This past Lindy Focus I took a private with Nathan Bugh. During the private I finally processed a very simple concept that I am sure that I have heard a thousand times before but never truly listened to. But before revealing my blind spot, a little context is needed to explain how big this blind spot was.
I have a number of analogies and metaphors which I pull out on occasion to describe leading and connection. I’ll present 5 here. Like all models they are conditionally useful, but incomplete. Unsurprisingly all of mine missed the same basic idea I took away from the private.
1) A good leader is like the fixed spring from an oscillating block and spring physics problem.
A good connection stretches and compresses during the course of a dance. Endpoints often have a hanging feeling, with potential energy ready to be released back into a dance (instead of being complete stops from which energy has to be added to get things moving again).
While it is true that both leaders and followers need to work together to create the right feeling, I’ve always felt that as a leader is usually more responsible for providing the structure of the dance, they are more the spring than the moving block. The block never travels further than the spring allows it to.
2 A good leader is like a swing set
Much like the spring and block, this analogy is chosen to illustrate the way energy hangs at endpoints while riding a swing. A good leader, like a swing set, puts boundaries on movement and is responsible for supporting weight and momentum changes. Unlike the fixed spring and block, this analogy accounts for the way a rider actively puts energy into the act of swinging and the swing set makes use of it.
3. A good leader is like a bouncy air castle.
Once again the idea behind this simile is that a leader provides boundaries and some basic structure to a dance. There is support and compression for a follower at end points and at these end points a follower will get back just as much as they put in. But in between theses endpoints is a lot of freedom for the follower to do what they want. I find the bouncy air castle is a better analogy for getting across the idea of freedom despite boundaries than the spring block or swing set which operate on fixed tracks.
4. A good leader is like a jungle gym
This simile shares the boundary and space idea of the bouncy air castle but represents a slightly different way of approaching end points. Where the air castle compresses and leaves a follower degree of choice on how to hit an ending, the jungle gym is more fixed and unyielding in its end points. This firmness should never be uncomfortable, but there are obvious differences between the effect one gets pushing off a solid wall or an air mattress being used as a wall.
While the jungle gym and the air castle may seem to be contradictory models, it is important to understand that both are models of different approaches to leading that are meant to match different approaches to following. In my experience, followers who identify themselves as “momentum junkies” respond better to jungle gym leading where the lead explicitly controls end points; the follower is then free to go go go until stopped. On the flip side followers who like a lot more mutual or self control often respond better to the air castle, with end points being negotiated with the possibility of extension.
I like this analogy for getting across the finding the right actions to solve a puzzle aspect of dancing. It also incorporates the idea that a leader is often indirect in steering a follower. In playing the labyrinth game you never simply grab the ball and move it but instead change conditions so it will go where you want it to go. Short of picking a follower up and placing them somewhere, leading often really is more about changing conditions in connection to get a follower to do something; good leading can make a follower feel they should go in a direction or that they should triple step. Finally I like the analogy because it incorporates the way that a leader is often in charge of steering a follower away from danger since the leader has more structural control in the partnership.
Of course the big downside to this analogy is that it objectifies the heck out of followers and unfortunately implies that followers are a leader’s plaything. I will explicitly say that objectifying followers is bad, that followers are not playthings, and I will remind everyone of the fact that analogies have limits and can go to bad places when extended too far.
What all these analogies share is my belief in the leader being largely responsible for structure in a dance. Another commonality is my belief that a leader is responsible for accepting a follower’s weight/momentum and redirecting it. The key words in that last sentence are accepting and redirecting. Maybe a few readers have spotted the hole in my approach at this point.
While working on some concepts for dancing in small spaces, and again while working on a complicated traveling move with a direction change I’ve been trying to work a burr out of, Nathan had the following advice for me.
Find [your partner’s] weight and move it.
Such simple words and a simple concept. But the key words are find and move.
The spring, the swing, the air castle, and the jungle gym are all passive. They work with the follow to accept and redirect. The labyrinth board player is active but is still largely reactive in approach.
Find and move is about being active as leader. Proactive really. Accepting and redirecting are fine ideas except for when you need to go out an find first as opposed to just accepting whatever comes to you and “finding” that way. Redirecting is fine and good for conserving and maintaining energy but when you need to add energy or flat out start energy from a stop, well redirecting is not an option. You need to move your partner.
The ideas can fit well together too. Find then accept. Move to redirect.
Now these ideas are not truly foreign to me. There are things I lead which would be impossible without me being more proactive than passive. But passive is my go to approach toward leading and usually the perspective I start to attack connection problems from.
To mix some metaphors, this lesson was mostly about reminding me that I have other tools in my tool box that I am passingly familiar with in using; and that I should use them. If all I ever pull out of the tool box is the hammer, then all problems begin to look like nails.