Sunday, 11 May 2008

Arm-steering - the follower's answer

This is a followup to arm-steering, five months ago. To summarise, a problem that some leaders can develop is pushing or pulling you with their arms to take steps that they're simultaneously blocking or contradicting with their bodies, throwing you violently off balance and in bad cases convincing you that you're about to be hurled to the floor. It's particularly scary in turns.

Anyway, having discussed it, asked a few questions, and experimented for a while, I found an answer that works for me. Then I forgot all about it because, for various reasons, I don't encounter this problem as often as I used to. But I'll still almost always dance with someone I haven't seen, if he asks me. It's part of the adventure. So I got one fairly recently where there was a lot of the lawnmower thing going on, rather surprisingly combined with back sacadas, and after a minute or so I remembered my technique.

It's a two-step process.

Step one: just let the arm go. Ruthlessly preserving my own balance comes first and that means just relaxing my right arm and letting it go wherever he wants, to wave whatever flag it is he wants to wave out there. I know it shouldn't be waggling about, but I just haven't got the body mass inertia to impose that on an adult male who doesn't agree with me and wants my arm to be way over there somewhere. So I just let it go. This buys me time.

Step two: slam the power down. I step, calmly, to wherever my best guess is that he actually wants me to go, but I exaggerate; I abandon moderation and go further and more vigorously, mentally on the attack. If he's clearly asking me to go somewhere that he's simultaneously blocking, or somewhere that's going to take him off balance, I just do it anyway, shoving him out of the way or catching him if I have to. The idea is to make him think that he's merely touched the accelerator, and the car's gone roAAAAAWRRRR!!! and he doesn't know if he can handle it.

I should point out that this is the exact opposite of what happens instinctively. Because the pulling and pushing feels violent, the follower's natural reaction at finding herself in a physical battle she knows she can't win is to scamper around making small, gentle movements, keeping herself upright as best she can, and desperately trying to de-escalate. But because the leader isn't being violent on purpose, he's just clueless, that doesn't work, and actually makes it worse.

Slamming the power down makes this happen:
A look of alarm
A look of respect
A moderation of the arm-steering
A much, much smoother, fairly painless ride.

A curious side-effect is that it quite often makes them think I'm a really good dancer, and say so. It's certainly true that putting a bit more power down can solve quite a lot of dancing problems, and maybe I should use a bit more in general, but I don't think I should feel I'm exaggerating.

Jump in the comments if you have the same, or a different or better technique.


Psyche said...

This is a very interesting idea - I'm going to try it. I've been looking for a good soluton to this problem for some time, because although you can save your right side by collapsing the right arm, you can't collapse your rib cage, so if he's pushing there you're screwed. My instinctive reaction if someone pushes me is to ground, to dig my heels in as it were and step in my own time. But you're also right that this makes it worse, because they then think they need to apply *more* force. So, thanks for this - I shall run some experiments and let you know how I get on!

Anonymous said...

A most excellent diagnosis, hopefully I shall never have to prescribe the cure.

msHedgehog said...

Psyche, yes please do report back! When it works, it works rather quickly - a big, fast step or rotation in the direction of the push usually makes the next push less severe. Especially if you combine it with your own push in the direction he led, sometimes causing him to rotate with a speed and through an angle he wasn't quite expecting.

When I talk about letting the arm go I'm mostly thinking about the situation where he straightens his elbow and yanks your arm directly outwards, intending to mean that you should step around him to his left, but actually keeping his torso square on. So I let it go, to buy time, but as I take the step I recover that arm, and actually push on it enough so that his torso turns in the direction it would have turned if he'd actually known how to lead with it.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar technique for hyperactive followers. I simply reduce all power and wind down all the leading to zero. With everything switched off I watch and wait as the crazed follower either realises something isn't quite right and slows down herself. Then we try to dance again.

Its even wierder when this doesn't work. Imagine that, a leader standing still with no lead, being danced around by an energetic enthusiastic follower until the end of the song. Sometimes past the end of the song.

Still - no malice is spoken as we are all learning!

Debbi said...

Ha!! I just had that experience today! Someone I accepted a dance with at practica was shoving and pushing with both arms, and what I did was increase my groundedness and try to "balance" out the pushing and pulling. That did not work. There was one point where he was pushing and pulling at the same time and I felt like he wanted a Holiday cracker, not a follower! At this point I just stopped moving and pulled back from the embrace. I will try your technique though and see what happens. Although not with this guy, won't say yes again to him! I even tried to come out of close embrace into open and he kept pulling me back towards him. End of song - end of dance!
But I like how you think.... will also report back if I need to use it again soon.

