How Do I Ask a Lead To Dance? Tips and Tricks

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Asking a lead to dance can be a daunting prospect for a follow. For those who have worked up the nerve, but aren’t sure how, I’ve put together some tips and tricks to get you started. They are both from my experience and from a few leads who generously offered their input while I was writing these articles. (Thank you gentlemen!)

In order from subtle to overt:

– Have you ever sidled up to a lead mid-song, stood or sat next to him, and just kinda grooved to the music? If so, then congratulations! You’ve already asked a lead to dance.

According to one lead who is fond of this method, leads often do pick up on follows using this type of non-verbal cue and sometimes ask her for the next dance. Beware though. Another lead who dislikes this method warns that it can be extremely creepy, and believes that the direct approach is always the most favorable.

Upon further reflection, I think that this method probably works best when you’re not actively focused on getting a dance from one lead in particular. There’s a big difference between awkward hovering, staring, and paying a lot of attention to a lead (Creepy); and leaving an empty chair between you and the lead, actually watching people dance and enjoying the music, and not expecting the lead to ask (Not So Creepy).
– Take a group class before the dance. I’ve found that not only is a lead more likely to ask a follow to dance if technically he’s already danced with her in class, but it’s less intimidating to ask a lead to dance if the ice has already been broken by partnering in class.

– Strike up a conversation with a lead. When a new song begins, a lead will often ask the follow he’s been chatting with to dance. Even if the lead doesn’t ask, it can be an easy, natural way for the follow to ask.

– Stalk your prey like a lioness. Observe which leads appear coupled up, which leads are primarily dancing with advanced dancers, which leads are asking lots of different follows to dance, which leads are engaged in conversation, which leads have sat out several songs and are probably ready to go, etc. Then, when you’ve picked your target and the time feels right…pounce.

Just remember; if the lead turns you down, don’t take it personally. He may simply be resting, he may be a timid beginner, the music might be the wrong speed for him, or any number of things. Plus, consider that the leads face rejection all the time so if nothing else, chances are that they at least respect any follow who’s brave enough to ask.

As with all social interaction, there are often ambiguous and unwritten rules about what to do, and what not to do. My next installment is about the do’s and don’ts of asking a lead to dance.

By |2010-12-07T10:31:35-08:00December 7th, 2010|Swing Dancing, Dance Guide|7 Comments

About the Author:

Robin began tap and ballet dancing at age 3 1/2. She was introduced to partner dancing while attending college, and spent many evenings swing dancing at The Derby in Los Angeles. Lately, she's become a regular at ATOMIC Ballroom's lindy hop dances, and goes to Strutters' Ball whenever possible. Robin has also been known to break out her ballroom, Latin, and West Coast swing on occasion.


  1. Marc Oliver December 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Very good article. For me personally, I will turn down an invitation to dance simply because I’m not any good at social dancing and I relate that to the follows. I have been taking regular dance lessons for more than a year and I discovered early on that there is an entirely different dynamic between class room and social dancing. While I have certainly improved in the class room, I still have no idea what I’m doing when on a social dance floor. I go to a social dance just to hear the music because I don’t give the follows anything worthwhile on the dance floor. I tell the truth and hope the follows understand and don’t take anything personal. Thanks for listening.

  2. Valentine December 13, 2010 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    It’s been my experience that leads are nearly always flattered and happy when I ask them to dance. Asking a lead to dance at minimum says, “I like your dancing enough to want you to lead me” without explicitly saying so. I’ve been turned down for good reasons, such as the speed is too fast, or he’s catching a breather. I’ve turned people down for those reasons, too, but I ALWAYS seek that lead out again when I’m rested. It happens too often to me that a supposedly tired lead will go and dance–sometimes even to that same exact song that got me turned down! Ah well, it’s like driving. Some drivers are courteous and some aren’t. Bottom line: I ask. A lot. It guarantees that I dance at least a dozen song minimum every dance night. I have more fun that way, and I get repeat dances often from breaking the ice. I always feel like a winner!

  3. Jim January 4, 2011 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    Wonderful Article…..As a lead I do feel honored if a follow asks me to dance. I try to make it a general policy never to turn a follow down, If she has enough guts to ask a guy to dance, good for her. I may ask her to wait for a slower song but I will dance with her.

    Having said that I do prefer to ask follows to dance, mainly because I know my capabilities. Songs that I am not familiar with or if the beat is hard to follow, I may sit out those songs. If a follow asks, I will dance, but sometimes my performance is less than I would like.

    Helpful hints from a leads perspective, If you are going to ask:

    Ask for a dance when a slower song is playing. A slower song is typically easier to dance to, it gives us more time to think.

    If you are a beginner, let your lead know that you are a beginner. It helps him lead clear moves and not to expect too much.

    Talk to other follows and see if they know which leads are willing to dance, if a follow asks.

    The stand in front of the lead, and tap your foot thing does work….we know what is going on…. :-)

    The things I look for in a follow:

    Does she smile….A smile is one of the most attractive things about a follow. if she is smiling then the chances of having a good dance just increased. If the lead messes up then she will probably just let it go and still will have a good time, which is what a lead wants her to have.

    I enjoy it when follows dress up a bit. Skirts are always nice, especially skirts or dresses that ‘fly’. It has a natural attraction to it, and it has a beautiful look to it when dancing. It just adds a little something.

    I also have been pleasantly surprised several times, by some plain ordinary looking ladies that have been absoulutely wonderful follows.

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  5. Salsa dancer January 22, 2011 at 1:14 am - Reply

    I’am a lead dancer once and it was a great experience. Being a Lead dancer at Actfa, School of Dance and Performing Arts at Singapore is the most happiest moment in my life. Actfa is a great school and you will learn a lot especially when you begin to lead a dance:)

  6. dancer February 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm - Reply

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