One of the reasons that musical interpretation adds so much to the dance is that we all hear different things in the music. If you dance with a regular partner—either socially or in a strictly swing—you can improve your teamwork by learning what kind of things your partner hears in the music. This exercise aims to help you hear what your partner is listening to so that you both can work together to bring out those elements of a song.
The Drill: With your partner, put on a song from any WCS musical genre. For the entire song, the leader should lead nothing beyond basic six and eight count patterns. The follower is free to dance to whatever she hears in the song. As she does so, the leader should pay attention to both what she is dancing to, as well as how she is dancing to it (e.g., footwork, body isolations).
Then, put on the same song. This time, the follower should not syncopate or interpret; it’s the leader’s turn to do what he hears in the song. The follower should likewise be listening for both to what and how the leader is dancing (is he setting up moments for the follower? leading patterns that hit on a specific instrument? coloring within the basic?).
By repeating this exercise with other songs, and with songs from different WCS genres, both partners will begin to learn how to hear what their counterpart hears in the music. The next step is to actively encourage your partner to dance to the things that he or she hears, in the way that he or she likes to do so.
Leaders: if your follower likes footwork, set her up with a basic pattern as the piano goes crazy. If she prefers body isolations, give her something to shape during an accent. If she likes to do level changes, try to initiate that contrast before a key hit.
Followers: if your leader likes to hit breaks with patterns, be aware of when he’s approaching a hit so you don’t throw the move off. If your leader does body shaping, try to compliment his shapes. If he’s a footwork junkie, practice a couple of syncopations that you can use to build on his rhythm.