Ballroom Dancing Basics – Are You a Bad Follower?

In ballroom dancing, we have two people, a leader, and a follower.  In order for this business of dancing together to work, each person has a part to play. Let’s see what makes a bad follower.

What makes a bad follower?

Although most ladies consider themselves to be competent on the dance floor, some don’t realize they’re not so comfortable to dance with. What’s going on?

As with any physical activity, form plays a big part.

To begin with, incorrect posture and hanging on your partner will make even a petite follower feel heavy. It’s almost impossible for him to lead without using force.

Some things that can go wrong with posture are:

  • Looking down
  • Arching your back
  • Hips forward and shoulders drooping backward

Any of these examples can result in poor balance. Then, it’s uncomfortable for both partners.

The size of your steps will make you or break you.

When a follower makes a decision as to how far to step, it shows that she’s anticipating and not waiting for the leader to guide her. In other words, she’s stepping first. If you’re a follower, you go second, not first.

A good rule-of-thumb is to wait a split-second after the leader steps before you go. And, always keep your feet under your body. In other words, avoid taking giant steps. Follow this rule and you’ll be a popular partner.


So, yeah, having a partner who is a backleader is the leader’s biggest peeve. What that means is the follower is trying to direct the leader, rather than the other way around. Can you imagine how it feels to the one who is actually supposed to be leading? If there’s backleading, it’s not a dance, it’s a wrestling match.

This picture warns followers to not backlead on the ballroom dance floor.
Don’t backlead on the ballroom dance floor.

Look at it this way, what if your car had two steering wheels. Your leader is in the driver’s seat and his plan is to continue to drive straight. All of a sudden, you, the follower in the passenger seat, decide to make a turn. Chaos, no? Dangerous, yes.

Why would a follower do these things?

  • She’s uneducated. Some women feel they’re naturals on the dance floor. For this reason, they don’t think they need lessons.
  • However, by adding ballroom dance lessons, she’ll learn to understand the meaning of the signals she gets from her leader. Basically, she’s learning the language of ballroom dance.
  • Confidence can be an issue when two people get together. It may be that she doesn’t have enough faith in herself or her partner. On the other hand, she may have too much self-confidence. If you know what I mean.

Can a bad follower change her evil ways?

The answer is, of course. Once she recognizes the problem and a professional instructor is consulted, ballroom dancing skills improve. Things like bad balance and backleading become a thing of the past. Not only that, her dance card will be full!

Take a look at this Dance Safari post, “10 Characteristics of a Good Leader”. The characteristics numbered 1, 2, 6, 7, & 9 also apply to followers. Furthermore, check out this video on walking with grace and power. It contains some posture tips that apply to your dancing, too. Why not try it? This way you’ll look good on and off the dance floor.

As a final point, one of my students demonstrated a valuable shortcut to becoming a better follower. She was a mature woman with a new boyfriend who didn’t dance. My student very much wanted to help him and began backleading him. She thought he would be glad.

Actually, he didn’t appreciate it as much as she thought he would. She was immediately sorry and said, “I”m gonna close my eyes and then I’ll have to follow you.” In fact, she did. From that point on I always had a bandanna or two available for my lessons. You know, just in case.

A bad follower may need to try dancing with a blindfold.
We use whatever it takes to get the job done.
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