- Don’t think… do!
- Dance with partners of every skill level
- Keep your hands where your partner can reach them
- Think about staying tall during spins
- Wear shoes with slip in the toe, grip in the heel
- Use a technique called spotting or keep a soft focus during spins to keep from getting dizzy
- Tighten your core, this will help you to dance from your core and not your limbs.
- Point the toes of your unweighted foot
- Enjoy dancing!
Don’t Think, Do!
The key to being a good follow is knowing how to relax your mind and just react to the signals given by your partner. The lead plans out a move seconds or minutes in advance, the follow has fractions of a second to react. There’s no time to think–so just do! If you’ve ever meditated, it’s close the same mindset–you receive information and instead of processing it, dwelling on it, or making a decision on it, you just act on it. You are the river through which the lead’s ideas flow into beautiful dance moves. Keep the ideas flowing directly into movement.
If you’re thinking too hard, distract yourself: Get lost in the music, sing along, close your eyes. If you struggle with that still, or you’re actively trying to improve on something, pick one thing for the whole dance. “This whole dance I’m going to pay attention to what my partner’s hands are saying” or “This time I’ll focus on my frame.” That will be more productive than trying to correct all your mistakes in one go.
The fast track to learning dancing is…
To dance with different partners! Dance with both new dancers and experienced dancers. A good lead will be able to tell what your ability level is after a few moves, and they will lead you through moves you know and maybe one or two things you may not know. Experienced dancers give very clear signals so they are great for beginners to learn from. Be sure to say “thank you” to every person you dance with after the dance–this increases your chance of another dance later on.
Where to look while dancing
First of all, don’t look at your feet! Your eyes may move around quite a bit, like when you’re driving–constantly looking for signals from your partner and dangers around you. Generally, you will need to be looking toward your partner. Keep both of your partner’s hands in your peripheral view as much as possible, since this is where you’ll be picking up contact points. When you are spinning, practice spotting or keeping a soft focus on your partner’s nose to avoid getting dizzy. Spotting is where you keep your eyes on a fixed point, and turn your head the opposite direction of your spin to keep looking there as long as possible, then whip your head around when you can’t turn your head anymore, and find that same point with your eyes again. By fixating on one point, you maintain your orientation in the room, and help your equilibrium stay in check. If you can’t figure it out, unfocus your eyes during a spin so you don’t watch the room go by, then re-focus when you see your partner again. This has roughly the same effect as spotting.
Wear closed-toes shoes. Heel or no heel doesn’t matter, but you should be comfortable. Ideally, you want something with slip in the toe and grip in the heel, so look for smooth soles and a sturdy heel. That way your spins will feel effortless! Leather or suede is great for dancing. Rubber, not so much. Many dancers I know wear cowgirl boots, dress shoes, or even Toms. In a pinch, slap some duct tape of fabric-coated tape on the front soles of your favorite tennis shoes.
How to look graceful
Keep your balance by thinking tall. During spins, raise up your heel (just a little!), and balance on the balls of your feet. When I say a little, I mean it. This is Country Swing, not ballet! Even if your partner is rather short, you shouldn’t ever have to duck under for a spin.
When you finish a spin, don’t lean your upper body back–I see a lot of beginners and drunk people do this to make up for the lack of good connection. Instead, put one foot back for a rock step, and let your triceps and upper back muscles feel the springy tension like a rubber band. For more information about this tension, click here.
Keep your weight centered over your feet. What I mean is don’t stick your foot out and then move your torso over it like you do when you walk. Instead, shift your body weight forward as you step forward. Again, this works best if your heels are low when you step. The net result is the ability to move quicker with less effort.
What to do with your arms
One of the unspoken rules of dancing is that your hands are always wanting to find your partner’s hands. Keep your free arm bent at the elbow, at about waist-level during spins. Once you get a feel for the amount of time you have before your partner needs that hand again, you can style your arm in many different ways.
Safety is number one, so don’t ever try to dip yourself. Watch and feel for the cues of a dip–they will be clear. If you’re not sure, ask “Is this a dip?” It’s better to be late on the cues than to misread them altogether and wind up on the floor!
During the dip, gently relax your into your partner (don’t go limp, don’t throw your weight into it, just relax!). Keep your core tight, tilt your head back a little; and if your foot is lifted, keep your thighs together and point your toes.
Finally, if you’re ever uncomfortable with dips, let your partner know! A good lead will adapt to the needs of his follow.
Last but not least… Smile!
If you smile, laugh, sing along, or generally show you are having fun, it will help put you and your partner at ease. Smile through the mistakes. Relax and enjoy, because dancing is all about having fun! 🙂
Dancing with Beginners
Sometimes when a lead is new to dancing or has a more gentle than average connection, the follow (especially if confident or experienced) will inevitably back-lead. Try not to do this as it prevents them from really learning the moves.
When you dance with someone new, aim for clarity over style. Do what they lead, as close to a pure reaction as you can, rather than stylizing it just to look pretty. This will help them gauge whether their communicated signals were clear or not. At the same time, don’t be stubborn. There is a balance. You know how this dance should feel and part of your job as the more experienced partner is to help them develop the feel for it too.
Keep a positive attitude when dancing with someone who’s not great at dancing yet. Everyone starts somewhere! A reassuring smile, or complimenting something they are doing well can go a long way. It can also make it easier to approach them about technique later. If you do approach someone about technique, be positive and ask for permission to give them advice. Two approaches I have found work well are “Can I show you something about this move?” or “I like that you tried __, and I have some ideas about how to make it better.”
The best way to improve and retain your dancing chops is to dance with several different leads at various levels. Especially dance with beginners because it challenges you to be a good follow. If you can make a beginner look good without back-leading, you are a good dancer!
More about back-leading
Back-leading (also known as hijacking) is when you, the follow, are initiating the movement instead of the lead. Some dance styles encourage this from time to time, but Country Swing is not one of them. In fact, most leads find it frustrating when a follow back-leads.
Back-leading can be a teaching tool for follows to teach leads new moves. After demonstrating the move with back-leading, let them resume control and try to produce the same result.
Watch the space behind your lead when you are dancing. You can subtly warn them if they are about to back into someone (or someone is about to back into them) by gently pulling their shoulder toward you. Every lead I have done this for was thankful that I took responsibility for the space he could not see.
Styling with arms can be fun and allows you to add your own personality to the dance. Finally! The follows get to decide something! Just make sure you have space and time for the extension.
- The rule of thumb is you don’t want your free arm to ever just hang by your side lifelessly. In ballroom dancing they say “If it can bend, bend it.” Think about maintaining tone to your arm, think about giving them as much of a workout in this dance as your legs, and you might find that the movement comes naturally.
- Going along with that, even if you have room for a full extension, a gentle bend in the elbow, wrist and fingers will look better than flat lines.
- Whenever you are extended away from your partner, these are good moments for arm styling. You can shape your arm upward, outward, even down and back. If you have room, take it!
- Aside from extensions, you can also put a hand on your hip, behind your head, around your waist, etc.
Leg and Foot Styling
If you’ve been dancing for a while, you can usually do a lot more with your legs during a country dance. Especially during a slower song, styling your feet will help you take time in the dance and it looks really cool.
- Rond de jambe or “ronde” (around the leg) – draw a semi-circle forward or back with your non-weighted foot. Point your toes and keep the inside edge of your big toe on the ground.
- Whenever you have a lot of hang time coming back to your anchor step, draw your extended foot toward your standing leg and slightly bend your unweighted leg.