A different way to demo

Photo: Port of San Diego, Big Bay Ballroom – Swingtime on Broadway by Dale Frost. CC

Synopsis: Instead of the tradition of teaching a pattern by having students follow along behind their respective leader/follower teacher, you can win better results by having all students first dance as followers to your visual lead facing them. After that’s going smoothly you reverse, having all students “lead” you as you back-lead them in the follower’s position. We give procedure details, and list benefits.

Leaders behind Marco; followers go with Maria.

How often have you seen this in a dance class? The instructors want to teach a dance pattern, so they have the leaders follow along behind the guy teacher and the followers follow along at the other end of the room, behind the gal teacher. Disregarding the sexist segregation of the roles, this also isolates important information that both partners need.

Some few exercise class teachers turn their back on the group and ask them to follow along, but generally they do it a better, easier way. They have the students mirror their actions.

Here’s a better way for dance teachers, and why it does more good…

Tell the class you are going to demonstrate the figure once, and that they might want to watch where the partners’ bodies move relative to each other and to the room.

Then start with the follower’s role in the figure. Why? Because this is what both follower and leader want to produce. The follower wants to produce it, and the leader wants to evoke it — regardless of their own footwork!

Put the teachers facing line of dance in front of and facing the group of all students (whether they follow or lead). Depending on the size of the class and the room dimensions, it may work best to create two groups, one beyond the other with a teacher in front of each group, instead of having all students abreast.

Announce that you teachers will visually lead the movement, and that all students are to follow along in the follower’s role. If the size of your room and size of your class allow it, position the teachers as leaders facing line of dance, with the followers in the normal position of backing line of dance. Room orientation provides valuable memory cuing for students.

The teachers dance the part of the leader and the students dance the part of the follower, visually following the teacher in front of them. The lead teacher can also use verbal cues to aid clarity.

  • All students get to feel how and where the follower wants to move.
  • All students get a preview of the leader’s movements.
  • (I contend that) It is usually easier to appreciate how you want to use your body when you observe an example from the front. That is, you can tell more about a body’s alignment and movement by observing it from the front.
  • All students gain an appreciation for where and how a follower needs extra time or cuing for a movement.
  • It encourages in followers the attitude of acting as empowered dancers versus merely reacting.

Repeat until most students follow your lead in a reasonably easy, smooth manner. (Suggestion: when you move back down the room to lead it again, have you and your students move as dancers, rather than lumbering back into place.)

Now announce that they are switching roles. The teachers exchange positions with the students, so that the teachers are now backing the line of dance, and the students are “leading”. The teachers as followers will back-lead the students. Again, verbal cues may help.

  • Either partner may be the one that better remembers what happens where and when. When both partners know the details of both roles they can better help each other with leading, following, cuing, and feedback.
  • The students are now seeing—facing them—the follower role they just learned. They can anticipate what comes next for the leader, the part they are now doing.
  • The students see the follower (the teacher in front of them) as an empowered dancer moving independently, instead of as a body they as leader must “move” into place.

In both of these segments, follower then leader, the students are observing the excellent technique of the teachers in front of them, in the same positions that their dance partners will take (albeit in embrace). They will be better prepared to give each other useful feedback.

Now put the couples as partners in la ronda, circling the room in line of dance, and let them work independently while the teachers walk among them giving assistance as needed. Please, please don’t position yourself in front of couples and tell the leaders to follow along with you. This causes problems.

  • Leaders must split attention between teacher and partner.
  • Followers give attention to teacher for the lead instead of to their partner.
  • Couples try to follow along at the pace of the teacher, instead of working at their own pace.
  • Teachers with their back to the group, even if they have a wall mirror, have a harder time observing the students.

Even when I work with individual couples, I’ll generally dance separately with each partner to help sense where the incomplete understanding or misunderstanding lies. Then I first ask the key partner to dance with me in their opposite role as I talk through their usual role and the effect that has on their partner.

Yes, this approach takes more time in the moment. But I contend that in the end it produces dancers with a deeper, richer understanding and production of the dance.

Dance, especially Argentine tango, is first and foremost about the kinesthetic, the feeling body sense. I create empathy and understanding with my partner when I first feel what they want to feel.

What do you have to say?