Being the Board, lindy-style

As a follow, I’ve gone through many learning phases, and not always in a linear fashion. There was holy-moley-this-is-all-great-but-I-am-terrified, followed by whoa-I’m-not-as-good-as-I-fancied-myself-to-be, and one I hope I’ve permanently squelched, I’m-in-a-cruddy-mood-so-if-we-have-fun-it’s-up-to-you. Learning to follow often felt like chasing a vapor to me. It’s there then it’s not and there appear to be so many factors and variables: the music, me, my partner, the floor, the timing, my height, his height, varying styles, etc. There’s the idea of perfect technique, but I’m not a perfect dancer and there’s a good chance my partner isn’t either.

Learning to be gloriously wrong is a skill I’m trying to cultivate. Personality-wise, I am massively risk-adverse, a trait that doesn’t always serve me well. I’m prone to freezing or taking the safe route rather than trying something new. Craig introduced me to the idea that mistakes should be celebrated as fantastic attempts. And he’s right; failure is a part of growth.

I’m striving to explore something different with my dancing. It might be bit of footwork or it might be waiting and leaving space. Well-edited dancing is like a well-edited instrumental solo. Variation is critical. Too much of all the same or just too much means nothing stands out.

I remember reading a magazine article with gold medal winner Shawn Johnson’s coach following her Olympic victory. He related to the reporter that he told Shawn to execute every skill they’d practiced. All the jumps, all the extensions. Every finish. By the same token, If I execute the basics: coming in when lead, frame, connection/stretch, counterbalance, matching, moving from my core, and pulsing, to name a few, then I’m much more likely to have a fun or “successful” dance.

And about that idea of a successful dance. I’m guilty of blaming my lead if a move didn’t go well or right or perfectly. It’s oftensaid that leads are the ones ultimately responsible for when something goes wrong. A useful idea for teaching beginner leads, but it has limitations. Namely, that idea can give the incorrect impression that follows aren’t equally responsible for the dance.

In The Art of Possiblity husband and wife team Benjamin and Rosamund Zander introduce a concept called being the board. To paraphrase, being the board is about imagining a situation like a chess board. Rather than focusing on my white pieces and my opponent’s black pieces the thought experiment is to imagine myself as the board, in control of everything.

Here’s how the Zanders describe being the board:

Ordinarily, we equate accountability with blame and blamelessness, concepts from the world of measurement. When I blame you for something that goes wrong, I seek to establish that I am in the right–and we all know the delicious feeling of satisfaction there. However, inasmuch as I blame you for a miserable vacation or miserable dance or wall of silence–to that degree, exactly in that proportion, I lose my power. I lose my ability to steer the situation in another direction, to learn from it, or to put us in good relationship with each other. Indeed, I lose any leverage I may have had there is nothing I can do about your mistakes, only about mine. (Italics mine.)

Man, I do love the delicious feeling of being right. I’ve learned there’s a difference between being right and partner dancing where I’m only successful when we’re successful together. Technically, it might be the lead’s fault, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not my responsibility.

Once I accept responsibility for the dance, I always have the opportunity to support my lead, extend a generous spirit, and contribute to our success. It’s novel to think I’m completely in control of the outcome of each and every social dance I accept. I control if it’s fun. I control if it is “successful” and what definition of success to apply. I control how much I try. My functioning definition of a successful dance is this: I gave my best effort to have fun and employed technique and dancing skills to the best of my ability.



Filed under balboa, lindy hop, Theory

4 responses to “Being the Board, lindy-style

  1. fenn

    My initial thoughts are posted on my facebook page, where I linked this blog. I have since realized I have MORE thoughts. I will write a blog post and let you know about my response!

    I do love that you brought this up. There are some very interesting follow concepts being addressed here.

  2. Well said! I like the phrase above about well-edited dancing. That is heavy with meaning for me.

  3. To the notion that it’s always the lead’s fault, I generally suggest in my classes that in a collaboration it’s always a fault in the partnership. As you seem to suggest, each partner holds responsibility to some extent.

    What is perfect technique? Is it a mechanical thing or that all the mechanical structures are aligned in a way that our senses work together? As a dancer who was present at the birth of “Hollywood Style” and “Savoy Style” I’d suggest that perfect technique is less a set of dogmas and more a state of mind.

    Which is why I like this post. You seem to get it. Kudos to you!

  4. Chris

    That’s about the best description of following I’ve read – particularly the rejection of the attitude “I’m-in-a-cruddy-mood-so-if-we-have-fun-it’s-up-to-you” – so pleased that’s no longer in your reportoire! (I’d never dance with someone like that again unless they made up for it in some way). Hey, for me it’s about relating for a brief time with someone, while doing stuff to music – both leads and follows should have and give space to be creative, or not as the mood takes. And for me the absolute best dances are where. at times, I haven’t known who was leading and who following – hey, it felt like we were both following the music – sheer magic! – xx

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