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The Best Followers

Followers at a dance are like first-come first-serve seating at community theatre: the best ones are always snatched up first. After this has happened a few times, some of the less-fortunates might decide they must not be young/attractive/scantily-dressed/etc. enough to ensure a steady flow of partners. And they may be right, to an extent. But that’s not the whole story.

I know a woman who frequents the salsa clubs, a common scene for the young and beautiful. The difference? She looks like she’s in her 50s. Yet, she rarely sits out a song. Like all popular followers (popular, NOT just talented), she’s learned the secret to making every dance worthwhile and fun for herself AND her partner. Here’s how you can too.

1. The best followers dance late.
In other words, wait for your leader to move you. Yes, you’ve probably heard this before, but did it occur to you that a back-leading follower can be the biggest test of a leader’s patience? It’s like saying ‘I don’t trust you to do a good job, so I’m going to do it for you.’ The best followers don’t try to steal the show – they work with what they’ve got.

2. The best followers protect the partnership.
I once danced with a very talented salsa dancer on a crowded Friday night. It amazed me that we hadn’t even brushed against a single person, until I realized she was subtly changing the angle of movement, watching who was behind me and shifting so neither of us ran into everybody. She knew that sometimes, it’s nearly impossible for the leader to avoid a collision without help. So followers, don’t just protect yourself, protect your leader too. Just a shoulder squeezed in warning goes a long way.

3. The best followers smile-off mistakes.
Actually, only good followers smile: great ones smile AND make a light-hearted joke about it! This requires some finesse, so stick with the smile if your humour sometimes falls flat. That said, a tongue-in-cheek ‘that must be a new variation, you’ll have to show me again afterwards’, not only lets the leader off the hook; it shows you’re there to have fun, not sweat the small stuff.

4. The best followers always have a good time.
Or rather, they can always find the good time in the dance. It’s easy to get bored with inexperienced leaders who lead the same things over and over. But what about you? Maybe this is your chance to be a little more musical, to add a little more sway because it matches the music. Even if he’s a total by-the-book prude, give him the gift of your smile and enjoy the view of dancers around you until the song’s end. Then, make sure you thank him for the dance! He wasn’t trying to disappoint you, after all.

5. The best followers follow first, style second.
Yes, he probably was going to lead the basic step for the 50th time. But what if he was about to pull off your favourite move, and you just robbed him of the opportunity with a self-led hair comb? The point is, if you’re busy showing off, your leader has no chance to show YOU off. You did want to dance with this guy, right?

This isn’t just about putting up with absolute beginner leaders with a plastic grin on the whole time; it’s about having the most fun you can have, with the person you’re with for that dance. And even more importantly, it’s about including them in the fun as well. After all, that beginner might have been dragged in by that dance pro who looks like Antonio Banderas over there… Why not use your new popularity to ask for an introduction?

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