Visually Pre-Leading

West Coast Swing Online Connection, Grab Bag

Pro dancers are great at including their partner within play. Not only do they signal when play will happen: the really great dancers also find a way to communicate what they are going to do.

Most of us watch pro followers instantly pick up on what a leader is doing and think that they’re psychic. It’s true that the followers have an incredible reaction time, and they notice incredibly subtle details. But, the leaders are also signalling these motions to the followers, if you know what to watch for. (It’s not just a one-way street: when followers suggest play to their leaders, they will do the same kind of signalling.)

To practice sending these signals and being sensitive to them, we’re doing to do a visual pre-lead exercise. Grab a partner and some floor space, and let’s rumba!

The Drill: For this exercise, you and your partner are going to dance a simple rumba variation with no physical connection. Stand facing each other. Whoever is leading should shift their weight to one foot, and the follower should shift the same direction (i.e., if the leader shifts to the right, the follower will shift left).

Start with simple movement options. Every movement will go away from home base and then return. So, the leader might step forward on his left, replace weight on his right, and then take the left back to first foot position (next to the right, where it started). If the leader does this movement, the follower would step back with her right, replace with her left, and then take the right back to first foot position.

Leaders can step start by stepping forward with the left, backwards with the right, or to the side with either foot. Start with a very slow speed (without music!). Rumba is generally quick quick slow, so think about taking twice as long on the last step of each three steps. The whole action should feel like a really slow triple step!

Leaders: the goal is to use your body to signal to the follower where you are going. Think about projecting your weight transfer. You want to be crystal clear about which foot is weighted and when your weight transfer happens. You want to use your body to indicate which way you are moving next. And you want to be clear about the speed of your movement at all times.

Followers: your goal is to notice the tells in your leader’s body. Watch for when he settles his weight—is there a hip settle? A relaxation of the knee? When he moves to the side, is he indicating that with his torso? His shoulders?

Practice slowly for a few minutes, then switch roles. It’s incredibly important for you to gain both skill sets, no matter what role you normally dance.

Bonus Variations: When you and your partner can move together, try increasing the difficulty level. You can change the speed of the movement. You can throw in tap steps so that the same side might move twice in a row. You can change directions, so the leader can move his left backwards as well as forwards. Remember that the goal is not to leave your follower behind! The goal is to signal what you are doing so clearly that she automatically matches you.

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