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Lucas Weismann

Being a Good Conversationalist on the Dance Floor

A Student’s Question

1234563_10151804089575376_1567122219_nThrowing this in an email because Facebook will manage to lose it. I don’t know if it’s a class thought, a “help me sort this out for myself by talking about it” thought or something to look at in a lesson but…I’m hoping maybe you can at least help me stop making my brain spin every time I think about it.

So, when I was watching you and Ruby dance, the topic of matching your lead vs being given space to stylize came about, and Ruby commented that the less her lead gives, the more she matches/less flashy her movements are because she has little to respond to from her lead.

Is there ever a point in a class to address that sort of topic? Especially as follows are developing their own styles, we definitely get conflicting messages about styling vs matching. Plenty of times we hear “match your lead” and then in solo classes “move with the music” but at least with a number of MN leads, there’s an assumption that if they place a follow in open position, she is not supposed to match the lead except in pulse.

Personally I agree with Ruby that, sure I can make stuff up and solo, but I’d like to have something to react to from my lead. As dancers, I think we get a lot of “match your partner” and then also “leads, listen to your follow/let her do her own thing” (as far as I can figure out, those aren’t the same thing) and it gets super confusing and frustrating when you think one thing will happen when you place a follow in open and that thing you want, but didn’t explicitly lead, doesn’t happen.

I suppose the gist of this is: how does a lead successfully communicate that he wants a follow to do her own thing, and how does a follow explain, short of having a conversation prior to dancing, that maybe she wants or needs her lead to give her feedback?

Thoughts? This is totally me struggling to articulate dance with words. There’s even literal talking that happens sometimes. A friend tried to talk to me about low-cost mortgages. Sure it was on his mind at the time, but it was hardly the right time to talk about it.



Luke’s Response

Lucas Weismann and Ruby Red

The idea that too much choice leads to diminished outcomes is called “Tyranny of Choice.”  In her book by the same name, Slovenian socialogist Renata Salici explains that too much choice creates a feeling of directionlessness and that no matter what choice you make it will be the wrong one.  Investors and sales trainers call this “Analysis Paralysis”.  Not only does this lead to a sense of unease, but in time it leads people to try to make others decide things for them.  Exactly the opposite of what you want if your goal is to have your partner expressing themselves.

If we think about this in the context of dance-as-conversation, being too open as a lead results in the dance equivalent of this exchange:

“We should have a conversation.” – Lead

“Yeah.  What do you want to talk about?” – Follow

“Whatever you want to talk about.” – Lead


In contrast, giving some direction to your follow before you leave space for them is often something a lead should do, the same way that in a conversation, asking questions or making statements gives your conversation partner something to talk about.


You asked when a teacher should address expression vs. matching in class; it’s hard for me to say.  That has as much to do with who is in attendance, as with who is teaching; it also depends on whether the people in class seem “able” to match.

I think it’s more of a challenge at first for most people to learn to match their partner than it is for them to not match their partner.  After all, we spend most days moving on our own and not matching people.  We’re good at it.

For most people it’s an issue of comfort and background. I think the right time to talk about this topic is either in a class designed to get people dancing creatively, or in a multi-level situation as a challenge to give to more advanced students who already show understanding of the base material.

For me, the challenge isn’t “Do my own thing vs. match my partner.”  Right now, it’s “create complimentary movement that is my own vs. match my partner.”  This allows us to be inspired by each other, rather than trying to mimic each other.

The conversational equivalent would be two people speaking in a similar register (how intimate vs. how formally you’re speaking) rather than trying to speak in exactly the same accent with the same slang.

When it’s appropriate to match or style; depends on your level as a dancer.  How much can you do without stepping on your partner’s time to speak. You don’t have to “not match except the pulse.”  It is quite possible to lead very specific styling in open position.  It’s more of a challenge as you get farther apart, but it is possible.

“Supposed to” is a tricky assertion in a vernacular dance.  The only real “supposed to” outside of competition is “supposed to dance so that both enjoy the experience.”  This is why most of us are here. I would say, you “Don’t have to match” your partner is more accurate.

As long as you’re matching the timing and direction your lead initiates, you’re following what’s being lead.  This is timing and direction of pulse, movement, change in shape; whatever your partner asks for.  As long as you do that and don’t step on your lead, anything else is fair game.  Most partner dancing is much more open than most of us ever realize; because most of us never take the risk of looking silly on the dance floor once we find something we can do that doesn’t feel silly.

If you really want to see where that place is for you, pretend you’re tuning an old radio in an old car.  Turn the knob to matching and when that feels off, turn it back toward individual movement.  Eventually you will dial in what works for you.  Don’t be afraid to take risks.  After all, it’s just dancing…

Ruby Red’s Response

Here’s a link to my partner Ruby Red’s Response to this question:


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