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Waiting for the Lead.

Whoever said "Ladies First!!"?  Surely they weren’t talking about dancing. Following means letting the man move first while the lady reacts a split second later. A vital skill for a woman is the ability to wait for a lead, then respond quickly. In the absence of a lead, the woman should stay still or move slowly in whatever general direction she feels is called for. 

In partner dancing, each particular dance has a brief but definite break in the action where partners pause before the next pattern begins. 

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This spot is where the woman stops for an instant awaiting the next signal. She will either sense an arm lead, a body lead, or both, but her job is to wait for it. 

I might add in the total absence of any lead, the woman will probably be off-balance a lot, but even here waiting to watch what the man does before acting is still a better idea than simply guessing.

In Social Dancing, the Man Leads and  the Lady Responds.

A good example is Swing. The lady uses a "Back-Step" to stop her momentum away from the man. She comes to a stop on the word "Step" and waits for the man to indicate which direction he wishes for her to move next. If she moves before he does, there is a good chance she will crash right into him. Uh oh. It usually takes just one crash for the lady to learn not to use the music as her cue to move nor an educated guess, but rather to simply wait for him to make the first move, then react immediately when it comes.


Light on Her Feet... 

This is a term for a lady who is easy to lead. It means that she reacts quickly to a lead with a minimum of pressure used. There are two secrets here. The first is to get your momentum completely under control on the "Waiting Step" and get ready for the next move. Being "heavy" means the woman is off-balance here and requires the man’s assistance to reverse her momentum. 

The other secret is to free up the right foot ASAP. Since most leads involve the lady’s right arm or shoulder, having the right foot free allows the lady to release the tension the quickest. She should use her own power to move rather than make the man "force" her to move. 

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One famous Misconception is that Tiny Women are lighter on their feet.

This is nonsense. Any woman who is balanced is easy to lead. Size only matters when the woman is off-balance. 

The only advantage a smaller woman has over a larger woman is that she is easier to "rescue" if she loses her balance. Obviously the lighter woman is easier to rescue, but assuming the man doesn’t knock the larger woman off-balance (that’ll be the day !), her size should not make a difference.

I learned my lesson in the days of Disco back in 1978. I danced with a petite woman who always leaned away from me on the back-step. She would have literally fallen backwards if I hadn't braced her with my left arm. Judging by how sore my arm was after dancing with her, this poor lady must have taken a throbbing right arm home with her each night as well. 

Almost as if some angel of dance intended for me to learn a lesson, my next partner was easily 60 pounds heavier than the tiny woman I mentioned above. She asked me to dance. Outwardly I smiled, but inwardly I was pretty worried I wouldn't be strong enough to support her. Fortunately my new partner was nearly weightless. She understood how to use her footwork and posture to control her own momentum. In other words, she knew how to stop herself, relieving me of the need to stop her through arm tension. More than likely my somewhat chubby partner had learned these momentum-stopping tricks out of necessity because the only way she could survive the fast pace of Disco Dancing was to take responsibility for her own balance. Genuinely surprised by the ease of leading this gifted dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the dance and went on to become one of her regular partners.

Get Down!

Another following skill is learning to give into your knees and slide your feet. In most dances "picking up your feet" is a major "no no". You should always try to slide your feet when traveling. There are two major reasons: "Sliding" prevents your stride from becoming too large. Sliding also helps you keep your weight over your feet. Picking up your feet allows your foot to get ahead of your weight and makes you easier to knock off-balance. 

Have you ever heard of the Greek legend of Antaeus?  He was an evil giant who drew his strength from contact with the Earth. He was invincible as long as his feet touched the ground. After a huge struggle, Hercules found the only way to conquer Antaeus was to lift his body totally off the Earth, then strangle him in midair. Dancers are also more powerful when they keep their feet on the floor.

Walking involves picking up your feet for longer strides, but dancing requires smaller steps which are created by sliding. Successful dancers move like a cat:  low, all paws on the floor, and very cautious. 

As I said above, since dancing at your natural height often results in lifting your feet, the longer steps make it easier for the man to accidentally knock you off balance. Don’t let that happen: Learn to keep your knees flexed!  

Sliding your feet reduces the size of your steps. Ladies in the know will tell you that lots of small steps (as opposed to fewer but larger steps) gives you better balance and creates a more graceful gliding look. As always what works the best in dancing has the unique benefit of also looking the best. Dancing into your knees requires a lot of concentration at first, but once your body gets the feel of it, this invaluable technique will become second nature. Staying low also creates more hip motion and "sway". Get Down and pretty soon you will be the slinkiest Kitty in the alley!

Double Turns

It hasn’t been just one woman who muttered under her breath that turns would be the death of her yet. Double turns have driven women nuts for a long time. Erica Jong wrote a best-selling novel on the subject titled the "Fear of Falling". Learning to spin well must be easier said than done since the good Lord knows that women try hard enough. Solving a turning problem can be tricky since women often do several things wrong at the same time when they are learning. Just fixing one mistake may not bring instant results, so confusion sets in. Even more confusing, the obvious way to turn may not be the most effective solution.

Many Things Beginners do "Naturally" end up making their turns worse.

To use a biblical analogy, just like certain sins, sometimes doing what is wrong seems a lot easier than doing what is right!  For example, many women "swing" their right foot to start a turn which prevents the feet from closing properly. Many women try to turn on one foot rather than switch weight from one foot to the other. Other common mistakes include holding the arms too high or making them too tense. The list goes on. 

The correct way to turn usually involves pivot turns. The lady pivots on one foot and shifts all of her weight quickly to her other foot (which becomes the new pivot foot). Pivot turns take time to master, but patience and practice usually do the trick.

Sometimes however a woman loses her balance badly and falls or nearly falls. This experience can be so frightening the woman may develop bad habits only a witch doctor could cure. Now things are much worse. Imagine you are a baseball hitter struck with a pitch. From then on every time you step to the plate, the fear of being hit again makes it harder to concentrate.

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Once you fall while turning, each new turn seems dangerous. Instead of confidently switching weight from one foot to the next, you balk. You hesitate. Turns must be done in the blink of an eye since the lead forces you to move whether you like it or not, but by holding back, it is too late. The lead knocks you off balance, you stumble, you nearly eat dance floor, and your fear is reinforced. Next time, same story. Now the problem becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect to fall, you hesitate, you fall. Normally the "wobbles" go away with practice, but serious turn problems are hard to solve by yourself. 

If your turns are making you crazy, ask someone you trust to take a look.

The Dark Side of Dancing

What do you do if a guy is too rough?  If you think he wishes to be on your good side, you can always ask him to ease up. That is the smartest thing to do. 

Back in 1977 at age 27, I took a Partner Dancing class in a legendary dance known as the Whip. The patterns were not easy, the footwork was not easy, and I was often lost. I did not have a partner. Fortunately the teacher was used to this and had a half dozen ladies hanging around just in case to lend a hand. A lovely lady perhaps twice my age named Dorothy Piazzos was assigned to me as my partner. In the middle of my third week of class, Dorothy pulled me aside. She said, "Rick, I want tell you something. I admire how hard you are trying. You pay attention, you concentrate, and you care about about learning. I thoroughly enjoy dancing with you. I just have one favor to ask. Sometimes you squeeze my hand so hard I think your thumb might actually poke through."

Well, I was flabbergasted. I had no idea I was hurting Dorothy!  I might add that Dorothy seemed equally surprised that I didn't know I was hurting her!  We both learned something. I told Dorothy that my squeezing was totally unconscious and asked her to gently shake her hand anytime I was squeezing too hard. She said she would. Sure enough, she shook her hands a couple times that night and maybe one more time the next week. I am pleased to say with her help I was able to break the habit. 

Several lessons can be learned from this story. First, when men get nervous, they squeeze their hands. Second, they don't even realize it. You might have tears rolling down your cheeks, but if he is listening to the instructor he may never even know what is going on. Don't automatically get mad at him for doing something he isn't even aware of!!  Simply do what Dorothy did and whisper what the problem is. 

If the guy wishes to please you - and I believe most men do - he will immediately apologize and try to do better. However if one man in a dozen reacts negatively, he is way off-base and his behavior is not the norm, but rather than the exception. I will also add that I was the typical "angry young man" in the days when Dorothy whispered to me about my hand-squeezing. Since she wasn't mean about it, I didn't get defensive. Obviously if a man hurts you, it is understandable that you might have a bite to your words, but you will have much better results if you try words with sugar rather than salt. 

I might add that women get nervous in dance class too. Women frequently tense their arms during a pattern which causes them to lose their balance. When I point out that arm tension was the culprit, women often are very surprised at what I tell them. They were completely unaware that they were tensing their arms. Once they relax their arms and have more success, they realize I was right. My point is simply that usually the men have no idea they are hurting you, so please don't get angry at them. Instead do like Dorothy did and whisper to them what they are doing wrong. 

