Secrets of Following
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RICK ARCHER, SSQQ, 1998      


Women absolutely love to dance.  One of life’s great pleasures is the joy of moving gracefully to the rhythm of the music. When a woman trusts a man’s lead, she lets her mind go and just glides, moving her body in ways that express her feelings. She experiences sensations similar to floating. Women also enjoy the social aspect of dancing. It’s fun to dance with men, flirt with them, and be their partner in a demonstration of skill. Dancing is good for the body, the spirit, and when it is done right, dancing can be sexy too!

A woman’s role in partner dancing might be compared to a car ride where the man drives and the lady sits next to him. Partner dancing works best when the lady simply gives up control and lets him have the wheel, avoiding the urge to be a backseat driver. Normally the journey is pleasant, but of course the ride is no fun if she fears for her life. Likewise in partner dancing the lady can not enjoy herself if she has to worry about getting hurt or losing her balance. Although the man gets most of the blame when a lady loses her balance, there are things ladies can do to make this less likely to happen. These are some of the Secrets!!

Thinking Too Much 

In 1986 I had two ladies in a Beginning Whip class who had the very unusual experience of going from being the best in their group to nearly the worst. Aimee and Sharon were smart and quite analytical. From their first class on they memorized each thing I said. They wanted to know how many inches their feet should be apart, which way to hold their arms, how much arm tension to use for a particular move, how many beats in each pattern, how would they know which move was being led, etc. Their curiosity impressed me. I carefully answered each question, noting with pride how well they were progressing. Four months later a very peculiar thing happened. Almost simultaneously both ladies started to run into serious problems. They were losing their balance badly on turns. They zigged when they should have zagged. Even their hip motion which had once been so enticing disappeared. Together they were falling apart ! 

Perplexed, I took them aside to figure out what was going wrong. I didn’t enjoy seeing my star students going downhill. I danced a song with both of them and took mental notes of where they were getting in trouble. The moment I turned off the music, here came the questions. I gave them the best answers I could think of, but the answers didn’t help. They were still out of control. Then it finally dawned on me what they were doing to get into so much trouble : both ladies were trying to "think" what to do rather than trust their instincts. They literally were not "following".

At the start there was a limited number of patterns so they could memorize their footwork, but now there were so many options to their patterns that "thinking" and "guessing" delayed their reaction time. That split second of indecision consistently cost them their balance and their guessing got them in trouble. Their less analytical classmates had passed them because they "sensed" what to do rather than "thought" what to do. A baseball hitter only has time to swing. A skier has to react to sudden changes in terrain. A tennis player facing a fast serve relies on reflexes. 

At this point, Whip had gotten so complex these ladies could no longer analyze exactly what to do. It was time for them to stop relying on their smarts, give it up and let it go. In addition to their tendency to think too much, since both ladies were quite fragile, they were afraid of being hurt. Like a hockey goalie who has become shell-shocked, their fear caused them to make classic mistakes like tense their arms, guess, anticipate, plus stop to think rather than just hit the rapids paddling. As a result the very thing they worried about - losing control - happened regularly. Both ladies had to learn to rely more on instincts.

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"Intelligence is a handicap when learning to dance, but it can be overcome."

Although very few people think I am very funny, this is one of my favorite lines.  Our language is full of clichés relating to this phenomenon, mostly in sports. For example, "this athlete is playing out of his mind", or "he choked at the plate", "the Zen art of skiing (i.e., no thought)", or even "beginner’s luck (i.e. they didn’t know enough to be afraid)." These axioms speak to the importance of relying on muscle memory and instincts rather than conscious memory. Analysis is useful in class, but once the music starts, a lady should set her brain on "low" and her instincts on "high".

Follow the Man, Not the Music

Having danced the woman’s part in dance class many times over the years, I have learned about "Following" the hard way just like all women do. Although clearly I am not a championship dancer as a "girl", I have at least learned enough lessons to feel confident about what I write. 

The best lesson I ever learned came courtesy of the Houston Police Department. I had a Jitterbug lesson in 1985 with a police officer named Charles.  I might add Charles and I became friends and I don't think he would mind if I shared this story.

Charles wanted to learn to dance in the worst way.  However he couldn't take group classes because his police work forced him to work at nights.  So he asked me about private lessons.  Back in those days, there were two instructors - Judy Price and me.  Judy Price worked a day job, so she wasn't available to help Charles during the day.  That left one person - me.  I said I would be happy to help him if he didn't mind dancing with a guy.  To his credit, Charles didn't even blink. 

During those private lessons, I got to know Charles well enough to call him my friend.  I discovered that
Charles was supremely talented at aikido, marksmanship, and detective work.  He was also one of the most outgoing, genuinely warm human beings I have ever met.   However, despite all these other talents, dancing was the one thing that did not come easily to him.

Specifically Charles had trouble keeping the beat.  Not only was he nowhere near the beat, even worse his tempo would change. First he would speed up, then he would slow down.  It was maddening.  I played a Swing song called 65 Love Affair, but Charles seemed to hear La Cucaracha instead.  As we danced something similar to a Mexican Hat Dance, I doubt seriously that Charles even hit a beat by accident.   Is it a talent to be able to miss every beat of a song?   If so, Charles had that ability.   

This was driving me nuts.  Dancing off the beat made me crazy!  It's the same thing as wearing clothes that don't match to dinner with a fashion expert.  Being forced to dance off the beat was actually painful.  

Surely it was psychosomatic, but my muscles ached terribly as Charles and I danced to the tune of a distant drummerThroughout the song "off-the-beat" messages screamed like a police siren in my brain.

It is a cruel form of torture to make a dance teacher violate his or her sacred oath of rhythm, but it was happening before my very ears!   Finally I couldn't take it any more.  I decided I had to do something.  Not exactly your typical petite woman at 200 lbs, I tightened my arms and got "heavy on my feet" to slow him back to the beat.  

To my utter astonishment, I suddenly encountered more power than I had ever experienced in my life! 

Sensing I was having trouble keeping up with his rhythm, Charles got stronger with his leads.   Damn he was strong!  He physically overpowered me without breaking a sweat.  My muscles had ached before, but now they hurt!  I thought my arms would come out of their sockets.  This was not working.  I decided to stop being heavy. Immediately I realized it was a lot easier to dance to his rhythm than to my rhythm.  Whatever speed you wish, Officer!

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Now that the crisis was over, those annoying "off-the-beat" messages began popping up again in my brain.  I decided to try a new idea : Ignore the music completely!  

So that's what I did.   I pretended the song wasn't playing and I stopped listening to it.

That did the trick.  By tuning out the music, I was able to concentrate better on the speed of his footwork and leads. My ability to react improved immediately.  Even better, my muscles stopped hurting.  I had made a valuable discovery - this tuning out the music stuff works!

I had made another discovery too - I realized that resistance was absolutely the worst option!  

we finished out the song, I had a moment to reflect on how afraid a woman might be of a man’s power.  I knew Charles had no idea that he was hurting me.  I imagined some men literally did not understand the extent of their own strength.  However, if the man is going to be strong, the woman should do every thing possible to lessen the tension.   Instead of 'resisting', she should try to move in the direction that would release the tension quickly.   I found the faster I reacted to his leads, the more the strain on my arms disappeared. 

Curiously, at the end of the lesson, Charles smiled and complimented me, "Rick, you are really improving as a woman!" 

Sad but true, Charles was correct. No truer words have ever been spoken.

I rolled my eyes, shook his hand, and thanked him for his kind words.   Today Charles had taught me an invaluable lesson -
When the man and the music don’t agree, Follow the man, not the music.

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