On Lead and Follow

A search for quotes about “lead and follow” provides many references to leadership friendship, and other relationships. Although they are very applicable, Lead and Follow is also about ballroom dance.

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When starting to learn ballroom dance, the focus is on hold and basic feet movements. At that stage, Lead and Follow is more like memorizing: Lead does this, then the follower does that. More steps means more memorizing. However, in time, Lead and Follow becomes very important – and it’s not easy. So what is Lead and Follow?

Lead and Follow is the essence of social ballroom dance, which is not choreographed. Lead and Follow is an interaction between two people that allows them to synchronize motions to compliment each other and the music. Lead and Follow is about dancing together and enjoying each other with the Lead being responsible for initiating steps and patterns while navigating the floor and planning ahead while the Follower interprets and executes the signals from the Lead.

Given a variety of skill levels present in a social ballroom dance setting, it is paramount the Lead recognizes their partner’s ability level and leads within that level. I frequently see the following at social dance: A lead is given, but the follower didn’t respond with the expected step. The Lead then goes into instructional mode of “When I do this, you do that.” That is not Lead and Follow! Yes, some of their problems may be due to skill level differences, but most is due to the lack of connection between the dancers; therefore poor directions delivers poor results.

I still recall one particular lesson we had with an instructor who wasn’t our regular one. (It probably was within the first or second year of our lessons). Her points were simple: Leads should be subtle, but clear; Followers needs to tune in to detect the subtle signal, and then respond accordingly. Both leading and following are difficult skills, but can come with experience.

Image from Microsoft Office

Lead and Follow requires a connection between the partners because that connection is the communication line transmitting signals through a strong frame. With the goal of moving together as one, signals travel through any of the following (or combination of): whole body, core, shoulders, hips, back, elbows, arms, hands, legs, and feet, plus extensions and compressions.

For me, my dance frame has been strong for much of my dance journey. Therefore, I notice when my partner’s frame is weak – which makes communication difficult. No wonder dancers struggle when both frames are weak because the communication line is (at best) on life support. I also know why ladies with good frames who struggle when they dance with men with poor frames.

Developing clear and subtle leads is a never-ending journey – and I admit that I haven’t always been subtle. Even though my frame, connection, and subtlety have improved with time, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Yet, I now know that Lead and Follow is more like a series of act-and-react actions. After all, what if my partner does something different from I anticipated? It could mean my lead wasn’t clear – but it also means I have to react by keeping the time and adjusting my next movement while disbanding my anticipated plan – and then my partner must react to my adjusted signal – and then it’s back to me. This act-react cycle is ongoing throughout the entire dance until the music stops.

When things get out of whack, I admit to enjoying the maddening flurry of steps with a skilled partner to get us back in sync. Fortunately, I possess an ability to do that much of the time – although I may never duplicate the series again because I don’t know what I did. On the other hand, I also enjoy leading a less-experienced dancer to do steps they didn’t know.

There are numerous analogies for Lead and Follow. Lead is speaking while Follow is listening. Lead is communication while Follow is translating. Lead is the driver while Follow is the passenger. Lead is the offense while Follow is the patient defense. I’m sure there are more, but hopefully these analogies make sense.

No matter the ability, Lead and Follow is about the connection between the partners on two levels: with each other and with the music. My favorite dance partners are the ones with good frames that serve as the foundation of a good connection and they know how to follow.

On the other hand, two people who have never danced together can have a magical first dance – a dance that is socially flawless – well, as long as they have a strong connection with each other.

Recently, I have had some remarkable dancing with people I’ve never danced with before. The reasons are simple – a strong connection between two people, the ability to read each other, and comparable skills levels. For me, those times are euphoric – and at the end of the dance, two people can smile, look into each others eyes with amazement and appreciation, and thank each other for a wonderful dance.

