A while ago, I wrote an article entitled, The Top 10 Worst Things Leaders Do on the Social Dance Floor. This attracted lots of comments and discussion, which was great. Some follows asked for a similar article about the worst things follows do on the dance floor. However, as a lead, I’ve never experienced anything nearly as bad as what the follows have reported to me about the leaders!

I felt that perhaps a different type of story for the follows could be helpful. Many of these are things are probably obvious to experienced dancers, but I list them anyway for the benefit of the beginners.

Also, these are my personal opinions, and I’d love to hear your ideas.. I am sure I missed something!

1. Dress vintage

It is hard to resist asking a woman who is all dolled up in 30’s, 40’s or 50’s vintage clothing, with vintage hair and makeup,to dance. L.A. is big on authentic vintage attire compared to other parts of the country, making it doubly important. Finding vintage clothing is a little difficult, but it can pay off big time.

There is a group that does a great job of this: the Rockabilly crowd. They tend to be immersed in the vintage lifestyle and really dress up for events. Many of them can’t do Lindy or Balboa to save their lives, but I love dancing with them anyway because they look so damn good all dressed up! Just my personal opinion of course.

2. Wear the right shoes

When I see a follow for the first time and want to know if she can dance, I look at her shoes.  Very high heels or sandals means she is probably not a swing dancer, and I wouldn’t ask her to dance.  Get flats or shoes with a low heel (some heel for Balboa is fine).  Many follows get white Keds and have chrome leather put on the soles by a shoe repair place for $20-$30. Here’s more advice on shoes for Swing dancing.

3. Smile

Would you ask someone who is frowning and in a sour mood to dance?  No one likes getting turned down, and someone who is not smiling is sending an “I don’t want to dance with you and I might turn you down” message to the world. Smile and be welcoming while you’re waiting for someone to ask you. This is really really important!

When you do dance, show that you’re having fun. The best compliment I can get from a follow is that she had fun dancing with me.

If you are a very advanced dancer, you might actually be kind of intimidating to some guys. Try to have fun regardless of the skill level of your partner.

4. Take classes

If you are a great dancer, you could be wearing sweats and and old T-shirt and everyone will still want to dance with you.  Take classes and workshops if you want to improve.  As an added bonus, leads from your class will know you and will want to practice moves with you.

Good followers who know how to add styling to the same old moves I do over and over are really fun to dance with!

The one caveat to this is that if you are an instructor or just a really good dancer, you could be intimidating to some guys. Just be gracious to all who ask you to dance.

5. Stand near the dance floor with that “I-wish-someone-would-ask-me-look”

Yes, I know it is awkward, but nothing comes without some sacrifice. Remember, the leads have to take the risk of being turned down when they ask you. Stand near the dance floor and move to the music a little. Be open and approachable.

If you’re far from the floor and in deep conversation with your friends, don’t complain if no one asks you to dance.

6. Ask leaders to dance

Sometimes leads might not notice you or not know that you are a good dancer, especially if you are new in town or don’t know anyone yet. It’s perfectly fine to ask a guy to dance. 

7. Go to the right venues

Namely, go to the places I mention in the article, The Most Reliable Swing Dance Venues, where lots of dancers are likely to show up. Pick your favorite venues and show up regularly so people will get to know you. Don’t give up after just one night.

My original advice was to go where the popular bands are. However, I’m going to amend that advice a bit. I’ve noticed that when the top-notch bands (like the California Feetwarmers, Jonathan Stout, etc.) the crowd tends to have more follows than leads. When less popular bands play, there are fewer dancers but the mix is more likely to be equal or even lead-heavy. I remember in the waning days of the Derby, follows shunned the place but leads kept going. Three or four guys would have to fight over one good follow! Just something to keep in mind. You might want to consider going to see some of the less-popular bands, or DJ’d events where the crowd won’t be so follow-heavy.

8. Dress up

If you don’t have any vintage clothing, don’t worry.  Just dress nicely and you’ll do fine.  Guys  appreciate when you make an effort to look good, and will definitely be more likely to ask you to dance.

9. Have a good frame

This is more of an issue with beginners.  Having the dreaded “spaghetti arms” makes partner dancing a real chore for the leader (and actually, the follow too).  Have a solid frame and good connection with your leader.  You should offer a little bit of resistance. Oh, and don’t try to be a “mind-reader” and predict the leader’s moves. You are not doing anyone a favor by doing that and it makes it hard to lead you.

10. Be careful when turning someone down

If you have to turn someone down that you want to dance with (for whatever reason), be very careful and diplomatic about it. Seek them out later. The lead might interpret your rejection as indication that you don’t want to dance with them. Many leads won’t ask again after being turned down (at least, the ones in high demand won’t).

Of course, if you don’t want to dance with someone, turning them down bluntly is a pretty surefire way to insure they don’t ask you again.  (I’m not encouraging that, just sayin’).

I can summarize these ideas in three words:

  • Appearance
  • Ability
  • Amiability

If you have any two of these things, you’ll do okay.  If you have all three, leads will be waiting in line to dance with you.

Of course, another problem might be how to get certain leads to stop asking you to dance, but let’s leave that for another time. 🙂

Leaders, any other ideas? Disagree? Leaders and followers, please comment below. – Brian

  • Kath

    Hi from Luxembourg !
    I would like to know where and when I could come to California for a lindy hop workshop. And if I need to come with a leader or if, as follower, I could take part to a workshop on my own.

    • Hi Kath,

      Welcome to California! There are classes and workshops going on all of the time. Most of the time, you don’t need a partner. Here are some links to check:

      Best wishes,

  • Don

    Smiling is enough for me to ask girls for a dance.

  • Pamela

    I think one of these rules should be “Be skinny”, because no one ever asks heavier follows to dance.

    • The young pretty ones always dance, even if they can’t. Sad but true. So, heavy follows, stop sitting around with frowns and start asking leads to dance. The only way many of you are going to get your dance on is to drop the ultra-fem thing and go get what you want.

    • Anonymous

      Follows, please, dont be skinny. I will never ask you for a dance. I prefer chubby girls.

      • Doug Kihn

        I love dancing with a heavy-set woman who can dance, because dancing is the thing, doncha know.
        PS- I know two lean good-looking guys with well-paying jobs who ONLY date obese women. The heavier, the better, for them at least.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget girls that wear sandals, I hesitate asking them. But sometimes I do ask them just to be nice to the new comer.

  • I’ve been swing dancing for 16 years, and here’s my take on this subject:
    If a woman is standing on the sidelines smiling and rocking to the music, she is my first choice, regardless of skill level, beauty, or clothing.
    If a woman doesn’t smile while dancing with me, I will never ask her again, regardless of skill level or anything else.
    If a woman turns me down and doesn’t ask me later to dance, I will never ask her again.
    If a woman is in conversation with someone else or checking her smartphone, I will pass her by.
    When a woman asks me to dance, I am always flattered.

    • Thanks for your comments Doug!! – Brian

    • Pan

      Exactly ! Same here.

  • Anonymous

    there is this guy that i really like but i cant seem too get his attention please tell how too do it thanxs xoxo..

    • In this day and age, it is perfectly fine to ask a guy to dance. Give that a try. If he still doesn’t notice you after doing this at a few events, it might be time to move on.. – Brian