Lead and follow (dance)
In partner dancing
Partner dance
Partner dances are dances whose basic choreography involves coordinated dancing of two partners, as opposed to individuals dancing alone or individually in a non-coordinated manner, and as opposed to groups of people dancing simultaneously in a coordinated manner.In the year 1023 the German poet...

, the two dance partners are never equal. One must be the Lead and the other will be the Follow.

The Lead (conventionally the male in a mixed sex couple) is responsible for choosing appropriate steps to suit the music (if it is an improvised dance), and leading the Follow by hand pressure and signals to complete the chosen steps smoothly and safely. If the dance is a set (pre-choreographed) routine, the Lead is still responsible for initiating each move, which ensures smooth coordination between the two dancers.


The degree to which the Lead 'controls' the dance (and, by implication, "controls" the Follow) depends on the dance style and dancer sensitivity, the social context in which the dance exists, the experiences and personalities of each partner, and a range of other factors. Some partner dances such as Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop
The Lindy Hop is an American social dance, from the swing dance family. It evolved in Harlem, New York City in the 1920s and '30s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based...

 involve an open position
Open position
In partner dancing, open position refers to positions in which partners are connected primarily at the hands as opposed to closer body contact, as in closed position. The connection is through the hands, wrists, and fingers, and relies heavily on frame and the compression and tension of both...

 which encourages each partner to improvise alone, yet others, such as Argentine Tango
Argentine Tango
Argentine tango is a musical genre of simple quadruple metre and binary musical form, and the social dance that accompanies it. Its lyrics and music are marked by nostalgia, expressed through melodic instruments including the bandoneon. Originated at the ending of the 19th century in the suburbs of...

 may involve a "close embrace
Close embrace
In partner dances, close embrace is a type of closed position where the leader and follower stand facing each other chest-to-chest in full or partiall body contact. The dancers usually stand offset from one another, such that each has his or her right toe in between the toes of his or her partner...

" or closed position
Closed position
In partner dancing, closed position is a category of positions in which partners hold each other while facing at least approximately toward each other....

 which require Follows to follow the Lead more comprehensively.

For many individual dancers, exploring the limits of the Lead-Follow relationship adds to the dance, where this relationship might better be understood as a conversation between partners, with each contributing to the style and mood of the dance through their connection
Connection (dance)
Connection is essential to all partner dancing and is the primary means to communicate synchronized dance movement between the lead and follow. It is especially important in Argentine Tango, Lindy Hop, Balboa, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Salsa, Contra dance, Modern Jive and other styles of...

. For other partners, the lead's complete control of the follow, and the follow's relinquishing a greater degree of creative or expressive autonomy is more personally comfortable or satisfying.

Social partner dance principles

For the Lead and Follow to interact with each other, communication needs to occur between the dance couple. Because it's not practical to discuss moves, physical contact is the most effective means. More advanced dancers will take many cues from each other through this connection, with the Follow using it to communicate feedback to the Lead just as the Lead uses it to suggest moves to their partner. The most accomplished dancers use connection as a line of communication which allows the lead to incorporate the follow's ideas, abilities, and creative suggestions into their own styling and selection of moves.

In many partner dances, the lead's steps differ from the follow's. In face-to-face positions, the follow generally "mirrors" the lead's footwork. For example, if the lead begins on their left foot, the follow will begin on their right foot. In choreographed pieces and other situations where the follow is in a tandem position or shadow position, the lead and follow will use the same footwork. Usually both partners move together as a unit, but in some dances the partners move in opposite directions - together and apart again.

In partner dancing, dancers seek to work together to create synchronised or complementary movements. The lead is largely responsible for initiating movement, whereas the follow's role is to maintain this movement (though they may choose not to). Many dancers describe this process as involving the initiation of momentum or 'energy' (by the lead) and then the subsequent maintenance, exaggeration, decreasing or dissolving of this momentum by both partners.
This momentum or energy may be manifested as movement (in its most obvious form), or in a range of more complex interactions between partners:
  • Compression (where each partner 'compress' the energy by bending joints and moving towards or 'into' their partner, to varying degrees);
  • Leverage (where one partner - usually the lead - exploits the development of compression or connection to shift their follow's weight or to 'ground' (develop 'compression' downwards, with the contact their feet make with the floor) themselves more thoroughly before initiating movement);
  • Tension (is the opposite of compression - partners moving away from each other but still in contact)

Weight transfer

For partner dancers, using weight transfer
Weight transfer (dance move)
A weight transfer or weight change is dancer's movement so that his weight is moved from one supporting foot to another one fully or partially....

s is a way for a Lead to communicate a 'lead' for a dance step to a Follow.

