Following and leading is accomplished by maintaining a physical connection called the frame that allows the lead to transmit body movement to the follow, and for the follow to suggest ideas to the lead.
Connection occurs in both open and closed body positions.
In closed position with body contact, connection is achieved through maintenance of the frame. The follow moves to match the lead, maintaining the pressure between the two bodies as well as the position. The hands are secondary, even unnecessary.
During tension, the dancers are pulling away from each other with an equal and opposite force. The arms do not provide this force: this is provided by tension in trunk musculature, through body weight or by momentum.
During compression, the dancers are pushing together. In a neutral position, the hands do not impart any force other than the weight of the follow's hands in the lead's.
In the swing dances only, tension and compression may be maintained for a significant period of time. In other dances, such as Latin, tension and compression are indications of upcoming movement. However, in both styles, tension and compression does not signal immediate movement: the follow must be careful not to move until actual movement by the lead. Until then, the dancers must match pressures without moving their hands. In some styles of Lindy Hop, the tension may become quite high without initiating movement.
The general rule for open connections is that the hands maintain the same position with respect to the body. The only way to move the hands back, forth, left or right is to move the entire body. Tensing the muscles and locking the arm achieves this effect but is neither comfortable nor correct. Such tension eliminates the subtler communication in the connection, and eliminates free movement up and down, such as is required to initiate many turns.
This rule is often broken, especially by the lead. However, the spirit of this rule is maintained consistently.
Instead of tensing the arms, connection is achieved by engaging the shoulder, upper body and torso muscles. Movement originates in the body's core. A leader leads by moving himself and maintaining frame and connection: he does not push or pull the follow.
The connection between two partners has a different feel in every dance and with every partner. Good social dancers adapt to the conventions of the dance and the responses of their partners.