Every lead has encountered the Backleader. Very much the follow version of a Pinball Lead, the Backleader goes where he or she wants – without regard to the partner. It doesn’t matter if the lead has another idea or if the music has a specific accent to hit – the follow is on autopilot, driving without a map – but convinced that they know where they are going.

Ironically, there are also some backleaders who backlead BECAUSE they’re trying *really really hard* to follow. This happens typically at the lower levels, when follows are learning how to do their footwork and haven’t yet gotten to a point where they can process feet and connection at the same time. These are, to me, a different category: Beginners.

If you are a beginner, understand that this is likely a phase in your journey that most of you will outgrow with training and practice. Do not feel discouraged that you are not yet a great ‘connection’ dancer if you are only a few weeks in. As long as you are aware of the importance of connection and spend time working on it, you will continue to grow in the right direction.

Causes of Backleading

At its source, Backleading is caused by the same foundational problem as Pinball Leading: a lack of connection. Backleading is the hardest to overcome in dancers with good strength and control – but who don’t fully understand what dancing with a partner means. For example, solo dancers with little partner experience often suffer from Backleading when they begin partner dancing.

Backleaders also can look very good when they dance. Sometimes, their aesthetic quality is among the best in the room. If you only look at them, it can sometimes appear that they are some of the strongest dancers. However, when you dance with a backleader, it becomes clear that the dance is all about the follow – not about the partnership.

Symptoms of Backleading

Backleading can lead to a few distinct tendencies:

  • Getting asked to dance by people you’ve never met, but fewer ‘return partners’ – even spanning across weeks!
  • Feeling yourself go ahead of your lead frequently
  • Realizing advanced leads are staying away from doing any advanced movements with you – even though you can physically execute them
  • Seeing your leads with ‘concentration face’, or attempting to keep up with you
  • Going in a direction, and then needing to backtrack because you missed a lead
  • Feeling uncomfortable with slower-speeds… faster is easier and lets you just ‘Go!’
  • Beginners look very afraid (more than usual) when they dance with you

Backleading also places you at a greater risk of injury. Very often, backleading is found in people who throw themselves deeply into movements like dips or backbends. It can also happen in upper-body and neck-related movements. This puts you at the mercy of your partner’s ability to compensate for you. If they don’t know how, you can get very injured.

If you think you are Backleading, understand why.

There is a bit of a split in Backleading. The two main groups are generally made up of:

  1. People who are trying really hard to follow, but lack connection, and;
  2. People who are trying to show off, feel the music, and look very good – while forgetting about the partner.

If you fall into the first camp, relax. Wait for the lead. You probably think that you’re ‘helping’ by doing the move you think comes next… but waiting will actually be far more beneficial for you. Wait for the lead, hold your frame, and don’t assume you know what is coming next. When the lead changes weight, change weight – not before. Even if the music and your lead are not on the same timing, focus on where your lead is. If you learn how to fight the urge to ‘go!’, you will find your dances improve vastly.

If you are trying to look good: practice your looks on your own. When you hit a social floor, they should be muscle memory. Your partner is more important than how awesome you look when you are social dancing. It can be a very strong urge to emulate style over connection – but resist the urge when it comes to social dancing! Style is your whipped cream and connection is your hot chocolate. Put the whipped cream on the hot chocolate –  not the other way around! Don’t try to whip the cream while you are drinking the hot chocolate – you should have done that earlier!

Backleading is not a permanent condition

There are many factors that go into backleading. Additionally, not all Backleaders backlead all the time. There are many followers who have particular combinations that bring out the Backleading aspects of their dance. Pay very close attention if there’s any movement that you always do at the end of a particular move set. You may be backleading. Another good way to get feedback is to ask a trusted lead if there’s any movement that you do on your own when they are dancing with you.

Sometimes, backleading also happens because you have a knowledge void and don’t know what to fill it with. So, you try your best to fill it in with what you know… which turns into backleading. If there’s specific movements that you really struggle with, keep them in mind. The next time you work with your coach or teacher, ask them about the movement. They may be able to help you understand what you’re missing.

Just like follows can tell which leads feel the best, leads can tell which follows connect the best. Follows have their share of pinballers and non-leaders. Leads have their share of backleaders and refrigerators (we’ll get to that one later).

If you recognize yourself as a backleader: do not despair. You cannot fix what you do not know about. Instead of looking at it and saying ‘I suck’, look at it and think about how you can improve this. Make it a step on your dance journey, rather than a giant obstacle. People will still love you even if you are a backleader… but the more you improve that tendency, the more fun you’ll be on the dance floor.


Photo: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios