The Lead is not a “Ride”

I know a girl who treats leads like they are amusement park rides. She wants the lead to entertain her with a bunch of flashy moves… lifts, dips, drops. If the dance isn’t exciting enough for her, she will throw herself into a dramatic dip or drop – and expect the guy to catch her.

Not only is that incredibly dangerous, but it’s rude to the lead. It treats him like he is there solely to serve her. Leads shouldn’t feel used for the follower’s enjoyment.

It amazes me how many times I hear this complaint from leaders… Feeling like his job is to give ladies a magical, exciting dance – despite the fact that she may not have the technical skills to execute it on her end.

I don’t expect the lead to show me off and make me feel beautiful, sexy and talented. That is MY job – and I shouldn’t rely on a lead for that. Great followers look amazing with anyone they dance with because of their skills – not the leads.

Therefore, I’m studying technique so I can be an equal contributor. A lead doesn’t want to exhaust himself compensating for things we aren’t willing to learn to do correctly (i.e., maintaining our own balance, staying on time, or sustaining proper frame and connection). He’s there to have fun too – not just work his ass off trying to keep us upright and beaming.

The most unforgettable dance I’ve witnessed was a tango couple in Denver; he led nothing but forward steps and side steps. The woman, with gorgeous footwork and brilliant musicality, spun those movements into pure magic.

She showed me that with amazing technique, we can make simple dances look and feel utterly captivating.

For me, partner dancing is about giving. I don’t seek out leads based on what I can get, I seek out leads based on what I feel we can give one another. I want the lead to sincerely enjoy dancing with me – and for the right reasons.

Ideally, I want to give perfect balance, solid connection and flawless timing (have patience; it is a work in progress). I want to inspire him with my musicality and entertain him with beautiful, creative styling. I want him to feel that moving with me is effortless so he can be in his heart and not in his headspace. And since that is the gift I want to give my lead, I am actively building those skills.

Ultimately, I want to be the follower who makes the dance fun for my lead. Because in partner dancing, it’s not all about me. It’s all about us. 

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If you just want to “use” a lead to make you feel beautiful and talented, at least drop $20 in his pocket when the song starts and say, “Entertain me!” so he knows what hell he just entered into. He will need it for physical therapy / medical bills when you throw yourself into a dip he didn’t lead. 

About Epiphany

epiphanies on life and spiritual living as I chase wisdom - one insight at a time.

Posted on December 7, 2016, in Dance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. “it’s rude to the lead.”

    About a rude as calling the guy a “lead”, actually.

    Unless he really is bad enough to be dancing Argentine tango as if it were the Ballroom variety.

    There’s no lead and follow in Argentine tango dance.


    • Chris, this one was intentionally written to be applicable to all dances. Care to elucidate on why it’s rude to use the traditional terms of lead/follower for tango? What terms do you use instead? I’m with Jorge on this one… All the pros (most of them Argentine) I’ve worked with over the years have used lead/follower as well as far as I recall.


    • The link you posted had a video that doesn’t play and the article was so poorly written that any message was vague at best. While I do understand what you mean by the concept of there not being a “lead and follow” in tango, I’m not entirely convinced that you do. Can you explain in your own words what your understanding of that is? I felt like your statement came across rather condescending and it’s not fair to people to make a statement in that manner and not back it up with solid explanation. You are more than welcome to contribute to the conversation, but if it has more attitude than substance or value, it won’t be welcomed much longer. Thanks.


    • of course there is lead and follow….what planet are you on?


    • Jeffrey, I’m not sure what Chris was referring to, but I’ll offer my own thoughts on the traditional terms of lead/follower. I’m personally a fan of the concept of the dance being more of a conversation, where it’s call and response (as opposed to lead/follow, which kind of mimics a boss/secretary dynamic of “here’s a demand, now execute it”, which I’ve certainly experienced in some dances.

      If we truly dance tango as an improv dance, then I feel both dancers need to fall into this continuous flow of simply responding… to the music, to one another’s movements, styling, emotion, musicality, etc. Both parties are simultaneously leading/following because every call is a response and every response is a call.

      I kind of like the concept of dancers being “responders” who are equal and share joint responsibility in the execution and crafting of the dance. For me, it’s a an advanced concept that works well in certain dances and I’m aware that some people may dislike the traditional terms, but I just think it’s practical to stick with lead/follower.

      I have no issue with being referred to as a follower and I can’t imagine why any lead would take offense to being called a lead. But I’m open to hearing why if someone wants to share…


  2. What? I’ve taken tango lessons from at least ten instructors over three years and they all talk in terms of leads and follows.

    Great article, by the way! Spot on.


  3. I have been told many times that I am a great ride. I always took it as a compliment. I have also been told a few times that I do too much, so maybe the “great ride” comment is just a polite way of saying “easy, tiger.”


  4. In Argentine tango the term lead and follow is not used so much in Argentina. It’s clearly stated “man and woman” In traditional milongas in Argentina women do not take on the mans roll nor do men dance as women. This is not to say in many milongas in Argentina the organizers could care less who “leads or follows” it’s just a matter of making money.
    I was taught it’s the mans job to initiate the move or figure or whatever you wish to call it and then he follows the woman. Think about the molinete once the man leads it he follows the circular movements of the woman. So the man is always responsible for the lead and the woman can certainly embellish as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rhythm the man has chosen.


  5. OMG seriously people if you have to spend all your time identifying leads or follows or men or women then you really are not looking at the article and its content. Think past the petty identifying aspects of who you are and try and understand the article.

    It talks about women, or follows, not using the man for their own ballance. The article says to women;

    “get off your butts and do some training and work to hold your own weight and contribute to the dance like the man is”.

    Forget what you see on TV and in the movies. Forget that crap where the lady throws herself into a dip and the man catches her and says something smart and they both walk off into a palm filled beachy sunset. This happens very rarely.

    Look I practice the fuse finger technique. This means if a woman dances with me and pulls harder on my fingers than I am ready to hold her with, I simply let my fingers open. That way she knows I will not hold her up. That way she knows not to pull on me or I will let go. This sets an expectation for the girl to hold herself up and not do the whole T-REX hands where they hold on like crazy and throw their centre backwards.

    Please lets praise this articel for the pure genius that it is coming from a woman who actually understands what men are going though.
    BRAVO my dear!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the enthusiastic support on this! I don’t believe men should ever feel “used” or have their abilities taken for granted. I know too many men who have suffered a bad injury after attempting to “save” a girl from hurting herself after she threw herself into something he wasn’t prepared for.

      To me, it’s all about respect… respecting your partner, respecting the move and what’s required for that move to happen safely and comfortably for both partners. Respecting boundaries when someone indicates hesitation for whatever reason. I believe we need to train people on developing that awareness and sensitivity.

      Maybe it’s an unspoken cultural dynamic that we need to get honest about… men don’t exist to just “serve” us. I fully believe we dance to be of service to one another.


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