Enjoy this video. Although this couple practiced this routine, the majority of the steps/patterns in their routine can be done with Lead and Follow in a social ballroom dance setting – well, assuming the dancers know the dance – in this case, Bolero.

64 thoughts on “On Lead and Follow

  1. Frank,

    There are so many components to the Lead and Follow, the integration of which allows for the kind of dance that, as you said, leaves you looking in your dance partner’s eyes and smiling as you embrace that euphoric feeling. Wow, and wow! I have experienced various of these elements in playing sports- way back in the day. But the dance, it is a star driven thing to me. I am in awe of peeps such as yourself who can command the dance floor like that.

    What really stood out to me was how there is a great deal of choreography, but that it is mostly improvised. That you might not remember the particular series because you were just following through, doing it, in the moment.

    That’s just inspiring.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Marc,
      The fact that you captured the essence of what I was trying to say makes me feel good about this post. Believe me, I kept playing with the words on this one.

      I had one of the awesome first-time dances several weeks ago. Both of us were stunned and appreciative. We ran into each other a week later. I told her what I told my instructor, and then she told me she said the same thing. Simply magical. … and then we danced we together several more times.

      And yes … social ballroom is not choreographed – strictly lead and follow.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Miss Raye is gonna love this one 😉
    I am, by no means, a dancer, though I do love to dance. Nothing is better than when I end up with a dance partner who is a fabulous leader (usually on vacation. Actually, always on vacation!) You come out of it flushed and feeling so exuberant and accomplished – even if you didn’t do so well. A good leader makes you look good.
    Love this.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The ability to read each other, comparable skills levels. a strong connection. Dancing or any worthwhile endeavor…a great conversation, witty banter for instance. Well done, sir and thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mo,
      You are not the first to do so on this post, but I appreciate the non-dance connections that you and other readers have made. I was so focused on the dance aspect of this post, I totally missed other applications. Thank you, kind sir!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such an interesting post Frank! And so much of what you point to as important in dancing well pertains to every day life I think. Perhaps we should all learn to dance so that we can carry the skills over. I watched the video with interest. I thought the male partner seemed more competent than the woman, what are your thoughts?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pauline,
      So interesting that I focused on the dance aspect of this post, but missed the application aspect. At least to this point, the majority of readers have done that for me!!!!! Thank you!

      In terms of the video, oh yes – the male is more polished than the lady. He is very controlled and has good form – which is better than mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this post. Beautiful explanation of social ballroom and lead and follow. But I can’t help but add that lead and follow is a perfect explanation of how to enjoy a good marriage/relationship as well as friendship. I almost signed up years ago for a social ballroom class (my guy had no interest, since he has four left feet) but my best friend was horrified: “You’ll meet someone else and your marriage will end!” she said, desperate. “Ballroom dancers communicate so well and connect on so many levels, they fall in love with each other.” She was so adamant, that I never took those lessons.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pam,
      Good morning. Thanks for the kind words and glad you enjoyed this trip around the ballroom. I love the fact that you applied this post on a specific topic to other aspects of life. I was so focused on the task at hand, I missed doing that. Then again, maybe it will become a future post!

      You also got me thinking about all the couples that I’ve encounter in social ballroom. Believe me, they are from A to Z in terms of where the are with dance … and also differences between the partners.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Hey – maybe your future will cross paths with ballroom dance.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this last night and smiled. I took dance lessons last fall. The friend who encouraged me to take them told me this: Men lead, and while this is not necessarily difficult, it’s the navigation and anticipation and charting the next step that is not their natural suit; and women need to follow, and this is contrary to most women’s nature. I found the latter to be true. Dancing with strangers, trusting them, looking at them (instead of my feet), and intuiting instead of anticipating were all challenging. But when you sync, you sync, you dance. And when you don’t, you falter. I loved this post. Thanks for writing it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Karen,
      Many thanks for sharing your experience with ballroom. I know my wife is aware of her toes – especially because of an arthritic big toe. Interestingly, sometimes toes get in the way is a sign of alignment problems.

