The Top 10 Worst Things Leaders Do on the Social Dance Floor

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.

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 / Bad 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.

Addendum – More Bad Things Leaders Do

Since I first wrote this article, it has gone viral several times and I’ve received even more examples of bad things leaders are doing. I’m adding the most common ones below:

11. Ignoring the Person You’re Dancing With

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 Stephanie said:

Dancing with someone I notice not dancing WITH me (staring at others during the dance, seems annoyed, don’t seems to want to be here, …) is one of the most insulting thing for me….

12. Bumping the Follower’s Head During Turns

Reader Valerie writes:

Leaders, please take a good look at your partners height, this includes hair and clips and hair adornments. It is all a part of what you have to care for while dancing. Allow for it when doing overhead turns. Don’t get tired or lazy. Lift that arm high enough so you allow for the whole follower to pass underneath. Thankyou!

I admit I’ve accidentally done this a few times!

13. Doing Moves Above the Level of the Follower

Reader Geraldine explains this as…

Showing off by leading moves that your follower doesn’t know, so lead thinks he looks clever and experienced at the expense of embarrassing the follower! In other words be kind and judge your partners ability carefully!

Yes, I have seen this a lot!

14. Crushing the Follower’s Fingers

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

15. Chewing Gum

Reader Wendy said:

There used to be a guy who constantly showed chewing-gum in your face, with his mouth open. I pointed out one time that it wasn’t pleasant but he ignored me…. week after week!

I was in a class when a follower pointed this out as well.

16. Too Many Spins

Reader Laurie complained about leaders who…

CONSTANTLY spin me throughout the entire dance. I never get a chance to do any footwork. It’s grueling!


Leaders, this list may seem harsh, but it comes directly from follows, and I’ve seen a lot of this myself! If you take this as constructive advice, more followers will want to dance with you.

Also, 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 the original article (they preferred not be revealed), as well as everyone who commented below! – Brian

91 thoughts on “The Top 10 Worst Things Leaders Do on the Social Dance Floor

  1. Showing off by leading moves that your follower doesn’t know, so lead thinks he looks clever and experienced at the expense of embarrassing the follower! In other words be kind and judge your partners ability carefully!

  2. Leaders, please take a good look at your partners height, this includes hair and clips and hair adornments. It is all a part of what you have to care for while dancing. Allow for it when doing overhead turns. Don’t get tired or lazy. Lift that arm high enough so you allow for the whole follower to pass underneath. Thankyou!

  3. I agree with all theese items on the list!

    But I would add that almost all of them should apply to followers too! ;)

    I love that you put the “teaching” on this list! Social dancing is not about getting better and giving advise… it’s about having fun with another human being! :)

    And yeah… dancing with someone I notice not dancing WITH me (stairing at others during the dance, seems anoyed, don’t seems to want to be here, …) is one of the most insulting thing for me….
    I would even put this one before the “not improving” ’cause I think not everyone wants to improve and some people are satisfied where they are and have fun. For me, it’s the number one rule!!!! (This… and not breaking your partner! ;P )

  4. Switching sides…I’ve danced with plenty of follows who are wet, wet, wet but I don’t care because I’m just here to dance….I smile almost all the time when I’m dancing because I’ve having a ball….when I dance with a follow who looks bored to death she can be sure I will not ask her again…I do sweat a lot and I do apologize to the ladies and fortunately most of the women I ask know me so if it does bother them they let it slide….At LIndy Groove and PBDA I dance with newbies all the time and sometimes…I repeat sometimes..I will ask if I can give them some advice and so far I have not had a lady give me the evil eye but most will say thank you….

  5. Under hygiene. I had a sweaty partner at class. Wasn’t sure which was more gross. The constant dripping sweat or the fact that he’d pull out his soggy handkerchief blow his nose, wipe his face and put back in his pocket again until his nose was literally dripping again… which he sometimes then wiped with the back of his hand. OMGosh…. I was nauseated. If you have a cold, please don’t share it. ?

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. Regarding the hand squeezing, it does hurt when the leader presses their thumb hard or too tightly upon the back of the follows hand. (Creepy) Guys, don’t look at the woman’s chest, but do keep your gaze on her face.

  10. Leads that do not feel the music. The worst thing if you are in the flow of the music and your lead starts with a charleston on a lazy bit of jazz or does a couple of moves on a really clear brake.. fail..

