How to be a good follower in partner dancing - What about dance

How to be a good follower in social dancing

We all have views on what makes a good dance partner.  I’ve shared my thoughts previously, and this post follows the same structure as my how to be a good leader post.  This post covers in more detail the how to be a good follower.  You’ll see that many of the points are similar to being a good leader.

I may refer to the follower as the lady, but it applies to anyone being a follower in partner dance. Similarly, I’m mainly referring to modern jive, but the points are equally valid for any other type of lead and follow partner dance.  If you want to be a great lead, it does help to have some experience of following, even at a really basic ‘given it a go’ in a class level. You realise how hard it is to follow without the type of lead you need. The same can be true for followers who’ve been dancing a while and find they’re struggling to follow.  Or if people start avoiding dancing with you.  You don’t necessarily need to know how to lead to be a better follower, but understanding their point of view, and how hard it is to lead will make you more receptive and adapting to different leads.

How to be a good follower in partner dancing - What about dance

If you want to read more about improving your follower technique, you can find some great points over at Stephanie’s The Perfect Follow blog.

Tips on how to be a good follower

1. Have a good frame

Hold yourself well, not too loose and not too stiff.  But enough to be able to follow a direction

2. Don’t grips or use your thumbs

The leader provides the frame, the follower connects with a loose hook over the fingers. There’s no need for thumbs;  it makes it extremely hard to turn if either is gripping on tightly.

3. Have (good) spatial awareness

Yes rely on the leader, but help him too – he can’t see behind him.

Keep your steps to the size of the space available

Don’t take huge steps – it’ll take you out of connection and make you harder to lead

4. Don’t be scared to get up close

Social dancing is a contact sport. Yes, it can be awkward to begin with and we all have hang ups about our body, or worry about someone getting the wrong impression if you’re getting close.  Some moves require a closer hold and won’t work or feel right if you don’t touch more than just hands.  It may take time to get over the awkwardness, but to get that magic dance you need to lose the inhibitions of being on the dancefloor close to someone else who’s not your partner.

5. Feed back to the organiser if you feel threatened

Yes, dancing requires you to get up close for some moves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hold back or give some distance if you feel uncomfortable.  Leaders (it can happen the other way round too) can occasionally get the wrong impression or make partners feel awkward.  So if you do (especially if you’ve spoken to others and they feel the same), then mention your concern to the organiser. They may have a word with the person.

If you don’t feel happy doing that, then don’t dance with them again, but explain that you didn’t feel comfortable dancing with them.

6. Understand connection

Connection is crucial to any social dance and it varies, as well as the phrase used. You may have heard resistance, tension, compression etc.  All reflect the same thing which is about connection between the lead and follow.  To follow well, this is crucial to understand – too much tension and resistance (ie stiff, tense arms) means you’ll have to be dragged around the dance floor to get you to move the way the leader wants.  Too little tension (spaghetti arms) and you’ll also be hard to lead.

The easiest way to explain is have lead and follow stand facing each other with palms up and out in front, against the other person’s.  You can think of the connection on a scale of equal pressure or force between the two.  So 10 is the equal maximum pressure if you’re leaning in against each other, while 1 is hardly touching.  The leader can then lead the follower walking in any direction while keeping the same pressure (practise at different strengths before settling around 4-5).

Then you move to do an in and out move, stepping back out and in at the same time, maintaining the same idea of connection (or tension).  If you’re leading to start, the leader gently pushes and the follow should give the same pressure against the hand as she then steps back, and similar pull back in with both using the same strength of connection.

The connection level needs to adapt depending on speed of music, ability and need of the follower with their understanding of connection, and moves.  So to do complication arm movements the arms and connection needs to be more relaxed, while leading ochos or forward stepping across you may need more connection (this is where the term tension can make more sense).

Because dance is a two way street.  Give what you’re getting in terms of compression, try not to fight against the leader.

7. Adapt to your partner

If they’re a beginner don’t add in lots of over the top styling that may put them off, work out how much is too much.  If you’re being flung around either ask them to ease off, or tighten that core and spot like mad when you spin.

8. Realise that often less is more

Extra kicks of legs, sticking the leg in the air while doing a drop, waving arms around all over the place….some are dangerous, especially on crowded dance floors, others might be better off being toned down depending on your lead.

9. Dance with different people

To follow well you need to experience different leads and different styles and moves.  The more strangers you dance with the better you’ll be because you’re not getting used to one person’s dancing. It means you have to follow and can’t anticipate.  You’ll also get more breadth of moves – it’s noticeable how dancers from different areas have certain types of moves depending on who’ve they’ve been taught by.

10. Want to improve

Followers may have it easier than the men, but there’s always something to improve on. Whether it’s technique, learning new styles to bring to your dancing, or improving a specific issue you have.  Taking action to improve will always help your dancing.  The more practice you do, the better your following should get.

11. Have good hygiene

Applicable to anyone who partner dances.  Girls, don’t think changing outfits is only needed by men.  I will quite often have a spare top because I’m not as lucky as some women who still look immaculate at the end of the night.

12. Look at your partner

The connection between dance partners is often what makes a dance. An occasional look and smile will give the leader confidence that you’re enjoying it, and you’ll probably have a better dance if you interact with your partner.

13. Smile

Be approachable, put your partner at ease, and smile. Not all the time, but enough to reassure your partner you’re enjoying the dance. If you grimace your way around the dancefloor because you’re concentrating so hard, it might put off other leaders from asking you to dance. Look like you’re enjoying it and it’ll probably come across in your dancing too.

14. Listen to the music

Often leaders are concentrating so hard on remembering and thinking about moves, they miss the music.   Don’t fight them, but you can help them with breaks, slow points, keeping them with the music, and adding a bit of pizzazz without taking over and putting the leader off.  Also take your time and don’t rush. If you’re someone who does spins at high speed or races through moves wondering what’s taking the lead so long to get to the next move, listen to the time you have and you’ll have a more connected dance.

You can read more about connection and lead and follow at the below:

Salsa dancing tips
Avoid being blacklisted while social dancing

This post rounds up my series on being a good dance partner, and good leader.

What do you think makes a good follower?

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Let me know what you think


  1. To make people enjoy dancing with you you need more than what is described here.

    ”Social” dancing (as found in the title) also has a social aspect, which is not covered very well here.
    Generally I think people are good social dancers if they can enjoy dancing, and make others enjoy it in any way.

    You can have all the connection and moves that you want, but if you look grumpy, unhappy, hostile or bored, I will not have a good time.

    Which brings me to the most important skill for any social dancer, in my opinion:
    ” Being able to create a nice/comfortable/fun/safe/relaxed atmosphere to enjoy a dance with someone”

    YOU can take away awkwardness, anxiety, fear, stress and expectations from this other person you are dancing with. (ok.. not always. but often)

    Which you can theoretically do without dancing a single step in your life. Make sure you have the potential to enjoy the dance, and show to your partner you are enjoying the dance.

    All applies to leads and follows

    1. Hi Bart, I totally agree with this. If you aren’t showing your partner you’re enjoying it, then they’re not going to either. Especially if you’re dancing with a beginner who may have worries about their own dancing. If you can put your partner at ease, chances are you stand a better chance of enjoying it. But, I won’t enjoy it if a follower is grabbing on or trying to lead, even if they are doing it with a smile. Thanks for your comment, Emma