Follows: have you ever said you didn’t do a move because the lead ‘didn’t lead you properly?’

Then this is for you.

It’s time to take charge of your own dancing. 

Follows, you are one of two contributors to every normal partner dance you will ever have. In many cases, you will be 50% of the dance. Sometimes, you’ll be 20%, and sometimes you’ll be 80%.

(Not-normal partner dances include things like trio’s, where there are 3 contributors or more contributors)

When you are 20%

The times when you’ll be 20% of the dance is when you’re dancing with someone who has a much larger dance skillset than you. This is when you are dancing with an international professional who social dances every weekend around the world. This is when the lead really is covering up all of your mistakes and making you look fantastic.

When a partner far surpasses your own skillset is when you are least in-charge of your dance. They are taking responsibility for you and your dance. They are covering up for the holes and gaps in your technique.

It’s easy to fall into the mindset that this is how dance ‘should be’, with the lead taking care of your every dance-need. It is easy to feel like dance should be ‘this simple’, with everything just magically making sense to you.

The rest of the time…

You are 50% when you and the other person are on the same level. Sometimes they mess up, sometimes you mess up. Sometimes, you both mess up together. Many follows understand this, and put themselves equally into the dance with their peers.

Sometimes, you will also dance with someone who has fewer skills than you. This is where you can become up to 80% of the dance. Some follows are gracious about this, and are willing to support their partners – even when their partner can’t give the same amount back. These are the generous follows out there.

With some follows, the problem starts here. Sometimes, we compare dances with our peers to dances with the professionals. We feel like the 20% feeling we have with the pro’s should spill over into the rest of our dances. Then, we get jaded when the leads at or lower than our level can’t make the dancing seem so easy and effortless.

We need to stop thinking like this.

In almost every case, a move that doesn’t work is the result of both partners making a mistake. Granted, it’s usually not a 50/50 split, but there’s some input from both sides.

It’s not always the lead – it could be you!

Dear follow, if you are not getting a lot of movements because they ‘weren’t let properly’, chances are that you are not ‘following properly’. If you can only follow a perfect lead, you have significant holes and gaps in your knowledge and learning.

Learn to embrace the imperfect leads. When you figure out how to work with the imperfect, you won’t be confined to having great dances only when you are taken care of. When you learn how to respond to a variety of levels, you can have fun with every dance.

Of course, this does not mean dancing on your own – there is still a need to follow where the lead is generally asking you to go and at what time. There is an art in learning to compensate without completely disregarding the lead. Learn it. It’s one of the best things you can ever do.

Obviously this doesn’t mean that leads should not aspire to learn and improve. I wish they all would! It is such a pleasure to dance with leads who really can help support the dance to its fullest – but we need to stop blaming and putting all the pressure on leads to support us.

Get rid of the phrase “But they didn’t lead me properly!”

Seriously. Get rid of it. It serves no purpose, except to blame someone else for a mistake.

Blame has almost no place in the context of social dancing. The next time that a movement goes wrong, don’t jump to the conclusion that it was the leads fault. Instead, change your approach.

Instead of blaming the lead for a mistake, ask yourself how you can reduce the impact of the missed lead. How can you adjust your following to make the most of the lead? What was recognizable in the lead for you to work with?

I’m not saying to blame yourself for everything, but think about what you can do to improve the result.

The best follows almost all do this. Why? Because they’re always striving to improve themselves. The more you develop your ability to respond to a variety of leads, the better a follow you will be.

Great follows are not follows who can dance well with the best dancers. Great follows are the people who can respond with a high degree of success to a very large variety of leads – both ‘perfect’ and imperfect.

It’s time to take control of our own dancing. As follows, let’s step up and become the best dancers we can be – regardless of what our lead is doing!

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9 Commentsto Follows: Take Charge of Your Own Dancing

  1. shinycat says:

    well….but if the lead never realizes his lead is sloppy b/c the *follower* is “covering” for him, then the feedback loop is broken and he won’t improve…no perfect answer here for sure…

    • Laura Riva says:

      The place for improvement is usually in classrooms, IMO. In social dancing, one of the ways to know your lead is broken is because it’s not working on less-experienced follows who do not have the tools for compensation.

      Therefore, to me, follows compensating is not a broken feedback loop any more than it is for a lead who covers for a follow’s misses or misinterpretation. The follow can still learn skills, because they will be used to compensating for other dancers and will be exposed to new interpretations.

    • Antti says:

      It may also be that the reason your lead only works on the experienced followers is that they are the only ones doing certain key things correctly. I’ve found asking “stupid questions” to be good way of pointing out the problem in classes. Asking “What am I doing wrong here?” while being fairly sure I was doing it correctly.

    • Nick says:

      most follows will correct me and I am mature enough to take their constructive criticism and *hopefully improve*

  2. Don Herbert says:

    Many years ago I took bundles of group lessons from an outstanding teaching professional in Sunnyvale, CA (Steve Rebello). His mantra with a smile to the leaders was “Gentlemen, if you lead something and your partner does something else, then whatever she did is what you led.” I absorbed that mantra, taking ownership of my part of the dance, and my social dancing became not only fun, but the opportunity to examine my lead when I got unexpected results and to then correct it or do it better and lead the figure again. If social dancing isn’t “fun” then what’s the point.

    • Nick says:

      True that!

      I learned that as well, sometimes I even think of a new move, based on the follows *mistake* lol

  3. Lisa says:

    David and Angela, like what you are saying. I recall a number of times when I have felt I responded to the lead correctly but it is clear the leader had expected something else. I really like it when they try again so have a chance to see if there is another interpretation, was i rushing so in the wrong place, or whether they change their lead. But either way I think we should all be gracious and kind, as we would want our ‘mistakes’ excused if we were dancing with the world’s best and no doubt overbalanced or made a mis-step. there is nothing that saddens me more than hearing about or worse seeing a sour follower being difficult on the dance floor when they think they aren’t getting the ‘perfect’ lead, and being a lump of wood to the flow of the dance