  11. Don’t try ballroom dancing with a partner who hasn’t been taught!
    Everyone needs a mint!
    Ladies quit trying to lead
    Don’t sing
    Quit trying to make out on the dance floor!
    Dont wear too much perfume
    Just take normal size steps..
    Say something..

    1. What do you have against ladies leading? Surely, you didn’t mean for that statement to read in the outdated, sexist way that it does…

      1. Ladies quit trying to lead?? Really? Shame on you! One of the best things about Lindyhop: we have leads and follows, instead of man and woman. Besides:
        – when a couple can both lead and follow it can end up in to the most funny and happy dances of your social. Change your role during the dance is exciting and you become a much better dancer!
        – you can make nice follow and lead steals
        – lack of good leads? Lead your own dance! Lack of good follows? Be a follow!
        Etcetera…. But above all: it’s all about laughter and happiness.

  12. If a lady asks for a dance, regardless of level, DANCE WITH HER! Don’t lie or give some lame excuse. If you truly need a break, find her later. And this pertains to ALL lead levels. Dancing with higher levels inspires the ladies….flip this to followers as well.

    1. This is a bit of an outdated idea. When I started dancing 12 years ago, the prevailing mantra was “always say yes,” but now that there’s been a whole lot of abuse exposed in the dance scene, the mantra has changed to “it’s okay to say no for any reason.” For safety’s sake, I have to agree with the latter. No one should be dancing with anyone whom they don’t want to dance with, and while it’s rarer for men to be made uncomfortable by women, it does still happen.

      Personally speaking, I always say yes because talented followers always said yes to me when I was inexperienced, so I feel like I’m repaying the favor. I live in a scene where followers have absolutely no fear about asking for a dance, and occasionally, that means I have to dance with someone who is not at the top of my list. I then take it on myself to find ways to make that dance interesting. If it doesn’t work, it’s three minutes of my life that I won’t miss.

    2. I really agree. I think men maybe are more used to asking women to dance? I Love To Dance! But asking a stranger is always outside my comfort zone. I finally ask someone and he says, “oh I was going to ask someone else to dance” across the room. Never saw him again. A different time when I asked, it was “I guess”. Okay….. we start dancing and he complained that the song the band played stretched it out too long by their instrumentals. I told him we could stop whenever he liked. Maybe being told no wasn’t so bad after all!! No thank you would have been fine. Might be time for more line dance lessons. ? But ballroom makes me happiest.

  13. These are all very common sense issues, but I realize that Lindy Hop doesn’t always attract people with common sense. That said, I’m shocked that in this day and age, we think it’s okay to tell people they need to smile. I smile when I dance because I’m having fun, but I wasn’t always having fun in the beginning. I much prefer it when my follower is smiling rather than showing a permascowl, but I’m never going to tell my follower to smile. Most followers are women, and I think you would agree that we shouldn’t be telling women to smile. There female leaders, too, and we shouldn’t be telling them to smile, either. The fact is that we shouldn’t be telling anyone to smile. A smile is an organic natural reaction to having fun. Forcing a smile accomplishes nothing, aside from creating some false sense of security/accomplishment for your partner. If you want to tell leaders to have fun, that’s fine, but don’t tell people to smile.

    1. Agree that telling people to smile is obnoxious! Although I do usually smile because I’m having fun and try to be friendly, I dislike being smile-policed. It doesn’t happen that much. But here’s one somewhat related that seems to happen more. Leaders, please don’t tell followers to “relax.” That does the opposite of making me relax. Sometimes I’m having a hard time relaxing because the lead is not very clear and I’m having a hard time following. If the lead says “relax” it seems to imply that if only I would relax, everything would be great. At a workshop last weekend, an instructor had great advice when one of the participants asked “Is there a polite way to tell someone you’re dancing with to relax?” The instructor suggested that instead of telling your follower to relax, which she said is not polite or recommended, ask them if there’s anything you can do to make them more comfortable and make the dance more enjoyable for them. Resetting was another recommended option if the follow has perhaps tensed up because they are having a hard time following you.

  14. I learned a lot from leaders ‘teaching’ but it is very annoying when they don’t ask first. Best to wait for follow to ask.

    I would suggest that leading requires a lot of interaction and sensitivity to your partner, just as following does. This is not a solo dance.

    And inappropriate touching or staring is number 1! Looking around at others while dancing is number 2.

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