I am not alone in saying the biggest challenge for a Ballroom Dance instructor is teaching women how to 'follow' and men over their fear of 'taking the lead'.
Richard Powers, Instructor at Stanford University's Dance Division, has written a wonderful article on Great Partnering where he addresses the 'Dark Ages of Ballroom Dance' and the negative connotations of the terms lead and follow:
"Unfortunately, the 1920s through 1950s saw the emergence of a particularly disagreeable phase of ballroom dance, when the term lead meant 'command' and follow meant 'obey'."
The question I am asked most often is 'how do I know what he is doing next" or "how do I convey the next step to her?" It is all about giving and interpreting the signals. I describe it as the one who is following interpreting the body language of their partner. A slight turn of his head and his upper body starts to turn in that direction, it is a subtle move that when the ladies are tuned into their partner they can both experience an effortless change in direction while totally in sync with each other.
Being too forceful, passive or resistant can indicate deeper relationship issues which I have to work with but 'dance' around. While in a conversation with a friend and dance student, who teaches courses in assertiveness, we discovered that the same issues we encounter in everyday life manifest, in an instant, in partner dancing as soon as they go into the 'hold' position. I believe the same techniques used in assertiveness training can also be applied to the lead and follow issues we encounter in Ballroom partner dancing.
I have also discovered that the need for women to 'fix it' can block their ability to be patient while their partner is still learning the steps. Only after a man is confident in his footwork can he focus on learning how to lead or convey the signals to his partner.
While in a conversation with a friend and dance student, who teaches courses in assertiveness, we discovered the same issues manifest in partner dancing and the same techniques can be applied to remedy the situation.
Here are some quick notes I have compiled to reflect on and which I hope will provide some clear solutions to the lead/follow dilemma.
"Being assertive requires you to place as much attention on the person receiving
your message as it does on the way you send your message. By building a bridge
to them you are able to meet in the middle. This reduces confusion and can
enhance closeness and clarity. (Bourne, Edmund, 2010. Anxiety and Phobia
1. This is when you get that "ah ha ' feeling of being in sync and moving as
2. Especially in women, I believe thoughts of 'who's watching', 'what's the next
step,' etc. manifest in our body language and movement. This creates a
'disconnect' between the partners.
3. Practice of any physical activity through repetition creates memory in our
bodies on the cellular level.
4. If we can be present in the moment and aware of the space around us, just
like walking, we will soon be able to by-pass the 'mind' and let our cells
remember where our feet should go.
5. Leading does not equate to being aggressive or exercising power and control over the other, nor does following mean being passive.
I ask the ladies to move a half a second after he does to give yourselves time to 'pick up' on the signals and soon there will come a time when there is no leading or following … just dancing as one.
As Bourne says "represent 'yourself' in your own space" and as I say, "while maintaining self control." Just think about how wonderful it is to have a partner willing to experience the joy of dancing with you!