small_light_IMG_6425I asked a few of my very experienced female swing dancer friends about the most annoying things that leaders (mainly guys) do on the social dance floor.  It wasn’t long before we came up with a list of ten.

So, leaders, check your egos at the door and read on… Here is a list of the top ten most annoying things that follows say leads are doing on the social swing dance floor.

1. Causing Harm

A leader’s first priority should be the same as a physician’s: do no harm.  If you want to guarantee that a follow will never dance with you again, tweak her arm hard during a Texas Tommy.  She’ll probably tell all of her friends too.  Leaders should be clear but gentle in their leads.

2. Ick! Too Much Sweat!

I’ve seen follows come off the dance floor with their shirts or blouses wet with sweat.  The gross part is, it’s not their sweat!  Leaders who sweat a lot should bring an extra shirt, or two, or three, or four, or whatever it takes, plus bring a small towel or handkerchief.  Or, sit out a few and cool down between dances.

3. Not Looking Out for Your Partner or Other Dancers

When there is a collision on the dance floor, it’s usually the leader’s fault.  Simple as that. Sometimes it’s due to inexperience, but other times it’s due to the leader intentionally showboating or being careless.  Leaders need to look where they are leading their partners and make sure not to send her into harm’s way.

Leaders should also be careful not to bump into or step on other dancers.

4. “Manhandling” Instead of Leading

There is a difference between leading clearly and manhandling.  Proper leading comes from the frame and movement of your body, not the sheer strength of your arms (more Fred Astaire, less Arnold Schwarzenegger).  Also, when leading a turn, do not stir the follow around. Simply cup your hand above her forehead and she will easily spin in place.

5. Having Bad Breath / Hygiene

It’s probably not a good idea to have that onion Limburger cheese sandwich right before going swing dancing.  Get some gum or mouthwash, or brush if you make this mistake. Same deal for general hygiene.  Hopefully, ‘nuff said. This could apply to leaders and followers.

6. Unclear / Limp Leading

This is the other end of the bad leading spectrum. It’s more of a mistake that beginners would make due to lack of experience. Needless to say, the lead should be clear. No spaghetti arms for leads or follows.

7. Unwanted Staring / Touching / Grabbing… Being Creepy

This is actually a serious issue that has gained more attention recently due to instances of sexual misconduct in the Swing scene. Hopefully it’s self-explanatory. Swing is a not a “bump and grind” kind of dance (unless it’s some intentional choreography in a contest or something). I don’t think this type of behavior will be tolerated or excused like it was before. It’s about time. Treat your partners with respect and don’t be the “creepy guy” (usually it’s a male, but maybe not always) that everyone avoids. Check out this article: An Open Letter to Young Women at their First Swing Dance.

8. Not Asking to Dance Politely

Some follows prefer not to be dragged off to the dance floor without being asked.  The preferred way is to say “May I have this dance?”  It never hurts to act like a gentleman when asking someone to dance.

9. Not Improving After Years of Dancing

No matter what your skill level is, follows really appreciate it if you are improving and not doing the same moves year after year after year.  Get some variety in your moves.  Follows will tolerate poor rhythm in a beginner lead but it really needs to be fixed ASAP if you intend to keep dancing.  Beginner leads should take classes.  Experienced leads should go to a Swing or Balboa workshop every now and then.

10. Not Smiling or Not Being Friendly

Smiling and being polite are common courtesies in any social situation.  But smiling is also part of the look of swing dancing. Just like you’re supposed to be serious in Tango, you’re supposed be having fun in Swing. So leaders, smile, be courteous, and show that you are having a good time dancing with your partner. You partner will be more likely to want to dance with you again if you do.

What Did We Miss?

If I could add another item to the list, it would be: standing around and not asking the follow right next to you who is dying to dance, to dance (I admit to being guilty of this at times).  Perhaps this should be higher on the list?  Comment below!

Another thing I thought would come up as annoying is leaders who try to “teach” or give tips when the follow is clearly experienced and did not request any feedback. My subjects said this wasn’t a big problem (perhaps because they are obviously really good dancers?). What do you think?

This is NOT a scientific survey by any means, so please comment if you have a different item to add, or if you want to up vote, down vote, or concur with any item on this list.  Follows, this is your chance to be heard and help leaders stop bad habits without offending anyone.

And leaders, you’ll have happier partners who want to dance with you more often if you avoid these bad habits, so take notice!

Is this list too harsh?  Not harsh enough?  What did we miss?

