Saturday, July 19, 2008

When Followers Do the Unexpected

How do you handle it when a follower misses your lead?

My goal is to totally hide the fact that she missed something. Others should think her response is exactly as expected. I simply try to find something that fits with where she left off, even if it’s completely opposite of my original intent. Occasionally it creates something humorous, or amazingly creative, but that's just part of the magic of social dancing.

In an ideal world, nobody outside of me knows something was missed. When the "alternate ending" works perfectly, even my follow wonders if she missed something. Sometimes she just thinks my combination is a little weird or “unique”, even though it’s actually covering for a missed communication.

I expressed this thought on a dance forum I monitor and here’s part of a response I received: “I wish more leaders had that mindset. (And followers, too). With many leaders I feel I like I'm in some sort of exam and must do everything right which puts me under pressure. The most fun dances are with those leaders who make me feel like I was a great dancer (which I'm not) and when I do notice that I missed a lead, it doesn't matter. We laugh about it and missing the lead becomes part of the fun of the dance.”

This follower felt pressured to have everything right, rather than enjoying the dance. Obviously this isn’t my idea of a great partner dance. As a lead we want her feeling comfortable so she can do her best, which also makes us look better and everybody wins.

For me, I try to lighten up when I find someone is struggling a little. A little humor or a “it’s fine” smile goes a long way toward reducing the stress level. It's a dance, not an audition, and she'll remember you positively as she advances.

Maybe my music background helps. Things go wrong on stage. Equipment breaks in the middle of a song, I drop drum sticks, the singer starts at the wrong spot, someone counts a tune too fast or slow (usually me) or a soloist plays twice as long as expected. You name it, if you're on stage enough, anything that can go wrong, does...

I learned that handling the unexpected in a positive manner marks you as a pro. Smiling and pretending things are fine while you recover (and after) can go a long way toward making things better.

Once you ask someone to dance, then it's your responsibility to dance within her comfort zone. Leaders need to find materials that are fun but doable when they get a less experienced follow.

Sometimes it's a positive challenge to do a simple, quality dance with reduced complexity. When she doesn’t know a specific sequence, see what you can do to make it look great anyway. You may discover an alternate ending, or maybe find something more interesting than your stock sequence.

Missing moves is simply part of social dancing, and the marks of great leads is how well they deal with things that don’t go as intended. Keeping your head straight, smiling, acting like a gentlemen, finding creative ways to recover, and not letting her know she missed something is a win in the social scene.

Let me know what you do when things don’t work out as expected.
Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our
irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.
--Mark Twain


  1. It depends on the follower - the women I dance with often usually know something's up and will often ask me outright to try the move again, so frequently I just do that.

    With newcomers, or experienced dancers whose attitude toward me is... less indulgent than that of others, I'm much more likely to just go with a (cough) "custom" ending and not repeat the move.

  2. Tommy,

    Yea, I've had followers ask me to repeat a sequence after something didn't work. Sometimes I don't know what I did, because it was in the moment, based on her response from a previous move and the music at the time.

    I've had to laugh and say something like "if I do it again, let me know..."

    I consider it a good thing when I can't remember, because I'm already moving on with the dance based on the current music and where we left off.

  3. Providing my partner is a good dancer, when something unexpected happens, I ask myself "why did she do that?". Maybe my lead was ambiguous. Sometimes a better dancer will respond to an incorrect subtlety in my lead that a poorer dancer would miss. Girls sometimes ask "was I supposed to do that?" I always reassure them by saying "if you felt that's what I was leading, you did the right thing to follow it". I've picked up some good new moves from such "mistakes".

  4. Joe,

    You're totally right, if she thinks my lead said turn, and that wasn't what I intended, she is doing the right thing.

    If a few women do something unintended when I lead the same move, then I assume it's my lead.

    If one person misses it, I usually assume it was something in the moment, and don't think about it too much.

    Nobody gets bothered if I miss something in a conversation, nobody should be botherd if a move doesn't work occasionally.

  5. When something goes wrong with less experienced followers I just try to go with it but ussually they are really self concience and say sorry etc etc..

    I ussually reply with "there is nothing wrong on the dancefloor as long as we are having fun".. that ussually relaxes them and we have a good time...

    With more experienced followers I just shut up and act like nothing happend... and ussually they do the same... :D


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero