There are funny things that happen with some dancers and the music.
I can can occasionally find myself dancing with people who dance to the rhythm but nothing else, especially with vals and milonga. It's on the beat, in a general way, but it feels rushed, formless, and robotic. They don't seem to hear the melody or phrasing or tension or emphasis or any of the detail, and it feels more like jogging than dancing.
It's possible to respond by dancing, taking your time and interpreting all the leads in a way that does hear the melody and phrasing, always following, but varying your swooshyness and lightness and the way you move, sending music back up through your body from the floor. I'm not talking about ornaments here, or stopping dead, or breaking the connection, or doing anything that interferes with navigation. Just stubbornly insisting on dancing rather than jogging.
If I try this, what sometimes happens is that they start to respond to to the music themselves, enough so I can tell the difference. They may not be able to sustain it because they haven't practiced, but they notice that it is possible and they start to do it.
This does not always work. I don't think it will work if they have been like that for too long. Some people are irretrievable, at least by me.
You might worry that there is a risk here, that you won't be following, that you will be back-leading or responding to the lead in an unpredictable way.
Here are my arguments for not worrying about this:
- Someone who has this problem isn't going to be someone who wants to weight-change you a toe at a time. If he knew that was possible, he wouldn't be doing this. He's moving mechanically and with pretty low level of precision. So there is actually plenty of room for interpretation, if you have the confidence. Your toes are your own.
- You are taking full responsibility for the quality of your own dance, and you are making him look better than he is, both of which are the Right Thing To Do.
- And if, later in the evening, you do dance with someone who can weight change you a toe at a time, that person will almost certainly be dancing to the music, in which case it's entirely a good thing if you do too. You will not have sabotaged yourself by unplugging your ears from your brain.
- If he's not only off the music, but wants you to be as well, there's no reason why you would want to dance with him again, anyway, so it's a win-win situation.
- And supposing he tells all his friends you don't follow: either they already know he is a terrible dancer, in which case they won't care, or they think he is a good dancer, in which case you won't care, because they are probably worse.
- It will feel like a bit of a fight, but it will be much more bearable than trying to ignore the music, which is bad for your dancing, stressful, and really very difficult to do.