What Every Wedding Couple Needs to Know Before Their First Dance

In partner dancing, one person leads and the other follows. Those are just the rules of the game. When one or both people don’t play by the rules, the dance breaks down.

Bride and Groom Fight on Dance Floor
Don’t sabotage your first dance by making this mistake!

The biggest problem I see couples have when preparing for their wedding first dance is the bride (or Follower in a same-sex couple) doesn’t follow. When brides make the mistake of trying to lead, the dance is doomed.

Regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, Leader or Follower, your dancing will go better if you understand why brides/Followers don’t follow, how this negatively impacts your dance and how to resolve it.

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 who is learning to partner dance. So whether you’re single or coupled, gay or straight, or dance as a Leader or Follower, this blog post will help your dancing!

Help, I Lead When I’m Supposed to Follow

Traditionally in male-female couples, the man leads and the woman follows. Heterosexual wedding couples usually adhere to this tradition. So as a bride, you will be a “Follower” during your first dance. This means you agree to temporarily set aside your movement autonomy and do what your groom (the “Leader”) leads.

Upset figure needs help with dance
There can only be ONE Leader in partner dance.

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! In my experience, it’s tough for anyone learning to dance as a Follower to relinquish this control. But when you’re a bride preparing to dance at your wedding, it can be even harder.

Brides often already know following her fiancé might be an issue. Before we even start dance lessons, women often tell me, “I have a problem: I tend to lead.” Often these women have no real intention of changing their ways. Instead, these brides hope taking dance lessons will somehow smooth out dancing with their fiancé while still letting them be a backseat driver.

When a Follower tries to lead in ballroom dancing it’s called back leading. The Follower may pre-guess or flat out initiate moves on their own instead of waiting and doing what the Leader directs. This usurping of control spawns confusion (who’s leading who?) and conflict (hey, you’re supposed to be the Follower).

Back leading isn’t neutral; it has real costs. After 19 years of helping wedding couples, I can promise brides that making an honest effort to follow will result in a far better dance (and spare both you and your fiancé much misery)!

Why Do Brides/Followers Back Lead?

When a Follower is called out for back leading, the usual excuse they give is that the Leader wasn’t leading or the lead was unclear. Sometimes this may be true. However, the main source of back leading is some sort of anxiety.

Anxiety is the #1 source of back leading

Common anxieties brides experience when preparing for their wedding dance include:

  • Worry about looking foolish in front of everyone at the wedding
  • Nervous your fiancé won’t learn quickly enough or be able to deliver on your big day
  • Concern you aren’t doing the moves “right”
  • Afraid that if you don’t know in advance when and what your fiancé will lead, you’ll miss the move, mess up and/or look bad
  • Worry that your first dance will seem boring if your fiancé does too many basics

These anxieties, often unconscious, manifest as back leading or “helping.” They can also show up as boredom, impatience, blame and criticism. All of these create more problems than they solve and often land you and your fiancé in a bad mood. But more importantly, they prevent your first dance from looking and feeling as fabulous as it can be!

Why Back Leading Backfires

Car backfire
Back leading is doomed to backfire

When a Follower takes over the lead, it almost always backfires. This is true even if your intention is to be helpful.

First, it interrupts your Leader’s learning process. The Leader doesn’t get the opportunity to practice, make mistakes or hone their leading skills. This produces the inevitable loop:

  1. Bride is frustrated that the groom isn’t learning as well or fast as she’d like, so bride starts back leading
  2. The groom’s leading gets worse not better
  3. The bride grows increasing frustrated and complains the groom needs to lead better
  4. The groom becomes exasperated by the catch-22 of being told to lead only to have his bride undermine his lead by back leading
Goats lock horns in fight
A power struggle will only derail your dance

The Leader’s stress and anger builds. His confidence may start to erode because he interprets your back leading to mean he’s doing something wrong or is a bad dancer. Afraid of making a mistake or being criticized, the groom’s lead tends to become more confusing and hesitant—far from the clear, strong lead you hoped back leading would elicit. In an attempt to speed things up, your “helping” has actually derailed progress on your dance.

When you back lead as a Follower, it puts you and your Leader in a power struggle. At first your fiancé may roll with this, but soon frustration builds under the surface. The situation then quickly degrades into scowls, verbal pokes or even a full-out argument. What should have been a fun time together has become awkward and adversarial. But more than that, your first dance endures a significant setback.

Don’t Despair—You Can Have a Great First Dance

Happy couple dancing a dip
Next month: How to stop back leading and actually enjoy following!

The good news is that back leading is pretty easy to remedy. The first and biggest step is to acknowledge you are back leading and be open to changing that. From there it’s simply a matter of developing the following skills that will allow you to relax, stop back leading and enjoy being led by your fiancé!

In the Next Article…

I share 4 secrets about partner dancing that will help brides enjoying following. And Leaders, at the end of this series, I’ll give you tips on how to improve your lead and curb Followers’ back leading!

Reader Interactions


  1. Nathan Carter says

    I found it interesting that the biggest cause of dancing mix ups happen when you both try to lead. My fiance and I are getting ready for our wedding this summer, and I am greatly in need of dance classes. I will keep this in mind while I am looking for teachers, and working out my dance moves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *