Dear Leaders,

You’ve probably heard somewhere that if there’s a mistake, it’s always your fault. I want to tell you that this isn’t true.

As a lead, you are supposed to compensate for a follow who is struggling. This might mean slowing down, changing the moves you use, or being more clear on what you would like. But, the fact that you’re supposed to compensate for your partner doesn’t make you at fault for every mistake that happens.

Compensation is a great thing. But, there’s only a certain amount you can compensate for. For example, you can’t magically turn a beginner follow into a master simply by having a great lead. You may be able to help the follow ‘dance up’, if you’re more experienced, but you can’t change the fact that they still have to grow into an advanced dancer.

If the follow doesn’t have the technique and makes a mistake, that mistake is the follow’s. If they don’t step in the right place, or they lose balance, or they backlead, that is their ‘mistake’.

Please don’t take ownership of those mistakes, but please also don’t blame your partner.

If you take ownership of the mistake, you are doing a great disservice to the follows around you. When I was a beginner follow, I was told that everything that went wrong was the leader’s fault. As long as I believed that, classes seemed silly. After all, it didn’t matter what I did – it was the leader’s fault if something worked or failed. Please don’t take away our motivation by taking ownership of our contributions (or failures).

But, you don’t have to blame your partner either. Mistakes happen – both for leads and follows. Mistakes can be made into beautiful, creative things. Partners can also adapt to mistakes. So, don’t take responsibility for your follow’s mistakes – but do your best to compensate around them. Take responsibility for helping to fix or avoid a mistake, even if you didn’t cause it.

Follows are also supposed to compensate for you. If you are struggling with something, they’re supposed to use their skills to make things easier. This doesn’t make it their fault if you are unclear. But, compensating for where you are unclear does make them a better partner.

Compensation is one of the things that let you and your partner work as a team. It allows you to have fun, despite the (inevitable) mistakes that will happen. Compensate for your partner’s mishaps – without taking ownership of them. Both of you will be happier for it.

But, I do want you to share ownership of any successes in your dance. In order for two people to make something go right, it means both partners need to do their part. All the successful things you will ever lead in dance requires a follow who ‘got it right’.

So, share that responsibility with the follow. Don’t hoard the joy by saying it was your amazing lead that accomplished it. Share credit with your partner. Without them, it wouldn’t matter how great your skills were. They followed you into your vision, and they helped make it happen. It was your great lead and their great following that made that thing happen.

Dear leads, please don’t feel that everything wrong in a dance is on your shoulders. Remember that there’s another person there that shares responsibility for both the mishaps and the triumphs.

At the end of the day, you’re not in the dance alone. You’re there with your partner. So, share the responsibility with them. Lift them up when they make a mistake. Compensate, and create wonderful dance experiences by sharing the load. And, experience the joy together when something goes very, very right.