This post is a continuation of a series about leading and following, particularly in wedding first dances. The series starts with The #1 Mistake Brides Make with their First Dance.

Part 1: How to Do Your Part So You Can Both Enjoy Your First Dance

Happy wedding couple
3 things grooms can do for a successful first dance

Note: While this post talks about male-female wedding couples and leading, the information applies equally to same-sex wedding couples and anyone learning to partner dance. So, whether you’re single or coupled, gay or straight, or dance as a Leader or Follower, this article will inform your dancing!

In this post, I share tips for leading with confidence and pre-empting back leading for a successful dance and having fun in the process!

There are three components to pre-empting your bride from trying to lead (known as back leading) and successfully responding if it happens:

  1. Embrace your role as Leader
  2. Develop your leading skills
  3. Skillfully respond to back leading (in Part 2)
Confident groom
Own your role as the Leader!

1. Embrace Your Role as Leader

The more you step into the role of Leader when dancing, the less likely your bride is to try to. A good Leader is calm, decisive and assertive; good at planning, multi-tasking and communicating; and nonchalant about making mistakes!

If leading in dance is outside your comfort zone, you might imagine you’re an actor. Then boldly act the part of a dance Leader. Own and sell it!

This sort of confidence doesn’t come naturally for anyone, particularly new dancers, so don’t be afraid to ‘fake it until you make it’!

2. Develop Your Leading Skills

Once you’ve committed to playing the role of Leader, use these 5 tips to lead better and with more confidence.

Know the Footwork for Your Part

There’s a lot to think about as a Leader: where your feet go, what your arms do, what you’re going to lead, keeping time with the music, and what that look on your partner’s face means! I recommend practicing on your own, without your partner, until moving your feet through the steps becomes easy. Then you’ll have some spare brain cells to lead when you dance again with your partner!

Lead from the Center of Your Body

If you wanted to move a large, heavy piece of furniture across your living room, would you push it with your foot or lean into it with your body? Obviously the latter will be more effective. It’s the same in partner dancing.

Lead from the center of your body (i.e. your pelvis or “core”) not from your feet or arms. Paradoxically, moving your feet without your body is more likely to result in stepping on your partner. Instead, step assertively, moving your whole self as one unit. This will lead your Follower to move, clearing space for your foot to step.

Shift Weight Fully on Each Step
Feet shifting weight
Test yourself: Can you lift your free foot?

Change weight fully onto one foot every step you take. Oftentimes dance students think they’ve taken a complete step but actually have weight on both feet. This means you only have a 50/50 chance of taking the next step with the correct foot. It also makes it harder for your partner to feel and follow your lead.

When practicing, test yourself by lifting your other foot off the floor, which will be easy if you’ve really shifted your weight. Of course, when you’re actually dancing, you’ll keep your feet on the floor.

Couple dancing
A good frame is key for a smooth first dance
Maintain a Good Dance Frame

Dance frame is the term for how you connect yourself with your partner through your arms. Think of your frame as the communication lines that transmit leading and following information—and help prevent you from stepping on each other!

Your dance frame should start in the center of your body, then flow down your arms to your hands. When holding your partner, imagine you are in a body cast so that your body and arms move together in one piece. This allows your partner to clearly feel and be moved by your lead. That said, you don’t want to be rigid. Allow your frame to be toned yet supple, like a garden hose with water running through it.

Your job as the Leader is to give clear signals for what you want your Follower to do as you dance. Your Follower needs, and will greatly appreciate, a strong yet pliable frame.

Slow Things Down

If your bride is gets impatient, don’t take it personally. The Follower has a lot less to keep track of, so is often ready to move on before the Leader is. You won’t help anyone by pushing yourself to go faster than you can. Don’t be shy to ask your fiancé, “Can we go through it slowly without music?” or tell her, “I haven’t got this move down yet. I want to be able to actually lead you, so let’s practice it a little more before learning a new move.”

Brides often back lead because they’re anxious about having the wedding dance go well. You might reassure your fiancé that you are equally committed to a great wedding dance. Let her know that slowing things down is one way she can support you in making that happen.


Thumbs up to dancing
You’ve got this!

Learning to be a good dance Leader takes time. And making mistakes is not only normal, it’s actually the fastest way to get better. So go ahead and make plenty of mistakes, and be kind and patient with yourself through the process!

In the Next Article…

Now that you know the importance of staying in your role as Leader and how to become a good Leader, it’s time to equip you with strategies for addressing back leading if it happens.

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