A Different Kind of Lead and Follow

I was looking at some of the footage of the preliminary rounds for Solo dance portion of “The Battle” when I spotted something unusual.

Check out this clip, starting around 0:32 and the 16 seconds after that.  Don’t read any further until you have.  I’d like you to have your own reaction before you read mine.

In case you missed it I’m referring to Bobby Bonsey (white shirt, red tie) and his move on Jana Grulichova (red shirt and black vest).  If you did miss it then go back and watch it again.  I’ll still be here when you’re done.

I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I’m going to say up that I think that Bobby’s move on Jana was inappropriate.

I’m not sure what they’re relationship to each other is (dance partners, friends, whatever)  But even if they know each other, or if it’s pre-planned, I still don’t think it’s something that should happen in a dance competition.

Aside from being kinda creepy, there’s still the matter of the use of direct contact and partnered lead and follow in a solo contest.

It’s one thing to play off of one another through visual cues or mini-challenges (E.g. I do a move, then you do it better), but by consenting to following something physically led on you, you’re basically submitting to another dancer.  That’s exactly the opposite impression you want to make in a competition.

Check out the 2008 Camp Jitterbug Solo Charleston contest towards the end of the dance off (which starts at 3:50) between Sharon Davis and Carl Nelson.

At 6:01 Sharon links with Carl’s arm and basically takes over.  It’s a close contest up until then, but for me, that’s a make or break point that helps Sharon win 1st place.

Interestingly enough Sharon is a good one to watch for a lesson on when not to get involved head to head.  Check out the semi-final and final rounds of the 2006 Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown Solo Charleston contest.

The all skate starts at about 6:56.  Watch the dynamic between Sharon and Max Pitruzella, the dancer with his injured arm tucked beneath his shirt.

Max spends a lot of time getting into Sharon’s space, trying to bait her into going one-on-one, but Sharon deftly avoids him.  She engages him only when she has to during the beginning of the dance off when there are only two of them, but is able to slip away towards the end.  You can call it fear, but in this case I think it’s smart because going directly head-to-head with Max would play to his strength as a more aggressive dancer.

In modern day b-boy and b-girl battles, there’s an informal rule that dancers should avoid making contact with each other.  This probably stems from the fact that these things tend to get uber-competitive.  Contact can easily be interpreted as aggressive and quickly escalate into something that could get out of hand.

(You can see part two here)

We’re a much smaller community so that’s less likely, but I still think it’s a good thing to discourage because of everyone’s primary background with partner dance.  It becomes too easy to fall back on that dynamic.  A solo dance competition isn’t how well you work with a partner, it’s about how you stand on your own.

However you don’t want to completely ignore everyone else either.  Watch Chance Bushman, (5th dancer, wearing jeans & a short sleeve shirt) in the ULHS 2005 Solo Charleston semi-final (ignore the title on the video).

He doesn’t pay very much attention to the dancers before or after him.  Between that and looking down through most of his shines, he’s a black hole sucking all the energy out of the contest, threatening to collapse the universe around him.

In this same competition keep an eye out for Frida Segerdahl (the second dancer) throughout the comp as she follows the first dancer, Angela Andrews .  In each of her spotlights, she takes a move that Angela before, and cranks it up to 11.

Some great things can happen just by paying attention to what’s going on around you.

At least in my opinion.    Anyone else have an opinion about how appropriate or inappropriate different kinds of contact are in a solo contest?

And just to show that I’m not picking on Bobby, here’s a fun example of him making contact with dancers in a good way.

(Special thanks to Ann Mony whose video suggestions for this post were much better than my original picks even if I used them for completely different reasons)


  1. Sandy said,

    August 7, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Yo, I really liked this post. I’m rather sensitive about personal dynamics in dance (admittedly, mostly male/female dynamics), and I agree wholeheartedly. Can you say, “establishing dominance?” Also, I really like the design of the site, esp. the awesome photo up top.

    • Jerry said,

      August 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks. This is still one of the wordpress pre-packaged themes, but the other one looked too generic, and I figured out how to change the banner pic so it looks a little bit unique.

      I think I might follow this post up with another because I thought of another contrasting example . . .

  2. Anaïs said,

    June 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I read this after your post today, so almost two years after you wrote it.
    That being said, it’s the second time in 2 days that I see a comparison with the B-Boys, about the battle format in dance, the first time being Mary Freitag’s post on her blog. The comparison is legitimate. When we think of a dance battle, we usually picture the street dances. We can also think of other one-to-one format, like in martial arts, capoeira, etc. So I understand the reference.

    But, what is starting to making me feel uncomfortable with the comparison is the elements that are used to highlight the difference between US/THEM. In these 2 blogs, Mary and you talk about our scene, and our dance, the LH, and the B-Boys are used as the only external reference to make a distinction with what we don’t want in our scene. What is it that we don’t want ? “Negativity”, “aggressiveness”, that is “uber-something”, “problematic”, that “escalate into something that could get out of hand”. Meaning violence, irrationality, impulsivity, excessiveness….
    Well, I understand we don’t want that, but do you really think this description, in return and in contrast, fairly defines the B-Boys scene ? I understand that was not your intention, but this is how your discourses mark the boundary between us and them. And this, I find, not legitimate.

    A few weeks ago, I went to a street dance national competition (popping, hip hop, locking, waacking, house, …). All the comps, prelims and finals, were hold in a battle format one-to-one or double-to-double, mixing male and female dancers. One battle, out of I can’t count how many, almost-but-not-likely got into a real fight. Only one ! In all the other battles, you could feel the tension in the air, but only to end with a big hug between the competitors at the end. It’s all an act. The tension is part of the show. And it takes some hell of guts to bring it out there !

    I personally think there’s a lot we can get inspired from the street dances scenes. We have become, or have we always been since the revival, very clean and nice. Now, we even have to be pretty and wear high heels to go to a dance.
    LH used to be a street dance too. And the rage you can feel in Hellzapoppin, you won’t find it by being nice and clean. I firmly don’t think so. And rage can be positive too. In LH, we transform it into JOY !
    Well, I say, I’d rather have some battles in the LH comps’ to push our limits, bring it, and smell the bacon in HAMpton’s dance ! Give me some of that ! mmmmmh.


    PS : I was in CJ and I understand Mary’s point and her frustration. I was also disappointed of seeing so little of Pontus and Frida and of Brittany and Dargoff etc.. But the battle format is, I believe, not in question, but more the length and the choice of song that was tooooo slow ! It didn’t give back enough to the audience.

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