Social dance floor

I asked a few of my very experienced female swing dancer friends about the most annoying things that leaders (mainly guys) do on the social dance floor.  It wasn’t long before we came up with a list of ten.

So, leaders, check your egos at the door and read on… Here is a list of the top ten most annoying things that follows say leads are doing on the social swing dance floor.

UPDATE 5/18/2019: Due to popular demand, I’ve updated this list to move “Unwanted Teaching” to be one of the top ten (whereas before it was just a note at the end). I combined the previous #10 with #8, since they were similar.

1. Causing Harm

A leader’s first priority should be the same as a physician’s: do no harm.  If you want to guarantee that a follow will never dance with you again, tweak her arm hard during a Texas Tommy.  She’ll probably tell all of her friends too.  Leaders should be clear but gentle in their leads.

2. Ick! Too Much Sweat!

I’ve seen follows come off the dance floor with their shirts or blouses wet with sweat.  The gross part is, it’s not their sweat!  Leaders who sweat a lot should bring an extra shirt, or two, or three, or four, or whatever it takes, plus bring a small towel or handkerchief.  Or, sit out a few and cool down between dances.

3. Not Looking Out for Your Partner or Other Dancers

When there is a collision on the dance floor, it’s usually the leader’s fault.  Simple as that. Sometimes it’s due to inexperience, but other times it’s due to the leader intentionally showboating or being careless.  Leaders need to look where they are leading their partners and make sure not to send her into harm’s way.

Leaders should also be careful not to bump into or step on other dancers.

4. “Manhandling” Instead of Leading

There is a difference between leading clearly and manhandling.  Proper leading comes from the frame and movement of your body, not the sheer strength of your arms (more Fred Astaire, less Arnold Schwarzenegger).  Also, when leading a turn, do not stir the follow around. Simply cup your hand above her forehead and she will easily spin in place.

5. Having Bad Breath / Hygiene

It’s probably not a good idea to have that onion Limburger cheese sandwich right before going swing dancing.  Get some gum or mouthwash, or brush if you make this mistake. Same deal for general hygiene.  Hopefully, ‘nuff said. This could apply to leaders and followers.

6. Unclear / Limp Leading

This is the other end of the bad leading spectrum. It’s more of a mistake that beginners would make due to lack of experience. Needless to say, the lead should be clear. No spaghetti arms for leads or follows.

7. Unwanted Staring / Touching / Grabbing… Being Creepy

This is actually a serious issue that has gained more attention recently due to instances of sexual misconduct in the Swing scene. Hopefully it’s self-explanatory. Swing is a not a “bump and grind” kind of dance (unless it’s some intentional choreography in a contest or something). I don’t think this type of behavior will be tolerated or excused like it was before. It’s about time. Treat your partners with respect and don’t be the “creepy guy” (usually it’s a male, but maybe not always) that everyone avoids. Check out this article: An Open Letter to Young Women at their First Swing Dance.

8. Not Asking to Dance Politely / Not Being Friendly

Some follows prefer not to be dragged off to the dance floor without being asked.  The preferred way is to say “May I have this dance?”  It never hurts to act like a gentleman when asking someone to dance.

Smiling and being polite are common courtesies in any social situation. But smiling is also part of the look of swing dancing. Just like you’re supposed to be serious in Tango, you’re supposed be having fun in Swing. So leaders, smile, be courteous, and show that you are having a good time dancing with your partner. You partner will be more likely to want to dance with you again if you do.

9. Unwanted Teaching

A big issue that I’ve heard from many follows (as well as many commenters on Facebook for this article) was the problem of unwanted teaching by leads. This is even worse and more insulting when the leader is less experienced than the follow.

Leaders, don’t teach unless the follow requests it! That’s the rule.

10. Not Improving After Years of Dancing

No matter what your skill level is, follows really appreciate it if you are improving and not doing the same moves year after year after year.  Get some variety in your moves.  Follows will tolerate poor rhythm in a beginner lead but it really needs to be fixed ASAP if you intend to keep dancing.  Beginner leads should take classes.  Experienced leads should go to a Swing or Balboa workshop every now and then.

What Did We Miss?

If I could add another item to the list, it would be: standing around and not asking the follow right next to you who is dying to dance, to dance (I admit to being guilty of this at times).  Perhaps this should be higher on the list?  Comment below!

Another complaint from followers is leaders who look around the room for other people to dance with while dancing. Leaders AND followers should try to stay engaged with the person they’re dancing with. No, you don’t have to stare into each other’s eyes like in Tango, but your primary attention should be on your partner.

Reader Jag complained about guys who squeeze her fingers too hard. Guys, don’t crush her fingers!

This is NOT a scientific survey by any means, so please comment if you have a different item to add, or if you want to up vote, down vote, or concur with any item on this list.  Follows, this is your chance to be heard and help leaders stop bad habits without offending anyone.

And leaders, you’ll have happier partners who want to dance with you more often if you avoid these bad habits, so take notice!

Is this list too harsh?  Not harsh enough?  What did we miss?

Finally, a word of thanks to the follows who contributed ideas to this article (they preferred not be revealed.) – Brian

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Reader Comments

Jamey Hall says:

Pretty good list, as it goes, but completely disagree with the last sentence of #4. This might be fine for swing, but not for all social dance (Country 2-step and Cajun Jitterbug come to mind), which is what the article bills itself as. Small point, but your dancer “over-stepped” on that one.

Richard Burkhart says:

Turning the lady the wrong way is my pet peeve

Maureen Brunetti says:

I used to talk about ALL of these in my dance classes. This is spot on!

B.E. says:

How about NOT teaching on the social floor or during someone else’s class unless asked by your partner to do so. I personally find this extremely rude. Someone who has a year or two experience telling a partner with 20 or more years experience how to dance well, you get the picture. I think it would be ok to ask “Would you like me to show you that step” and then listen for their answer.