Unknown said...

I can't say I've thought it through quite as much as you have, nor for such a specific problem, but I use one "trick" for basically all bad leads. I do EXACTLY what they're leading. Not what they think they're leading, not what I think they're leading, not what they want to lead, but exactly what they DID lead. That is how they learn "oops, hmm, that lead doesn't work for what I wanted to do."

I do my best not to compensate for bad leading, which I think a lot of women do. Maybe the dance won't be so fun or nice, maybe it will be choppy or awkward, but the leader will learn, and become the better for it. Then future dances have the possibility of being fun, smooth, and connected.

Anonymous said...

I like how you think Kara. It is true that we tend to compensate - or perhaps over-compensate - for poor lead technique. When we do that, we are not doing anyone any favors.

Ms. H, one other thing to try with the lawn mowing is to really massage your right hand and arm between songs. Should he ask, say he's hurting you :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes "slamming the power down" is exactly the right thing to do with a forceful lead as it tells the leader that lots of force means lots of movement. If you just absorb the leader's energy you give him completely the wrong feedback.

Your comment that “A curious side-effect is that it quite often makes them think I'm a really good dancer, and say so” is interesting. I think that deliberately slamming the power down probably gives you movement more intention than you would normally give a movement. And one thing that I've noticed about better followers is that their movements feel very well defined and deliberate.

msHedgehog said...

@Kara and Johanna - oh yes, In general. After all, we're not psychic, so we just do our best to listen to the lead and go there. You can't go thinking about it, or you'll just anticipate. But with this specific problem, if you did what was actually led you'd stand still until he pushed you to the ground. I don't feel that's really manners, or indeed physically feasible. And anyway, in social dancing, I don't feel that I'm under any obligaton whatsoever to make any sacrifice to improve HIS dancing, and even if I were, a social dance would not be the time. Self-preservation and my own enjoyment come a very long way ahead of that particular enterprise.

In this case it's not really necessary to make a sacrifice anyway, since hitting the accelerator does address his real problem as well as being better for the quality of my own dancing than trying to fight it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I've only properly come across it once, and it was the most unpleasant dance I've ever had. The lead not only pushed me around, but he actually crawled at my back in a manner to push me faster and worst of all, I am terrible at turning people down, so when he asked if I would like to dance again, I said yes!

AlexTangoFuego said...

Hola Ms Hedge!

Even with a serious subject such as this, you make me laugh.

Passive agressive backleading. In the best sense.

I like it.

La Nuit Blanche said...

kara made an excellent point, and i think this is in the line of what MsH is saying as well.

when that happens, i do exactly what the actual lead is telling me to do -- i just go with the amount of force, and usually the movement looks exaggerated. the leader is surprised, and realises he led something with more energy tham he intended.

the unfortunate thing is sometimes, the leader is (cluelessly) thinking he did apply the right amount of energy, and that i am over-interpreting.

so, when MsH's technique doesn't work, that's when i plant myself into the ground, and become superheavy. i plant him down too, by driving him into the floor on his axis, and regardless of the music, i go veeerrry sloooowly into the direction he wants me to go. this usually makes the leader think i want him to slow down.

i usually try to follow to a man's every whim, but i am not wonderwoman, so i have my limits... and i guess i am letting him know what my limits are, physically.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Doing exactly what the lead asks... as long as it's with the leading arm, the man's right arm. Whenever there's a bit of confusion and the lead is transfered to the left arm, I don't do anything anymore. He can pull my right arm all he wants, I won't budge. When he starts using his right arm, then I start moving. If it happens in a milonga, the end of the song is the end of it - and for the next 6 months at least until he's learned better. If in a practica or class, I say at the end "I don't do anything if I'm not feeling the lead with the right arm" and leave him to ponder that. As for "movers and shakers", once they've fed me up by manhandling me (I have limited patience for leads that are disrespectful of my axis, balance and response time), roaring up works very well - I particularly like to develop moves over the top when the closing/ending lead isn't clear or here, such as continuing ochos with growing speed and sharpness, or embarking him into a couple more turns of giros. Really makes him tone down the antics. And that way I get a bit of fun myself, even if it's at his expense. Also ensures he won't invite me again but will look at me from the safety of the other side of the room for the forthcoming months, with an unmistakable look of puzzlement on his face.