Should Lindy Hop Follows Step Forward Or Back On 1?

I recently was asked this question:  “Step forward or back on 1 for follows in lindy hop?”  Ok, it was a search term that came to the site, but that’s the same thing, right? 🙂

Ok, first things first.  If you’re asking the question, you’re putting yourself in the novice stage of the Dreyfus model;  You’re asking for a rule.  That’s fine.  Novices need rules.

So what’s the answer?  Let me be careful and specific about my opinion: Novice follows should step in the direction they’re led in on 1.  If you’re led forward, step forward.  If you’re led into a rock step OR if you have directional momentum from the previous move which leads you into a rock step, then rock-step.  If you’re given no directional lead, do your footwork in place.  That’s not quite as simple as stepping forward or back, I know.  Step in the direction you’re led on 1, otherwise step in place.  Perhaps that’s simpler re-statement.

Ok, so what are the real-world implications of this rule?  Well, leads and follows have to be working on frame.  If, as a novice follow, you’re not connecting well to your lead, you might miss the direction he leads.  Leads, you have to lead in a direction.

Great, that’s the novice version.  What’s the roadmap to the future?  First there’s lots of floor-time experimenting with connection.  Experimenting with tensing and relaxing different muscles along the arm, in the back, and in your core.  Experimenting with different frame at different speeds, with different leads, to different rhythms, in different directions.  Along the way, you’ll begin to appreciate that the directional lead can be a combination of the momentum from the last move, the connection from the lead, and choices the follow makes (presuming the lead is listening on your dance connection and not just speaking).

What rules were you given as a novice?  Do you still follow them all the time?  What’s the philosophical grounding for the rule?  Do the lead and follow both have to agree on philosophy before agreeing to dance?

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3 thoughts on “Should Lindy Hop Follows Step Forward Or Back On 1?”

  1. Hi John

    I’m pretty sure the google search query came from me as I’m pretty sure I first came across your blog when – unsuccessfully – googling about a month ago.

    As it happens, I wasn’t looking for a “rule” and pretty much expected the answer you gave to be the “long term” answer (i.e. what should happen once the follow understands connection).

    I had just done two parallel beginner-series, one in which follows had been taught “step forward” and another where they had been taught “rock step”. I was looking for discussion of what people thought was the better pedagogical approach (i.e. what to give dancers as a “substitute” while they are figuring out connection, leading following and all that malarkey) and what the tradeoff of one for the other was.

    As someone who has done other forms of social dancing, leading the one or the other – and to a certain extent following the one or the other – is quite easy. But I’ve had many dances with novice follows where I thought there was something tremendously wrong with me when actually they were trying to rock step and I was trying to lead them forward (and that totally is something that was wrong with me – that I was leading something they weren’t ready for – but not the kind of thing I was worried about).

    Because of the cross phrase connection dynamics of the rock step, I would argue that novices should be taught to expect a “step forward” lead. Otherwise there is the problem that the first rock step (of a dance/exercise) is of a completely different nature to the subsequent ones as it is started from a standstill. If the others are to be started from a standstill (rather than from followthrough momentum from the 7and8) it becomes very tricky to lead and follow – and difficult to make smooth and “simple”. The tradoff is eager follows who will dash forward on 1 2 regardless of what is lead.

  2. Hey Greg, thanks for commenting. I can understand the pedagogical search (and I hope you can forgive my assumption). The discussion happens a lot, and was an aspect of my Pull on 2 discussion. I went through the exact same experience. In Orange County 2007, Shesha Marvin was teaching rock the follow on 1 (or maybe the follows automatically rock) while Jerry Jordan was teaching lead the follow forward on 1. After I understood where everything was going, I wondered what the advantage of one over the other was. There’s two aspects of the answer, as I see it.

    First oriented to novice follows, I still stand by stepping in place unless led in a direction. The instructor is immediately telling the novice follow that to pay attention to what the lead is leading. The idea of connection and frame is a difficult one, as you point out. Starting it sooner is better. Instructors can lead footwork rhythm drills, frame drills, connection drills, etc. Students need to dance to integrate the knowledge. But it’s all foundational knowledge, and should be presented.

    Teaching a novice follow to walk in a direction without a lead in that direction feels like a bad idea to me. Where does the list of directional assumptions end? How long is it? Where is it recorded? If someone doesn’t know assumption 12-b, does that mean they’re bad? Does it open up the potential for an entire group of people to just have a slightly different set of assumptions and create a schism? Isn’t is simpler to go with something like “step in the direction led?”

    As for crossing assumptions, I don’t know why a novice follow coming forward on count 1 without a lead in that direction is any better than a novice follow rocking on count 1 without a lead in that direction. Both are awkward. Neither involves listening on the connection.

    Second, oriented to novice leads, I think we should teach to lead the follow forward on 1. That way, when doing a swing-out, the lead can use all eight counts do to the move. If the novice lead leads a rock on 1, then the then entire swing-out happens from counts two to eight.

    Here’s a question: How many leads/follows can take both series and do it both ways? Could we discuss that as being an advanced beginner skill?

    Here’s another question: For every 10 brand new people who start a beginner lindy hop series, how many eventually get to the point where they feel comfortable leading/following either a step forward or back on count 1, depending on the context of the situation? Perhaps we could call that a skill of the Proficient Lindy Hopper? Maybe a discussion of raising the number of novices who become proficient should be more important than the direction on 1.

    Ok, there’s my 2am brain-dump thoughts. I might have omitted smileys throughout. I don’t mean any of this to sound harsh or accusatory. Though it probably does sound opinionated. 🙂

  3. Hi John,
    I found your blog, and here are my thoughts as a follow about rocking back or going forward on 1. What I do depends on what style of lindy the leader is using and whether he leads a rock step or a forward step (this could be a swivel, swivel; kick ball change or a step step – follower’s choice, unless the lead leads a swivel). Usually in Savoy style lindy, the follow stays in place on 1 and maybe 2 (so she generally has 3 choices: 2 swivels, 2 steps or a rock step), other styles, she’s moved forward on count 1. But the leader can change this in any style. That’s why a good hand connection and a body lead from the leader is important so the follow can follow well. Jerking is bad in any style – and that happens a lot when the lead is using arm leads instead of body leads. Nellee

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