Leading Ladies: Four Reasons Why Women Should Reverse Roles On The Dance Floor

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A few years ago, before I started teaching dance, I remember a friend telling me I could “figure out the lead.”

“Just reverse it,” he said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.

Once I actually started learning how to lead, I realized that “just reversing it” is definitely NOT the way to go about it. Leading is intricate. Complex. It requires thinking a few steps ahead, learning how to create trust with your partner, and how to be clear and efficient in your movements.

Women should learn how to lead for a variety of reasons.

It teaches compassion.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I first started social dancing, I was “that girl.” I didn’t like dancing with beginner leads. I would get bored, impatient, and frustrated by guys who led a million basics in a row, fumbled moves, were unclear about what they wanted to do, ran me into people, etc.

Once I started learning how to lead, I never felt that way again because suddenly, the roles were reversed and I was that beginner lead—unable to remember half the moves I knew on the dance floor, missing the timing, being unclear about what I wanted my follow to do. When women learn how to lead, they are able to appreciate and enjoy every single dance because they understand how much effort and courage it takes a beginner lead to get on the floor and dance with someone, especially someone who has more experience. Follows treating leads with compassion leads to greater mutual respect and a better dance for both parties.

It makes you a better follow.

            When you learn how to lead, you gain more insight into how to follow. You understand the mechanics of a step. You learn the cues that you should be looking out for to effectively follow a move. You get a more holistic view of the dance. You increase the vocabulary of a language you already know.

imageOnce I started learning how to lead, my level of dancing shot up. I started paying even more attention when I followed, trying to pick up new ways to lead a step I already knew so I could lead it better. The dance started to make even more sense and I felt like I was refining and polishing steps I had been doing for years, taking them from good to great.


It is empowering.

            And fun. Leading a move and having someone follow it is satisfying. You feel confident and accomplished. Without saying a word, you are able to get someone to respond to what you are asking her. That’s a pretty cool feeling.

Besides personal empowerment, for female instructors or would-be instructors, learning how to lead is empowering because you aren’t relying on a partner to help you make money. Having a partner or assistant usually makes teaching a partner work class easier and more fun, but when you know the lead, you don’t need one. You can call the shots on your career. You can teach on your own time, on your own schedule, doing your own thing. You can increase your income potential and you make yourself a better and more credible instructor because you’re able to teach and correct the lead AND the follow.

It’s a way to dance all night.

            We’ve all been there—a social that is almost all ladies and about 3 leads. On nights like that, you’re not relegated to sitting on the sidelines, waiting for your turn in the rotation. You can hop up and dance every song as a lead or follow, and all of the ladies who came itching to dance will be grateful to have one more lead in the mix. This goes with the empowerment piece—you don’t have to wait for a lead to get a dance. It’s another way to call the shots on your night out, another way to make social dancing even more enjoyable and rewarding.

So ladies, if you don’t know how to lead already, consider taking a few classes as a lead. See how it changes your perspective on dance. See what the response is… on some dance floors, there’s a stigma about dancing with same-sex leads, while on others, it’s welcomed. Find a guy (or girl!) who knows how to follow and switch lead and follow throughout the dance—talk about fun AND a brain teaser.

What do you think? Are you a lady who leads? What has your experience been? Do you agree with these reasons to learn how to lead? Do you have others? Comment below!


  • David Sander says:

    One quick comment is that there are asymmetrical aspects to the lead. I know there is probably a half second it takes the follow to respond, so this is one of the complicating features of being a lead. The lead may also balance in movement their dynamics with the follow and this requires an understanding that the follow doesn’t need to know. Basic movements are probably pretty simple to understand, but my advanced turns can be simple for the follow but are actually a fairly complicated construct for the lead’s footwork in order to achieve that simplicity and the resulting effortless appearance.

    After you get past the mechanics of doing the lead, additional constructs are how to recognize and work at the level of expertise of different dancers for the happiest result and how do you connect various moves together to create an expressive dance that allows the follow room for self expression while avoiding totally controlling them.

  • Julie says:

    As a lady who both leads and follows I agree absolutely with this article. I also feel that leads should try following. Although this should only be attempted when already competent as otherwise it will get very confusing!

  • David Sander says:

    It is typical in Argentine Tango for men to practice leading each other. Because of the complexity of Argentine Tango movements and the need to closely manage the followers axial position, leads dance with each other in order to understand the correct timing and position of the lead.

  • Melissa West-Koistila says:

    I agree100% with everything written in this article. I find leading extremely empowering, and I never have to sit and wait for someone to ask me to dance. Great article!!

  • Edgar W. says:

    According to my experience, ladies who used to lead, were harder to lead while ladies who were focusing getting better in following were easier to lead. Dance instructors however, independently from genre, were able to do both very well. So it may depend on the level.

  • Emma T says:

    As a taxi dancer a few years ago, I did quite a bit of leading, mainly in class, and with a few beginners on class night freestyles. I like the challenge and satisfaction of learning it, but in freestyle I don’t want to do it. I get much more pleasure dancing as a follow, I don’t particularly enjoy dancing with female leads either. I find there’s less musicality because I (and many other female leads) don’t focus our learning on it, so it’s more methodical and less relaxed, and as a follow of a female lead I feel less comfortable dancing with one and are less relaxed into the music. It’s a great skill to have though.

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