Ladies, "Following" is combining with your partner physically, emotionally, and spiritually, to become a single, living, breathing, feeling, two-headed four-legged animal. Understand, however, that this is a real partnership that requires both sides of the two-headed four-legged animal to participate equally. The lady can only "follow" as well as the man leads. Unfortunately or fortunately, the man is in control of this aspect of the partnership.
"Following" has many facets. Unfortunately, if you only take group lessons, you will probably not learn the lead and follow aspects of ballroom dancing. Group lessons typically create what I call "Pattern Dancers". This is where the man dances a pattern and the lady dances the same pattern. If you don't dance with people that take the same group lessons and learn the same patterns, you are pretty much lost. "Following" is feeling each and every step and truly becoming a single two-headed four-legged animal.
I have ladies tell me: "I am not a ballroom dancer but I can follow really well". Typically, they are good guessers. When you dance with them there is this jerky, frantic feeling from the lady. It is hard to believe that she is having fun. At the higher levels of ballroom dancing the lady needs more than being able to guess what is going on or guessing what pattern to dance. The lady needs to be a "trained ballroom dancer".
What does a "trained ballroom dancer" mean? A trained ballroom dancer has to feel every step and the subcomponents of each movement as well as understanding the unique aspects of four-legged movement. I hesitate to call these aspects "rules" of four-legged movement but that is about the best word to describe them.
I have had students say: "Ballroom is too structured and has too many rules". In reality, we all use similar types of rules all of the time in two-legged movement and never think a thing of it. For example, a two-legged rule is that you must put one foot in front of the other to be able to walk across the room. If you keep putting your feet together, you will not progress across the room. No one ever thinks of this as a two-legged rule, but it is. Four-legged movement has many rules that are different than two-legged movement because it is so much more complicated. An example of a four-legged rule would be that the lady is to keep her shoulders parallel to the leader unless the leader overrides that position. This allows the leader to be able control the ladies shape.
"Following" means to be able to seamlessly be in concert with the leader. How is this accomplished? There is not a single thing that constitutes following. There are many different things required to be able to create oneness with your partner. The connection through the "frame" is the best place to start. This is the primary communication link to your partner. The "frame" connection should be as light as possible yet strong enough to be able to feel your partner's whole body. What is the lady trying to feel? Everything!! She must feel the leaders supporting leg providing power, she must feel the shape being created by the leader, and she must feel the three different rises and falls in Waltz (ankle, leg and body). These are just a few examples of things the follower must feel. She must be trained to allow leg swing in Waltz. She must be trained to know what her head feels like when it is in the correct position depending on the dance position (closed, promenade, etc.). She needs to be trained to feel and move from the supporting ankle when dancing Rhythm/Latin. These are just the tip of the iceberg of the training necessary for the follower. These things are just not conducive to be taught in group classes. The instructor must get his/her hands on the student to be able to teach her the feeling of the specific aspects of following.
It is not possible for the follower to be able to think of all of these different things while dancing. It eventually becomes a whole body feeling that will intuitively create the correct response to the lead. There is no substitute for repetition. It is typically not possible to acquire all of these skills at the same time. The "follower" evolves over time growing the feeling of following.
As stated above, the "follower" can dance only as well as the leader leads. The leader must create the opportunity for the lady to be able to "follow". The common next question is: "Why should I learn all of these "following" skills when there are so seemingly few men capable of creating a good lead? The better your ability to "follow" the better you can follow a no so good lead. However, when you do find a good leader, the experience is extraordinary.