Thank you. Perhaps we’ve danced numerous times, perhaps we’ve only danced once, perhaps you even turned me down. Perhaps you’re far more experienced a dancer than me or maybe you’re just beginning. Either way, I’m grateful.
A follower’s contribution to a dance is often overlooked or under-evaluated, with thank-yous dedicated solely to etiquette. And yes, your dance etiquette does make it nicer for me and other leads, but so does your technique, your musicality, and your creativity.
A couple of months ago, I wrote Dear Leads: A Thank You Letter, and today, it’s turn to look at the other person responsible for any good dance experience. First of all: I’m not a stereotypical lead, being a woman, nor am I as experienced or adept a lead as I am a follower, and my list will reflect both of these. What’s more, some people might disagree with the points on this list; my reasons to say thank you are, of course, personal and subjective.
But I am just as grateful for everyone who follows with me as I am for everyone who leads with me. Every point on this list is sincerely meant. So, thank you to all the followers who:
- Asked me to lead you.
- Trusted me. Perhaps you simply trusted me enough to connect well, so that I could indicate moves to you more easily. Perhaps you trusted me enough to follow moves that you didn’t yet know. Or perhaps you specifically asked me to lead you in styles in which you lacked confidence, trusting me to do so safely and non-judgmentally. However that trust was expressed, I appreciated it.
Credit: Salsa Bonita
- Trusted yourself and your own dance ability. You were confident dancing, even if led in moves and styles you weren’t familiar with. You didn’t allow worries about whether or not you could follow these to prevent you from enjoying the dance. And if a move I attempted to lead didn’t work, you weren’t sure if you’d done the move I had in mind or something else, or even if you knew that you’d misinterpreted a lead, that didn’t knock your confidence. That made our dance fun and more fluid, so thank you.
- Opened yourselves up to connecting with me. Our shared connection made the dance beautiful, allowing us to express more even while communicating more subtly. And, for me as a lead, your willingness to connect was more telling than any “thank you”.
- Encouraged me. My self-confidence is my own responsibility, but your words or kind smile helped a lot.
- Worked around, or accepted, our cultural differences. Perhaps you understood that I don’t like being referred to as a “man” or “chico” when I lead and so, even though your language might not have had a gender-neutral term, starting using the English word. Or perhaps it was simply about the fact that I like to hug my partner and say “thank you” at the end of the dance, whereas in your culture, just a smile or a kiss on the cheek might have been more appropriate. Whatever it was, thank you for understanding.
- Let me know when I was one of your favourite dancers in the class or social. It boosted my confidence, making it easier for me to continue asking for dances instead of focusing on the flaws I see in my leading.
- Didn’t compare me to the other people in the class or on the social dance floor, not even in a “positive” way. You focused on my dancing rather than my identity, level, or gender, and I appreciate that.
Credit: Marc Wiediger, Corazón y Alma
- Politely said “no”. If you didn’t want to dance with me, I would prefer that you told me “no” than that you danced with me while feeling uncomfortable, unhappy, or tired. I also appreciate that you respected my feelings by doing so in as nice a way as possible.
- Did a switch dance with me, taking it in turns to be the follower. Perhaps we agreed beforehand to try it. Perhaps, knowing that I enjoy role-switching, you just saw an opportunity and so invited me to follow or lead a move instead. However you did it, I loved it.
- Didn’t mind if either of us made “mistakes” (assuming, of course, no one’s safety or comfort was put at risk). You knew that a dance doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. You also didn’t write me off if I messed up one move. The fact that you were still enjoying the dance allowed me to do so too.
- Styled it out when you weren’t sure what I was leading. I didn’t care that you didn’t do that turn or step that I was trying to suggest; I was in awe of how you creatively took the lead I gave you and turned it into something that looked great. You took charge of the moment and not only allowed the flow of our dance to continue but improved it, simply by interpreting the lead and the music in your own way.
Credit: Marc Wiediger, Corazón y Alma
- Had patience with me while I developed confidence, technique, moves, and skills. You knew that learning how to dance was a journey, and so didn’t mind if I struggled to quickly respond to new phases in the music or only had a limited number of moves.
- Agreed to practise outside of classes and socials with me, repeating moves until I could do them smoothly and confidently.
- Gave me feedback when I asked for it.
- Let me know when you particularly enjoyed a dance, move, musical moment, or piece of styling. It’s lovely to know that we both enjoyed the dance. (And, in my experience, nobody shows appreciation like a follower; your thank-yous, hugs, and compliments are incredibly gratifying.)
- Told me when you didn’t want to dance a particular move or style. I appreciated knowing that so I could instead focus on other moves and styles.
- Smiled while we danced (even if, secretly, it was just politeness).
- Were hassled by men for dancing with me instead of them, and still stood your ground and followed me onto the floor.
- Recognising that I was a not-yet-that-experienced lead, purposefully sought me out when you heard a slower or easier song begin.
- Invested the time and effort into good technique, musicality, and more. It’s a lot of work and often onlookers will assume that a successful dance is because of the lead. However, there have been times when moves only worked well because of your abilities.
- Were a light follower, allowing me to dance without physically exhausting myself or injuring myself. You listened carefully to my signals and knew how to execute moves by yourself, meaning I only had to gently suggest something and you then did the hard work.
- Compensated if I gave a slightly late or less clear lead. In nearly every dance and every move, one partner is compensating slightly for the other. Sometimes, it was definitely you.
- Added your own creativity and styling to the dance, from footwork to arms and body movement. You responded not just to my lead and my style but also to the music, and it made the dance fun to participate in.
- Accommodated my height and body shape, and asked if you weren’t sure how to do so. Perhaps you were taller than me and so the instruction for me to angle my hip bone against your belly button wasn’t going to work. Perhaps the move was supposed to involve you trailing a hand down my chest. Or perhaps you accommodated my physical condition, such as when I mentioned that I was recovering from a shoulder injury and many followers were even more careful to be light.
- Danced with me even if you were nervous. I’m grateful that you gave me that opportunity to dance with you. Thank you for being brave enough to say “yes” and I hope you realise that I didn’t care about your “level” or experience.
- As a straight male follower, didn’t care about gender role stereotypes surrounding dance roles and moves. Perhaps you saw yourself as masculine but still embraced following and brought a masculine element to it. Or perhaps you enjoyed the chance to do body movements and arm styling even when they looked more traditionally feminine. No matter how you approached it, you didn’t think that dancing as a follower made you any less masculine.
- Helped me monitor floor space. A small squeeze on my shoulder here, a controlled travelling spin there, small steps unless I led otherwise: all of these made it a lot easier.
I’m sure that not only have I forgotten many other things that deserve appreciation but I will continue to discover new reasons to feel grateful. So, let me finish with the most important one of all: thank you for working to create a beautiful dance with me.
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