In 99,9% of the cases, leaders don’t have bad intentions while social dancing. However sometimes they forget that not all followers are flexible and fit like Sara Panero and lead us dance moves or figures that are too difficult for us and can thus hurt our bodies.
Since it is much easier to learn to protect ourselves than expect all the leaders in the world to be gentle with us, I’m going to offer some tips on how to avoid injuries or discomfort to our body as a follower in social dance. This comes in handy especially if you have a previous injury that the leader doesn’t know about.
In the dance classes you could just verbally let your partner or instructor know if something feels uncomfortable (and you should!). At a party, when you’re already dancing, the music is loud and things happen fast, you have to physically move yourself out of danger.
In most cases it’s possible to simply stop following and not carry out the movement that could cause discomfort. Remember that a lead is simply an invitation, not a demand. However when the leader is blocking you, holding strongly or the move comes as a surprise, you might have to use some tricks to get out of it. Here is a few of examples of more common figures that might cause issues and how you could exit them.
If doing cambrés or dips hurts your neck or back often, you should avoid them until you have learned the correct technique and spent some time doing strength and mobility training. If the leader is blocking your option of not following or it comes unexpectedly, then instead of pushing your hips forward and up, like you would normally do, you can try “sitting down” with your bum or leading your hips back instead. You can finish it as a stylish squat or a beautiful arch forward and anyone looking from the outside wouldn’t be able to tell that something went wrong.
2. Strong Grip
Sometimes leaders may grab or hold your hands very strongly during the dance in an attempt to “control you better”. If it starts getting uncomfortable, we can loosen our arms so that they’re limp and he can no longer lead us. In the case of them really twisting our wrists where holding hands softly isn’t helping, you can ask them to soften up verbally.
3. Knee Jerking
Sometimes leaders are taught to lead body isolations by grabbing your knee in between theirs. I don’t know if there has been a misunderstanding by the students, but knees cannot anatomically bend to the sides, only back and forth. So this is definitely a place for possible injuries or uncomfortable leading. Since you’re in this position with the knees slightly bent, the easiest way to get out of it is to straighten your knees and send your hips back, maybe step a little further away as well. Sometimes they may grip your knee so hard you can’t get out – in this case make a verbal “ouch” and explain that it feels uncomfortable.
4. Head Movements
Big head movements that include upper body require, among other things, an impeccable posture and very good balance. If you haven’t had proper training in head movements yet but you are being lead them at parties, you risk hurting your neck. To protect yourself, it’s best to do the head movements smaller and never let your neck relax completely to the back. Instead of throwing your head back, think about opening your chest and looking straight up. Relaxing the head to the sides and front is usually safe.
At social dance parties there are dancers with all kinds of movement backgrounds and levels of mobility. Leaders might not know how to distinguish between someone who is more or less capable for certain movements, especially if they’ve never been in the follower’s role themselves or they haven’t danced for long. Our health and wellbeing as followers is ultimately our responsibility, so when certain dance moves hurt us or cause discomfort, we need to take action by not executing the move, even if it’s being lead or wiggling ourselves out of it.