This is part 3 of a 3-part series on equal-opportunity connection.

Ready for the nitty-gritty details of equal-opportunity connection? Me too! Here’s a tutorial explaining the idea from start to finish, plus lots of exercises to work on your connection. You can download the complete course here.

Why is this post so long? It’s that pesky word “complete” that I chose to put in the title. For those of you who mostly get the idea already, skim the highlights and skip to the practice exercises at the end.

If you don’t get it or are not yet convinced, this post re-explains connection from the ground up. Much of it you probably already know, but that’s why it’s long.

Questions? Please post them in the comments!

Note: This tutorial is lindy hop focused. Please feel free to adapt the ideas for your partner dance style.

See also Part 1, Connection Doesn’t Work the Way You Think It Works, and Part 2, The End of Lindy Hop As We Know It?

The Difference Between Follow and Lead

Follow and lead use the same connection skills, initiating and responding.

The difference between them is that they do very different, but complementary movements. You may be very good in your role and very good at both initiating and responding. It’s still hard to wrap your brain around the other role’s movements the first time you try it.

Movement is the foundation of the distinction between lead and follow.

These different movements give great depth to the lead follow roles. Individuals can add even more depth and variation to their role by expressing their connection, rhythm, musical taste, and other ideas differently.

Reframing Your Mindset

Reframing your mindset is the first key to understanding, allowing, and creating equal opportunities in dancing. Here’s the beginner way of learning connection:

Leads “make” their partner do things. They can “say no” to their partner’s movements, while follows must always “say yes.” Follows are “allowed” to add to the dance in some ways, but not in others.

bambi godzilla jd hancock flickr

Unfortunately, this description is a weird combination of vague yet restrictive. What exactly are follows allowed to initiate? How responsive are leads allowed to be? Why do we have to micromanage connection in the dance roles? Why can’t individuals learn to express and respond to creativity in ways that work for them?

Everyone dances differently, no matter how hard we try to fit them into the same nebulous boxes. You will be confused if you expect every partner to conform to your expectations.

Adopting an equal-opportunity mindset will let you experience partner dancing as a dialogue between equals.

At the same time, you absolutely do not have to give up your preferences! You don’t have to dance in one particular way, or bend yourself to suit all partners.

Equal-opportunity connection is about learning flexibility, give and take. Practicing this gives you the greatest opportunity to be yourself in your chosen dance role.

The equal-opportunity mindset:

  • I make my own choices, because I am an individual.
  • I choose to go along with my partner’s choices whenever I can.
  • When something doesn’t work, that’s fine! Instead of blaming my partner, we experiment to find out what works.
  • It’s not mine or my partner’s fault if we don’t mesh well. Even the “worst” dancers dance well with someone!

This collaborative approach puts you on par with the best dancing partnerships in the world. It’s also MUCH simpler than trying to sort out what each role is “allowed” to contribute to the dance.

Approach each new partner with an open mind, a blank slate.

Approach each new partner with an open mind, a blank slate.

Initiating and Responding: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Initiating and responding skills are:

  • Essential, like triple steps and rhythm.
  • Reciprocal. If you only learn one, you’re only exposed to half of connection.
  • Hard to do in isolation, but worth practicing this way. We also practice moves in isolation. And jazz steps, and dance drills, and music listening, and all the rest.
  • Blended when dancing socially. On the dance floor, we combine all our dance skills on the fly. This includes initiating and responding, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you are good at it or not.
  • Done differently by different people, the same way we all swing out differently. This is awesome sauce, and should be encouraged.
  • Often done simultaneously! If you’re moving, you’re saying something to your partner. Are you listening to what your partner is saying to you?
  • A conversation in movement. Social dance is a back and forth dialogue where you add onto each other’s ideas, change things, adjust to your partner and express yourself.

What do YOU like to initiate?

Initiating is expressing yourself.

It can be adding something new to the dance, anything your partner didn’t directly ask you to do. More broadly, it can simply be your style, or your interpretation of how to complement your partner’s movement. Every movement you do communicates something to your partner.

Which of these do you most enjoy adding, changing, or interpreting?

  • Moves
  • Momentum and speed
  • Pulse
  • Direction of movement
  • Level changes
  • Intensity (tense vs. relaxed)
  • Texture and movement style
  • Rhythmic variations
  • Stops and hesitations
  • Strength of connection (light vs. strong)
  • Spinal rotations
  • Turn variations
  • ???

How much flexibility do you have around what you like to initiate? If you need to maintain an iron grip on those aspects in order to have fun, practice your responding skills more. This will help you to let go and relax.

What are you capable of responding to?

Responding is listening, or saying “yes,” “sure, why not,” or “cool!” It’s a way of validating your partner and letting them know you value their input to the dance. It also inspires new ideas for you to initiate.

Have a look at the list above again. Ideally, you are capable of responding to all of those things when your partner initiates them.

In a partnership, responding creates the most options and allows you the greatest flexibility. You don’t have to respond to everything. You can (and should) choose how you like to dance. But you’re limiting your options if you don’t at least learn to respond to each.

Practice Vs. Social Dancing

In class and practice, we train both initiating and responding skills in isolation.

In social dancing, it’s a whole other world. You have to combine everything you’ve practiced on the fly—with all kinds of different people! Often, this does not go perfectly, especially when you’re trying to add something unfamiliar.

This is fine, good, fantastic! Experimentation is a must. Don’t abandon what you’ve been practicing just because you can’t do it well. We’d never get to swing outs if we did that. And then Rebecca would cry.

When combining initiating and responding, focus on complementing your partner’s movements and staying connected.

Again, movement is the foundation of the difference between lead and follow. Do movement which makes sense with the dance, the role you are dancing, and which works with your partner. How do we find out what works? Education and experimentation. Don’t shy away from either of those.

Maintain connection to keep the lines of communication open. This gives you the best chance at blending initiating and responding without that frustrating “muddled” feel. Also make sure to practice each skill in isolation.

Summary

  1. Movement: The foundation of the distinction between lead and follow.
  2. Same connection skills: Follow and lead both use initiating and responding.
  3. Equal-opportunity mindset: How you experience partner dancing as a dialogue between equals.
  4. Initiating: How you express yourself and add to the dance.
  5. Responding: How you validate your partner and open up new opportunities.
  6. Practice initiating and responding skills one at a time.
  7. When combining initiating and responding, focus on complementing your partner’s movements and staying connected.

Equal Opportunity Connection tileNow that we’ve set the stage, you’re ready to practice. Download the complete, 49 page course now.

If you find this resource helpful and want to give back, please share it with others!

Have fun with it, and let me know how it goes in the comments.

Photo credits: JD Hancock (Godzilla and partners)