THE TOP 10 WORST THINGS LEADERS DO ON THE SOCIAL DANCE FLOOR

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


Reader Comments

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.

Brian

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!

Brian

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.

Brian

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!

Brian

Rae says:

After some facebook conversation about this post, and the addition of an older article (An open letter to young women at their first swing dance) I realized the following about this top 10. “I’ve seen this and agree. And unfortunately, at the start of my dancing, I experienced some very not pleasant encounters. Number 7. on the top 10 should really be “staring, grabbing, making disturbing moaning sounds and grinding”. If someone does anything violating on the floor, I excuse myself, let the front know and then start spreading the word to everyone to look out. I believe that it’s human decency to give others the benefit of the doubt, and I’m a smiler. But if someone is being rude, violating or creepy, I put up no act in expressing complete disinterest. No smiles for the creepos.”

Article: https://medium.com/@SeriousRachel/an-open-letter-to-young-women-at-their-first-swing-dance-4fc40ce0404#.oq1detq4p

identicon Brian says:

Hi Rae,

Great comments, totally true. I’ve modified #7 accordingly and added a link to that article, which I’ve seen before and agree with as well.

Thanks,
Brian

Mary says:

Always hate it when a new lead approaches me and warns me that he’s new or really bad. Have some more self confidence! You come off as a lot better of a dancer if you demean yourself.

identicon Brian says:

Hi Mary,

Thanks for sharing!

Brian

Hope says:

When folks (whether they’re leading or following) “warn” me that they’re beginners or aren’t very good, I like to crank up my own excitement level and tell them, “that’s great!”, or maybe “welcome!” if they tell me they’ve never been to that particular dance before. I’m sorry you find the “warning” annoying, but I think it’s a totally natural reaction to feeling insecure about something you’ve just started to learn, and I think it’s nice for more experienced dancers (who probably feel a lot more comfortable in the scene!) to step up and reassure less experienced partners, instead of expecting them to already feel really confident 🙂 I wouldn’t even reassure them that you’re sure they’ll do a good job (because maybe they won’t, by their own standards! That’s okay!), just that you love to dance with beginners, and that everyone starts at the beginning so they don’t need to feel like they have to be brilliant already. After all, it’s more important that they feel comfortable than that they come across as a really experienced dancer, and for some people, giving that “warning” gives them a little comfort. I guess if you want them to stop doing it, you can kindly tell them that everyone in the scene expects to dance with beginners and that they don’t need to apologize for existing as a beginner, that might work 🙂

identicon Brian says:

Hi Hope,

I like your attitude here.

Brian

Mary says:

Oh yeah, I don’t yell at them or anything, I just happily say “That’s okay!” or “Awesome welcome to the community” or something along those lines. It doesn’t change that it bugs me, but I totally know where they’re coming from on it.

Rae says:

Great list! I don’t have many people on my “Never again” list, really, it’s only a few. But they got there by route of one (or more) of these items. A lead once hurt my shoulder by whipping me back while mid turn, and when I apologetically excused myself to get some ice for it, he threw his hands up and yelled “FINE”, he never smiled while dancing, lead by force instead of movement. He asked to dance the next week and rolled his eyes when I said no. 4 years later, my answer is the same, because I’ve watched him on the floor and he hasn’t improved his manners or his technique.

identicon Brian says:

Hi Rae,

Agreed, you should feel no obligation to dance with someone who hurts you physically or treats you with disrespect!

Brian

Carol says:

Gendered language. Women can be leads too.

Leads and follows should both have proper hygene, but not too much scented lotion/perfume for people with smell sensitivities.

identicon Brian says:

I modified it to be more gender-neutral where possible and appropriate. – Brian

Hope says:

I think I saw the earlier version of the article, and this is definitely much improved! You could also replace all instances where you refer to follows as “she” with the singular “they” instead, since following shouldn’t be gendered either. 🙂

Dawn says:

I agree with your added note about not teaching too much when someone just starts. If the lady asks for help or advice then by all means. But I remember a particular dance when my partner stopped our dance to critique a specific movement I didn’t follow quite right and somehow ended up walking away from the floor and not finishing the dance at all. To me it was greatly discouraging because it highlighted my inadequacy and made me paranoid that I couldn’t follow at all. It also ruined the fun of the dance, and kinda made me hate the guy for a little while haha. All that to say that most times it is better to leave the critiquing to the teachers in class and learning to good old trial and error experience. One instance I do think intervention is prudent though is when a lead or follow is consistently causing pain to their partners in some way. It should be dealt with in a loving and delicate way though understanding that the accused are probably not aware of the problem or how to fix it.

identicon Brian says:

Hi Dawn,

It was rude of your partner to stop and critique! Not cool!

Your advice is good though.

Brian

Philippe Leibzig says:

I meant: the setting is different for competition. It was a typo. Sorry ,

Philippe Leibzig says:

I am a swing dancer, performer and choreographer for over 30 years and I agree with all you said about the worst things to do as a swing dancer, but here some more I may add.
1) When you don’t even know how to count properly, don’t teach. A 6 counts rhythm is not 123, 456, 78, but 12, 3+4, 5+6 or other ways of 6 counts. It is frustrating when these people make a lot of money and don’t respect their student by pretending being teachers. They are maybe very popular, but they fool their students and clearly disrespect them. They also take students from me, when students believed them.
2) don’t be a snob (sadly most of the West Coast Swing dancers I know are),
3) Be humble. if you are a good dancer, you will also encounter better dancers than you. It could backfire
4) Have fun but don’t show that you are better than others, even if you are.
5) I am maybe a purist, but swing dancing for me is associated with fun, technique, and stamina, not slow and sexy. Saying that, slow and sexy is fine, but is it really what swing is about ?
6) Smile and don’t bully others !
7) don’t try to swing fast if you are not ready for it. You will probably pull and push your partner too harshly. To master swing takes years of practice
8) Don’t be arrogant by pretending that you don’t need classes. I made very few talented people in my life who did not need to take classes. Are you sure you are one of them ?
9) I am an overall dancer, learnning from other fields like jazz, ballet, tap, modern, mime, or musicals. Don’t pretend to be all that if you are not trained as a dancer. In other words, don’t be a macho be doing aerials when you are not first a great dancer. It is dangerous and unethical. Big muscles only are not harmonious to watch. You will look like a jerk !
10) even if you are better than your partner, dance at her/his level. I always consider my partner as the star, and if we do well, then and only well, I will also have credential as a good dancer.
11) Be polite. Respect your partner
12) Don’t show off to get the girls, show off to entertain in a very humble way.
13) Refuse to dance with someone only for good reasons. it is a social dance.
14) take it easy. You are not competing if you do it for pleasure. Well, competing is pleasurable, but th whetting is different. if you compete, remember that you want to be better, not to put others down.

identicon Brian says:

Hi Philippe,

Good points, thanks for commenting!

Brian

Philippe Leibzig says:

Your welcome. Have a great life as a swing dancer!

Male leads must always modify or adjust to the follows level as a mattee of courtesy. A smile and joyful countenance will assure a follow that your ego has been checked at the door. Make the rounds and play dance host, if you’re single. If you are coupled, allow each other to dance with other people for God’s sake!

identicon Brian says:

HI Hada,

Great points – thanks for sharing!

Brian

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