What makes a great follower? Your tips for social dancers! (Poll results)

What are the qualities of a great follow dancer? How can one become the most wanted follower of the dance floor? What is following really all about?

This is what I set out to discover when I asked you "what makes a great follower in social dancing?" And Zouk The World's readers certainly did not fail me. You might want to take a tall cup of your favorite drink - you have a long & intriguing post to read!

A great follower is patient with the lead and allows them time to make decisions about what moves they wish to execute, without trying to lead themselves.
— Rose, Ireland
Dance as one even when you are doing something separately.
— Sophie, USA
I love when girls ask guys to dance, especially when they’re beginners.
— Henning, Germany
Being able to understand and respond to the the shape of the music and the motion of the leader.
— Anonymous

Introduction & following (mis)conceptions

The previous post in our poll series, titled ‘What makes a great leader’, I opened with these quotes:

"In some types of partner dance, lead and follow are designations for the two dancers comprising a dance couple."
"The lead is responsible for guiding the couple and initiating transitions to different dance steps and, in improvised dances, for choosing the dance steps to perform. The lead conveys his choices and direction to the follow through subtle physical and visual signals, thereby allowing the couple to be smoothly coordinated."

These are from the introduction chapter of the from the Wikipedia page for 'Lead and follow'

I went back to the Wiki page to see how they define the follower’s role, and to my amusement and disappointment, it didn’t define the follower basically at all. The introduction continues, and ends as already above: “The lead communicates choices to the follow and directs the follow by means of subtle physical and visual signals, thereby allowing the couple to be smoothly coordinated.”

This partly reflects the sad reality of learning to be a good follower. Too often the basic conception of the follower’s role is summarised as “you know, just follow”. There are (or has been) less female/follow teachers in partner/social dancing in a more vocal role, and I do find it harder to find well formulated information on perhaps the less subtle role of the follower. Primarily - and initially - I’m a follow, and it pains me to see comments still today that undervalue or even downright completely ignore the follower. A recent example was a discussion on social media about ‘star chasing’ where some leaders assumed that one reason why pro leaders are typically more chased after than pro followers is that it may happen less often that a pro follower significantly uplifts a dance than a pro leader. That’s quite a disheartening notion to a follower who takes great pride in her role and puts a lot of work in studying & perfecting it. Luckily, I feel this is constantly evolving for the better and more & more value is being placed on the follower role.

And: when I read some of the leader respondents’ lengthy thoughts on this particular “what makes a great follower” poll, I melted ..  Rest assured, followers you'll feel good after reading this blog post.

Enough yammering, on to the poll results! And hey, here you can reply to the current poll!!


Poll questions

We asked: 
What makes a great follower (in social dancing)?

And we also wanted to know (with their results):
Do you dance Brazilian zouk? Yes (96%), No (4%).
What is your primary social dancing role? Leader (65%), Follower (31%), No preference (4%).


What makes a great follower - poll results

You told us in your own words: What makes a great follower? In the poll there were no set options to limit your thought. From the responses I did however collect the most frequent topics and grouped them into ten general categories, which you can see below. You may notice that many of the topics could fall under various categories - e.g. Clear frame is a Physical skillset but also important in Connection, and so on. So the grouping is more to give a general idea of what types qualities are important in following and which of those are roughly speaking more or less popular in your responses.

After the list of qualities and the chart you'll find ZTW readers' detailed responses that shed more light on this important topic!

Waiting the leader to finish the lead.
Having full attention to the leader.
Being present.

Understanding and responding to the music.

Styling & creativity
Being spontaneous.
Offering new ways to continue a lead.
Expressing yourself (where room).
Ability to move on your own.

Mental skillset
Being warm, polite, tolerant.
Having an open mindset.
Sensitivity / respecting boundaries
Smile / showing to the leader that they’re enjoying the dance.
Being comfortable with being close to the leader.
Trusting the leader.

Asks to dance
Asking leaders to dance (especially beginners).

Dance foundation
Good basic dance technique.
Ability to follow things you've never followed before.

Physical skillset
Clear frame.
Being gentle, light, soft.
Good core.
Ability to do isolations.
Good balance / stability.

Ability to adapt to different styles of lead.

Watching out for others around.

Engaged body.
Being extension of leader.

