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

Learning to Let Your Ballroom Partner Take the Lead

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."

Latest Posts


Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo courtesy of Brittany Conigatti

Go Behind the Scenes of Annie Live! With Brittany Conigatti

Unwrap your candy canes, pour the hot chocolate and round up your fellow theater lovers: NBC is kicking off the Christmas season with its latest live-broadcast TV musical. Annie Live! premieres December 2 and features a star-studded cast, including Harry Connick Jr., Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty and, as the title character, young phenom Celina Smith.

Luckily, people got a taste of what the special will entail when the cast kicked off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance last week. But since you’re never fully dressed without a Dance Spirit exclusive, we caught up with Brittany Conigatti, one of the young orphans and adult ensemble members in the show, to learn what it was like putting together a large-scale live production for the small screen.

The cast of Annie Live! poses for a group photo. The cast of Annie Live!Photo courtesy of Conigatti


Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search