What happens when you follow?
As a follow, you follow the energy that your lead is giving you. The lead initiates a movement, and to make this a partner dance, the energy is transferred to a follow who then takes that energy and uses it to move their body. That's how the movement/energy exchange from lead to follow happens; this creates the partner dance of two people dancing as one.
Dancing together does not mean dancing together
When you are a follow it might be tempting to think that you dance to the same timing as your lead, when in fact, you dance to a slightly different timing. The follow is always behind the lead. If you are following, that's what you are doing, you are following someone and you are behind them. By definition, a person who is following isn't doing the same thing at the same time as the person who is leading. Once you can begin to let your lead lead your movements, you will always be doing your movements after the lead. You can't move at the same time as the lead because, as a follow, you're always responding to what the lead is giving. When you watch a partner dance it may look like the lead and follow are moving at the same time because the gap between the initiated move and the response is so small, but it IS there – it has to be, otherwise it is not a led and followed dance. The beauty of being a follow in the lead/follow context is that you complete the connection between you by the way you respond.
So if the follow is behind the lead, how far behind are they?
That's why I talk about the art of following because it's like asking how long is a piece of string, it will be individual for you. Like any other factor in dance and movement, we are all individuals and with that comes our own unique set of responses when following. I will not follow like anyone else out there, and neither will you. I can however highlight some things to help you understand and feel what it's like to follow and you can continue your exploration from there.
Your following will be affected by factors such as: the speed of your movements, how much muscle tone you are using, the mood and feel of the dance, and indeed, your mood and energy on any particular day.
To begin, you can ask yourself:
How does my body move in response to the way my lead is moving me?
Am I listening/feeling the movement through the dance hold, or am I guessing what my partner wants me to do?
Can I relax into my connection and respond with ever increasing subtlety?
Following is something that you feel your way into and that's why I recommend lots of somatic exercises to really get in touch with your own body and movements.
The important thing to do when following is to respond to what you partner is asking you to do, and to do that you listen with your body. It requires trust. Trust in yourself and your movements. It also requires trust in your partner to allow them to move you. It takes time and ongoing practice to feel into how you follow, but it will ultimately help you discover tons of stuff about your dancing and yourself.