avoid dubious leading in partner dance - what about dance

Partner dancing – dubious leading habits

Leading is one of the hardest things about partner dancing. Yes you need to know the moves, but you also need to think ahead, think of your follower, have good spatial awareness and be able to think on your feet. No pun intended. But some leaders develop bad habits, in particular how they lead.

Some of these bad habits can be dangerous like leading followers into drops and dips without asking or without assessing their followers ability to do those moves. Some are less dangerous, but can still lead to injuries or an uncomfortable feeling for the follow.

avoid dubious leading in partner dance - what about dance

As a lead, we should be able to largely lead with the body and with a light touch. Some followers prefer a very light touch and direction. Using the body to lead, rather than the arm also helps (so the chest indicates the follow should be going in a certain direction if they’re mirroring the chest), although this is taught more in partner dances such as west coast swing than in modern jive.

There are two bad habits which followers aren’t keen on, that leads can have.

Holding on

The first is leading while holding onto different parts of the arm. Using the wrist to lead into certain spins is something that is taught for some free spin moves. But grabbing the wrist as a lead point while dancing more joined up is not comfortable. It can hurt and also won’t make leading easy for things like turning and spinning.

The wrist can get wrenched or twisted.

I’ve also heard of follows complaining that there elbow has been held seeming to be used as a lead point. Again I don’t see the point of this. I’ve never seen this taught for any move and it can also cause pain and twisting.

Why you would use a wrist or elbow to lead is beyond me. I have come home from in evening’s dancing to find I have bruising from fingers on my arm, but thankfully have never been led by a joint. I would probably have something to say if a lead did try it on me. For followers they need to be confident enough to tell a leader if a move is hurting them, and if the lead takes no notice they should be able to leave the dance without repercussions.

Verbally leading

My second irritation with leads (thankfully it’s rare and less dangerous) is being told when they want me to turn spin or wiggle. The dance should be a partnership and the follow should always be in control of their own body and moves, so to be told how I should be doing something is just rude.

The whole point of a lead is to be able to gently and clearly direct your follow, so they know the move and direction you are intending. So why verbally tell them? If it’s generally about the move that is coming up and what they should be doing with it, then there’s probably an issue with the lead. Or that the follower has no idea of the move, and you’ve led too complicated a move for them to follow. But to tell your follow when to do a double spin, which is the one that crops up most for me, really puts my back up.

I can double spin but mostly choose not to. I’m out of practice and quite often don’t feel like the move prior to the spin has put me in the right place to be doing a double or triple. On occasion I have found that the lead has led me in the correct way to be able to do a multiple spin, and land standing up. Their frame has been good, I’m in the right position and I’ve had the time and space. But I probably could have worked it out myself and didn’t need someone to tell me. As I say, this is quite rare but I do tend to come off the floor irritated that being told what to do. Maybe that’s just me?

Maybe I just like being too independent as a follow. I like to do my own thing within the frame of the dance. But newer follows may not feel so confident to say when they feel uncomfortable in the case of an awkward painful lead. Or they may try to complete a move that they don’t have the experience for and then get injured.

When I lead I want to make my partner feel comfortable, to be able to follow easily and be thought of as a good leader. This doesn’t need me to tell the follow what to do, or grabbing unnecessary parts of the arm, or rest of the body.

Have you experienced either of these habits when following? How do you feel about them?

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  1. We had a role reversal class on Thursday as it was quiet due to football and sunshine and we had no beginners. I take the lead role sometimes anyway but I think it was a real eye opener for both the men and the women feeling why it is like from the other side! Hopefully this will encourage the ladies to preempt less and the men to lead in a more thoughtful way!

    1. I think that’s a great idea swapping everyone, because it really does help, and also everyone is in it together, so avoiding the awkwardness some people have with dancing with people of the same sex. Thanks for your comment Kate.