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Dance is Like a Language

Nice to have you here! 
This text is for both leaders and followers - it is about communication in dance, about rough leading and what followers can do to avoid it. 

Couple dance is like a language.
There is no doubt about it. When we dance, we communicate. We speak a language. And when we speak this language, there are words, expressions, sentences and grammar that we use. Every move we make sends a signal, like a word or a sentence, that has to be interpreted. And we both interpret different signals. The leaders start the interaction, but it is not just the follower who is listening and interpreting. The leader has to listen and interpret the response from the follower all the time. 

Different languages
Each dance genre is its own language in a way, even if many dances follow similar rules, just like languages do.

One of the most beautiful things about couple dance is that it is universal. It is something we all can understand. We can dance all over the world. I can invite someone on the other side of the world to a salsa, bachata or kizomba and we can dance. We might speak different "dialects" but we understand each other. 

This makes dance really beautiful. It unifies us.

Talking & Screaming
But we can take this language analogy further. 

Imagine you meet someone and have a conversation with them. You speak the same language so you understand what they are saying. There is no need for them to scream, right? It will not improve your understanding. Even if you have slightly different "dialects", you still understand. It would just be annoying if they were screaming at you.

It is the same in dancing. A rough leader - someone who squeezes too tight or uses too much force - is just annoying. Nothing works better. There is no better understanding. It is just less enjoyable. And sometimes even dangerous. 

And, imagine the opposite - you are talking to someone who is just beginning to learn your language. They don’t properly understand what you are saying. Then it will not help if you raise your voice and scream the same words out, right? Of course. Screaming doesn’t improve understanding. 

If you are in that kind of situation, when someone doesn’t understand what you are saying in a language, it is better to use more simple words, speak every word very clearly, and use simple grammar.

Once again, it’s the same in dancing. Leaders, remember, when we dance, we speak a language. Make it easier. Try different and easier steps. Make a different, more simple combination.

Of course, you need to be clear, you need to "speak loud enough so they can hear". But don’t scream. Don’t be rough. Don’t hold too tight.

Listening & Responding
Now if we switch to the other side of the interaction. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is doing something on their phone at the same time? It doesn't feel very good, does it? The attention isn't there. And it is also pretty common that the response comes back a bit late, if ever. The communication is less enjoyable and not as good. For communication to work well, we need to pay attention. We need to listen. 

For a follower, it is the same. It doesn't work to think about other things. And for communication to work well it needs to be two-way. The follower needs to respond with something, either starting a move or stopping a move. 

So the first tip is to really pay attention.

Now have you had a conversation with someone while they are eating? Now it is so automatic that they can actually pay attention to what you are saying. But sometimes you have a wait a bit for an answer. They need to chew. It takes some time. They are not ready to talk all the time. They might have half a potato in their mouth. 

And in dancing, the same thing can happen. Followers can be ready, and not so ready. If we are too relaxed.

So the second tip is to try to keep some presence in your body. With this presence, the response will be faster. Engage your core. And try to respond with some tension when you feel tension - all the way from the frame, down through the core and to the feet. When the tension is relaxed, you relax again.

When leaders feel both the attention and that the follower is ready, there will be no need to scream - no need to be rough with the leading. They will feel you are listening to them. They feel you are paying attention, and that you are ready to respond. They can be whispering their leads to you and you will get it. As soft as can be. 

Some leaders might lead rough anyway, because they are used to it. But that is another story. I hope they read this and learn. 

Constant feedback
When we talk, we usually want a dialogue. We try to share thoughts and ideas. We try to make people understand what we have to say. We don't want to have a monologue and try to impress them constantly with our complicated words and long sentences. Imagine talking to a nuclear physicist. If you talk about nuclear physics and use their normal physics jargon you wouldn't understand much. At least I wouldn't.

So, if a nuclear physicist was talking to me in a dinner party, I hope he or she would adapt a bit to my level of understanding. I hope they would notice my blank stare and "pretending to understand" nods in weird places, and change his or her vocabulary. Lower the level a bit. 

Just like when we talk to someone who isn't a native speaker of a language we notice they don't understand and we try to adapt a bit. We slow down our speak. We can use more common words. And we can build simpler sentences. 

It should be the same in dance. If a leader is using too complicated "language" the follower will not understand. We need to find common ground. We need to start easy, go back to basics. Not make too complex figures. And if a follower doesn’t respond with tension when a leader gives more tension - there is no use in trying to compensate. There is no use to use more tension or force. Just skip the kind of moves that require changes in tension.

In dance, we need to make communication work. And it is a two-way street. Leaders need to be careful, start the conversation slowly and keep building. Not be that boring person who overcomplicates their language to try to sound smart and sophisticated. And followers need to pay attention and keep a presence in their body, to be that nice conversationalist who clearly shows that they are engaged in the conversation and responds in a good way. 

That's it! If you liked it, feel free to share!

See you on the dance floor!


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