This blog post is a follow-up to my previous post “How to Avoid a “NO” Dance Request” which was geared primarily towards leads. What follows is a perspective from the other side of the coin, so to speak, addressing why many women (follows) may experience the same problem.
Been rejected lately too? Ladies, have you attended sets and sat most of the night and never been asked to dance? Have YOU had the experience of mustering up the courage and approaching a gentleman to ask for a dance and you received a reluctant “yes” or a flat out “no” to the request? Just like the gentlemen in our Steppin’ community, when you ask someone to dance, you want them to say “yes.” If you’re hearing “no” to your dance requests, or not getting any request at all, it may not be the fault of others (Leads) attending the event. You too may have created your own bastion of rejection and not even realize it.
As stated in a previous blog, the Steppin’ environment is usually a friendly and very cordial environment where the expectation is that you adhere to general social rules/boundaries/norms of behavior to maintain a pleasant dance environment. There is an implied understanding that everyone knows how to carry themselves in our social dance environment. Foolishness and nonsense are rarely tolerated and as such the environment for dancing is usually very positive. If you’re hearing “yes” to dance requests, or you’re a preferred dance at most sets, that is a very good thing! If you’re not dancing much, or you’re experiencing rejection a little too often, you may want to do a little introspection and ask yourself what you may be doing to contribute to you dilemma.
In a previous blog we provided a list of helpful tips for gentlemen (Leads) to get a “yes” response to their dance request. Listed below are some helpful tips to help ladies (Follows) to improve their chances of getting a “yes” to their dance requests.
- Accept the reality that Leads are outnumbered – Everywhere!!!!
I have often said that Steppin’ events are much like church events. The great majority of participants attending both church and Steppin’ events are female (I always thought this to be a strange phenomenon), and in most instances the ratio of men to women can be as high as four women to every man. This reality must be understood and accepted by all when attending a Stepper set any time, and anywhere. I have traveled to quite a few cities to dance in this country and I have yet to attend a set anywhere where this was not the case. Knowing, understanding and accepting this unfortunate reality can go a long way in helping you maintain your patience if your evening consists of sitting and watching others have fun.
- Actively engage in the dance.
If the gentleman you’re dancing with isn’t the greatest of leads, or if he’s new to the dance, understand that you’re dealing with a “diamond in the rough”, so to speak, so be mindful of the aura you emit as you’re dancing with him. If you’re enjoying the dance, smile and look them in the eye occasionally (and yes, I know that sometimes we leads can misinterpret what we’re seeing). If the dance isn’t an enjoyable one, then at least be respectful and leave the floor on a positive note. Remember, if he’s a newbie you have the ability to boost his self-esteem tremendously during the dance and a bad attitude or negative body language can quickly demoralize him (which makes for a very long song when dancing with someone who doesn’t want to dance with you). Looking around and paying attention to others, or not actively engaging the person you’re dancing with can be a game changer, and you’ll probably seal your fate with that particular lead forever. We all remember the people who make us feel small in the dance, whenever it happened. Leads remember their experiences too. And remember that when the guy you chose to dismiss or disregard becomes an exceptional dancer – and your behavior could be just the motivation he needed – you’ll be the one with the regret. He probably won’t dance with you, and you shouldn’t expect him to.
- Allow the Lead to “lead”.
Most of the communication from the lead will be non-verbal, and to me that is as it should be. A competent lead doesn’t need to tell you what move he intends to do, he should be able to lead you right into the move. Having said this, make sure that as you follow you’re not anticipating a move simply because it feels like one you’re familiar with. By anticipating the move of the lead, you can change the outcome of an intended move. And I can assure that if you do this repeatedly you’ll cause the lead to hold back, limiting your chances of getting that “memorable” dance. It is important that you listen and interpret the dance with your body just as you listen attentively in conversation with your ears. Also, as you move from lead to lead be mindful of the need to adjust to the feel of the new partner to avoid changing the outcome of their intended moves.
- Try to stay in close proximity to the lead.
In the dance, the follow has a designated lane or slot within which they are required to perform the variety of moves, spins and other feats of the dance. Traveling too far in the lane or bumping into your partner or other dancers on the floor is a big no-no. Additionally, make sure that when the lane is opened for you to execute a move that the distance traveled for execution of the move is equivalent to the distance maintained when you’re partner is facing you. I call follows that use too much lane “runners”. You don’t want to be labeled a runner because you’re using too much real estate to dance, and you certainly don’t want a lead having to chase you up and down the lane to maintain a nice flow in the dance. Position in the lane affects timing, and in this dance timing is everything!
- Don’t criticize or fuss with a partner.
This is relevant for both Follows as well as Leads in my opinion, as I’ve seen both parties participate in this offense. And as I stated in the blog for Leads, this is the absolute best way to ensure that you never get a dance, EVER! I’ve seen follows belittle the lead, talk down to them, yell at them or make subtle changes in their body language or facial expressions to convey their dissatisfaction with the dance they were getting (this has usually been the case in marital situations). If you do need to convey something to a Lead, especially if you’re trying to avoid injury, be polite and respectful and let them know. If it can wait until the dance is over, that’s even better. If a Lead has been too rough, try to be as specific as possible in telling them how if you can. Did you know that something as simple as the lead being out of position can cause roughness? Well, it can, but if he doesn’t know that, he can’t change what he’s doing. Also keep in mind the fact that it could be you and not the person leading you, particularly if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing while dancing.
- Don’t “guilt” a Lead into dancing with you.
If you haven’t danced with a specific lead, or you haven’t danced much most of the night, telling a lead your woes won’t necessarily get you a dance, particularly if you insinuate that the lead is partly responsibility for you not dancing. Leads aren’t responsible for your happiness and wellbeing. Like you, they’re at an event for the most part to enjoy the dance and the people. To take on the role of “Debbie Downer” at an event where folks are happy and having fun is both depressing and a turn off. Leads have a variety of reasons for why they may have failed to make it to your table or section of the room. And if they’re responsible people, they often feel bad for not doing so. But to remind them of the error (and with a funky attitude to boot) is a surefire way to ensure that you won’t get a dance then or the next time around either.
- Watch your body language.
I’ve attended many a set where ladies were seated at tables with a look on their faces that practically dared you to ask them for a dance. As humans, none of us likes to feel uncomfortable or place ourselves in uncomfortable situations. If you have a look of exasperation, dismay or disgust on your face, you shouldn’t expect to be asked for a dance. If you’re body language doesn’t convey the fact that you want to dance (you know, that legs crossed, disinterested, I’d rather not be here look) you shouldn’t expect one. Your disposition says that you’d rather not, and most leads would be happy to oblige you. Some people can look this way unintentionally, or their body language can be easily misinterpreted. Make sure you’re not causing a lack of interest in dancing with you because you look disinterested in dancing.
- Respect the space of a partner.
While it is indeed a rare occurrence for follows to be engaged in such behavior (they’re usually busy trying to determine what the lead wants), it happens nonetheless. Just like some leads, follows can come on a little too strong at times and misconstrue a move or an action for something entirely different. It happens, and it happens because we’re human sometimes. At other times it can happen because the follow wants it to happen, and just like follows, leads can be very uncomfortable with someone in too close a proximity to their personal space. Most of the time a dance is just a dance. If on the rare occasion it appears to be something else, the feeling and the experience during the dance should be mutual. Women have also been known to take the dance to an entirely different level mentally and will purposely violate the personal space of the lead. If the lead is looking to have an enjoyable dance experience and not some trite sexual encounter, then you can and should expect him to pull away to keep the dance respectable. To ensure that you get to dance with that lead again, it’s best to keep the dancing distance comfortable for both parties.
- Don’t judge the book by the cover.