Sadly I might add however that some men are more perfect than others. A word to the wise is sufficient with most men, but with others a cannonball to the head might be more in order. But you already knew that, right?

If you come up against a real loser, now you are up against a bigger problem. Men who consistently hurt women on the dance floor are known as jerks. They require a form of "defensive dancing". 

The first rule of "Defensive Dancing" is don't fight back. As I found with Officer Charles, resistance usually makes things worse. Donít forget that tensing your arms or being heavy will probably make things worse. It is better to cooperate as much as you can, then donít dance with him again. 

Unfortunately men have been known to carry a dark side onto the dance floor. For example, men will lead double turn patterns way past a beginner womanís skill level then have the nerve to blame the lady. Wrong!  Men donít always play fair, sometimes acting out personal agendas. 

Beginner Women are especially vulnerable to creeps because they don't know what exactly to expect. How much of what is going wrong is her fault?  Is it supposed to hurt this much?  The problem women who are Beginners face is when the dancing doesnít work, they often assume it is their fault so they stay out there and take. All women should know they have the right to end the dance whenever they wish. Yes, it is rude to walk off the floor, but if that is what the situation calls for, that may be your best option to counteract your partner's even greater sins. 

One advantage to dance groups such as SSQQ is that other women can give you a perspective on a particular guy. For that matter, you might be pleased to know here at SSQQ I have seen that men in the dance group will also look out for you. 

Most men who dance are decent guys, but in every crowd there are always a few to watch out for. For example, there is a legendary man who hangs out at dance clubs around Houston just waiting for the chance to ruin some poor woman's night by asking her to dance. Here at SSQQ he is known as the "Longhorn Jackass".

One of the letters in particular spelled out clearly that women have the right to walk off the floor anytime they wish. Let me share with the Readers this letter from SSQQ Staff Member Patrick Steerman: 

With great amusement I read all of the letters on your website regarding the "Longhorn Jackass". These guys have been around as long as I have been dancing. I remember one, who I will call John (not his real name), who you probably know, who took lessons at every dance studio in town. He would come to the old Wild West and try to dance Whip and Two Step with anyone he could get out on the floor. All women lived in fear of being asked to dance with him. His problem of course was that he thought he was a great dancer. John had taken lessons for years and once told a group of us that Mario, Sr. told him that in three or four months he would be as good as Mario, Junior. So, under the belief that he was a great dancer, John would drag beginners out on the floor and try to teach them how to dance - most experienced dancers wouldn't dance with him at all (Sharon Crawford was one of these).

Since these types are always around, I believe the women writing the letters should stop talking and do something. They have to bear some responsibility for what happens. No one can make you dance and keep you on the dance floor - most of us do not wish to hurt someones feelings but if you dance with this guy a second time or do not walk off the floor the first time - it's your fault. Dance is supposed to be fun - if you are not having fun dancing with someone, just stop and walk off the floor. Better yet, don't agree to dance with the Longhorn Jackass a second time. Some of the letters say that once on the floor they tried to walk off but he would not let them - I have never seen anyone held against their will on the dance floor. They may not want to hurt his feelings but that is what it takes. That is what eventually happened to the guy I call John - few people would dance with him. Many told John that they wouldn't dance with him because he was too rough and didn't lead moves they could follow. This was a surprise to John but when enough people told him this he finally got the message. I know several women instructors who would dance with him but gave him a very frank warning before stepping onto the floor - "If you dance rough and sling me around, I will walk off the dance floor" - he got the message and eventually became a fair dancer.

This is an extreme measure but necessary if what the women say is true. Of course I have trouble following my own advice. There are many women around town who ask me to dance and I do so even though I would rather not. There is one woman who I use to see out at clubs and at C&W and Whip competitions. Since she was around when Sharon and I competed, she always comes straight to me and asks me to dance. She has trouble spinning and refuses to hold-up her own arm. To make things worst, she always waits until the fastest two step or polka. It's bad enough that I have to "drag" her around the floor and cheat my footwork because she takes extra beats to complete her spins, but she does not follow my lead most of the time. She looks at me and says "I like to do that turn - is that okay?" - which is opposite to what was lead and results in a "busted" pattern. I just look at her and say - "sure, that's fine with me". I am polite and dance with her once per night - two if I can't get out of it.

