Monday, July 29, 2013

052 : The Myth of "Back-Leading"

*This is from my old blog, but I'm reposting it here because I'm going to expand upon this topic this week.*

There is a myth perpetuated in the swing dancing world, including blues dancing (though not as much and disappearing much faster in blues dance). That myth is back leading.

Back leading is a term used to describe follows who aren't following. A "back leader" is a follow who does what s/he wants. A lead attempts a "move" and the follow does not complete the move as desired. Instead, s/he does something else, and that is bad. Back leading is the worst sin a follower can commit.


Here is why "back leading" doesn't exist:

1. Follows are not mind readers and leaders are not mind controllers. When a lead attempts to lead a move, s/he has a picture of that move and what the follower should do in his/her head. The lead begins the move, assuming s/he definitely knows how to lead this and there is definitely one response. When the lead begins this move, s/he does not have telepathic powers allowing him/her to force his/her knowledge into the mind of the follow, so the follow doesn't know EXACTLY what the lead is thinking.

The response to this argument is generally that a lead is definitely communicating something that requires a very definite movement in response. So, a follower is "back leading" when s/he doesn't perform this very specific movement. Of course, no one ever takes into account that maybe the lead hasn't communicated well or that maybe the follow has a different response the the lead's movement. No, instead, the follower must be back leading, since s/he hasn't performed the lead's very specific idea.

2. Everyone groups their life into patterns. Whether it be facial recognition, ability to read emotions, rituals for performing daily tasks, or dancing, everyone groups their life into patterns. In dancing, back leading occurs when one follow feels a recognizable pattern which is different from what the lead wanted. A follow feels something begin that feels very much like something s/he has done often and follows through with that. Back leading happens when the lead didn't intend for the follow to move in that manner...and of course, this is the follows fault because s/he should NEVER ANTICIPATE ANYTHING. (I once heard a lead say that a follower should not even think. So, I will never dance with that guy.)

That is a ridiculous suggestion. We all lead our lives via anticipation and pattern. Here, try this : try to think about on which foot your first put a shoe, on which leg you first put a pant, on which arm you first put a sleeve. Attempt to dress yourself without rote pattern and memorization of your body movement. Now, if you can remember long enough to figure that out, try to switch it. You'll probably have to write it down. Write it down and paste it to the door, mirror, wall, item of furniture you most often face while you dress, because it will be difficult to remember how you dress. Then, switch it up. Put your shoe on the other foot first, put your other leg in the pant first, put your other arm in the sleeve first. Once you've realized how difficult and awkward this is, forget you ever learned the term "back leading".

3. Dance is an expression of movement wherein the lead is not The Boss. The lead is not the boss of the follower, not The Great Dictator of all Things Dance, not the only person involved in the dance and not the only person allowed to make decisions in the dance. Followers are allowed to express themselves too...and not just by choosing a certain lead to go with a certain type of song to make the dance more enjoyable.

No, followers are allowed to choose their steps. A follower is allowed to hear something in the music and express that. In balboa, this can happen with a weight shift that signals to the leader s/he is trying something. In blues, this can happen when a follow takes a little more time (or a little less time) to complete something, letting the lead know s/he has ideas. In lindy, this can be when the follow hangs out at the end of a swing out, counterbalancing or styling, letting the lead know s/he as the ability to express the music too. Of course, there are many, many, many ways in which a follower can express what s/he hears or feels, because social dancing is not choreography, and there isn't anything that anyone is required to do on the dance floor.


Now, I know you're going to come at me with "spaghetti arms" and "heavy follows" and whatnot...and how AWFUL all of those things are, because they allow the follow to "back lead". But "spaghetti arms" are a flaw in following, not a decision the follow makes to "back lead", and we, as leads, need to figure out how to dance with that follow and maybe even how to correct it through our dance. (Totally possible, by the way, but I've met only a handful of leads who have the ability to better a follow through amazing leading.) Flaws in dancing and beginners' problems are not "back leading".

Back leading is a term that describes a leader-centric dance, assuming the leader is the boss of the dance and the boss of the expression. Back leading is a term that is used to condescend to follows, making them feel as if they really aren't a good dancer and are not fun to lead. Back leading is a term used to give leaders more control and to tear down followers, showing them that a follower has a very specific station in dancing, and s/he should stay in that station.

"Back leading" is a myth, because social dancing doesn't have rules. Social dancing is a way to express what we feel and hear. Partnered social dancing involves TWO people, not one, and both of those people have the same rights to expressing themselves in the dance.


Back leading is what I do, when I begin a dance as a follow, and then steal the lead away, switching the roles of the dance. In that case, back leading is really fun.

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