Proactive following

There are lots of followers who move when leaders move them. Literally. They get pulled, pushed, and dragged around the floor as a result of someone else moving their bodies from one place to the next. These followers are active, in that they are moving, but they are reactive, not proactive.

“What’s wrong with being reactive?” you ask. Sure, being “reactive” is part of following: the leader provides an impulse and you react to it. One assumes that reaction is a basic expectation of followers, a necessary function of following, a precondition and part of the definition of “following” itself. Not reacting at all implies ignoring the lead or simply disconnecting, neither of which is considered following. (Would it be called “anti-following”?) So yes, followers to some extent should – no, need to be reactive.

Yet I would argue that followers should really be more than reactive – they should be proactive. Rather than simply allow themselves to be moved in response to a lead, they should proactively move themselves.

The usual assumption is that the leader moves the follower, but this is a misunderstanding: the leader – get this – leads the follower. What does this mean? Well, if you were in a tour group, would the tour guide literally pull you from one place to the next? Of course not. The guide provides a direction of movement and where to stop and you move yourself in response. Following should be the same way. The leader initiates your movement in a given direction, and you move yourself in accordance with that lead. Plus, the follower doesn’t just follow, she follows through: she continues moving herself in that direction until otherwise redirected. In this way, the follower creates more stability for herself, smoother movement, more flow in the dance, less need for the leader to constantly lead, and overall improved connection.

Followers, don’t just react. Be proactive, and feel the difference.


  1. but…what if the leader keeps dragging you down the slot, no matter how hard you try to be proactive? There are some people I dance with where they are constantly leading me and I do my best to not have that feeling of being dragged, but it doesn't go away and I don't want to be on top of the lead.

  2. I like the analogy of the tour guide. I think I used to have the "being dragged" problem more often than I do now (it really hurt my shoulder sometimes!). What I tend to find now, is that many leaders don't do anything to clearly indicate any lead, or, don't indicate the redirection after having sent you on a path. And as a follower, you may know what the leader is trying to convey, so when is it appropriate to make yourself look good by covering for them? Ever? I can see socially just blowing through something that wasn't redirected (how will they ever learn), but comps? And, even socially, if you do follow through in a way that's unexpected, *you* are seen as doing something wrong.

  3. Natalie: You can't stop a leader from trying to lead all the time, but there are ways to be proactive that minimize and even eliminate the effects of a leader always pulling. "Staying with his lead" by moving yourself and being more responsive reduces the tension of the connection.Jen: I think the degree to which you cover for the leader depends on your own level of dancing (and maybe his?). For instance, if you're at a level where you are (or should be) still working on your basic following skills and fundamentals, then my recommendation would be to not compensate at all and work on following and fundamentals. If you have the skills to cover and the situation (competition) warrants it, go for it. This whole partner dancing thing (IMHO) should be all about making the dance work and making your partner feel good, and if you can do both, all the better.

  4. That makes sense. And, you didn't touch on the trickier situation…if the follower has the skill to cover, but the situation isn't competition. I.e. social dancing.

  5. Jen: I did answer your question – If the follower has the skill to compensate and the situation warrants it, go for it. You want to do what you can to make the dance work, and sometimes that means compensating for your partner. Better dancers often appear better simply because they know how to compensate and cover mistakes better. Better dancers should accommodate their partners (though not necessarily dance down to their level – another discussion for another blog post!).

  6. Just another opinion. Some of it is answering to Jen (from another used-to-be-frustrated follow LOL). I will tell you what I tell my students and often "remind" myself as well.Make every dance the best one you can GIVE to your partner. If you're focused on making it good FOR him, you find you have less time to think about what he's "not" doing for you. It's all about respect. I respect a leader who has enough guts to ask for a dance from someone he KNOWS is higher on the foodchain than himself. Remember the first time a pro asked YOU to dance? And he didn't make you feel stupid or inadequate? Made your whole night. Well that's the way a lot of "lower level" leaders feel about YOU — in their minds, YOU are the pro.No one wants to look like "that guy" or "that girl" (you know, the "OMG, will you look at how she's running roughshod all over that poor guy" and vice versa). So, if your skills are such that you can compensate and/or complement without hijacking or having it perceived as an insult, then you ARE being respectful as well as bringing him joy and confidence.If the thought of dancing with that person is really that distasteful, then why subject yourself or him/her to a whole four minutes of it. They will subconsciously pick up that you're not having a good time. So, if I do accept a dance from someone not as creative or skilled as a pro, I focus on them rather than myself. If I just can't stand the idea of dancing with someone because it's going to be too much work/zero fun, I beg my apologies for having to sit this one out. I then go find them later, on a song that is more apt to give him confidence and an ability to keep up. Because face it, most of the time it's not that we don't want to dance with HIM … it's that HE has picked a song that is beyond his skill level and we want to dance that with someone who will milk that song for every accent we both can create!

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