small_light_IMG_6425I 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.

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

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.

9. 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.

10. Not Smiling or Not Being Friendly

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.

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 thing I thought would come up as annoying is leaders who try to “teach” or give tips when the follow is clearly experienced and did not request any feedback. My subjects said this wasn’t a big problem (perhaps because they are obviously really good dancers?). What do you think?

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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J tunik says:

All good points. But it is focused *almost* entirely on the lead. There is some reason for this, as the lead by definition has more control of the dance — but there are *lots* of things that that you could point out to the follows. Leads — usually (not always) men — are not the only offenders on the floor. How about surveying leads about disastrous follows they’ve had? I’ll be the first to contribute.

Brian says:

Hi J,

I welcome you sharing bad things that follows do. In fact, some follows have asked me for that. I, however, could not think of a list of bad things that follows do that was nearly as heinous as what leads do. But please feel free to share.


J tunik says:

Well, I guess some of it is more generic (not specific to leads or follows), but since I almost always dance with follows, that’s how I experience it. Things like giving your partner unsolicited instruction while dancing; or worse yet, outright criticizing your partner’s style at any time, *ever*, but especially in the middle of a dance.

Then there are things that are like mirror images of leaders’ faux pas. Communication is not the sole responsibility of the leader; the best leader in the world can’t lead you if you have noodle arms or a lopsided frame. Having no sense of time but blaming the leader for getting off the beat. Actively fighting the lead because you want to do something different, or because you imagine yourself the better dancer. Not thanking the leader for the dance — sincerely — after it’s over.

And then there are things that are the special domain of the follower. Like being ingracious or snooty when a lead asks you to dance and doesn’t choose the particular dance that you want to do, or the cool dance of the moment. Turning down a request to dance and then accepting from someone else for the same dance.

Oh and by the way, while the rest of the leaders’ faux pas list was right on the money, I vehemently disagree that it is the leader’s “responsibility” to continually expand his (or her) repertoire. We can’t all be so damn fabulous, and not everyone who likes to dance wants to make it their entire life, or just doesn’t dance often enough to pick up a lot of oh-so-cool moves. But no one wants to feel judged on the dance floor, and no one has the right to judge others. Maybe all those spiffy-wonderful leaders out there don’t experience a lot of these things, but us mediocre dancers have a right to have fun too – as long as we follow the rules!

Brian says:

Hi J,

These are some great points! I’ve experienced some of these too. Thanks for sharing!


Laure L. says:

Excellent points. This list should be posted on the wall of every swing venue!

Rae says:

Got another one for ya. I woke up sick this morning after dancing with someone who coughed all over me last night while dancing. As a bonus, he made no eye contact and did the limp lead. If you’re sick AT ALL do not ask people to dance. Geez.

identicon Brian says:

Hi Rae,

Ah, I hate when that happens. Good one for leads and follows to remember.


alizay says:

I agree with everything on your list! But I would add that a leader who tries to do a flashy dip in a night club is potentially endangering the follow. You could get dropped, kicked in the head, or if the lead were pushed off balance the follow could be dropped. It’s just not the place for flashy dips!

identicon Brian says:

Hi Alizay,

Thanks – that is a very valid concern!