It's the first real day of the Herrang Dance Camp for me.
Today the advanced group had three classes with just one teaching couple: Jo Hoffberg and Kevin Saint Laurent. They taught something both totally simple and exceedingly difficult: how to lead and follow your partner.
The concept was to lead precisely very simple figures with your partner: a rockstep, a triple step, a sendout and an inside turn. These are moves that I learned in probably my first three monts of dancing. And yet I and other advanced dancers in the class were challenged and daunted by what Kevin and Jo were trying to teach.
Their focus was on the details of how a lead communicates to the follow through the handhold position, which can be loose, firm and and tense. This connection is the source of haptic communication in which a clear leader and a responsive follow can move together in synchronity and coordination that looks magical to the outside observer.
One thing I (re-)learned was the value of being loose as a lead, as well as firm. If you are too much of one or the other, the follow is either confused by what you are leading or too restricted by what you are forcing her to do. What makes partner dancing so interesting and difficult is this balance between controlled movement and freedom of movement.
Jo and Kevin taught a particular style of leading in which each step of the follow is led by the leader. They were clear that this style is not the only style or even the best style of leading or following. But for achieving a high level of dance, having the ability to lead and follow with that precision is desirable.
Tonight I am going to be thinking about my own style of leading, and how I am communicating to my partner through my hands, my frame, my entire body. And of course at a certain point I am going to stop caring and just have fun. Because it is dancing after all.