As I listened (through the Audible App) to the book, “Strengths Based Marriage: Building a Strong Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts” by Jimmy Evans and Allan Kelsey I made some correlations to the relationships and communication with dance partners that I think is usually unspoken.
In chapter 8, Jimmy Evans, the marriage counselor, talks about the “secret of successful communication”. Note: We already know that dance is a language and partner dancing translates to communication between partners so we know that the lessons from one can be translated to the other.
Jimmy shares what he calls the “mega needs” of men and women. He says that women’s mega need is security. “Women need to know that they are going to be cared for…”. In dance this has a lot to do with the hold, the frame, the connection, and the overall lead. If a dance follower (typically a woman) feels like they are taken care of, that the lead is stable in their core so that if she gets off balanced she can hold on and be supported until she regains her footing then she is more likely to feel free to improvise her movements, relax and allow herself to be led, and have more fun. If she does not feel secure and taken care of then she is more likely to be tense, to be cautious and small with her movements in an effort to take care of herself and not get off balanced. A follow may even go as far as back leading (where a follow leads the movements of the dance from the follow position) or hijacking the dance with her styling and improvisation! These potential reactions to not feeling secure are counter to allowing the lead to lead and ultimately is a one-sided conversation which is not nearly as fruitful or beautiful as if both partners held their own. See my post about the role of the follower for more on this topic.
Jimmy Evans continues on to talk about the “mega need” of men (typically the dance lead) which is honor. “A man needs to feel as though he is respected.” Jimmy explained the tenderness of a man’s ego and therefore his need to feel as though he is being respected. A follow therefore needs to demonstrate and communicate faith in the lead’s ability to lead. The more a follow can communicate trust in the abilities of a man to lead well the more he will be apt to. This may be counter intuitive if the lead is first starting out but putting a man down is a good way to have him resign his desire to lead. So with these mega needs in mind I translate to dance that in order to help our leads follows need to communicate that we believe they can lead and that we are willing to follow and listen to their lead. We can do this through our actions as much as we can through our words…
As a dance instructor I know I have done this by closing my eyes and allowing myself to fully experience a lead. If they do something that doesn’t feel right or if I did not “understand” what the lead intended (as in I was confused on what the lead wanted my action to be) I gently point it out, ask him to do it again, then stand still silently in position until he is ready to do so.
Another way I communicate respect and honor to a lead is to affirm when he did well and when he asks for feedback I reply with a simple question, “did I do what you intended when you iniated the move”? What I hope comes from asking this is that if they say yes then I have not only answered and affirmed them in that moment but hopefully have also given them a way to measure if they are doing well with any follow without having to ask (any potentially be vulnerable).
I would caution the men though to not get too big headed in their role as lead and feeling dominant. I believe that both dance roles are important and difficult in their own right and therefore both deserves respect! Remember that you can not lead without a follow. There is a difference between following and being subservient. Dance is a partnership. In order for it to work effectively both roles need to ebb and flow, at times exchanging who is leading and following, building on one another to express through movement. It is a beautiful art form when done well.
All this to say it is important in every relationship to understand the needs of the partner and each other’s roles within the partnership. Understanding these needs will help you execute your role better and allow you to know how to motivate and support your partner to be their best in that role…
Remember: Everyone has the potential to lead (and follow)…
If you liked this blog post please comment and visit others in the series: Leadership Lessons from Dance