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Advice for Followers

This post is about the most common questions that I'm asked about following.  It's a companion piece to my Advice for Leaders post. Read both, especially if you don't do both, because you need at least some perspective into the other half of the dance if you wish to improve. 
My apologies for the use of gender when describing leaders and followers, sometimes my typing fingers get tired. 
Regarding 'style', I've posted elsewhere on this site about that but suffice it to say that this advice is for a tango approach where a leader and follower move together to build a dance that is greater than both of them.

My post on leading talks about accepting followers as they are, strengths and weaknesses, just like in the movie Bridget Jones' Diary (one of my faves). However, followers can be on the receiving end of some pretty dreadful technique which sometimes means that they have to react rather than follow. 

Having said that, you should always be trying to give your partner the best possible time. Even if they're dancing badly they will hopefully still be doing the best that they can. These technique starters will always help:
- define your axis for your partner by pulling the vertical violin string (your axis) tight. A saggy violin string (axis) will result in a mushy, vague and heavy follow. (If you can do this with soft, flexible knees...well, I haven't danced with anyone yet who can do this. Maybe you'll be the first to pull it off?) 
- always face your partner and stay aligned with his axis. Not doing this will require you to start guessing what he wants you to do. 'Different style' is not an excuse for not doing this, we're talking basic body mechanics here. 
- try to connect with your chest if dancing close hold. Lower connection points like diaphragm and stomach lead to a later and later lead, with symptoms described further down. 
- try to connect to his feet via his chest/arms and expect him to place your feet with the music. Focusing on your own steps will just result in disconnections with the leader. You're an equal partner in the dance so feel free to improvise but only as an overlay to the shared dance, rather than interrupting it or taking an After You, After Me approach. 
- you'll never be as light or mobile as when you dance on-axis. Don't lean forward looking for your partner. 

On to the questions...

Do I collect my feet or not?
Well, we avoid teaching people to collect on every step as it is so limiting as one improves, and assuming you have good posture and are always aligned with your partner then it happens automatically anyway. Having said that, if you're following someone who ambles from foot to foot like a farmer on his morning round and never walks to your centre then you'll end up walking the same way, so I understand why ladies would prefer to look elegant. (My apologies to farmers BTW)

Why do I feel rushed when I'm dancing with some partners?
There are two possibilities here:
- he's not dancing with your feet and expects you to keep up with him. This has never been a good idea. All you can do is ask him to slow down and dance with you, and not the video in his head. 
- you're trying too hard to guess where the next step will be. It's easier to just relax and let him lead it. 

How can I dance easier with big men?
By 'big men' ladies usually mean Men of Substance who necessarily connect with their stomachs, not their chests. This results in a late lead for the follower with the usual symptoms being knocking knees and an uncomfortable back step in the giro. The leader can overcome this (see Advice for Leaders) but if he doesn't then the only option is for the follower to request nicely that they dance in open hold. 

How can I improve my balance?
You manage to walk around by yourself all week so your balance is probably fine. Balance problems are almost always because of misalignment between partners, resulting from one or both partners stepping away from each other's axis. In this case the biggest partner wins ie they feel fine but the smaller partner (usually the follower) is pulled off balance. 
If you prioritise alignment with your partner's axis rather than where to step then  this problem goes away. 
However if your partner consistently turns his chest away from you then you're going to have to consistently step to get back in front of him. 
It's not your fault but he is making it your problem. 

My partners complain that I push back too hard with my right arm, or I get a sore right shoulder with some leaders. 
Yes, it's always the follower's fault with this one! 
Ho ho ho. 
This is the result of leaders consistently stepping to the follower's right, usually to avoid stepping on their feet. All the energy goes through the follower's right shoulder or hand and she pushes back to save her shoulder from being brutalized. You have a couple of options:
- ask him to walk to your centre, or 
- step to get back in front of him every time that it happens. 
It's not your fault but he is making it your problem. 

How do I dance with small or tall leaders?
Firstly, dance your height ie don't drop down to him or climb up on your tiptoes:
- Dropping down to him looks silly, your axis disappears, you become heavy and difficult to lead, it's a disaster. 
- Climbing up on tiptoes  means that you're no longer as stable as when your heels are on the floor, your free leg won't relax as easily (if at all) and you run the risk of nosebleeds or altitude sickness if you are too successful. 
Read the section on this topic in Advice for Leaders to find out how they can help but as a follower the short answer is that if it's not working then just dance open embrace.

Any other questions? I'm happy to answer them and update this post.

Hi Geoff,
How do I communicate to my partner, a friend, how to improve their dance in a way that won't offend? I don't want to avoid them but I don't want my back to hurt, either. I rarely say anything, in order to not appear precocious. 
I agree that "one needs to play the cards that one is dealt" but this can be hard in small tango communities like ours... 
I wonder what you think about the psychological aspects of helping others to improve their dance, if the advice doesn't come from an established tango teacher?

Only the easy questions, then? This question is from a leader but it might just as well be from a follower. 
The immediate answer is 'Don't do it!' but the natural outcome of that in a small dance scene is its stagnation or slow death as better dancers choose to dance elsewhere (or stop dancing altogether) rather than build a better scene where they live. It sounds from your letter that this is what happens now.

If you don't wish to relocate, you want to improve the local standard, and you don't feel that you are able to become a teacher, then you're going to have to become a local Dancer of Respect so that partners may be more inclined to ask for feedback on the dance floor. The value of practicas is often unrecognized by people who need them most, so sometimes dance floor feedback is the only opportunity. But the partners have to ask you rather than you tell them, unless they are actually causing you pain. 
Youll need to set out to become the best dancer that you can be, which includes learning to lead and follow. Why would a follower ask for your advice if you haven't walked a mile in their shoes? (Nothing too high in the heel or too fancy. And black goes with anything.)
The fastest way to set out on this path is to spend a month or so in Buenos Aires. You'll be able to find affordable private lessons from good teachers and acquire a halo that will appeal to non-travelers for at least 6 months, longer in smaller places or in cities where dancers don't travel much. 


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