I don’t know exactly when the thought first occurred to me.
But eventually I felt that it was something I really wanted, something I had to try.
Actually, it kind of started about two months ago, with the realization that sometimes there just weren’t enough women around, and, well… I had needs.
With so many more leads than follows in the San Francisco swing dance scene, being a lead often meant either scrambling to grab a follow, or sitting out a dance. I knew there had to be a better way.
So a couple of months ago, I took a deep breath, and decided that for the evening’s beginning drop-in swing class, I’d assume the traditional “woman’s” role, and be a follower.
Things went more smoothly than I anticipated, and I even thought it was pretty fun, so I braved the next hour’s intermediate drop-in class as a follower as well… and survived that, too! After having a very talented leader friend of mine twirl me around repeatedly for a bit after class without me throwing up or falling over, I decided… hey, I rather like this and I can do it!
So this month I enrolled in a four-week beginning swing dance series with the famous Paul and Sharon just so I could get the fundamentals of following.
I don’t plan on giving up on my leading, and in fact, I’ve already signed up for a private lesson with Sharon as a lead. But as I’ve learned from this fascinating thread on the Yehoodi swing board, there are many advantages to learning to follow as a guy… not least of which is the opportunity to become a better leader.
This comment by a talented follower / teacher in New York speaks volumes:
As you begin to learn what followers feel you can refine your lead to be more clear, learn limits on either extreme of light and heavy, learn the difference between looking good and feeling good, and even what moves are more fun for the follower to be lead through.
Women who become leaders usually feel amazing and look really boring. This is because they know what it feels like and usually care most about that area. Becoming a follower can help you get a little more of that in your lead.
And when you get more of that women will line up to dance with you. Seriously! 🙂
I admit that learning to follow as a guy may seem a strange and roundabout way of becoming a better leader. And for the homophobes, it may be not only an alien but a particularly unpleasant notion. Luckily, however, I live in San Francisco, which boasts a huge number of both talented and tolerant swing dancers.
And lest the journey of followdom seem wholly like a sacrifice to reach a desired end goal, ponder this:
Blues dancing with one of the most talented and sexy dancers… with her leading and me following!. Oh my!
After hearing that I was just starting to learn following, Miriam — whom I barely know and had previously met only briefly — sent me an e-mail out of the blue:
i’ll be at 920 [a popular swing dance venue] on thursday. i can give you a few pointers if you’d like.
Sure enough, halfway through the dance evening, Miriam found me, immediately pulled me close, and began teaching me some fundamentals of following… feeling weight shifts, pushing my back tight against her hand, coming straight into a swingout, and absolutely, positively not anticipating anything.
A slow blues song came on, and Miriam led me in sensual, subtle movements and a few bodyrolls. To my embarrassment, I giggled, more out of delight than nervousness. I couldn’t stop smiling because she really WAS leading me and getting me to move my body… in ways I had never done much less learned, and I had never felt anything like this. In dancing, I had always been the one in control, or at least trying to be in control. I was always required to think ahead, plan where to be, how to move my follow. As a lead I mostly had to ‘talk’ and my partner had to ‘listen.’ But with following, it’s apparently 99% about feeling and listening.
So here I was, pressed tight against an amazing, captivating woman, and I was learning how to somehow get in touch with my feminine side. How ironic! 🙂
Those fifteen minutes or so with Miriam flew by, and — feeling both grateful and goofy — I thanked her profusely.
One of my guy friends, who had led me earlier in the night, remarked that after my mini-lesson, I followed “tons better.” All I know is that I still feel quite aglow from those few memorable moments with Miriam. There’s something simply stunning about completely letting go and having a talented and confident (okay, and very attractive) dancer be responsible for how you move, even how you feel the music.
So I already love being a follow. But I’m equally inspired to boost my leading skills, so my follows can feel more of what I felt with Miriam. That, in my mind, is one of the ultimate rewards of dancing… achieving a connection that enables you and your partner to forget the rest of the world for even three minutes, lost in the music, lost in each other.