Put these secrets into practice for a great first dance!

In the last article, I laid out the biggest problem wedding couples have when preparing their first dance—the Follower back leading—and why that back fires. In this post, I’ll debunk the myths that often make brides adverse to the idea of following. When you know the real truth about partner dancing, being a Follower might sound pretty good after all!

Note: In this article, I talk about male-female wedding couples and following. However, the information applies equally to same-sex wedding couples, as well as everyone learning to partner dance. So whether you’re single or coupled, gay or straight, or dance as a Leader or Follower, this post will inform your dancing! 

What Brides Need to Know About Following

Oftentimes women have negative assumptions about following that adds unnecessary antagonism to the process of preparing a wedding dance. I want to dispel some of the most common misconceptions about leading and following. My hope is that the truth will assuage some of your concerns and perhaps have you looking forward to following during your first dance.

1. Leader and Follower Are Just Roles in the Game of Dance

Kids playing roles
Leading and following are roles for dancing *not* your relationship!

Leader and Follower are roles for dancing only, not for your relationship. Think of ballroom dancing like a game—while you’re dancing, one person happens to play the role of Leader and the other, Follower.

Leading and following is not about one person having power over another. Nor is it about men getting to call all the shots or women being passive or submissive. Just because your fiancé leads you on the dance floor doesn’t mean they get to tell you what to do off the dance floor!

Another common worry for brides is that being the Leader gives their fiancé more decision-making power over their wedding dance. The roles of Leader and Follower have absolutely nothing to do determining the logistics of your first dance. You both get equal say in how you want your dance to be: the song, style of dance, how many spins you include, whether it’s choreographed or improvisational, etc. The two of you have equal negotiating power in resolving any difference of opinions you have. Once a decision is made cooperatively, then he’ll be responsible for leading it, and you for following it.

So remember, being “the Follower” does not mean your ideas or wants play second fiddle to your fiancé’s.

2. Only One Person Can Lead

Split image of man and woman
When you both try to lead, you’ll be caught in an unhappy tug of war

In partner dancing, only one person can lead; otherwise it becomes a tug of war. Both the Leader’s and Follower’s roles come with certain responsibilities. When you decide to partner dance, (whether you know it or not), you agree to stay within the bounds of and deliver on your role.

For instance, the Leader’s job is to decide which moves to do, give the Follower clear leads, and successfully navigate the two of you around the floor. The Leader is also in charge of making sure the Follower is safe and comfortable—not running her into things, wrenching her arm, giving breaks between turns so she doesn’t get dizzy, etc.

In return, the Follower’s job is to wait for the Leader’s leads (even if she gets bored) and follow leads when given (even if they’re imperfect). The Follower is also tasked with paying attention, being responsive and maintaining tone in her dance frame (i.e. the connection of one’s arms to their torso that allows a Follower to be led).

Following Has Its Perks
Groom lifting and spinning bride
Followers get to be twirled, dipped and lifted!

When both Leader and Follower play their roles, they get to enjoy what makes couple’s dancing so special: two bodies moving together to music. There plenty of upsides to following you’ll get in exchange for giving up some control over your dance. These perks include:

  • Being held in your sweetie’s arms and danced around the floor.
  • Getting to just be present in your body without having to think, plan or make decisions.
  • Having free attention to listen to and express the music. (Leaders are often so consumed with leading, they hardly know music is playing!)
  • Getting the chance to show off and add your own style to the dance. Your fiancé may get to lead the moves, but you get to embellish them!

Not only will your wedding dance feel better when only you let your fiancé lead, it will also look a whole lot better. People love to watch a couple having fun and dancing together, not wrestling over who is in control of the dance.

3. Couples’ Dancing is a Team Effort

Partner dancing is a team effort. It requires cooperation and patience.

Refrain from Blame
Finger pointing blame
Wherever your dance is headed, you’re in it together!

Many brides are quick to blame and criticize their fiancé when dancing. But the reality is: you two are on the same team. Like any sport, working together with your teammate will garner a better outcome, not to mention being more enjoyable along the way. When you’re preparing for your first dance, it’s completely normal to make mistakes, get confused and to literally step on each other’s toes. So it behooves you both to be patient and kind with each other, and refrain from making an attribution for each mistake, rolling your eyes in frustration, etc.

Some useful questions to ask yourself, especially when a move isn’t going smoothly, include:

  • What am I doing that might be contributing to this difficulty we’re having?
  • What could I work on to help make our dance go better?
  • Is there something I can I do differently to be an easier partner to lead?
Leaders Have a Steeper Learning Curve
Man pushing ball uphill
Be patient—Leaders have a lot to juggle.

