In west coast swing, movement by the follower towards the leader results from an away, or leverage, connection. This partner exercise is designed to help both partners maintain that connection.
Mario Robau describes the away connection in terms of waterskiing. The leader is the boat and the follower is the waterskier. Several things have to occur in order for the waterskier to be comfortably “led” by the boat:
- The boat must be moving in the direction that the waterskier will travel (setting aside cases where the boat turns, which adds in centripetal force and is unnecessary at this point since WCS is a slotted dance). If the boat is moving towards the waterskier, the rope will get slack and the motive power will no longer be transmitted to the skier’s body.
- The center of balance for the boat must be in front of the boat’s motor. If the boat’s center of balance is at, or behind, the motor, the boat will be pulled over from the combination of the boat’s mass and the mass of the waterskier.
- The rope must be taut between the boat and the waterskier. If the rope goes slack, the skier will coast to a stop and eventually sink. If there is slack in the rope and then the rope is pulled tight (from, e.g., the boat accelerating), the waterskier may be pulled off balance and will definitely feel the jerk in the shoulder.
- The skier must keep his or her center of balance behind the feet. If the skier’s center comes over the feet, the boat’s pull through the rope will result in a faceplant.
All of these things also must occur for a comfortable away connection in WCS. If the follower’s or leader’s center comes over the feet, that person will be pulled off balance. If there is slack in the arms, shoulders will get injured when the slack is removed, just like a waterskier can be hurt by a boat driver who guns the engine while the rope is still slack. Finally, the leader and follower must be moving their centers in the same direction (which is hopefully the direction chosen by the leader).
The Drill: The partners should connect in a standard open position as if they had just completed an anchor. The follower may choose to close her eyes in order to make sure that she’s following the connection, and not her partner’s visual cues.
Without music, and without moving to any specific rhythm, the leader should walk backwards. Both partners should focus on keeping the same connection weight throughout the movement. If the connection loosens briefly, it indicates that the follower moved too far or too fast; if the connection gets heavier, it indicates that the follower took too small or too slow of a step.
Now, switch roles. Leaders, you need to be able to respond to the size of your follower’s movement just as much as she needs to respond to the degree of your lead: that’s what allows you to cushion the posting action right before the anchor, maintain the right distance while the follower is spinning, and work off your follower’s play. So, do the drill again in the opposite role.
If you have a video camera, you can record the movement to make sure that both partners are moving together. What you should see is the leader’s feet moving before the follower’s, but both feet land at the same time and the centers stay an equal distance apart throughout the entire movement.
Bonus Variations: Once both partners are comfortable keeping the connection while simply moving backwards, try moving to different rhythm patterns (e.g., walk walk vs. triple step) and taking different size steps. The follower should be able to maintain the same connection no matter what the leader throws at her. (Good luck!)
The next level of this drill is dancing basic WCS patterns. Every WCS basic should have this away connection through at least the first two beats, so practice feeling this constant away connection all the way through beat 2. Leaders: you should pay particular attention to beat 2 of your right side patterns (right side pass and whip), especially if you cross in front on 2. Even though your right foot is in front of your left, your center should still be back relative to your partner. If there is slack in the connection on the 2 of these patterns but not the 2 of a left side pass, chances are that it’s your fault for bringing your center forward.