Personal & Partner Responsibilities in Lindy Hop

This blog post is an extension of our previous post: Empowering Followers in Lindy Hop. We talked about a lot of important philosophical ideas in that post. Now we’d like to get into the nitty-gritty and talk about what’s possible in the dance. There are two kinds of responsibility:

  • personal responsibility
  • partnered responsibilities

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITIES

So often we hear that it’s hard to improve your dancing because there’s a lack of partners around to work with, it’s hard to match up schedules, or that communication is tricky. We totally get that.

You’re in luck! The great news is that there’s still PLENTY you can do to improve if you’re willing to invest in yourself as a dancer (which will also make you a more desirable partner to work with because you’re bringing so much to the table).

Here is a list of skills everyone, Leader or Follower, at EVERY level can practice when a partner is not available:

  • Dancing on the beat — we recommend using a metronome (musicians do this too)
  • Triples steps — how is your rhythm? You don’t have to be a tap dancer, but it would absolutely help
  • Spinning and Turning — can you spin on one foot and turn down a line with two feet in control? Every time? At 80 BPM and all the way to 160 BPM comfortably with triples?
  • Creating Variations — are you comfortable creating and practicing your variations? Are you finding new/interesting places to put jazz steps?
  • Arms — do you know how to use your arms when you’re not connected to another human?
  • Overall Strength and Flexibility — are your legs strong and flexible enough that you can do 10 minutes of kick steps (think Charleston)? Yup, you need to be flexible so that your kicks can properly extend.
  • Phrasing — Ending the phrase. Can you do it every time? With something that is rhythmically interesting?
  • Listen to Music — are you actively listening to music? Are you comfortable dancing to different instruments for 50 or more songs? Can you hum/scat most of your favorite swing tunes?

Not a comprehensive list, but it’s a pretty good start!

If you’re an Ace at all of those skills, we’re guessing you’re pretty valuable to work and train with because of what you’re able to bring to your partnership. Speaking of which….

PARTNERED RESPONSIBILITIES

Here at iLindy, we believe it’s critical to train a wide range of skills. The more skills you have, the more you’re able to consciously choose how you want to dance.

We think about partner dancing like it’s having a conversation. Some conversations are highly technical and require previous training and knowledge, whereas others are more casual conversations that occur while multitasking. We’re not judging whether these are right or wrong; instead, we want to point out that depending on the type of conversation you’re having, you’ll need a different skillset to best enjoy those moments.

High-information vs Low-information Overview

Similar to a conversation, every dance can contain high or low amounts of information. When copious amounts of information are present, the listener has more to process. When there is a dearth of information, the listener has less to process from the partnership/conversation and therefore has more time/space to allot to other ideas.

Example: It’s technically possible for a Leader to provide information for every weight-change they’d like their partner to take during the dance. Said differently, assuming the Leader can provide the information, it’s possible for a Follower to understand and take every weight-change requested during the dance.

  • Please note that we’re not commenting on whether this is fun or necessary, just that it’s possible.
  • And so it’s stated, not everything can be lead – sometimes choreography is necessary, e.g. a mini dip.

Similarly, a Leader could suggest shapes and through pattern-recognition, a Follower could fill in the space with standard footwork (ex. (6-count footwork) Rock step, triple step, triple step / (8-count footwork) step, triple step, rock step triple step) or with variations. The Leader is still leading, but they’re not providing as much information as in the previous weight-change example.

  • Again, this is not a comment on the right/wrong way to dance, but a way of discussing the possibilities of communicating while partner dancing.

Benefits of High-Information Lead/Follow

  • a deeper level of communication through two-people
  • increased partnered musicality
  • better-connected (counterbalance or stretch)
  • increased partnered rhythms

Benefits of Low-Information Lead/Follow

  • less pressure on both Leader and Follower to speak/listen to every moment
  • more space for both roles to personalize the dance
  • increased personal musicality

Big Reveal: The top dancers in the Lindy Hop community absolutely have a preference for how they want to dance, but they have the skills to do both. We strongly recommend learning how to do both so you have the option to choose how you want to dance instead of only being able to dance one way.

Let’s keep digging in:

High-Information Lead & Follow

In order to have a high-quality conversation, you need to have both speaking and listening skills; let’s refer to these as Leading and Following, respectively. In order to speak well, you need to know from your listeners whether or not you’re speaking clearly. As a listener, it’s important to know the information you hear is something you can easily process and execute. In this paradigm, each role relies on the other for their success. A Follower needs clear information in order to test/challenge/utilize their listening skills. Is this necessary — no — but it is possible? Yes.

Followers: do you know what foot you “should” be on because you recognized it was, let’s say, a 6-count figure, or because you felt each step being lead?

Leaders: do you know how to check if you’re leading the shape of the figure vs. the footwork in the figure? Can you lead the figure with multiple footwork patterns and have your Follower understand and execute it perfectly?

A Follower can hone their following skills ONLY if they have Leaders who regularly can/will lead footwork and dynamics in the partner connection (think stretch or counterbalance). Similarly, a Leader can hone their leading skills ONLY if they have a Follower who can/will follow what is lead (so the Leader can get honest feedback about the information they’re requesting). Haha, this is also assuming that both people are interested in getting feedback and improving instead of trying to prove why they are right and their partner is wrong!

Great questions to ask yourself:

  • Can I lead/follow this shape using multiple footwork patterns, such as half-time, full-time, and standard footwork?
  • Can I use less energy and still make this work?
  • Can the Follower reverse-engineer this experience and show the Leader how they want it to feel so that it’s most comfortable?
  • Are your footfalls in rhythm?

Low-Information Lead & Follow

This is how most people start learning to dance: they memorize footwork patterns and vocabulary, learn to find the (count) 1, and they learn a few jazz steps to put in their pocket. Because there is less being requested through the partnership, there is more space for each person to bring their own flavor. In this paradigm, each role relies more on themselves for their success. Both dancers should be able to have a “good dance” with someone at any level because of how much personal responsibility one has access to.

Followers: do you recognize the pattern? Can you tell from listening to the music where the breakaway should end?

Leaders: could you shape be confused for something else? Do you know how to continue dancing through the next shape even when your Follower is creating a variation?

Great questions to ask yourself:

  • How is your personal rhythm?
  • How is your musicality?
  • How is your quality of movement?
  • How good are you at playing off of your partner’s ideas?
  • How are you using/creating space for yourself and your partner?

Summary

To bring it home, Leading and Following take place on a spectrum and we don’t believe that there’s a right or wrong way to do it. How do you prefer to dance? Have you tried both ways?

We believe there is a wide range of skills you need in order to be a spectacular dancer. Regardless of if you have a partner or not, your work is never done. If you find that you just can’t get yourself to practice when you don’t have a partner, we strongly recommend taking dance classes like: tap, african, urban, ballet, house, or anything else that will get you moving and learning more about how your body works.

Interested in personalized feedback? Hit us up with a video of you dancing – either solo or partnered – and we can give you feedback. Join our Facebook group and contact us for more details!

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