Part 2: How to Successfully Communicate with Your Partner About Back Leading

Puppet on a stringNote: 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!

So, you’ve embraced your role as Leader and started building your skills. Now it’s time for tips on how to respond to back leading and communicate with your fiancé for a smooth wedding dance preparation.

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.

Don’t Be Shy – Address Back Leading When It Happens

If your bride anticipates moves instead of waiting for your lead, you might feel frustrated or discouraged. Many grooms give up at this point and relinquish their role as Leader. They mistakenly think letting their fiancé “lead” will avoid conflict. Going along with back leading may work for a while, but inevitably confusion and tension will build to the breaking point.

Resist the temptation to acquiesce! Instead, stay in your role as Leader and address the situation directly with both your body and your words.

How to Respond to Back Leading with Your Body

Stay Calm and Steady

When a Follower back leads, the Leader’s automatic response is often to stiffen, speed up and/or lead more forcefully with their arms. The better alternative is to stay calm and relaxed. Breathe and stay slow, steady and on beat.

Man with low center of gravity
Breathe, stay calm and lower your center of gravity
Drop Your Center of Gravity

When a Follower back leads, it’s easy to tense up. When you do, your center of gravity rises up toward your head and shoulders, decreases your balance and makes your leads less effective and feel like uncomfortable pushes and pulls. An antidote is to let back leading be a reminder to soften your knees and drop your weight down into the floor. This allows you to be grounded and lead from the center of your body in a way that’s both clear and comfortable.

Make Your Leads More Obvious

Sometimes you may think you’re leading clearly but it’s actually so light your bride doesn’t feel it. She may back lead to fill the void. In this case, remember your leading skills: tone up your dance frame, initiate movement from the center of your body, and move your body as one unit. You can also “turn up” the volume on your leads. Slightly exaggerate the size and strength of your signals, and/or use eye contact and facial expressions to telegraph to your fiancé what’s coming next.

Do Connection Exercises with Your Partner

Connection exercises help focus on the information coming through your dance frame (pressure, tension, weight change, etc.). This tends to build a Follower’s confidence in her ability to feel and respond to leads (so she doesn’t need to anticipate!).

A simple connection exercise is to have the Follower close their eyes. Start by shifting your weight from foot to foot in place, leading your partner to do the same. Once the two of you are in synch, you might begin to slowly walk around the dance floor. Mix things up (i.e., vary the number of steps you take or change the speed or direction) so your fiancé has a opportunity to really follow.

How to Respond to Back Leading with Your Words

Couple talking
Communicate with kindness not blame

You’ll likely need to supplement the non-verbal approaches above with a little conversation. Set yourself up for success by keeping it light, communicating with an attitude of kindness and humor, and taking full responsibility for your part.

Here are examples of some things you might say:
  • “It seems I’m still finishing this pattern as you’re starting the next. Can we go through it slowly and figure out what’s happening?”
  • “My intention is to lead you in a single turn. How can I signal better so you know it’s a single—and not a double—turn?”
  • “Can you wait a bit longer for my lead before starting your turn?”
  • “Thanks for helping me with the lead and I want to make sure I get it down. Can we do it with just me leading?”
  • “I feel like you’re leading this move. Are you doing that intentionally?”
  • And the humorous, but potentially more provocative, “Who’s leading who here?”

What to Do If Your Fiancé Gets Defensive

If your bride reacts negatively to what you’ve said, first, stay calm. Then try this fool-proof formula for navigating the conversation in a way that makes your partner right and allows you to share your point of view without blame.

1. Really Understand Her Point of View

Listen to what she says and understand her point of view (even though you might strongly disagree!). Then let her know that you understand and empathize with what she’s said. For example, “I hear that you don’t know when I want you to turn. I totally understand that’s making this stressful instead of fun for you.”

2. Calmly Share Your Point of View

Next, share your point of view. Fill your partner in on something she might not realize that could help her see the bigger picture. Express this as neutrally as possible. For example, “What you may not realize is that when I raised my hand sooner, it led you to turn too quickly. So now I’m intentionally raising my hand later as a way to help keep us in time with the music.”

3. Offer or Ask for a Suggestion

Finally, offer or ask for a suggestion. Continuing with the same example, you might offer, “What if I keep the same timing but give you more pressure on your back so you really know the turn is happening?” Alternatively, you might ask, “How do you think the lead can change so it’s clear to you and we stay on beat?”


Do Not Give Up
Stay strong Leaders!

Learning to couples dance is a skill that takes time to develop. Making mistakes is all part of the process. So, treat yourself and your partner with ample kindness and patience—you’re both doing the best you can!

And if you feel tempted to hand over the dance reins to your bride, remember: YOU are the Leader. Dancing your respective roles as Leader and Follower is best way to enjoy a smooth, successful first dance!

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