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Who Leads? Who Follows?

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

Who leads? Who follows? These are questions we are asked often. Most often the discussion of who does what has focused on the man and the "push pull" method of leading. Leading & following are important in any type of couple dancing, be it round dancing, ballroom, etc. Round dancing is almost unique in the fact that the woman hears the cue (at the same time as the man), and many times the cue is directed at her. However, she should never react to the cue without getting some lead indication from the man. The cues should only be an indication to the woman of what she will be expected to do and NOT when to do it.

The woman's skill of following is as important as the man's skill in leading. She must learn to be a good follower and NOT an "aggressive follower." As a good follower, the woman should continue going in the same direction until lead differently -- and of course to react/respond accordingly. The sequence we like to follow is:
  1. The man indicates/initiates the figure(s)
  2. The woman gets the "clue" and she finishes the figure
  3. The man then begins the next figure
If you follow the above "rule" you will soon learn that you can not both dance the figure(s) at exactly the same time, nor in the same space at the same time, yet we will give appearance that we are. Men must learn to send their partner out of the way, get the figure started, join his partner at the correct time, and begin to send her into the next figure. So now the question of timing enters the picture. When do we do what? What do we do when? How do we do it?
  1. The man creates the woman's footwork by positioning her body and creates lanes in which she and he can move.
  2. The woman moves in the direction the man has indicated and completes the figure he started.
  3. Both man and woman need a good understanding of the mechanics of the figures being danced.
As round dancers, we all learned to execute the figures using our feet -- ONLY! Yet the art of leading and following encourages us to use other parts of our bodies and limbs to communicate between us. Achieving all of this, making the man a good leader and the woman a good follower, is not easy. It must begin with:
  • good dance posture -- having good posture is not the same as having a good dance posture.
  • proper dance position -- creating and maintaining the proper dance "frame" and never turning away from your partner or moving the shoulders before moving the rest of the body.
  • correct leg and foot placement -- knowing when and where to step
  • good balance -- each partner must hold up their own body weight, hold up their own arms, and be balanced equally from the back and front as well as from left and right.
  • learning and knowing each partner's "responsibility" -- We need to know what the other is doing and should be doing.
Therefore "leading and following" requires a level of body awareness. It also asks us to understand the mechanics of the figures being danced. Every figure uses a variety of techniques in its own execution; however, if you follow some of the above general rules and techniques it will make your dancing a more pleasant experience.

From notes prepared for the RAL Minilab, October 2016, printed June 2000, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March 2023.


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