No More Secrets – A Case for Leading the Swivel

The concept of leading swivels is topic that comes up time and again as Evita and I teach at events around the globe.  It always raises a few eyebrows (if not worse) when we describe how and why I lead swivels for my partner. I am a firm believer that swivels can be lead, and it is my most common way to lead swing outs.  But through many discussions with leaders and followers about this idea, I have learned that not only is this not a commonly held belief by dancers, but that actually leading the swivel might even be frowned upon. I’d like to explore some ideas surrounding this topic, and I would love to hear your thoughts about this idea.

How Do I lead the swivel?

I first want to establish how I lead the swivel before exploring the artistic merits of such an endeavor.  Simply speaking, I believe that leading a follow entails putting energy into them. I sometimes think of leading as continuously knocking a follow off their center axis, such that they must continuously recover by stepping, and if timed well, they will do so by stepping on the beat of some song that is playing in the far-off background. Now, of course that’s not the most eloquent description of how we do our dance, but I feel like the language teachers often use in the classroom nowadays “dances around” (pardon the pun) the physical dynamics of lead and follow.  Pushing and pulling are actual forces that I apply to a Follow to give them an indication as to where I’d like them to go.  Doing so in a refined way is the difference between a rough lead and a lovely lead.  So, the swivel is a slightly rotational lead felt through the hand, arm and shoulders – a side to side/oscillating action that encourages the hips and feet to twist, and it’s often used as a variation on or replacement of the basic “step, step” at the beginning of a swing out.

Common Pitfalls of Leading a Swivel

  • Rainbow Leading

This is where the Lead moves the hand connection in an arch from side to side. The rise and fall is an extraneous gesture that doesn’t translate well through the Follow’s shoulders and hips

  • Doorknob Turning

Here, the Lead twists the hand connection in a manner like opening a door, and this can be uncomfortable or even painful for a Follow. Please don’t!

  • Over-Exaggerated Gesture

By this, I mean that the side-to-side lead of the hand connection is just too great. When I lead the swivel it is a small, almost nuanced gesture.

When do I lead such a thing?

I tend to lead this gesture on the even beat at the end of the second triple step of a basic figure, so on the word, “step” of triple step. This could be at the end of a swing out or on a 6-count pass, for example, and I find that this gesture of pushing the hand connection to the right fits well with shapes that have the Follow already rotating to the left. I see this lead as honoring the movement that came before it, which is why it shouldn’t feel abrasive or disruptive to the Follow’s journey.

When looking at the specific moment of counts 1 & 2, I see shaping those beginning counts of a swing out as clearly asking for a specific movement from a follower. Leading them to twist right then left is a clear instruction as to where, when and how they step. And in truth, when I lead it, it’s actually a twist that begins on count 8 to the follower’s left on their left foot, right-left on counts 1-2 and a final twist to the right on count 3 into the triple step for our face-to-face/squared off position.

So Then, Is Leading the Swivel Bad?

The biggest objection I’ve heard to Leads leading the swivel is that it stifles a follow’s ability to self-express. So, then the question arises about stifled creativity inasmuch as, if I do this, can the follow do anything other than the twist? They can certainly still add footwork variations other than step, step, step on counts 8, 1, 2, even while rotating. But don’t mistake my example as a meek concession to the possibilities that exist. When I dance with Evita and other top follows, they have very clear and creative ideas about how to interpret this type of lead. If they want something other than a swivel then they will ask that of me with a clarity in the hand hold so that I know they’re doing something different.

That’s All Well and Good, but…

“If my Lead doesn’t lead the swivel, does this mean I can’t or shouldn’t swivel?” That is one of the most common responses we hear from Follows when we’re teaching this idea in class, and our short response is, “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t swivel, but we are asking that you not disconnect your body at the shoulder, such that the Lead can’t feel your twist.”  When a Follow doesn’t let their movement translate through from their feet to the hips to the shoulders and ultimately, to the hand connection, we refer to that as “keeping secrets.” It’s as if the Follow says, “ I’ll allow you to hold my hand, but you don’t get access to my center,” and it doesn’t involve or include the Lead in the process. Ultimately, Evita and I both really appreciate and enjoy connection, and we’re always interested in creating a more connected dance for both partners. The swivel is a wonderful moment of expression for the Follow, but whatever choices are made in the name of self-expression or style, we are most concerned with both dancers communicating their movements through connection. So tell me, have you experienced the lead/follow connection in the swivel? Does this idea sound comforting, restrictive, terrifying, familiar or completely foreign? Let us know in the comments below.

