions sound more like east coast. I did do the 'closed eyes' exercise in a couple classes and I agree it's helpful.

    LindyKeya: I agree, I normally do try to fake it if I am having trouble. If the problem originates with the leader, however, I have been taught just the opposite. I was at Summer Hummer last weekend and was in a workshop with Benji Schwimmer. He told the class that the followers shouldn't try to fix or compensate for bad leads. He said the only way the guys learn to lead well, is when the women stop helping them. Of course, we were in a learning situation; he wasn't specific about whether this should be done on the social floor as well.

    Not in my neck of the woods...WCS is not real big where I live. There are few places to go, and few good leaders. I've gone dancing in the NYC and DC areas, and it's dramatically different, there are so many more good dancers there, and a much more active WCS scene. However, my studio says it will be starting up a dance next month, so I'm hopeful.
  16. DancinAnne

    DancinAnne New Member

    I'm wondering if unclejoe is referring to imperial swing or DC hand dancing or one of those offshoots of wcs which, I believe, utilize a combination of both east and west coast swing. Or at least that is how I see it, as they rock step. I didn't learn it that way either. I've only discovered those variations in my dance travels.

    I agree with Benji, that followers shouldn't compensate for leaders generally as a rule. However, when social dancing or competing, if a leader gives me a bad/confusing lead, I'll just do the best I can with it and move on. Occasionally, the leader might try it again in order to improve and I don't mind, but when social dancing, I really get tired of leads who 'practice' moves over and over on me. It doesn't really happen that often though. I see it more locally then when I travel, because we have a smaller swing scene and there are only so many dancers to 'practice' with. Whether in a class sitch or a social sitch. So, I guess I understand it too.

    The best advice I can offer for following is to wait on the lead. It's easy to want to move yourself, but that's usually where things start going wrong... if you wait and see what's coming next, it's becomes pretty easy to do your part. Take your time and relax into it. You can't anticipate, so don't try.

    Referring to an earlier post about dancing to the leader or to the music. Absolutely I say dance to the leader. I'd much rather be dancing together and off-rhythm, than dancing independently with different rhythms. Though ultimately, it's nice to have it all!!

  17. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "if a leader gives me a bad/confusing lead, I'll just do the best I can with it and move on."
    Just a thought...
    Maybe he is giving you a "conversational opening" to see if you have something to say. If you accept the idea that WCS is more of a conversation than most dances, this would be appropriate.
    'Course, you would only think that if the guy was not messing up a lot, and seemed to pretty much know what he was doing.
    I often give leads that I can tell are confusing to my partners, because they haven't been asked do that before. You are precisely right to do your best. Sometimes I'll try things again. It seems that the really good women, who have lots of presence and confidence, do pretty well at this.
    Sometimes, I'll just "make something up" because it feels doable. I'm completely capable of admitting "I had no idea what that was supposed to be". That's part of the fun of the conversation, and improvisation (if it only gets messed up occasionally).
  18. DancinAnne

    DancinAnne New Member

    I'm speaking of an obvious mislead. I am very open to conversation. When I dance wcs, I do have something to say and consider myself a good follower, though admittedly there is always room for improvement! I dance with leads of all levels and I adjust accordingly. With newer leads, sometimes my 'something to say' can really confuse them, :eek: so I'm a little more conscious of my end of the conversation. A little more careful, I guess you might say. With a more experienced lead, I tend to experiment and play more.

    I really enjoy a dance with a leader who feels comfortable trying out things with me...

    I think the best thing you can do is dance lots! There is nothing like getting out there and doing it to make you better.
  19. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

  20. LindyKeya

    LindyKeya Member

    Teachers (self included) often say things like that, and it is true that if you are doing the steps on your own, he won't learn to lead. What we tell beginners in class vs. what we'd do at a dance are different things. Furthermore, there is a difference between doing the steps on your own (not following at all) and faking the steps on something you don't know.

    Plus, I don't know what he intended, but at your stage (you mentioned being rather new, right?), I would propose doing what is best for your own progression. Whether or not the guys learn to lead is their problem. Whether or not you learn to follow is yours. Follow what they lead, as best you can, and fake what you need to.

    If you are dancing with an "advanced" lead, either he already knows how to lead, or thinks he does (which means he is not actually "advanced," and it sounds like you are well-acquainted with that). Nothing you do will change the latter, so you might as well roll with the punches, and try to enjoy the dance.

    If you are dancing with a newbie, I would suggest following his lead as accurately as you can, but you need to learn how to discern the difference between a poor lead, and your own inability to follow a correct lead correctly (I'm not meaning this to be harsh. I don't know you or your dance ability, I'm just giving the different possibilities).

    And yes, I do feel that the appropriate reaction to a confusing lead is different in a class (or with your partner) than out social dancing. In a class, I'll follow precisely what is lead. If things go wrong, we can then discuss or get instructor input on what went wrong. It's also perfectly appropriate (in a class) to say "Gee, something didn't quite feel right on step 4." and then move on to discuss why, what you think you might be doing wrong, and what your partner might do to help you out.

    Out social dancing, it is considered rude to do this type of thing. Occasionally, if something goes really wrong, particularly if I think it might be my fault, I might ask "That seemed like you intended something cool. Would you mind leading it again so I can give it another try?" If it still goes wrong, I'll either forget it, or ask if the lead wouldn't mind breaking it down for me later. If I get the sense that the lead is a jerk, or he simply can't lead (despite "advanced" status), I'll forget it, and never ask said lead to dance again. Beginners get more leeway, unless they are arrogant jerks.

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