For example, when a couple is physically in contact each other, for a Lead to have their Follow walk forwards, they may simply begin by walking backwards themselves. As their arms/points of contact move away from each other, they develop tension, which the follow may either break by dropping their arms or breaking the hold, or 'follow' by moving.

A more experienced Lead may realize (if only on an unconscious level) that the most effective execution of even this "simple" step is achieved by preparing for movement before the step begins.

The Lead-Follow connection facilitates this. The principles of Leading and Following are explored to their most extreme limits in contact improvisation
Contact improvisation
Contact improvisation is a dance technique in which points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation...

 of modern dance
Modern dance
Modern dance is a dance form developed in the early 20th century. Although the term Modern dance has also been applied to a category of 20th Century ballroom dances, Modern dance as a term usually refers to 20th century concert dance.-Intro:...

, though they are as ancient a process as a parent carrying a child.

Advanced swing
Swing (dance)
"Swing dance" is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1950s, although the earliest of these dances predate swing jazz music. The best known of these dances is the Lindy Hop, a popular partner dance that originated in Harlem and is still danced today...

 dancers do this to enhance their dance connection and to add more fun into the dance. Another way of "breaking the routine" of the dance is syncopation
Syncopation (dance)
The terms syncopation and syncopated step in dancing are used in two senses:#The first one matches the musical one: stepping on an unstressed beat...

 (the second meaning, making more steps than required by the standard description of the dance pattern). Syncopations are easier for the lead to cope with, since the lead does not have to change the intended dance figure, although experienced dancers try and match the fancy footwork of the partner, at least in rhythm. So, in a sense, syncopation may be perceived as mild hijacking. This is not as difficult as it might seem, since good dancers match their footwork to musical accents.

Obstruction avoidance

A general rule is that both lead and follow watch each other's back in a dance hall situation. Collision avoidance is one of the cases when the follow is required to "backlead" or at least to communicate about the danger to the lead. In travelling dances, such as Waltz, common Follow signals of danger are an unusual resistance to the Lead, or a slight tap by the shoulder. In open-position dances, such as Swing or Latin dances, maintaining eye contact with the partner is an important safety communication link.

Recovery from miscommunication

Sometimes a miscommunication is possible between the Lead and Follow. A general rule here is do not wrestle and never stop dancing. Techniques of the recovery of connection and synchronization vary from dance to dance, but there are some common tricks.
  • In dances without obligatory body contact
    Body contact (dance)
    Body contact is a style of closed position in partner dancing.In some partner dances, the connection between the lead and follow is made by direct body contact, instead of a more open frame made with the arms...

     (Latin, swing, hustle, American Smooth), free spin recovers from anything.
  • In dances danced in body contact (Waltz, Tango) it is very important to recover the feet match. To recover, Leads may initiate a well-known (e.g., basic) step with slightly exaggerated sideways shift of weight to force the Follow to free the required foot. For example, in Waltz or Foxtrot a good suggestion would be to end a measure in the open Promenade position
    Promenade position
    The promenade position is a dance position in ballroom and other dances. It is described differently in various dance categories.-Connection:...

    , there would be no doubt as to the direction of the movement and which foot to use at the beginning of the next measure.

History of gender roles

Traditionally, the male dance partner is the Lead and the female dance partner is the Follow, though this is not always the case. Many social dance
Social dance
Social dance is a major category or classification of danceforms or dance styles, where sociability and socializing are the primary focuses of the dancing...

 forms have a long history of same-sex and role-crossing partnerships, and there have been some changes to the strict gender
Gender is a range of characteristics used to distinguish between males and females, particularly in the cases of men and women and the masculine and feminine attributes assigned to them. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity...

ing of partner dances in some competition or performance contexts. An example is a "Jack and Jack" dance contest.

Body lead vs arm lead

A body lead occurs where the leader initiates a lead by moving their body, which moves their arm(s), and thus transmits a lead to the follow. 'Body lead' means much the same as 'weight transfer'.
An arm lead occurs where the leader moves their arm(s) without moving their body, or moves their body in a different direction to their arm.
While an 'arm lead' without the transfer of weight (or movement of the body) on the part of the leader is often a marker of an inexperienced or poorly taught dancer, the process of leading and following, particularly at an advanced level, often involves the contra- and contrasting uses of weight transfers and 'arm moves'. As an example, a leader may lead a follow back onto their right foot through the leader's own weight transfer forwards onto their left foot, yet at the same time turn the follower's torso to the left from above the hips.

Techniques of leading

The Lead has to communicate the direction of the movement to the Follow. Traditionally, the Lead's right hand on the follow's back, near the lowest part of the shoulder-blade. This is the strongest part of the back and the lead can easily pull the Follow's body inwards. To enable the Lead to communicate a step forward (backward for the Follow) the Follow has to constantly put a little weight against the Lead's right hand. When the Lead goes forward, the Follow will naturally go backwards.

An important leading mechanism is the Lead's left hand, which usually holds the Follow's right hand. At no point should it be necessary for any partner to firmly grab the other's hand. It is sufficient to press the hand or even only finger tips slightly against each other, the Follows hand following the Leads hand.

Another important leading mechanism is hip contact. Though not possible in traditional Latin dances like Rumba
Rumba (dance)
Rumba is a dance term with two quite different meanings.In some contexts, "rumba" is used as shorthand for Afro-Cuban rumba, a group of dances related to the rumba genre of Afro-Cuban music. The most common Afro-Cuban rumba is the guaguancó...

, Cha-cha
Cha-cha-cha (dance)
The Cha-cha-cha is the name of a dance of Cuban origin.It is danced to the music of the same name introduced by Cuban composer and violinist Enrique Jorrín in 1953...

, Tango Argentino because of partner separation, hip contact is a harmonious and sensual way of communicating movement to the partner, used primarily in Standard or Ballroom Dances (English / slow Waltz
The waltz is a ballroom and folk dance in time, performed primarily in closed position.- History :There are several references to a sliding or gliding dance,- a waltz, from the 16th century including the representations of the printer H.S. Beheim...

, European Tango
Tango (dance)
Tango dance originated in the area of the Rio de la Plata , and spread to the rest of the world soon after....

, Quickstep
The quickstep is a light-hearted member of the standard ballroom dances. The movement of the dance is fast and powerfully flowing and sprinkled with syncopations. The upbeat melodies that quickstep is danced to make it suitable for both formal and informal events...

etc.) and Caribbean dances.


'Backleading' is when a Follow is executing steps without waiting for, or contrary to, or interfering with the Lead's lead. Both are considered bad dancing habits because it makes the Follow difficult to lead and dance with.

Backleading can be a teaching tool that is often used intentionally by an instructor when dancing with a student lead, in order to help them learn the desired technique.

Backleading sounds similar to "hijacking", and indeed it is often used in place of "hijacking". However the two terms have significant differences, stemming from intentions. The first, superficial, difference: hijacking is usually an occasional "outburst" of the follow, who otherwise diligently follows the lead, while a "backlead" may do this almost on every other step. The second, a more significant one: hijacking is an actual Lead, i.e., a hijacker does their stuff and watches for the 'Lead' to 'Follow' (reversed roles!), while backleading is taking care only about one's own dancing.


Sometimes the follow steals the lead and they reverse roles for some time. This is called hijacking (also known as lead stealing). Hijacking requires experience and good connection, since without proper timing it may look like sloppy dancing. A signal for hijacking is typically an unusually changed (mostly, increased) stress in the connection from the follow's side. "Unusually" means more than typically required for the execution of the current step (by these partners). For a follow to hijack, they must be sure that the lead will understand or at least guess the follow's intentions.
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