31 thoughts on “No More Secrets – A Case for Leading the Swivel”

  1. Great post! I used to be really opposed to leading swivels, because so many people do it poorly (in the ways you’ve listed). Recently, as I’ve danced with more leads who can lead them comfortably, and as I’ve improved as a follow, I’ve really come to enjoy the connection of well-led swivels.

    • Hey Alex, thanks for the comment, and I’m glad to hear that your experiences are in line with what we have also experienced. So often, I tell skeptics (especially Follows) that when done well, leading the swivel doesn’t feel cumbersome nor oppressive.

    • …and thank you for the feedback. Even if your Leads don’t want to/can’t lead swivels, you being open to the idea is great. Good luck and be safe out there. 😉

  2. I probably won’t ask leads to do it, if they don’t already, due to the pitfalls that I’ve experienced.
    However, I’ve never really tried leading swivels and shall give it a try. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. I hated it when I first did it in your classes. Once I figured out I was doing it poorly and got a little better though, I was a quick convert 🙂 now I adore feeling some rotational connection through some shared swivels. Much love 🙂

    • Hello good sir,

      I know it’s a crazy adjustment, but you and Susie do such a great job with it. Also, I think you’ve been able to take this concept and adapt it to your needs, which is the most valuable use of anyone’s sharing of knowledge. I also appreciate that you scrutinized the validity of this concept instead of outright accepting it. Keep on a-rockin’ brotha!

  4. Hey Michael,
    interesting to hear your thoughts! I’ve recently been taught a lot of ‘open’ leading, so currently I am more on the ‘not leading swivels’ side, but I can see advantages and disadvantages on both sides. I am wondering more what I should teach as a standard to lower levels – I am again leaning towards the more open leading, since intermediate leads will likely fall into the pitfalls listed above, and as a follow it can be confining if everything is always completely led, especially since most of us (and again thinking of the intermediates I am mostly teaching) are not Evita and do not nearly know as many variations as she does. So maybe teach ‘gently’ lead swivels at int/ad levels? or would you teach led swivels as a standard from the start?
    see you at the BBDC 🙂

    • Hallo Sara,

      I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk this past weekend at BB Dance because I really wanted to hear your thoughts on ‘open’ leading. As to question of what to teach when, there is no one correct answer, but I’d say that, in my opinion, it is better to get students acquainted with the idea of feeling actual connection early on in their dancing rather than trying to get them to understand connection once habits have developed. I don’t think I’d give this info to absolute beginners, to be clear.

      Thank you again, and next time we see each other one of us WILL be bolder and reach out to the other to make time for this conversation 😉

  5. I first learned this concept from you less than a year into my dancing at my first workshop. I thought this was the weirdest thing and it was counterintuitive to what I knew at the time as I was always taught swivels were a styling that the followers did and the lead’s sole job was to be a good counterbalancing base. A couple years later, I had the opportunity to once again take classes with you and we revisited this concept. I had a lot more practice hours under my belt, but not with leading swivels. In that time, however, I had broken the bad habits you outlined (mostly rainbow and over-exaggeration as I didn’t do much twisting) so leading swivels felt easier, flowed with the dance, and seemed more natural.

    Another concept that I first learned was that variations should not affect the connection in the partnership to where it feels different than the baseline movements. Later classes I took (like a couple with Naomi Uyama and Peter Strom) have since helped me to break out of this mindset, because why wouldn’t a variation affect your connection?

    All of this progress in my dancing has brought me to a point where I utilize leading swivels as an additional tool in my dancing. While it is not my baseline, as at times I like to leave a completely blank slate for my partner (right now I’m working on listening to my partner more and letting it affect my leading), I find it to be an incredibly useful skill to have. It’s such a good feeling when I ask for big swivels in an especially energetic moment in a song and my partner is right there with me.

