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What is Lead and Follow, Really?

# Dance Culture

Arun Garg began dancing in 2016 as part of the University of Missouri's ballroom team. Initially coerced by Reese's Cups to attend the club's group class, Arun was quickly became hooked on ballroom

As professional classical musician, Arun always loved dance and music, working in a number of settings involving high level dancers; with a knack for musicality, love of movement, and passion for learning, he dances both roles of the leader and follower, or initiator and recipient, as he describes.


How do you define leading and following in dance?

I like to use the words initiator and recipient. One member of the partnership is initiating energy to indicate direction, rotation, shape, and the other member receives that energy, and expresses it accordingly, including redirection or re-initiation of that same energy. I like to use these terms when discussing roles in a partnership, because they are flexible, and can describe either partner at any given moment, depending on the context of the figure or combination.

What is the biggest challenge as a leader and as a follower?

The biggest challenge in being both a leader and a follower is being able to quickly switch mindsets in terms of being the initiator and recipient of energies. I struggle often with quickly changing from being the partner that is making initial decisions in terms of direction, rotation, amount of progression, to being a follow where I have to actively engage a bit of patience, so to speak, such that the decisions I am making are an active and direct response to the energy being given. At the moment, a specific challenge that is actively part of my practice is finding a clear difference in posture and the presence or absence of poise in Ballroom; specifically how do the roles differ in use of posture and poise and by extension head weight to create the final ‘image’ and feeling of a balanced partnership.


How has dancing as both a leader and follower made you a better dancer?

In a general sense, simply walking a mile in the other partner’s shoe’s (literally), gives invaluable perspective in becoming a well rounded dancer; there is no surprise that professional certifications require the tester to be able to dance both halves of the Syllabus with equal ability and academic knowledge. Having to go back to my gray book and other technique charts to reinforce my academic knowledge of the follower’s role has reinforced my understanding of the partnership as a whole. But moreover, experiencing and having to dance with all of the aspects of being a good follower (that is responsive, expressive, and active) only makes one a more sensitive lead. A frame would seem bare without a painting, and a painting would look incomplete without a frame; and I definitely felt like this internally before having seriously delved into being a follower in a competitive capacity. Experiencing both roles has only given me a more complete perspective of what it is to have two bodies moving with coordinated precision.


What is the most fun part about being a leader and about being a follower?

For me, each role provides a different source of fun. As a leader, I love having an excuse to break out the white tie and tail suit. I love the process of learning to understand how to simply move my own spine and blocks of weight to cause another person to react in an informed manner to create a beautiful external product. As a follow, it’s much more of a self serving enjoyment, haha. I love being able to be the picture, to be the finisher of lines and shapes; to be able to be the partner that is being shown off is a very self-affirming and confidence building experience. I love being able to push the boundaries of ballroom fashion, creating unique follower’s outfits for men with my amazing design team at Santos Couture Designs. I’ve also simply enjoyed the experience of competing both roles in one weekend. Getting to meet so many people that want to discuss not only the same-sex dancing, but the experience of doing both roles at a competitive level has introduced to me to amazing dancers, coaches, judges, and friends.

It bas made me aware that there are a lot of dancers out there that would love to learn the other role, and just haven’t found or seen the right representation showing that it can be done successfully. So that is my goal for the foreseeable future, to widen and spread the normalcy of dancing whichever roles makes you happy (or both!).




Any last thoughts?

Major gratitude to Ashley Mayer, Aga Strojek, and Larinda McRaven who all played a pivotal role in my early weeks and months of ballroom; I was fortunate to have immediate access to high level information, an incredible supportive coaching team, and an early push to take the craft seriously, if I truly loved it. Never in a million years did I think when I started that I’d be where I am today as a dancer; but, hard work, amazing teachers, and genuine love can really accomplish anything.


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