Just because a lead doesn’t look appealing to you doesn’t mean that they can’t hold their own on the dance floor. Every lead may not be “packaged” to your liking, but many of them may turn out to be some of the best dances you’ll ever have. If a lead asks you to dance and you reject his request – but you discover later in the evening (or their very next dance) that they’re capable leads – do not, I repeat do not, expect or request a dance. You blew your opportunity, and you blew it royally! A great dance can come from a gentleman in a suit, but they can also come from a lead in slacks and a shirt or a pair of jeans. Age should also be a non-factor in deciding to accept a dance request. Just because you think he looks like your grandfather doesn’t mean he can’t hold his own or provide a wonderful and truly unique dance experience. Dancers, just like all “good things” come in a variety of packages and can be delightfully surprising!
- Relax and enjoy the music.
I attended a Tango class once and the instructor provided a perspective on the role of the lead and follow that I’ll never forget. She said: “The lead is a musician, and the follow is the instrument. The lead should dance with the follow and as he interprets the music, the follow should allow the lead to play them like an instrument”. Her perspective resonated with me for two reasons. One, I’ve found that my most enjoyable experiences on the dance floor have come in moments when my partner and I totally surrendered to the music and I was able to create in a move during what I was feeling from the music, even if I had never heard the music before. I can remember every single dance in which the experience occurred because they are so rare. Secondly, I think her perspective resonated with me because I’ve always believed it to be true. It really doesn’t matter what the social dance is, when two people are in sync on the floor and they’re feeling the music, inevitably you’ll be witnessing the creation of a dance masterpiece. Listen to the music. Feel the music. Let the lead take you places you never knew you could go. You’ll remember the experience forever! I often say that the music we dance to in Steppin’ is the best blend of music in the world. Imagine what you’re missing in the dance simply because you don’t know how to relax and enjoy the music and the moment!
- Step “lightly”.
This point has nothing to do with weight, but everything to do with how you land your steps in the dance. When the follow is dancing flat-footed or on their heels, movement in the dance becomes quite cumbersome and frustrating for the lead. Dancing on one’s heels is the equivalent of applying brakes in a car. It stops movement. The dance is much better and leading more enjoyable when the follow dances on the balls of their feet. You’ll be amazed at the speed you gain in executing spins and turns, how easily you can change direction, or even come to a dead stop in the middle of a move when you dance on the balls of your feet. With practice and consistency you’ll fast become a favorite dance for many leads at the sets. Struggling with a difficult follow makes for an uneventful dance and a very long record.
- Don’t try so hard.
This point is similar to point #7, but has more to do with the body language of the follow while they’re dancing with a lead. How many times have you seen a follow dance and you saw a little too much movement of the hands or a bit too much action in the hips? Throw in a few head spins with the lips poked out and you’ve got an all-out performance going right? WRONG! There is nothing wrong at all with wanting your dance to be proficient, solid and sexy. In fact, I would venture to say that most men would find it quite appealing when done tastefully. Excessive movement can be a distraction to the lead and can be downright unattractive. I’ve read the lips of many a woman saying “Oh my” when they saw such performances. Keep the dance fun, elegant and smooth if you want to keep dancing. Otherwise your self-indulging sexiness will have you taking several seats during the course of an evening of dancing.
- Give other follows a chance – don’t monopolize a dance.
AS I stated in the post for Leads, my rule of thumb for dancing with others is one or two dances with one partner (after I open the floor with my significant other) and I move on. This rule of thumb should be embraced and adhered to by Follows for the reason I state in my very first point: scarcity of Leads. Even if the lead insist that you dance more than twice, the only time you should indulge the request (and forsake the sisterhood), is when that person is the person that brought you to the set. Otherwise, tell the lead you’ll catch them later in the evening and allow other follows the opportunity to dance too. If you enjoyed the dance with a particular lead, just tell them you’d like to get another dance later (if possible). Chances are that if the dance was great for the both of you, they will make the effort to find you!
- Don’t forget about your personal hygiene.
