The Plight Of The Lindy Hop Follower

When you’re first learning Lindy Hop, there’s definitely a learning curve. Lindy Hop is probably one of the hardest partner dances out there, since not only is the swing out your basic and arguably the most difficult move in Lindy Hop at the same time, but there aren’t really any hard and fast rules to the dance. So much of it can’t be shown or explained fully, it just has to experienced.

The learning curve is also different for leads and follows. Initially, I think it’s a lot more difficult for leads. They have to think about the footwork, the beat, which move they’re doing next and leading their follow at the same time. It’s enough for anyone’s head to pretty much explode all over the dance floor. Eventually, things ease up a lot for leads as all of those different aspects begin to work for the leads instead of against them.

As far as the followers go, I think the process can sometimes be a little more painful to endure. The beginning stages of learning to dance seem to come to followers more easily, but it’s once their leads start to improve more that their learning curve punches them in the face. Suddenly, after dancing for 6 months or a year, followers realize that  they’re pretty much relearning how to do everything in order to dance with well with others. And not only is it a complete mind bend, but it’s also a blow to their ego. It’s almost like they’ve been tricked. All this time they’re feeling like they’re improving, until they crash right into this brick wall and they realize that they don’t know anything about dancing. Ouch.

At least for leads, they can get a lot of that out of the way early on when they’re still brand new to dancing.

There are a couple of followers in our scene who are going through this right now, which is what made me decide to write about it. They’ve both been dancing for about a year or so now. They’re trying hard in classes, obviously concentrating a lot on the social dance floor, and not only look so lost in thought that they aren’t having that much fun, but they’re frustrated with themselves at the same time. I think for anyone, lead or follow, who’s going through this stage, can feel really disheartened, often times more so than you feel it should (as most of us just do this for fun). But don’t let it get you down. It’ll pass with time as long as you persevere through it.

Here are perhaps a few things to remember:

-Anything that you want to be good at, requires practice. And just because you want to be good at something, doesn’t mean that you will be right away. Besides, compared to the rest of the world, you’re probably pretty good at dancing.

-Being positive about your dancing is the best thing you can do for yourself. There’s a difference between understanding what you need to work on and being too critical of yourself. There will always be something that you’re working on in your dancing, so if something doesn’t come to you right away, don’t sweat it.

-There’s definitely an aspect of Lindy Hop that makes it more fun as you gain more skill, and let’s face it, it’s a competitve world out there, but skill isn’t everything. Having a great attitude and a smile on your face goes a long way in the social dance world.




About Rachel

Rachel Green is an avid lindy hopper, instructor, performer and bad mamma jamma. She's also the co-owner of Rhythm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a community-oriented venue dedicated to Lindy hop and to freelance dance instructors. When Rachel isn't dancing, teaching, or organizing, she's usually picking pennies up off the ground or trying to win at dutch blitz. View all posts by Rachel

11 responses to “The Plight Of The Lindy Hop Follower

  • Tim Martin

    The beginning stages of learning to dance seem to come to followers more easily, but it’s once their leads start to improve more that their learning curve punches them in the face. Suddenly, after dancing for 6 months or a year, followers realize that they’re pretty much relearning how to do everything in order to dance with well with others.

    Can you explain this a little more? I don’t understand why follows feel they are relearning everything (my following skills are quite beginner).

      • dz

        hey tim, my personal view as a follower is that they start by learning moves in classes, etc, but once you start dancing with better leads that deviate from moves you’ve learned, or they just make up moves, you suddenly realize you have NOT been following, but just learning moves.

        i bet for you, switching from lead to follow, you already understand the dynamic from a leading point of view, so even though you consider yourself a beginner follow, you at least understand what it means to follow. so the “wall” she is talking about may not apply to you.

      • Tim Martin

        Hmm… that’s interesting, because when I was a beginner lead, I remember lots of moves failing because follows were expecting me to lead them, and I was apparently not doing a good job of it. At the time I would have been grateful for more follows who just did the move because they knew what it was supposed to be!

        Anyway, perhaps I’ll ask a few follows around my scene for their thoughts on this.

      • Drake

        I wish follows would more often honestly follow in class. Then we could talk about what went wrong and work on how to better execute.

        Of course she would have to be open to feedback concerning what she might improve on as well. 🙂

  • Dan

    As a lead at the end of his second year dancing, I definitely agree with this post. It seems almost unfair how instruction is set up: the leads from the get-go are taught (or pushed) to create a dance with (and for) their partner that is unique and expressive while followers are only pushed to follow, follow, follow. Then suddenly they are faced with learning how to actually put their own imprint on their dances – it’s like they are suddenly asked to develop a second language wherein the leader and follower are speaking on a much more sophisticated level but the lead has a 6-12 month headstart.

    In some ways this also inhibits the growth for leaders because we only then (unless we dance with a really advanced follower… which freaks us out) start learning how to “listen” to their follows in an effort to create a collaborative dance but we’ve spent our whole lindy lives “talking” so much that our listening skills are dull… plus as you try to create moments within the dance that allow your follow to express herself, the ensuing silence (because she just hasn’t been working on thinking that way) can be a little frustrating.

  • Brody

    I love your last three points. I do some teaching in my area (Southern CT), and I will most definitely (with your permission) make these points to my students. They are all so critical to keep in mind as frustrations mount.

  • Why I Love to Dance « swingaholicsanonymous

    […] Rachel Green, has already written about the plight of the follow in her blog which is right here. Plight of the Lindy Hop Follow.  So, my story on my adventures of learning to lindy hop.  My very first steps (which I really […]

  • Jaume

    It’ll be lost in time but I had to say this.

    It depends on the teaching methods. In the school I’m helping (and probably some others in the same city) we are not placing all the blame on the beginner leader, but try to teach follows to really follow.

    The phrases “keep the momentum”, “go in a straight line”, “if the leader is only guiding back, and not stopping you, don’t do a rockstep, go back” and similar ones are said in almost all the classes. And it pays off.

    Follows tend to follow, and probably they won’t encounter this roadblock.

    Now we only need to work out how to improve the advanced classes so follows don’t feel like glorified mannequins that only are there for the leaders to practice.

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