      You mentioned watching your feet. I know a few ladies who look down because they are watching the guy’s feet, and then reacting accordingly. (That’s obviously not good Lead and Follow).

      Leading is an art, and so is following. I read one description that said the follower must wait as long as possible to act (as opposed to anticipating).

      Glad you enjoyed this journey into my ballroom world.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It must be wonderful when in Sync Frank.. So many things to remember when dancing.. Thank you for explaining more about your wonderful gift of Dance.. It is always a pleasure to watch this beautiful art form my friend..
    Thank you for your share and your patience .. As I at last land one step before the other here.. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes I stand in awe when we watch our seven year old granddaughter do her ball room dance. At her presentation awards.. I do not know how they remember all the different steps.. She won two Gold awards for Ballroom and Latin. And a special medal of honour of distinction for getting the highest grade marks in her dance school by the examiner.. So yes in awe of your all.. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. So many life lessons on the dance floor, Frank. I can imagine the feeling of accomplishment when all goes according to plan. Seems the same in almost any endeavor. Some should lead, some should follow and when each tries to usurp the other’s role chaos occurs. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. In my experience Frank it is important to listen to the body – and use the body to lead. A person should not be too shy to get close to their dance partner! As one who follows (ah, the feminists do not like that), I am to do advanced choreography I had not learnt. It is a wonderful experience! To do so, I had to trust my partner and that he would know where to lead. On the other hand, I do not enjoy dancing with men who can not lead. I love the movement and losing myself in the music – I don’t want to have to listen to instructions and bump into people all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. A lovely post Frank. I’m not a ballroom dancer but this is surely tempting. Leading,( as has been my experience in dancing that leading is the man’s job) He is the leader, the woman follows his lead, and must trust that he is going to be there. traditional gender roles. That is one of the things that is so very romantic about ballroom dancing, the man must basically control (though I don’t really like that word) , guiding his partner a firm hand (not too firm, lol) . Thank you for getting into the very heart and essentials of leading and following in dance. Lovely post and great link.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holly,
      Woo hoo … I had a feeling you would enjoy this one! 🙂

      Yes, the male is usually the lead … but the female helps drive the ship – especially when the female is going forward.

      I know what you mean about the word control – but hey – a reason why “lead” is a better term. For me, there is a lot to think about on the ballroom floor – probably the reason I don’t smile enough when dancing … I’m thinking! No rest for the weary.

      In a way, the Lead and Follow relationship is kind of a ying and yang thing. After all, the whole has to make it work.

      Liked by 1 person

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  12. An interesting post, Frank. I’m not a ballroom dance, and I’ve never thought about the back and forth of lead and follow in this way. (And obviously, both are needed to be successful.)
    The first thing I thought of though when I read the title was the Carole King song, “Where you Lead,” which was also the theme song for “The Gillmore Girls.” 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Merril,
      Well .. the first thing I’ve done is put the Carol King song in the background! 🙂 .. thanks for that thought.

      I imagined that most non-dancers would think that ballroom is choreographed – but yes – lead and follow is the way – and a lot goes into it (which I’ve tried to express). Glad you enjoyed this one!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I adore ballroom dancing! I did at one time have a Jive partner. We had a lot of fun, for several years.
    Of course, being from the prairies, I did study and practice Square Dancing. Now that’s more than fun!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Resa,
      I had no idea (or don’t remember) that you have jive experience. How cool … now that’s fast stuff! I’ve done very little square dancing, but enough to know that it’s fun once one learns what to do!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m not a real strong ballroom dancer, although i have had some lessons. What I have experienced, though, is that if I have a strong leader I feel the confidence and can dance without nearly the effort. I have a cousin who is a spectacular dancer and at family weddings and such I’m always more than happy to edge myself his way! He leads beautifully! Your pleasure in dancing is so nice to read about, Frank.

    Liked by 2 people

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