by Mark Van Schuyver
The floor was exceptionally crowded and slot space limited. My partner wore a smile and I was proud of myself for keeping her safe and managing a good dance. As the song ended, she took my hand inviting me to lead the way through the dissipating crowd and off of the floor. Nearby a big fellow and partner were still moving, though the music had stopped. Suddenly he threw the woman into a harsh spin diagonal to his slot. The woman fell backward. My partner did not scream when the womans heel dug into her ankle. I helped her limp off of the floor. The couple continued to dance in reckless silence, offering no apology and expressing no concern.
Accidents caused by reckless leaders happen to followers all too often. My first instinct was anger at the other leader for being blind, careless, and unapologetic. Then it occurred to me that the incident was actually my fault. I could have prevented the injury if I had kept my followers safety in mind for a few seconds longer. When she took my hand, she entrusted me to guide her through the crowd. I walked her right into a hazard. I made a promise to myself in that instant. I vowed, from that moment forward, to pay even more attention to the safety of my partner. Protecting her from harm will be my number one priority from now on.
To scope out the floor in advance of each dance, profiling the reckless and avoiding them.
To pick a safe path when escorting the woman to the dance floor.
To look at my partner during the dance. Crashes occur when the leader looks one way and leads the other.
To dance "in-space." In crowed conditions, I am going to create a shorter slot and stay in it.
To switch before fighting. I promise to move along, to find another space away from the dangerous types.
To alter my stuff. In crowded dance conditions I promise to tone down and reduce complexity for safety.
To forfeit any move. To protect my follower, I promise to abort any move that puts her in danger.
I promise never to hurt the follower. I believe that most dance injuries are done by the leader to his own follower. In Tulsa, I watched a veteran leader crack the tailbone of a rookie follower by sending her into a blazing free spin months beyond her ability to execute. In Atlanta another follower went air-born and horizontal before landing with a thud on the hard wood. Her leader, an advanced competition dancer, did not apologize. He said it was her fault. One Atlanta follower I know has a beautiful porcelain tooth complements of a reckless leaders elbow. He showed his lack of concern by not offering to pay for the damage. A few months ago I watched as a leader stepped on his followers foot then swept outward and hit another follower with his cowboy boots. He did not apologize. Evidently he did not even realized that he stepped on two women in one dance. Too many followers suffer crushed fingers, broken bones, pulled muscles, bruises, and sprained wrists at the hands of careless leaders.
If the number one concern of the follower is avoiding injury while having fun, then followers have a job to do too. They must 1) tell the leader when they are hurt or when they believe that they are in danger, and 2) they must make it clear that this is not acceptable.
Most leaders want to please their partner. They strive to impress but very often forget or do not know how easy it is to cause an injury. Followers must provide feedback on pain and avoid dancing with leaders that wont listen and do not learn.
I have always tried very hard to protect my partners during the dance. The responsibility, however, occasionally extends beyond the actual dance itself. I could, for example, easily have prevented that painful "post-dance" heel spike my partner suffered last week. The dance was over, but she keep my hand inviting me to lead the way through the crowd and off of the floor. Had I been more aware of the reckless dancer who did not stop with the music I would have guided her clear of him and prevented a minor injury. From now on, I promise that keeping the follower from harm will be my number one dance priority.
Mark Van Schuyver lives in Atlanta. He is a writer and a West Coast Swing enthusiast with over thirteen years experience dancing. More than 100 of his articles have been published in national magazines including many on the subject of dance. You can reach Mark at by e-mail at Zarrdd@bigfoot.com.