I have been chewing on the philosophical question of why I can usefully follow a whole three people out of seven some-odd billion in ballroom dance. And I mean that both in the sense of, "Why am I so godawful at this in general?" and "Why am I not godawful with these three specific people?" The second thing is an interesting matter of Venn diagrams and pattern-spotting, as all three of them have radically different styles, while the first is mainly a matter of frustration. I'm still not sure if the awkwardness is a solvable problem or just the nature of the beast, and if it is solvable, whether it's my problem or the lead's.

Among the people I can sort of follow, a lot of the divergence seems to be "American" vs "International". There's apparently a dissertation worth of stylistic differences, but the big one as it was explained to me is that in American style, you are allowed to let go of your partner and do separate footwork on the floor. (The footwork doesn't necessarily have to be ballroom dance, as long as it matches the music. Think Fred and Ginger.) Leads who have learned American style tend to operate on the paradigm 'I'll signal what I want and you go do it yourself'. They are generally fairly tolerant of the follow adding whatever flourishes or syncopation they want, or doing whatever with their free hand during promenades and spins, as long as they end up where the lead expects them to be. Ye Ballroom Instructor competed in American Smooth, and the female dancer I'll be working with this summer was also one of his students, so she's learned in that style too.

In International style, you keep your partner in some kind of hold for the entire dance. International-style leads are more sort of, 'Imma make you look pretty now, you just go with it'. This is more the Eccentric's style, and it's much harder for me to do. It's a minor miracle that I can follow him at all. I don't look wobbly, but I am; if I don't have at least some control over my own movement, it's nearly impossible for me to keep my feet under me. I can't just flat-out ragdoll, because that causes a whole new set of problems. On the other hand, this means that a lot of the hyper-drama moves in Latin dance -- deep dips, drags, backbends, etc -- that scare the snot out of other people are actually much easier for me than some of the basic steps. I'm not responsible for keeping my balance during those. It's someone else's job to make sure gravity doesn't fuck things up.

A lot of my problem with feeling very laggy seems to come from my dance partner assuming from my responses that I am 'getting' it, when in fact I have not 'gotten' anything at all and am just bluffing like a motherfucker. I am still missing a lot of the flow and transition cues. As far as I can tell, we were doing A and now suddenly we're doing B, and while I am quick to pick up on B, I don't have any clue how the hell we got there or at what point I was supposed to have recognized the shift in direction. I have no clear picture of the chain of causality and it makes everything seem very arbitrary. My latency seems to be low enough that most strangers do not notice I'm figuring things out ex post facto, but I notice, and I think my ping is uncomfortably high as compared to a proper look-ahead routine.

I am a much better lead than I am a follow. Compared to 'mirror someone else's unspoken thoughts in real-time', 'don't steer your partner into the drinks table' is a piece of cake. Annoyingly, it is difficult to find events where I can convince people of this. Female leads are more common in teenager-y sock hop dances like lindy hop or jitterbug, both because it's more socially acceptable for women to take "male" roles when there's a shortage of available men than vice versa, and because 15-year-old boys have been masterfully awkward since the very moment awkwardness was invented. If you want to spend your school dance actually dancing, you pretty much have to dance with your girl squad. At the Latin dance events, HAHAHAHAHAHA no. You look like a girl, you follow. On an even more annoying related note, I need to find myself a ring or remember enough Spanish to talk about my imaginary boyfriend.

Both instructors have commented that I actually follow pretty well. I am not sure how much to trust this. I have a lot of trouble distinguishing between 'teachers telling me I am good at something' and 'teachers being encouraging so I don't quit before I get good at something' at the best of times. The Eccentric has also commented that I am my own worst critic, which is probably true. I somehow feel like getting my assessment while dancing with a pro might be cheating. Either of them could have a go around the room with a dying fish, and both they and the fish would come out of it looking brilliant.


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