Lead & Follow-Through

By H. Leon Raper

When most dance instructors refer to lead, they are really referring to Lead and Follow-Through. If you were studying with professional instructors of Golf, Baseball, Basketball, Billiards, and many other type physical activities, Follow-Through would be discussed and emphasized adnauseam. The lead signals the action to be taken, but proper Follow-Through is what guides a compete step pattern and is the main element that separates amateurs from the professionals. An example would be a Golf swing. Anyone can swing a club and hit a ball. However, if you want it to go where you intend then your Follow-Through must be perfected. Another example is in shooting Pool. Again, anyone can hit the ball. However, if they want it to consistently go in the pocket, they must follow through properly after the stick has sent the ball on its way. Leading dance patterns requires the same development of Lead & Follow-Through. When I was first learning competition forms of West Coast Swing many years ago, I had the opportunity to study with Jack & Teddy Pina. There were few competition dancers on the West Coast Swing circuit who danced faster than Jack & Teddy. Jack decided he was going to turn me into a good leader and he took on the job of instructing me himself. Jack told me to lead him through some patterns. He was going to close his eyes, and was going to go wherever I put him. Also, I was not allowed to use force to execute the step patterns. It was quite comical in the beginning, but after several lessons with Jack stubbornly forcing me to lead him correctly, I finally learned the concept of good Lead & Follow-Through. I am not sure I still really appreciated my new found skills until I started taking lessons in the high speed forms of dancing. After taking lessons in Flying Lindy and St. Louis Shag from Kenny Wetzel, and Balboa from Willie Desatoff and Dean Collins, and studying Dean Collins' smooth style of Flying Lindy (derived from the Lindy Hop), I finally realized that I would not have been able to learn the high speed forms of dancing correctly had it not been for the advanced skills I had developed in Lead & Follow-Through. Follow-Through is accomplished by the Leader smoothly following with his lead hand(s) through to the end of the step pattern. The Right-Wrap to Left-Wrap and back again in Two-Step is an excellent example of a step pattern that looks great if executed properly, but looks lousy if not. When going from a Right-Wrap to a Left-Wrap and back again, both of the man's hands must Follow-Through in a smooth fluid motion to the end of the pattern without using force. Most men new to dancing will jerk the left hand up to get the pattern started then jerk the right hand up, cranking the woman, throwing the woman off balance in the process. The same thing occurs with new dancers in West Coast Swing trying to execute a Tuck-Turn Throwout from Closed-Basic. The man will jerk the lady into a Tuck with his left hand then jerk and crank the lady into the Outside-Turn. This is not the way it is done. The Lead and Follow-Through for the Tuck is a smooth fluid motion by the man's left hand while his right hand, on the ladies left shoulder blade, moves slightly back, allowing her to do a slight turn Counter-Clockwise; then the Turn is executed with a smooth fluid motion with the man's right hand pulling toward him starting her turn as his left hand smoothly rises over her head allowing her to turn Clockwise; his left hand then follows over her head down the Slot to her final position in the pattern; after which his left hand then returns down to the normal Open-Position stance. No force or cranking is used.

The Body
Keep erect, but relaxed, feet together, knees slightly flexed, and the buttocks tucked under. PLEASE NOTE: The style described here is required for the high speed forms of the dance as opposed to the erect, strait leg style recommended by some for the low speed smoother forms of West Coast Swing.

Lead & Follow-Through
A proper Lead & Follow-Through is the means the man uses to communicate his intentions to the woman. The man must Follow-Through with his lead hand to the completion of the step pattern. This is one item that separates good dancers from poor dancers. PLEASE NOTE: There is a fine line between adequate Lead and Follow-Through and being overly forceful. The key is to guide, but not force, allowing the woman to feel free to do her own creative moves.

The woman must not anticipate. She must concentrate on man's lead. PLEASE NOTE: She must execute all steps using her own power of movement and must not pull or push on the man's lead hand(s). That is, with the exception of leads that require intentional excessive resistance.

Proper Arm Resistance (Tension, Compression, Passive) is absolutely mandatory to properly execute dance step patterns. When the man moves the woman's hand it is because he wants her body to respond with movement in some direction. It is not just that he wants to shake hands. These techniques will be defined by your dance instructor.

Good dancing cannot be accomplished without using good frame. Frame will be defined by your instructor.

Turns - Man's Lead
The proper lead for a turn is for the man to lift his hand directly over the woman's head and only move his hand in the direction of the slot. He must not crank the woman in her turn. Cranking the woman in her turn throws her off balance and prevents her from doing her own creative interpretation of a turn. The man's hand should provide a very stable point of reference for the woman. The man may however provide a pre-lead for turns which yielding forces up or down the slot prior to the turn.

Turns - Woman's Follow
The woman must press up slightly to the ball foot on which she is currently standing and allow the foot to turn in the direction of the turn prior to changing wait to her other foot. Her feet must be very close together in the turn. Her eyes must be level (not looking up or down) and she should use the technique of spotting. PLEASE NOTE: Damage to the dancers legs can occur if turns are not executed properly. Also, the woman must execute turns under her own power without any help from the man, and she must not pull or push on the man's hand.

Published in Flagstaff Swing Dance Club, Inc. Newsletter, December 1993

Published in NTA (National Teachers Assn.) Newsletter, March 1994

Published in Country Dance Lines Magazine, September 1994