    • Hi Bryan,

      Wow, it’s always cool to see a Cliff’s Notes version of someone’s journey like you just offered. It is certainly difficult to incorporate this technique at any stage of one’s dancing, especially when it’s ALL so new. I’ll probably have an addendum to the article at some point to further illustrate my philosophy, but at the moment, I’ll simply say that the gesture I use to initiate the swivel doesn’t have just that one function. It actually serves many other ideas and possibilities. It’s like a kitchen tool that has many functions, so its value to me is higher than that one specialty device for that one cooking technique.

      Thanks for sharing, and take care.

  6. Ha ha! I wish every leader was as aware as that. I imagine the complaints about stifling creativity refer to “over-leading,” which you addressed well! Personally, I like the leader to ‘start’ and ‘stop’ the swivel, and let me handle the rest!

    • Hi Sandra,

      I also wish awareness in a thoughtful way was more prevalent amongst both Leads and Follows. We’re working on spreading that message, one workshop (and through this platform) at a time. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond, and take care.

  7. Is there any reason to treat leading swivels differently from leading any other move? If leading swivels is ‘bad’, then is leading anything else ‘bad’ as well?
    Speaking personally, when a follow decides she wants to swivel, originated by her, I try and match that, sometimes I manage to do it in time and sometimes I don’t.
    But I really can’t see the difference between leading swivels or any other move.
    Interested in your thoughts on this.

    • Exactly! I couldn’t have asked a better question because I feel like it is a movement like every other. I can’t understand how the argument against leading a swivel isn’t also applied to a swing out, tuck turn, pass, etc. Thank you, Peggy.

  8. Hey Michael, great post! I used to feel that swivel is a moment for the follow only, but now I really like when my partner is leading it. The thing is I’ve been to so many classes and everyone is teaching it different! That the swivel should not interfere with what the lead does. So basically it’s confusing! *sigh*

    • It is so confusing, we know. Everyone has a different philosophy about how, what and when something should be done. To me, all of this is analogous to religion inasmuch as we may all believe in a higher power of sorts, a God if you will, but the “right way of living” will vary among denominations. Therefore, I as everyone to look within themselves to find their truth, which means taking everything teachers tell them with a grain of salt. Nina, to you I say carry on and continue questioning why your truth is what it is, and allow your beliefs to evolve as you grow.

  9. I like to have the ‘swivel lead’ available for the follow if she’s (sorry, they’re) up for it.. if they’re a ‘swiveller’. So I normally lead the swivel on 8 for a couple of swing outs and if the follow reacts to it and uses the lead then will continue to put the lead in there. I think it can give the follow the confidence to use the lead to exaggerate their swivel. But for me it’s like a feedback mechanism or mirror for my partner whereby we match each other, and the degree of subtlety of the lead depends upon our partnership, but the subtler the better.
    Just read this back and it seems a bit gibberish but I’ll post anyway!

  10. As a follow that HASN’T done the “led swivels class” I just thought I would chip in becuase (in demonstrating another moving on me in a class at lindy Shock) Michael led a swivel on me at the end of the movement. It felt absolutely fabulous and exphasised the continuation of momentum in such an amazing way BUT at the same time I could feel that I still had plenty of room to make other choices or varaitions and there would still be time for this and a smooth redirection into it. In summary, SUPER AWESOME 🙂

    Since I was not anticpating it and haven’t really experienced that before I thought it might be useful to hear the experience of an uninitiated follow to it.

    • Hi Isobel, and thank you for your insight as someone who was until somewhat recently uninitiated. I also appreciate your compliment, though I wasn’t fishing, promise.

      I don’t follow often, but when I have, I appreciate being moved in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I know every Follow values different things, but I suppose I’d fall into the category of Follow who is happy to be responsive more so than occupying my thoughts with having something to say all the time. All that to say, I resonate with your positive experience of feeling the lead and responding in kind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Myself and regular partner(wife) were certainly influenced into the do not lead swivels camp at Herrang quite a few years ago. We attended one of your workshops since, where you introduced the idea of swivels being led and we were not convinced.
    However, this blog post has stimulated our interest into working on the subject again. Thank you.

