Lead and Follow in West Coast Swing
by Harold & Meredith Sears
The woman's first step in West Coast is
usually forward. In Jive, many figures begin with a rock apart—the
man rocks back, and he leads the woman to rock back as well. In
essence, she is "mirroring" his step. If he stood before a
mirror and stepped back, his image would step back, too. In West
Coast, the woman doesn't often mirror the man. Instead, she truly
"follows" him. He steps back, and he draws her forward and
We should keep our joined hands low.
The woman’s forearm should be horizontal, and upper arms should be
parallel to your torsos and tucked in. Lead and follow will be
sharper and clearer if the upper arm is more connected to the upper
body and the force through the lower arm is directed toward the
body’s center. If arms are loose and flopping around, the lead will
be delayed and less clear. If hands are high, his lead will go
toward her shoulder, and only her shoulder will move.
If you have very different heights, you
might choose to hold your forearms in line with each other and
therefore at an angle to the floor, rather than to have the taller
person’s forearm angled and the shorter person’s forearm
horizontal. The goal is to have a strong look, a strong connection,
and a clear line of communication.
In leading, it is important not to rely
on the hand and arm only. If the man wants to lead the woman
forward, he must not pull her to him with his arm. Instead, both he
and she must maintain toned arms. He steps back, not pulling, but
drawing her toward him with his whole body. He “takes her with
him.” This is a much nicer image than one involving pulling,
tugging, or jerking.
The tone in your arms must be firm but
not stiff. Think about what happens when a train starts to move.
The engine begins to roll. A bit later, the coupling with the next
car grabs, and car #2 starts with a jerk. Then the next coupling
grabs, and car #3 lurches forward. This is what stiffness does. We
want an elastic tone, so that the man can draw the woman forward
smoothly and not with a jerk.
A diesel engine at the head of a
train—you might get an image of a very strong lead and a passive
follow. On the contrary, the man should not overdo his lead. Once
you get her moving, let her dance the figure, moving down her slot.
Try not to disturb her again until you must stop her or turn her
within the slot. And following cannot be passive, because the man’s
and woman’s steps are often so different from each other. More
than in many rhythms, she needs to know the figures. She can’t
necessarily look at where the man is or at what he is doing and then
adjust to match. Think of the Left Side Pass. His first step is
back and her first step is forward. So far, so good, but then he
steps side and back out of the slot, and her second step is again
straight forward. There is no clear relationship between those two
“second” steps. She has to know to stay in her slot (and not to
follow him out of it).
A version of this article was originally published in
the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) newsletter, June 2010
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