21. Following

In recent years we have heard people talking about the girl partner having a responsibility for certain positive dance actions such as “clearing her hips out of the man’s way” or “inviting the man to dance past her”. Doreen summarily dismisses this theory with a naughty word, unusual for her. She states firmly,
“All I ever did, as far as control of movement was concerned, was simply to make myself as light as possible in moving with you in the dances. If you move, I move. If you turn, I turn. If you accelerate, I accelerate. If you stop, I stop. If you angle your body to step outside me, I angle my body by exactly the same amount.”

“My task is to synchronise with you, my partner. To repeat, the Man’s body leads the Lady’s body in Ballroom Dancing! I saw my role as one of following – as closely as your own shadow – even your most subtle action.”

The man’s traditional role in the performance of the Standard Dances – both for competitions and social purposes – has been that of leader of the partnership. This has been the case ever since the ‘Modern’ style took over from the ‘Old Time’ style of dancing in the first decades of this century. Equally, as there must be a leader in a partnership, so there must be a ‘follower’.
I am, of course, talking about actual competing and practice for competitions. However, when coaching, the lady teacher/coach might well take charge when dancing with the male of a partnership under tuition and ‘bodyswing’ the competitor pupil round the floor to give him the ‘feel’ of a new figure or type of action. Thus, the young or inexperienced professional or amateur having such a lesson might acquire a misconceived view of the role of a lady dancer.

The art of the girl dancer who can follow her partner’s every nuance of movement and action without either anticipating – i.e. fractionally running ahead of the man – or becoming a drag, an encumbrance – i.e. fractionally falling behind his interpretation of the rhythm – is one which, though difficult to master, is absolutely essential if a couple’s aspirations to become one of the great champions of the world is ever to be anything other than a dream.

The standards of perfection achieved in ‘following’, by the best girl dancers, has always filled me with awe. Doreen was expert in this way. Always remaining in body contact but as light as a feather to move. Just giving me the exact, very slight, amount of body resistance I wanted from her. This slight resistance gave me the confidence to, for instance, literally throw my body-weight into a step such as a Hover Cross moving diagonally into a corner, (where I wanted to create a dramatic balancing-sway line of almost 45 degrees to the perpendicular), or if I wanted to use body impetus to trigger vivid acceleration over the floor.

Doreen would know that if couples got in our way, I would instantly change the direction of our movement or éven into a different figure. Because Doreen was always in body contact, I, in turn, just knew that she would react instantaneously to this switch in direction, step or pace.
Though we pre-arranged selected figures into groups which stemmed from a ‘key’ lead, Doreen would not know exactly how these groups would be presented, //there would be changes of alignment, where the musical accents would be placed by me, what hovering or accelerations of movement I would apply in response to the orchestra arranger’s treatment of the melody and the melodic structure itself. This gave us a freedom of interpretation which a fixed routine can never have. This is championship thinking. Leadership and expert following!

Mostly, I did not speculate about the difficulties with which I was presenting my partner by this policy. Certainly, I didn’t give it a thought as an amateur! I just expected her to stay in bodily contact with me as if by some kind of magic. “Exactly how do you do manage to stay in contact” I asked her once in one of my more reflective moods.
The response: “With you it’s essential to be prepared for anything to happen in competition. I have had to team to remain highly aware, almost become telepathic, to be ready to respond to what you might do next”.

I asked Doreen to further clarify the difference between such concepts being put forward as “the girl clearing her hips out of the man’s way” and the action of ‘simply following’. Doreen is quite uncompromising about her beliefs. (Let’s face it, we established ourselves as Grand Slam Champions and retired undefeated in all of them, so we cannot have been so far wrong.)

Doreen declared: “The man has the positive role in the presentation of movement. The lady has the negative role. The man steers the partnership. End of’story. This theory about the lady also assuming a positive role by actively initiating movement is never going to give perfect partnership results, though this ‘Positive Man/Positive Lady’ set-up may well provide a passable performance.”

“But even an adequate (average) performance will only result if the man moves through his dances in exactly the same way every time. Only then will the ‘hip-clearer’ girl have even a ghost of a chance of good quality synchronisation.” I could not fault her reasoning. Besides, it is a well known Law that a positive and a negative will attract while two positives repel. This is true in dance as well as in magnetism!
Of course, where two people in a partnership often dance separately – without Hold – as is now common in the Latin dances this ‘Law’ does not apply. (Incidentally, the Latin dances did indeed start their competition life as linked partnership dances, joined at least by hands and arms.)

Doreen continued: “In picturesteps such as Same Leg Lines, Contra Checks, Oversways, Lunges, the girl makes an extension of line by an opening out of the (flexible) upper body, not as a positive action but as a response to the invitation inherent in the man’s lead. Even when extending a line in this way, she must not lose body contact with the man.”

I have strong views on the role of the Lady in the Ballroom dances; a role which worked very well for me. If the masculine – feminine partnership is to have credibility, the lady’s deportment, head position, styling of hands, arms and footwork should all project an aura of femininity. Perhaps the arms are one of the most important features; arms which expressed yielding softness were my aim.

To pursue this line of thought, I liked my dresses to be soft and ‘floaty’ – even to the extent of using pure silk bridal tulle as the top layer of my dresses. I never followed the trend of the hard-line powder-puff dresses when they came into vogue. Similarly with my arms. I wanted my arms, when offering them to the Man to take up our Partnership Hold position, to be as soft and ‘floaty’ as the tulle on my dress. The right arm would be as a drape from hand to shoulder, the left forearm laying with feather¬weight lightness on the man’s upper arm.

A present trend, popular with some ladies, of raising the elbows to a horizontal or above¬horizontal position, would never have been one which I would even have thought of copying. To me, this set-up of the arms looks hard and most unfeminine!”