This post is part of the DWT Q&A series.

It’s burning question time! Leads often ask how to “leave space” for their partners. Al Mayberry from the USA puts it this way:

“What moves or steps are the most encouraging to allow followers the most opportunity/freedom to participate, create, and initiate in equal-opportunity lindy?”

Oooh Al, that’s a really tricky question! To be very cliche, I’d have to say: “Tain’t whatcha do, it’s the way that you do it.”

Options! A plethora of delicious options!

Options! A plethora of delicious options!

Allow me to explain, because banal statements like that can drive a person crazy.

You can literally do any steps you want and still allow opportunities (a.k.a “leave space”) for your partner. Equal-opportunity connection is not a what, it’s a how.

In technical terms, equal opportunity requires a mutual and constant listening between you and your partner. It requires a willingness to adapt to your partner’s movements on a moment-by-moment basis.

I mean, that’s just reality, right? If you are not open to accepting and adapting to what you partner is actually doing, you’re going to have a bad time. ‘Cuz your partner is not going to bow to your every whim. Everyone has their own voice, habits, and style, even when they are trying to do everything you ask of them, even when they are trying to be the perfect lead or follow.

Everyone dances uniquely. Every individual's body, style, and voice is different. What is unique about your current partner's movement? How can you match or complement your partner's unique choices? How will you adapt on a moment-by-moment basis?

Everyone dances uniquely. Even if some things look the same, every individual’s body, style, and voice is different. What is unique about your current partner’s movement? How can you match or complement your partner’s choices? How will you adapt on a moment-by-moment basis?

Once you are listening to your partner’s movements (you know how fast they are moving, what direction, where their weight is, whether they are turning or not, etc), you have information you can act on. Will you go with them? Will you anchor? Will you match or complement their movement? So many possibilities!

Conversely, if you are not listening for this information, you limit your and your partner’s options. That’s why we partner dance instead of solo dance: To collaborate, to listen, to influence and be influenced by our partners.

Even if you do the same move over and over, you and your partner can create and respond to dozens of tiny (or big) variations. Every moment is an opportunity for creativity of all sizes, initiated by either partner.

Your partner is speaking to you. Are you listening to what they have to say?

Your partner is speaking to you. Are you listening to what they have to say?

Here are 4 important tips to “leave space” for your partner’s creativity, whether lead or follow:

1. Good Connection

Good connection is the heart of it all. You can have strong connection or light connection or any combination; good connection is what matters. “Good” connection in lindy hop requires these technical aspects: Sharing weight (leaning either away or towards, whether a little or a lot), relaxed arms, consistency, and smooth transitions.

The first two aspects create a mechanical connection that your brain only has to tune in to.

Consistency means you must have your arms relaxed all the time. It means you must be sharing weight the vast majority of the time when you are touching.

And smooth transitions means you move between dynamics (light/strong, stop/go, turning/not turning, etc.) comfortably, with coordination, and with excellent balance.

2. Transmit & Receive Information

Once you’ve set up a good connection, tune your brain to both receive and transmit information. During practice, it helps to focus on one or the other at a time to be sure you can do both. During social dancing, it’s more likely you’ll need to combine every skill you have on hand to make your dance work!

3. Make Decisions and Act On Them

When you are receiving information (you can feel exactly how your partner is moving), then—THEN!—you can make decisions about what to do with this information. As I’m fond of saying, “You can’t make an informed decision without information.”

4. Observe & Accept the Outcome; Repeat

Cultivate an attitude of openness and acceptance. This makes dancing more fun anyways. Partner did what you were hoping for? Cool. Partner did something different? Cool. Confused? Cool. Don’t like how they dance or communicate? Cool. You can dance with someone else.

In summary:

STEP 1: Open a clear line of communication.
STEP 2: Listen for information; transmit information.
STEP 3: Decide what to do with the information and act.
STEP 4: Accept the results. Repeat.

You can learn and practice the “how” in more detail by downloading my online course, Equal-Opportunity Connection.

And, since you asked about moves, here are 3 things you (as a lead or follow) can listen for and respond to in the swing out:

1. What exactly does your partner do when you let go on 5? Do they anchor, travel a lot or a little? Do they rotate? Is it fast or slow, and when? Do they create a strong connection? Do they keep it light?

2. What type of movement is your partner preparing for on 7 & 8? If they are getting ready to rock step, what kind of rock step (big/small/in place/twisting/turning/etc.)? Are they getting ready to swivel (in place/backward/forward/repeatedly)? Are they preparing for some other variation, and how might that variation move?

3. How exactly is your partner moving on 3 & 4? Is it the same as usual, or are they doing something subtly (or not so subtly) different? How fast are they rotating? Are they traveling, and how much?

Again, once you can feel this information coming from your partner, you have the opportunity to decide how to respond. No one can tell you exactly what to do. Try things out and see what works!

Hope that’s the answer you needed to hear! Thanks for writing.

If you have a burning dance question you can’t seem to find an answer for, submit it to my Q&A column. Just click here and fill in the form at the bottom of the page.

How do you “leave space” for your partner’s creativity? Let us know in the comments!

Photo credits: Mo Riza (options), Pascal (lego weirdos), Beverly & Pack (dog and phonograph)

Let’s keep in touch!

Get updates on my latest work by joining The Pulse, my monthly-ish newsletter on fitness, culture, and whatever else moves me. 2,302 of your closest friends already subscribe!

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.