Pointers On Leading and Following
by Ronnen Levinson
Your dance instructor should teach you not only the steps to each
dance figure, but also how to lead or follow your partner. Here's
some advice on technique for leading and following. If a point is
unclear, please consult your teacher.
Leaders And Followers
Don't clench your partner's hand,
arm, or shoulder in a grip of death--a very light hold will suffice.
Most turns are led with fingertip or palm contact. Execute push
motions with your palm or fingers, and execute pull motions with
hooked fingers. Leaders: if you need to pull your partner's hand
toward you, just hook a few of your fingers into the curled fingers
of her hand. Followers: in dances that are led hand-to-hand, keep
your hands accessible.
I'll repeat: don't squeeze your
partner's hand with your thumb or fingers.
Dance with your body, not from
your feet. Hold your partner with your hand flat, L-shaped, or-- if
holding a bony body part like a shoulder blade or hipbone--very
gently curved. Keep your fingers together, and do not poke your
partner or dig your fingers into your partner's back or side.
Since you will always find your
feet at the bottom of your legs, you're unlikely to learn anything
useful by looking down. Instead, watch your partner. This is
especially important for followers, since some leads have visual
Maintain good frame. In some
dances, particularly the Latin ones, you signal motion to your
partner solely through the frame in your arms. Your arms should be
held neither rigid nor limp--they are springs. Gently use the
muscles in your arms to communicate tension and compression as
needed. Pushing or pulling hard can make you feel uncomfortably
heavy to your partner.
Lead and follow are greatly
enhanced by proper body shaping, rise and fall, and use of
contra-body motion and contra-body motion position. These are best
learned from professional instructors.
When dancing socially, accommodate
your partner. If your partner loses balance, arrives somewhere
unexpected, or winds up on the wrong foot, do your best to complete
the figure gracefully by adapting to your partner's actions.
Sometimes this means gently bringing your partner back into place;
at other times, you should travel to catch up to your partner.
Remember that one of your goals in
social dancing is to make your partner happy, and act accordingly.
Lead beginning followers with two
hands rather than one where possible and appropriate. It will make
your lead much clearer.
In closed frame, gently cup your
right hand on the bottom or middle of her left shoulder blade. Don't
press your fingers into her back!
In open position (i.e., when
connected with extended arms, rather than in closed frame), joined
hands should be held close to the waist level of the shorter
partner. Typically, the leader lowers his hand to the follower's
waist level. This makes the hold comfortable for both
partners--otherwise, the follower would have to elevate her extended
arm, which gets tiring.
At the start of the dance, shift
your weight right or left to put the follower's weight over her
appropriate foot. For example, if you are starting a dance in which
you first step with your left foot, shift your weight over your
right foot, leaving your left foot free. Your connection with your
partner will shift her weight over her left foot, freeing her right
foot to move.
Follow the leader's weight changes
and/or rise & fall--these communicate his timing. When dancing
socially, it won't matter if the leader is out of sync with the
music so long as you follow his timing as conveyed by his motions.
Wait for the leader to move before
you do. The lead and follow will break down if you get ahead of him.
You are self-propelled. The leader
indicates where you are to go, but he doesn't put you there.
A useful oversimplification of
following is that you go when his body goes and where his body goes.
However, there are dance figures in which you follow the motion of a
part of the leader's body, such as his arm, rather than the motion
of his whole body, which may be staying in place. One example would
be the hockey stick in International Rumba.
Support your own weight at all
times--your partner is not a leaning post! It is particularly
important to support yourself fully during a dip, because any weight
that you place on your partner during this figure will be carried by
his back. Remember that old adage: lift with the legs, not with the
The Essence of Leading and Following
It takes instruction and practice to learn to how dance steps
well. However, the essence of leading and following the figures is
simple. To paraphrase the advice given by the King of Hearts to the
White Rabbit--"begin at the beginning; go on till you come to
the end; then stop"--the follower begins to move when led to
move, and stops when led to stop. That is, the follower neither
starts nor stops on her own. The leader must signal the motion of his
body to the follower, while the follower feels and watches the motion
of the leader's body (not of his feet!) for direction.
Excerpted with permission from Much
Ado About Ballroom Dancing, a handbook for the social dancer, ©
2000 by Ronnen Levinson,
and reprinted in DRDC newsletter, September 2010.