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December 12, 2008

Active following

Over the last weekend, Hsueh-tze Lee had just completed the latest series of workshops in Singapore.

As on previous trips, she again emphasized the benefits of “active following” for followers. In fact, after having taken her classes as well as having danced with her in the milongas, I have very high regard for her excellent following and sensitive leading, and some first-hand experience of how active following can enhance the dance experience.

Now what do I mean (or what I understood it to be, from leader’s perspective) by “active following”?

Firstly, it is probably easier to say what “active following” is not. Active following is not about the follower doing her own thing and resists when she “feels right”. It is also not back-leading, where the follower, without changing the embrace, wrests control out of the leader’s hands so to speak and directs the dance, even if this is done subtly/gently. Finally, active following is not about embelishments, although sometimes the voice of an active follower is expressed in the form of simple embellishments.

To the best of my understanding, an active follower is someone who participates in the dance in a way that reinforces the lead, but without interrupting the flow of the dance. A direct outcome is that it we will see a better quality of steps and it can also heighten a follower’s presence in the embrace.

Sounds quite a mouthful, doesn’t it?

To put in more concrete terms, active following means at the minimum “powering your own steps”. The next level is to be able to respond, as an equal, to the grounding initiated by the leader, e.g. in preparation for phrasing in music that calls for drawn-out steps, think Di Sarli, Calo, Pugliese, or responding to rhythmic changes in direction by varying the weight of follower’s steps: D’Arienzo, Laurenz, etc. I hesitate to use the word “pressure” because superficially they do seem similar but “pressure” (or weight) tends to give a slight negative connotation. At all times, a follower should try to avoid presenting herself as an obstacle to the leader while increasing her presence in each dance. A follower’s voice should add to that of the leader’s, instead of fight against it, no?

There is an often regurgitated cliche of “Leader leads, follower follows”. However, in my opinion as far as following is concerned, it’s in the quality of following (passively? someone to be pushed/placed in position? or active?) that will leave a lasting – hopefully in a good way 🙂 – memory for the leader!

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