Monday, 21 February 2011

The psychology of partner dance

It will come as no great surprise to anyone, I'm sure, to learn that I can be a little headstrong at times. So what on earth, you may wonder, possesses me to take up Swing Dance, where the leader leads, and the follower, well, follows? I'll give you a clue. Women are not the leaders here. So, there's all sorts of characteristics which you need to be a good dance follower that don't, shall we say, come terribly naturally to me.

First, you need to trust your partner. If you're dancing properly, you're committing your momentum and body to moves that will only work with the physics of him catching that momentum and working with it. If he sends you out on a spin, or pulls you back from one, it's his job to catch you and guide into the next move, and yours to stay upright and in rhythm, going wherever he sends you. Abdicating control so completely is something that's taken me months to get the hang of. It's still hard with new rhythms and patterns, but it's getting easier all the time.

Secondly, it's the lead's job to decide what happens. If he's not telling you what to do, you don't get to make it up or decide. And just because you've been practising a move all class doesn't mean that's what he's going to do next. I'm getting better with this. It's a mental shift to realise that all options are on the table, but once I do make that shift I've had some of the most fun ever, especially doing moves we haven't explicitly been taught.

Related, I need a strong lead. Again, no surprises there to anyone who's ever met me! If the guy is acting like he knows what he's doing and pushing me around (in dance terms), I can do things I didn't know I knew how to do. If I'm floundering around wondering if that was a lead or just a change in pressure, my footwork goes to pieces, my composure falls apart and it's just a disaster. As in dance, so in life...

This is the the final thing, and the reason I'm learning all these weird mental shifts: it's truly co-creating. You both need to do your bits, and only your bits, for it to work. And when it does, it's glorious. As in dance, so in life...


  1. I so love partner dancing. As you get more advanced you are more able to influence a dance with a partner which is so fun. When you get that perfect connection it's glorious and for three minutes you fall a little bit in love even if they're ugly old men :-) Men have just as much trouble adjusting to a women's follow as we do to their lead. The key is entirely in the words 'partner dancing' and once that's right it's the best thing in the world and I don't understand why everyone doesn't dance to enjoy such an exhilirating feeling. I couldn't live without dancing now although I don't do it as often as I'd like at the moment.

  2. I did ballroom and Latin in my teens - different style, same requirement to put militant feminism on hold for a couple of hours a week (and if I tell you I used to be a LOT more militant than I am now...). It took me a while to get the hang of it.

    Actually, we never had as many men as women, so I also had to learn to lead. I enjoyed both parts, but the girls get a lot more fun swirly moves :)

  3. I'm determined not to learn how to lead. I spend so much of my life in that role that for a couple of hours a week it's wonderful to just switch off and only have to worry about looking pretty. :)