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.
The Most Common First Dance Problem
Wedding couples share a common problem when it comes to preparing for their first dance: fighting over control of the dance. In partner dancing, one person leads and the other follows; those are just the rules of the game. When you don’t play by these rules, your dance breaks down.
The biggest mistake grooms (aka. Leaders) make is acquiescing their lead to their brides (aka. Followers) or being at a loss for what to do if their partner tries to take over the lead.
In this post, I give grooms a little primer on why their fiancés may try to lead. I’ll also dispel 4 common myths that, if believed, can inadvertently encourage your Follower to back lead.
Note: In this article, I talk about male-female wedding couples and leading. However, the information applies equally to same-sex wedding couples, as well as everyone learning to partner dance. Whether you’re single or coupled, gay or straight, or dance as a Leader or Follower, this post will inform your dancing!
What Every Groom Needs to Know Before Their First Dance
Back leading is the term used in partner dancing when a Follower anticipates what will be led and starts moving before the Leader gives a lead. Back leading can also show up as the Follower resisting a lead or flat out initiating moves themselves.
As you get ready to take wedding dance lessons, it’s helpful to know it’s common for brides to back lead, at least in the beginning. Following is a skill just like leading, and it takes time to learn. The high stakes of a wedding can make it extra hard for brides to give up control over where and how they move. However, many Followers will back lead regardless of how good a dancer you are. So don’t take it personally!
If unaddressed, back leading tends to spiral into conflict and diminish the quality of your first dance. Now that you know to expect this little tug of war as a normal part of first dance preparation, you’re already poised to handle it with more grace than many grooms.
4 Myths About Leading Your Wedding Dance
Now let’s look at 4 myths about your wedding dance to watch out for. If believed, you may inadvertently encourage your partner to back lead. Knowing the truth will help you assert your lead if it’s challenged.
Myth #1: My fiancé is a better dancer, so I should let her take the lead
Many wedding couples start by telling me the same tale: she’s a good dancer with great rhythm, and he has little or no skill. Both bride and groom have bought into this story that the main reason they’re taking lessons is to get him up to speed because she knows what she’s doing.
You might be surprised how often this assessment is dead wrong. Usually the two are pretty similar in skill level. Sometimes the groom is actually more coordinated, has better rhythm and/or is a faster learner than the bride! While your fiancé may be very comfortable dancing and moving her body, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s good at learning specific steps or following a partner.
A bride’s confidence in her dance ability (and lack of clarity on her role as a Follower) may set the stage for her taking over the lead. And the groom’s lack of confidence, often has him believe he should go along with that.
Even if your fiancé has excellent partner dance skills and you truly are a “bad” dancer, letting your partner back lead your wedding dance is a doomed prospect. Sticking to your roles as Leader and Follower will result in a much smoother, more enjoyable first dance every time!
Myth #2: My fiancé likes to be in control and will never let me lead
Understandably, most brides want their big day to go exactly as they envision. Sometimes brides are the “Leader” in overall wedding planning and decision making. Your fiancé can certainly have equal (or total) say in the aspects of your first dance such as the song, style of dance, what moves you do and how many times, etc. But when it comes to actually moving together on the dance floor, you still need to play the roles of Leader and Follower.
Under the surface of even the most determined-to-be-in-control brides is usually a woman who wants to be led by her partner. It may take a little while for your fiancé to learn how to follow and get comfortable relinquishing control. By assertively assuming the role of Leader, you actually support your partner in enjoying following. When a Follower is confident that the Leader is in control of the dance, they can relax. When you lead fully, your bride’s face will light up and they’ll gladly follow you!
Myth #3: If I lead strongly, my partner will feel like she’s being pushed around
If you’re like most people, you aren’t used to physically moving another person around in your daily life. Most beginning Leaders err on the side of being too light, both because they don’t want to hurt their partners and because they’re still figuring out when and how to lead. What feels like a shove to you, may actually feel feather light to your partner. If your Follower can barely discern your leads, they won’t know what to do. Their response will likely be to “help” by back leading.
It takes a little time to calibrate your internal sensations of pressure and force with the external reality of what your partner feels. If you’re concerned you’re leading too hard, just ask, “Is that too hard” or “Does that feel like I’m pushing you?” Most of the time your partner’s answer will be “no,” or even, “you could lead it stronger!”
Myth #4: If I move small and subtle, I won’t look like a fool on the dance floor
You might be nervous about dancing in front of your friends and family at your wedding. Grooms sometimes think making their movements small and subtle will help them look less foolish and disguise any mistakes. So instead of leading clearly, they’re leads are tentative and vague. When a Follower doesn’t get clear direction on where to go, she’s likely to start back leading.
Good Leaders make their signals obvious. If you want to look cool, you need to dance with confidence and assertiveness. A little “fake it ‘til you make it” works well here.
Now that you know about back leading and won’t be fooled by common myths about your first dance, it’s time to find out how to become a good Leader. In the next article I’ll tell you how, plus give you skillful strategies for addressing back leading if it happens.