Women sweat just like men. And while it may be a rare occurrence for a female to be found lacking in the hygiene department, it does happen from time to time. So, just like the gentlemen, take the time to clean up, use that deodorant or antiperspirant, and keep the breath mints or gum on deck. Be careful with the perfume so that a lead doesn’t walk away smelling like you because you overdid it. Clean folks like other clean folks. By the end of an evening of dancing, the low-impact exercise of dancing still produces sweat for many dancers, so take the necessary precautions up front. You, and every lead, will be glad that you did.
- Dress and accessorize for comfort AND safety.
This point hits home for me big time. I should also add to practicality to this point. If you’re attending a set dressed in 6-inch heels with a dress or skirt that won’t pass the fingertip test (stand with palms of your hands flat to the side of your thighs and note where the tip of the index finger is), chances are you’ll get a few dances, but I doubt they’ll be enjoyable. I say this because your ensemble has already limited what a lead is able to do in the dance because there are some moves that would be prohibitive based on your attire. I was at a set recently where a friend of mine (a great dancer) wore a very short dress. As soon as I saw it I knew I wasn’t going to dance with her because I didn’t want her dealing with the discomfort of having to pull the dress back down after every move. Because I knew she liked my style of dancing, and we were comfortable in our relationship with one another, I approached her and said: “You know that dress isn’t “dip-able”, don’t you?”. She quickly replied saying: “Yes, I know” and then gave her reason for wearing the dress. She wasn’t upset that she didn’t get a dance because she understood my position. Sequined dresses and other ornamented garments can also be problematic clothing for a lead. I vividly remember having to discard the silk vest of a suit one weekend because the clothing of the person I was dancing with snagged the garment badly. Additionally, if you’ve accessorized your outfit with long necklaces or other items that can swing out while dancing with a lead and potentially smack them in the face, again you’ve limited what the lead can do with you in the dance. And while I’m all for women “going natural”, I can remember getting smacked in the face by ornamented braids on more than one occasion. You may not realize it, but sometimes simple accessories such as a watch or bracelet can cause problems too. I’m not saying don’t accessorize, I’m simply saying don’t destroy garments and don’t become a safety hazard in the process.
- Use your footwork within the flow of the lead.
In Steppin’ there is nothing more appealing than the smooth, sexy footwork of a competent and capable follow. If the lead is a great lead, exceptional follows know how to get their footwork in, even within a move because they’ve learned how to incorporate their style within the context of the dance. They know when to get it in and when to limit it based upon the lead’s execution. Timing of the footwork is critical to the smooth performance and execution of this element of the dance, and it is an acquired skill. If you want to try footwork in the dance, don’t just throw it in whenever you feel like it. Allow your footwork to go along with the flow of the dance making sure you keep the proper beat and count. Stay on time and within the flow of the dance. Remember the lead takes precedence in the dance. If he’s a good lead and he notices that you have nice footwork, he’ll let you get it in because he knows it will enhance the overall dance experience.
- “Be” considerate, understanding and empathetic.
This is the last, but most important point of all. Most leads on the sets are keenly aware of the lead shortage, and many have the sincere intention of dancing with as many people at an event as they can. It helps to be mindful of the leads decision-making matrix as they try to work the room. Believe it or not, there are many leads who leave the set regretting the fact that they failed to get to everyone one wanting a dance in the room. I know this because I hear it often in certain circles. Please remember this fact as you watch the leads working the room during the course of the evening. And should you see a lead available and you haven’t danced all night, or maybe you wanted to dance with that lead in particular, ASK him! If you’ve cleared the checklist above I’m confident you’ll get a “yes” (just kidding).
These are some of the “no-no’s” I think follows (women) should avoid to ensure their success as a dancer. As I always say, I’m sure that I’ve missed a few and you can come up with your own list of reasons why follows experience rejection. Feel free to share your list of actions or behaviors that follows may need to stop. Leave a comment below and if you like the blog post, feel free to share it if you know of someone who could benefit from the information!!
In our next blog, we’ll highlight a few expectations that we believe patrons should have of hosts when attending a major weekend event (MWE), and Steppin’ events in general.
Let’s continue to keep the Steppin’ environment positive, healthy and vibrant!!