Dancer to Dancer

Learning to Let Your Ballroom Partner Take the Lead

Kayci Treu had trouble following her partner when she first began to study ballroom dance. (Preston Powell, courtesy Kayci Treu)

When former ballet dancer Kayci Treu first joined the ballroom team at Brigham Young University, her coaches would often reprimand her for "backleading," or performing steps without waiting for cues from her partner. The Vaganova-trained dancer had done her fair share of ballet pas de deux—but, as she explains, "that's about a ballerina being supported by her cavalier or prince. Ballroom is more symbiotic. The heart of ballroom is the two-person connection—a man and a woman working together."

In the ballroom world, the role of "leader" typically falls to the male partner, while the female dancer is the "follower." But if you're a woman trained in a style like ballet or jazz, where you're in command of your performance at all times—or if you're just a type-A person—it can be challenging to relinquish control. We asked Treu and veteran "Dancing With the Stars" pro Ashly DelGrosso-Costa to offer tips to help you get out of your head and move in sync with your partner.


Know the Importance of Your Role

Any feminist might initially bristle at the idea of "following" a man, but don't get psyched out. Ballroom partnerships are equal partnerships: A strong leader won't perform well unless he's working with a nimble follower who can pick up on his subtle physical cues. "It's not about one person controlling the other," explains Treu. "I'm responsible for my own body and my own movement." As a follower, it's up to her to respond appropriately by completing the movement whenever her partner invites her to a step.

One way to gain appreciation for both sides of the partnership is to step into your partner's shoes. DelGrosso-Costa says that occasionally switching roles in rehearsal can help each of you better understand the unique challenges the other faces, so that you can anticipate each other's needs in the future.

Ashly DelGrosso-Costa (here with Jared Murillo) suggests occasionally switching roles with your partner in rehearsal. (courtesy Ashly DelGrosso-Costa)

Be Present

Ballroom is inherently social—it takes two to tango!—so you have to truly connect to your partner to do it well. You need to be comfortable enough to look your partner in the eye and respond to his touch, since he won't be able to give you verbal instructions on the dance floor. For newer ballroom dancers, "it's sometimes a struggle to be with the other dancer in the moment," DelGrosso-Costa says. While real trust and comfort builds over time, be sure to at least break the ice with a new partner by introducing yourself and chatting with him a bit before you get dancing.

Improve Your "Listening" Skills

Seasoned ballroom dancers can perform well with almost any partner because they're masterful tactile listeners. Each leader has his own "voice" or communication style, and a good follower can decipher the subtle meaning behind a certain glance of an eye, squeeze of the hand or shift in weight. When Treu was starting out, she went to tons of social-dance clubs so that she could work with a wide variety of partners and figure out their different ways of communicating with their bodies. DelGrosso-Costa says you can also enhance your ability to pick up on physical cues by practicing (very carefully) with your eyes closed in the studio.


A version of this story appeared in the September 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Follow Like a Boss."

Show Comments ()
Dance News
(From left) ABT's Erica Lall; NYCB's India Bradley; Washington Ballet's Nardia Boodoo; NYCB's Rachel Hutsell (all photos by Rachel Neville)

Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."

Keep reading... Show less
Screenshot via NowThis on Facebook

The Olympics are always full of inspiring Cinderella stories, where athletes no one had heard of mere months ago end up blowing all expectations out of the water, and maybe even nabbing a medal in the bargain. But we've recently caught wind of a different kind of Cinderella story—and it's one we really, really hope shows up in the Closing Ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics, airing tonight on NBC starting at 8 pm Eastern/5 pm Pacific time.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Being a dancer comes with the task of having to entertain the same questions over and over again from those outside the dance world. Of course, we love having our friends and family take an interest in our passion—but if someone asks ONE MORE TIME whether or not we've met Travis Wall, we might just go crazy.

Here are 10 questions that dancers hate getting asked.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
ABT JKO School student Miuka Kadoi shoiwng off her beautiful line (photo by Kenneth Edwards)

Contemporary phenom Christina Ricucci has super-flexible hips, which means she can stretch her legs to unbelievable heights. But when she noticed herself making contorted positions in class, Ricucci realized she was approaching her extensions all wrong. "I went back to the basics in class, squaring my hips and using my turnout," Ricucci says. "I learned to create proper positions, rather than whacked-out versions of them."

Some dancers are so wonky they have a hard time supporting their high legs, while others struggle with limited flexibility. But no matter your facility, you can find a balance of stretch and strength to achieve your fullest range of extension. It's not about how high (or not) your legs can go: It's the quality of the movement, and how you get those legs up, that counts.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Our nominees (clockwise from top left): Roberto Campanella, Aurélie Dupont, Ashley Wallen, and Anthony Van Laast

Last month, we asked why there wasn't a Best Choreography category at the Oscars—and discovered that many of you agreed with us: Choreographers should definitely be acknowledged for their work on the super-dancy movies we can't get enough of.

Now, we're taking matters into our own (jazz) hands.

We've decided to create a Dance Spirit award for the best cinematic choreography of 2017. With your input, we've narrowed the field to four choreographers whose moves lit up some of the best movies of the year. Check out our nominations for best choreography below—and vote for the choreographer you think deserves the honor. We'll announce the winner on Friday, March 2.

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Bronze medalist Kaetlyn Osmond skating her "Black Swan" long program (screenshot via YouTube)

Once upon a time (until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi concluded, to be exact), figure skaters had to compete to music without words. Before this rule change, a skater faced an automatic point deduction if the music even hinted at vocals. Understandably, there were *a lot* of Olympic programs skated to classical music, and you'd tend to hear the same music selections over and over and over.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Look at that extension! (Rick Moffitt/Wikipedia Commons)

There are plenty of current Olympic figure skaters who'd make beautiful dancers (first among them Adam Rippon, whose gorgeously choreographed long program won the internet, if not the gold). But today, as we wait for the women's figure skating competition to crown its new champions, we wanted to throw it back to one of the most beautifully balletic skaters of all time: Sasha Cohen.

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Thinkstock

Thinking about declaring a dance major? We had professors discuss all the factors you should consider before submitting that major-declaration form.

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Giphy

The high-flying leaps of grand allegro are meant to be incredibly exciting. But at the end of an intense ballet class, when you're exhausted, it can be hard to give them the attention they deserve. Want to pump up your big jumps? Follow these 10 vital tips from Jennifer Hart, curriculum director and instructor at Ballet Austin.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored