So how does this up/down orientation affect dancing among leaders? As someone who predominantly leads, I noticed in writing this that I had somewhat more concrete ideas of what a lead’s orientation should be. My first lessons in Lindy actually came from a West Coast Swing instructor that involved a lot of anchoring and creating a grounded pivot point, etc. Writing this post, I was reminded that there is a lot more room for variation than what I was originally taught.
As in the previous follower post, I’ll be using a selection of three modern Lindy leads to illustrate a very general idea of the differences that an up, down, or more evenly split orientation can produce. Most of us will naturally be drawn more to one aesthetic than the others, but I recommend trying to watch this with a certain neutrality. Each of these dancers and orientations has benefits and drawbacks and lend themselves to certain moves or visuals.
For the leads, I have selected Juan Villafane as a good example of upward orientation, Peter Strom as a representation of downward, and Skye Humphries as an example of a more evenly split orientation. I think it is also worth noting that the clips of Juan and Peter have a second song where they were given a choice between neo-swing and club music. Each of them end up dancing to a style of music that compliments their orientation (the up of Neo-Swing for Juan and the down of Super Club Jam for Peter).
Up Orientation – Juan Villafane
Watching Juan’s dancing, it is easy to see how he and Sharon Davis ended up paired together stylistically. Juan has a similarly floaty style of motion driven by an upward orientation in his dancing. Juan’s triples tend to move as if they are hanging from his body, giving an interesting sliding quality to his footwork. On his rocksteps, you can see Juan’s foot tends to travel back more laterally, hanging in the air more than digging into the floor behind him. This upward orientation also gives him some options to use his torso and arms more to drive motion. On a few swingouts and side passes you can see Juan move as much or more than his partner and actually begin moving himself off of her before she begins to move. On his spin around :59, Juan’s lightness helps him to move off of Laura’s anchoring and into a spin. And finally, at 3:05 you can see how Juan uses more of an upward motion to recover from his split. On his first attempt to come up, his arms are not involved, but on the second attempt as he starts to reach back and up with his right arm, he is able to pop up easily. Overall, Juan’s up orientation lends a lightness to his movement and a strong ability to use his partner’s connection to aid in his own movement.
Down Orientation – Peter Strom
Peter Strom is someone I consider to have a strong down orientation to his dancing. As you watch him move, you can see the dynamic and energy of his movement shift as he moves between an upright posture and a more down motion. In a sense, Peter can cruise when he is more upright, but when he’s turning up the energy, he drops down more and gets a lot of his energy out of his legs and the ground. In contrast to Juan’s rocksteps, you can see Peter’s rockstep tends to extend back a bit less but digs down into the floor more. You can also see Peter really uses the floor more than his partner to make dynamic motion shifts, as in the fast direction change he makes at 1:30. And in the club section, very little of Peter’s moves emphasize the up section of movement. All of his solo dance moves tend to involve a sharper motion and emphasis on the down portion of the step. Overall, Peter’s down orientation lends him a dynamic use of the floor and a sharper, more athletic sense to his movement and styling.
Evenly Split Orientation – Skye Humphries
Skye is another one of those dancers who has always seemed to make dancing effortless. It occurred to me in writing this article that part of it, much like Mia, is that he seems to move up and down with an equal sense of comfort. Skye flows through both jumps and drops at a pretty even rate and without hesitation in either direction. He seems equally able to use his partner to redirect his movements (1:05 and 1:13) or use the ground to redirect (:49). In many of Skye’s movements, you can see him actively extending in multiple directions simultaneously. For instance, in the hopping section at :34 you can see Skye’s feet still reaching for and using the ground while his torso actively extends upwards. Overall, Skye’s split orientation gives him the ability to make a wide variety of movements appear very relaxed and fluid.
As with the follows, none of these options are the right way to dance. These are just three examples of points along a spectrum of what is possible. It should also be noted that while I have referred to Juan and Peter as up or down oriented, it does not mean that Juan has no down and Peter has no up. Simply that they have developed their ability to use one direction more than another.
Everyone has natural tendencies and styles of movement that come easier to them than others, but it is also entirely within reach to work on and develop your abilities with your less natural direction. In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about how to begin developing each orientation and how to assess your own natural tendency.