Musicality to me is simply: Music + Brain = Movement. You hear music, your brain process it, and you move to the music. So deceivingly simple. But when you have two people dancing together this complicates it quite a bit. No one hears a sound exactly the same way, just like no one sees exactly the same colors. And even if we all did here exactly the same sound who’s to say were going to move to it exactly the same way. Now imagine 2 people dancing together trying to process the same piece of music with hundreds of sounds which each hears differently and move to it while still trying to be connected. Ladies and gentlemen, you have Lindy Hop!
Musicality is not something one person can hear and the other doesn’t, it’s not magic. Musicality is different from person to person, one person may be listening to the higher notes in the music and the other the low notes. Like wise, the follower could be listening to the drums/base (lower sounds) while the leader to the horns (higher sounds) as in this clip (pay attention around 0:11).
Nina Gilkenson and Mike Faltesek demo to Ochi Chornya by Wingy Manone in Quebec for the no-longer-existing QSRV.
The leader hears something completely different in the music than the follower and wants to accent the horns while the follower thinks it would be much more interesting to accent the drum thud at the end of the intro. Even though they here different things, they do different things they still are dancing together and to the same song. MAGIC!
You cannot “lead” musicality. Yeah, you can lead a certain move that will accent a certain count which the break hits but the follow could always choose to do some insane footwork that accentuates something else in the song. Maybe the leader will lead a plain, good, old, yummy swing out, well the follower can change the whole rhythm of it to fit the song as she hears it as demonstrated beautifully here at around 0:17. Or a plain old sugar push; 0:53. Or just a pass through; 1:09 . Or transition into or out of tandem Charleston (s-turn?) 1:29 and 1:37.
Frida Segerdahl and Mikey Pedroza compete at ILHC in the Invitational J&J to Darktown Strutters Ball.
Notice how even though the leader leads a certain pattern the follower can still add her own musicality to it very easily. Notice how the follow ads a little somthin’ somthin’ at :39 , 1:01, 1:22, and starts a little breezy knees action at 1:12 which the leader catches on to. (I like my knees breezy, please and thank you!)
That little “visual lead” is an integral part of Lindy Hop, at least in my crazy little head. It’s what makes Lindy Hop, Lindy Hop and not ballroom. That is what is meant when you hear people talking about lead and follow as a conversation. One person does something cool, a footwork variation, a styling, a jazz step, and the other catches on. It’s like an exchange of steps or styling, or like a mini competition, where you are trying to out do each other, or game of Simon Says, or just a fun conversation. Frankie describes it the best. You create some thing together, not the leader tells you what to do, but you truly create something together, something you could have never created on your own without a partner because of that conversation with them and the music. Those are the best dances you’ll ever have and you’ll remember them forever. Try to find the visual leads in this here clip all by your lonesome self.
Nina Gilkenson and Mike Faltesek demo at Lindy Focus
Here are my favorites: Apple Jacks at 0:26 and Boogie Forwards at 0:48. Also, something you might have noticed, starting at 0:19 you can also see how Mike is listening to the horns while Nina listens to the piano. Very cool.
The most important thing is to remember that just because the leader is called the leader and the follower is called the follower doesn’t mean the leader can’t play off and visually follow a cool step the follow did. Leaders, try it next time you go dancing! Lead a bunch of swing outs and see what kind of variation the follow comes up with on the 7 and 8, 1 and 2. Then on the next 8 count try to copy what she did. Don’t worry if you didn’t get it exactly right, it’s called social dancing for a reason. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with your own variation. Believe me followers love swing outs, they could do them all night on repeat, so don’t worry about trying to shove in other “moves”. Next try to do your own variation and see if she catches on to it on the next 8 count. Caution: this may cause you to experience the best dance of your life.
In conclusion, the leader doesn’t always have to be dictating every single movement to the follower and the follower can have her own thoughts and impact on the dance you both are creating, and not just blindly following the leader. You can do completely different footwork or styling and still be dancing together. It’s not a dictatorship it’s kind of an anarchy. Rules in Lindy Hop? Pffft.
Now go and dance!