If You Could Just Lead Me…
Or the Importance of Really Learning How to Ballroom Dance
Since the start of my Ballroom Dancing journey, I don’t know how many gentlemen I have observed, who expressed amazement over how quickly the ladies (in group classes) or their partners (in private lessons) seemed to pick up their steps, as well as frustration at their perceived difficulty in learning their own. But, Gentlemen, while it may look like your partners have mastered complicated steps, with lots of spins and flicks, at a supernatural speed, truthfully, unless you are dancing open choreography, all of those steps that they are doing are largely being initiated and guided by you.
The reality is that you gentlemen have the harder job, because, not only do you have to learn your own steps, but you have to learn how to lead a lady so that she will do hers. Moreover, you have to learn how steps fit together and which ones will work in different situations, so that, for instance, you can avoid a collision with another couple on the competition floor, or so that you don’t get stuck in a corner of the ballroom at a practice party. The result, ultimately, is that I think you often actually become the better dancers for it, believe it or not. Our job, as ladies, on the other hand, is largely to be good followers, and we need to remember to be patient while the gentlemen are learning their parts.
I can’t let you gentlemen entirely off the hook, though J. At one of my first studios, our instructors pounded it into our heads that the gentleman is always right and that if the lady messes up a step, it is always her fault. I understand from where they were coming; however, I don’t entirely agree. Sometimes, the gentleman hasn’t learned to lead correctly. One of the causes for this, sometimes, is that female dance instructors can get into a habit of backleading male students instead of actually making sure that they know how proper lead and follow should feel. So, Gentlemen, if you do a lot of social dancing and find that the ladies just aren’t able to follow you, it could be you, and not them. To test this, my suggestion is to see if an experienced dance partner, other than your instructor, can follow you. If not, then you might mention it to your instructor and see if you can’t work on fixing your leading skills.
If you could just lead me…
Be honest. How many times have you ladies said this to someone at a dance party? I think the real tragedy for us is that, since we don’t have to lead, we get lazy to the point of not even learning our steps. Consequently, we just rely on the gentlemen to make us look good and end up deluding ourselves into thinking that we are better dancers than we really are, when, in actuality, we are merely allowing ourselves to be dragged and thrown around the dance floor. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy it when a dance partner feels like he has to use physical strength to get me through a step.
What are some ways to mitigate this?
*One of the biggest ways to reduce the chance that your dance partner will have to exert a lot of strength to lead you is to maintain a good frame. That way, even if you don’t know a particular step, it should be fairly easy to follow.
*Another way is actually to learn how to do steps on your own or to dance your part in a routine by yourself. That is because, while you should be careful not to backlead, when you know the steps, you can execute them with confidence. If you can dance your steps confidently, then not only will you look better, but your partner won’t have to exert as much effort to make you look good and can actually have more freedom to try to look good himself.
Ladies who have studied other forms of dance, like ballet or jazz, where they learned to dance solo, may have an easier time learning to do steps by themselves, but that doesn’t mean that those of you who only have Ballroom Dance experience won’t be able to. The most important thing is not to lock in a step or a routine the wrong way. Go through it a few times with your instructor or partner, first. Then, once you are doing it correctly at the studio, have someone film you. Then you can watch the video and practice at the studio, while you are waiting for your instructor or partner to arrive, or else at home in your living room or basement.
Again, the main thing that you want to avoid is backleading. So don’t try to anticipate a step if you are social dancing. And on the competition floor, even if you know your routine inside and out, you should still be ready for the unexpected, in case, for example, your partner has to abruptly do a Hesitation to avoid another couple, or if you discover they are cutting the music early, and you need to move that final, hot trick, so that the judges actually get to see it before the music ends. And remember, if you actually learn your steps, you will know how to dance and not be just another person who says, “Well….if you could just lead me…”
If we can further assist you in any way, with leading, following, working on being able to practice your part by yourself, wedding dance choreography, you name it, please don’t hesitate to reach out to GQ Ballroom.
This is a great article, that provides more technical coverage of some of the problems that can arise in competition and how to handle them. It also further illustrates why we think it is essential to really learn and execute your steps well, while avoiding backleading, so that you can still take cues from your partner and follow, when problems aris, that necessitate little changes on the fly.