How To Follow Like a Lady

By Joe Donato,
all rights reserved © 2007


Every woman agrees that what she needs from a man is for him to be a strong leader. But if that’s true, then what is it exactly that the man needs from the woman? You guessed it; a strong follower. They are two totally different sets of skills, and two totally different mindsets. One requires immediate action, commitment and confidence, while the other requires patience and willing submission to the will of another. But how can a woman be patient and submissive to a leader who is not quite confident and assertive (At least not yet)? When a man wants to dance with you, he will first extend the invitation to dance. Once you accept, he will create his frame. And once his frame is created, it is the woman’s job to step into his frame and stay there. But what if his frame is wavering (as it will be prone to do), what do you do then? It has often been said that when a man steps on a woman’s feet it is usually the woman’s fault for not getting her feet out of the way. But why would a woman be thinking about getting her feet out of the way when the man hasn’t moved yet, or worse, is too busy “waddling” around her feet?


Here’s how, what, and why:


When I’m teaching a woman to dance, the primary thing I am concerned about is her frame: I need to make sure she is in a constant state of keeping herself “secured” even “cradled” in the man’s frame. The details may change from dance to dance, but the fundamental concept is the same in all the dances. The woman needs to be securely connected to the man’s torso, so that when his torso moves, she will naturally follow. There are two things all women can do to help the man be a stronger leader, and to make them “shine” on the dance floor. This may sound appealing, but allow me to explain.


1 - WAIT!


“How can I wait when I’m supposed to me moving to the music? “Right foot back, left foot to the side, slow, quick, quick. I didn’t hear any “wait” in the music between beats!”


It’s like this: In a perfect world, everything would fit together perfectly. Dancing with a seasoned dancer is a completely different experience than dancing with a novice or a new dancer. But a professional needs a woman to wait, just as much as the amateurs and we need you to wait in two ways. Instead of obeying the music and the pattern, what she really needs to learn to obey is the man’s momentum. This means that after each and every weight change onto the next foot, she will wait, until she feels her body being led to the next step. When men are learning to dance, they don’t always have the rhythm down instantly. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen some men, who have no rhythm at all, still dance with confidence. They go twice as fast as they should in the waltz, and they don’t wait at all on the 4th beat when dancing salsa, but the one thing they have is a very strong frame. When women follow his lead, there is always a smile on both faces. The two of them move around the floor as a unit. If a man has no prior musical experience, it may take him a while to master the rhythm. But if the woman can learn to wait to feel for the man’s signal, she will discover that she won’t even have to think about the rhythm. The more a woman just waits to feel the man’s lead, the more relaxed he becomes, and the sooner he will start developing in other areas; his floorcraft, arm styling, amalgamating, and yes, rhythm. She won’t even have to think about the rhythm! Which brings me to the second mandate:


2 – “DON’T THINK!” When I’m teaching a woman to be a good follower, I will often make her close her eyes. Then I dance without any music playing. This makes them prioritize the sense of feeling over seeing and hearing. This may sound terrifying; so were blind people when they first lost their sight; until they learned to feel. Many women tell me they dance much better when they close their eyes, even though it forces them to rely on the man’s lead.


Do not get preoccupied with where you are going. Since you are traveling backwards, you don’t have any control over that anyway. But that doesn’t mean you don’t influence the quality of the journey. Ballroom Dancing is all about the Journey, NOT the destination. Don’t get hung up on what you look like either. Looking good is a by-product of feeling good. Once it starts to feel good, you will feel confident, and looking good is an extra added bonus. If you stay in frame, when he moves 2.67 inches, you move 2.67 inches. If the toes are .475 millimeters apart when you start, they will remain .475 millimeters apart while you dance, and when you finish your last step, they will be .475 millimeters apart. If they are 1.56 feet apart, when you start, then they should remain 1.56 feet apart throughout every step, and when you finish, they will still be 1.56 feet apart. But that happens in an environment of mutual trust.


Now with that being said, I understand that a woman cannot really trust a man until he’s trustworthy. This is why mutual respect and communication are necessary. But once a few basic fundamental concepts are grasped, both the man and the woman will be sharing the Eureka moments. This leads me to the other “wait”. Ever wonder why men don’t ask for directions when driving? There are two reasons. Yes, we may be acting stubborn and strong willed, and not want to admit defeat, but there is another more noble reason. Sometimes we are so committed to the task of “figuring things out for ourselves” that somebody else’s advice at that point in time, albeit good advice, will simply confuse us. (For more on this concept, check out the Algebra, Seinfeld, and Ballroom Dancing” article). So ladies, the other “wait” I am referring to involves waiting before you start to try to help the man, by telling him what to do. When you see the man in front of you, sweating, thinking, struggling, be sympathetic. Be patient. Be quiet! Focus on your own frame. Think about feeling as opposed to looking. He may not have the lead right this second, but he’s getting closer every minute. If you give him a chance to finish processing all the information jumbling around in his head without adding any more, you’ll be a valuable asset to the cause. When he is ready, or wants advice or feedback, he will solicit it, either from you, or from the qualified professional teaching the lesson.


Following is primarily an unconscious act. Ever catch a football or stop a soccer ball? I read somewhere that our brains are unconsciously performing calculus equations in order to know exactly when and where our hands need to be to catch that ball. If we had to do calculus equations consciously on the dance floor, it would surely be empty. But the human body is an amazing thing, and doesn’t always need us to tell it what to do. The slightest instinctual change in momentum in any direction from the man’s body, will trigger the woman’s body to do the same thing. That is the art of being a great follower; allowing your body to let the man’s body tell it what to do. Even if he messes up the timing: even if he has to hesitate and think for a minute before the next step; even if he moves forward when he should have stepped backward, the woman will follow his mistake, and the dance will not be lost.

(For men reading this, make sure you check out “How to lead like a man” and don’t get left behind, and/or leave the woman behind on the dance floor).


Happy following!


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