Finally, a word of thanks to the follows who contributed ideas to this article (they preferred not be revealed.) – Brian

  • alizay

    I agree with everything on your list! But I would add that a leader who tries to do a flashy dip in a night club is potentially endangering the follow. You could get dropped, kicked in the head, or if the lead were pushed off balance the follow could be dropped. It’s just not the place for flashy dips!

    • Hi Alizay,

      Thanks – that is a very valid concern!


  • Rae

    After some facebook conversation about this post, and the addition of an older article (An open letter to young women at their first swing dance) I realized the following about this top 10. “I’ve seen this and agree. And unfortunately, at the start of my dancing, I experienced some very not pleasant encounters. Number 7. on the top 10 should really be “staring, grabbing, making disturbing moaning sounds and grinding”. If someone does anything violating on the floor, I excuse myself, let the front know and then start spreading the word to everyone to look out. I believe that it’s human decency to give others the benefit of the doubt, and I’m a smiler. But if someone is being rude, violating or creepy, I put up no act in expressing complete disinterest. No smiles for the creepos.”


    • Hi Rae,

      Great comments, totally true. I’ve modified #7 accordingly and added a link to that article, which I’ve seen before and agree with as well.


  • Mary

    Always hate it when a new lead approaches me and warns me that he’s new or really bad. Have some more self confidence! You come off as a lot better of a dancer if you demean yourself.

    • Hi Mary,

      Thanks for sharing!


    • Hope

      When folks (whether they’re leading or following) “warn” me that they’re beginners or aren’t very good, I like to crank up my own excitement level and tell them, “that’s great!”, or maybe “welcome!” if they tell me they’ve never been to that particular dance before. I’m sorry you find the “warning” annoying, but I think it’s a totally natural reaction to feeling insecure about something you’ve just started to learn, and I think it’s nice for more experienced dancers (who probably feel a lot more comfortable in the scene!) to step up and reassure less experienced partners, instead of expecting them to already feel really confident 🙂 I wouldn’t even reassure them that you’re sure they’ll do a good job (because maybe they won’t, by their own standards! That’s okay!), just that you love to dance with beginners, and that everyone starts at the beginning so they don’t need to feel like they have to be brilliant already. After all, it’s more important that they feel comfortable than that they come across as a really experienced dancer, and for some people, giving that “warning” gives them a little comfort. I guess if you want them to stop doing it, you can kindly tell them that everyone in the scene expects to dance with beginners and that they don’t need to apologize for existing as a beginner, that might work 🙂

      • Hi Hope,

        I like your attitude here.


      • Mary

        Oh yeah, I don’t yell at them or anything, I just happily say “That’s okay!” or “Awesome welcome to the community” or something along those lines. It doesn’t change that it bugs me, but I totally know where they’re coming from on it.

  • Rae

    Great list! I don’t have many people on my “Never again” list, really, it’s only a few. But they got there by route of one (or more) of these items. A lead once hurt my shoulder by whipping me back while mid turn, and when I apologetically excused myself to get some ice for it, he threw his hands up and yelled “FINE”, he never smiled while dancing, lead by force instead of movement. He asked to dance the next week and rolled his eyes when I said no. 4 years later, my answer is the same, because I’ve watched him on the floor and he hasn’t improved his manners or his technique.

    • Hi Rae,

      Agreed, you should feel no obligation to dance with someone who hurts you physically or treats you with disrespect!


  • Carol

    Gendered language. Women can be leads too.

    Leads and follows should both have proper hygene, but not too much scented lotion/perfume for people with smell sensitivities.

    • I modified it to be more gender-neutral where possible and appropriate. – Brian

      • Hope

        I think I saw the earlier version of the article, and this is definitely much improved! You could also replace all instances where you refer to follows as “she” with the singular “they” instead, since following shouldn’t be gendered either. 🙂

  • Dawn

    I agree with your added note about not teaching too much when someone just starts. If the lady asks for help or advice then by all means. But I remember a particular dance when my partner stopped our dance to critique a specific movement I didn’t follow quite right and somehow ended up walking away from the floor and not finishing the dance at all. To me it was greatly discouraging because it highlighted my inadequacy and made me paranoid that I couldn’t follow at all. It also ruined the fun of the dance, and kinda made me hate the guy for a little while haha. All that to say that most times it is better to leave the critiquing to the teachers in class and learning to good old trial and error experience. One instance I do think intervention is prudent though is when a lead or follow is consistently causing pain to their partners in some way. It should be dealt with in a loving and delicate way though understanding that the accused are probably not aware of the problem or how to fix it.

    • Hi Dawn,

      It was rude of your partner to stop and critique! Not cool!

      Your advice is good though.


  • Philippe Leibzig

    I meant: the setting is different for competition. It was a typo. Sorry ,