I'm going to start off with this new clip because it amuses me to no end. All building on a point I was making last week. Nina Gilkenson & Nick Williams at a recent workshop in Kansas. Two of the best dancers in the world, not necessarily used to dancing with each other and showing it. The story is all on Nina's face.
Just for comparison's sake, here are a few recent examples of them dancing with more regular partners. Here's Nina with Todd Yannacone at the Grenoble Dance Festival just a week before the above clip.
Alright, let's stop for a second and process this.
Nina is what I refer to as a "passive" follower while Carla is more "active." Nina can take almost anything you give her and make it pretty. She's probably the best in the whole damn world at that. Carla is a lot more "vocal" in her following and more apt to take the initiative to extend or even change a lead.
Hijack is not the word. Let's say you lead a swingout. Nina will make that sucker pretty from counts 1 through 8. Carla will do the same, but will also be ready to continue another idea, based on yours, for maybe another two or four beats after that swingout while still being ready to respond to changes in your lead.
Notice that Nick is pretty micro musical with his movements, but does not always micro-lead. (I'm makin' up all kinds of terms today.) Often times he's actually pretty open with his lead, but since he does so many unusual movements, Nina is left hanging quite a bit in that first dance wondering what is supposed to be happening.
Todd usually gets credit/criticism for leading these massively complicated patterns. But outside of that, notice in his dance that he is always leading something. When it's not super complicated, it's pretty simple (e.g. swingout, underarm turn), but he's always leading. But they're not dogmatic in that mind set. Notice at the end of Nina & Todd's dance where Nina basically takes over while Todd finds a way to adjust even if somewhat awkwardly.
With Carla dancing with Nick, she'll often find a way to fill in those open moments he leaves for her, partly because she's already on the move in that direction; figuratively speaking if not actually physically.
Marie & Nick in the Invitational Jack & Jill from this past International Lindy Hop Championships.
Despite their very different dance styles, Skye shares Todd's general leading philosophy of constant leading. The difference is that while Todd will come up with out of the blue freak patterns, Skye does more to embellish his own movements, but he never stops leading basic things such as swingouts and pass bys and underarm turns. There are very few times where he stops and leaves the follow to her own devices.
Marie is a more "passive" follow similar to Nina. However, she does a better job of complimenting Nick I think mostly because she's just used to dancing with him regularly due to the number of gigs they share over the course of a year.
So what we see here is that differences in approaches to leading and following matter less than how well you know the other person.
Take the following with a grain of salt since I never heard it first hand, but when asked the secret to enjoying dancing for so long, one particular old timer used to reply that you should find ten people that you love dancing with, and just dance with them. Dance promoters all around the world are cringing at that piece of advice, but stick with me here.
You dance with the same person all the time, you get to know their little quirks and tendencies. Assuming you're both good dancers and are willing to take some risks, that should make it easier to create new things and keep the dances interesting.
Going back to the in joke analogy I made last week. Meeting new people is great, but you always have to go through that ritual of introducing yourself, asking where the other person is from, what they do for a living, etc. before you can have a really nuanced and in depth discussion with that person. A common ground needs to be established so you both know that you are using the same words in the same way or if they are different, figure out why they are different.
Go back to that Nina & Todd video above and check out Todd busting out a Dean Collins "quote" with Dean's Cuddle starting at 0:26 and Nina responding with the apropos Jewel-like swivels. They're both referencing Dean and Jewel McGowan dancing in the 1941 film Buck Privates, starting at 1:57 of the clip below.
With old friends, you can have complicated conversations about quantum physics and Zen Buddhism in relation to that drunken bender in Vegas over spring break 10 years ago because you have a minimal need to explain why and how you're making those connections. You can do the same with strangers, but it'll take longer, and some moments you just have to be there for to fully understand.
It's like the way people of the same race can use an epithet with each other without taking offense. They have a common understanding and relationship to that word. If someone else from a different ethnicity uses it, then there are all kinds of questions of intent that need to be answered before you know that they are at least not hostile.
Lesson for today: Keep it simple with people you don't know, or at least try to save the racial slurs for around the forth or fifth dance.
p.s. Just so you don't think that Nina and Nick don't dance well together, or have the impression that I don't think they do, here's a better dance between them from last year's Barswingona in Spain.