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Ballroom Dancing 101: Leading & Following

Before we talk about leading and following on the ballroom dance floor, we want to share some fun facts. At least we think they are fun facts. At Arthur Murray, we are in love with dancing and all things dance related. And we want you to be too!

Did you know that the term “ballroom dancing ”comes from the word ball, which originates from the Latin word ballare, which means ‘to dance’? Further, ballroom dance was refers to a set of partner dances, which are both social and competitive. And, a ballroom is a large room specially designed for such dances. Now you know!

Let’s get started learning more about ballroom dancing…about leading and following…

Ballroom dancing is based on certain concepts of leading and following. Without these parameters, both dancers can become lost in step and end up confused and feeling clumsy. Regardless of whether you lead or follow, these key points are for everyone:

  • Maintain a good upper body posture. You need to keep your shoulders relaxed and your spine upright.
  • Dance on the balls of your feet.  You will have to constantly shift your weight from one foot to the other while dancing.
  • Ensure that your right arm is firm and does not move in isolation or independently of your body.

OK. now we can lead and follow.

The man is typically the leader in a ballroom dance and takes the woman through the various movements in a routine. The woman follows her partner’s lead. (This may seem old fashioned, but all great activities have traditions. That being said, choose your own leader! This is not your grandma’s ballroom dancing!)

The basic rules and etiquette on the dance floor comes down to leading and following and it’s important to know that whichever role you choose, you have your own specific tasks on the dance floor.

The leader keeps time and suggests, through his/her lead, the figures that will be executed in a dance. That means the leader has the job of maintaining the rhythm, knowing the figures of a dance, and deciding what figures are going to be followed, in addition to actually leading them.

A big misconception associated with leading is that you lead with your hands and arms. This is false. All movements need to be initiated from the torso or core. The arms only work as extensions of your torso and help you connect with your partner.

Maintaining a strong frame when leading is key. A strong frame means a good connection with your partner. This helps you to sense his movement easily and quickly.

The Follower – By reading the leader’s signals, the follower performs the suggested figures. Connection is extremely important, because it is through the connection that the lead is communicated.

Timing – This is really important! The leader has to keep a time that the follower can match. It is the leader’s responsibility to keep the partnership in time with the song that you are dancing to.

As the follower, you need to make sure you pay close attention to the bass of the music and develop a strong understanding of the rhythm of each dance.

Floor Craft – Leading involves more than just guiding one’s partner through a sequence. That is where Arthur Murray’s professional instructors come in. The technical aspects of movement and flow, position and direction, come easy when you learn from the experts.

If it sounds like the follower’s role in ballroom dancing seems passive, it’s not! In fact, it is anything but.

As a follower, you need to receive signals for the next move from your partner. A follower will usually not move until a signal is received from the partner for the next move. 

Your timings need to be sharp when following. It may sound complicated, however, it does not have to be. What it comes down to is this: communication – which is, after all, the basis for every aspect of life. And communication, like the two step, waltz or tango, takes practice!

When you learn to communicate, to listen and hear and understand, or in dancing terms, to lead and follow, you’ll have the tools to glide smoothly across the dance floor of life.

At Arthur Murray, our experienced, patient dance instructors will teach you the skills, postures and specific roles and responsibilities to be a good leader and a good follower. These are the essentials. Contact us today for your FREE first lesson.

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