Why do Women back-lead on the Dance Floor and is it Ever OK?

box step charts

separate dance footwork for follower and leader

Back leading is a term for the habit of some follows to lead themselves through dance moves the leader has nothing to do with.  If the leader has any skill, this is the kind of behavior that causes him to mark that follower off his list for future dances, or hire a dance teacher for her.  If, on the other hand, he has no skills, well that’s probably why she’s doing it.  Followers back lead for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes because her partner is leading and she wants to dance, so she leads herself in self defense.  Sometimes its because she doesn’t know how to follow and doesn’t realize that following is a skill that can be learned.  And sometimes, in rare cases, it’s because I told her to do it.


Why on earth would I do that?  Well, I was inspired to write this post when I gave that advice to a couple who came to me for their first dance.  Dance did not not come easily to this particular groom and they came for lessons less than two weeks before the wedding.  They didn’t have time to learn the skills of leading and following and their goal was to have a dance that looked as good as possible on that one day.


Learning the timing of leading an underarm turn was not happening for him.  If she leads herself through the turn, she could time it exactly right and no one watching could tell who actually lifted who’s arm.  When the goal is to achieve a certain look, rather than to actually learn to dance, whatever works is the right thing to do.  If they want to come back later, when there is no time pressure, to really learn to dance, she’ll have to break that habit or she won’t be able to dance with anyone else.  But not everyone who wants to learn a dance for their wedding has any desire to every dance again after that!


The other time I might suggest back leading is when the follower has a good sense of rhythm and the leader can’t find the beat in the music.  Rhythm is a right brain skill and the easiest way to learn it is to sneak it in the back door when you’re not paying attention.  In this case, I’ll suggest the couple practice a repetitive basic step and have the follower lead it so the leader can feel the timing without trying.  Eventually the body picks up the feel of how the steps fit the music and the leader realizes he can feel it without really knowing how it happened.  It’s not good for the follower because she has to undo the habit of back leading when it’s no longer necessary, but that’s so much easier to do than learning how to find the beat that it’s worth the trade off.


If I’m teaching someone to follow, not for an event like a wedding, but just to be able to go out dancing, I don’t teach specific moves beyond the basic step.  I teach the skill of following.  I want her to learn to let go of needing to know in advance what to do.  Following is all about trust.  Trust in yourself to be able to pick up what you need to know from the leader.  Trust in your partner to give you the lead you need.  And be willing to let the leader have the responsibility of the lead.  If your worst fear does manifest and you can’t read the lead, know that it’s not your responsibility to make something up.  Instead, let your partner know you didn’t get a lead so he’ll know what he did wrong and can fix it.  It’s much easier to learn the lead if your practice partner follows what you actually lead and not what she guesses you meant to lead.


So, no back leading when your goal is to learn to follow.  But surprisingly not everyone’s goal is that straightforward.  I like to clarify the goal, and do what works best to achieve it.

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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