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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Dancing Sells Water!


Evian ad shows dancing babies

Babies roller dance in creative Evian ad

Dancing is truly the embodiment of joy and I love it when a company uses this concept to promote a healthy product. OK, I know there is controversy about bottled water and I agree it’s not the best thing for the environment, but when you get to the dance and realize you forgot your water bottle, it’s good that you can buy a bottle of water instead of a soda. Evian’s creative use of the idea that water makes you feel young is a joy to watch, not to mention a masterpiece to create. No matter how you feel about bottled water, you have to love this ad. Dancing does make you feel young. Dancing does bring out your inner child. This IS the way you feel when you let yourself go on the dance floor. And could anything possibly be any cuter?[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=_PHnRIn74Ag&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7296″ /]

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing Animals in Australia

Dancing Kangaroos

Kangaroos Hit the Dance Floor!

The Nature Conservancy does great work and I love it when they use dance to showcase what they do.  OK, it’s not a regular theme, but here they are talking about their Australia project.  They illustrated it with these wonderful photos of dancing Aussie animals getting down!  Have fun checking this out!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Cats in the Dance Studio: Pros and Cons

Fred and Ginger as kittens

Fred and Ginger, Dance Studio cats

Taking a tip from one of my favorite columnists, Jon Carroll, Warning!  The following is a cat article.  Non cat people may want to skip this one.


Cats are great role models.  They embody effortless grace.  They never suffer from self-consciousness.  They are never put out for long when someone refuses a dance with them.  They naturally assume it was a onetime fluke.  They always give you a second chance.


My cats, Fred and Ginger, grew up in a dance studio and are a great asset when my students are cat people and not so popular when they’re not.  Ginger, being a cat, assumes that anyone who comes into the studio is there to visit her.  She gets highly insulted when she is ignored, particularly when I’m working with a couple.  After all, there is an extra person.  Why aren’t they petting her?  This attitude is reinforced by the fact that they usually are.


Unlike Fred and Ginger, my first cats, Uki and Tori, were shoulder snugglers.  Tori would hang out on the shoulder of whoever wasn’t dancing, happy to be transferred from one dancer to another throughout the lesson.  I had students who couldn’t bring themselves to stop coming because they had fallen in love with my cats.  A definite asset.


Since both cats are content to be locked in the bedroom as long as they are together, there is no problem with students who don’t care for cats.  The only downside is the occasional student with a serious allergy.  This was a rare problem for most of my career, but it is getting to be more common.  Places of business with live in cats boast a unique charm, but the allergy thing is a definite liability.  The only circumstance in which I’ll travel to a student’s home with no extra charge is when an allergy prevents them from coming to me.  If they’re not more than 20 minutes away and I want to work with them, I’ll go to them.  After all, it’s not their fault my studio is home to animals.  Most studios are not.


Ginger practices a dance move.

Ginger practices a dance move.

Without a doubt, the most common reaction on being greeted in the studio by Ginger is one of sheer delight.  Ginger is a real charmer and helps put nervous new students at ease the moment they enter the door.  Not everyone loves cats, but the vast majority does seem to appreciate Ginger.  Over all, the charm of animals in studio adds a positive element that far outweighs the negative.  What do you think?

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Lindy Hop Versus West Coast Swing


west coast, not lindy

What West Coast Swing dancing looks like

What’s the difference between West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop?  It’s mostly stylistic.  West Coast (the state dance of California, by the way) is usually danced to contemporary rhythm and blues, is danced in a slot, and has a slick, sophisticated, sexy look.  Lindy has a wild and crazy quality, takes up space in all directions, has WAY less dignity and a kind of “who cares how stupid I look, I’m just having fun!” attitude.  Both are jazz dances, which means that even though the dance is lead, there is room for individual creativity on the part of both the lead and the follow.  This clip shows a couple doing first West Coast and then Lindy.  This clip, by the way, is from a Jack and Jill contest, which means partners are drawn at random.  This couple does not usually dance together and none of this is choreographed.  Can you see the difference in style?

[embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=cbIuhC6Jey8&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6906″ /]

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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