Another important thing for brides to know is that Leaders have a steeper learning curve than Followers. Leaders have a lot to juggle—leading the rhythm, deciding what move to do, giving a clear signal at the right moment—all in real time. Because there tends to be less things Followers need to think about, you may often be ready for new material sooner than your fiancé.

So when you find yourself getting impatient, remember this. Then take a deep breath and give your fiancé the extra time and latitude he needs. Think of it as an investment toward your future dance enjoyment—you’re gonna have a lot more fun if you give your fiancé space to become a competent, confident Leader than if you rush or criticize their learning process. 

4. Following is a Skill and Needs to Be Developed

Bride impatient with groom
Don’t be so quick to think it’s all your fiancé’s fault

Followers often erroneously think they don’t need to learn or do much, assuming the Leader is 100% responsible for the dance. But as I said, partner dancing is a team effort. The Follower and Leader are equal contributors in creating a successful dance. Therefore, Followers must actively develop their skills as much as Leaders do.

“Well, I can follow really well. I just need a good Leader,” I often hear women say. What these women don’t realize is those Leaders are doing a lot of extra work to compensate for their lack of following skills. Part of why experienced Leaders are fun to dance with is because they give you the illusion that you’re a better Follower than you are.

You might be surprised to find out your skill level is similar to Leaders you deem “not good”. Like you, they’re not good enough yet to compensate for a partner who lacks finesse. When you spend time developing your following skills, you just might find that you have fun dances with those very same Leaders.

Ballet, Jazz and Hip Hop Are Different than Ballroom Dancing
Become the best Follower you can be for your big day!

Some brides can fall into this pitfall of overestimating their level of ballroom dance competence. Perhaps you love to go dancing at clubs or have jazz/ballet/other dance experience from childhood or college. These brides wrongly assume taking wedding dance lessons is so their fiancé can learn to dance (and are often most guilty of back leading).

Yes, the skills you gained from doing solo dance forms, like being comfortable moving your body, stepping in time with music, memorizing choreograph, etc., are certainly useful. However, they do not instantly make you a good partner dancer. In couple’s dancing there’s a new set of know-how you need to learn to become a good Follower. For example, cultivating your dance frame, partner connection, ability to lag behind your Leader while still being highly responsive to cues, etc.

Becoming the best Follower you can be as your sweetie learns to lead will improve your performance on your big night. It will also make the process of getting to that day much more fun and collaborative!

Are You Ready to Follow in Your Wedding Dance?

Happy dancing couple gives thumbs up
With a little patience, Following can be a lot of fun!

The real joy of couple’s dancing is moving together in harmony. The paradox is, to truly experience the joys of being led, you need to completely give yourself over to following and let the Leader lead.

Now that you have a better understanding of the two roles in partner dancing, are you ready to refrain from leading and say yes to following? If so, great. You may fall into back leading now and then—no problem. As long as you have the intention to follow and are willing to course correct when you stray from that, you’re all set to embark on a lead/follow wedding dance.

But maybe you know you are bound to lead. In that case, I recommend making a different plan for your first dance. Because there’s no reason you and your fiancé need to endure the extra stress of a partner-dance tug of war before your big day!

Alternative Options to a Standard First Dance

Here are a few alternative possibilities to a traditional Leader/Follower couples dance at your wedding:

1. Dance without Lead/Follow Roles

Do a casual dance where you just have move and play around without any real leading and following. You can still use a regular dance hold or hold hands, but don’t do any official moves, keep to a particular timing or take on. Instead, either of you can turn the other or yourself and move as you like. If you don’t care about your dance being perfectly smooth, you can create a fun, informal dance with little bumps and hiccups.

Wedding couple dances a mashup
A side-by-side routine is a fun alternative to a standard first dance. Credit: Artistique Imagery
2. Do a Choreographed Mash Up

Choreograph a routine where you dance side by side facing your guests (a la mash-up/flash-mob style). While you’ll need to memorize the moves and stay mostly in synch with each other, this solo-style routine doesn’t require the developing the nuanced communication and intimate coordination of steps that partner dancing requires.

3. Switch Roles

Finally, you could lead and your fiancé could follow. If you’re a male/female couple, this is certainly a break from tradition, but why not? At social dances these days (at least in urban areas), it’s becoming more common for men to follow and women to lead. Another option would be to switch roles during the dance. That way you both get a chance to be the Leader. I’ve had a few couples do this and it was a lot of fun!


In the Next Article…

Tune in next month when I’ll give you practical tips on how to avoid back leading and learn to follow like a pro! And don’t worry Leaders, after that I’ll give you tips on how to improve your lead and curb Followers’ back leading!

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