Completing leader’s movement.
"Listening" with your body.
Trying to maximize touched surface area.
Dancing for two.

Below a chart with the above listed groupings with the number of responses falling under each topic. As I mentioned, the grouping is more to give a general idea of what types qualities came up most often, even though making this included a fair amount of interpretation - but hopefully you find this useful!

A surprise or not, the most frequently mentioned topics were on the top of both the follower respondents’ and leader respondents’ list. Check back to our post on What makes a great leader to see how this overlaps with the most wanted leader qualities!


Your thoughts on what makes a great follower

Below excerpts of some your replies on what makes the magic in following. Reading these I was amazed at the depth of thought that you - kudos especially to a few leaders - put into your notes. Beautifully written! A humble thank you to everyone who took the time respond! You can also help the dance community by contributing with your comment at the end of this post.

What followers think makes a great follower

Connection, musicality, creativity (i.e. the ability to interpret the leader's cues with a personal touch without getting in the way of their leading) - and a warm and open mindset (i.e. patience, tolerance, forgiveness, appreciation that stem from genuine enjoyment of dancing in unison).
- Anonymous

Be able to adapt to different styles and ways of lead. Be the extension of your leader and complete every movement he lead. Be engaged with your leader that you compliment each other and dance as one even when you are doing something separately. Be creative, spontaneous and open mind. Look out for your leader's safety.  Be gentle and light.
- Sophie, USA

Someone that can "listen" and give feed back with their body.
- Fawnia, USA

The follower must attend zouk workshops/classes, not only going to social dancing parties. The follower also need to have a very strong background of basic zouk movements, principles and etc. (for example where is the weight while doing head movement in boneca so it's easier for a leader to know on which leg is her weight). Lady has to wait till the leader leads to a movement and forget about styling anytime she wants. Also keep the connection, follow the body, hands, eyes of the leader :)
- Anonymous, Lithuania

Trust, sensitivity and a sense of boundaries between partners.
- Anastasia, Russia

A great follower is patient with the lead and allows them time to make decisions about what moves they wish to execute, without trying to lead themselves. In other words, the leader does not feel pressured into always making the correct move and he or she feels free to experiment and express themselves within the dance. This patience and willingness to allow the leader to put their own emotion into the dance can be shown by facial expression and by perhaps complementing the leader on a well-executed lead. As a follower I believe it is important to understand the challenge of leading and to always be gracious and encouraging, particularly with people who are new to leading.
- Rose, Ireland

Waiting for the lead. Connection to the partner, not the people watching or the next leader. Keeping own balance and managing own steps without leaning on the leader. Being soft and responsive to even small suggestions.
- Nina, Denmark

What leaders think makes a great follower

First of all: there has to be a great connection, which is a job for both! With that in place, a great follow doesn't require much leading and makes it really easy on the leader. A great follow also shows initiative whenever there is room for it, without taking over the lead. If that works comfortably with the leader (again: great connection), that will inspire the leader to lead things he's never done before. On top of that, a great follow (provided the great connection) can follow things she has never followed before. Those things combined will make the leader feel like he can do anything. The final thing that comes to mind is that if she has great styling, that will also inspire the leader, leading to a more interesting dance.
- Jens, Netherlands

Being able to understand and respond to the the shape of the music and the motion of the leader.
- Anonymous

Yes, connection is the most important thing. But what is it? For a follower I believe connection consists of those parts: Being able to feel subtle leadings, and execute this leading no matter whether there's an official figure for this move or not (guys beware, if you don't know how lead this follower correctly, she'll end up anywhere - it's like flying a fighter jet compared to a forgiving Cessna). Trying to maximize touched surface area, so leading without holding becomes easier. Be that little bit late, waiting for the lead.

And then: Flexibility for doing body movements. Balance. Good / strong frame. Shoulders down, strong core. Offering ways by herself to continue a lead (like, "get my elbow, and now do something"). Hearing the music, not insisting on regular stepping patterns (actually being able to follow a lead with musicality). Not interfering with styling, just using good technique. When there's freedom to express yourself, then do it. Zouk technique: shoulder line; knowing how to unfold/follow with each limb (that's how "grace" comes into zouk); knowing how to follow upper body isolations (compare that to a garden hose, bending the spine but without torsion); air around the neck, under the arms, between legs (same holds true for leaders). No suicide girls!

