How to be a good dance partner - What about Dance

If you partner dance, you should aspire to be a good dance partner. After all, you can’t have an enjoyable dance at any level unless both people play their part.

However, partner dancing is also challenging.  It’s not something most people have done (except maybe country dancing at school – I don’t know if they still do this in schools?).  Even in ballroom which is largely choreographed, the social side is very different to partnering the same person day in day out at training and competitions.  It means making adjustments to your dancing if you’re used to dancing alone or with the same partner.

Being a good leader or follower takes time, practice and thinking about.  I’ve done a lot of following in my time dancing with hundreds of different leaders, and have done leading myself, so here’s my thoughts on how to be a good partner.

How to be a good dance partner - What about Dance

To be a good leader on the dance floor:

1. Have a clear lead
Not too soft, not too strong.  It’s all about clear direction

2. Have a good frame
Not stiff, but enough to be able to lead the follow without using the arms to lead. And to make the follower feel secure in certain moves which require balance

3. Don’t grips or use your thumbs
It hurts and it’s not required.

4. Have (good) spatial awareness
You need to know where you’re intending the follower to go, and adapt the move, direction, travel distance if there’s no space. You don’t want a follower or another dancer next to you getting stood on or elbowed

5. Adjust to your partner’s needs
Some will need a light lead, others will need more guidance.

6, Understand connection
A partner dance is about connection – with your partner, with the music, the movements.  You need to let go and not feel self-conscious but need to be able to recognise what connection you’re getting from your partner too.

7. Realise that often less is more when it comes to moves
Dips and drops might look fancy but not everyone likes them, and on a crowded dancefloor they’re not really suitable.  Similarly flinging the follower round the dancefloor isn’t always welcome for a whole track.

8. Dance with different people
The best way to improve is experiencing different partners. Everyone can learn something new about their dancing, as well as it being more social.

9. Have confidence in your ability
A smile helps.  Don’t be over confidence, but think confident and you’ll probably dance better. Or get away with it.

10. Want to improve
Dance is always work in progress. There’s always something to learn from everyone.  So want to improve, look out for learnings, improve and you’ll be a better dance partner

11. Have good hygiene
Don’t be the person known as the smelly one

12. Look at your partner
Know how much is too much, but it’s only polite to acknowledge you’re dancing with someone

13. Listen to the music
Because dance is about movement to music, and it’ll help your partner be able to follow if they can recognise what you’re dancing to.

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On the flipside:

How to be a good follower:

So many points from the good leader list, apply to followers as well.

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.

4. 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

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

6, 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.

7, 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.

8, Dance with different people
You’ll improve and learn faster.

9. Have confidence in your ability
Because it’s nicer to dance with someone who doesn’t apologise all the time.

10. Want to improve
And take action to improve – classes, workshops, privates, more social dancing, whatever works for you.

11. Have good hygiene
Obviously.

12, Look at your partner
That connection is often what makes a dance, and it makes a dance partner feel like you want to dance with them.

13. Listen to the music
If you dance to the music a) you’ll enjoy it more, and b) you’ll be able to do more with your dancing.

If you want to read more about leading and following these blogs have great insights:

The dancing grapevine
The perfect follow
Tanguito – from a tango point of view

What makes a good dance partner for you?

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