halftone-lindy-hopThis is part 2 of a 3-part series on equal-opportunity connection.

For a lot of people, the idea of equal-opportunity connection is obvious and compelling.

Other people have objections. You are afraid it won’t work, or that it will be confusing, or that you won’t get as many dates. Maybe you’re even afraid it will ruin lindy hop (or whichever dance you know and love).

For the record, here is what I’m proposing:

Teach both initiating and responding skills equally to both roles. Let people figure out how they wish to use these skills on the dance floor (the same way we let dancers figure out what moves, variations, dance style, partners, music, etc. they like).

Leads aren’t automatically “in charge.” Follows aren’t automatically subordinate. Individuals can make these choices if they like.

To understand more of the reasoning behind this, please read Connection Doesn’t Work the Way You Think It Works and Solving Sexism In the Lindy Hop Community.

Even if you like the idea, it might not be totally intuitive yet. Below I’ve collected some common fears I’ve heard over the years.

Equal-Opportunity Connection: Fears vs. Reality

Fear: It’ll take a while for me to learn.

Reality: True, you might not incorporate a new skill perfectly overnight. However, I’d suggest that (a) you already have the skills, just not well-developed. And (b) it’s fun to practice connection!

You are surrounded by people who can help you. Ask a follow how they adjust and respond. Ask a lead how to clearly initiate ideas. If you can, get a practice partner and sort it out together.

Fear: There will be chaos on the dance floor.

Reality: That’s business as usual! We can avoid chaos by:

  • Keeping our eyes open to avoid bumping into others.
  • Controlling our movements so that we don’t kick or smack others.
  • Developing clear communication and movement to avoid ambiguity.
  • Being flexible to our partner’s needs to avoid struggling for control.

Whether you value equal-opportunity connection or not, these tips are essential.

Fear: Dancing will be muddled between who’s initiating and who’s responding.

Reality: Partner dancing is already a blend of the two. Follows change things and leads adjust, often unintentionally and/or poorly.This is what feels like muddling. Blending them seamlessly is just good dancing. To get stronger at this, practice each skill in isolation.

As Dave Brubeck said, “Yeah, but that’s what jazz is all about, is a dialogue or answering one another.”

blenders by miss karen flickr

Blend 'em however you like.

Fear: It’s impossible for follows to initiate certain movements.

Reality: Not true. Try it! Grab a practice partner and teach each other what you know about connection. Any movement a lead can initiate, a follow can initiate. Any movement a follow can respond to, a lead can respond to.

It is impossible for follows (or leads) to make their partners do any movement. You DO have to respond confidently and competently when a follow initiates a movement. If you need any help refining this, ask an experienced follow.

Fear: Everyone will be gender neutral.

Reality: Individuals will be more free to express their gender however they like in their chosen role.

Fear: I will be forced to dance differently.

Reality: Really and truly, you can dance however you like! But so can everyone else. You cannot enforce your preferences on other people. You don’t have to dance with people you don’t mesh with.

Fear: If the follow is “too creative” they’ll make a mess of the dance.

Reality: This is a problem whether leads or follows do it. Another huge problem is when dancers aren’t responsive to their partners. If you fear follows’ creativity, see what you can do to become more responsive.

Fear: The structure of the dance will be destroyed.

Reality: Yeah, this fear seems way overblown, doesn’t it? The imposed hierarchy of the dance will be destroyed, yes.*

But structure is about much more than who tells who what to do. In a 2-person structure like partner dancing, imposed hierarchy is extraneous.** Good partner dance structure requires that you know your movements well, develop flexibility, and communicate clearly. In light of this, the structure of the dance will be refined and improved when more people are skilled at both initiating and responding.

*But then people ask, why call it lead and follow? Well, it’s not called lead and follow in every language. We have chosen words that limit our understanding of the full possibilities of these roles. Hm, could sexism have anything to do with this? I digress.

**Partner dancing can be compared to a 2-person jam. There’s no externally-imposed hierarchy. A player might find themselves in a leadership role, but it’s not “always the trumpet player,” or “always the bass player.” If you decide to follow the other player, it’s because you like their ideas better, or they are more experienced.

pale blue dot

See that blue speck? That's Earth. Destroying the artificial partner dance hierarchy will not be the end of it.

Fear: If follows can contribute equally, it won’t be lindy hop any more.

Reality: If you believe this, you have an overly-narrow definition of lindy hop which excludes a multitude of excellent dancers (and new dancers who do unexpected things—which is pretty much all of them). Plus you sound like a sexist jerk. If follows dance as equals to leads, it doesn’t stop being lindy hop. That’s terribly insulting.

Lindy hop does not require artificial hierarchy. It requires collaboration. (And triple steps, and swing music, and rhythm, and many other things, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Fear: Beginners won’t know what to do on the dance floor.

Reality: I guarantee they won’t stand there like idiots. One of them will start dancing, and the other will go along with it.

If you ever watch beginners dance, you know confusion is 100% normal. Their confusion is made worse by having each role do only initiating OR only responding.

Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to do only one? Initiating with zero adjustments? Responding without adding anything? Damn near impossible! (Unless you’re a robot.)

Social dancing is made easier for beginners when they practice both skills. Instead of being confused when the follow does something unexpected, the lead will learn to adjust. And follows will learn to make deliberate changes.

Fear: It’s too hard for beginners to learn both initiating and responding.

Reality: It’s possible that beginners will learn more slowly, especially if they already a have a fixed idea of what lead and follow mean.

But the major upside is that beginners will learn more fully. Both initiating and responding skills are essential for partner dancers in any role. It’s fine for beginners to learn fewer moves and more variations on those moves at first.

I doubt, however, that beginners will be impeded in any way. For example, children of bilingual homes are not delayed in their language acquisition. If they learn as beginner, students will more easily incorporate the essential reciprocal connection skills of initiating and responding.

Fear: I don’t know how to teach it in class.

Reality: That’s fair. Seriously, who changes overnight?! You could start by adding exercises where you let leads practice responding and follows practice initiating. Or you could spend a few minutes every class teaching follows how to throw in simple variations, and teaching leads how to adjust.

Even if you’re not teaching initiating and responding equally to both roles, it’s still a big step forward.

The End of Lindy Hop As We Know It?

If you haven’t noticed, the title of this post is completely tongue-in-cheek. It’s based on the worst-case-scenario fear I’ve heard occasionally.

Equal Opportunity Connection tileTo me, it’s such an unlikely and outlandish fear. How could it “destroy lindy hop” if more people practice initiating and responding—skills both roles are already required to know?

Answer: It can’t. Better connection will only improve lindy hop.

I hope you agree.

For even more fun times, download the course on Equal-Opportunity Connection.

Share this post! If you don’t quite “get” equal-opportunity connection yet, ask a question in the comments!

Photo credits: Miss Karen (blenders)