Failure to Lead

18th March 2010

"Lead, follow, or get off the dance floor" ~ Famous saying


So, I was giving a private class recently, and I was asked, repeatedly, by a follower, how to cope with "bad leaders".

What's a girl to do, when she knows what the leader is trying to do, but he's not actually leading it - he's either leading it weakly, or leading it wrong?

Should she be pure, and insist on always being led for every step?

Or should she fake it for her partner's sake - just gancho and think of Buenos Aires?

Or should she take some middle ground?


The "right" answer, of course, is that a follower should follow what is led, and should not follow what is not led.

This is, of course, extremely simple as a course of action, and it means the followers will - almost by definition - never make a mistake.

There's another bonus - it's "tough love", in a cruel-to-be-kind way. If you teach your leaders

Of course, the big downside to this approach is that you may destroy your own reputation ("Oh yes, she never follows my moves, that one"), or you may destroy the leader's confidence, in the process - which may ultimately put the leader off. Yes, you could argue that if the leader can't learn to lead, he shouldn't be dancing AT in the first place, but some of us guys learn slower than others.

And if you think there's a surplus of leaders around, I suggest you go to almost any tango class, anywhere in the Western world...


Another answer is to guess what the leader's trying, and complete the move for him.

Of course, this means you have to know what the leader's trying to lead in the first place, so that means you have to think - to anticipate, even perhaps to backlead.

It's risky - and it'll mean you definitely do make mistakes, as you're likely to misunderstand his intention. The more you guess, the more you're likely to make mistakes.

Middle ground

A compromise solution is that you "give" a little - if the lead is OK, then you do the step, even though it's not "naturally" led. Frankly, I think most followers adopt this approach with some steps.

I suspect that many common "patterns" (giro, cross, ocho cortado, gancho and so on) are led and followed this way in social dancing - I know for a fact that I can't lead a gancho correctly most of the time, but my partners generally do it nonetheless.

This involves judgement, but it's less harsh than "purism", and less risky than "promiscuity".

Location location location

Fundamentally, I guess my view is that it all depends where you are.

If you're in a class, or a practica, and you're starting to work on a set of steps, then I think it's more OK to anticipate or backlead - you're often following a pattern after all. Sure, after you get the sequence nailed, you should then work on the steps it in different situations and combinations, and ensure you can follow it (and that your partner should follow it). But initially, I think some degree of "cooperation" is OK.

If you're dancing socially, then I'd take the opposite approach. For the most part, I think in social dancing you should only follow what is led. If your partner can't lead you into a step in social dancing, then he shouldn't be doing that step in social dancing; and if you cooperate, you're just encouraging him to continue in his bad habits. A milonga is a place you go to when you can dance. It's not a place you go to to work on steps.

But if in doubt, remember it's always the leader's fault.

 - David Bailey, 18th March 2010