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. I think “Unwanted Teaching” applies equally to followers as it does leaders. Leaders are under a lot of pressure as beginners, and while it’s not always fun to dance with an inexperienced leader, unwanted teaching is not constructive and will often discourage them from putting in the effort to improve.

  2. My number one peeve is the guy who holds his thumb tightly on the back of my hand so it pulls my arms, and torques my knees as he CONSTANTLY spins me throughtout the entire dance. I never get a chance to do any footwork. It’s grueling!

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