Leading with the arms instead of the body is not only wrong from a basic lead/follow standpoint, but it results in bad body lines, which will make your dancing look awful.
I follow on a regular basis and I will argue that body leads ARE easier to follow. And in most cases less painful. It's possible to lead with only the arm exactly as if leading with the body, without the leads being painful. But, this is _so_ much harder to do than it looks that many (most?) teachers recommend against it. Watch the people around you. People are used to waving their hands around at speeds in excess of 20 MPH. If you try to leadwith your hands you will probably move them far faster than you can move your tummy. Since this is also faster than your partner can move her body, if she tries to stay connected to her hand then something will get pulled apart and this is where pain can occur. You probably don't notice how fast you move your hands. If you learn to follow, you *will* notice how fast other leaders try move their hands (as well as a lot of other problems that can occur with leading in general.) If you lead with your body, then your lead will automatically be scaled to an acceleration and velocity at which humans can comfortably move themselves. This almost guarantees a more comfortable lead. The situation where it's useful for the leader to move his lead hand separate from his body is where he is moving his hand *less* than his body, e.g. maintaining a stable balance point while doing a solo body syncopation or ripple.
Body leads ARE easier to follow. And in most cases less painful. Body leads do NOT inherently extend the slot in WCS! Body leads, like arm leads, can be light or strong. A "light" body lead does not have to extend the slot. The size of the backstep and the body placement determines the strength of the lead. As a matter of fact the better you get at body leads the smaller your steps become. As a dancer first learns to use his body to lead, his steps will be longer and larger. This will make for a much longer slot... in the beginning. As the leader grows in skill and really learns to use his body rather then his arms, he will find that the length of his step is not as important as where his body is in relation to his foot. Hopefully his body is over his foot, and that his foot is in the proper position (in his slot, not his neighbors slot)
I believe that most people will find, when they examine how they do arm leads in a short slot, that they use a body lead to get the follower moving for the first few inches, and then they take up the rest of the slack by bending the arm more. It's conservation of momentum, equal and opposite force, etc. If the leader accelerates the follower toward him, then an equal force will also accelerate him toward the follower. If he doesn't pre or post compensate, then he will crash into her. One way to precompensate is to first use the floor to accelerate himself backwards and then transfer this momentum to the lady, e.g. a body lead.
Various types of hand-on-waist checks in WCS, Cha-cha, and other dances, involve -- at first glance -- the leader moving in one direction while he leads the follower to move in the opposite direction. Once again, careful examination shows that the person who leads well performs a brief body lead, moving in the same direction as the follower for a few inches, and then changes direction and completes the lead with the arm.
The leader should be leading with his body. The follower shouldn't be watching his body (look at his face, even if his body might be better lookin' :^), but instead reading his body lead from whatever you have in contact, which is usually just some fingers. One handed leads (physical contact in one hand, such as is the case most of the time in swing) can be done as body leads, just as dance frame leads (by which I mean about five points of contact, as in strict international style waltz/foxtrot/quickstep) can be. While either set of contact(s) can be led from the center or with the arms and hands, leading from the center is clearly preferable.
As far as leading in general, I (Debbie Ramsey) have to side with those that consider leading with your body (center, frame) to be the most efficient and clear lead there is. I do not believe that you can get the same results with a hand lead (either one or two hands) as you can with a body lead (I thing hand leads can be very confusing). Those who truly believe that hand leads are better could try blindfolding their follower and see if she can follow the lead... I use this as another form of learning how to lead. If you can lead someone through a pattern using just the lead and feel, then it's working (unfortunately this method won't work well if the follower isn't following). After almost 20 years teaching I have found that the body leads (using the center) (in any dance) work much more often and are not only clearer but much more pleasurable to follow. "You must receive to believe"
Lead/follow cues, in the smooth dances, come from the man's body position and the direction of his movement, and a bit from the rest of his frame, including arms. (note: he does NOT just push his partner around with his arms!) In Latin, the lead comes from a strong connection through the arms, and eye contact/visual cues are extremely important and are used as a lead technique as well.
A man's leads originate with his body, NOT with his hands nor arms. The hands and arms provide 1) the connection to the body and 2) fine tuning (i.e. indication of a loop or an arch, to continue or to stop spinning, etc.) In open facing position (in most any ballroom dance) the man provides the lead by having a solid (but not stiff) frame and tone in his arms (slightly relaxed and not tensed muscle). The "gross" leads are made with the body (i.e. position, direction, distance) and the "fine tuning" is done with the arms (only minimally with the hands). Granted, in beginning east-coast swing, most patterns involve mostly "fine tuning" since it is often done in a relatively small spot on the dance floor.
Leaders or followers should never lean back or forward except in figures such as a lunge or contra-check. However, a slight body angle backwards or forwards is used to create a pulling or pushing force. West coast swing has a slight body angle backwards to create the connection between partners. By the way, to get the proper feeling of "hanging back", stand straight up in front of a counter/table/door, etc. just so you can hold it while standing straight. Then move your feet 4" forward keeping your body in the same place. Your arm will have a slight tone, and your arm and body will be connected all the way to your feet. Good connection on the anchor-step will allow both bodies move together as a single connected unit on count 1.
A lead always comes from the body - i.e. the leader moves his center of gravity (cg), and the follower will follow providing there is good frame on both parts. The arms just connect the bodies. From closed position as in waltz, if the leader moves his cg forward, his feet will move, and the follower will also start to move, her cg (body) and then feet. To start from open position as in WCS, if the leader moves his cg backward, his feet should follow. The moving of his whole body (starting at cg) should be the lead for the follower to move forward, not the pulling of the arm. You often see a WCS leader pulling (leading) the woman down the slot while he is moving immediately to the side. Actually in this move, the lead is the very first part of the move; the leader's cg initially moves straight back before he steps to the side. From a purely lead and follow standpoint the leader's cg (and body) must actually be moving backwards to start. Then after the follower is moving, he can step to the side. (The step to the side will be back a bit also).
I find that, for me, body leads start turning into arm leads when followers don't power themselves down the slot. When a follower feels like a dead weight, she starts to get treated like one, being pushed and pulled instead of led. (I'm not saying this is right, but it is what happens under "combat conditions".) Unfortunately, once arm leading starts, it tends to carry over to the next dance. Even if follower #2 is responsive, so it feels better to the leader, SHE still feels my high arm tension and may stiffen up in response. Now she is harder to lead and the leader may apply more muscle. A hard cycle to break.
Oh, one thing about leaders learning to follow: unless they are being led by members of the Russian weight lifting team, there is no way most men will ever feel the intimidation women commonly experience. And if it's a leader/follower role reversal -- well, how man guys worry about being woman-handled?
Unfortunately, there is often positive reinforcement of bad dancing habits. When I've danced with women whose regular partners favor arm leads, these women don't respond quite as well to body leads (i.e., she won't recognize it as a lead unless she feels the leader's arm contract). Then if her regular partner tries body leads, she doesn't quite follow, he gets frustrated and reverts to the arm lead that she responds to. It's a great argument for dancing around with a lot of different people.
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This file is part of the lead/follow FAQ list. These are articles compiled from the newsgroup rec.arts.dance by Mark Balzer. Html-isation by Victor Eijkhout, victor at eijkhout dot net. See also the Rec Arts Dance FAQ list Copyright 1996/7/8/9 lies with the compiler, the maintainer and the contributors of various parts.
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