Oh, and I love when girls ask guys to dance, especially when they're beginners. It's a tough job, especially when you're new to a scene. So when someone starts to learn leading, and sees all those advanced leaders around him, after watching them for some time, he just wants hide under a rug. So girls go forward, and ask that guy who's watching in awe.
- Henning, Germany

A great follower takes the time to understand the connection of the other partner. Studies the way he communicates in the first 30 seconds of the dance and can extrapolate from those few seconds the leading subtleties of their partner.
- Anonymous, Netherlands

Being present, gives me the intention that she enjoys the dance and is not waiting for the song to end.    
- Anonymous

Doing the basics well - such as going in a straight line and keeping connection. Only follow what is being lead, nothing more or less. The biggest thing that makes a great follower is their intention to follow to the best of their ability rather than trying to predict or back lead the next move. The other thing is to trust the leader but understand this can be difficult when the leader does all this crazy stuff rather than building into the song. The last but not least thing for a great follower is the closeness, embrace and connection they give the leader that indicates they really want to dance with the leader rather than creating the distance between each other. Also, it goes a long way to the enjoyment of the dance when the follower looks at their leader than elsewhere and also has a great attitude and dances with a smile.
- Mark, Australia

Being with full attention with the leader.
- Justus, Germany

To listen to the leading, but giving further inspirations with stylings.
- Christian, Germany

I barely started dancing a couple months ago (bachata, zouk, and kizomba), so I am not the wiser person. I am still struggling through the learning curve, but the fact that I am a beginner makes me appreciate good followers even more. For me, a good follower is a person that is very polite, trust the lead (no matter what his/her level is), and makes it easy for the lead to create a good connection.

A good follower builds confidence into the leader by trusting them the control of the dance. Also, a good lead knows that mistakes can happen, and does not judge in any way the leader or their skills because of a mistake, He/she trusts that leads are doing their best to make the most enjoyable experience out of the each dance. For this same reasons, a follower has to give the opportunity to the leader to connect. I know there are a bunch of creepers out there, but I think the majority of the leaders are not. I always respect when a follower does not want to get into close positions. After all, their comfort is very important. However, I think that good followers are always comfortable with their personal space. and goes back to trusting that leaders are trying to make the most enjoyable experience possible.
- Sergio, Mexico

Keeps frame, capable of body isolation, capacity to understand and react properly to lead cues and brings creative elements into the dance.
- Daniel, Canada

A good connection, holding their own balance and moving on their own, ideally in the way indicated by the lead, while putting their personality in the dance. And of course showing to the lead, if their are enjoying the dance.
- Holger, Germany

What is the role of the follower? My two cents

As Wikipedia failed to describe the follow’s role, here is my interpretation:

Follower or follow constantly observes the physical & visual cues from the leader’s movements, responding simultaneously based on understanding of the general rules of the dance and the music. While the leader 'directs' the dance, the followers body translates the lead’s cues or 'directions' into follower's own movements.

To paint you a picture (pun intended), I'd say that leader is the painter, follower the canvas and music the paint. A piece of art that people stop to admire is brought to life when these three come together.

I admit fully that the simple description here is not the whole truth. As you read the loooong text above, it's pretty obvious that being a great follower is hard to summarise into one or two lines. Also in reality the roles of lead and follow can be blend during the dance - and blending them is what makes social dancing so beautiful and interesting.

"I'm a beginner follow, what Could I do to become a better dancer?"

First of all: awesome that you're dancing! And even better that you want to improve!! Go to classes - today, tomorrow... :) If there's no regular classes where you live, maybe my recent list of Brazilian Zouk Intensive Courses might be helpful!

Secondly: Go out and social dance! Outside the parties you should also set aside a bit of practice time, with a partner and/or by yourself.

Thirdly: Travel! Getting to dance with as many different people as possible does boost your skills, gives you lots of insight and perspective. Dance dance dance! And also observe others - that helps too. See some cool zouk events in our Zouk Calendar!

Finally: You can always read some of the dance insight posts in this blog. E.g. start with Practice makes perfect - myths & theories about becoming an advanced dancer. And for any dancer that is struggling with the learning path, I also recommend this post; 11 things I wish I knew when I started dancing zouk.

Wishing you all the best in your dance journey! 


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