In the last post, I debunked common myths about following and shared some of the many upsides to dancing as a Follower. The real joy of ballroom dancing is moving together in harmony with another person. This goes much more smoothly when each person sticks to their role as Leader or Follower, and does so with a spirit of cooperation.
It’s completely normal to back lead when you first start dancing. It takes time and experience to learn what following is and acquire the skills to do it well. If you haven’t already, check out the initial post in this series in which I share reasons brides/Followers back lead and explain how doing so derails your dance.
In this post, I give brides/Followers strategies to stop back leading and follow like a pro! Surprisingly, I think you’ll find that following will give you more of what you want than back leading ever will!
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!
Honing Your Following Skills
The better you are at following, the less you’ll need to back lead and the better your whole wedding dance experience will be. Here are my 4 top tips for following like a pro.
1. Improve Your Dance Frame
Dance frame is the term for how you connect yourself with your partner through your arms. You can think of your dance frame as the communication lines that transmit leading and following—and help prevent you from stepping on each other!
You want your dance frame to start in the center of your body, then flow down and out your arms to your hands. Your frame should have a little energy and tone yet still be supple. You might imagine yourself as honey. Instead of air (too light and loose) or a rock (to heavy and stiff), honey flows yet has a little resistance and “sticks” to its partner.
When you trust your dance frame, you can relax. Your partner’s leads will automatically be transmitted through your arms into your body, moving you where you need to go so you don’t need to worry about anticipating what’s coming next. This is when following really gets fun!
2. Don’t Move Unless You’re Led
It’s easy to just do a move because you know that’s what your partner is trying to lead or it’s part of a routine you learned. However, following when your Leader doesn’t actually lead a move does you both a disservice. Your partner will think their lead is fine and never know they need to, say, apply more pressure on your back or raise their hand to the left.
Instead, allow your fiancé to learn how to lead well by not dancing a move unless you physically feel the lead. For instance, if you don’t feel the lead to turn, don’t turn. The Leader needs this direct feedback to calibrate the strength and timing of their signals. This doesn’t mean you only follow leads that are perfect, nor that you become an immobile weight your Leader needs to push around the floor. You’re simply waiting for signals that are clear and strong enough to feel.
Note: Most of us aren’t used to physically moving other person around in daily life. Therefore, Leaders may think they’re forcefully pushing and pulling their partners, even when their leads are light as a feather! If necessary, reassure your fiancé that a stronger lead feels good and clear—not like they’re shoving you around.
3. Lag Behind the Leader
Surprisingly, being a good Follower doesn’t mean responding instantaneously to a lead. By definition, leading requires the Leader goes first and then the Follower goes.
Without this little delay, Followers get ahead, taking a step before Leaders get a chance to lead. A good Leader initiates leads half a second before the Follower needs to do anything. Allow this lag: the Leader dancing on the beat and you slightly behind the beat.
4. Stay Balanced Over Your Feet
One reason Followers get ahead of Leaders is being off balance. If you’re off balance, you’ll automatically take a step so you don’t fall. When you’re comfortably poised over your foot, not only can you wait to receive the lead before stepping, but you’ll also to able to move in any direction with equal ease.
To stay better balanced, practice keeping your weight a little forward toward the balls of your feet. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling backward. Your heels can be on the floor, you just don’t want a lot of weight in them.
Embracing the Follower’s Role
To be a good Follower, you first need to be willing embrace the role. Here are 4 strategies to help you find and maintain a Follower’s frame of mind.
1. Remind Yourself Why You’re Learning to Follow
There are many benefits to following instead of back leading, including:
- Learning to be a good Follower is the fastest, most reliable way to have the fun, successful wedding dance you want.
- Your fiancé’s leading will improve more quickly when you truly follow.
- Both you and your partner will look and feel better dancing together.
- Dancing your respective Leader and Follower roles is best way to avoid the bickering and bad moods back leading tends to generate.
If you feel tempted to back lead, remind yourself why you decided to develop your following.
2. Cultivate Patience
Following is an exercise in being present and patient. Your Leader needs plenty of time and space to practice at their own pace.
So when your fiancé dances the 20th basic step, remember: He’s not trying to annoy you; Leaders just have a lot to keep track of! Instead of saying, “Turn me already!”—or back leading yourself in a turn—just breathe and be patient.
3. Communicate with Kindness
Use “I” statements and communicate with kindness when giving your partner feedback. For example, instead of saying, “You’re not leading me,” you might say, “I’m not feeling the lead.”
This includes non-verbal messages as well. Being relaxed in your body and smiling can go a long way toward putting your Leader at ease (while tensing up, looking bored or sighing heavily can quickly degrade your fiancé’s dancing and mood).
4. Know When to Take a Break
If curbing your tendency to back lead is challenging, set a time limit (e.g. one song, 10 minutes of practice, one dance lesson a week). It’s easier to do something when you know it has a clear end point.
And don’t be afraid to take a break. Learning plummets when dancers feel frustrated, distracted, pressured or upset. It’s better to take a break and return to practicing when you both have the attention and are in a better mood.
A Final Note: It’s Only Dancing!
It is your wedding and you want things to be just right. But as my dance mentor is fond of saying, “It’s only dancing!” Sometimes the best thing you can do is to step back, see the big picture and take the pressure off.
Your first dance is just 3 minutes of your entire wedding day. Whether it’s done well or poorly has no bearing on how awesome you are as a person nor the success of your marriage! Besides, wedding guests really don’t care how fancy your steps are or if your routine is perfect—they just want to see you having a good time and to share in your romantic moment.
You’re Now Ready to Rock Your First Dance!
Now it’s time to put these tools to use! As you prepare for your wedding dance, be kind and patient with both yourself and your fiancé. With time, practice and your teacher’s help, dancing together will become smoother and easier and you’ll enjoy a fabulous first dance.
In the Next Article…
We’ll look at the #1 mistake grooms make with their first dance and common myths about leading to watch out for.