Quickly, west coast swing leaders: what’s the best way to make sure that your follower has an amazing dance?
If you answered, “Lead all of your cool patterns so she knows you’re a rock star,” we need to talk. There’s a much better way to create a dance that will leave your followers breathless and gushing.
Don’t be a pattern junkie
Inexperienced leaders tend to think that the job of the leader is to lead lots of fancy moves. After all, those leaders have spent their time at lots of workshops that teach flashy combinations, and they see advanced dancers doing mind-boggling tricks during their competitions. Since the job of the leader is to lead the dance, doesn’t it make sense that better leaders lead more stuff?
Actually, no. If you talk to followers, you’ll hear them complain about the “pattern junkies”: leaders who lead move after move after move. Dancing with that kind of leader is exhausting: not only is the follower running from end to end of the slot constantly, but she has to be reacting to every little change in the lead. If the leader isn’t an All-Star, the lead is probably not as clear as it could be, so the follower also has to guess what the leader meant as she’s racing around. Finally, the follower doesn’t have a chance to put her own style into the dance, because as soon as she’s finished one pattern she’s immediately being pulled into the next one. That kind of dance is no fun.
West coast swing: a dance for partners
So how should you think about the dance? Shift your mindset. The leader’s job is no longer to lead patterns. The leader’s job is to create the dance for both partners. Yes, leading patterns is part of that—but it’s a small part. Some things that are more important: taking care of your partner, leading clearly and comfortably, and providing the follower space to contribute to the dance conversation.
If you watch a leader like Mario Robau or Robert Royston on the social floor, you won’t see a ton of patterns. What you will see is perfectly executed moves that create opportunities for the partners to share the musical experience. Followers walk away from those dances beaming because they are made to feel like the center of the universe for those three minutes.
So leaders, don’t be pattern junkies. Keep learning patterns, but use them as tools. The point of learning patterns is not to have a million moves to throw at your follower: the point is to understand how movement is created so that you can use those principles throughout your dancing. If you can create movement well, you don’t need a triple backflip pattern in order to make your follower feel great. And, unless you can create movement well, the triple backflip will probably backfire. In short: create the dance; don’t lead endless patterns.