My rule is that I will dance with anyone once a night. I don't care how bad they are, I just can't say no...unless they are too drunk to walk (been there done that). On occasion, I have stopped in the middle of the dance and said something like "We must be hearing the beat differently" or "Sorry, you may not be recognizing some of my leads, let's try again later".

So you might advise the SSQQ women that this problem will always be there - it's up to you them do something about it. Also, since the women say the Longhorn guy was leading advanced Whip patterns from SSQQ, instructors should be on the lookout for him and other "rough" dancers, in class and at practice parties, and try to talk to them about their style and technique - maybe talk them into repeating some classes.

Pat Steerman
August, 2000

I might add you ladies would probably appreciate reading some of the other letters that Mr. LJ's obnoxious behavior inspired. Click here: Longhorn Jackass  

In summary to the Dark Side of Dancing, I think Patrick's strongest message is to not let yourself be a victim when a man's dancing is so unpleasant it isn't fun. Your first option is to ride it out till the end, but if the behavior is too extreme, don't kick yourself for walking off the floor. You may just save yourself a trip to the doctor for a muscle sprain or back pain. 

Men's Hygiene

Just so you Ladies will know more about something you already know, NOTHING irritates women more in dancing than a man's poor hygiene.  Women will put up with having their arms jerked, their feet stepped on, no rhythm, being run into other dance couples, or even suddenly being turned upside down by an acrobatic step if the lady feels the guy means well. 

What women will not tolerate is poor hygiene. Women believe poor hygiene reflects something deeply unpleasant about the man's character. 

I will add that women do not wish to confront the offensive man about his problem. Their favorite trick is to complain to me. How much good this does is open to debate, but I will say for the record I don't enjoy confronting a man who smells or has bad breath or sneezes or sweats or all the other awful things men do any more than you do. Is it in my job description?  No, I don't think so. 

Will I do it anyway?  Maybe. If you think the man has likeable qualities and just needs a little hint, you can ask me to help. I will also say "Hygiene" is covered extensively in my "Advice to Men" page. Sadly, however, I am sorry to sorry to say that I believe that men who are clueless in the first place rarely have the sense to get the message unless it is delivered between their eyes with a two by four. 

System Dancing Versus Utter Chaos

In sports, coaches teach structured plays. Gifted athletes have the ability to stay with the play as long as possible, then resort to their instincts to improvise if the play breaks down. 

Dance Systems are the simplest way for a man and woman to dance together, but what does the woman do when the system breaks down?  What if he doesn't lead well?  What if he leads patterns from another galaxy (or worse, from another dance studio)?  What if he dances off the beat?  What if he doesnít know what your system is?  When you donít have a clue what the man is trying to lead, all you can do is let your instincts take over. A dance system is like a language. If you can not understand what he is saying/leading, then your best alternative is to abandon memorized footwork and improvise.

Defensive Dancing Hints 

  1. Move your feet in whichever direction releases the tension, then stand still whenever possible.

  2. Stay low, keep your steps small to cut down your momentum.

  3. Bring your feet together at any waiting point.

  4. Move only when led.

  5. Relax your arms as much as your fear will let you and try not to resist.

  6. Try not to think too much! If the patterns are easy, fine, but guessing what is coming next at the higher levels of dance is dangerous. 

  7. If it just isn't working, say "ouch", get an imaginary cramp in your leg and ask to sit down.

The Value of Dance Lessons

Dance lessons give ladies a good idea how the dance systems work. Women become familiar with the footwork, the common patterns, how to recognize the leads quickly, and how the steps fit the music.  Dance lessons give women a chance to practice their steps with a variety of partners while developing the following skills they will need for when the music gets faster and the patterns become more complex.

Unfortunately it is impossible for dance lessons to prepare a woman to handle every mistake a man might make. There are too many of them to anticipate. More important, when taken by surprise no woman can think fast enough on her feet to "remember" what to do (the analytical problem again). 

Only the School of Hard Knocks can train your instincts to spot danger signals fast enough to make a successful countermove. Although classes provide the best starting point, plenty of practice and experience will teach you lessons in following that will far transcend the principles covered in this article.


If you enjoyed this article, you will likely find my article titled "Advice to Men" interesting as well. When it comes to dancing, I think it is useful for a woman to understand the man's point of view. In particular this article establishes clearly the ground rules for what men should and shouldn't do when it comes to Dancing with Women. Knowing what to expect will make it easier to know when a guy has crossed the line out on the dance floor.  

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