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A Word On Lead and Following

by Annette Woodruff

I am in favor of leading and following in round dancing, but we need a sensible approach to what it means in our activity.

We have cues. The woman, unless severely hearing-impaired, hears these cues as well as the man, so she knows WHAT to do. We say (don't we all?): the cues tell you WHAT to do, the music tells you WHEN to do it. But no two persons hear the music exactly the same way. Hence the need for a leader.

But who should lead? In my experience of having taught many couples to round dance, it is quite rare that, in a couple, the two partners have exactly the same sense of timing, the same exact hearing of the beat and the same perfect response to that beat. Furthermore, the beat isn't everything. In advanced dancing, one may well wish to emphasize a figure by borrowing a little time from beat 1 and 3 in order to take more time on beat 2, for instance. So yes, we do need a leader and a follower to get this accomplished in unison, and the leader should simply be the partner, in the couple, with the better ear. Remember that, in round dancing, leading is not about WHAT (we'll generously assume that both partners know their figures well, hence know the HOW). Leading in round dancing is about WHEN. So, the "better ear" is the clue.

In many cases, it quite clear and undisputed "who" has the better ear. I once had a small class in which, by pure chance, all six men had the better ears. But in general, it is not so. It's sometimes the man, sometimes the woman. If the wrong person leads, the couple sadly gets off beat very soon and is either desperately late, or confusingly ahead of the cues (with a foot hanging in the air). If both partners have a good ear, let the tradition take over and give the lead to the man, it makes him feel great, and smart women like to make their men feel good.

From a Weavers post, 2013


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