    • Hi Mark, Thanks for writing and thank you for giving it another thought. I understand the difficulty of the subject, but in truth I have always felt better support and communication while dancing with Michael because of this. Glad to have peaked your interest again. – Evita

  12. It’s such a great post about “leading swivel” which explain to me some doubts I had in mind for awhile. From my experience, I have a feeling that it starts by count# 7-8 when the leads actually leads by encouraging/help the follow to over rotate to left depends on the lead is actively leading or just provide a possibility to the follow to choose from and then if the follow takes the option , lead would continue with the hand connection in count1-2.

  13. Hi Michael & Evita, We have started concentrating on Henry leading the swivel, sometime ago I found a video on here of Michael explaining it, also some old videos of yourselves dancing. I cannot find them now. Are they still on here somewhere, and if so where can I
    find them.
    Therese n Henry

    • Hi Therese and Henry, I’m going to refer you to a thread in the Members Forum where we posted some videos that help answer this. When you go to the forum, be sure to look at the 2nd and 3rd page of the discussion. Scroll all the way down to the bottom after the last conversation and you will see the page options just below the text box. This discussion was in “Student Videos” – “Swingouts and Swivels”.

  14. Hi Michael. Thank you for the great post! I had just been wondering whent to swivel recently (I’m a very beginner follower). Although I understood HOW to swivel by watching some tutorial videos, they didn’t tell me WHEN to swivel. Thanks again, I’ll try to feel leaders’ leads more carefully:))

  15. Before the online lesson about the Elbow Pop, I never thought about leading swivels — other than occasionally reminding my practice partner, verbally, to swivel as we did swing outs. In that Elbow Pop lesson, I asked if it would make a difference in how the move worked if the Follow swiveled. Then I could see that you actually lead a swivel sometimes and not others. Seems like something I’ll have to try.

    Though I haven’t lead a swivel, I have done things that helped the Follow to swivel. In some lessons, I was taught to give a slight, momentary “bump” to send the Follow back on “6”. I later read about how Irene Thomas wanted her partners to do that because it helped her get back more quickly and gave her more time and space to do swivels. I also incorporated moving back a little on my 7&8 and giving more of a constant pull on “2”. That created momentum which helped me swing around my partner quickly on the 3&4 and resulted in something close to a “Whip” style.

    Suddenly, my practice partner was doing great swivels and I didn’t need to remind her anymore. Then, at the end of one Latin Night, the DJ played some swing music. I asked a lady to dance who had told me she never did Lindy. I was able to lead her into a swing out and added the “bump” out on “6”. I noticed she was doing some great swivels and commented that Lindy Hoppers work for quite a while to get that good. She said, “It just feels like what my body wants to do.”

    I’m going to try adding the lead for swivels — especially with Follows who have said they are having difficulties — and see what happens.

  16. Hi! I was just at Camp Jitterbug with you two, and you mentioned this idea at the end of your Seamless Conversations class but we didn’t get to expound on it, so I’m super glad to be coming across this post!
    Also, directly after that lesson, I happened to have a dance with someone who led the swivels just how you described, and I am now 100% on the led-swivels side. Our connection throughout the dance was magnificent, I had no problem following anything he wanted to lead, and my swivels felt effortless and styled exactly how I try to make them regularly. It made me realize how much harder the follower has to work if the leader is either not leading swivels or, as I’ve encountered, disconnects completely in an effort to let me do my own styling.
    My swivels are something I’ve struggled with, both in consistency and technique, because my first lindy teachers were steadfastly against follows learning swivels. But having the swivel led just slightly makes up for what I’m lacking in confidence and consistency. And now that I think about it, some of my favorite leaders and dances that I’ve had have been because of that style of leading. Go figure!

    • Jordan…that’s awesome!! And it’s exactly because of stories like yours that we will continue to make our case for leading swivels. It’s definitely not the easier path to go down, as a more nuanced connection is needed for such movements. But as you discovered, when we work together in the partnership, it makes all things much easier. Thank you for sharing your experience, and I hope you continue to have these positive growth moments in the dance. Truly inspiring.

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