In the last 15 years, I have danced with and taught more men than I can count.
The complaint I hear them gripe about the most is not being able to lead their partner.
This dilemma is the result of either:
- a bad leader
- a controlling follower or
- a partner with spaghetti arms
When a male student grumbles about this issue, I do what any good teacher would do...
tell him it's probably his fault.
Okay, not really. But I do begin the process of elimination.
I ask him to lead me in order to assess whether or not his leading is the problem.
If not, I bring his lovely partner to the crime scene and investigate further.
If I see that she's anticipating the moves without waiting for her leader's cues,
then I slap her on the wrist with my Salsa ruler and tell her to settle down.
This is all-too-common in a class setting because the follower already knows the pattern,
so she doesn't need to wait for the leader to know what to do.
If the issue is neither a bad leader nor a controlling follower,
then it's almost always a case of Spaghetti Arms.
The is the extreme opposite of a controlling follower.
It is a follower with limp, floppy, flimsy noodle arms that can't be steered in any direction,
because they are like dead arms. No one wants to dance with a dead person.
If you suspect you are guilty of spaghetti arms, there's good news.
I'm going to show you how to transform your floppy follow
into a ravishing resistance that every good leader appreciates.
My method consists of two components: Frame and Equal Reciprocation.
- Frame. Both leaders and followers should maintain a dance frame. The frame refers to the shoulder, arm and hand position through which our core energy is transferred to our partner, indicating an intention (a lead or response). To visualize what the frame should look like, imagine that you're shaking hands with someone slightly shorter than you. Your shoulders are back and down, elbow is slightly in front of the body and in line with (or slightly above) the wrist and there's a slight tone in the forearm and hand without being rigid or stiff.
A leader communicates his intention (or lead) through his frame by moving energy toward his partner (a push) or away from his partner (a pull). The follower must maintain her frame in order to detect and respond quickly to her leader's cues.
- Equal Reciprocation. Imagine the follower being on stand-by for the entire dance. This means she is relaxed, but alert and ready to respond to her leader's intention the second he initiates it. Her response should be that of equal reciprocation and energy.
For example, the leader sends energy toward the follower resulting in a push. The follower should respond by sending energy back toward the leader in the same amount of energy, resulting in a push. This push against push creates a point of resistance, which is needed to communicate different intentions such as a change of direction or a traveling step.
As a follower, this may seem counter-intuitive. We have this idea that we shouldn't resist what our partner does. It seems to makes sense that we should do the exact opposite...if he pushes then we should pull. Right? Wrong.
This idea of doing the opposite makes sense when it comes to footwork. When the leader steps forward the follower must step back to avoid being stepped on. This same logic does not apply when it comes to leading and following technique. If the leader uses his hand connection to push us and we respond by collapsing our arm into our body or pulling it away from him, we are being noodle-armed. Pulling away from him only creates resistance if he is also pulling away from us. Pulling away from him when he is pushing toward us creates the very thing we want to avoid at all costs - spaghetti arms.
Our leader needs our resistance in order to communicate his intentions to us. If we don't reciprocate back to him what he gives us, he cannot communicate with us no matter how hard he tries. It's takes two to Tango (or Salsa in this case).
Just remember, maintain that beautiful frame that's relaxed but ready to respond and then respond with equal reciprocation. Give him back exactly what he gives you in the same amount of intensity.