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.