Trevor Copp: When "Dancing With the Stars"
first hit the airwaves,
that is not what it looked like.
Jeff and I were full-time
ballroom dance instructors
when the big TV ballroom revival hit,
and this was incredible.
I mean, one day we would say "foxtrot,"
and people were like "Foxes trotting."
And the next day they were telling us
the finer points of a good feather step.
And this blew our minds.
I mean, all of the ballroom dance
geeking out that we had always done
on why salsa worked differently
than the competitive rumba
and why tango traveled unlike the waltz,
all of that just hit
the public consciousness,
and it changed everything.
But running parallel to this excitement,
the excitement that suddenly,
somehow, we were cool --
there was also this reservation.
Why this and why now?
Jeff Fox: When Trevor and I
would get together for training seminars
or just for fun,
we'd toss each other around, mix it up,
take a break from having
to lead all the time.
We even came up with a system
for switching lead and follow
while we were dancing,
as a way of taking turns and playing fair.
It wasn't until we used that system
as part of a performance
in a small festival
that we got an important tap
on the shoulder.
Lisa O'Connell, a dramaturge
and director of a playwright center,
pulled us aside after the show and said,
"Do you have any idea
how political that was?"
So that began an eight-year
collaboration to create a play
which not only further developed
our system for switching
but also explored the impact
of being locked into a single role,
and what's worse,
being defined by that single role.
TC: Because, of course,
classic Latin and ballroom dancing
isn't just a system of dancing;
it's a way of thinking, of being,
of relating to each other
that captured a whole period's values.
There's one thing that stayed
the man leads
and the woman follows.
So street salsa, championship tango,
it's all the same --
he leads, she follows.
So this was gender training.
You weren't just learning to dance --
you were learning to "man" and to "woman."
It's a relic.
And in the way of relics,
you don't throw it out,
but you need to know
that this is the past.
This isn't the present.
It's like Shakespeare:
respect it, revive it -- great!
But know that this is history.
This doesn't represent how we think today.
So we asked ourselves:
If you strip it all down,
what is at the core of partner dancing?
JF: Well, the core principle
of partner dancing
is that one person leads,
the other one follows.
The machine works the same,
regardless of who's playing which role.
The physics of movement doesn't really
give a crap about your gender.
So if we were to update the existing form,
we would need to make it
of how we interact here, now, in 2015.
When you watch ballroom,
don't just watch what's there.
Watch what's not.
The couple is always
only a man and a woman.
So, same-sex and gender nonconformist
couples just disappear.
In most mainstream international
same-sex couples are rarely
recognized on the floor,
and in many cases,
the rules prohibit them completely.
TC: Try this: Google-image,
"professional Latin dancer,"
and then look for an actual Latino person.
You'll be there for days.
What you will get is page after page
of white, straight Russian couples
spray-tanned to the point of mahogany.
There are no black people,
there are no Asians,
no mixed-race couples,
so basically, non-white people
Even within the white-straight-
couple-only paradigm --
she can't be taller,
he can't be shorter.
She can't be bolder,
he can't be gentler.
If you were to take a ballroom dance
and translate that into a conversation
and drop that into a movie,
we, as a culture,
would never stand for this.
He dictates, she reacts.
No relationship -- gay,
straight or anything --
that we would regard as remotely healthy
or functional looks like that,
and yet somehow,
you put it on prime time,
you slap some makeup on it,
throw the glitter on, put it out there
as movement, not as text,
and we, as a culture,
tune in and clap.
We are applauding our own absence.
Too many people have disappeared
from partner dancing.
JF: Now, you just saw
two men dancing together.
And you thought it looked ...
a little strange.
Interesting -- appealing, even --
but a little bit odd.
Even avid followers of the same-sex
ballroom circuit can attest
that while same-sex partner dancing
can be dynamic and strong and exciting,
it just doesn't quite seem to fit.
if Alida and I take the classic
closed ballroom hold ...
this is considered beautiful.
But why not this?
See, the standard image that the leader
must be larger and masculine
and the follower smaller and feminine --
this is a stumbling point.
TC: So we wanted to look at this
from a totally different angle.
So, what if we could keep
the idea of lead and follow
but toss the idea that this
was connected to gender?
Further, what if a couple
could lead and follow each other
and then switch?
And then switch back?
What if it could be like a conversation,
taking turns listening and speaking,
just like we do in life?
What if we could dance like that?
We call it "Liquid Lead Dancing."
JF: Let's try this with a Latin dance,
In salsa, there's a key transitional step,
called the cross-body lead.
We use it as punctuation
to break up the improvisation.
It can be a little tricky to spot
if you're not used to looking for it,
so here it is.
One more time for the cheap seats.
And here's the action one more time,
nice and slow.
Now, if we apply liquid-lead thinking
to this transitional step,
the cross-body lead becomes a point
where the lead and the follow can switch.
The person following can elect
to take over the lead,
or the person leading can choose
to surrender it,
essentially making it
a counter-cross-body lead.
Here's how that looks in slow motion.
And here's how it looked
when we danced it in the opening dance.
With this simple tweak,
the dance moves from being a dictation
to a negotiation.
Anyone can lead. Anyone can follow.
And more importantly,
you can change your mind.
Now, this is only one example
of how this applies,
but once the blinkers come off,
anything can happen.
TC: Let's look at how Liquid Lead thinking
could apply to a classic waltz.
Because, of course,
it isn't just a system of switching leads;
it's a way of thinking
that can actually make
the dance itself more efficient.
So: the waltz.
The waltz is a turning dance.
This means that for the lead,
you spend half of the dance
And because of the follower's position,
basically, no one can see
where they're going.
So you're out here on the floor,
and then imagine that coming right at you.
TC: There are actually a lot
of accidents out there
that happen as a result
of this blind spot.
But what if the partners
were to just allow for
a switch of posture for a moment?
A lot of accidents could be avoided.
Even if one person led the whole dance
but allowed this switch to happen,
it would be a lot safer,
while at the same time,
offering new aesthetics into the waltz.
Because physics doesn't give a damn
about your gender.
JF: Now, we've danced Liquid Lead
in clubs, convention centers
and as part of "First Dance,"
the play we created with Lisa,
on stages in North America and in Europe.
And it never fails to engage.
I mean, beyond the unusual sight
of seeing two men dancing together,
it always evokes and engages.
The secret lies in what made
Lisa see our initial demonstration
It wasn't just that we were
switching lead and follow;
it's that we stayed consistent
in our presence, our personality
and our power, regardless
of which role we were playing.
We were still us.
And that's where the true freedom lies --
not just the freedom to switch roles,
but the freedom from being defined
by whichever role you're playing,
the freedom to always remain
true to yourself.
Forget what a lead is supposed
to look like, or a follow.
Be a masculine follow
or a feminine lead.
Just be yourself.
Obviously, this applies
off the dance floor as well,
but on the floor, it gives us
the perfect opportunity
to update an old paradigm,
reinvigorate an old relic,
and make it more representative
of our era and our current way of being.
TC: Jeff and I dance partner dancing
all the time with women and men
and we love it.
But we dance with a consciousness
that this is a historic form
that can produce silence
and produce invisibility
across the spectrum of identity
that we enjoy today.
We invented Liquid Lead
as a way of stripping out
all the ideas that don't belong to us
and taking partner dancing back
to what it really always was:
the fine art of taking care of each other.