Partner dancing is like going to a school where you have to take all the same classes, and your average score at the end determines whether you graduate. What if you had different interests? What if one of you learns faster than the other? Figuring out how to work together is the heart of partner dancing – the benefit of which, is that you will have new teamwork skills and a new romantic activity to bring you closer together. Here’s how to lay the foundation for fun and enjoyable partner dance lessons.

Figure Out What You Want

How often do you jump in the car and start driving – BEFORE you know your destination?

Before you start, or as soon as you can, sit down with your partner and discuss what you each want to get out of the lessons. Be honest: I’ve seen more than one dance couple give it up because one or both of them took a ‘whatever you want, honey’ policy, rather than express their own wishes. By being clear what you each want and presenting that to your instructor, you create the opportunity to see how you can both get what you’re looking for.

Ask, Don’t Criticize

If you were having difficulty with a step, who would you want your expert advice coming from, your partner or your instructor? Almost no one likes to be critiqued by their significant other, especially if you’re at the same experience-level. If you’re concerned your instructor may be overlooking something, phrase it the form of a question to them. For example, say your follower back-leads a lot. You might ask your instructor ‘when we move, does my partner have some say in which direction we go, or is that just my responsibility?’ That clues your instructor in to a problem area, without complaining about your partner directly.

Followers, Be Patient

Understand that initially, leaders have a lot more to think about than followers. Not only are they taking care of themselves on the dance floor, they’re learning to take care of you as well. This can be terrifying, because if there’s one thing leader’s (usually men) don’t want, it’s making mistakes in front of their partner. Holding your tongue, whispering a few words of encouragement, or even making a light-hearted joke or two can go along way towards helping him feel safe, which in turn boosts his confidence on the floor. Teasing or commenting on things you don’t think he’s doing right, even if well-intentioned, will likely be seen as humiliating, and will drive him away from dancing altogether.

Leaders, Be Strong

I once heard a teacher say: ‘if you’re going to make a mistake, make it big enough for me to see.’ And you will make mistakes, believe me. Fortunately, mistakes in dancing are more than okay, they’re the best way to learn. So go big or go home! This is the time to stop worrying about what others are thinking. Make every step like you MEAN IT.

Worst case scenario? Your instructor spots your mistake and corrects it. On the other hand, if you try to hide it, well… Let just say that worst case scenario would be that it isn’t spotted.

Work Together

Pop quiz: In a strong relationship, who does all the work? Trick question – the work is shared evenly between partners. On the dance floor, the leaders role is to guide his partner, and she receives and interprets the lead. She cannot make the leader move where she wants to go, anymore than he can push her with his arms to force her to he thinks she should be – he can only move his body, and trust she will respond effectively. Trust is what the whole dance is based on, trust that your partner can handle the 50% of the dance you don’t control.

Ultimately, mutual trust is what allows you to connect more strongly on the dance floor. And after all, isn’t connection what it’s all about?