The Do’s and Don’ts of Asking a Lead to Dance

//The Do’s and Don’ts of Asking a Lead to Dance

I’m the first to admit that I’m hardly an authority on social dance etiquette. However, there are a few personal guidelines I’ve picked up for myself over the years. I’ve also spoken with a few leads about their pet peeves. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, but these are things that I try to be cognizant of when asking a lead to dance:

– Generally, I like to wait a little while after a song has started before asking a lead to dance. Not only do you get a good idea of how fast, or slow, or what sort of dance a song is, but it gives the leads a chance to be the one to ask you to dance. Also, I’ve occasionally jumped the gun by walking up to a lead, just as he asks another follow to dance. Waiting a few seconds now to see if a lead has his eye on a different follow can prevent a little bit of embarrassment later.

– Be aware of how much the “target” lead has been dancing. For instance, if a lead has just finished one or two (or four or six) dances in a row, then he may be due for a rest. I tend to wait and let the lead sit out a song before asking for a dance. I think it reduces the chances of getting turned down by a panting lead or making the lead feel obligated to say “yes” even though he’s tired and would rather not. I chalk it up to being sensitive to the fact that leads often do more dancing since follows can tend to outnumber leads.

– Don’t get greedy. I try to limit my asking each lead to dance to only once, or on a rare occasion twice a night. I figure that if the lead enjoyed the dance with me, then he can ask for another dance later on. Also, I try to avoid asking mostly advanced leads to dance. While it’s good for advanced dancers to dance with people of all skill levels, they really shine when dancing with other advanced dancers. As much fun as it is to dance, it’s also fun to sit back and watch the dancers who you hope to emulate one day, strutting their stuff.

– According to one lead, a pet peeve of his is when a follow makes a bee-line and comes running up to him to ask for a dance. It can make the lead feel obligated to say “yes”. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself, particularly when I’ve heard a good song starts. Of course, it’s not just follows who do this either. Some people don’t mind it at all or may take it as a compliment, so it’s not necessarily a “don’t”, but it might be a good idea to think twice before acting on the impulse.

– Another pet peeve of a lead I spoke with is for a follow to ask him to save her a dance, and then disappear. It makes him feel like now he has to track her down and ask her to dance at some point. He’d much prefer to not have the follow put that obligation hanging over his head all night. Again, it’s not just follows who do this, and other people don’t mind, so this one’s also a judgment call.

These articles are offered simply as a jumping-off point to think critically about asking a lead to dance, and hopefully to make it a little less intimidating. You might even be surprised how quickly the experience goes from a prospect as scary as performing a dance solo in front of an audience, to being as normal as a swing-out, whip, or box step.

By |2011-01-11T09:18:36-08:00January 11th, 2011|Dance Guide|3 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. Apache January 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    My personal pet peeve as a lead is when follows stick their hand in my face, especially if they don’t say anything.

    It comes off as rude and socially awkward.

  2. Sarah January 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Do you think the advice for asking leads to dance are different than the advice for asking follows to dance? I’m finding myself confused at the distinction. Nothing here seems to be exclusively pertinent to males or leads. Etiquette should be for people, not leads or follows.

  3. Robin January 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Sarah: Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Most of what I wrote probably does apply to leads as well. Actually, initially I considered calling it something like “Asking a Lead to Dance for Follows (and Vice Versa)”, but ultimately decided to simplify a bit and perhaps leads would read out of curiosity.

    As I mentioned in a earlier post, I’ve had conversations with a number of follows who are uncomfortable asking a lead to dance. My hope was that the articles would help them feel more comfortable.

    I wrote the posts from my perspective as a follow. If you or a lead wanted to submit a response blog post talking about similarities (or differences) in etiquette or experience, I think that ATOMIC would welcome it. As I mentioned toward the end of the article, I offered these posts in part to get the conversation started.

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