After completing Richard Powers‘ series of Social Dance classes as a follow, the traditional role for a woman, I decided to learn the other half and go through the classes as lead. Luckily, a few leads dropped out of Social Dance 2and I was able to switch from follow to lead in that class. In addition, Nick Enge and Melissa Carvell offered Unofficial Social Dance 1 for people who didn’t get into Richard’s class since it’s under such high demand.

In addition to learning the other half of social dancing, some other benefits I discovered are:

1. Becoming more decisive

As soon as I started leading, I realized that indecision makes a lead terrible. To lead clearly, I must decide ahead of time on what variation I am doing next and firmly signal my follow. If I waver or change my mind after I’ve started leading a move, then my follow gets confused.

This skill has also made me a better follow. In the past, when I’m not sure what the lead wants me to do, I feel bad at not being able to understand his/her signals and dance timidly. Now, I’ll quickly decide and unapologetically and confidently dance that way. Even if I danced something other than what the lead intended, this is usually still a more pleasant experience for both me and my partner than if I danced timidly.

2. Improving navigation skills

For better or worse, leads hold most of the responsibility on navigating the dance floor and ensuring our follows do not get injured. Thus as a follow, I spent most of my attention on my lead and was pretty oblivious to everything else. However, as lead I now have to pay attention to where other people are to avoid crashing into them. Luckily, many follows are understanding when I let them know I’m new to leading and need to work on navigation skills and they will try to help me avoid crashes.

Now, even when I dance as a follow, I’m better at helping my lead maneuver the dancefloor. This is helpful with a beginner lead who’s not good at navigating yet to prevent both of us from injury, as well as when an unexpected obstacle pops up behind the lead.

3. Toning my right arm

A few days ago, I lamented that my biceps got smaller since December because I haven’t been rock climbing, and flexed my right arm to show my husband. While he agreed, he also commented that my arm was less “flappy” and more toned. I was confused because my weight hasn’t changed.

After thinking for a while, I realized leading uses my right arm a lot and recall being sore after an hour of Viennese Rotary Waltz. In closed position, often seen in Waltz and Tango, the lead’s right arm wraps around the follow’s left side and back. As the dancers rotate, the lead firmly holds his/her right arm to counter centripetal forces pulling the follow outward.

I hypothesized that learning to be lead has made my right arm toned. This is confirmed by my left arm still being flappy. Now… if only there’s a dance or variation that will also tone my left arm…